Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Yes Virginia, There Is a Budget!

The House quickly took up and passed HB5001 (the Caboose Budget that covers the remainder of this fiscal year) and HB5002 (the 2018-2020 Biennial Budget). Virginia becomes the 34th state to expand Medicaid.

Enormous gratitude to Speaker Kirk Cox, House Appropriations Chair, Delegate Chris Jones, House Minority Leader, Delegate David Toscano, Senator Dick Saslaw, the Senate Democratic Caucus, and especially to Senator Emmett Hanger. Without Senator Hanger, this would not have happened. And, of course, a big shout out to the Freshman Class of the House of Delegates. The election last fall set the stage for today. Elections matter!

Many details to come, but your GR Director is ready to close out this session and celebrate this hard-fought, years-long win. Thank you to our activists who engaged, called, wrote letters, and sent emails. You made the difference. We have a budget that invests in Virginia, our public schools, and our public school employees!

FYI, in case you are wondering why they are coming back to session on June 11, it's to take up elections of judges.

The Senate Passes a Budget

By a vote of 23-17, the Virginia Senate passed a budget that expands Medicaid and invests in Virginia. Details to follow. Now we wait for the House to pass the budget and then this special session can adjourn sine die!

All Democrats voted YES and Senators Hanger, Wagner, Chafin, and Vogel joined the YES votes.

Senate Expands Medicaid, Almost Has a Budget

The Senate just voted 22-18 to adopt Senator Hanger's substitute budget that expands Medicaid and invests in VA. All of the Democrats along with Republican Senators Hanger, Wagner, and Chafin voted in favor of expansion. They are now working through 18 floor amendments that are designed to chip away at the Medicaid expansion budget they just adopted. The first block of them died 22-18. I would anticipate that outcome with all of the amendments.

The House reconvened as soon as the Senate voted on the budget substitute and are not waiting for the floor amendments. The House Appropriations Committee will meet at 6pm to review what hey Senate adopted and vote to take it to the floor of the House later tonight for a vote.

We are close. Medicaid expansion in Virginia!

It Looks Like Today Will Be the Day

The Senate is making progress on the budget. It has been a long process this morning, but as of right now the Senate rejected the Caboose budget that the Senate Finance Committee passed. That budget covers the remainder of the current fiscal year. That budget did not include any provisions for Medicaid expansion. They passed Senator Hanger's substitute to the Caboose Bill for the current fiscal year. That bill does include components of Medicaid expansion. The Caboose bill substitute passed 23-17 with Senators Hanger, Wagner, Chafin, and Vogel voting with the the Democrats in favor of the bill.

They have now moved on to the 2018-2020 Biennial budget. They have rejected the version of the budget that does not include Medicaid expansion. They are currently debating Senator Hanger's substitute budget. There are 23 floor amendments, so the debate will likely take some time. Senator Norment is also putting his Republican colleagues through the ringer with very detailed questions on minute details of the budget proposal.

The House is ready to roll once the Senate adopts a budget. They convened as planned at 2pm and are now in recess watching and waiting with the rest of us as the Senate goes through the process. As soon as the Senate finishes up, the House Appropriations Committee will meet to review what the Senate passed and then go to the floor to vote. The Senate should end up passing the compromise budget that the House has already agreed to, so once the House has a budget, assuming nothing crazy happens, they should be able to move quickly.

I will keep you updated.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Senate Finance Committee: Fireworks, Sort of a Budget, and Another Delay

There were all sorts of fireworks this morning in the Senate Finance Committee. We knew there were not enough votes in this committee to get a budget that included Medicaid expansion passed. Without the committee voting a budget through, there would be nothing for the full Senate to consider. We know there are enough votes on the floor of the Senate to pass a budget that includes Medicaid expansion, but if a budget doesn't get to the floor, the vote can't happen.

Senator Tommy Norment, the Senate Majority leader opposes Medicaid expansion and has lost some members of his caucus to the other side of the Medicaid fight. He does not want a vote on Medicaid expansion on the floor as he will lose. That is the bottom line in this entire debate.

Today the Senate Finance Committee took up the budget compromise that has been worked out with the House of Delegates. Keep in mind that the House has already passed a budget that includes Medicaid expansion, so the compromise budget the committee was considering expanded Medicaid. There was a different budget proposed today by Senator Norment. It did not expand Medicaid and, therefore, did not make the investments in Virginia that could not be afforded with the additional revenues available with expansion.

As expected, the committee rejected the compromise budget and approved Senator's Norment's budget. No worries, as we know they will amend the budget on the floor when they finally take it up. They have the votes to do that. The 19 Democrats will vote for expansion as will Senators Hanger and Wagner. We are also hearing rumor that Senator Chafin may vote yes. We needed a budget, any budget, on the floor of the Senate for us to progress towards an adopted state budget, and that happened today.

There were fireworks, though. After Senator Norment's non-Medicaid budget passed in committee he asked that the vote on the compromise budget be reconsidered. At first here was some confused looks by committee members and when asked why he wanted to vote reconsidered Senator Norment said, "I will make my motivation known after we agree to reconsider the vote." Luckily Senator Saslaw knows the Senate rules and knew that if a bill is considered and rejected twice in committee there are road blocks to getting it to the floor. It was Norment's last attempt to kill Medicaid expansion. Senator Hanger abruptly adjourned the committee before Senator Norment could get a second vote. It was one of the most stunning moments I have witnessed in the General Assembly. There were audible gasps from the folks watching the proceedings and from the lobbyists who were sent off to an overflow room to watch a live feed of the committee.

So there is a budget going to the floor of the Senate and a path to Medicaid expansion still exists. We just need the Senate to act on it. They have, once again, adjourned until morning.

Will the VA Senate Vote On a Budget Today?

This time last week I was optimistic that the VA Senate would stop the games and actually do their job- take up a state budget. I was wrong.

Today the Senate will convene at 3:00pm. We will know far more after the Senate Finance Committee meets at noon. If they take a up a budget, there will be a floor vote today. If they don't, there will likely not be a floor vote today. All signs are pointing to a floor vote, but I refuse to be optimistic only to be let down by the Republican Senate leadership like I was last week.

If the Senate approves a budget today, the House will take it up tomorrow. Speaker Cox has called the House back at 2pm tomorrow to be ready just in case. Of course he did that last week, too, only to be let down. He made his disappointment very clear last week. He expects a budget tomorrow.

We will see. For now, as we approach the noon hour, let's see what our Virginia Senate is prepared to do and how they will do it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

No Vote in the Senate Today

It looks like the deal you read about on the budget has fallen apart. The Senate will come back next week to look at any new amendments. So we continue to be on hold until May 29 at noon.

The games in the Senate continue. They had one job.