It’s over... Almost

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Senator Steve Newman
23rd District

    Finally, it is finished…  Well, almost. 
    During the last week of the 2014 General Assembly, the Senate and House acted on the final bills of this session. In all, we considered over 2,500 pieces of legislation.  We also worked hard to reconcile the Commonwealth’s budget, but due to a mandate from the Governor to include an expansion of Obama Care it could not be done in the 60-day session.
    Approving a two-year budget for Virginia is supposed to be the first priority of sessions held in even-numbered years.  Republican senators voted to extend the session to continue working on reaching a budget agreement.  Democrat senators and the Governor said no. Instead, they decided to shut the session down and go home, budget or no budget.
    The House of Delegates successfully passed a resolution that would have allowed the General Assembly to stay in session to work on a budget.  Approving a resolution to extend session, which the Constitution of Virginia permits, requires a vote of two-thirds of the members of both the House and the Senate.  More than two-thirds of the House members did vote for extending session.   In the Senate, every Republican senator voted to extend session, while every Democrat senator voted to end it.  Not that long ago, it was inconceivable that legislators would leave Richmond without first passing a budget.
    Now, a budget will have to be completed in a special session.  The existing budget bill, House Bill 30, becomes defunct when it is not approved during regular session.  As a result, the entire budget process will have to be started anew.  The Governor will send down a new budget, which in turn will be altered by the House and then by the Senate, restarting the negotiation process.
    As I noted in last week’s column, previous budget standoffs took months to resolve and this one could drag on for quite a while.  It leaves in limbo local governments, school boards, colleges and universities, state agencies and departments, and public safety personnel.  All have to wait on the state to determine their funding levels for the year.
    The 2014 session will be remembered for a number of issues.  The comprehensive ethics reform that I co-patroned passed the House and Senate.  The bill to reform mental health passed after a last minute amendment fixed a number of problems in the bill.  These amendments will help those with emergency mental health issues without placing the entire burden on our law-enforcement personnel.  Sheriffs from all over our region expressed concerns about the original bill.  Also, my bill to assist those in our state Training Centers passed and is now awaiting the Governor’s signature.
    As you know, I have often said that some of the most important things we do at the Capitol is kill bad bills.  Our first responsibility is to keep Virginia safe from those that would have government take over ever aspect of our lives.  That is why I have been working to promote government that lives within its means; just as hardworking Virginias must do in their homes every day.  I am pleased to report that our Commonwealth will continue to enjoy a balanced budget no matter what the compromise is on Medicaid.  And to date we still have one of only a handful of AAA bond ratings in the United States.  We still have so much to be grateful for as Virginians.
    The end of the regular session means our offices have moved back to the 23th District.  You can reach us there at 434.385.1065.
    Thank you for taking the time to read my updates from the General Assembly throughout this session. It is important to me that you have up to date information on what is going on at your State Capitol. The columns will return next January, when the 2015 session of the Virginia General Assembly convenes.
    As always, my wife, Kim, and I thank you for the opportunity to serve you in the Virginia Senate. If you would like to get more information about what is happening in your state government please join me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/senatornnewman or visit my website at www.SenatorNewman.com or Twitter @senatornewman.

(Members of the Senate Republican Caucus contributed to this report.)