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Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy

Wason Center

January 19, 2018

First Week of Session Sees Flurry of Legislative Activity

Issue / State

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On Wednesday, January 10, the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate began their 60-day session in the General Assembly. In the past week, budget amendments were due to the House Appropriations and Senate Finance, the Joint Assembly met, and all bills and joint resolutions will be filed by Friday, January 19, at 3pm.

On Tuesday, January 9, Governor Terry McAuliffe and Governor-elect Ralph Northam held a joint press conference to outline their goals for the legislation that will be discussed in the General Assembly. The legislative package that Northam and McAuliffe announced they described “nonpartisan” and they believe it “will have support from both sides of the aisle.”

The legislative package from Northam and McAuliffe outlines Medicaid expansion, a plan that the Republican majorities in the General Assembly have voted against for the last 4 years. However, McAuliffe’s newest proposal involves a 2-year spending plan that would involve accepting federal money so that state money would be put toward other initiatives such as education and mental health services. The proposed budget is a total of $115 billion, $3.2 billion of which would come from federal funding, and $421.7 million would come from state savings. The Medicaid expansion proposal would provide coverage for about 300,000 families that earn no more than 138 percent of the federal poverty level (which is about $34,000 a year for a family of four).

Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) stated on Tuesday, January 16 that the discussion surrounding Medicaid expansion funding should be included in the budget; however, Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax) stated that the funding should be included in a code, not the budget. Northam has expressed support towards McAuliffe’s expansion budget, but suggested that he is open to alternative health care proposals and is aware that there will be “ongoing discussions between his team and the General Assembly.”

Gun laws and background checks are another legislative priority pushed by McAuliffe and now Northam. These include universal background checks for private gun sale shows and person-to-person transfers. On Tuesday, January 16, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee heard a bill regarding a discrepancy on Virginia gun legislation. Currently, carrying a concealed weapon while drinking alcoholic beverages is against Virginia law punishable under a class 1 misdemeanor; however, carrying a weapon openly while drinking alcohol is legal. Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) sponsored the bill for the third year in a row, but the committee voted against the bill in a 9-6 vote on Tuesday, January 16.

The legislative package also includes provision changes on campaign finance, calling for a ban on using personal money in political campaigns. Current Virginia law allows candidates to use the money raised for their campaign for any use, not just campaign expenses. Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) and Sen. Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William) have proposed legislation that would ban contributions to political campaigns from public service corporations. According to VPAP, “Dominion Energy has made more campaign donations to Virginia politicians than any other single company,” about $15 million since 1996. Appalachian Power Co. has donated almost $3.5 million since 1996, according to VPAP. However, on Tuesday, January 16, the bill was voted against by a 12-2 margin in committee.

There have been several bills regarding abortion that have been introduced this session. Bills regarding abortion are heard by the Senate Committee on Education and Health, which currently has a GOP majority of 8-7 members. Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) has proposed legislation that would require the Board of Health to fund abortion cases where rape or incest is involved. Furthermore, the bill would remove a requirement that involves sending a report to law enforcement immediately, in order to preserve the privacy of the victim. The bill was voted down. Sen. Richard Black (R-Loudoun) expressed his primary concern with the bill was that it would “open the flood gates for state funding of abortion.” Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) expressed her concerns that there have been cases where the father was not informed of the abortion and would have supported the child. “I want to ensure not only that the women are protected, but that we’re using the legal process that’s in place and that that’s not taken away from the fathers,” said Sen. Chase. Currently, if a facility performs 5 or more first-trimester abortions a month, they are considered a hospital and must update their facilities to hospital status. Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) sponsored legislation that would take away this requirement, stating that it creates an undue burden on the facilities that offer abortions. The bill revision was voted against; supporters say that the regulations keep the patients safe.

As of January 17, there are 2,593 bills that have been proposed. There are several bills that deal with voting, such as HB 191, which expands the forms of voter identification that will be accepted at polling locations. For example, university ID cards that have been issued by any higher education institution will be allowed. HB 171 allows a newly naturalized citizen to register to vote if they missed the registration deadline, including open registration the day of the election. House bills 191 and 171 have been officially introduced and are both awaiting a vote from the Privileges and Elections committee. On January 10, 2018, House Joint Resolution 72 was introduced and offered Virginia constitutional amendments to provide the Governor the right to restore civil and voting rights to people who have been convicted of felonies.

Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) introduced HB 518, which proposes an increase to minimum wage. Simon has support from Del. Lamont Bagby (D-Richmond), Del. Betsy Carr (D-Richmond), Del. Elizabeth Guzman (D-Gale City), Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), and Del. Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke). The increase would not happen immediately, but rather, over a set period of time with interval increases to the hourly wage. If the bill passes, citizens of Virginia would see the first increase from $7.25 to $9 on July 1, 2018. The bill outlines that by January 1, 2022, the minimum wage will reach $15, unless the Fair Labor Standards Act mandates a higher wage. House Bill 518 has been officially introduced and is awaiting a vote from the Rules committee. On January 16, 2018, an impact statement from the Department of Planning and Budget was filed with the bill.

Lobby days, or Advocacy Days, have begun for the lobbyists, Delegates, and Senators. Lobby days are designated days where non-governmental organizations meet politicians and legislators to advocate for legislation and to educate lawmakers on the specifics of the bills they are representing. On January 12, the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers discussed the “need for discovery reform and other pressing changes to the justice system” with legislators. On January 15, the Virginia Coalition for Gun Violence Prevention lobbied in Richmond against gun violence.  On January 18, the Virginia Apartment and Management Association lobbied for legislation relevant to “commercial and multifamily property owners and managers.” In the next few weeks, many Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) will lobby Virginia legislators. On January 22, the Virginia Educators Association and the Sierra Club will lobby for advancements on legislation regarding statewide public education and environmental conservation. From January 23 to February 7, topics such as equal rights, voting, elections, women’s rights, nursing benefits and more will be discussed between NGOs and Virginia representatives.

The first week of the General Assembly session provided insight into the way the split legislature will react towards newly proposed bills and legislation that has been proposed before by senior Senators. The start of the new session demonstrates the eagerness to pursue aspirations of the constituents of those who were elected. In the next few weeks, Virginians will see influential decisions regarding legislation that will directly affect their day-to-day lives.

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