Legislative Update
February 23, 2016

Last week marked our Crossover session. It is the midway point of every legislative session and this annual milestone marks the deadline by which the Senate must act on all bills filed by members of the Senate. Any successful Senate bills must be sent to the House by midnight. The House has the same deadline by which to complete their bills and transmit their successful legislation to the Senate.

Crossover is traditionally consumed by long sessions and lengthy debates on the floor of both houses of the General Assembly. This year, however, those sessions were not nearly as long, with both sides completing their work well in advance of the midnight deadline. We moved with efficiency because we have done a good job of weeding out the bad bills and perfecting the quality bills. Of the nearly 1002 bills filed by Senators, more than 552 were approved and sent to the House for consideration. Also, by Crossover, the Senate had already considered and approved a significant number of House bills, passing 249.

Prior to Crossover, an impressive range of substantive bills had passed the General Assembly. Highlights include bills to:

  • Establish the Virginia Shoreline Resiliency Fund for the purpose of creating a low-interest loan program to help residents and businesses subject to recurrent flooding;
  • Give state police authority to perform background checks on behalf of private citizens at gun shows, if requested;
  • Prohibit a person subject to a permanent protective order from possessing a firearm;
  • Override the governor's executive order banning guns in state buildings;
  • Remove hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, medical imaging services and similar facilities from the certificate of public need process, which requires state approval before new facilities can be built;
  • Allow production of cannabidiol oil and THC-A oil;
  • Provide that if the director of the Department of Corrections certifies that lethal injection is not possible as a means of execution, electrocution can be used instead;
  • Require the state police to include justifiable homicides involving a law-enforcement officer in the annual Crime in Virginia report;
  • Expand the definition of stalking to include if a woman feels fear;
  • Increase the penalty for repeat protective order violations, domestic violence and stalking from a misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony;
  • Clarify that killed in action includes a service member who dies of wounds received in action after reaching a medical treatment center, for purposes of the real property tax exemption on the residence of the surviving spouse;
  • Prohibit tolling a highway, bridge or tunnel without approval of the General Assembly except in limited circumstances;
  • Change the regional gas tax in Hampton Roads to a cents-per-gallon tax that decreases as the price of gas increases;
  • Require the Department of Environmental Quality to receive approval from the General Assembly for a state plan to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants before submitting the plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval; and
  • My bill which the Governor agreed to support recognizing concealed handgun permits for all states with a concealed carry permitting process.
It should be no surprise that the most controversial bills were being refined until the very end. In this case, one of the bills was my SB 416 which drew national attention. It is the current model framework for states attempting to construct laws that accommodate a new online sharing economy while protecting the economy that already exists. The bill was narrowly drawn to serve people in Virginia who wish to make lodging space available at their primary residences through online platforms like FlipKey and Airbnb. The bill protects consumers, while working with the Tax Department to create a process to fairly collect and remit taxes to localities. To me the bill offered the perfect solution. It leveled the playing field, satisfied localities by capturing revenue, protecting their local ordinance authority while it included a study at the request of the hotel and hospitality industry who asked that their issues with the industry be evaluated for future legislation. The bill passed in committee almost unanimously but had a tough debate on the Senate floor. I respect opponents who want local government to be able to ban the practice, but this is an issue of fundamental economic freedom and like Uber and Lyft, the modern sharing economy is here and Virginia ultimately has to adopt a fair framework to address it. I am pleased that the majority of my bills have passed and now remain to be considered in the House.

Finally, the biggest event of the week came Sunday afternoon when the Senate Finance Committee met to pass the Senate's version of the 2016-2018 Biennial Budget. It was the result of weeks of painstaking work. I chaired the subcommittee responsible for general government, technology, state employee compensation, the court system and the Virginia Retirement System, and I am very proud of the budget that we produced.

As always, I take your thoughts and opinions seriously and hope that you will get in touch with our office any time that you have questions or concerns. We have had a number of visitors in the Capitol this session and I urge you to visit if you have time before the session concludes on March 12th. It is a great experience and especially educational for kids. I can be reached during the General Assembly session at 804-698-7527, P.O. Box 397, Richmond, VA 23218 or you can email me at jillvogel@senate27.com.