Thursday, June 21, 2018

What's Next?

What’s next?

Now that the Virginia General Assembly passed a budget that expands Medicaid in Virginia, and the Governor has signed it, what will be the next defining battle between partisans in an extremely narrowly divided General Assembly?

That’s the question I’ve been getting most lately.

The conversation usually starts with a “thank you” for all your hard work these last five sessions working to close the coverage gap and provide health care for 400,000 Virginians. Or sometimes a simple “congratulations.”

When I hear that one, I sometimes have to remind myself we just accomplished something really, really consequential this year. It took years of grassroots activists and organizations lobbying General Assembly members with thousands upon thousands of phone calls, emails, and letters plus rallies, parades, and “die-ins” to make this happen. Passing Medicaid expansion was huge.

So, what is next?

Gun reform? Not likely. Not with the current make-up of the General Assembly, where Republicans still do hold the majority (albeit by the narrowest of margins) in both houses. This year they made a point of hearing every single piece of common sense gun violence prevention legislation on the new Governor’s first day in office. The promptly killed every last one before he could even give his first address to the joint assembly of the House and Senate.

Redistricting reform? Perhaps, although the devil continues to be in the details. I think partisans on both sides probably want to see what the outcome of the 2019 elections look like before they commit to a particular approach.

Campaign finance reform? Also a possibility. I reintroduce a version of my bill to prohibit using campaign funds for personal use every year. This past session was the closest we ever got to forming a compromise version of the bill. In the end, my conservative colleagues chose to abandon the effort, but there is hope for next year.

There were other areas of compromise, in addition to Medicaid Expansion, though, that give me reason for hope that more can be accomplished in the area of criminal justice reform.

We raised the felony threshold for larceny, for instance, from $200 where it had languished for decades, to $500 in 2018. While not as far as some would have liked, we did more than double it.

We also passed legislation to limit long term suspensions and began to address issues that lead to a “school to prison pipeline” in some parts of Virginia. The legislation is a good first step, and also an acknowledgement of the problem and the need for solutions.

Some issues can be addressed without any legislative involvement. One such issue is the prevalent use of cash bail, which results in a dual track justice system for rich and poor. The result is that those who are poor are incarcerated without being convicted of any crime at an alarming rate.

Last month, the newly minted Prince William Delegation sent a letter to Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney (and fellow Democrat elected official), Paul Ebert, asking him to create a pretrial release system that is based on the defendant's perceived public safety and flight risk rather than the defendant's ability to pay.

Our Fairfax County and Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorneys were both also elected after campaigning and running as Democrats. Perhaps activists looking for the next good fight to engage in should reach out to their elected CAs and ask them to address this issue in the same manner.

So, really the question of what’s next could be many things and isn’t necessarily relegated to the General Assembly passing specific legislation. This is partly why it is so important that the grassroots advocacy groups that came about in the past few years remain active. Your voices were heard on Medicaid expansion. And I have no doubt that your voices will be heard on a few more critical issues in the years to come.

Have another idea on what we should tackle next? I’d love to hear from you. My office can be reached at (571) 327-0053 or

Friday, June 1, 2018

Final Budget Highlights

Now I'll be bold
As well as strong
And use my head alongside my heart
And I'll kneel down
Wait for now
I'll kneel down
Know my ground

'Cause I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you

~ Mumford & Sons, "I Will Wait"

Thanks to you, hundreds of thousands of Virginians who work just enough to stay out of poverty, but don't earn enough to be able to afford health insurance, will be able to get healthcare through expanded Medicaid coverage next year.

After 6 years of failed attempts, and now 3 months after the House of Delegates did it, the Senate of Virginia finally passed a state budget with Medicaid expansion! I was pleased to once again vote YES on the Senate version, which will now go to Governor Northam for amendments, line item vetoes, and ultimately his signature.

Elections matter. And when we vote, we win AND we can make landmark policy changes that make Virginia better for everyone.

Of course, Medicaid expansion is not the only thing the 2018-2020 Biennial Budget accomplishes. With the draw down of federal money from expansion coupled with the higher than projected state revenues, we were able to fund quite a few good things.

Budget Highlights


Medicaid Expansion | Extends coverage to nearly 400,00 Virginians with incomes up to 138% above the federal poverty level pursuant to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) | Effective January 2019

I/DD Waiver Slots | Adds 1,319 waivers slots and 50 reserve slots to further reduce the waiting list, which is about 6,500 children and adults

Mental Health | $191.7 million to address capacity issues through discharge planning, assisted living slots and community support teams, including $84.1 million for community mental health services

LARC Pilot Program | $6 million for the Virginia Department of Health to expand access to long acting reversible contraception (LARCs) for low-income populations


Teacher Raises | 3% raise for school positions | Effective July 2019

Tuition Assistance Grants | Increases TAG funding to $3,350

Direct Aid to Public Education | Increased by $166.3 million from the General Fund and the Lottery above the original introduced budget

Per Pupil Funding | Includes $4.6 to increase the per pupil amount to $6,326, an increase of $201 per student

Student Loan Ombudsman | Includes funding to establish the Office of the Student Loan Ombudsman, which will assist borrowers with understanding their rights and responsibilities regarding their loans as well as resolve complaints involving loan servicers

Transportation & Public Safety

Law Enforcement Raises | Targeted salary increase for some law enforcement and deputy sheriffs | Effective January 2019

I-66 Reverse Commuter Tolling | This Republican amendment was not included in the budget and will not go into effect.


State Employee Raises | 2% raise for state employees and 2% additional merit salary adjustment for state employees with 3+ years of service | Effective July 2019

Judicial Branch

Judicial Vacancies | Includes funding to fill all current vacancies across the state

Special Dockets | Dedicated funding to expand existing or establish new mental health dockets and to increase the number of drug courts

You can view the full compromise budget here.