Lawmakers take up ‘skill games,’ minimum wage, marijuana as Assembly hits midpoint deadline

Virginia lawmakers plowed through hundreds of bills Tuesday as they reached a key deadline for this year’s Legislative Session.

The House of Delegates and Senate debated topics ranging from gambling to marijuana sales ahead of what’s known as “crossover,” the point by which all legislation but the budget bills must clear its originating chamber.

This year’s Session marks the third since the start of Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s term. But it’s the first since he’s taken office with Democrats in full control of the statehouse after they flipped the House of Delegates in last year’s elections.

Democrats have used their majorities to fend off Republican efforts to repeal previously enacted priorities, including voting access protections and environmental laws. And they’re advancing new initiatives — including stricter proposed limits on firearms and legislation to increase the minimum wage — that could face the prospect of a Youngkin veto.

The Governor has been tight-lipped, however, about where exactly he might wield the veto pen, amid closely watched negotiations over his proposal to bring two Washington pro sports teams to northern Virginia.

Still to come this Session, which is scheduled to end March 9, is much of the heavy lifting on one of the Assembly’s most important tasks: crafting the next two-year state budget.

Here’s a look at a where things stand on a number of other key issues:

Northern Virginia sports arena

One of the Session’s most closely watched items, legislation underpinning a proposal by Youngkin to bring the Washington Wizards and Capitals to northern Virginia, passed the House of Delegates Tuesday on a bipartisan 59-40 vote. Supporters cheered the development as a major step forward, while opponents vowed to keep up their organizing.

The deal’s path forward looks murky, as an identical Senate version was allowed to die in that chamber this week for lack of a hearing. Top legislators there have questioned whether Youngkin is negotiating with Democrats in good faith and raised concerns about the public-private financing that’s proposed.

Marijuana sales

Both chambers have passed bills that would pave the way for the legal recreational sales of marijuana, but they face a skeptical Youngkin.

In 2021, Virginia became the first Southern state to legalize marijuana, adopting a policy change that allowed adults to possess and cultivate the drug. But lawmakers have yet to enact a framework for recreational sales.

Abortion

Democrats have defeated measures that would restrict access to abortion, including one proposal that would have instituted a near-total ban on the procedure. Meanwhile, they are advancing legislation likely to face a Youngkin veto that would prevent the issuance of search warrants for electronic or digital menstrual health data, which proponents say would prevent such information from being weaponized in potential abortion-related court cases.

Democrats also used a rare procedural technique to force a floor vote Monday on a bill from a conservative freshman member that would further restrict the already limited circumstances in which public funding can be used to provide abortion services and prohibit state funding from flowing to entities that provide abortions.

Democrats said they wanted to put every House member on the record on the issue, though the bill was not particularly divisive. It failed to advance on a vote of 95-1, with two abstentions. Republicans called the exchange a stunt.

Skill games and casinos

The House and Senate this week passed differing versions of legislation that would tax and regulate so-called “skill games,” the slot-like betting machines that have proliferated in businesses such as truck stops, restaurants and convenience stores around the state before a ban took effect.

The House version has tighter regulations, and the Senate’s is preferred by the well-organized industry coalition pushing for legalization.

Other gambling-related bills this year include a now-defeated effort to allow a referendum on a casino in the wealthy suburbs of the nation’s capital and a separate measure, still alive, that would add Petersburg to the list of casino-eligible cities while removing Richmond, where voters have twice rejected ballot measures to pave the way for one.

Campaign finance reform

Good governance advocates had high hopes that this may be the year Virginia lawmakers finally agree to join most other states and the federal government in preventing elected officials from spending campaign donations on personal expenses.




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