Virginia Lawmakers Wrap Up Session Focused On Budget

RICHMOND– Virginia lawmakers have finished their work for the 2017 legislative session, a six week sprint that saw bipartisan cooperation on some issues, such as treating opioid addiction.

The General Assembly adjourned Saturday after lawmakers gave final approval to the budget bill, the biggest task of this year’s session. Lawmakers agreed to fund raises for state employees, with extra money for state troopers and other law enforcement officials.

Here’s a look at other issues lawmakers addressed during their time in Richmond:

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OPIOID CRISIS

The opioid crisis that’s gripped Virginia’s neighbors has made its way into the Old Dominion, and lawmakers made addressing the rising number of overdose deaths a priority.

Among a set of bills McAuliffe signed into law this week is one allowing community organizations to possess and dispense naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug.

Another new law mandates that all opioid prescriptions be transmitted to pharmacies electronically by 2020.

“This work is proof the opioid epidemic is not a partisan issue, but a public health emergency,” Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Bill Hazel said this week.

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METRO SAFETY

Lawmakers moved quickly to do Virginia’s part in establishing an independent oversight authority for the beleaguered Washington-area Metro system after federal officials announced plans to withhold funding over the issue.

They sent a bill to McAuliffe authorizing Virginia to become a signatory to an interstate compact that will create the Metrorail Safety Commission.

The Federal Transit Administration said earlier this month that it will withhold about $8.9 million in transportation funds from Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland through April because the jurisdictions missed a deadline for establishing the program.

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MENTAL HEALTH CARE REFORM

Lawmakers time and again this session invoked the case of Jamycheal Mitchell, a bipolar and schizophrenic man who died in a Portsmouth jail, when making the case for various pieces of mental health reform legislation.

Mitchell was arrested for stealing junk food from a convenience store. He was ordered to a mental hospital, but was never sent there, and he died about four months later of heart failure accompanied by severe weight loss.

One of this session’s efforts is a measure that would implement same-day access for mental health care services at the state’s community services boards, the state and locally funded organizations across the state that serve low-income people.

“I think this small step is going to go a really long way to helping our mental health system,” Del. Peter Farrell said on the House floor.

Another approved bill would add a person with mental health experience to the Board of Corrections.

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COAL ASH

Lawmakers also grappled with how best to dispose of the leftover waste product that comes from burning coal.

Sen. Scott Surovell wasn’t happy with the “watered down” version of his bill on coal ash regulations that emerged in from the House of Delegates, but he asked his colleagues to pass it anyway, saying it was a starting point.

The measure headed to the governor’s desk would require Dominion Virginia Power to provide more information to state regulators about its coal ash impoundments in the Chesapeake Bay watershed — including options for recycling the ash and details on any past or present groundwater pollution.

An earlier version of the bill would have required the Department of Environmental Quality to consider that information before granting a closure permit for an ash pond.

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HAIR-REMOVAL REGULATIONS

Laser hair removal would have to be performed by a medical practitioner or someone trained and supervised by one under a bill that passed the General Assembly.

Sponsor Del. Mark Keam of Fairfax has said he brought the bill after a constituent came to him with a horror story about a treatment performed by a spa employee who turned out to be a janitor.

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SCALPERS’ RIGHTS

Del. David Albo, a self-described metal head, said he brought the Ticket Resale Rights Act after he bought tickets for an Iron Maiden show then couldn’t go but wasn’t able to resell them.

The measure prohibits ticket sellers from using a system that prevents purchasers from lawfully reselling the ticket on the internet platform of their choice. It also prohibits a person from being denied admission to an event because he purchased a secondhand ticket.

Tyler Barker
Tyler Barker is currently the News Director and Digital Content Manager for WOAY-TV. He was promoted to this job in Mid-November. He still will fill in on weather from time to time. You can follow Tyler on Facebook and Twitter @wxtylerb. Have any news tips or weather questions? Email him at tbarker@woay.com