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Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy

Wason Center

March 4, 2018

With Session Entering its Final Two Weeks, A Look at Where We Are

Issue / State

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February 13 was the Crossover day in the Virginia General Assembly, meaning it was the deadline for legislation to pass its chamber of origin. As legislation continues to advance in the session, debates surrounding sanctuary cities, public school reform, and the biennial budget are posing themselves to be the prominent issues among legislators. The Wason Center will continue to report updates on legislation and key votes in the General Assembly 2018 long session.

One of the controversial bills to reach the Senate floor pertains to banning sanctuary cities in Virginia. House Bill 1257, introduced by Del. Benjamin Cline (R-Rockbridge), states “no locality shall adopt any ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws.” The House passed the bill on a 51-49 party-line vote and passed the Senate Local Government Committee on a 7-6 party-line vote, as well. If it became law, Del. Cline said that his bill would end Arlington County’s policy that guides police officers to involve themselves in actions of Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials when a criminal arrest warrant exists for a specific person. Sen. Bill Carrico (R-Grayson) said the passage of this bill would stop MS-13 gang members “from living peacefully while committing rapes and murders without fear of deportation.”

Last year, when a similar bill came up for a vote in the Senate, Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City) voted with Democrats, prompting Lt. Governor Northam to vote against the bill to break the tie. Now that the bill has been reintroduced, debates surrounding federal immigration law are surfacing on the floor. Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) said that the bill was a direct attack on immigrants and would hinder Virginia’s ability to bring international companies to the state. Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) stated, “If anyone commits a crime and is suspected of being here illegally, there’s already a process for that. This bill doesn’t solve a problem in Virginia. This bill is a message and this bill sends a message to certain people ‘you’re not welcome here.’”

A bill to reform student discipline in elementary school has made it out of committee and will now be taken up by the full House. Senate Bill 170, from Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Franklin), prohibits students in preschool through third grade from being expelled for more than three school days or expelled from attendance at school, except in instances involving drug and firearm offenses or physical harm or the credible threat of physical harm to others. The bill passed 18-2 in the House Education Committee and passed 34-6 in the Senate.

Keeping on theme with public school improvement, Sen. Glen Sturtevant (R-Richmond) proposed a bill that would require the mayor of the City of Richmond, Mayor Levar Stoney, to present a fully funded plan to modernize the city’s K-12 infrastructure and facilities to the city council no later than January 1, 2019. In Del. Sturtevant’s version of the bill, Mayor Stoney would have to present the plan without raising taxes, however, this provision was killed by the subcommittee. The subcommittee did unanimously vote to report the bill to the full committee, though. “Our city schools – our infrastructure – are crumbling. There’s a real challenge. We’ve got a lot of buildings that need help,” said Del. Sturtevant. The initiative already has a great deal of support from constituents as 85% of Richmond voters approved the ballot measure last November.

Following the Florida shooting, Virginia Democrats have made a push to enact stricter gun legislation. House Bill 198, filed by Del. Rip Sullivan (D-Fairfax), would enable a Commonwealth attorney’s and law-enforcement officers to apply to a circuit court judge for a warrant to remove firearms from a person who poses a risk of injury to himself or others. “A bill like this in Florida just might have stopped Parkland. And a bill like this in Virginia just might stop the next one,” said Del. Sullivan. However, the bill was never put to a vote; it was left in the House Courts of Justice Committee at the crossover deadline. Despite rules saying that the body can only act on Senate bills after crossover, Democrats are pushing Republicans to refer the bill to the Rules Committee and send it to the floor with no recommendation so that they may vote on it. House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) said that this maneuver is technically not possible with the rules in place and argued that the legislature should not rush such a delicate issue. However, it is expected that more gun control bills will be filed and with such a slim 51-49 majority for Republicans, it is possible that we may see some of that legislation reach the floor.

The General Assembly has also moved to reinstate coal tax credits. Bills introduced by Del. Terry Kilgore (R-Scott) and Sen. Ben Chafin (R-Russell) offered $200,000 next year and $500,000 the following year in tax credits for metallurgical coal. When this bill was introduced in previous years it was consistently vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe as he viewed tax credits as “ineffective.” The House and Senate are continuing budget discussions with education, employee compensation, transportation, economic development, and health and human resources serving as the most prominent issues for legislators. With a half a billion-dollar difference between the two budgets and only two weeks left in the regular session, the clock is ticking for legislators to compromise on a two-year budget for Virginia. In a letter to the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, Governor Northam articulated, “It is my sincere hope that the General Assembly will finalize a budget before the end of the regular session that expands health coverage to Virginians who need it, achieves structural balance and increased reserves, and invests strongly in priorities that will serve Virginians and grow our economy.” Northam is set to meet with the 13 members of the budget committee on March 2 to try and bridge the “chasm” between the two budgets.

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