Winding down in the General Assembly
Published 9:40 am Wednesday, March 9, 2016
We are now about to end our 60-day legislative session. Last week was a productive week for the House of Delegates. We are finishing committee work, reviewing amendments from the Senate and continuing to work on the budget. As we wind down our General Assembly session, I want to update you on a few important areas.
The domestic violence legislation that passed the House earlier this session is making progress in the Senate. Several bills that would combat domestic violence by enacting tougher penalties for repeat offenders passed out of Senate committee and will be making their way onto the Senate floor in the next several days. Legislation to empower women to protect themselves from domestic violence offenders has already passed the Senate and is awaiting signature by the governor.
The week before last, I detailed the House’s budget proposal. The House budget is a strong, conservative and structurally balanced two-year budget that invests in the core functions of government while protecting taxpayer dollars. I am proud to report that our budget passed by a wide bipartisan margin in the House. The Senate also passed its version of the two-year budget.
Approving a budget is the foremost responsibility of the General Assembly. The Constitution of Virginia has no effective provision for the state spending any funds if a budget is not approved by the General Assembly and, ultimately, enacted. This year, the drama that surrounded the approval of the last two biennial budgets in 2012 and 2014 is nowhere in sight.
You may recall that the last two times the General Assembly attempted to approve a biennial budget events did not proceed on schedule. In 2012, Senate Democrats voted against approving any budget. As a result, a budget was not ultimately approved until nine weeks after the General Assembly’s scheduled adjournment. It took the Senate’s most senior member, Sen.Chuck Colgan of Manassas, breaking with his fellow Democrats, to finally approve a budget.
As difficult as the budget standoff was in 2012, it was even worse in 2014. That year, Senate Democrats and Gov. Terry McAuliffe held the budget process hostage until the House of Delegates agreed to approve Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion plan. But, the House didn’t relent. It took the resignation of a Democratic senator and, as a result, Republicans becoming the majority in the Senate to get a budget approved.
Since both chambers approved plans that did not include expanding Obamacare, and since both made strong commitments to public safety and school funding, the disagreements between the two plans this year is a lot more manageable. That is a very welcome change for Virginia.
Del. Tommy Wright represents Lunenburg County in the House and is a resident of the county. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.