Thursday, February 16, 2017

2017 Session - Crossover & the Budget

Last week was as busy a week as we are going to have during this year’s 45-day short session. On Sunday at one in the afternoon, we got our first look at the House Appropriations Committee's amendments to the Governor's budget. On Monday and Tuesday, we debated and voted on hundreds of bills and resolutions at the crossover deadline. On Wednesday, floor amendments to the Budget were due at noon and on Thursday we debated and voted on the Budget.

Each year the General Assembly establishes a deadline, near the halfway point of the session, for each house to complete work on its own bills, vote on them, pass them, and send them to other body for consideration.

This year at the crossover deadline we debated and voted on a total of 192 bills. Here are some of the highlights.

Women's Health

We passed HB 2267 allowing women to receive up to a 12-month supply of their birth control as prescribed by a doctor, over the objections of Delegate Bob Marshall of Prince William.

Criminal Justice

We passed HB 2064 which precludes a person who has previously been convicted of any violent felony from being eligible for first offender status for assault and battery against a family or household member, unless all parties agree.

One of many bills aimed at addressing the growing opioid abuse crisis in much of Virginia, HB 1453, expands the category of state officials able to train individuals on the administration of naloxone for use in opioid overdose reversal.

Finally, SB 816 would increase the grand larceny threshold from $200 to $500, meaning fewer acts of petty theft would be charged as a felony. We’ll see how that bill fares in the House of Delegates, where many are still hostile to that idea.


Both houses passed language for a Constitutional Amendment to create a property tax exemption for surviving spouses of disabled veterans, even if they move. That bill will have to pass again in identical form next year and then be approved by the voters in a referendum before it can take effect.

My Virginia Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act was folded into HB 1537. It allows any member of the United States Armed Forces or Virginia National Guard (or their spouses or dependents living with them) to terminate contracts for certain services if they receive military orders to relocate for a period of service of at least 90 days.

Redistricting Reform

Several bills were introduced in the House of Delegates this year to reform how Virginia conducts redistricting, the process of redrawing electoral district boundaries. The bills, which were lumped together in committee and killed on a single voice vote, would have taken legislators out of the redistricting process, created an independent redistricting commission and constitutionally banned partisan influence in redistricting.

Budget Update

At the end of the day on Thursday, I was one of only 2 NO votes to the House of Delegate's budget plan. Here's why. Reviewing the budget amendments, I found several that were objectionable, including:

  • Eliminating $4.5 million the Governor had requested to identify gaps in Virginia's community mental health system where people with mental illness were getting lost.
  • Eliminating $6 million in purely federal funds to provide long term contraception to poor families in Virginia.
  • Republicans put language back in the budget to prohibit home healthcare workers from working more than 40 hours in a week and earning overtime pay. You can view my floor speech against this amendment here.
  • Language which stops the Governor from expanding Medicaid if (as many of us expect) it isn't replaced as part of the ongoing effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. You can view my floor speech here.
  • Removes $4.2 million the Governor is seeking to improve mental health treatment in prisons and jails.
Republicans killed every Democratic effort to amend the budget, including a floor amendment I introduced with Delegate Jennifer Boysko to require equal pay between the male Clerk of the House of Delegates and the female Clerk of the Senate.

I also introduced a floor amendment to prohibit discrimination against the LGBT community in public employment which was killed after the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee suggested I should have introduced the language as a bill. This came immediately after the House approved Delegate Bob Marshall's amendment to prohibit the spending of state funds on any abortion services, without any explicit exceptions for viability or the health and welfare of the mother.