Your browser does not support JavaScript January Recap of the General Assembly - Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy - Christopher Newport University January Recap of the General Assembly
Skip navigation

Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy

Wason Center

February 3, 2018

January Recap of the General Assembly

State / Issue

Virginia Capitol Building

The Virginia General Assembly has been in the 2018 long session since January 10. With the introduction of 15 new Democratic delegates, Virginians have been interested to see how the Assembly will vote on several key and controversial bills including Medicaid expansion, an increase in the minimum wage, gun laws, and more. The Wason Center will continue to report updates on legislation and key votes in the General Assembly 2018 session.

One of the most watched issues before the Assembly is the expansion of Medicaid. Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) was hopeful about Medicaid at the start of the session, stating legislators are “having conversations now [about moving forward]. We weren’t doing that before, and that’s important.” Democratic legislators, including Governor Northam, want to see the full expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to cover adults with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. “I do think we’ll see something for this year for health care for lower-income Virginians. I’m not saying full Medicaid,” said Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment Jr. (R-James City County) at the start of the session.

Initially, it appeared that Medicaid expansion was dead on arrival as it has been in the last several sessions with Republican majorities in both chambers of the Assembly. However, on January 29, House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) sent a letter addressed to Governor Ralph Northam indicating that the Republican caucus is “willing to begin a dialogue on healthcare.” Speaker Cox said Republicans might consider expansion if a work requirement is included.  House Bill 338, introduced by Del. Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) places a work requirement on citizens who use Medicaid. However, the bill would continue to exempt children under 6 years of age, individuals over 65 years old, pregnant women, former foster children under 26 years of age, individuals over 18 who are receiving secondary education, those receiving disability benefits, and those mentally or physically unable to work.

Speaker Cox estimates that the work requirement would affect about one-third of individuals already on Medicaid. “If your position is to pass straightforward Medicaid expansion without work requirements or other reforms, then you will be responsible for the failure to provide healthcare coverage to more Virginians,” Cox wrote to Northam. Northam has explicitly stated that he does not support a work requirement but rather a work search program wherein citizens would be required to spend 20 hours a week working, seeking employment, job-training, or public service. HB 338 was put to a vote on Tuesday, January 29 and passed14-3 with only three Democrats against the bill and the bill will continue to the House for the next debate and vote.

Medical bills are not limited to just Medicaid expansion in the 2018 session. Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke) introduced Senate Bill 222, which allows physicians to stop treatments over the objections of patients and/or family members if they believe that a medical procedure or treatment is medically unnecessary or inappropriate. On Tuesday, January 30, Edwards spoke to a subcommittee of the Health and Education Committee stating “right now, the Virginia (code) is silent in the case of what to do in an unresolved disagreement between families on the one hand and health care providers on the other hand.” The subcommittee unanimously voted in favor of the bill.

A major priority of Governor Ralph Northam’s “integrity agenda” is to ban the use of campaign funds for personal expenses. The chair of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Fauquier) introduced Senate Bill 592, which would prohibit the use of campaign funds for personal use. Any candidate reported to the State Board of Elections and found to have “willingly and knowingly violated” the provision “shall repay to the campaign committee the amount unlawfully converted.” The State Board would also be able to add an additional civil penalty. The bill has both strong support and strong opposition. Sen. John Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake), strongly opposes the bill and sent a motion to the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council that the bill be further scrutinized. Cosgrove has voiced that he filed the motion due to his personal beliefs and due to the scandal in 2015 regarding the former Governor Bob McDonnell gift scandal. The committee voted against the bill in an 8-4 vote on January 30. While this bill has been voted against, bills sponsored by Del. Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax) and Del. Mark Cole (R-Spotsylvania) both deal with campaign finances and reform and have not yet been voted against.

