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Virginia lawmakers work through amendments, sustain vetoes

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, right, speaks to the media after leaving a meeting of the Senate Republican caucus at the Capitol Wednesday, April 27, 2022, in Richmond, Va.
Steve Helber
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, right, speaks to the media after leaving a meeting of the Senate Republican caucus at the Capitol Wednesday, April 27, 2022, in Richmond, Va.

The divided Virginia General Assembly has slogged through scores of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposed amendments to legislation and effectively upheld all of his vetoes.

Lawmakers met Wednesday for this year’s one-day “reconvened” session. In the Democrat-controlled Senate, lawmakers challenged many of the Republican governor’s 26 vetoes but failed to secure the two-thirds vote needed to override any of them. The GOP-controlled House upheld each veto, despite the fact that many of the measures had initially passed with broad support.

Many of the governor's amendments were technical but a handful triggered heated debate.

One of those amendments could have created a new criminal penalty for marijuana possession.

Senate turns down marijuana amendment
Michael Pope reports

Earlier this year, lawmakers decided they were concerned about unregulated products with THC that are on shelves of retail outlets across Virginia. Senator Emmett Hanger is a Republican from Augusta County who introduced a bill to crack down on products he says are dangerous. "My focus right now is dealing with these products, these edible products that are on the shelves, that kids are getting their hands on and even adults, unsuspecting adults, where you have instances where they thought they were having a heart attack or gone to the emergency room and they've just eaten a piece of chocolate laced with delta 8."

But then Governor Glenn Youngkin added a new criminal penalty for possession of marijuana. Lawmakers responded by sending the bill back to a committee that won't meet, a procedural move that kills Hanger's original bill without giving the governor a chance to sign it.

J.M. Pedini of Virginia NORML says a lot of money is at stake. "Unfortunately the conversation surrounding marijuana legalization this session has largely centered on who gets to make money on retail sales as opposed to how we might put forth policies that best protect the public and consumers."

If the governor is interested in cracking down on unregulated products, he could propose new legislation for lawmakers to consider when they meet for a special session.

Another controversial amendment shot down in the Senate dealt with religious expression.

Religious freedom amendment vote
Michael Pope reports

Sometimes people who wear a hijab or a yarmulke are rejected for a bank loan or turned away as renters. That's why Delegate Irene Shin, a Democrat from Herndon, introduced a bill to protect religious expression. But then the governor tacked on an amendment that she says did the opposite -- protecting people who want to discriminate based on religion.

"I called him a noob on the floor of the House because I think he and I are both new in Richmond," Shin admitted. "But certainly what I know to the way we work a bill is to work in good faith and this amendment from the governor was a bad-faith amendment and I'm appreciative of the Senate for recognizing it for what it was."

The Senate rejected the governor's amendment, which means Shin's original bill is still under consideration.

Kim Bobo at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy says he should sign it. "People of faith who have some sort of headgear or some sort of outward expression get discriminated against, and we know this happens. We've heard about this from lots of people."

The governor could sign the original version of the bill protecting religious expression. Or he could veto it.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.
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