The Virginia Constitution provides that in the even-numbered years the General Assembly is to meet in session for 60 days and in the odd-numbered years for 45 days. Either may be extended by half the number of days with a two-thirds vote by the membership. The reason for the longer session in even-numbered years was the additional responsibility of passing a biennial budget. Yet on Saturday, March 10, the General Assembly adjourned sine die (meaning with no appointed date for resumption) without having passed a budget for the next biennium!
The budget under which the Commonwealth is currently operating does not expire until June 30, 2018. The Governor is empowered to call a special session of the legislature, and he has indicated his expectation in the near future to call such a special session whose business would be limited to passage of a budget. Members of the House and Senate understood that would be the procedure to be followed when they voted to adjourn the regular session.
There is good news in all this procedural action to bring the legislature to an end for the year. The budgets of the two houses could not be reconciled by the constitutional deadline because of one great and meaningful difference: extending Medicaid to many more persons of limited income. The really good news is that Medicaid expansion is being discussed in a positive context, and I am certain it is going to take place in Virginia within the year.
A total of about 2500 bills and resolutions have been considered during the last 60 days. Of those, fewer than a thousand will make their way to the Governor for his signature. When duplicate bills are counted once, the total production of the General Assembly will be close to 500 new laws. While that small number may seem like limited production for such great effort, some of the bills introduced are really not good ideas. It is just as important that the legislature defeat bad bills as it is for the legislature to pass good bills.
This session was noteworthy for its lack of bills limiting women’s reproductive rights and bills that would discriminate against persons for their sexual orientation or identity. Much of that change can be attributed to the defeat of one incumbent delegate who specialized in such bills but also to the great number of defeats of incumbent legislators who voted for them.
There were 70 bills introduced relating to ending gun violence, and all were defeated in a six-person subcommittee. Recent public outrage over gun violence is likely to change that dynamic in the future. Good news for Metro was the passage of a bill to put Virginia’s contribution to the system on sound financial footing with a dedicated source of funding from the Commonwealth. Maryland and the District of Columbia are expected to take similar action.
A major victory for environmentalists was the passage of the Governor’s bill to expand the use of renewables in electricity generation, modernization of the electrical grid, and expansion of energy conservation. More to come on the work of the session in future columns