Virginia 2016 Legislative Session to Start Wed.

Virginia lawmakers are set to head back to Capitol on Wednesday for start of the 2016 legislative session.

The session marks the mid-point of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe's term-limited time in office. Both chambers of the General Assembly are controlled by Republicans, giving the governor little chance of advancing an aggressive agenda. Likewise, the governor's veto pen gives him to ability to keep in check any GOP-led efforts he disagrees with.

Here's a look at some key issues:



The task of crafting Virginia's next two-year budget will keep lawmakers busy this session and undoubtedly spark some partisan feuds. McAuliffe outlined his $109 billion state spending plan last month, but now it's up to the General Assembly to decide which of the Democrat's priorities to keep and which to scrap.

At the center of McAuliffe's budget proposal is an aggressive effort to boost funding for public schools, colleges and universities by $1 billion, including more than $139 million targeted toward helping districts hire nearly 2,500 more teachers. McAuliffe is also urging lawmakers to sign off on a $2.4 billion bond package, which would pump $350 million into the Port of Virginia as it races to prepare for the arrival of massive cargo ships after the completion of the Panama Canal expansion this year. The governor's borrowing package also includes nearly $850 million for projects at Virginia's colleges and universities.

Republican so far have been cool to McAuliffe's idea to lower the corporate tax rate to 5.75 from 6 percent, which the governor claims will drive businesses to Virginia. GOP leaders say his proposal doesn't go far enough and believe it's unwise to lower the corporate rate without considering an overhaul of the broader tax code.



Two years ago, conservative lawmakers helped squash McAuliffe's plans to expand Medicaid, derailing the governor's top legislative priority for the foreseeable future. Now some of them want Virginia to drop a decades-old requirement that its hospitals get approval before proceeding with major construction projects or equipment purchases.

Supporters say the law, known as certificate of public need, hold down health care costs by avoiding unnecessary duplication of services. But some conservatives argue the law limits competition to the advantage of large hospitals and limits customer choice.

McAuliffe is also proposing for the third straight session to expand Medicaid for low-income Virginians, which GOP lawmakers are likely to block it again.



Advocates are hopeful that McAuliffe's commission that examined parole in Virginia will help drive some significant changes in the area of criminal justice this year. While the commission stopped short of calling for the reinstatement of parole, which was abolished in 1995, it recommended several other measures, including raising the threshold for the value of stolen property makes a crime considered a felony larceny from $200 to at least $500.

McAuliffe's administration has also said that as a result of that commission, it will push legislation to allow potentially hundreds of inmates who were sentenced by juries between 1995 and 2000 to be considered for early release because their juries weren't informed about the abolition of parole.

Meanwhile, Republicans are certain to again block any efforts from McAuliffe and Democrats to tighten restrictions on gun owners. Attorney General Mark Herring's decision to revoke the state's concealed handgun permit agreement with 25 other states will also likely provoke a heated debate at the Capitol. Lawmakers will consider legislation that would essentially void Herring's decision and require the state to recognize all out-of-state permits.



Stung by a gifts scandal that ensnared former Gov. Bob McDonnell, state lawmakers passed ethics-reform legislation during the last two sessions. Those efforts focused almost entirely on gifts that lawmakers can accept from lobbyists or business interests.

McAuliffe put together a bipartisan ethics committee that has come up with broader recommendations touching on campaign finance reform and other areas, but GOP leaders have not embraced those recommendations and it's unclear whether there will be much appetite to revisit ethics legislation during the 2016 session.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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