Richmond rundown Legislators find common ground as session winds down

File photo. File photo.

The 2015 General Assembly session is in its final sprint, with talk of both houses agreeing to a budget and voting on it one day before the session ends February 27—a nearly unprecedented rapprochement.

Contributing to the speedy resolution was taking Medicaid expansion off the table, despite Governor Terry McAuliffe setting that as a priority before the session began. Legislators are putting $132.9 million toward health care, with much of that going toward mental health, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. Another $6 million will go toward free clinics and community health centers.

After last year’s dire predictions of a $2.4 billion shortfall, higher than expected revenues softened the pain, and instead teachers will see a 1.5 percent increase in what the state contributes to their salaries while state police, state employees and college faculty are looking at a 2 percent raise.

And the General Assembly gets a reprieve from redrawing the district lines that a federal court had previously ruled unconstitutional. The new deadline is September 1 or 60 days after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a pending case.

Bill by bill

Pass: Delegate Rob Bell’s perennial Tebow bill, which would allow homeschooled kids to play public school sports, heads to the governor’s desk.

Fail: Despite outrage last year following The Washington Post’s series on the billions collected from unconvicted citizens by police using civil asset forfeiture, a House bill requiring a conviction before property is seized stalls in the Senate finance committee.

Fail: Senator Thomas Garrett’s bill that would make it legal to possess switchblades, black jacks and brass knuckles passes in the House February 17, only to be defeated the next day.

Fail: A House bill that would require the attorney general to represent to the Commonwealth (ahem, Mark Herring, who last year refused to defend the state’s ban on gay marriage) passes the House and is defeated in a Senate tie vote February 23, with Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam casting the tie-breaking vote to kill the bill.

Pass: Virginia’s generous land conservation tax credits are limited from $100 million to $75 million starting this year, with the maximum $100,000 tax credit dropped to $20,000 the next two years and going up to $50,000 in 2017. The bill now goes to Governor McAuliffe.

Fail: Two ethics reform bills inspired by last year’s scandal when Democratic State Senator Phillip Puckett resigned so his daughter could become a judge, giving Republicans a narrow majority, both died. While the Senate already prohibited confirmation of a family member to a judgeship, a House bill that would keep any immediate family member from being confirmed to the bench until two years after a legislator was out of office died, as did HB 1305, which would prevent any legislator from taking a state job the first year after leaving office.