The topic of marijuana arose in the General Assembly in the 2018 session. Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) sponsored Senate Bill 111, a bill that would decriminalize simple marijuana possession. Currently, if a citizen is charged with simple marijuana possession, there is a maximum fine of $500 and a 30-day jail sentence and later offenses are defined as a Class 1 misdemeanor. The bill outlined new punishment provisions: a $50 penalty for a first violation, $100 for a second violation, and $250 penalty for a third violation. SB 111 was voted against in a 6-9 party-line vote in the Courts of Justice on January 29. However, SB 954, introduced by Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City), unanimously passed in the Courts of Justice. SB 954 outlined that citizens who are charged with possession of marijuana can request expungement, an action that was previously deemed unattainable. Senate Majority Leader Norment has previously supported the decriminalization of marijuana but still voted against SB 111. Norment stated that he changed his mind because he does not believe that a decriminalization law would pass in the House committee and he was trying to be practical. In the past 10 years, Virginia police have made 133,256 arrests for possession of marijuana, according to a Virginia State Crime Commission study on the decriminalization of marijuana.

Relating to arrests, a bill regarding correctional officer treatment has made waves in the General Assembly. HB 107, sponsored by Del. John Bell (D-Loudoun), would include correctional officers in the list of public safety employees who are entitled to improved compensation in the event of an injury or disease relating to the relevant workforce. Bell’s leading argument in support of the bill is that Virginia spends $20 million a year recruiting and training officers, but money could be saved on job turnover if benefits were raised. The Commerce and Labor Committee passed the bill in a 20-1 vote majority. However, the House and Trade committee had major concerns about cost, which is why the committee referred it to the Appropriations committee for more fiscal research on the effects.

The House of Delegates had a full audience on Monday, January 29 when the question of whether or not to allow guns in the chamber arose. In 2015, former Governor Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order that prohibited firearms in government buildings; however, the Capitol is controlled by the General Assembly which allows firearms to be carried. The proposal that has been brought forward would not ban guns altogether; however, it would ban individuals from having firearms on their person while lawmakers are on the floor. The provisions included in the proposal line up with the Senate’s rules on firearms. Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-Fairfax) introduced the proposal and argued that her proposal is “not an effort to infringe on anyone’s right to bear arms. It is an effort to ensure our safety.” Several Republican delegates have shown resistance to Murphy’s proposal. Del Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge) believes that a ban on firearms is an infringement on citizen’s rights, and House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) agreed. The change was voted against in a 48-49 party-line vote on Monday, January 29.

In the wake of the violent neo-Nazi riots in Charlottesville this summer the issue of whether or not confederate statues should remain in public spaces has been receiving a lot of attention. During the gubernatorial election, Ed Gillespie argued that confederate statues should remain up due to their broader historical significance while Ralph Northam argued they should be removed because, for some Virginians, they represent homage to Virginia’s racist past. House Bill 1225, introduced by House Minority Leader David Toscano (D-Charlottesville), provides localities the right to remove a monument or memorial for war veterans, which would overturn the current law which makes such actions unlawful. Toscano believes that the cities that house the monuments should be able to make individual decisions on the monuments in their localities; “this is about giving localities the ability to do what they want to do given their specific historic circumstances,” Toscano said. HB 1225 was voted against in a 6-2 vote in the House Counties, Cities, and Towns subcommittee. The other bill that deals with the monuments is House Bill 818, which was introduced by Del. Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria). HB 818 outlines that localities decide to remove a monument or memorial, they can request funding through the Monument Removal Fund (established in the bill) financed by a charitable donation option on individuals’ Virginia income tax returns. The House Counties, Cities, and Towns subcommittee voted down HB 818 in a 5-1 vote. “All of them [Sic] [monuments] are Virginia as well as U.S. historic assets,” said the subcommittee chairman, Del. Charles Poindexter (R-Franklin County) about his rejection of the bills. The one delegate who supported both bills for removal of the monuments and memorials was Del. John Bell (D-Loudoun).

