Week Seven of the General Assembly brought some focus to the state’s budget situation and movement on a few important bills of the session.
On Tuesday we debated our respective budget amendments. The budgets are separated by a massive revenue gulf due to Medicaid. The House of Delegates’ budget included Medicaid Expansion with a work requirement. The Senate Budget did not.
Expanding Medicaid frees up about $250 million per year of Virginia taxpayer dollars because the federal government picks up spending on items Virginia taxpayers currently fund including charity care at state teaching hospitals, prison healthcare and 12 other smaller programs. Aside from providing healthcare to about 300,000 Virginians it also is projected to create approximately 30,000 jobs — including about 1,000 jobs here in the 36th District and at least 7,500 in Northern Virginia.
Due to the Senate’s failure to propose expansion, the Senate budget was forced to cut a 2 percent raise for teachers, a 2 percent raise for state employees, over $23 million in college financial aid, another $20 million in operating funds for state colleges, and other funding for secondary education. Medicaid Expansion could also fund all 36 vacant judgeships in Virginia (including two in Fairfax and Prince William counties), eliminate our waiting list for services for adult intellectually and developmentally disabled Virginians, or make a huge dent in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. I thought these policies were hostile to the 36th District and voted “no.”
I also argued on the floor that I could not see how this put the General Assembly in position to adopt a budget before the session closes on March 10. When the chambers start $500 million apart on revenue, it is impossible to have a reasonable negotiation. It is clear to me that this General Assembly is either not adjourning or going into special session.
As for some good news, I helped pass Del. Rip Sullivan’s law that legalized BYOB at private swimming pools. Until this law came through committee, I had no idea (along with everyone else) that it was illegal to bring your own alcohol beverage to a private swimming club without a banquet license. Given that most of the 36th District’s neighborhoods were built before homeowners’ associations existed, this is how most of my constituents join a pool. After Governor Northam’s signature and July 1, 2018, you can eat a burger and drink a beer at your pool without fear of prosecution.
My bill to waive all fees and provide free computers to low income students who take online classes passed subcommittee and the full Education Committee. Unfortunately, the bill was sent to the Appropriations Committee for a budget review, but I am hopeful it will pass.
This week, about five of my remaining bills will be heard in the House including extending the coal ash moratorium, limiting consumer finance loans to 36 percent interest rates, and providing state compensation to the Norfolk Four — four men who were intentionally and wrongfully convicted for a rape they did not commit.
Next week, we will also vote for a second time on two significant utility bills. First, the bill removing the cap on electricity rates and mandating a 10-fold investment in renewable energy, payment of $450 million of coal ash remediation costs, and big boost in utility undergrounding will be heard. Also, the telecommunications industry is pressing legislation to simplify deployment of 5G technology which requires smaller cells and smaller antennae.
I am hopeful that the electrical utility bill will facilitate undergrounding of lines on U.S. 1 and even more in 36th District neighborhoods built before utilities were undergrounded. Likewise, I am working with the telecommunications providers to help keep 5G antennae off U.S. 1 right of way to minimize future taxpayer undergrounding expenses, and avoid future delays in wireless technology deployment that have previously occurred in the 36th District.
It is an honor to serve as your state senator. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any feedback.