Amid heightened security, Gov. Bob McDonnell and Republican leaders unveiled on Tuesday a legislative agenda that emphasizes job creation, private property rights and protections against union organizing.
The agenda, titled "Smaller Government, Stronger Economy," was discussed at a news conference in the Patrick Henry Building on the eve of the 46-day General Assembly session, which gets under way today.
Reporters, who typically approach the governor's lectern while he is speaking to place tape recorders nearby, were told by McDonnell aides that they would have to place their recorders before the governor arrived.
J. Tucker Martin, director of communications for McDonnell, said McDonnell's executive protection unit requested the new procedure, but he declined to say whether this reflected new safety concerns after Saturday's shootings in Arizona that critically wounded a congresswoman and killed a federal judge, among others.
Asked about gun restrictions in the state Capitol, McDonnell said the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits banning guns from the Capitol. He said the Capitol is safe.
A Northern Virginia legislator, Del. Patrick A. Hope, D-Arlington, submitted a bill Tuesday to prohibit the possession of a firearm in the Capitol or the General Assembly Building. The bill would allow a person who is lawfully carrying a handgun to check the handgun with the Capitol Police when entering the Capitol or the General Assembly Building.
The prohibition would not apply to members of the General Assembly or to law-enforcement officers.
McDonnell was joined at the news conference by Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who talked about job-creation programs, and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who talked about a proposed constitutional amendment to tighten the state's eminent domain laws. Twelve GOP legislative leaders joined them.
Most of the agenda items -- including a constitutional amendment to allow states to repeal congressional laws, a transportation plan that involves borrowing money, and a plan to require state employees to contribute 5 percent to their retirement system -- have been previously announced.
State Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City, said he would seek constitutional and legislative protections to ensure that Virginians are guaranteed a secret ballot in union elections. Democrats in Washington have discussed so-called "card check" legislation, which would allow a majority of employees to form a bargaining unit if they sign an authorization form, or card. There has been no effort to do so in Virginia.
Speaker of the House William J. Howell, R-Stafford, put in a plug for McDonnell's plan to borrow about $3 billion to pay for transportation improvements. Some Republicans have criticized the proposal, which comes at a time when tea-party supporters and others across the nation are criticizing the mounting federal debt. Howell said there is a difference. Virginia has been cutting government spending, he said, while the federal government has been spending in excess.
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