The General Assembly held its annual reconvened session on April 3 to consider the Governor’s amendments to legislation that passed during the regular session, as well as 17 bills vetoed by the Governor. In order for a bill to be amended in accordance with the Governor’s recommendation, both the House and the Senate must vote to accept the amendment by a majority of members present. In order to override a gubernatorial veto, both chambers must vote to pass the bill in its enrolled form (as it was passed by the General Assembly) by a supermajority vote of two-thirds of the members present (which must include a majority of members elected), a hurdle that was too high for the General Assembly to clear this week, as all 17 of the Governor’s vetoes were sustained. The General Assembly accepted the Governor’s amendments to 23 bills and rejected the Governor’s amendments, either in whole or in part, to 23 bills; the Governor now has 30 days to take final action on these bills. At this stage of the legislative process, the Governor may sign or veto bills that were returned to him from the reconvened session. Bills upon which the Governor takes no action become law without his signature.
The General Assembly accepted 26 of the Governor’s 40 amendments to the state budget. The Governor now has 30 days to act on the budget as well; he may sign the budget bill, veto the entire bill (an unlikely outcome this year), or veto specific line items.
Of particular importance to local governments among the Governor’s budget amendments was a proposal to clarify that local school divisions could still qualify for the state share of all or part of the 2% salary increase effective September 1, even if they were unable to provide the 3% percent salary increase over the course of the biennium which takes effect July 1, 2019. Language in the enrolled budget and guidance provided by the Virginia Department of Education since the adjournment of the regular session had indicated that the 3% salary increase was a prerequisite for receiving any state contribution toward the 2% increase. VACo supported the Governor’s amendment, which was accepted by both chambers.
The General Assembly rejected Governor’s amendments both to the budget and to HB 2053 (McQuinn) that addressed the ratio of guidance counselors to students. The amendments to HB 2053 would have provided for further reductions in the counselor-to-student ratio beginning with the 2020-2021 school year. As a result, if the Governor takes no further action on these items, the staffing ratios for the 2019-2020 school year will remain consistent with the level of funding for the state’s share of these positions in the budget (one counselor per 455 students in elementary school, 1:370 in middle school, and 1:325 in high school), and presumably would be lowered in accordance with the provisions of the companion bill to HB 2053, SB 1406 (Dance), in the next biennium, subject to the provision of funds in the budget. SB 1406 would require a ratio of 1:375 in elementary school, 1:325 in middle school, and 1:300 in high school.
The General Assembly accepted extensive amendments to HB 2718 (Landes) and SB 1716 (Obenshain) to generate revenue for improvements to I-81, as well as to I-95, I-64, and other interstate corridors. The amendments include the creation of a new registration fee for non-passenger vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds; increases in taxes on diesel fuel; and the imposition of a regional gas tax.
Other bills of interest to local governments
- HB 2686 (Knight), as passed by the General Assembly, would change the current procedure by which a Board of Zoning Appeals can overturn a decision of a zoning administrator from a majority vote of the board to a majority of the board membership present and voting. The bill could create a situation in which, for example, if three members of a five-member BZA are present and voting, only two votes would required to overturn a decision. VACo supported the Governor’s amendments, which would have made this change in voting procedure a local option. The House rejected the amendments.
- SB 1087 (Obenshain), as amended by the Governor, returned to its introduced form, which requires localities to adjust precinct lines after the completion of decennial General Assembly redistricting so that precincts are contained within Congressional or state legislative districts or seek a waiver from the State Board of Elections to administer a split precinct. VACo has historically expressed concerns about the overall feasibility of this approach. The House rejected the Governor’s proposal; the enrolled version of the bill, which would permit the General Assembly to make post-redistricting technical adjustments to district lines in order to address split precincts, now returns to the Governor for final action.
- The General Assembly accepted amendments to HB 1942 (Bell, R.B.) that will require coordination with family members of incarcerated individuals with serious mental illness as part of the discharge planning process required by the bill.
- The General Assembly accepted the Governor’s amendments to HB 2263 (Krizek)/SB 1494 (Edwards), which provide that any evidence gathered in an interrogation that violates the provisions of the Firefighters and Emergency Medical Technicians Procedural Guarantee Act shall not be admissible in any case against a firefighter or emergency medical services personnel. The Governor’s amendment substituted the words “administrative hearing” for the word “case,” making it clear that this provision pertains to administrative situations.
