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General Assembly Acts on Governor’s Amendments at Reconvened Session

The General Assembly met on April 18 to consider the Governor’s amendments and vetoes of legislation from the 2018 regular session. Governor Northam submitted amendments to 53 bills (including House and Senate pairs) and vetoed ten bills (gubernatorial amendments to several other bills were considered prior to the adjournment of the regular session). In order for legislation to be amended in accordance with the Governor’s wishes, both the House and Senate had to vote to accept the amendments. The General Assembly accepted the Governor’s amendments to 36 bills and rejected amendments, either in whole or in part, to 17 bills. The Governor now has 30 days to act on legislation that was returned to him from the reconvened session, and must either sign or veto legislation; bills upon which he takes no action will become law without his signature.

All of the Governor’s vetoes were upheld, including HB 1204 (Hugo), legislation which would have required that certain property be assessed based on use value rather than fair market value in certain localities meeting specified population growth criteria, whether or not the locality had adopted land use value taxation. VACo had opposed the bill during the session and requested that the Governor veto the bill.

Amendments to several bills of interest to localities were considered:

Wireless facilities: HB 1258 (Kilgore)/SB 405 (McDougle) limit local zoning authority over the siting of wireless towers by allowing wireless companies to place cell towers of up to 50 feet tall within rights-of-way and restricting localities’ ability to obtain information and address citizen concerns through the public hearing process for towers of greater height. The Governor’s amendments to these bills (which were accepted by the General Assembly) did not change VACo’s opposition to the underlying legislation. Two related measures, HB 1427 (Kilgore)/SB 823 (McDougle), limit what VDOT and localities may charge for the use of publicly owned rights-of-way by the wireless industry for the placement of poles and towers. The Governor’s amendments, which were accepted by the General Assembly, revised the bills to limit only what VDOT may charge for the use of publicly owned rights-of-way.

Solar facilities: SB 902 (Lucas), which would provide more local flexibility in the tax treatment of solar facilities, was amended to provide that the 150 megawatt cap for the mandatory 80 percent exemption from local property taxes applies only prospectively to projects for which an initial interconnection request form is filed on or after July 1, 2018. VACo did not support the amendments, preferring instead to retain the provisions in the bill as it passed the General Assembly that would make the favorable tax treatment of larger solar projects a local option, no matter when the interconnection request was filed. The Governor’s amendments were accepted by the Senate and initially rejected by the House by a narrow margin before being reconsidered and subsequently accepted.

Regulation of mulch: HB 1595 (Wilt)/SB 972 (Obenshain) limit local authority to regulate the use of mulch, which can pose a fire hazard when applied too close to a structure. The Governor’s amendment sought to remove certain structures housing larger numbers of people, such as assisted living facilities and college dormitories, from the restrictions on local regulation, so that localities could still regulate the use of mulch for these properties. VACo opposed the bill during the session and supported the amendments, which were rejected by the General Assembly. The bills have been returned to the Governor for final action.

Drones: HB 638 (Collins)/SB 526 (Obenshain), which address the issue of trespass via use of an unmanned aircraft system, limit the ability of political subdivisions to regulate the use of unmanned aircraft systems within their boundaries. One of the Governor’s amendments would have carved out an exception to this restriction for local school boards, but this provision was rejected by the General Assembly. Another proposed amendment that would require a review of the impact of the legislation on unmanned aircraft research and economic development was accepted. The bills now await final action by the Governor.

VACo Contact: Katie Boyle

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