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House panel defeats bill to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana

House panel defeats bill to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana

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What’s happening on Thursday?

The Senate Education and Health Committee, meeting at 8 a.m. in Senate Room A at the Pocahontas Building, takes up several bills on Medicaid expansion.

House subcommittee douses decriminalization proposal

House Republican leaders killed a bill Wednesday that would decriminalize simple possession of marijuana by changing the penalty from a misdemeanor to a civil fine.

House Bill 1063 from Del. Steve Heretick, D-Portsmouth, was killed in a House Courts of Justice subcommittee led by Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah.

Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, has a similar bill in his chamber. And Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, is sponsoring a bill that would eliminate the possibility of jail time for a first offense of marijuana possession.

Opponents fear bill would roll back stormwater rules

A House of Delegates committee advanced GOP legislation opposed by Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality that some fear could curtail state stormwater regulations integral to protecting the Chesapeake Bay.

The House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources, on a 12-10 party-line vote, advanced House Bill 801 by Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington.

The bill, which now heads to the full House, would prohibit the State Water Control Board from adopting any stormwater regulations that are inconsistent with or exceed the requirements of federal law, though it was amended to add a provision that allows the General Assembly to authorize rules that go beyond that scope.

“When you get regulations from (the Environmental Protection Agency), you sort of know what you’re working with,” O’Quinn said. “It at least creates a little bit of certainty and stability.”

DEQ Director David Paylor said in an interview after the meeting that the bill could prohibit DEQ from enforcing stormwater requirements that don’t exist in federal law but are crucial to protecting water quality.

“This is about our backyard streams,” said Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, who opposed the bill. “I hate to cut off the flexibility we need to protect our resources for future generations.”

Northam calls for healthy Washington transit system

Gov. Ralph Northam gave a rousing endorsement on Wednesday of plans to bolster the Metro transit system in Northern Virginia and the rest of the Washington region.

Speaking to the Virginia Chamber of Commerce at its annual Chamber Day program, Northam said, “For those of you from Northern Virginia, there is nothing more important right now than making sure that Metro is viable and healthy and we have a dedicated source of revenue for Metro.”

The first person to clap — in what was the most sustained applause in a 20-minute speech — was Jim Dyke, an influential lawyer and lobbyist who formerly represented Virginia on the board of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which runs the beleaguered Metro system.

Northam’s predecessor, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, proposed a package of regional taxes, including money raised in Northern Virginia under the landmark transportation funding bill adopted in 2013, that would raise $150 million a year as Virginia’s share of long-term funding to fix the struggling Metro system.

Metro’s viability has become even more urgent for Virginia with the announcement last week that Amazon had chosen Northern Virginia; Washington, D.C.; and Montgomery County, Md., as three of the 20 urban areas where the Seattle-based retail giant is considering building a second headquarters at an estimated cost of $5 billion and with a potential to create 50,000 jobs.

— From staff reports

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