- The General Assembly rejected the Governor’s amendments to HB 2303 (Leftwich)/SB 1047 (Cosgrove), which deal with registered sex offenders’ presence in emergency shelters. The Governor’s amendments would have required state and local emergency operations plans to set out procedures for sex offenders to notify staff of their status as offenders, as well as plans for the provision of shelter for offenders while protecting other individuals in the shelter.
- The General Assembly accepted the Governor’s amendments to SB 1554 (Surovell), which allows a court to impose a civil penalty upon a public body if a member of the public body voted to certify a closed meeting if the certification violated FOIA, if an attorney representing the public body was present at the time of the certification. The amendments revise the bill to apply in cases where the public body votes to certify the closed meeting, and remove the language regarding the presence of the public body’s attorney. The Governor also adds language providing for the court to consider mitigating factors in determining whether to impose a civil penalty, including reliance upon opinions of the Attorney General, case law, and published opinions of the Freedom of Information Advisory Council.
Other bills of interest
- Firearms ordinances for properties in multiple localities: HB 2252 (Head) provides that a landowner who owns contiguous parcels that span more than one locality may opt to apply the firearms ordinances of the locality in which the largest portion of the property falls to apply to anyone hunting on any portion of the property. The Governor’s amendments, which add a reenactment clause to the bill, and direct the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to study the issue, were accepted.
- Criteria for Congressional and General Assembly districts: SB 1579 (Suetterlein) provides criteria for the establishment of Congressional and General Assembly districts. The Governor’s amendments, which were not taken up by the Senate, would forbid districts from being drawn to restrict minority communities’ ability to elect candidates of choice and from being drawn to favor a political party or incumbent, among other provisions. The bill now returns to the Governor in its enrolled form.
- Handheld communications devices in motor vehicles: SB 1768 (Mason) prohibits a driver from holding a personal communications device while driving in a highway work zone, with certain exceptions. The Governor’s amendments would generally prohibit holding personal communications devices while driving, with certain exceptions, and require public outreach on the issue before the bill would take effect on January 1, 2020. A proposed enactment clause directed annual reporting on the citations issued under the new provisions, including demographic information on drivers who are cited. The amendments were accepted in the Senate, but ruled not germane in the House.
- Criminal responsibility for suppliers of controlled substances: HB 2528 (Hugo) provides that a person who unlawfully supplies a controlled substance to someone who dies as a result of using the controlled substance is guilty of second-degree murder, even if the death occurred at another time and place than the transfer of the controlled substance. The Governor’s amendments would provide that seeking medical attention for the person experiencing the overdose is an affirmative defense to prosecution for the supplier of the controlled substance in certain circumstances. The House rejected the amendments.
Other budget amendments of interest to local governments
- Census outreach: The Senate rejected the Governor’s proposed restoration of $1.5 million GF in FY 2019 for education and outreach efforts in preparation for the 2020 Census.
- Housing Trust Fund: Both chambers accepted the Governor’s amendment providing an additional $4 million GF to the Housing Trust Fund in FY 2019.
- Balance billing: Both chambers accepted the Governor’s amendment modifying a proposed workgroup that is tasked with addressing the issue of balance billing. The Governor’s proposal would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Resources to convene the workgroup, in collaboration with the Secretary of Administration, Secretary of Finance, and State Corporation Commission, and to evaluate options to prohibit balance billing by out-of-network health care providers for emergency services and to establish “equitable and fair reimbursement for these health care providers.”
- Mental health study: Both chambers agreed to the Governor’s amendment extending the duration of the Joint Subcommittee Studying Mental Health Services in the Commonwealth in the 21st Century through the end of the biennium.
- Body-worn cameras: The House rejected the Governor’s amendment stripping language barring state agencies from implementing body-worn cameras. House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones said that he preferred to wait until the full costs of such systems were known before state agencies deployed additional cameras.
- Central State Hospital: Both chambers agreed to the authorization of bond funding to replace Central State Hospital, as well as to language requiring the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to evaluate the possibility of relocating forensic beds to another state-owned property.
- Amazon HQ2: The House rejected a proposal by the Governor to remove language capturing the first $40 million of sales and use taxes collected from online retailers with a physical nexus within the commonwealth, effective July 1, 2020, and setting that funding aside for the new Major Headquarters Workforce Grant Fund.
- Sales tax collection by online marketplace facilitators: Both chambers accepted the Governor’s proposal to eliminate the Department of Taxation’s ability to grant temporary suspensions or delays of the requirement for marketplace facilitators to collect or report sales and use taxes due.