Local Commentary

Senator Saslaw’s Richmond Report

We returned to Richmond on April 3 for the “veto session.” About ten days ago, the Governor met the deadline for the Executive Branch’s action on the bills that were passed during the General Assembly that concluded February 23. This Governor is known for his amendments to legislation. Therefore, it came as no surprise that over 80 amendments were sent back to the Legislature. The most controversial of these centered around HB 2313 (the Transportation Funding Bill), Medicaid expansion (as written into the Budget Bill) and whether private insurance companies in the state health exchanges would be prohibited from providing individual policies that include coverage of abortion as found in HB 1900/SB921.

Minor changes were made to the Transportation Bill, most of which we all could support. It has been nearly 30 years since we took any action to address the growing problem of gridlock in the Commonwealth. For the better part of the last decade, the business community had endorsed addressing this problem for economic reasons. Those of us that commute in our urban centers know too well the cost and insufferable impact gridlock has had on our quality of life.

Virginia has authority over 126,700 plus miles of road along with some 5.3 million passenger cars, over 1 million light duty trucks, 196,793 motorcycles and 246,422 heavy duty trucks, registered within the Commonwealth. Bear in mind we also have tens of thousands of regional commuters as well as out of state goods being moved up and down Interstate 95 on a daily basis. One significant proposed change to the bill of note is the Hybrid/Alternate fuel vehicle tax. The DMV reports 91,769 registered vehicles would qualify for this new fee. Just to be clear, the purpose of the alternate fuel tax is to provide some equity to the “wheels on the asphalt” and never meant to discourage people from investing in more environmentally friendly vehicles.

Since HB2313 passed the General Assembly we have heard from almost every group affected by the various components of the bill, not often in an affirmative manner. However, with that said, I do believe in the merits of the overall bill. It attempts to provide a fair solution to this paramount crisis affecting Virginia’s economic engine and abating loss time in our daily comings and goings.

Like the long debate on funding for transportation, we also seem to be revisiting an issue which was clearly decided back in 1973 in the decision of Roe v. Wade. I share the frustration of many Virginians that see the yearly battle as an attempt to make it more difficult for women to access healthcare and take away their personal rights. There are some that want us to believe that the state health exchanges (HB1900/SB 291) should be subject to the Hyde Amendment to ensure that federal dollars are not spent on abortion. The fact of the matter is that the Governor has proposed amendments that would dictate how an INDIVIDUAL spends their money for healthcare coverage – not government spending. I believe this is flat out wrong and deceitful.

Another hot button topic concerning Medicaid expansion comes in this same Budget Bill. After careful review, I believe the Governor’s amendments mirror what is already in process. They reflect more detail for facilitating healthcare access to an additional 400,000 Virginians in most need. At the same time, this will be an economic boost as there is the potential for some 30,000 healthcare related jobs to be created.

Saturday, April 6, I will be joined by Senator Dave Marsden and Delegate Kaye Kory for a legislative wrap up. The Town Hall will be held at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School beginning at 10:30 a.m. I look forward to seeing you there.