Bill roundup: A look at Virginia’s upcoming legislative session

Virginia's Capitol Building in Richmond. File photo. Virginia’s Capitol Building in Richmond. File photo.

Virginia’s 2013 legislative session kicks off in just over a month, and a flurry of bill introductions—and promises of introductions—has started the wheels of political coverage turning in the Commonwealth. Here’s a roundup of some of the most talked-about items set to be addressed in Richmond:

Drug screenings as welfare prerequisite: Del. Dickie Bell, R-Staunton, plans to re-introduce a bill that would require drug testing of welfare recipients. The General Assembly struck down the bill last year after the state estimated administering the tests would cost $1.5 million and only keep $229,000 from drug-using recipients.

But Bell hasn’t given up. He says new screening methods could be less costly, and the state Department of Social Services has been looking into cheaper options, including contracting with private companies to administer tests. Democrats continue to argue that screenings would be degrading to those in need.

Tougher texting law: Virginia already has a ban on texting while driving, but safe driving advocates are pushing for the legislature to make it tougher. Unlike most states with laws against texting behind the wheel, Virginia treats it as a secondary offense—that is, you can’t get pulled over for doing it.

Martha A. Meade, the public and government affairs manager for AAA Mid Atlantic, and Janet Brooking, executive director of Drive Smart, plan to lobby the General Assembly for a tougher stance on texting. They got a boost this week when the Virginia State Crime Commission endorsed reforming the rules to make texting while driving a primary offense and classify it as reckless driving, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

Virginia is one of 39 states that have laws against texting while driving. Most of those states already ban the act as a primary offense.

Uranium ban reevaluated: As expected, the legislature will face a proposal to end the state’s 30-year ban on uranium mining. Virginia Sen. John Watkins (R-Midlothian) plans to introduce a bill calling for an end to the moratorium, opening the door for industry to move forward with tapping a massive deposit of uranium near Chatham—one of the largest in the world.

State officials have been studying what would need to happen before mining in Virginia could commence—safety and monitoring measures, for instance—and Watkins said their findings would influence the crafting of the bill.

Watkins has close ties to Virginia Uranium, which holds title to the Pittsylvania County property that contains the rich deposit. According to Danville’s News Advance, he’s received thousands in campaign contributions from the company, and was paid more than $9,000 to visit France to study industry there.

No more fetus wars? One thing we might not hear about, says the Washington Examiner? Personhood. Earlier this year, the State Senate voted to continue a bill that would grant a fetus rights as a citizen into the 2013 session, but the Examiner reports committee action needed to refer the legislation to the full Senate never happened, perhaps indicating Republicans aren’t planning to go full-tilt on the hugely controversial women’s rights issues that put them in the national spotlight last session.—Allie Cooper and Graelyn Brashear

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