General Assembly Update May 2018

We are now over a month into Special Session and have yet to complete work on the budget for the 2018-2020, which starts July 1st.  
 
Last month, Governor Northam introduced the same budget that Governor McAuliffe proposed in December, with once exception: Governor Northam included more money in the cash reserves portion of the budget.  Governor Northam's budget includes language that would expand Medicaid coverage to nearly 400,000 Virginians and an assessment on state hospitals to cover the Commonwealth's share of the costs.  With the savings realized from Medicaid expansion, the budget makes significant investments in core economic priorities like education, workforce development, mental health services, opioid addiction prevention, and pay raises for state employees, teachers and law enforcement professionals.
 
On April 17th, the House adopted primarily the same amendments to the budget that it adopted in February. The Commonwealth Institute has prepared a good summary comparison of the new Administration and House budgets, which you can view here, both of which include Medicaid expansion.
 
Two Senate Republicans (Emmett Hanger and Frank Wagner) have joined all 19 Democrats in supporting Medicaid expansion.  As a result, I am hopeful we will pass a budget with Medicaid expansion.  However, the Senate has yet to make progress, despite convening last Monday to refer the House budget bill to the Senate Finance Committee.  The Committee met that afternoon to hear an economic and revenue update, and overview of differences between the House and Senate budgets, and an overview of Medicaid, expansion in other states, and individual Health Insurance.  The Committe then met on the 15th to consider the budget, but did not take a vote.  
 
The Senate will reconvene at 3 pm on May 22 to continue to work on a budget.  Hopefully, the Senate Finance Committee will vote on the budget before then, as they are scheduled to meet at a tome to be determined that same day. 
 
Stay tuned!
Governor Northam Vetoes Sustained   
The General Assembly reconvened April 18th to consider Governor Northam's  vetoes and amendments, which are summarized here.  All of the Governor's vetoes were sustained, and most of his amendments were adopted.  The Governor subsequently vetoed the following bills after his amendments were rejected along party-line votes:
 
Redistricting Reform (SB 106/HB 1598): As passed, these bills fell short of establishing sufficient criteria to ensure that electoral maps are drawn fairly.  The Governor amendments sought to ensure  fair redistricting process by ensuring consideration of existing political boundaries and communities of interest, protection of minority voting rights, and that existing political parties and incumbents are not favored or disfavored.  Read the Governor's veto statement here.  
 
Health Care (SB 844SB 934SB 935, and SB 964): These bills sought to expand options for short-term, catastrophic, and association heath plans for Virginians.  Due to uncertainty over whether the federal government would grant waivers for these bills to take effect this year or whether the changes were allowable under federal law, the Governor amended the bills to require a study to determine if they could be implemented effectively. Absent these amendment, the Governor was concerned these bills would put Virginians at risk of being underinsured, result in rapidly increasing Marketplace premiums, and undermine key protections in the Affordable Care Act.  Read the Governor's veto statements here.

 

Voter Registration (HB 1144 and SB 834): HB 1144 would have imposed unnecessary and burdensome requirements on individuals or organizations assisting people with the voter registration application process.  SB 834 would have imposed unnecessary and duplicative processes on on local election officials and potentially marginalize registered voters.  The Governor proposed amendments to alleviate these concerns.  
Read the Governor's veto statement for HB 1144 here and for SB 834 here.
 
Fire Safety (HB 1595 and SB 972): These bills would have restricted the ability of local governing bodies to adopt standards for protecting citizens and structures from fires involving combustible landscape cover materials.  The Governor's amendments would have exempted certain multi-occupancy properties.  Read the Governor's veto statement here.
Senator McClellan Recognized by VEA As 2018 Legislative Champion 
At its annual convention, the Virginia Education Association recognized me with its 2018 Legislative Champion Award in recognition of my work on SB 456.  This bill sought to address the teacher shortage by implementing a school personnel survey to evaluate school-level teaching conditions and the impact such conditions have on teacher retention and student achievement.  SB 456 would have provided necessary data to inform state and local policies to address the crisis. Unfortunately, the bill was defeated in the House when the House budget failed to provide funding.  However, I will continue working to implement the survey next session.     
Governor Northam Signs Legislation Strengthening Family Life Education Curriculum    
Last week, Governor Northam held a ceremonial bill signing for my SB 101 and Delegate Eileen Filer-Corn's HB 45.

Named "Erin's Law" after childhood sexual abuse survivor Erin Merryn and her efforts in every state to require all public schools to implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program, SB 101 permits localities to include age-appropriate instruction in the prevention, recognition, and awareness of child sexual abuse in the Family Life Education Curriculum.  The bill also adds to high school family life education curriculum age-appropriate elements of effective and evidence-based programs on the prevention of sexual harassment using electronic means.
 
HB 45 adds to family life education curriculum age-appropriate elements of effective and evidence-based programs on the importance of the personal privacy and personal boundaries of other individuals and tools for a student to use to ensure that he respects the personal privacy and personal boundaries of other individuals.

Learn more from WRIC's coverage of the bill signing.