Governor McAuliffe released the last of his amendments for the 2017 General Assembly session on Monday, March 27. Gubernatorial amendments to 71 bills (including House and Senate pairs) will be before the General Assembly for consideration at the reconvened session on Wednesday, April 5 (an additional 12 bills were amended and acted upon by the General Assembly prior to adjournment of the regular session). In addition, the Governor proposed 27 amendments to the state budget, which will also be acted upon by the legislature.
In order for a bill to be amended in accordance with the Governor’s recommendation, both chambers must vote to accept the amendments. The Governor’s amendments may be accepted in whole or in part, depending upon whether they are specific and severable. If the General Assembly rejects the Governor’s amendments to a bill, the legislation is returned to the Governor, who then has 30 days to sign or veto the legislation; in the absence of action by the Governor before the 30-day deadline, the bill becomes law without his or her signature.
Governor’s Amendments to Bills of Interest to Local Governments
Meals Tax Referenda
As discussed in Capitol Contact, the Governor proposed amendments to SB 1296 (Vogel), a bill that as passed by the General Assembly would impose a three-year moratorium on a board of supervisors placing a meals tax referendum on the ballot after the defeat of a previous referendum. The bill also requires that the language of the ballot question set out the total taxes that would be levied on meals should the referendum pass. The Governor’s amendments narrow the moratorium to one year and remove the prescriptive language regarding the ballot question.
The McAuliffe administration is proposing several amendments to SB 1282 (McDougle), a bill that places certain limits on local zoning authority for the placement of small cell facilities (i.e. antennas) on existing structures. In addition to one technical amendment, the Governor proposes changes that address the use of state maintained roads for the placement of antennas, poles and towers within the right-of-way (ROW). The first amendment increases the fee VDOT may charge for the review of applications to locate in the ROW. Two separate amendments clarify VDOT authority to ensure public safety when the placement of certain structures may create a hazard.
The proposed amendments do not apply to the use of locality maintained ROW.
VACo had opposed the original bill. After lengthy negotiations with the wireless industry resulted in significant revisions, VACo agreed to support the legislation.
As originally drafted, the bill would have gutted local land use authority for the siting of new wireless support structures (towers, poles) and forced the use of local government property without adequate compensation. Those provisions were removed with the result that the legislation now only applies to zoning approval for the placement of antennas on existing structures. Specifically, localities would only be permitted to require administrative approval of antenna attachments to existing structures if the applicant “… has permission from the owner of the structure to co-locate equipment on that structure and notifies the locality in which the permitting process occurs.” Additionally, the locality may deny approval of an application if the placement of the antenna would interfere with existing or planned public safety communications facilities, or conflict with the provisions of locally established historic districts. The bill also prescribes how much a locality can charge to review an application, and how long a locality can take to review a completed application.
Governor’s Budget Amendments
The Governor indicated in his letter to the General Assembly accompanying his budget amendments that his overall goal in his actions on the budget was to bolster the unappropriated balance to guard against potential future economic shocks. To that end, the Governor offsets proposed new spending ($4.1 million) with several savings amendments and proposed revenue increases. Several amendments are of interest to localities. The budget conference report directs the Compensation Board to examine staffing standards for local and regional jails in providing mental health assessments within 72 hours of an initial screening for those inmates whose screenings suggest mental illness; the Governor’s amendment provides $442,500 in FY 2018 to assist local and regional jails in providing these assessments. The Governor’s amendments also provide approximately $300,000 in FY 2018 to fund rent increases and renovation costs for local health departments in Chesterfield County and Accomack County.
The Governor vetoed 40 bills passed by the 2017 General Assembly, 39 of which will be considered by the General Assembly on April 5. Overriding a gubernatorial veto requires a vote of two-thirds of the members present in each chamber. Among the bills vetoed by the Governor are three bills opposed by VACo – HB 1605 (LaRock), which would have allowed the transfer of state Standards of Quality funds to Education Savings Accounts for certain eligible students, to be used for a wide variety of education-related purposes, and HB 2342 (Landes)/SB 1283 (Obenshain), which would have provided for the establishment of regional charter schools. VACo had requested that the Governor veto these bills. The Governor also vetoed several problematic elections bills, including SB 1253 (Obenshain), which would have required electronic pollbooks to include photos of voters provided by the Department of Motor Vehicles (a mandate on localities that would likely have required equipment and software upgrades).
VACo will report on the General Assembly’s actions in a future Capitol Contact. A complete list of the Governor’s amendments and vetoes prepared by the state Division of Legislative Services is available on the DLS website.