Since the House and Senate could not agree on a budget during the regular General Assembly Session, which adjourned in March, the Governor has called us back for a Special Session to get it done. The Special Session begins April 11, 2018, but no action will occur immediately on the budget. The new budget bill introduced by Governor Northam will have to go through the regular committee process just like the previous one. The House Appropriations Committee will begin its work quickly, and so it’s entirely possible that a House budget will be ready in time for floor debate on Tuesday, April 17 – but this could change depending on scheduling. We expect that the House budget will include Medicaid expansion and the hospital provider assessment, which allows us to expand without use of additional state dollars, much like it did in the regular Session, but we are not sure yet what will be included in the Senate’s budget. Because the Senate initially rejected Medicaid expansion and the provider assessment, its budget cut more than $400 million from education and other services that would have been funded by accepting the federal Medicaid dollars. While there has been some recent media coverage suggesting that Medicaid expansion will be adopted by the Senate, nothing is assured until the green lights go up on the vote board, and there will need to be considerable negotiations before a final budget compromise is reached. The momentum is positive, but Senate Republican leadership is now the main barrier, and we need to keep advocating for expansion. More than 7,000 citizens in our area would benefit from Medicaid expansion and it would certainly help our local hospitals by recapturing some of the money that would otherwise be spent on indigent care. You can watch the online live stream of the special session here. [Read more…]
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…]
“Crossover” is the term used to describe the date that bills in the House need to be passed and moved to the Senate for consideration, and vice versa. Any bills that were not sent to the other body by yesterday (February 13) are dead for this Session. On Monday and Tuesday, we considered a number of controversial bills, not the least of which were measures involving possible re-regulation of utility rates and new requirements for Medicaid recipients.
UTILITY RATES – Defeating The Double Dip
Citizens have been reading for months about problems with the so-called “rate freeze” bill that was passed in 2015, and the General Assembly is now trying to fix it. A straight repeal of the 2015 measure failed in both houses, leaving only HB 1558 as a possible alternative. But that bill was fundamentally flawed when first introduced; it permitted utilities to keep much of their “overearnings” and left them largely free of State Corporation Commission (SCC) oversight. While the efforts of environmental and consumer groups made the bill that was considered on the House floor on Mondayand Tuesday noticeably better, it remained seriously deficient in several categories, including provisions that would have allowed the utility companies to enhance their profits with the so-called “double count” or “double dip.” [Read more…]
One of the most significant bills of this session is HB1558, which would repeal the Utility Rate Freeze Bill of 2015. There has been much confusion and controversy about what the bill does, and does not, actually do. Many of you are aware that in 2015, in response to concerns about possible rate increases in the aftermath of passage of the federal Clean Power Plan, a bill was passed to prevent increases by freezing electricity rates for several years. That bill also removed the State Corporation Commission (SCC) from its role in reviewing rates until 2022.
Over the last several years, two big changes have happened. First, the Trump administration has unraveled the Clean Power Plan. Second, our major utilities have accumulated substantial “overearnings.” Most estimates place these overearnings at several hundred million dollars. There is no reason that these overearnings should not be returned to consumers.
In response to this, several bills were proposed that would undo the rate freeze and reinstate SCC oversight for Dominion and the other utilities. Straight repeal has been defeated, and only HB1558 has a chance of passage this Session. The question, then, is whether this bill will return any overearnings to consumers, and the extent to which the bill will lead to new investments in renewable energy availability and use, grid modernization, and weatherization improvements to save energy. [Read more…]
The session is now in its fourth week, and the pace has not let up as the deadline for crossover approaches. If you want to watch our work, you can find links to the live and archived versions of the floor sessions here, and committee sessions here.
GUNS AND WAR MEMORIALS
Last Friday was Groundhog Day and we have again witnessed the defeat of most of the gun safety bills. These are often referred by the Speaker to a small subcommittee of largely rural legislators, where they are dispatched quickly in party-line votes. I had two bills (HB 1009 and HB 1019) that both met this fate. The first was a bill to add the City of Charlottesville to a list of jurisdictions where semi-automatic weapons are not permitted in public spaces. The second was a bill to allow localities throughout the Commonwealth to prohibit the carrying of weapons and firearms into a permitted demonstration area. Both of these bills were filed in response to the events of August 11th and 12th. Each was defeated on 4 – 2 votes in a small subcommittee of the Militia, Police, and Public Safety Committee of the House. Similar bills have also died in the Senate, along with other gun safety measures.
My bill (HB 1225) to clarify the law related to war memorials met a similar fate in a different committee. [Read more…]