The Collegian
Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Virginia General Assembly completes revisions to budget

The Virginia General Assembly adjourned its annual legislative session after passing revisions to its $78 billion two-year budget.

Last year, legislators adopted a budget that slashed more than $4 billion from every area of government, but this year, with news that tax revenues were better than expected, they were able to reverse some previously adopted cuts.

The House and Senate clashed in the session's last days on how to spend the unexpected money.

The budget, which passed on Sunday night, included the first spending increases in education and health care since the economic downturn began. But legislators also sponsored many bills that were more unusual.

Some of the unusual bills passed, but others met their demise, mostly along party lines. Gov. Robert McDonnell has 30 days to sign the passed bills in order for them to become law.

Education

* The Senate won $75 million for public schools.

* A Senate committee killed McDonnell's effort to give corporations a 70 percent tax credit for donations to nonprofits that provide tuition to private schools for low-income students.

* The General Assembly agreed to require public elementary and middle schools to offer 150 minutes of physical education each week, in an effort to curb childhood obesity.

Abortion

* New legislation will require clinics that perform more than five first-term abortions per month to be regulated like hospitals.

* Anti-abortion lawmakers argued that more active oversight of outpatient first-trimester abortion clinics would help protect women, but abortion rights advocates said the tighter regulations would place unnecessary burdens on an already safe procedure. They said the laws were a thinly veiled attempt to close off access to abortions, especially in poor and rural areas.

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* Jill Abbey, director of the Richmond Medical Center for Women, said in a statement that clinic workers were worried about getting shut down by the cost of upgrading to meet hospital-style standards in buildings that had been previously treated as doctor's offices.

Drugs

* The General Assembly unanimously approved legislation to criminalize the possession and distribution of synthetic marijuana and "bath salts," which are both designer drugs.

* Synthetic marijuana, commonly known as "Spice" or "K2," produces a high similar to marijuana when smoked. The measures made possession of the drug a misdemeanor and selling it a felony. A person convicted of manufacturing the drug could face a 30-year prison sentence under the new law.

* "Bath salts" are the names of psychoactive drugs called "Cloud 9" or "Ivory Wave." The salts are snorted, smoked or injected and have effects similar to cocaine, Ecstasy and LSD. The adopted legislation classifies bath salts with federally controlled Schedule 1 drugs such as heroin and LSD.

* Both drugs have been suspected in overdose deaths and sicknesses nationwide. A dozen states have banned synthetic marijuana, and more than 20 states are considering legislation to do so this year. A handful of states are considering banning the bath salts, which only recently became a problem.

Alcohol

* McDonnell's revised plan to privatize Virginia's monopoly on the sale of distilled spirits through its ABC liquor stores never made it to a vote, as House and Senate committees refused to bring it up.

* Legislators passed a bill that will allow the state to maintain some control over outdoor billboards that show alcohol advertisements.

* The bill allows alcohol advertisements on billboards on commercial and industrial properties, as long as they are not within 500 feet of homes, schools, playgrounds or places of worship.

Other bills to note

* Autism - new legislation would mandate autism insurance coverage for children ages 2 to 6, a critical period for treating the disorder.

* Cellphones - efforts to prohibit people from talking on cellphones while driving except when using hands-free devices died.

* Child sexual assault - victims of such assaults would have 20 years to file civil suits, up from two years, under new legislation.

Contact staff writer Zak Kozuchowski at zak.kozuchowski@richmond.edu

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