- Associated Press - Friday, March 11, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A bitter battle between Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Republicans over a vacant seat on the Virginia Supreme Court overshadowed much of this year’s General Assembly session. But the GOP-controlled House and Senate were also busy passing dozens of bills that will impact Virginians. Meanwhile, a slew of contentious proposals were defeated amid partisan rancor.

Here’s a look at some of the biggest debates this legislative session:


FANTASY SPORTS: Virginia became the first state in the country to approve a law regulating the online fantasy sports industry and specifying that fantasy sports betting is not “illegal gambling.” The bill, signed by McAuliffe this month, formally legalizes and regulates sites such as FanDuel and DraftKings, requiring them to pay a $50,000 initial registration fee and submit to regular outside audits. Some smaller fantasy sites have said it will force them to stop doing business in Virginia.

SEXUALLY EXPLICIT BOOKS: Virginia could also earn another first-in-the-nation title if McAuliffe signs a bill that would require schools to notify parents if their child is assigned to read a book with sexually explicit content. Lawmakers sent the bill to McAuliffe’s desk earlier this month, but the governor hasn’t said whether he supports it. The legislation - which would also require schools to provide an alternative to the sexually explicit book if the parent objects - has drawn the ire of free-speech groups like the National Coalition Against Censorship. But supporters say parents deserve to know what their kids are being exposed to.

HOSPITAL DEREGULATION: One of the most heavily-lobbied fights this year was over an effort to loosen government oversight of new or expanded health care facilities. GOP lawmakers eventually failed in their push to overhaul the state’s certificate of public need law, which requires medical providers to prove that any proposed new facilities, expansions or major equipment purchases are necessary in a geographic area. The legislation’s failure was a big win for the Virginia Hospital Association, which argued that the measure would hurt small, rural hospitals.

SECRET POLICE NAMES: A push by law enforcement groups to shield the names of police officers from the public failed amid an outcry from open records advocates. The bill was introduced after a court ruled last year that the state must turn over the names and employment dates of thousands of law enforcement officials to The Virginian-Pilot. Supporters said exempting officers’ names from Freedom of Information Act requests is essential to protect their safety, but critics said the bill went too far.

ELECTRIC CHAIR: Virginia’s lack of lethal injection drugs for an upcoming execution has helped propel a bill that would allow the state to force inmates to die in the electric chair. Condemned inmates are currently given a choice between lethal injection and electrocution. But under the measure, which was sent to the governor this week, the state could use the electric chair if it can’t find lethal injection drugs. It’s unclear whether McAuliffe will sign the bill. If he vetoes it, supporters likely don’t have enough votes in the Senate to overturn his veto. Meanwhile, convicted murder Ricky Gray’s execution, which had been set for March 16, has been put on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to review his case.

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