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All adjourned

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Richmond casino advocates rejoiced as the General Assembly adjourned without blocking the city’s authority to hold a second referendum in November on whether the state’s capital city should host a casino-resort.

The General Assembly ended the 2023 session Saturday after passing an extremely limited budget bill that included no language concerning casinos, a blow to advocates of Petersburg, who had hoped to supplant Richmond as a casino city as a result of Richmond voters narrowly rejecting a gambling operation in 2021.

The final budget bill dealt with only a few matters, including a fix for a $250 million mistake the Youngkin administration made in public school funding and an increase in funding for a string of capital projects whose costs have increased due to inflation.

Still, neither Mayor Levar M. Stoney nor any member of City Council has introduced legislation to restart the casino initiative, given that the legislature could return for a special session.

Senate and House negotiators are still trying to craft a deal on spending about $3 billion in surplus funds left unallocated, though both sides are still far apart. If they can close the gap, casino language could still be included, though, for now, that seems a distant prospect.

The Democrat controlled Senate is pushing to spend more of the surplus to address salaries of government workers and teachers as well as shortcomings in public education and mental health. The House has been pressing for returning more of the surplus to taxpayers.

As expected, one house or the other killed controversial legislation involving gun control, abortion and even health care.

Members are cheering substantial legislation that did get approved.

One area of agreement came on regulation of utilities. Both the Senate and House, with the support of Gov. Glenn A. Youngkin, agreed to end a deregulation experiment and restore the State Corporation Commission’s authority to regulate electricity rates for Dominion Energy and Apalachian Power.

Richmond state Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan, who is on her way to a Congressional seat, was among the patrons. She indicated that the legislation could lead to a reduction of $20 or more a month in most consumer bills, as it eliminates surcharges and allows the big utilities to take up to 10 years to be reimbursed for higher fuel costs to generate power.

The legislature also cracked down on previously unregulated edible hemp-based products to reduce the amount of THC, the chemical that gets people high, that can be included.

Also, the legislature for the first time directed the state Department of Corrections to ensure that prisoners in solitary confinement have at least four hours daily of contact with other individuals to reduce the mental health issues that such confine- ment can cause.

The House and Senate both agreed that companies should no longer be allowed to force employees to sign non-disclosure agreements to force them to keep silent about sexual harassment and other sexual misconduct claims, though language that would have largely ended the use of confidentiality agreements to bar employee disclosure of other misconduct was stripped out to the disappointment of advocates.

The General Assembly also approved legislation to make it easier for short-handed law enforcement agencies to bring back retirees. Legislation was approved that allows retirees to keep collecting their pension and still work full time if they wait just six months to rejoin the force.

The legislature also approved Richmond Delegate Delores L. McQuinn’s legislation aimed at protecting public transit drivers from passenger assaults. The legislation bars judges from completely suspending sentences in such cases and imposes a mandatory six-month jail term when someone is convicted.

Richmond Delegate Jeffrey M. Bourne, who is not seeking re-election, cited several pieces of his legislation that passed, including a bill extending the length of school zones a total of 1,500 feet to reduce speeding and another bill that will provide property owners up to six years to pay off back real estate taxes, or double the current three years.

Richmond Delegate Dawn M. Adams, who also is leaving the house, also had several bills, including one that imposes new labeling requirements on medicinal marijuana and allows a secondary party to pick up a prescription at a dispensary for a disabled adult.

Her bill allowing vehicle owners to access and recover personal items from a towed vehicle without paying the towing fees also was approved.

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