Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine signed into law on Monday legislation to ban text-messaging while driving.

The governor, at the deadline to sign, veto or amend bills passed by the General Assembly this year, also sought two expansions in unemployment insurance that would allow Virginia to receive $125 million in stimulus aid to laid-off workers.

The legislature will reconvene April 8 to weigh Kaine’s signatures.
Virginia joins a growing number of states moving to forbid texting behind the wheel. Earlier this month, Maryland’s Senate passed a similar ban, which already is in place in the District.

Under Virginia’s ban, which goes into effect July 1, police can’t pull a driver over just for text messaging but instead need a more serious primary offense to justify the stop.

“In Virginia, it’s tantamount to telling people you can do it,” said AAA spokesman John Townsend, who nevertheless called the bill “a moral victory.”

The governor’s biggest fight will come from his proposed change to employment law.

House Republicans are leery of the proposal, which would allow part-time workers and those in job training to receive benefits, a condition of receiving the funds under the $787 billion stimulus package. Opponents worry that employers will be set up for higher unemployment taxes once the stimulus cash runs out.

Virginia employers pay into the fund that supports jobless benefits at a rate far lower than many other states. The commonwealth boasts an average annual contribution of $98 per employee, compared with the national $258 average, according to the Virginia Employment Commission.

Kaine also said the state would increase its food stamp benefits, effective Wednesday. Kaine said a four-person household’s maximum monthly allotment would increase from $558 to $688.
The food stamp program, which is being increased with funds from the federal stimulus package, will be called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

More than 280,000 Virginia households participate in the program.