The big news last week was the transfer of power in the Senate. The election of Lynwood Lewis as the 20th Democratic member of the Senate, and with Democrat Ralph Northam in the tie-breaking role of Lt. Governor, Democrats assumed control and promptly moved to reconstitute committees. This is precisely what the Republicans in the Senate did two years ago. It is not clear how this will affect the key issues of the session, particularly the budget and Medicaid expansion, but we will soon find out.
Medicaid expansion continues to be a major subject of debate. House Republicans have not moved off their opposition, but there is new information every day that makes Medicaid expansion more attractive. An updated set of numbers developed by the administration suggests that Virginia could gain over $1 billion by fiscal year 2022 by accepting Federal dollars and insuring more Virginians who are at or near the poverty line. I have given several floor speeches on this matter and you can access them immediately below or on YouTube. This issue is not likely to be resolved until the end of session.
Several less publicized of interest to our region have passed. HB1141 will make it easier for arts venues in places like Charlottesville to offer alcoholic beverages at their open houses. HB848 will permit Dominion to engage in placing utility lines underground in older cities like Charlottesville.
I supported HB1113, a bill that would have permitted adoption by a “second-parent.” This bill would have allowed same-sex couples to jointly adopt a youngster. It was opposed by the Family Foundation and ultimately tabled in the Courts of Justice committee. I was pleased to vote for and actively support this bill as I think it would have provided greater opportunity for youngsters to be adopted into loving family situations.
A bill that will require Virginia textbooks to recognize that the Sea of Japan is also known as the East Sea was passed by the Senate and will likely pass the House this week. This measure was brought by many Virginians of Korean descent, who feel justifiably wronged by their oppression at the hands of the Japanese through the end of World War II. While I am not sure that the Virginia General Assembly should be engaged in decisions that have foreign policy implications, and worry about the precedent of legislative intrusion into textbook requirements, this bill will likely pass and be signed by the Governor.
Finally, the House passed HB706, a bill targeted directly at Attorney General Mark Herring and his recent decision not to defend the same-sex marriage prohibitions in Virginia law and Constitution. This bill would give standing to House members to represent the Commonwealth when the Attorney General and Governor have chosen not to. I agree with Attorney General Herring, and spoke against this bill on the House floor. If you are interested in my comments you can see them here. I believe this bill violates our traditional separation-of-powers doctrine, a principle that our Founders felt was essential to the maintenance of democracy. The bill creates the possibility of 140 separate Attorneys General that could intervene in court proceedings and supposedly represent the interest of the Commonwealth, a prospect that would prove chaotic. The Senate will likely defeat this bill, but it is yet another example of how partisanship can trump sound governmental policy.
As always, I enjoy hearing from you during the assembly session with your concerns and views about specific bills. Please do not hesitate to contact our office. It is a pleasure serving you in the General Assembly.