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Veto Session at the General Assembly 2019

Dear Friend,

The Reconvened Session brought some pleasant and not so pleasant surprises. We considered the Governor’s amendments to various bills, as well as his recommended vetos. Highlights of the session are noted below. 

Halted Policy of Revoking Driver’s Licenses - I am very pleased to report that Governor Northam successfully introduced budget language that removes the option of revoking an individual’s driver’s license if one cannot afford to pay court fines or costs. I have been advocating for adoption of this policy for as long as I have served in the Senate.

I am sure you would agree that removing an individual’s driver’s license is counterproductive to solving the problem associated with the collection of fines. If an individual is financially incapable of paying these costs, revoking his means of traveling to and from work only serves to exacerbate this inability and the burden falls most heavily on low-income folks and people of color. Even though the 2019 budget amendments are in effect for only one year and the revocation language would be under that same sunset clause, the temporary adoption of this policy is a very encouraging step forward. Rest assured, I will work hard to ensure that the unjust practice of revoking one’s license for the non-payment of court fines is permanently revoked.

More Transportation Funding in NoVA and throughout the Commonwealth - We voted to authorize new revenue sources to enhance the I-81 corridor and other transportation networks throughout the Commonwealth. The I-81 corridor travels the Shenandoah Valley and carries nearly 12 million tractor trailer trucks hauling almost $312B in freight, annually. Ensuring the safety and structural integrity of this important economic artery is vital not just to the western part of our state, but to our state as a whole. The General Assembly approved the Governor’s plan to increase truck fees as well as to increase a western region diesel tax (at the rack) to generate revenue for much needed I-81 capital project repairs. This package will create funding streams for projects on I-64 and I-95 as well. Adequate funding for transportation infrastructure is necessary to ensure safety, decrease congestion, keep our economy strong and improve our quality of life.

Affordable and Comprehensive Healthcare Insurance - I have heard concerns from so many of you about the need to improve healthcare coverage. This is a life or death issue for so many Virginians and I am fighting to ensure that healthcare in Virginia is affordable, easily accessible, and provides the essential health benefits that we expect. This issue must be approached with realistic, pragmatic policy approaches like strategies to increase risk pools so those with pre-existing conditions can afford to obtain coverage. Prescription drug coverage and maternal and child health care must be part of any plan licensed to do business in the Commonwealth. Yesterday, I spoke from the floor in support of requirements that association health plans in Virginia be solvent and obligated to provide essential health benefits. I am confident that the Governor will come forward with a framework for providing quality, affordable health care plans that all Virginians, including small business owners, can purchase. 

Women’s Healthcare - I am incredibly disappointed that access to reproductive health services became a divisive party-line issue, once again. Unfortunately, the Republicans let politics guide the policy decisions in this very important area. Rather than permitting low-income women access to the same constitutionally protected reproductive services as those with insurance enjoy, the General Assembly decided that a two-tier health care system was okay and even desirable 

For example, the Republican majority placed restrictions on access to long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) that are known to improve the health of women and babies because pregnancies can be effectively spaced. Moreover, LARC initiatives in other states have resulted in a significant decline in abortions. However, budget language was added to remove women’s health centers and planned parenthood clinics as conduits for LARC services. Now, women will only be able to access these contraceptive services through public health centers. 

It was also very troubling to see the Republican majority remove long-standing state Medicaid funding for abortions related to gross fetal abnormalities. Virginia has been funding these services, in very rare cases, for low-income women, but lawmakers chose to ignore the complexities of these heart-wrenching cases and uniformly deny all services regardless of the circumstance.

It is my hope that the Governor will be able to take another pass at these amendments and restore access to reproductive health care for our most vulnerable women.

Thank you for your ongoing support. It is pleasure and privilege to represent you in Richmond.