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. [Read more…]
We have one week to go in this General Assembly session, and the major issue left to resolve is the budget. In December 2017, Gov. McAuliffe introduced his last budget, and both the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee have been working on it since then. The House budget bill is dramatically different than the Senate’s budget, largely because the House is willing to expand healthcare coverage to thousands of Virginians by accepting federal Medicaid dollars. In the House budget, the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) can apply immediately for expansion; DMAS is also directed to request a special waiver that will allow certain Medicaid recipients to receive workforce training, in hopes that able-bodied recipients may then obtain employment or provide community service. The Senate budget does not include the Medicaid expansion monies from the governor’s budget, with the result that the Senate had to cut more than $400 million from Gov. McAuliffe’s introduced budget. [Read more…]
On Saturday, February 25, 2017, we adjourned this year’s “short session” of the General Assembly with passage of a modified budget. The revised budget places total General Fund spending for FY2017 and FY2018 at $40.47 billion. [Read more…]
House and Senate budget conferees came to an agreement late Tuesday, March 8, and published their proposed two-year budget on Wednesday in a “conference report.” The agreement contains many good things for which we have fought.
- Major increases in K-12 education funding over the current biennium, including almost $200 million in lottery funding for school divisions, which will greatly help Charlottesville and Albemarle, a 2 percent salary incentive effective December 1, 2016, and additional money for eligible students to receive free or reduced lunch and breakfast at schools.
- Major new funding for higher education, including a 3 percent across-the-board raise for faculty. UVA will receive about $10 million for access and affordability, as well as $4 million for the Focused Ultrasound Program, a cutting edge research initiative, and monies for bioscience incentives.
- Full repayment to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) of money the General Assembly borrowed several years ago – a move I voted against – and funding 100 percent of the VRS board-certified contribution rates. Both of these actions will enhance the fiscal viability of the system.
- An additional $76.2 million for mental health services.
- Fully funding the “Rainy Day Fund,” the special account we reserve for use if Virginia experiences a dramatic economic downturn.
- Additional monies for our community colleges to develop new programs to train the workforce of the next decade.
- Monies for the “Presidential Precinct,” an initiative developed by UVA, William and Mary, Monticello, Ash Lawn and Montpelier to bring scholars and elected officials from around the world to Virginia to be educated on how democracy works. This is an initiative that I and others in our area have supported, and worked with the Governor to get in his budget.
- Major initiatives for job creation through the “GoVirginia” concept. This will allow regions to cooperate in competing for economic development grants and projects necessary to build the New Virginia Economy. GoVirginia creates a great opportunity for our region given the degree to which the University, the city and the county cooperate on policy initiatives.
- Monies to fund a new General District Court judgeship in our Judicial Circuit.
In addition to these larger categories, some specific items I proposed are included in the Conference Report, such as:
- $900,000 extra funding for court-appointed counsel who take on complicated cases defending indigent clients.
- An increase in fees for court appointed mediators.
- Support for the Fostering Futures Program, which allows foster care and adoption assistance to be extended for youngsters who would otherwise “age-out” of the foster care program on their eighteenth birthday. Funded with $1.9 million from the general fund (Virginia tax dollars) and $3.9 million in non-general fund money (from the federal government or other sources), the program will benefit a large number of foster children who otherwise might experience tremendous difficulty transitioning to adult life.
- Additional money for the Centers for Independent Living. We have a wonderful center in Charlottesville called the Independence Resource Center, and this new money will help the IRC and other centers around the Commonwealth build their programs on behalf of disabled persons.
The largest missed opportunity continues to be the Republicans’ refusal to embrace Medicaid expansion under the ACA. It is ironic that despite their negative rhetoric, our budget does expand some Medicaid services, but in the most inefficient way possible. Under present law, every dollar we appropriate for Medicaid is matched by the federal government with another dollar. Consequently, when we implement new Medicaid spending for substance abuse treatment or to provide new waiver slots for intellectual or developmental disabilities in this budget, we are saying that we trust the federal government to fund its 50 percent of these programs. Yet we still hear the argument that Virginia cannot trust the federal government to continue funding “Medicaid expansion” if it happens under the ACA, where the federal government would pay 90 percent of the costs. This rejection of readily-available Medicaid money has become an article of faith for our Republican counterparts; without a change in the General Assembly’s political composition, Medicaid expansion is unlikely for the next several years.
