Bell Sounds from the 20th - June 24, 2014

The Commonwealth finally has a budget in place!  As most of you are already aware,  last Thursday, June 12,  the General Assembly passed a structurally sound and fiscally responsible budget that did not include Medicaid Expansion.  Governor McAuliffe had 7 days from the time the bill was communicated to him to act on the legislation.

Over the weekend, Governor McAuliffe signed the budget, but issued eight line-item vetoes.  He also announced his plan to circumvent the General Assembly and pursue Medicaid Expansion unilaterally.

Yesterday evening the General Assembly returned to Richmond to take up the Governor’s vetoes.  The House of Delegates did not take up five of his vetoes and overrode one.  The Speaker of the House ruled that two vetoes were out of order.  

The budget passed by the General Assembly last week contained language that unequivocally states that the Governor does not have the authority to expand Medicaid unilaterally.  Item 301, Section TTT, Paragraph 9 states “That notwithstandinding any other provision of this act, or any other law, no general or nongeneral funds shall be appropriated or pended for such costs as may be incurred to implement [Medicaid Expansion].”  Governor McAuliffe attempted to veto this language.    

Governor McAuliffe also attempted to veto funding for judges and the conditions attached to it.  This action could potentially delay the administration of justice in the Commonwealth.  There is already a desperate need in Virginia for additional judgeships, and this action, if upheld, could cause increased delays in our justice system.

The ability of the Governor to line-item veto is limited by our state constitution and prior rulings of the State Supreme Court.  Speaker Bill Howell ruled that the vetoes of the judgeship funding and of the Medicaid language were out of order.  He based his ruling on rulings by previous Speakers, as well as rulings held by the Supreme Court of Virginia.  The Supreme Court has previously handed down rulings that outline various restrictions on the Governor’s line-item veto authority.

With each of these two vetoes, Governor McAuliffe attempted to veto a specific provision within a broader item.  Based on past rulings, he does not have this authority without vetoing the entire item.    Because the Speaker ruled these items to be out of order,the vetoes are essentially dead. They will not be enrolled in the final version of the bill.

I know that Speaker Howell takes very seriously this responsibility to make these rulings on the rules and process of the House.  I believe that his ruling is correct.  For more information on the Speaker’s ruling, you can read his statement online here.

The House of Delegates also overturned one of the Governor’s vetoes.  He eliminated the funding and support for the newly created Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council.  This Council was a significant component of the comprehensive ethics reform package that we passed in the 2014 Regular Session.  Despite signing the ethics package into law, the Governor eliminated the funding mechanism with this veto.  This simply did not make sense to many of us in the House.  The Senate, however, did not obtain enough votes to override the veto, and therefore it was sustained.

The House did not act on, and therefore sustained, five of the Governor’s vetoes.  The following vetoes were not taken up by the House:

  • language that would allow Chesterfield County to help run Petersburg City Schools. (Item 36.A.19)
  • language that related to the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission. (Item 301 TTT 6a and part of 7a)
  • language regarding a technical reversion of money from the Federal Action Contingency Fund to the General Fund. (Item 468.G.1.c)
  • language that sets up a process for spending Virginia’s portion of assets forfeiture suits.  (Item 4-2.02d)
  • language requiring the Executive Branch to present more detailed reports to the General Assembly during the budget process. (Item 4-8.02b)
I still believe that despite the safeguards we have taken in the budget, that the Governor likely intends to circumvent the legislature and pursue the expansion of Medicaid.  This is deeply concerning to me, as i know it is to the many of you who deeply respect and support our representative government.  We must not allow him to set this dangerous precedent. The separation of powers among the three branches of government establishes a balance of power and is the framework for our form of government.  We must protect the integrity of those principles. 

 

Rest assured that I stand ready to join with my colleagues in the House of Delegates to challenge any and all actions by the Governor to expand Medicaid without the express approval of the legislature, as required by Virginia’s Constitution.

Though I am disappointed that it took us this long,  I am pleased that we have avoided a government shutdown, which would have been disastrous for Virginia.  

Contact

I always enjoy hearing from many of you regarding the issues that matter most to you. You can reach us by email at deldbell@house.virginia.gov, or by phone at 540-448-3999. You can also reach us by mail at Post Office Box 239, Staunton, Virginia 24402.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your delegate.
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