Packed agenda greets 2013 General Assembly

Posted: January 10, 2013

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — The Virginia General Assembly convened Wednesday with a long list of issues to tackle.

During the 45-day session, legislators are expected to address a transportation fund that’s going broke, teacher pay, uranium mining in southern Virginia, and gun violence.

Following a legislative session last year that drew national ridicule because of a right turn on social issues — such as mandated ultrasounds and the rejection of a gay veteran Richmond prosecutor for a judicial post — Del. Joe May, R-Leesburg, said Tuesday that he expects there to be less focus on such controversial items this year.

May expects the session to be dominated by education issues — including Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposal to grant teachers a raise while also making it easier to fire them — and transportation funding.

Some of the hotly contested battles from last session, however, have yet to fully dissipate.

Before the noon opening of Wednesday’s session, hundreds of anti-abortion activists gathered outside the Capitol to celebrate last year’s legislation — now a law — requiring a woman to have an abdominal ultrasound before an abortion, and to push for more.

The bill was introduced in the Senate by Jill Vogel, R-Upperville, and in its original form would have required some women seeking an abortion to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound.

This year, anti-abortion activists are pushing for passage of a bill that would grant full legal rights of personhood to a fetus.

Supporters of abortion rights, meanwhile, are advocating for a repeal of last year’s ultrasound mandate.

Vogel did not return a request for comment.

May expects McDonnell’s transportation funding proposal to occupy much of the lawmakers’ time.

On Tuesday, the governor unveiled his proposal to do away with the state’s 17.5-cent gas tax and replace it with a 0.8 percentage point increase in the state sales tax and a shifting of general fund money to transportation among other new fees.

“There is a lot of negotiating to go,” May said of the governor’s plan.

Gun control is also expected to be a hot topic as some Democrats push for tighter regulations in the aftermath of multiple mass shootings in the past two years, including the December massacre of 20 children at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

Rolling back the access to guns could be a tough sell in the Republican-controlled General Assembly, however.

May said he expects little action on gun control from the Republicans — who have a majority in the House of Delegates and effectively control the Senate due to the tiebreaking vote of Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.

Instead, McDonnell has floated the idea of arming school officials, and Del. Bob Marshall, R-Prince William, has introduced a bill that would require every school board in the state to designate at least one person for each school in the district to carry a handgun on school property.

Del. Beverly Sherwood, R-Frederick County, did not return a request for comment Wednesday, but recently said she would be opposed to any gun-control measures.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

— Contact Conor Gallagher at cgallagher@winchesterstar.com