Tuesday is crossover – the day we’ve all been working toward – when the Senate must finish work on its bills, the House must vote on bills introduced in the House. The bills will crossover to the other side, and the second half of the Session will begin.

While crossover lands on day 35 of our 60-day session, it still marks the midpoint. As I have noted before, about 1000 more bills were introduced in the House than in the Senate. I expect they will pass 500 or 600 more bills than were passed in the Senate. So the Senate will be incredibly busy from here until Sine Die.

The only legislation that does not have to be voted on before crossover are the budget bills. We will spend the next week intensely working on amendments to the Governor’s introduced budget, culminating in House and Senate budgets that will be produced by the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee on Sunday, February 18. The House and Senate will briefly consider the other chamber’s budget proposal, reject it, and move toward a budget conference. Developing a balanced, compromise budget will be the primary work during the last three weeks of the legislative session for the conferees. We have our work cut out for us.

The federal COVID relief money is gone. The economy has rebounded well from the pandemic, but there are concerning signs including slowed revenue growth and an increase in Medicaid applications. Those are among the challenges in developing a balanced budget. Nonetheless, I expect us to reach an agreement by March 9, which is when we are scheduled to adjourn.

The last two years, the General Assembly has taken months to finish the budget, in large part because the House was controlled by Republicans. They stayed true to the Governor’s demands for tax cuts and held out until the Senate made some concessions. In 2022, the Governor’s first year in office, the final budget included some permanent tax cuts. Frankly, revenue growth was strong at that time, and our coffers were flush. In 2023, the Senate agreed to one-time tax cuts to individuals. The Governor is again seeking tax cuts, which are embedded in the structurally imbalanced budget he introduced in December. We will not give in to his demands for further cuts this year. I am quite certain the House will stand firm as well, which will make it far easier to reach a budget agreement on time this year.

As we head toward crossover, a number of key issues are still hanging in the balance:

  • One issue that has been at the forefront after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade is abortion access. The Senate is set to pass legislation to protect menstrual data from search warrants, to ensure doctors who perform legal abortions are not subject to disciplinary action, and to protect individuals who come to Virginia for abortion care from extradition. Similar measures are also proceeding through the House of Delegates, which has defeated several bills seeking to reduce abortion access, including an outright ban. One remaining bill will be voted on by the full House of Delegates in an effort to put every legislator on the record as it relates to their support for abortion rights. The bottom line is that Virginians will continue to be able to access abortion care with control of the General Assembly in democratic hands.
  • The arena bill is advancing in the House of Delegates. The House made a number of positive changes to the legislation. At this point, it seems unlikely that the Senate will agree to an arena for Northern Virginia. Nonetheless, a deal could still be reached in the last few weeks.
  • Skill games legislation has advanced in both the House and Senate, but with vastly different approaches. The House passed a bill that imposes higher taxes on skill games and dramatically reduces the number of machines that can be available throughout Virginia.
  • A bill is advancing in the Senate to allow for the creation of a legal marketplace for recreational cannabis. That bill will be tied to the budget and will be resolved in the next few weeks.
  • A couple of bills that I carried the last couple of years – banning prospectively the possession and sale of new assault weapons and criminalizing the possession of firearms on college campuses – are moving forward in the process. The assault weapon ban passed the Senate on a party-line vote on Friday. The ban on college campuses is scheduled to be voted on tomorrow. The House of Delegates has passed similar versions of both bills.
  • Legislation relating to nuclear power advancement as part of Virginia’s energy equation have also been considered. Specifically, one bill would have allowed the State Corporation Commission to approve building the cost of exploration and engineering for small modular reactors into rates. I voted against the bill because the only SMR project that has been advanced in the United States failed, and resulted in millions of dollars of stranded costs that must be borne by the ratepayers. We have to move toward a carbon free energy environment, and nuclear power is likely to be part of a comprehensive plan, but the SMRs have not been proven to work. I do not think it is fair for ratepayers to pay for experimentation. Despite my opposition, the bill passed out of committee and will be voted on by the full Senate soon.

This session has been different for me in a couple of respects. For one thing, I have been busier than ever. Chairing the Commerce and Labor Committee has been an exciting challenge. The issues in that committee are incredibly complex and involve a whole different cast of stakeholders from the other committees – Transportation, Privileges and Elections, and Courts of Justice – that I have chaired. I have been involved with these policy issues for years, but chairing the committee brings additional responsibility. Add that to the fact that I now chair the Health and Human Resources Subcommittee of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. As the second most senior senator and one of only a few returning members of that Committee, my free time has completely disappeared.

In a typical session, I shake so many hands and talk to so many people that I inevitably catch a cold that takes a few days to resolve. This year, I have had pneumonia for the past three weeks. While not contagious, that has slowed me down significantly. I am feeling much better and am enjoying the work of the legislative session.

The emails and calls continue to pour in from throughout the 11th District and the entire Commonwealth on a wide range of bills and issues. I hope you will continue to keep in touch by calling (804) 698-7511 or emailing me at senatordeeds@senate.virginia.gov.