General Assembly Update: Feb. 10

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By Landmark News Service

Virginia petroleum dealers support gas tax increase
As Virginia legislators struggle to agree on a fix for the state’s chronic transportation funding problems, a trade association for petroleum dealers is taking a stand in the debate.
It wants the General Assembly to raise the gasoline tax.
The Virginia Petroleum, Convenience and Grocery Association issued a statement Feb. 7 supporting an increase in state’s gasoline tax from 17.5 cents per gallon cents. It’s the first time in the organization’s 65-year history that it has endorsed an increase in the gas tax.
The organization represents more than 400 businesses that own and supply most of the Virginia convenience stores that sell gasoline.
Gov. Bob McDonnell has proposed eliminating the state gasoline tax and increasing Virginia’s retail sales tax from 5 percent to 5.8 percent to help generate new revenue for roads. The House of Delegates passed a bill containing much of McDonnell’s original proposal last week. That bill will go to the Senate, which voted down two alternatives to McDonnell’s plan on Feb. 5. Both would have imposed a tax on the wholesale price of gasoline.
McDonnell has said the viability of the gas tax as a primary transportation funding source has been weakened by inflation, more fuel efficient vehicles and the introduction of alternative fuel vehicles. The petroleum dealers association acknowledged that problem in its statement. It proposed a gas tax increase this year and promised to work toward “consensus legislation” next year that would adjust the per-gallon rate along with the state budget.

Smoking with child in car won’t be outlawed
State Sen. Ralph Northam’s effort to outlaw smoking in a vehicle with a child present was decisively snuffed out last week.
The Norfolk Democrat, a pediatric neurologist, wanted to protect children from the dangers of second-hand smoke, which he said increases the risk of asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory ailments.
His bill (SB975) would have made it a traffic offense, subject to a $100 civil penalty, to smoke in a vehicle with a child under 15 present. He said the idea for the measure came from a third-grader who told him he worried about his health when a parent lit up a cigarette in the car.
The House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee tabled the Senate-passed bill on a 13-4 vote, meaning it won’t advance further. A similar House bill (HB1366) got the same treatment last month.
Del. Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge County) said he was uncomfortable with “regulating a legal activity in a private space,” suggesting the next step might be banning smoking in people’s homes.

Bill would protect patients from doctors
A bill on its way to passing the General Assembly would bench for a longer period physicians who engage in inappropriate sexual conduct with their patients.
SB898 says the Board of Medicine must wait five years before considering reinstating the license of any doctor who took advantage of the practitioner-patient relationship to coerce sexual contact or acted in a lewd or offensive manner. Right now, a doctor may apply to get his or her license back after three years.
The measure – “Twomey’s bill” – is named for Debra Twomey, a retired police detective from Louisa County who said she has suffered from flashbacks and nightmares ever since a doctor who had victimized other patients also took sexual advantage of her. She said the measure would better deter predatory behavior.
“I can’t imagine what these women went through … for me it changed my world,” Twomey told the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee. “If this was your family or close friend, would you not want the maximum punishment possible?”
The committee unanimously approved the bill, which will now go to the full House for a vote. The Senate has passed it unanimously, with support from the Medical Society of Virginia.