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Governor Takes Final Action on 2019 Legislation

Governor Northam this week announced his final actions on legislation that was returned to him from the April 3 reconvened session. At this stage of the legislative process, the Governor may sign or veto bills that were returned in this posture. Bills upon which the Governor takes no action within the 30 days after the reconvened session become law without his signature. As of the writing of this article, of the 23 bills returned from the reconvened session for which the General Assembly rejected gubernatorial amendments, either in whole or in part, the Governor vetoed 14 and signed six; three bills await final disposition. The Governor also has the ability to veto specific line items in the state budget, an authority Governor Northam exercised for one item this year.

The Governor vetoed the following bills of interest to local governments:

HB 2686 (Knight), which would have changed 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 Governor offered amendments, which VACo supported, that would have made this change a local option, but the House rejected the amendments.

HB 2053 (McQuinn), which proposed revised staffing ratios for school counselors of one counselor per 455 students in elementary school, one counselor per 370 students in middle school, and one counselor per 325 students in high school.  A related bill, SB 1406 (Dance), has already been signed by the Governor, and provides for lower staffing ratios of 1:375 in elementary school, 1:325 in middle school, and 1:300 in high school.  The 2019 Appropriations Act, which supersedes other legislation, funds school counselors at the higher ratio included in HB 2053, but the Governor’s veto of that bill suggests that the ratios would presumably be lowered in the next biennium in accordance with SB 1406, subject to the provision of funds in the budget.

SB 1087 (Obenshain), which would have allowed the General Assembly to make technical adjustments to legislative district lines after decennial redistricting in order to address split precincts. The Governor had offered a substitute bill, which was rejected by the House, that would have required localities to adjust precinct lines after the completion of decennial redistricting in order to avoid split precincts, or seek a waiver from the State Board of Elections to administer a split precinct; VACo has historically expressed concerns about the viability of such an approach to the problem of split precincts.

SB 1579 (Suetterlein), which would have provided criteria for the drawing of Congressional and General Assembly districts. The Governor’s amendments would have specified that districts could not be drawn to limit minority communities’ ability to elect candidates of choice or to provide an advantage or disadvantage to a political party or an incumbent. The amendments were not considered by the Senate at the reconvened session.

HB 2303 (Leftwich)/SB 1047 (Cosgrove), which would have allowed emergency shelter staff to deny entry to a registered sex offender who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense until the safety of other individuals in the shelter can be ensured. The bills required a sex offender to notify shelter staff of his/her status as an offender as soon as practicable and provided that failure to make such notification would be a class 3 misdemeanor. The Governor had proposed amendments eliminating the provisions regarding temporary exclusion of offenders and requiring state and local emergency operations plans to address the issue of emergency shelter for sex offenders in a way that protected the safety of all persons in the shelter. Both the House and Senate rejected the Governor’s amendments.

HB 2528 (Hugo), which would have provided that someone who unlawfully supplied certain controlled substances to another person (by manufacture, sale, gift, or distribution) who subsequently died from the use of the controlled substance was guilty of felony homicide, regardless of whether the death occurred at a different time or place than the provision of the controlled substance. The Governor’s amendments, which were rejected by the House, would have provided limited protections for a seller of a controlled substance who sought medical attention for the purchaser in the event of an overdose.

In his May 2 letter to the General Assembly transmitting his final actions on the state budget, Governor Northam expressed his disapproval of several items in the 2019 Appropriations Act, but only vetoed General Assembly actions modifying a pilot program to provide access to long-acting reversible contraceptives to low-income women. He signaled that his proposed budget for the upcoming biennium will not include language embedded in the 2019 Appropriations Act limiting participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and barring state agencies from purchasing or implementing body-worn cameras.

VACo Contact: Katie Boyle

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