On Thursday, the General Assembly approved a new Supreme Court Justice after an extremely flawed process. I did not support the appointment and you can see my speech explaining why in the video below.
As the session concludes, I thank you again for all of your input and support over the last sixty days. I am happy to be returning to Charlottesville to be with my family and continue my law practice. I remain available to serve constituents’ needs, and will shortly organize a series of town halls and smaller meetings to discuss the successes and failures of this General Assembly session.
The Virginia General Assembly adjourned on Friday, February 27, 2015, at approximately 9:00 p.m. In most sessions, the last minute negotiations surround the budget. This year, it involved ethics reform. As you may have noticed from numerous news reports, Senate Republicans threatened to block any ethics bill from being passed. At the last moment, however, they relented, and we were able to pass modest ethics reform that improves the law somewhat on what had previously been in place. While this law goes farther than previous efforts, it does not tackle the critical issues related to campaign finance reform, including the role of major contributions in election campaigns. That being said, the bill lowers from $250 to $100 the value of gifts, meals, and travel that an elected official can receive from a lobbyist or a person seeking a contract with the state. It also includes any dependents living in the official’s home, such as a spouse, child, or other relative. The bill clearly could have gone farther; the Ethics Advisory Council does not have much enforcement power and there are certain exemptions to the gift ban for legislators’ travel to “widely attended” events such as conferences. I voted for the bill because it is better than our laws were two years ago, but I believe there is still much to be done.
The last days of the session saw a number of measures passed that I had proposed and strongly supported. Included in these were the expansion of the DNA database, a campus sexual assault reporting bill that protects survivors while providing increased encouragement to them to report perpetrators of these crimes, and a bill that requires notations be placed on college transcripts when students are discharged for violations of the codes of conduct. These measures were proposed as a result of The Rolling Stone article on UVa and the Hannah Graham case, and I believe that they will bring a higher level of protection for our citizens while encouraging more reporting of sexual assault on campuses.
During the final days, we also passed:
- A bill to increase safety of daycare facilities (HB1570). Homes serving five or more children will require licensing. There will be national fingerprint background checks for employees, and a requirement that unlicensed providers tell parents in writing that they are not licensed or regulated by the state. This will undoubtedly increase safety in our daycare facilities.
- A bill that will further professionalize the Virginia ABC operation (HB1776). ABC will now be an authority that is run more like a business and less responsive to political appointees.
- A bill that extends health insurance coverage for autism treatment to about 5,000 more children (HB1940).
This session brought changes to extend mental health benefits to about 22,000 low-income Virginians, increased funding for free clinics, legislation to de-criminalize the use of oils derived from marijuana to treat severe epilepsy, and the defeat of a measure that would have shrouded Virginia’s lethal injection process in secrecy by preventing public disclosure of the drugs used in execution.
Little progress was made on common sense gun legislation; the House rejected my bill that would have allowed private gun sellers to voluntarily ask state police to conduct a background check of anyone who sought to buy firearms from them at a gun show (HB2370). Universal background checks and the return of one-gun-per-month were also defeated. At least we were able to defeat a bill that had been offered by some Republicans to put guns in schools and airports.
We passed a bill that will allow home-schooled children to participate in public school athletics, and a bill that will allow Uber and other transportation ride-sharing services to operate in Virginia. We passed bills that will establish two new veteran care centers in the Commonwealth and to allow veterans to receive certain academic credits at community colleges for training and educational programs they completed during their military service.
For those interested in music, we passed legislation that would designate not one, but two state songs. “Our Great Virginia” will be considered the traditional state song and “Sweet Virginia Breeze” will be considered the popular state song.
The big disappointment continues to be our failure to pass Medicaid expansion.
The Governor has until March 30 to sign, veto or send amendments to legislation, including the budget. We return to Richmond for the one-day Reconvene Session on Wednesday, April 15, 2015, to address his vetoes and amendments.
Several of my floor speeches from this year’s Session can be viewed here via YouTube:
I have now returned to my law practice, but remain willing to assist you with any issue involving the Commonwealth. Please feel free to call my office at (434) 220-1660, or email me at email@example.com with questions or concerns. It is a pleasure serving you in the General Assembly.