The 2018 General Assembly Session adjourned on Saturday, March 10, without voting on a final budget bill. This is unusual but not unprecedented; in my first year, 2006, we deadlocked on a budget until June 28, and in 2014 we did not have a budget until June 23. I am confident we will pass a budget, but it appears that it will take some time for the House and the Senate to come to an agreement. I fully expect that if we do not have a budget early enough to fund government operations on July 1, Gov. Northam will likely propose a new budget and require us to vote on it.
As was the case in 2014, the major disagreement in the budget surrounds Medicaid Expansion. The financial implications of continuing to reject federal tax dollars that we have sent to Washington and not bringing them back to Virginia as part of Medicaid Expansion are more dramatic than ever. We have been losing $5 million per day because of our failure to embrace Medicaid expansion, and both our budget and our constituents have suffered as a result. The House budget, which includes Medicaid Expansion, is much more robust than the Senate’s. The House budget includes major increases for K-12 education funding, teacher raises, and major new funding for higher education and mental health. It includes raises for faculty and state employees. For these reasons, I strongly support the House budget. It is my hope that we will reach an agreement that is much closer to the House budget than the Senate budget.
Utility Rate Regulation
The Governor has signed the utility rate regulation bill, one of the major pieces of legislation we worked on this session. As you know, my “end the double-dip” amendment to the bill was a significant win for ratepayers. While there are very good initiatives in the bill for solar and wind power, and for weatherization and energy efficiency efforts, I ultimately voted against the bill because I thought it took too much oversight away from the State Corporation Commission, which is charged with the responsibility of protecting the public’s interest as its regulatory mission.
Democrats continue to propose common sense gun safety measures in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting. A Republican lawmaker running in the primary for the U.S. Senate seat now occupied by Tim Kaine delivered a divisive speech on the Floor of the House that was insulting to many of us, especially African-American delegates, as he attempted to blame gun violence on a whole variety of factors, including family breakdown and abortion. Our members disputed this dramatic reinterpretation of facts, and several addressed both the erroneous assertions and the present-day pain caused by such carelessness with history. Earlier in the session, more than fifty of our gun safety bills were defeated in small subcommittees by party-line 4 to 2 votes. Largely in response to our arguments, the Speaker of the House has created a Select Committee on School Safety. Ironically, this committee will not discuss the origins of gun violence and mass shootings, and will not discuss how to enact laws that could ensure reasonable gun safety on school grounds. Democrats in the House issued their own statement on how to approach this issue. I have been appointed to the Select Committee and look forward to working to develop solutions to make schools safer. All of us should realize, however, that this initiative alone will not solve the problem. The Florida legislature recently adopted a series of measures related to improving gun safety that went beyond schools, and Florida is a much more conservative state than Virginia. We can do better.
Because we don’t have a budget, a Special Session will be called by the Governor so that the members of the budget conference committee can continue their work. We will not likely be sitting in Richmond every day during the special session, but will instead remain in our home districts until the conferees have a budget in Richmond upon which we can vote. We all hope this will be sooner rather than later.
Town Hall Meeting
Senator Creigh Deeds and I have scheduled a Joint Town Hall Meeting for Wednesday, April 25, which we hope many of you will attend. Now that the regular session is over and I am back in the district, I hope that you will contact my legislative office in Charlottesville at (434) 220-1660 as you need assistance on state matters. Please feel free to call us if you want me to come and speak to your group about our actions in the latest session and the issues of the Commonwealth.