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Several new bills proposed on first day of General Asembly; minimum wage, tuition, tampons

Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, second from left, the first transgender Delegate takes her oath of office along with Del. David Reid, D-Loudon, left, and Del. Cheryl Turpin, D-Virginia Beach, third from left, during opening ceremonies of the 2018 session of the Virginia House of Delegates at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (WSET) -- Republicans in Virginia’s House began the session Wednesday with a 51-49 majority after winning a two-month recount battle in one district and staving off legal challenges from voters over ballot problems in another.

The state will continue to have a Democratic governor after Ralph Northam is sworn in on Saturday, replacing Terry McAuliffe. In the Senate, where no member was up for re-election, Republicans enjoy a 21-19 advantage.

The biggest test for Northam will be convincing the General Assembly to expand Medicaid eligibility to low-income, able-bodied adults.

Medicaid expansion is a key part of former President Barack Obama’s health care law and a long-sought Democratic priority that Virginia Republicans blocked throughout McAuliffe’s tenure.

The first day of the 60-day session kicked off with a proposal of several new bills including ones that affect minimum wage, a tuition cap, distracted driving, and tampons for inmates.

MINIMUM WAGE

A number of lawmakers want to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9 per hour by July 1, 2018; $10 per hour by January 1, 2019; $11 per hour by January 1, 2020; $13 per hour by January 1, 2021; and $15 per hour by January 1, 2022.

After 2023, the bill said the annual minimum wage should be adjusted to reflect the increases in the consumer price index.

It would also increase wages for waiters and waitresses.

TUITION CAP

This bill would put a cap on the tuition you have to pay at public universities, making it so that the price you pay as a freshman is the same as a senior.

The cap would also apply to room and board.

OPIOIDS

Clinics that help treat people with an opiate addiction through the use of methadone or opioid replacements other than opioid replacements approved for the treatment of opioid addiction by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cannot exist half a mile from a public or private licensed day care or school.

Another bill would also add employees of the Department of Corrections who are designated as probation and parole officers or correctional officers to the list of those who may possess and administer naloxone or another opioid antidote.

DISTRACTED DRIVING

House Bill 177 would make it illegal to operate a vehicle with an animal in your lap, allow an animal to "impede your access to and use of vehicle controls," and obstruct your vision.

Under the same bill, it would prevent you from using any kind of handheld device while driving.

Current law only keeps you from using it while operating a vehicle for certain purposes.

TAMPONS

Several lawmakers have filed a bill that would make it so that female inmates don't have to pay for tampons.

It also adds that no prisoner should be denied medically necessary service due to their inability to pay for it.

MARIJUANA POSSESSION

A bill filed on Wednesday makes it so that those with valid written certification, issued by a practitioner, can possess marijuana in the form of cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil for treatment of or to alleviate symptoms of cancer.

Under current law, only the treatment of intractable epilepsy is covered.

FORNIFICATION

This bill makes it so that you cannot be charged for having voluntary sexual intercourse if you are not married.

FAMILY LIFE

Del. Sam Rasoul has introduced a bill that would require each local school board to implement a comprehensive, sequential family life education curriculum in grades kindergarten through 12th grade that is consisted with the guidelines developed by the Board of Education.

It removes the requirement for instruction in the benefits, challenges, responsibilities, and value of marriage for men, women, children, and communities; abstinence education; the value of postponing sexual activity; and the benefits of adoption as a positive choice in the event of an unwanted pregnancy.

SWEARING

House bill 31 would eliminate the crime of profanely swearing or cursing in public, which is currently punishable as a Class 4 misdemeanor.

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

This bill would repeal the current Virginia laws that make same-sex marriage and civil unions illegal.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marriage throughout the United States, but many states, including Virginia, have laws still in their constitution that bans them.

Same-sex marriage has been allowed in Virginia since October 2014, when the Supreme Court declined to take up a lower court’s ruling that the state ban was unconstitutional.

§ 20-45.2 and § 20-45.3 are still on the books, though.

In Virginia, repealing the laws that ban same-sex marriages would require a majority vote by both houses.

Leaving the laws on the books would give opponents the hope that a future, more conservative Supreme Court will revisit the issue, Susan Sommer, the director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund told the Washington Post.

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