The 2018 General Assembly regular session ended last week, though we are far from finished with our legislative work. Republican leaders in the House and Senate failed to come to a budget agreement, and so we adjourned without passing the biennial budget sent. Those same leaders refused to consider any meaningful efforts to address gun reforms, or even schedule a committee hearing on my bill to repeal Virginia’s unconstitutional and obsolete ban on same sex marriage.
Many of the bills we did pass this session were moved along with the hope that the Governor will use his power to recommend amendments to improve them.
All that said, my fifth session was far and away my most successful legislatively. This had a lot to do with the new makeup of the House – we picked up 15 seats last November narrowing the Republican majority to two votes, versus the 32 vote margin they had for most of my tenure.
I got six bills through the House vs. zero in 2017. Of these, five made it through the Senate.
Assuming the Governor signs them into law, beginning July 1, 2018 you will be able to get a license plate bearing the legend Stop Gun Violence (HB287); you will have a more predictable process for evicting or being evicted after a foreclosure (HB 311); students who fall behind in their tuition and fee payments will have more flexible options for getting caught up before having their account turned over to a collections agency (HB 339; a really good Washington Post article highlights this issue); very small cities and localities will have the option of hiring registrars from nearby localities or retaining registrars who move (HB 690); and consumers will have greater protection from being caught in recurring payment and automatic renewal offers that don’t have easy and obvious ways to cancel (HB 911).
Nothing earth shattering, but some little things that should make life a little better for some of you, I hope.
Dedicated Funding for Metro
One bill that went down to the wire – finally passing on the last day of session, was Senator Dick Saslaw’s bill to establish a dedicated funding source for Metro. The bill goes a long way to ensure that the Commonwealth lives up to its funding commitment to WMATA, mirroring similar efforts in Maryland and D.C. Unfortunately, House Republicans insisted on amendments that limit the funding to $132 million, much of which is diverted from other transportation projects funded through local taxes. Another $22 million will be made available by fixing an oversight in 2013 legislation that eliminated a floor on the wholesale gas tax.
As it passed the House, $100 million of the total $154 million funding will come from money that would have gone to localities and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) for other projects. This includes a range of projects from road widening to sidewalks and bike paths to local transit. In more local terms, it will most likely mean cuts to the Fairfax Connecter, DASH, Capital Bikeshare, and ART.
Fortunately, Governor Northam has already said he is considering amendments to find other funding sources that do not redirect so much money from important local transportation projects.
I am hopeful that we won’t rely so exclusively on locally generated revenue, as a healthy Metro system benefits the entire Commonwealth. If we are to have any chance to land Amazon’s HQ2 and attract other big employers to Virginia, we must have a safe, reliable, and vibrant Metro system.
Although both the Governor and the newly constituted House of Delegates included Medicaid Expansion in the budget, the Senate did not. (It is worth noting that State Senators last stood for election in 2015.) So, we will return for a special session on April 11th to try again to pass a budget. As I learn more information about what the compromise might look like, I will share it with you.
Governor’s Vetoes & Reconvene Session
While Governor Northam has not vetoed any legislation yet, chances are good that there will be at least a couple of them for the House and Senate to review during the Reconvene Session on April 18.
At that time, we will also address any recommendations that the Governor has made to legislation as well as any amendments he has to the compromise budget.
Delegate Simon represents the 53rd District in the Virginia House of Delegates. He may be emailed at [email protected]