With about a week left before the 2017 Session ends, many of the controversial issues have been resolved. However, there are still some things to finalize. Several committees will be meeting on Monday, which is the final day for committees to act on legislation. In addition, the budget and many other bills are already in conference. As I mentioned in an earlier newsletter, the budget conferees will be working to develop a compromise budget during this final week of session.
A couple of anomalies have become apparent. The majority is allowed to make recommendations based on anticipating the future. The Governor and the minority party are not. For example, the Governor included language in his budget proposal that would allow him to expand Medicaid in the event the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has not been repealed by October 1.
Since the ACA became law, we have been inundated with promises that it would be repealed and certainly since last fall’s presidential election we have heard ad nauseam about the law being repealed and replaced. Now, it does not appear that there will be swift action, and a clear plan to repeal and replace has not developed. The Governor’s language therefore seems appropriate in order to keep open the option of providing health insurance to up to 400,000 Virginians and bringing to Virginia more than $2 billion that Virginians are already paying in federal taxes to pay for the ACA. Nevertheless, his recommendation has been rejected by both the House and the Senate. However what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander.
A bill passed by majorities in both the House and the Senate anticipates the repeal of the ACA and restores Virginia law to pre-ACA language. Even though Virginia did not expand Medicaid, we had to adopt changes to the law to conform to the requirements of the ACA. Congress does not appear close to any sort of resolution, so this legislation is premature.
Atlantic Coast Pipeline
On another matter of interest to many of my constituents, I have been discussing the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline for over two years. The pipeline is expected to traverse Highland, Bath, and Nelson Counties in the 25th Senate District. The primary permit for this project, if it goes forward, will come from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. While this federal process largely bypasses state authority, some state agencies will play a role. Recently I met with David Paylor, director of the Department of Environmental Quality, and I can assure you that he is taking his agency’s role in the review of this project seriously.
Primarily, DEQ’s role will be related to water protection. DEQ is responsible for evaluating and issuing permits, either individual or combined, for any proposed stream crossings. The agency will also be required to monitor soil erosion to limit the impact on water quality during the construction of the pipeline, if the permit is issued, and consider any impact on wetlands. There is a time for everything, and DEQ has limited authority until FERC renders a decision.
As most folks know, FERC issued an Environmental Impact Statement at the end of the year. DEQ split the report up among about 30 employees who are tasked with assessing different parts of the report. The review will be governed by science and the law. I have requested DEQ to keep me updated.
General Assembly Building (GAB)
The end of every session means that we have to pack our belongings and prepare to head back home. This session is different because the General Assembly Building will be torn down this year and replaced by 2022. In the meantime, the General Assembly offices will be moved down the hill to the Pocahontas Building, which sits at the foot of Capitol Hill, about 150 yards from our current location.
The General Assembly Building is a combination of three or four older buildings that the Commonwealth of Virginia bought in the 1970s and tried to merge into one functional office space. However the buildings have never been really well-connected. Elevator service is not great; we have had a number of visitors stuck in the elevators this session. We have significant plumbing and electrical problems. Asbestos is a constant danger in part of the building and part of the façade of another has crumbled.
The task of moving is significant. In 26 years, I have occupied four different spaces in this building. My children, who are now grown, visited me here when they were young. As I have been packing up the office, I have found things that reminded me of those visits and of the many people who have traveled to Richmond to talk to me about so many issues over the years. It has been a real trip down memory lane.
Please let me know if I can be of assistance to you. It remains such an honor to serve in the Senate of Virginia, and I have enjoyed the high level of engagement of people in the process this year. The best way to contact me is by email at [email protected] or by phone at (804) 698-7525. After next week, I will be back practicing law in Hot Springs and can be reached at (540) 839-2473 or in Charlottesville at (434) 296-5491.