Richmond This week’s General Assembly session included “Crossover” on Tuesday — after which the House and Senate may only work on bills approved by the other body. I am pleased that 10 pieces of my legislation have advanced to the House of Delegates for further consideration — including measures to improve the electoral process by simplifying absentee ballot applications and disqualifying fewer of those ballots; and to codify nondiscrimination in state employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Senate Finance Committee’s budget proposal was unveiled on Sunday. Though it has some merit, I was extremely disappointed that federal Medicaid expansion funds were not accepted in the document. Because of this omission, all Finance Committee Democrats united to oppose the draft budget. The expansion of Medicaid in Virginia could cover an additional 400,000 currently uninsured Virginians, resulting in savings from increased preventive care and fewer costly emergency room visits, and create an estimated 30,000 health care jobs. One hundred percent of the funds for expansion would come from the federal government for three years, and 90 percent thereafter. That money comes from federal income taxes paid for by Virginians, whether or not we accept this “Obamacare” (Medicaid) option. My Democratic colleagues and I will be working hard to win some Republican votes to accept the funding in the final Senate budget.
With regard to the Governor’s transportation plan currently being debated, I agree that bold steps must be taken to address our transportation needs but do not believe the governor’s bill would adequately serve the Commonwealth as a whole or Northern Virginia. In years past I have argued against using the General Fund (spent on education, public safety, healthcare etc.) to fund transportation (which has its own dedicated fund). Governor McDonnell’s plan to eliminate the 17.5¢/gallon gas tax and replace it with an .8 percent sales tax increase would go against that principle. Further, if the gas tax is eliminated and replaced by an increased sales tax, Virginia would lose the revenue currently collected when out-of-state drivers buy gas. Instead residents would pay a higher sales tax. We cannot afford this self-inflicted wound to Virginia’s economy.
One notable bill that was scheduled to be heard in last week’s meeting of the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee was a measure that would have lifted Virginia’s 30-year moratorium on uranium mining. Our climate is distinctly different than that of most locations where uranium is currently mined, and I believe that lifting the ban could have posed serious threats to the Southside Virginia water table and resulted in other significant environmental concerns. After counting the votes of members of the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources members, including mine, the patron of the legislation decided to strike the bill, laying the issue to rest for this session.
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