The General Assembly session will adjourn on March 10, as determined by the Commonwealth Constitution. In my time in the House of Delegates, we have gone into special session a few times — but that is not the norm. However, this year, the House budget and the Senate budget are very different; meaning there is a lot to compromise on. The basic difference is that the House budget is based upon the expansion of Medicaid and funneling the resulting savings to the general fund into education and mental health services. This is a divide so philosophically fundamental, and so very partisan in the Senate, that it will require an extraordinary amount of “give-and-take.” As you may assume, I absolutely support the House budget.
For much of the session we have found common ground on some issues, mostly due to the extraordinary number of filed bills simply not heard in any subcommittee or committee, let alone on the House floor. Most unheard bills were concerning women’s healthcare, immigrant issues and transparency in government. It seems that the way to avoid disagreement or controversy is to avoid any mention of a “controversial” topic. Even commending resolutions touching on such topics were buried without a hearing.
Despite this careful, delicate approach to floor debate, on Friday we heard very heated and emotional speeches about guns and how we should address gun violence and violence in general as well. Some speeches even managed to blame legal abortion, lack of social services, our history of slavery and Jim Crow laws for gun violence, particularly for mass shootings. Any ability to listen or debate was abandoned. Scoring political points seemed to be the main goal. It was painful and sad to hear the remarks made at a time when our nation is in crisis without clear direction from leaders at the federal or state level. We are all seeking practical steps to take to stop or at least lessen, the violence. I will continue to advocate for commonsense measures like universal background checks, banning bump stocks and limiting gun purchases. But until our colleagues across the aisle will agree to these measures, we cannot move forward. This session dozens of gun safety bills (including my bill, HB819) were introduced in the House, referred to a Subcommittee of Militia, Public Safety and Police and all killed on a partyline vote, 4 to 2.
We have made some progress on social issues. My bill, HB83, mandating that women incarcerated in state prisons and local jails be supplied with menstrual products at no cost to the inmate has passed. I am proud to have accomplished this with bipartisan support. I am also proud that HB 137, my bill increasing the availability of cannaboidal oils passed with the assistance of my chief co-patron, Delegate Ben Cline (R).
Recognition by advocates is heartening and energizing–I have been honored by the Virginia Education Association with their “Solid as a Rock” award (it really is a rock!), by the Virginia League of Conservation Voters as a “Legislative Hero,” and by the Humane Society as an All Star. I have also been honored and humbled by gifts of art from artists whose work I displayed in my third annual Special Art by Special Artists Show.
The House has voted in favor of a budget that largely reflects the values that Virginians voted for in November, including extending access to affordable health care to 400,000 or more working Virginians through Medicaid Expansion. However because the Senate did not include it on their budget, both budgets are currently in conference. Governor Northam has stated that he will amend whatever budget bill crosses his desk to include an expansion of healthcare. Because of the partisan breakdown of both bodies, it will be difficult to override his amendments.
The House budget also includes major investments in all levels of education, new initiatives for job creation and economic opportunity, additional funding for mental health and pay increases for teachers and other state employees.
During the budget debate, our Democratic Caucus fought to include provisions to protect LGBTQ workers from discrimination, in-state tuition for DREAMers, reproductive health care access and gun safety measures. All failed on a party line vote.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected]