Lawmaker Hustle as General Assembly Session Draws to a Close | Virginia News

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By SARAH RANKIN and DENISE LAVOIE, Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia General Assembly members put in long hours this week as they worked through hundreds of bills, with the year’s regular session drawing to a close.

Throughout the day Friday, members hustled back and forth between their respective chambers as they met in the Capitol corridors to hash out compromise versions of bills. There was no movement, however, on several high-profile matters, including the state budget or the selection of two judges for the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Lawmakers were scheduled to reconvene Saturday for what was scheduled to be their last day. But with dozens of bills outstanding and the budget up in the air, it didn’t seem likely they would finish on time.

Lawmakers could agree to extend the regular session, or Gov. Glenn Youngkin could call a special session at a later date.

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Here is a look at some of the legislation that did reach a resolution at the Capitol this week:

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

House Republicans resisted efforts by Democrats to revive measures that would have let voters decide whether to strip legally outdated language prohibiting gay marriage from the state Constitution and automatically restore the voting rights of felons who have served their terms.

The legislation that would have enabled voter referendums on the proposed constitutional amendments was defeated in a subcommittee earlier in this year’s legislative session. But Democrats made a last-minute push to change House rules and bring the measures to the narrowly divided floor for a vote. Republicans defeated that effort as well.

The defeat of the two proposals ends a two-year legislative process and restarts the clock. Proposed constitutional amendments must pass the General Assembly in two consecutive years before they can go to voters.

Advocates of the voting rights measure were particularly hopeful that it would secure passage this year after a Republican delegate sponsored one version of the legislation.

Virginia lawmakers passed a complicated measure that redefines marijuana in a way its sponsor said was intended to rein in the sales of products containing delta-8 THC, which is a psychoactive chemical cousin of pot’s main intoxicating ingredient.

Delta-8 has recently exploded in popularity. In many places across the country, including in Virginia, products containing the substance are being marketed as being legal, even in some places where recreational marijuana is not.

The measure from Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger went through a wide range of changes. It initially started out as a way to regulate marijuana products in shapes that might appeal to children. But it was rewritten to broaden the definition of marijuana to include any substance containing a total tetrahydrocannabinol concentration that exceeds .3% or a certain per-serving or per-package amount.

Hanger said it was intended to clarify that a license would be required to sell any such substance. Virginia has a medical marijuana program and decriminalized the drug last year but hasn’t established a framework for recreational sales yet.

Advocates called Hanger’s bill a consumer safety measure, saying delta-8 products — including edibles — lack accurate labeling and have sickened children who obtained them. It faced opposition from certain cannabis industry players who argued it was overly restrictive.

Dylan Bishop, a lobbyist for the Cannabis Business Association of Virginia, said the sale of certain CBD products, including salves or balms not intended for consumption, could be impacted.

“It would be very difficult to find products that would meet these definitions,” he said.

The measure also directs state regulators to develop rules prohibiting marijuana products in the shape of a human, animal, vehicle, or fruit.

A 2020 law that called for the establishment of statewide teams of behavioral health workers to respond to people experiencing mental health crises was amended to allow small localities to opt out of the program.

The “Marcus Alert” law was named after Marcus-David Peters, a 24-year-old teacher who was fatally shot by a Richmond police officer after he ran onto a highway, naked, and later charged at the officer while experiencing a mental health crisis.

The legislation was aimed at increasing the participation of mental health professionals and minimizing the role of police in responding to people in crisis.

The amended bill allows localities with populations of 40,000 or less to opt out of the program. Supporters of the amendment said smaller localities can’t find enough behavioral health workers and can’t afford the costs of the program.

Several Democratic lawmakers opposed allowing smaller localities to opt out. Sen. Jeremy McPike said he voted in favor of the legislation despite the opt-out provision because lawmakers have pledged to work together to get additional funding for smaller localities to participate in the program.

SEXUALLY EXPLICIT MATERIAL

The General Assembly approved a measure that’s intended to crack down on unsolicited sexually explicit pictures and videos.

The measure sponsored by Sen. Jennifer McClellan would make any adult who knowingly transmits an “intimate image” electronically to another adult without their consent subject to financial damages. Under the bill, a court may also restrain the sender from sharing such pictures or video again.

Squatted trucks will be banned in Virginia under a bill approved by lawmakers following a crash that left a 27-year-old man dead.

The legislation prohibits the operation of any pickup or panel trucks, or cars, on public roads if the suspension, frame or chassis has been modified to make the height of the front bumper four or more inches higher than the height of the rear bumper. Critics of the modification — sometimes called the “Carolina Squat” — say drivers may not be able to clearly see ahead of them due to the upward tilt of the front end of the vehicle.

The family of a man killed in a crash last month in Mecklenburg County pushed for the legislation. BJ Upton died on Feb. 16 after his truck was struck by another motorist driving a squatted truck.

Virginia State Police have said they are investigating whether the truck modifications were a contributing factor in the crash.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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