Legislative Stand-Off

Legislative Stand-Off

The 2023 General Assembly session has adjourned for the year with results that might be best described as a “stand-off.” Few were surprised with the outcome of the divided legislature controlled in the House of Delegates by Republicans and in the Senate by Democrats. Democrats—who had had probably the most successful progressive legislative sessions ever in 2020-2021 controlling both houses and the governor’s mansion and passing laws to make the voting system fairer, expand human rights protections, and respond to the climate crisis among others—were anxious to build on their successes. They instead faced a barrage of bills by Republicans now in control of the House who were interested in turning back Democratic gains and in passing conservative laws that among other things would restrict a woman’s reproductive freedom.

The two houses in many ways canceled themselves out with little bipartisan agreement. Adding to the pressure of coming away from the session with legislative gains they can claim as their own was the fact that all 140 members of the legislature are up for re-election this November. The fact that as many as a third of the current members may be retiring and their seats filled with new members did not lessen the partisanship. The rookie governor who seemed to have his attention more on national affairs and his political ambitions did not help the situation.

Although the state has more cash available for its budget than ever before there was only limited agreement on how the biennial budget should be revised. Limited revisions were made to the current budget to fill in for a $250 million error the Youngkin administration had made in calculating school aid, technical appropriation for the state retirement fund, and the rainy day fund. About three billion dollars was left on the table unappropriated as budget negotiators could not agree between tax cuts and critical program funding.

The major piece of legislation coming out of the session may be a bill that will tighten regulatory control over the state’s largest utility Dominion Energy. In recent years the General Assembly has usurped the powers of the State Corporation Commission to control electricity rates. The bill puts back that authority and makes rate adjustments that should result in lower rates for consumers. At the same time the House was able to stymie efforts by the governor to take the state out of REGGI that works to clean up greenhouse gas emissions.

With the overturning of Roe v Wade the House Republican leadership successfully fought off efforts to have the issue come to the floor for a vote protecting women’s reproductive rights. The strategy was probably to keep vulnerable incumbents from going on record as being opposed to women’s reproductive rights. At the same time Republicans in the House defeated a measure that would have repealed a ban on same-sex marriage that is already defunct because of a court decision.

If you want to know the outcome of a specific bill, you can look it up at https://legiscan.com/VA. Although I have announced that I will not be a candidate for re-election this year, I remain a delegate until my term ends in January 2024. Please call on me whenever I can be of assistance to you.