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Countdown in the Virginia General Assembly

In the odd years the Virginia General Assembly only meets for sixty days. This means, that both Houses, now only considering bills sent over by the other, have less than two weeks to complete their work. It’s only a matter of days. What survives will go on to the Governor for his approval or his veto.
There are several important and contentious issues that need to be debated during this relatively short time period. However, there is one bill that is notable because it’s not going to be debated. And in this case, that’s a good thing.

In a rather underhanded manner, the State Senate passed a redistricting bill, a good seven years before the state is supposed to consider another redistricting. Nothing says they can’t do this, but the way it was passed, waiting on one Democrat in the evenly split body to be out of town, and then by disguising the bill as something it wasn’t, left a bad taste.

The bill passed and went over to the House. It could have gone to a vote, but Speaker Bill Howell, a loyal and conservative Republican, if anyone should doubt that, didn’t care for the bill either.

As Speaker he could, on a procedural basis, derail the bill. And that’s what he did. Apparently, like other Republicans, he didn’t like the precedent it set either. He’s taken a lot of flack, particularly from his Senate colleagues, but there are many, who readily think he deserves congratulations for doing the right thing.

But, that issue, as unpleasant as it was, is past. Still to be considered is the new plan for transportation funding. It effectively does away with the gas tax and replaces it with a less than one percent increase in the sales tax. To many, the sales tax is a far more reliable source of revenue than the gas tax. Most of all, it seems to be a bill which quite possibly a majority of both houses might support. That, in and of itself, could be its greatest value. Because so far, no other reform of our transportation spending has succeeded.

However, not everyone likes it. There are some who want to tweak the formula, and others who oppose any increase, in any tax, no matter what it is.
Hopefully, they won’t prevail, but if they do, I hope they like traffic jams, stuck metro trains, potholes, and decaying bridges, because that’s what’s going to happen unless we fix our road funding.

Another bill, still up in the air as to its future, is an expansion of Medicaid to coincide with the implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act. Medicaid is intended to cover health care costs for indigent people. However, in Virginia it’s surprisingly limited. If you work, but are still poor, you’re out of luck. No healthcare for you. Alas, that’s not much of a reward for a life of hard work.

However, the expanded Medicaid funding bill, combined with the Healthcare Act, would give these people the chance to buy health insurance. That makes a lot of sense. If they can buy insurance now, the thinking goes, they’ll have regular access to healthcare, and most importantly preventative medicine, and would, as the result, stand a far better chance of continuing their working careers. Alas, one of the major expenses in Medicaid is for working poor who because of inadequate healthcare develop expensive and chronic illnesses. Often, as the result, they can’t work, and only become a major expense for Medicaid. If this new bill could sidetrack this dysfunction in the system, the finances, and the contribution to the overall welfare of our society would be considerable.

Remarkably, and the GOP deserves credit for listening to these arguments, the bill is gathering support from House and Senate Republicans. Though some are calling this a Republican surrender to Obamacare, the bill seems to be gaining momentum.

Amongst all the bills, of which there are hundreds, covering every imaginable subject, there was a voice, usually a quiet one that made itself heard. Bill Bolling, the Lieutenant Governor, perhaps still smarting over the GOP change in its nominating process that derailed his bid for Republican nod for Governor, exercised what might be called an independent voice. It was refreshing. He didn’t side with the GOP over the redistricting bill, which took some guts, and he helped delay the implementation of a bill which would have eliminated various proofs of residence to vote which are currently allowed under Virginia law. That was equally impressive. Some are wondering, if Bolling, who has promised to speak more independently of the GOP, might be eyeing an independent bid for Governor. If that happens, the November Election is going to be a show. But, for now, in the days remaining, the Legislature has its work cut out for them.
You may reach David Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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