Since we adjourned our session this year without passing a budget, Governor Northam has called us back for a special session to begin Wednesday. The main source of contention between the House and Senate has been Medicaid Expansion, which I remain fully committed to. The House passed a budget, which I voted for, back in February that expanded Medicaid using the nearly half a billion federal dollars that we've been inexplicably refusing for the past four years. But the Senate went the other way and stripped Medicaid Expansion out of their budget.
Tomorrow (Saturday, March 24), people all over the country will be marching to demand Congress finally pass meaningful reforms to prevent gun violence. The March for Our Lives, led by students from Parkland, Florida; from Northern Virginia; and from across the nation; will be all along Pennsylvania Avenue at noon tomorrow, with the main stage at 3rd Street Northwest.
Saturday afternoon, at precisely 1:54 p m,the Virginia General Assembly adjourned sine die (without a day set for resumption). And this year, we did it without agreement on the budget! Democrats refused to budge on Medicaid Expansion. We insist on doing it this year. We even persuaded our House Republican colleagues that it was better to spend $421 million on health care for Virginians than to give away that Virginia taxpayer money to the federal government. But, as of this writing, Senate Republicans remain firm against "ObamaCare." Therefore, no budget. As the budget cycle begins July 1, 2018, Governor Ralph Northam has called us into special session April 11, 2018 to reach agreement.
We have a big final week of session coming up. The two biggest issues to be resolved are whether we will have Medicaid Expansion and/or dedicated revenue for Metro.
Your hard work is paying off, but the fight isn’t over yet. The budget that passed the Senate this week still does not include Medicaid Expansion. Conferees from both chambers will have to negotiate the differences between their budgets to produce a result that we can all vote on. I'm increasingly optimistic that at least one Senate Republican will eventually support Medicaid Expansion and finally bring this desperately needed care to so many Virginians. But as this will be a major disagreement among budget conferees, I urge you to keep the pressure up. I join a large majority of colleagues in my commitment to making sure the final budget includes Medicaid Expansion. And I commit to you that I will not support any budget this year that does not include it.
This week marked the time in session known as "Crossover" which is when all business in one chamber stops so we may take up the business of the other chamber. Moving forward, we will be hearing and voting only on bills which originated in the Senate or House bills amended by the Senate.
I struggled with how to describe my feelings about the Parkland, Florida massacre in my ordinary newsletter (which comes out every Sunday and will come out in about an hour). I found I just couldn't do it. The grim topic just didn't mesh with an ordinary newsletter. So I've laid out my thoughts here.
Last week, reportedly upon direct orders from the Republican Leadership, the Virginia GOP once again killed all bills aimed at preventing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Virginians. My bill, HB 401, was the most comprehensive. It would have banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment, public accommodations, public contracting, insurance, and banking. It would also have codified existing non-discrimination executive orders that protect Virginians from being discriminated against on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, pregnancy, age, marital status, disability, or status as a veteran. I have zero doubt that we shall overcome someday. And someday very soon. As soon as two more Democrats are elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, this bill will become law with solid majorities. The truth is even most Virginia Republicans support equality under the law. It's just a shame they elected a Leadership that has demanded Republicans keep unfair discrimination legal in Virginia.
Tuesday, February 13 ("Crossover") is the last day by which House of Delegates bills have to pass the Virginia House of Delegates in order to be considered by the Senate. That means we only have one week left (next Monday - Friday) to consider all remaining bills in subcommittees and full committees. I still have 10 bills to be heard. (We've heard 17 of my bills already and three of my budget amendments.)
I’ve long advocated for reform of our outdated and unnecessarily punitive marijuana laws. Those of you who know me personally know I've never even tried cannabis. (I have a strong negative allergic reaction to both marijuana and tobacco. Please don't smoke anywhere near me.) But just because something physically disgusts me does not make me blind to the scientific fact that non-psychoactive cannabidiol oils from cannabis -- oils that don't get you "high" -- have proven scientific effects that reduce pain and nausea and even kill cancer cells. Having counted the votes on full committee and talked to Members in both the House of Delegates and the Senate, I am extremely optimistic about the fate of this legislation. I expect this law to pass. I predict cannabidiol oils will be legally prescribed in Virginia for diagnosis or treatment of illnesses beginning in July 2018.
Having been gone for two solid weeks, I was thinking as I drove home yesterday that it's good to be home again, if only for a night. One day in the Virginia House of Delegates feels like a week. A week seems like a month. And a month, a year. We're so busy, because so much is packed in such a limited amount of time. Having introduced 27 bills (almost twice as much as I introduced in prior years), I've also co-patroned more than 120 others.