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Commentary: General Assembly to Reconvene

The General Assembly will reconvene in the state capital on Wednesday, April 3, for what is appropriately termed the Reconvened Session. The purpose of this annual session is narrowly defined in the state constitution to give the General Assembly the opportunity to review actions of the governor on legislation passed during the regular session. Prior to Jan. 1, 1981, the governor could simply veto legislation he did not like, and the only choice the legislature had was to respond in the regular session the next year. With the passage of a constitutional amendment establishing the Reconvened Session, the General Assembly can override a gubernatorial veto with a two-thirds vote. Adding to the efficiency of the process, the governor can send recommendations for amendments to bills that passed to make technical corrections, add clarity, or change the effect of the bill more to his liking. In any case, the House and Senate must approve or reject the governor’s amendments.

The importance of the Reconvened Session is heightened this year by the fact that the governor has two extremely important bills before him for which there is great public interest. While it has been characterized that the governor had agreed to these bills in advance of their passage, the devil is in the details of the actual bills before him. There is anxious anticipation of an announcement by the governor of whether he plans to sign, amend or veto the transportation funding bill and the Medicaid expansion bill. While both were worked out in coordination with his office, the passage of the two bills has brought about great praise from some quarters and sharp criticism from others. With the governor’s term coming to a close this year, his action on these bills may largely define his legacy.

The governor had made a campaign promise to fix the transportation funding problem. The business community has been effusive in its praise of the current transportation bill for the reliable and continuing stream of money it provides for congestion relief and transportation improvements. The Tea Party and Grover Norquist fans have been calling it the biggest tax increase in Virginia’s history and certain to end any possibilities for the governor in a 2016 presidential race. Some details of the bill—like the hybrid vehicle fee—do not make any logical sense and need to be fixed.

On Medicaid expansion, a legislative plan put into the budget would move Virginia into an expanded Medicaid program. Once again, it is believed by those drafting the proposal that the governor had agreed to it, but he continues to write letters and make negative comments about the Affordable Care Act. Many activist groups wisely continue to write and call his office to ask that he not try to amend the plan. We should learn of the governor’s plans for the Reconvened Session by next week.