RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Legislators arrived Richmond for a legislative session that will feature debates on education, transportation, guns and uranium mining.
But opening day of the
2013 General Assembly started Wednesday with rallies focused on the issue that dominated last year's session — abortion.
Hundreds of anti-abortion activists gathered on Capitol Square to celebrate last year's passage of hotly contested legislation requiring women to get an ultrasound before having an abortion. Among the bills they're backing this session is one that would grant the full legal rights of personhood to a fetus.
Dozens of abortion-rights supporters staged their own demonstration a few yards away, carrying signs with messages like "Keep politicians out of the exam room."
Opening day wraps up Wednesday night with Gov. Bob McDonnell's State of the Commonwealth speech.
"I am tired with the excuses of not getting things done," McDonnell told WAVY.com.
McDonnell wants to eliminate the 17.5 cent state tax on gasoline and counter that by raising the state sales tax by .8 percent to 5.8 percent.
"Alternative fuels and fuel efficiency are all eating up the gasoline tax," McDonnell said. "Let's replace it with something that grows with economic activity and the sales tax does that."
If approved, the move could raise $811 million over five years and, along with four other plans, the five-year total could add up to $3.1 billion for road improvements.
Many believe the McDonnell plan is dead on arrival. State Senator and Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City) calls the idea novel and creative.
"The big concern is, will there be enough conservative members of the General Assembly to support this? Many of them have signed these 'no new tax' pledges... I have not, but they think this could look like a tax increase," Norment said.
However, another Hampton Roads legislator believes the new tax could take away from much needed programs.
"I think it's a shell game, just as it was last year," State Senator Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) said. "It's taking money from education. All the core issues we care about will suffer and this is not raising any new revenue."
There will also be a continued push to oppose tolls as the source for building new roads. Sen. Lucas is an expert on tolls and how they can affect a community.
"We need a long-term, sustainable source of revenue to take care of roads, so tolling does not become the standard that we take care of our bridges and roads," Lucas said.
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