The Washington Times - January 3, 2012, 08:10AM

Virginia legislators are preparing to take on the thorny subject of voter identification laws during the upcoming General Assembly session amid national controversy that includes the Justice Department’s rejection of a state law on the matter for the first time in almost 20 years. More than 30 states have introduced such legislation, but the issue is likely to receive heightened scrutiny in Virginia because the state is certain to play a crucial role in President Obama’s re-election efforts, writes David Sherfinski of The Washington Times.

The Occupy D.C. movement, which for three months has been encamped in a downtown park, is facing a crossroads, with its numbers dwindling, federal officials questioning why its members have not been removed and its organizers attempting to recapture the momentum of its earlier days, writes Meredith Somers of The Times.


D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and City Council members are heading to New Hampshire this month to promote statehood for the District, kick-starting an effort that uses state politicians as leverage in their pitch for full voting rights in Congress. Michael A. Brown and David A. Catania, at-large independents, are handpicking state legislatures that will support D.C. statehood through resolutions in their chambers — beginning with their D.C.-friendly contacts in New England — as part of a multi-platform campaign the city began in November, writes Tom Howell Jr. of The Times.

With the Maryland legislature set to reconvene next week, a plan to bring slots to Prince George’s County faces several obstacles, including division among local lawmakers and resistance from Maryland jurisdictions that already have casinos. Still, Penn National Gaming, which began a concerted push over the summer to put slots at Rosecroft Raceway, say they remain optimistic that a bill will pass once legislators realize the economic benefits for the county and state, according to the Washington Post.

A New Jersey lawmaker is pushing for the legalization of Internet gambling in the state in a bill that he hopes will be on Gov. Chris Christie’s desk by next week — following a Justice Department opinion that some argued gave a green light to states to authorize online gaming. State Sen. Raymond Lesniak told the Associated Press that he would try to have the bill pass through the state Legislature and send it to Mr. Christie in the coming days. The governor’s signature would end D.C.’s effort to become the first U.S. city or state to legalize i-gaming. A bill to start such gaming is slogging through the City Council.

The D.C. Council is returning to work after its holiday break, and Chairman Kwame Brown will give reporters Tuesday morning a preview of new legislation. He plans to hold such briefings on a monthly basis. Last year was a relatively quiet one for the council in terms of major legislation. The council approved a package of ethics reforms and an income tax increase on the wealthy, according to the Associated Press.

Virginia residents are getting an opportunity to review and comment on Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposed two-year state budget. The House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees of the General Assembly will hold regional public hearings this week on the proposed budget. Hearings will take place on Thursday in Big Stone Gap, and on Friday in Fairfax County, Newport News, Lexington and Richmond, according to the Associated Press.

Supporters of GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul are opening a Virginia campaign headquarters. The state office in Norfolk is scheduled to open Tuesday. Campaign volunteer Wally Erb told the Virginian-Pilot the office will serve as a recruitment and training center for campaign volunteers. It also will serve as a distribution hub for campaign literature throughout the state. Mr. Erb says the decision to locate the state headquarters in Norfolk is in response to local Paul supporters who see southeastern Virginia as a potential stronghold.