Virginia Governor Signs Slew of Bills

Sunday, Apr 6, 2014  |  Updated 10:54 AM EDT
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Virginia Governor Signs Slew of Bills

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Gov. Terry McAuliffe has signed a slew of bills into law, including ones that will reduce the number standardized tests students have to take, toughen penalties for celebratory gun fire, and require new textbooks to label the body of water separating Japan and the Koreas as both the Sea of Japan and the East Sea.

Monday is the deadline for signing most of the bills passed during the 2014 legislative session, and McAuliffe has already signed several hundred into law.

Last week McAuliffe signed a bill that reduces the number of state standardized tests, called Standards of Learning exams, elementary and middle school students have to take from 22 to 17.

McAuliffe said in a statement that the bill ``represents one of my top legislative priorities dating back to my campaign for governor.''

The governor also signed a bill involving Virginia textbooks that became a flashpoint during the legislative session. Virginia's large South Korean population pushed hard for legislation that will require Virginia textbooks to note that the Sea of Japan is also known as the East Sea. The Japanese government strongly opposed the bill, and the Japanese ambassador to the U.S. personally lobbied against it.

The governor also signed a bill that toughens penalties for celebratory gunfire. The bill, known was ``Brendon's Law,'' was named after 7-year-old Brendon Mackey of Chesterfield County who was killed last Fourth of July by a falling bullet. The shooter was never identified.

Some key pieces of legislation passed by the General Assembly, including efforts aimed at improving the state's mental health system and ethics rules, still await action by the governor.

McAuliffe has also vetoed a handful of bills dealing with gun rights and religious expression. On Friday, the governor vetoed a bill that would have codified a student's right to pray at school. McAuliffe said Virginia law already protects students' right to pray and the bill would have opened up the door to potential lawsuits.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia had urged the governor to veto the bill, saying it would have ``compelled'' schools into sponsoring student prayer.

``This legislation would have invited unconstitutional school sponsored religious speech resulting in religious coercion in a limitless range of school settings, including prayers over the loudspeaker at football games and Bible verses recited during morning announcements,'' Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, said in a statement.

The bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Charles W. Carrico, said all McAuliffe was doing ``is siding with the ACLU and trampling upon the rights of all those of faith.''

Earlier this month, McAuliffe vetoed a bill that would have prohibited censorship of sermons made by chaplains of the Virginia National Guard. McAuliffe said in a statement that the bill would ``seriously undermine the religious freedom of National Guard members by potentially exposing them to sectarian proselytizing.''

McAuliffe's first veto occurred last month of a bill whose purpose was to clarify how gun owners without a concealed handgun permit can keep guns in vehicles.

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