The “Veto” Session commenced at noon on Wednesday, April 3, 2013, and finished at 1:00 a.m. the next morning. It is hard to believe that we could take so long, but most of our time was focused on electing new judges around the Commonwealth in a Special Session.
The Governor made numerous recommendations for changes in bills that had been previously passed by the General Assembly. The most notable of these involved modifications in the transportation bill, which had been passed by a bipartisan coalition in the House and Senate. The Governor’s changes reduced the size of the plan somewhat and included a small reduction in the “hybrid tax”; the $100.00 fee was reduced to $67.00. The fiscal impact of that action was not large, but was viewed as a symbolic change designed to mollify some of the critics of the original bill. Most of the major increases in revenue remained, including the provision to create a dedicated source of revenue for passenger rail. I was happy to advocate and vote for this bill as the most significant advancement in the transportation funding that has been made in several decades (my speech on the original measure is available here). The measure raises about $1 billion extra per year and includes greater sums for transit, road maintenance, and passenger rail. Finally, the Governor made some changes designed to address concerns about the constitutionality of certain measures in the bill that provide some additional revenue for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Democrats again provided the margin of victory for final passage, as numerous “no tax pledge” Republicans deserted the Governor by failing to support the measure.
The Governor made some changes in budget language that may assist those of us who seek to expand Medicaid in the Commonwealth. My position continues to be that Medicaid expansion is good because it will create 30,000 new jobs in Virginia, insure approximately 300,000 Virginians who do not have coverage at present, allow the return of billions of dollars in Virginia tax monies that would otherwise go to states throughout the country that have embraced Medicaid expansion, and will be 100 percent funded by the federal government for the first several years of the expansion. It will reduce pressure on our emergency rooms, which have become the “health insurer of last resort” for many of the poorest in our region. Using emergency rooms for primary care is very inefficient and raises costs to taxpayers (the state reimburses hospitals for emergency room bills that are not covered by insurance and that individuals are unable to pay) and to those of us who have private insurance coverage.
A day in Richmond at the General Assembly would not be complete without a debate on social issues. This time it was the Governor who was pushing the social agenda, as he inserted language into a bill that would prohibit private health insurance companies from offering health care coverage for abortion as part of private insurance that would be purchased by individuals within the new health care marketplace. A majority in the House and Senate embraced the Governor’s language, despite the arguments of many Democrats (myself included) and some Republicans that this was an unnecessary and unreasonable intrusion into the marketplace, where private buyers and sellers negotiate the terms of the coverage that companies provide. Our further concern is that it could drive certain citizens away from the health exchange, with the result that either they do not get any coverage at all, or because the insurance pool would become smaller, the cost of insurance would rise for other people who seek it. This is not good social policy in a Commonwealth seeking to lower the cost of insurance for everyone and looking to the marketplace for solutions.
Finally, the 16th Judicial Circuit, which serves this area, got two new judges late in the evening. The first is Dale Durrer, who resides in Culpeper and will serve on the General District Court, replacing the Honorable Roger Morton, who recently retired. The second is Claude Worrell, II, an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in the City of Charlottesville, who will take the seat previously occupied by the Honorable Dwight Johnson, who retired in January. I expect that these gentlemen will make fine judges, and am very pleased that we were able to retain these judgeships for our community.
With the completion of the Session, my attention returns to constituent service, my law practice, and the fall elections. It is a pleasure and honor to represent you in the Virginia House of Delegates. As always, please feel free to contact me to share your thoughts and comments on matters before the Commonwealth.