- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2015

With the Virginia General Assembly’s first full week in the books and Gov. Terry McAuliffe out of the hospital, the Republican-led legislature and Richmond Democrats are heading toward major confrontations on a number of hot-button issues.

Both sides say they want to pursue “kitchen table” issues such as job creation and education. Mr. McAuliffe and two Republican lawmakers recently unveiled legislation to reform the state’s tobacco commission, which manages money from the national tobacco settlement to promote economic growth in Virginia’s tobacco region.

But unlike the 2014 session, Mr. McAuliffe’s first as governor, his party no longer has effective control of the state Senate to help push through his agenda and try to box in House Republicans, making the prospects of compromise that much more difficult.

“Republicans are focused on improving education, but Democrats are focused on gun control,” state Sen. Mark Obenshain, Harrisonburg Republican, said in the most recent weekly GOP address. “Republicans are focused on the economy, but Democrats are focused on expanding Obamacare.”

But a spokeswoman for Mr. McAuliffe, who spent most of last week hospitalized for complications from broken ribs he suffered while on a trip to Africa over Christmas break, is gearing all of his proposals toward building a new Virginia economy.

“He is hopeful that members of both parties will agree that investments in areas like economic development, infrastructure, health care and education are critical toward achieving this goal, and will pass bipartisan legislation to this effect,” McAuliffe spokeswoman Rachel Thomas said.

But in a year in which all 140 lawmakers are up for re-election, and with both sides jockeying for control of the state Senate — where Republicans hold a narrow 21-19 margin — bipartisan cooperation will be easier said than done.

Several issues are teed up for clashes between the parties in the coming weeks, or have already presented showdowns.

Guns

Mr. McAuliffe indeed is calling on the legislature to pass universal background checks on purchases at gun shows and reinstate a prohibition on purchasing more than one handgun per month — a Doug Wilder-era law that the General Assembly rolled back several years ago with the blessing of former Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Republicans, meanwhile, have introduced bills largely focused on loosening gun restrictions, such as measures that would allow professors to carry concealed weapons on college campuses and provide training for educators to carry guns at public schools in the state.

Abortion

Mr. McAuliffe vowed during his 2013 gubernatorial campaign to be a “brick wall” defending women’s rights, and in that vein he is calling on the General Assembly to repeal a law passed several years ago requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion.

Republicans, meanwhile, recently introduced a measure that would ban abortions after 20 weeks; a similar measure was recently pulled from consideration by the U.S. House of Representatives amid internal GOP divisions over the bill.

Health care

Mr. McAuliffe isn’t giving up his push to expand Medicaid for up to 400,000 Virginians through President Obama’s health care law, but the proposal is effectively dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled legislature.

The House GOP consistently shot down proposals last year from Mr. McAuliffe and Democrats on the issue that became intertwined with the state budget and nearly caused a government shutdown, and Republicans are unlikely to budge on it this year.

Gay rights

In light of gay marriage becoming legal in Virginia, Mr. McAuliffe wants all sections of the state code related to marriage that reference “man or woman” or “husband and wife” be changed to “spouse.”

A Senate panel recently killed a measure that would have banned health care providers from providing treatment or counseling to try to change minors’ sexual orientation, as well as a measure to allow adoption by a person other than the spouse of a parent, which was geared toward unmarried gay couples.

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