Gov. Northam calls a special session for lawmakers to complete a budget
UPDATE (Mar. 13):
After Virginia's lawmakers failed to pass a state budget by the end of the General Assembly this past weekend, Governor Ralph Northam has called legislators to a special session planned for April 11th to work out a deal.
“After a legislative session that was marked by bipartisan progress on issues that matter to people’s lives, I remain disappointed that the General Assembly was unable to extend that spirit of cooperation to its work on the budget," Northam said in an official statement.
The GOP-led General Assembly is split on whether to expand Medicaid to about 300,000 low-income Virginians. The House supports expansion while the Senate does not.
The disagreement on Medicaid and a related hospital tax is blocking lawmakers from passing a state budget for the next two years.
“Virginians sent us to Richmond to work together to make life better for every family, no matter who they are or where they live," Northam continued. "We can live up to that responsibility by passing a budget that expands health care to hundreds of thousands of Virginians who need it. Expanding coverage will also generate savings that we can invest in education, workforce training, efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, and a healthy cash balance to prepare for fiscal downturns."
“Thanks to the political courage of many leaders in both parties and both chambers, we have made significant progress on this issue over the past several months. In the coming weeks, I intend to work with the General Assembly to ensure that we pass a budget that expands coverage as quickly as possible once this special session convenes. I have also directed Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne to work with the members and staff of the General Assembly money committees to ensure that work on the budget continues in the period between the regular session and the special session."
It's unclear if there will be an agreement by April 11.
State government will shut down on July 1 if no budget is passed.
“It is my hope that people from across the Commonwealth will continue to speak to their legislators about the need to bring our tax dollars home to benefit our families, our economy, and our budget," Northam added. "We shouldn’t have to wait any longer for a budget that reflects the priorities of the Virginians who sent us here to serve.”
You can find the proclamation signed by the governor below:
Virginia lawmakers finished up the 2018 session Saturday without doing their most important job: passing a state budget.
Legislators ended in a stalemate over whether to expand Medicaid to about 300,000 low-income adults. A similar budget impasse over Medicaid in 2014 took months to resolve and was largely split along partisan lines.
Now, it's mostly Republicans fighting among themselves over the issue, after years of near-unanimous opposition to expansion. The GOP-controlled House backs it, while the Republican-led Senate opposes it. New Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, has made Medicaid expansion a top priority.
The disagreement is causing serious discord within the Republican Party and a compromise could be months away. Northam said he wants a compromise as soon as possible.
"We need to have a budget come out of here. That's our job," he said.
Lawmakers will go home while negotiations continue. The state government will shut down July 1 if no budget is passed.
Budget issues aside, plenty of other legislation passed or failed this year. Here's a look at some notable issues:
Democratic lawmakers expressed hope at the start of this year's session that their increased numbers in the House could lead to even incremental change in gun control laws.
That has not been the case.
Republicans have defeated dozens of proposal from Democrats, from bills dealing with bump stocks, background checks, and high-capacity magazines to ones requiring more training for permits and locks on guns in day cares.
Since the Florida school shooting last month that left 17 people dead, tempers have flared and lawmakers have taken to the House floor to deliver lengthy speeches about the issue. Both parties have accused the other of distorting their views.
Virginia has, so far, avoided the turmoil over sexual harassment allegations that has roiled other statehouses across the country following the allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein and the ensuing #MeToo social media movement.
Both chambers have passed bills that would mandate sexual harassment training for General Assembly members and other legislative branch employees.
A push to bring Virginia in line with almost every other state and ban the personal use of political campaign funds passed the House but died in the Senate with little discussion. Virginia has one of the least regulated campaign finance systems in the country, with lawmakers only barred from using campaign funds for personal use when closing accounts.
Northam has said the issue is a top priority.
Northam approved legislation that could lead to substantial new additions to most Virginians' electric bills while making it easier for utilities to build renewable energy projects and improve the electric grid.
The bill, backed by Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, passed with broad support despite warnings from Attorney General Mark Herring that it could allow utilities to continue charging higher-than-necessary electric rates.
Both chambers have advanced a bill that would block for at least another year Dominion's plans to bury coal ash — the heavy metal-laden byproduct of burning coal to produce electricity — in place at four power plants across the state.
The bill would extend an existing moratorium on coal ash pond closures, except for ponds that have already had the ash excavated.
The measure would also require Dominion to request bids from coal ash recycling companies and turn that information over to the General Assembly, which will study the issue further.
Bills backed by Democrats that would have prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in public employment or housing, brought Virginia laws in line with the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage and expanded family leave have been defeated.
Republicans have emphasized their work on pragmatic, kitchen table issues but also passed hot-button legislation that's likely to be vetoed. That includes a measure outlawing so-called "sanctuary cities," which Virginia doesn't have.
Northam and Republicans did agree to increase the threshold for what's considered felony larceny.