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Gov. Bob McDonnell saves controversial bills for last

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Photo - Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA) pauses while speaking during the 7th annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast April 27, 2011 in Washington, DC.   (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA) pauses while speaking during the 7th annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast April 27, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

Virginians next year will have to present a photo ID at the polls before they'll be allowed to vote, a change Gov. Bob McDonnell signed into law late Monday night.

The bill was among several controversial measures on which McDonnell reserved action until just before a midnight deadline to sign, veto or amend more than a dozen bills passed by the General Assembly last month. He signed 721 bills, amended 85 and vetoed six.

Among them was an amendment McDonnell offered that would block private insurance companies from providing coverage for abortion.

The new photo ID law comes a year after Republicans pushed through a bill requiring voters to bring identification without a photo. Those without had to go home to get it before they could vote. At the time, McDonnell tried to soften the bill by expanding the list of acceptable IDs and providing a voter card to everyone in the state.

The new law will require the state to provide a photo ID to anyone who asks, which will cost about $1 million over the next six years.

"I thought the bill did properly balance the ballot security and honest election requirements with any civil liberty and impediment to voting concerns," said McDonnell.

Democrats disagreed.

"It is a hindrance to voting that falls disproportionately on the elderly and the poor, both of whom may have a much more difficult time obtaining a photo ID," said Sen. Don McEachin, D-Henrico.

The new law doesn't go into affect in time for this year's gubernatorial election, but will be in place by the 2014 congressional midterm elections.

McDonnell also made minor changes to the state budget, but he left intact a bipartisan compromise that would create a legislative panel to oversee an expansion of Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but he more clearly defined what reforms are necessary to trigger that expansion.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said McDonnell's amendment wasn't enough to ward off constitutional concerns about the new legislative panel.

In other deadline action, McDonnell signed a bill that forces colleges to financially support student groups even if they exclude certain students from joining. Democrats warned that would lead to state-sponsored discrimination against homosexuals by religious organizations.

By amending a bill, McDonnell sought to ban the sale of insurance policies in the state that cover abortion procedures in federal run health care exchange that will be put in place next year. Abortion rights groups said the move was Republicans' latest attempt to curb access to a legal medical procedure.

"If Virginians had somehow forgotten about Gov. McDonnell's outright contempt for women's rights and personal decision-making," said Caroline O'Shea, deputy director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, "this attack on private coverage for abortion will certainly remind them."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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