On the evening of the 23rd of June 2014, the General Assembly went back into session to consider Governor McAuliffe’s vetoes to the budget. You will recall from my last missive that I suggested that the Governor could use his constitutional power to line item veto certain articles in the budget, specifically the punitive language that was inserted by the Senate to prevent an executive expansion of Medicaid, and sign the rest of the budget.

The Governor went a little further than I suggested and line item vetoed other matters as well, including the appropriation for the new Virginia Conflicts of Interest and Ethics Advisory Commission, a potential forced partnership between Chesterfield County and Petersburg City schools, and an appropriation that would prevent the Governor from filling vacant judgeships.

The Governor’s ability to line item veto the budget is limited by the Constitution of Virginia. In general, as I explained before, the Governor can sign legislation or veto legislation. With respect to the budget, he can line item veto certain portions. The Constitution of Virginia, specifically Article 5, Section 6, Subparagraph D provides that “[t]he Governor shall have the power to veto any particular item or items of an appropriation bill, but the veto shall not affect the item or items to which he does not object. The item or items objected to shall not take effect except in the manner provided in this section for a bill vetoed by the Governor.”

In the few cases that have been argued about the Governor’s veto, the courts have ruled that the Governor must veto an entire appropriation. He is not entitled to cherry pick language out of a specific item within the appropriation bill or budget.

Republican legislators were aware of the limitations and attempted to interweave the anti-Medicaid expansion language in such a way that the Governor could not strike it from the bill without striking the entire Medicaid program. The Governor vetoed the amendment by striking the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission (MIRC) language from the budget. The MIRC was created as a compromise last year to establish a commission to reform our Medicaid program and provide a pathway to expansion once the reforms had been achieved. The MIRC has already fulfilled its responsibility to reform our Medicaid program, yet the commission members have not expanded Medicaid, so the continuation of the MIRC seems totally inappropriate and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

The Speaker of the House of Delegates ruled that the veto went beyond the scope of the Governor’s Constitutional authority and was not properly before the House for consideration. The Speaker claims his precedent from a ruling that former Speaker Tom Moss made in the 1990s. While I was in the House of Delegates during the 1990s while Tom Moss was the Speaker, I do not recall the specific ruling he made.

In spite of the specific language in the Constitution that an item does not become law if it vetoed by the Governor, unless that veto is overturned by a two-thirds majority of both houses, the Speaker’s ruling prevented a vote on the veto. He made a similar ruling with respect to the Governor’s ability to limit judicial appointments.

Now, instead of this matter being resolved by the democratically elected representative of the people, the legislature, the Governor will have to decide whether to pursue this issue in the courts.

The Special Session continues as the Governor’s appointments have been tied up by the newly Republican-controlled Senate, and the judgeships which are vacant still have to be filled. I would anticipate that the General Assembly will go back into session within the next two to three weeks to resolve these issues.

The Republicans used the new majority status to reorganize the committees. I lost the committee assignments – Finance and Rules – that I had gained earlier in the winter as well as my chairmanship. While it is true that most committees will not meet until next January, the move gives Republicans the ability to send their members to any interim committee meetings. The Finance Committee takes no action when we are out of session, but the Committee meets periodically to get information about the budget and the revenue situation. I expect the Rules Committee will also convene to reorganize the membership on study committees.

All of this action could change again depending on the results of the interesting contest underway in the 38th Senatorial District in southwest Virginia to fill the seat of former Senator Phillip Puckett. A Delegate from Russell County and a member of the Tobacco Commission, Ben Chafin, is the Republican nominee. The Democratic nominee is Mike Hymes. Mike is on the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors and works in human resources for a coal company. The special election is set for the 19th of August, and I anticipate that the race will be expensive, fast and furious.

It continues to be my pleasure to represent you in the Senate of Virginia. If I may be of assistance or answer any questions, please contact me at 434-296-5491 or district25@senate.virginia.gov.