The General Assembly convened a special session on April 11 to resolve the budget impasse. In the meantime, on April 18, we held the annual reconvened, or veto, session to consider the Governor’s amendments to and vetoes of bills. More on that later.
As you know, we are in the situation with respect to the budget because we’ve not been able to agree on Medicaid expansion. The situation is frustrating. We should have acted on this matter a long time ago.
In 2013, when the partisan makeup of the Senate was 20-20, Republicans organized and had the vote of then Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling to give them the majority. However they needed support from Democrats to adopt a budget and to move forward on former Governor McDonnell’s transportation package. Part of the budget agreement contained language that should have led to Medicaid expansion by now. The budget created the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission to recommend reforms so that we were not blindly expanding a program without ensuring it was streamlined and efficient. The commission met and made those reforms. However, Republicans dug in their heels.
Fast forward to 2018, we witnessed significant changes in the makeup of the House of Delegates. One of the prominent issues on the campaign trail last year was healthcare, and specifically Medicaid expansion. Wanting to put that issue in the rearview mirror, the Republican leadership in the House decided to adopt Medicaid expansion albeit with a work requirement.
We don’t have time to quibble. The world is not perfect, and we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Medicaid expansion, even with a work requirement, makes sense. In the years that we failed to pass to expand Medicaid, we have left hundreds of millions of dollars on the table and denied healthcare to hundreds of thousands of working Virginians. The expansion population is primarily the working poor. Due to their low income levels, they also do not qualify for subsidies to buy insurance on the exchange. I hope that in the special session we can keep in mind our obligation to try to bring opportunity to all Virginians. A healthy workforce makes for a healthy economy and can drive growth throughout our Commonwealth.
The veto session concluded after about four hours of discussion and produced no real surprises. None of the Governor’s ten vetoes were overridden and most of his amendments were adopted. A few of the highlights are below:
- Senate Bill 106 and House Bill 1598 as passed out of the General Assembly were weak attempts at redistricting reform. The legislation merely incorporated some of the criteria from prior bills but excluded the criteria that could be most beneficial to reforming our process. Essentially they locked in place the existing process. The Governor offered amendments to make this truly a reform bill. Predictably, the Republican majority in the House and Senate defeated those amendments.
- SB 378 and HB 665 sought to revive the coal tax credit. The Governor amended the bills to include reenactment clauses, thus requiring the 2019 General Assembly to pass the legislation again in order for the provisions to become law. The legislature rejected the Governor’s amendments, so the bills will go back to him for reconsideration. I expect he may veto the bills, as Governor McAuliffe did in the past.
- The Governor amended a number of bills relating to wireless infrastructure. SB 405 and HB 1258 established parameters for zoning approvals of wireless towers in order to provide consistency across jurisdictions. SB 823 and HB 1427 set a cap on public right-of-way use fees for wireless companies. The governor made amendments to improve the bills and grant more flexibility to local governments. Those amendments passed.
- SB 669, the legislation I introduced to ensure a minor who has been subject to a temporary detention order cannot possess a firearm, was amended to take effect immediately. The amendment was approved both houses.
- While we are having a major discussion about healthcare, the Governor amended a number of bills (SB 844, SB 934, SB 935, and SB 964) that sought to expand options available to Virginias in terms of short-term, catastrophic, and association plans. It was unclear if Virginia could get waivers for them to take effect this year and some were not allowable under federal law. Therefore the Governor wanted to study the ideas and figure out how to implement them effective if actively. The amendments were all rejected.
- SB 856 and HB 1539 were designed to come up with the state’s share of improvements for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. You may recall that I discussed this in a newsletter last month pointing out that Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia had to come up with money totaling a $500 million investment in the Metro. During the session the bill was amended in the House of Delegates to take the money from other Northern Virginia transportation projects. The Governor’s amendments basically raise the grantors tax and the transient occupancy tax in Northern Virginia to provide new funding for the Metro. Those amendments were rejected, so the bill goes back to the governor. The legislation is important to the entire Commonwealth. If money raised locally for Northern Virginia transportation projects is diverted to the Metro, those projects will then compete with projects throughout Virginia for state funding. Because of the significant congestion issues in Northern Virginia, those projects will likely rate higher in terms of necessity and move to the front of the line potentially causing delays in improvements in other areas of the Commonwealth. These amendments were necessary to protect transportation funding for all of Virginia.
In general, I supported the Governor’s amendments as did a majority of my colleagues on both sides of the aisles.
During one of the recesses on Wednesday, the House and Senate Privileges and Elections Committees met to discuss the explanations for the two constitutional amendment questions on the ballot this fall. Often these questions are confusing and we tried to make the language of the explanation as understandable as possible. One amendment (SJ 21) will allow localities to grant partial tax exemptions to citizens for flood-prone properties that have been improved in order to abate or mitigate flooding. The second amendment (SJ 76) will permit the surviving spouse of a 100% disabled veterans to retain the real estate tax exemption on his or her primary residence even if the spouse moves.
The special session continues until we finalize a budget. I will be bouncing back-and-forth between Bath County, Charlottesville and Richmond for the foreseeable future. If I can be of service to you or answer any questions, please feel free to contact my office in Charlottesville at 434-296-5491, in Bath at 540-839-2473 or by email at [email protected]. It remains my honor to serve you in the Senate of Virginia.