Education bills have also been a major topic of discussion thus far in the 2018 session. House Bill 199, introduced by Del. Rip Sullivan (D-Arlington) calls to establish a 12-person group appointed by the superintendent that would establish the Digital Citizenship, Internet Safety, and Media Literacy Advisory Council. The council aims at improving media literacy among students and faculty in the state education system. A House Education subcommittee unanimously voted in favor of HB 199 and the bill will continue to the full House Education committee. House Bill 46 and 1425 both deal with in-state tuition. House Bill 46, introduced by Del. Paul Krizek (D-Fairfax), would declare any resident of a United States territory that has been affected by a natural disaster, in-state tuition at public higher-education institutions until July 2022. HB 46 was passed indefinitely by a 5-3 vote by the Higher Education subcommittee. House Bill 1425, introduced by Del. Debra H. Rodman (D-Henrico), would allow students whose parents are faculty of a higher-education institution full or partial tuition waivers for undergraduate education. On January 29, the Higher Education subcommittee voted to lay the bill on the table by a 5-3 vote. The bill will be reviewed for revisions and a vote at a later time. The members of the subcommittee voiced their concern that the bill included only dependents of professors to be included in the waiver eligibility, not other staff or faculty. Senate Bill 237, sponsored by Sen. David Marsden (D-Fairfax) also deals with in-state tuition. The bill would allow individuals granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in-state tuition at any public higher education institution in Virginia. Senate Bill 810, also introduced by Marsden, would allow individuals who have applied for permanent residency eligibility for in-state tuition. The Senate Education and Health Committee voted against the SB 237 and 810 in an 8-7 party-line vote. The chairman of the Senate Education and Health Committee Sen. Steve Newman (R-Lynchburg) stated that the problem has to be fixed at a federal level, not the state level.

House Bill 809, introduced by Del. Isabel O’Quinn (R-Bristol), would allow select advertising on public school buses. The advertising cannot obstruct school information and cannot contain advertising that pertains to gambling, politics, alcohol, and cannot advertise food that does not meet the nutrition standards by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The bill was designed to provide more funding to the education system. The House Education Subcommittee (No. 2) voted to recommend reporting in a 10-0 vote and was voted in favor in a 20-2 vote in the House committee. On January 31, the bill was read to the House for the first time. Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg (D-Henrico), one of the opponents, stated that the bill is a “short-term Band-Aid” whereas O’Quinn stated that the bill is an “outside-the-box revenue stream”. Nevertheless, the bill will continue to the House where it will be amended and voted on at a later time.

The “Tebow Bill” ruling has received a significant amount of attention from Virginia residents. The bill gets its name from Tim Tebow, the famous NFL player who was homeschooled yet was able to play sports at nearby public schools and was able to rise in the ranks which led him to his positions on the New York Jets and Denver Broncos. House Bill 496, introduced by Del. Robert Bell (R-Albemarle), would allow home-schooled to participate in “interscholastic programs,” including sports. The bill has been proposed in the past, in 2017 was vetoed by former Governor Terry McAuliffe after the House of Delegates voted in favor 60-38 and the Senate voted in favor 22-18. However, the bill didn’t make it past the House Education Committee in the 2018 session. The bill was voted 11-11 which means the bill will not continue to the full General Assembly. The committee has a 12-10 Republican majority; however, Del. Gordon Helsel (R-Hampton) voted against the bill because his local school districts opposed the notion. “There were enough new members we were hoping it would be enough to get there. But none of the Democrats voted for it. We lost a Republican as we have in the past. But it mattered more when the votes were so close,” said Bell. The outcome of this bill reiterates the overarching theme Virginia citizens have seen in the 2017 election cycle; every vote counts.

The session has only lasted about 3 weeks thus far and Virginia citizens are seeing a large amount of exciting activity from the General Assembly. In the next coming weeks, the Wason Center will continue to provide coverage about the 2018 General Assembly long session.

Report a problem
Version 3.4