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Weekly roundup for Virginia General Assembly as crossover approaches

Rosalind Helderman

Despite calling off work Friday for the first time in recent memory due to the impending snow storm, the General Assembly dispatched a lot of legislation last week, as lawmakers race toward the mid-point of toward annual legislative session. Here's just a small sampling of interesting bills passed by one chamber or the other last week.

House of Delegates (with help from Post reporter Fredrick Kunkle):
The House passed two bills to expand Virginia's use of the death penalty last week.

HB502, put forward by Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), would allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty against accomplices who do not physically kill anyone but share the same intent to kill as the person who actually pulled the trigger or otherwise committed the actual murder. Gilbert argued that current law stymies prosecutors from enacting the death penalty against people who shared the murderous intent of the person who actually pulled the trigger or carried out the killing, but cannot be put to death.

But Del. Joseph Morissey (D-Richmond) argued that the bills were unnecessary at a time when DNA has proven the innocence of 130 people on death row and when sentences of life without parole have made juries more reluctant than ever to impose the death penalty.

The bill has passed the state Senate in years past, but been vetoed by Gov. Tim Kaine (D). In contrast, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has expressed his support for the measure.

HB166, a bill written by Del. Brenda L. Pogge (R-Williamsburg), would expand the class of criminals who could face the death penalty. Under her bill, the death penalty could be applied to any person who killed a fire marshal, deputy or assistant fire marshal, or certified emergency medical personnel. A similar measure passed the General Assembly last year but also died with a veto from Kaine.

HB14: This bill, sponsored by Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William) squeaked by the House on a 49 to 48 vote after considerable debate, a sign it could die in the Senate.

It would allow judges in divorce proceedings to assume the worst in instances in which one party or the other refused to answer questions about adultery, sodomy or, yes, buggery outside of marriage on the grounds that such testimony would be self-incriminating. Supporters argue spouses who have engaged in such conduct should not be able to hide by a refusal to answer questions; opponents believed the bill violated the generally-accepted courtroom right to remain silent in the face of incriminating questions. Besides, they noted instances in which spouses would still be able refuse to answer questions, despite the legislation--questions about domestic violence, for instance.

An early victory for McDonnell came with the passage of HB856 and SB537, bills that raise the speed limit on some rural highways from 65 to 70 miles per hour. McDonnell had pushed for the change as a way to speed traffic.

Senate
:
SB77, sponsored by Sen. Roscoe Reynolds (R-Martinsville), would allow Virginia's school districts to start their instructional year before Labor Day, even without a waiver from the state Board of Education that allows them to do so either because of the numbers of days the system loses each year due to snow closures or a waiver allowing them to do so due to some specific instructional program.

Virginia has long had a rather unusual law that prohibits districts from opening before Labor Day without the waiver; often semi-jokingly referred to as the King's Dominion law, TThe change is opposed by the tourism industry, which argues that attractions such as that amusement park would lose tons of business if schools could open in the last week of August. The Senate sent several similar bills back to committee, presumably to die, but after Reynolds jokingly pleaded with his colleagues to let his bill die in the House, instead of the Senate, they gave him his wish and approved it.

SB229 would require all occupants of a car to wear seatbelts. Current law only requires seatbelts in the front seat.

The Senate passed a series of bills like SB311, which declare requiring an individual to purchase health insurance, as envisioned by Democratic health care reform efforts in Washington, would be illegal in Virginia. The bills were a direct challenge to those efforts.

By Rosalind Helderman  |  February 7, 2010; 4:49 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly 2010 , House of Delegates , Rosalind Helderman , State Senate  
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Comments

With all the problems facing Virginia, a crumbling infrastructure, a budget failure on the order of billions, unemployed and uninsured people can take comfort knowing that the state will protect you from the fed, in that you don't have to buy insurance -But then you do HAVE to buckle up.

While moneys tight, all our legislature can concentrate on is expanding the most expensive of penalties, the death penalty, which often costs hundreds of thousands of dollars per inmate -Money to kill, but no money to save lives, such as for health care or education - sounds a bit morally deficient.

Oh, and instead of seeking funds to make the roads safer, their great plan is to increase the speed on those roads- so when you hit a pothole you just fly over it - besides, it so much harder to notice the unmown grass in the median and shoulders, or the cracked and broken pavement at a higher speed.

Yep, they got their priorities right. Only they have the right to tell you you have to do something, and only they have the right to spend your tax dollars like a drunken sailor - and the only time you matter to them, is when its' time to put them back in office.

Posted by: maxtor0 | February 8, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Yep, All these bills solve our transportation and budget shortfall problems. You folks in The Virginia Assembly are geniuses.

Posted by: fabricmaven1 | February 8, 2010 9:18 PM | Report abuse

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