The work goes on: What’s happening in the General Assembly

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With so much going on in the executive branch, it's easy to neglect what's happening in the General Assemblyl as the session hits its . midpoint. File photo. With so much going on in the executive branch, it’s easy to neglect what’s happening in the General Assemblyl as the session hits its . midpoint. File photo.

With Richmond in turmoil over Governor Ralph Northam’s blackface past and assault allegations against Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, it’s been hard to focus on the legislature. But the session is halfway through, and February 6 is crossover day, when each house sends the bills it’s passed to the other chamber. Here are some survivors—and some that didn’t fare so well.

Alive

New lines

After years of killing redistricting bills—and a federal court ruling that House of Delegates districts were racially gerrymandered and federal judges must draw new districts for this fall’s election—Republicans, including Speaker Kirk Cox, are suddenly on board with an independent redistricting commission. The Senate passed a constitutional amendment for a bipartisan commission, 40-0. The amendment must pass again in the next session, and will then go before voters.

Mental health in jail

The death of Jamycheal Mitchell, a mentally ill inmate who died of possible heart failure and major weight loss in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail four months after being arrested for shoplifting $5 worth of snacks, prompted Delegate Rob Bell to carry this bill, which sets standards for mental health care in jails. It made it out of one House committee January 29 and now goes to the House Appropriations Committee.

No excuses

A bill that would allow in-person absentee voting a week before an election—without an approved excuse—made it out of the House’s notorious Privileges and Elections Committee, where the Equal Rights Amendment died in subcommittee. Voters would still have to meet state-approved reasons to vote earlier. A more expansive bill, which would allow absentee voting 45 days before the election without an excuse, passed the Senate 40-0.

“Hearing-impaired” axed

After lobbying by advocates who don’t like the term “impaired,” “deaf or hard of hearing” and “hearing loss” could replace “hearing-impaired” in Virginia Code following the House’s unanimous approval of HB2131. The measure now goes to the Senate.

180 days of Airbnb rentals

A Senate bill that would allow Fairfax County homeowners to do short-term rentals for 180 days a year, up from the county’s current 60-day limit, passes the Senate February 4. Albemarle County is currently considering regulations that would limit homestay rentals to 45 days a year—and the owner must remain on the property.

Dead

Tax clarification

Virginians are poised to get hit with higher state taxes because their tax code doesn’t mesh with new federal tax law. If you take the $12,000 personal deduction on fed returns, you can’t itemize on state returns and are faced with Virginia’s much lower $3,000 standard deduction. An emergency bill failed in the House February 4, leaving the state unable to process returns.

Mandatory ultrasounds

Delegate Kathy Tran’s bill that removes some medically unnecessary procedures required for women seeking abortions, including first trimester ultrasounds, doesn’t make it out of a Courts of Justice subcommittee, with Delegate Rob Bell one of the 5-3 votes to table the bill on January 28. The bill’s hearing set off a firestorm that engulfed Tran and Governor Ralph Northam when he described what happens in rare third-trimester cases of serious fetal abnormalities or unviability on WTOP.

Blouse v. shirt

If it’s a man’s shirt, it must be cheaper.

Dry cleaners can continue to charge women more. A bill that would have established gender-parity in dry-cleaning pricing died in an all-male House Courts of Justice subcommittee 6-0, according to VCU’s Capital News Service.

Student reporters

Freedom of the press protections for student journalists didn’t make it out of a House subcommittee. The bill, carried by former WDBJ reporter Delegate Chris Hurst, would have prevented blatant censorship, which typically involves criticism of the school administrations.

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