RICHMOND — Virginia’s Republican-controlled General Assembly returned to Richmond on Wednesday for what has become an annual but fruitless ritual — attempting to override the vetoes of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D).
“Hope springs eternal,” Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Fauquier) said as she encouraged fellow senators to rescue her bill, which would have allowed domestic-violence victims and others covered by protective orders to carry a concealed weapon without the usual permit or training.
The Senate voted 23 to 17 in favor of the bill, falling short of the 27 votes needed to override the veto.
It was like that all day. And it has been like that throughout McAuliffe’s term, which began in January 2014 and has seen him veto more bills than any other Virginia governor.
The GOP controls both chambers, with a wide margin in the House but only a 21-to-19 advantage in the Senate. The legislature has never mustered the votes to override McAuliffe, even on bills that originally sailed out of both chambers with bipartisan support.
That is not to say that the term-limited governor got everything he wanted. The legislature also considered amendments he had made to legislation, many of them technical but others of great significance to the underlying bills. Lawmakers bucked him on some of those proposed amendments — sometimes with Democrats leading the charge.
Those bills will return one last time to McAuliffe, who will have to decide whether to accept the legislation without his changes or to veto it. The legislature will not have another opportunity to weigh in.
In the House, delegates soundly rejected the governor’s effort to restore language in the budget that would allow him to begin the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
Del. R. Steven Landes (R-Augusta) said he doubted the ACA would still be in place by the end of the year and argued that expanding Medicaid would blow a hole in Virginia’s budget. Under the ACA, the federal government would pay 100 percent of the expansion to an estimated 400,000 Virginians through next year; after that, the state would be on the hook for about 10 percent of the additional cost.
Landes argued that Medicaid already amounts to 22 percent of the state budget and is growing by 8 to 10 percent per year while state revenue is growing roughly 2 to 3 percent per year.
“Our current Medicaid program is not sustainable at the rate it is continually growing,” Landes said. He added that he agrees with McAuliffe that the state needs to find a way to help low-income people obtain health care, but he said the best vehicle for figuring that out is a joint legislative commission that will convene this summer.
Del. Kenneth R. Plum (D-
Fairfax) countered that the state was leaving billions in federal money on the table and that even if funding runs out in a few years, Virginians would be better off for the health care they had during that time.
“The position we have taken up to this point has left too many Virginians without adequate health care,” Plum argued.
The House also rejected amendments to add money to the budget for cyber summer camps and cyber training, for mental-health screening in jails, for encouraging the solar industry and for stripping $5 million out of the Jamestown 2019 celebration.
The Senate rejected McAuliffe’s effort to give the city of Alexandria more time to fix a sewage system that leaks millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Potomac River every year. The legislature had given the city eight years to fix the problem, but McAuliffe wanted to give the city two to five years on top of that.
The debate split Democrats and gave Republicans a chance to needle Democrats on the governor’s side as lax on the environment. Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-
Alexandria), who led the argument for the longer deadline, said the shorter one would not be achievable.
Another bill McAuliffe had amended would have entitled next of kin to complete records of “unattended deaths,” such as suicides and accidents, once police determine that no criminal charges would be filed. McAuliffe’s amendment would have allowed police to release only a summary rather than the entire investigative file.
The governor said the amendment responded to a concern by law enforcement that those files could contain sensitive information that could hamper related police investigations, such as a witness statement made in the case of a drug overdose. The amendment’s chief defender was a retired state trooper, Sen. Charles W. “Bill” Carrico Sr. (R-Grayson).
Sen. Scott A. Surovell (D-
Fairfax), who proposed the bill, said the governor’s amendments would deny grieving family members important answers about a loved one’s death.
“If they don’t get answers, it haunts them the rest of their lives,” he said.
Lining up with Surovell was Sen. Jeremy S. McPike (D-Prince William), who lost a brother to suicide 18 years ago. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) broke a tie by voting against the amendment. Republicans later asked to reconsider the vote, and the amendment failed on a 24-to-16 vote that did not involve Northam.
The House spent most of the first two hours and 15 minutes of the session in tributes to five Republican members who are not running for reelection. The greatest portion of that time was devoted to speeches from Republicans and Democrats alike honoring Del. Dave B. Albo (R-Fairfax), who surprised many by announcing that he would retire this fall after 24 years in the House.
Albo delivered an emotional farewell speech, saying he could not afford to continue to devote up to 100 days a year away from his law practice and his family. “I just cannot financially do it anymore,” said Albo, who is known for his love of rock-and-roll and a self-effacing sense of humor. He read aloud from an email that he kept taped to the wall of his office in which someone had called him “the living definition of a blank-head and a Neanderthal.”
After praising his fellow delegates on both sides of the aisle, Albo finished with a flourish. “I’ve dreamed about doing this one thing,” he said. “The last thing I’m going to do in the House of Delegates is say: Dave Albo — out!” And he dropped his microphone to thunderous laughter and applause.