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McDonnell Amends Dozens of Bills, Vetoes at Least 7

April 11, 2012

Gov. Bob McDonnell has vetoed seven bills passed by the 2012 General Assembly and amended dozens more.

The Republican governor completed his review of legislation just ahead of Monday's midnight deadline and nine days before lawmakers convene a one-day session on April 18 to either override or accept his vetoes and uphold or reject his amendments.

The most eagerly anticipated amendment would allow cities, counties and towns five years to phase in 5 percent pay raises that teachers and local employees will have to contribute to the underfunded public employee pension fund.

Legislation that was rushed to passage in the final hours of the session and adopted with scant debate makes sweeping changes to the Virginia Retirement System, which has nearly $25 billion in unfunded liabilities.

Mayors, city councils, county boards of supervisors were shocked at the enormous and immediate increase in payroll expenses that would force them to impose higher real estate taxes, reduced services or a blend of both. They appealed to McDonnell to amend the bill allowing for the costs to be phased in.

He made mostly technical changes to another bill that scales back retirement benefits for public employees with less than five years in the system. New hires starting in July 2014 would be put into a hybrid pension plan that melds traditional defined benefits with a defined contribution plan like a 401(k), which employees direct and which can gain or lose value based on market fluctuations.

He amended legislation by Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, prohibiting Virginia authorities from aiding the armed forces in illegal detentions of U.S. citizens.

A provision in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act could allow for the indefinite military detentions of Americans, even though President Barack Obama said he would not allow the provision to be enforced.

Marshall, with the backing of Democrats, called it an egregious federal overreach, but McDonnell and other Republicans voiced reservations about it, saying some of its provisions could hamper federal-state counterterrorism efforts.

McDonnell's amendments would insert the word "knowingly" to protect state authorities who unwittingly aid an unconstitutional detention; limit its scope to detentions only — not investigations or prosecutions; and protect state and local authorities involved in joint task forces where the stated intentions are not illegal detainments.

He added amendments to fiercely contested legislation requiring voters to bring identification with them to polling places to vote, a Republican-backed measure that Democrats — particularly black lawmakers — called a throwback to Jim Crow literacy tests and poll taxes.

The new bill requires people who don't bring drivers licenses, voter registration cards or several other forms of identification to cast a provisional ballot to be counted only after the voter's identity and eligibility are confirmed.

McDonnell's amendments set up an automatic review by local elections officials comparing signatures on the provisional ballot with those on file with the State Board of Elections, eliminating the necessity for voters to make a separate trip to local registrars' offices with ID in hand. Voters who still must provide proof of identity to validate a provisional ballot would have until the Friday after the election — two additional days — to do so. He adds community college identification cards to the list of acceptable IDs, but removes a provision that allows the voter ID requirement to be waived if an election officer says he recognizes a voter.

The governor added an amendment to two bills that enhance incentives for shippers using the Port of Virginia. It sets up an "Economic and Infrastructure Development Zone" allowing corporate income tax credits to companies that use the port.

He also sweetened the state's support for its Atlantic Coast space port on Wallops Island on Virginia's Eastern Shore, increasing annual funding by $2 million annually, to $9.5 million.

Among bills McDonnell vetoed were those that required the Department of Health to begin a program for screening infants with cyanotic heart disorders and that limited the ability of residential community associations to ban or restrict solar energy panels. He said the department already has a work group putting a program in place for newborns with the congenital heart condition, but the bill's sponsor, Del. Patrick Hope, said he knows of no such initiative and fears the veto jeopardizes Virginia's chance of landing a federal grant to fund the program.

He also vetoed a bill that would have added a $250 annual penalty for Virginia residents who don't put Virginia tags on their vehicles in the allotted 30 days.

A bill that provided for an August primary as a fallback date for Virginia's U.S. Senate and congressional seats was also vetoed. The measure became moot when the Justice Department approved Virginia's new U.S. House redistricting plan in time for the primary on its customary early June date. McDonnell said his veto intended to avert confusion.

McDonnell signed legislation by Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, that provides attractive tax credits for those who endow scholarships low-income students from kindergarten through 12th grade can use to attend private schools. He also made minor amendments to a similar bill by Del. Jimmie Massie, R-Henrico, to conform with Stanley's.

Democrats decried the bill as a $25 million annual raid on general fund cash that could benefit public schools, claiming it was the first diversion of public cash to private academies since the school desegregation battles of the 1950s.

Individual or corporate donors can claim a credit of up to 65 percent of their gifts on their state income taxes.


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