This week marks the 9th and final week of the 60-day 2022 General Assembly session. Or so we hope. During this home stretch, the days on the House Floor get longer and longer as my colleagues and I vote and move bills across the finish line and onto the Governor's desk for consideration.
Along with completing the budget, the main focus this week is on conference committees. When similar but not exact bills are passed out of each body, a conference committee is called to iron out the differences between these bills to create a final product that will be voted on by the General Assembly and sent to the Governor. Each body will appoint three members to serve on each conference committee, consisting of the bill patrons, two members of the majority party in each body, and one member of the minority party. Once an agreement is reached between the conferees, each conferee must sign the conference report, and both the House and Senate must accept the report for the bill to be sent to the Governor.
This year, I am serving on three conference committees: HB 763, HB 764, and SB 402, all bills included as part of my larger bipartisan charitable gaming reform package that I have worked on this session with Senators Reeves and Bell.
After completing conference reports, the final budget must be decided upon. It’s not unprecedented for the budget process to take longer and for a final vote on the budget to occur later on in the spring. However, that does not mean that deliberations can carry on in perpetuity. Under the Virginia Constitution, we must pass a balanced budget, and that budget must be in place for the start of the biennium, which begins on July 1, 2022.
In recent memory, when Medicaid Expansion was passed in Virginia in 2018, the final budget compromise was not signed by Governor Northam until June of that year, just a few weeks shy of the July 1 beginning of the fiscal year. In that year, session adjourned “sine die” on March 10, and the General Assembly was then called back to Richmond for a special session April 11, 2018, to May 30, 2018, to address the state budget. Should more time for careful deliberations be needed, convening a special session is just one method that can be employed to gain extra time.
While it’s unclear as of this writing whether we will have a completed budget by the scheduled sine die date on this upcoming Saturday, March 12, I am confident that my colleagues on the budget conference committee will present the General Assembly with a budget compromise we can all agree on.