RICHMOND, Va. -- With two days left to act on legislation passed by this year’s General Assembly, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced Friday that he has signed 733 bills, vetoed 17 and amended 50 others, including tightening ethics reforms.
“This has been a great legislative session,” McAuliffe said, noting that lawmakers wrapped up with work ahead of schedule. “They got out a day early; we’ll have all our bills done ... two days early.”
McAuliffe’s announcement came a day after he signed the state’s two-year budget with no amendments or line-item vetoes -- the first time a Virginia governor has done that since 1998.
Not all will be smooth sailing when state legislators return to the Capitol on April 15 for their “reconvened session” to consider McAuliffe’s vetoes and recommendations. At that time, they will accept or reverse the governor’s actions.
For example, McAuliffe amended legislation meant to address sexual assault on college campuses and regulation of home day care operations. He also proposed changes to the ethics reform package, which he said was “loaded with mostly technical errors” and left out key components.
During the session, lawmakers weren't all that thrilled about passing ethics reforms. But they knew the issue’s importance in light of the corruption case involving former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen. In the process, lawmakers agreed to put a $100 limit on gifts to public officials.
The current limit is $250 – but that is an aggregate cap. In passing the ethics bills, legislators failed to limit the total amount a legislator could receive in gifts, McAuliffe said.
“The way the bill is written today, you could receive a $100 gift every single day from the same lobbyist. So if you are here for a 45-day session, every single day you can get a $100 gift,” McAuliffe said. He called this a “bigger loophole than what we had before.”
To fix it, he recommended placing a $100 aggregate cap on gifts to lawmakers from a single donor.
Among other amendments to the ethics reform bills, McAuliffe added:
- Provisions to prohibit gifts from anyone seeking a contract from the state.
- A requirement that travel paid for by third parties be reported.
McAuliffe also made technical amendments to HB 1570 and SB 1168, which affect day care regulations. Otherwise, he said, Virginia could lose millions in federal funds.
“We cannot afford be giving up $5 million in federal funding, so I will be amending that so we don’t lose any federal money,” McAuliffe said.
Legislators had drafted the guidelines after a fire at a home day care in Chesterfield killed a 1-year-old boy.
HB 1930 and SB 712 seek to ensure that sexual assault survivors have access to information about support services. The bills also establish a procedure for university employees to report sexual assault claims to Title IX coordinators at each school and, in certain cases, to law enforcement. McAuliffe said he amended those bills to address “technical errors.”
Among the vetoed legislation, McAuliffe struck down several bills regarding guns:
- SB 948 would ban certain out-of-state police agencies from obtaining information on Virginia’s concealed handgun permit holders.
- SB 1137 would allow concealed handgun permit holders to transport loaded shotguns in their vehicle anywhere in the state. “To me, this is common sense: You don’t need to have loaded shotguns in your cars,” McAuliffe said.
- HB 2009 would limit the power of local governments to make laws that regulate machine guns, rifles and shotguns of certain length, and the possession of silencers.
McAuliffe also vetoed:
- HB 1626, known as the “Tebow Bill.” It sought to allow home-schooled students to play sports at their local public school. McAuliffe said the veto is a matter of fairness, because the bill would let home-schoolers bypass academic and attendance requirements that public school students must meet.
- HB 1752, which would prohibit the Board of Education from replacing the educational objectives of Virginia’s Standards of Learning with the federal Common Core standards without prior approval from the General Assembly. “We are not going to be taking away authority from the Board of Education. To me, it fringes on their authority, and that is unacceptable,” McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe signed into law a number of notable bills. They included HB 1887 and HB 1886, known as the “omnibus transportation package.” This legislation makes funding for statewide transportation projects less political. It overhauls the system for choosing which road projects will be built, and it sets aside more money to maintain older roads and bridges.
“In the past before I signed this bill, some districts would get money, others would not,” McAuliffe said. “Now every district is guaranteed in getting some money.”
The bill sets objective performance measures for the Commonwealth Transportation Board to follow in allocating funding for construction projects. The criteria include the proposed project’s economic worth, its development potential and its ability to ease congestion.
“I believe we have reformed our transportation process here in the commonwealth. There will never again be another (Route) 460 or a Midtown Tunnel deal,” McAuliffe vowed. “That cannot happen again.”
The governor also signed HB 1458 and SB 1186, which expand a pilot program for naloxone, an opioid overdose-reversing drug used to fight the heroin and prescription painkiller epidemic in Virginia.
The legislation expands access to naloxone through pharmacies statewide for friend and family members of opiate users and allows firefighters and law-enforcement officers who have completed a training program to possess and administer naloxone. It also protects those who administer naloxone from civil damages for ordinary negligence.
McAuliffe also signed HB 2125 and SB 1301. They prohibit law enforcement and government agencies in Virginia from using drones unless officials have obtained a search warrant. The warrant requirement does not apply to search and rescue operations, research and development conducted by institutions of higher education or other research organizations, or the use of unmanned aircraft systems for private, commercial or recreational use.
By Cameron Vigliano and Craig Zirpolo
Capital News Service is a flagship program of the VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.