The 2018 Virginia legislative regular session came to a close this month on March 10, but reached its conclusion without the General Assembly passing a biennial budget for 2018-2020. The main issue preventing agreement on the budget was whether or not Virginia will opt into federal funding to expand our Medicaid program to cover the three to four hundred thousand uninsured Virginians living in poverty who are currently ineligible for any affordable quality health plan. While Governor Northam and a majority of the House of Delegates agreed on a plan to move forward with expanding coverage, Senate Republicans did not, and the budget bills did not move forward.
Still, Virginia can only operate with an approved budget, so Governor Northam has called a Special Session for April 11th, at which point legislators will return to Richmond and try again to come to an agreement on funding priorities. LAJC continues to unequivocally support expanding Medicaid (or a sincerely similar plan) to ensure health care coverage access for the 400,000 Virginians who are cut off from being able to access critical basic care. We are members of the Healthcare for All Virginians coalition, and stand in support with the coalition’s work.
The Reconvened or “Veto” session is scheduled for April 18th, at which point the General Assembly will deal with any amendments to bills from the Governor and other matters. Below you’ll find some highlights of our legislative session work:
Educate Every Child:
SB 170 (Stanley): Our effort to dramatically curb suspensions of young students in grades pre-K through third grade is on its way to Governor Northam’s desk, coming out of both the Senate and House on very strong votes. The bill caps most all suspensions of children in these grades at no more than three days. During the 2015-2016 school year, Virginia schools doled out more than 17,300 suspensions just in these early years. We’re grateful to our bipartisan patrons and champions, especially Senators Stanley, McClellan, Locke, and Dunnavant for their strong advocacy.
HB1600 (Bourne) is also awaiting Governor Northam’s pen, passing out of the legislature on similarly strong votes. This bipartisan bill, chief co-patroned by Del. Dickie Bell, narrows the length of most all long-term suspensions to a period of 11-45 days, down from its current span of 11-364 days, in an effort to reduce school pushout.
Read more on the data and policy behind these bills in our Suspended Progress 2017 report released last September. Also stay tuned for more analysis of implementing these new laws, via practice advisories and follow-up reporting in the next edition of Suspended Progress.
K-12 Budget Amendments: Like everyone in the Commonwealth, we’re eager to see the biennial budget process resolved. If the legislature approves a plan to accept federal funding to increase health care access, we anticipate at least some of those savings to be invested in K-12 education. Both the House and Senate have indicated their interest in directing some funds toward students and teachers, though their respective approaches differ. We’ve advocated for increases in the funding stream directed towards economically disadvantaged students (the “At-Risk Add-on”) and funds for schools to implement alternatives to suspensions and expulsions. We’ll update you all after the Special Session to outline how the agreement is to unfold for K-12.
We’ve been working to protect investments in home- and community-based alternatives to incarceration for youth, supporting efforts to keep youth out of incarceration. Through our partnership in the RISE for Youth coalition, we’ve been working hard to push back against legislative efforts to unnecessarily construct new, large youth prisons that we know hurt youth and families. Stay tuned for our budget result analysis in this area, as well.
Protect Civil Rights and Decriminalize Poverty:
One in six drivers in Virginia has their license suspended for unpaid court fines and fees—an unfair, automatic process that keeps many people in a cycle of debt, unemployment, and further criminal charges. We worked hard to champion SB 181 (Stanley), a bill that would’ve repealed this suspension statute and helped dismantle the Commonwealth’s debtors’ prison model that our code enables. The bill performed strongly in the Senate, reporting out of a challenging Courts committee, an often insurmountable Finance committee, and the Senate floor before crossing over into House Appropriations, where it was ultimately struck down on a 5(Rs) – 3(Ds) party line vote. We increasingly built strong bipartisan legislative and media support for the bill before and over the course of the session, and have already begun plans to bring it back next year.
Support Immigrant Communities:
LAJC partnered with VACOLAO on priorities to ensure that immigrant communities have equal treatment, equal opportunities, and equal representation in the Commonwealth, including: driver’s license/permit access for all immigrant Virginians and in-state tuition access for immigrant Virginia students regardless of legal status. Unfortunately, despite fervent advocacy and inspirational positive turnout at committee hearings, these bills were voted down along party lines. We will continue to advocate on these and other immigration issues, to grow bipartisan support for these critical human and civil rights efforts.