- Associated Press - Friday, March 11, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The Virginia 2016 legislative session is over, closing a hectic 59 days that produced a landmark compromise on gun laws, a heated fight over a state Supreme Court vacancy and a new state budget that includes a large spending increase on public education as well as pay bumps for state workers and even bigger potential pay bumps for lawmakers.

The session ended Friday evening after lawmakers passed a $100 billion two-year spending plan that does not include any new taxes or increased fees.

The new budget includes about $900 million more in K-12 spending in the next two years than the last biennial budget did, a point of pride for both Republicans who control the General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Republicans tried to make the school money as flexible for local school districts as possible, allowing them to spend it on new teachers, textbooks or in other ways.

“One size does not fit all, so allowing the localities the flexibility to meet their most critical needs was most important to us,” Del. Tag Greason said.

Higher-than-predicted tax revenues gave legislators more leeway in crafting their budget than in previous years.

The governor did not get everything he wanted in the budget, particularly in extra funding he wanted to help him make economic development deals. And the budget does not include any provisions related to expanding Medicaid, another top priority for McAuliffe.

Still, the governor said he was pleased with the vast majority of spending proposals and will also be able to try to veto or amend parts of the budget.

“It’s a great budget. I’m ecstatic about the budget,” McAuliffe said.

The spending plan includes a 3 percent raise for state workers and a 2 percent raise for public school teachers. Lawmakers also boosted their compensation for attending official meetings when the legislature is not in session from $200 to $300 a day. For some senior members who are on several committees and panels, that could mean an increase of several thousand dollars a year in extra pay on top of their annual salaries of about $18,000.

Before the session started, few expected much movement on perennial hot-button social issues from the split government. But McAuliffe and Republicans managed to forge a highly touted compromise on gun-related legislation with Republicans and the National Rifle Association. The measures will allow more out-of-state concealed-handgun permit holders to legally carry guns in Virginia, something Republicans wanted, while enacting Democratic priorities of prohibiting people subject to permanent protective orders from carrying firearms and requiring police presence at gun shows for voluntary background checks.

The governor, limited to a single four-year term, has been eager to cast the gun deal as a legacy item, calling the deal one of the biggest improvement on gun safety in years. But McAuliffe has faced withering rebukes from his former allies. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun-control group, Everytown for Gun Safety, ran ads in Virginia attacking him for the deal, saying it gives too much to gun-rights advocates. Bloomberg-funded groups have been some of McAuliffe’s biggest political donors.

The session was also marked by a high decibel and sometimes surprising fight over a state Supreme Court justice that continued right up until the end of session Friday evening.

Republicans ultimately got their way, when they elevated Court of Appeals Judge Stephen McCullough to the state Supreme Court the day before the session ended. But along the way Republicans were unable to get their first choice elected and caused a loud uproar from liberal groups and Democrats when they considered putting former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli - a staunch social conservative - on the bench.

Lawmakers are set to return to Richmond in April to take up the governor’s suggested amendments or vetoes of legislation.



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