Tuesday , February 13, 2018 - 4:55 PM
(c) 2018, The Washington Post.
RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia’s House of Delegates passed a bill Tuesday to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients, laying the groundwork for potential expansion of the healthcare program as the legislature reached the halfway point of its 60-day session.
The measure is one of a flurry of bills taken up in the Capitol on a day known as “crossover,” the deadline for legislation to make it out of one chamber and move to the other.
Any bills left behind are dead for the year, with one exception: the two-year state spending plan. Budget bills come out of House and Senate money committees Sunday, arriving on the floor next week.
The legislative session got underway with a new governor, new House speaker, and new lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate. House membership was largely remade by the November election, with an anti-Trump wave slashing the GOP’s 66-to-34 majority to a 51-to-49 edge.
The election results caused Republicans to focus on “practical” legislation, but they still killed Democratic attempts to ease restrictions on abortion, offer in-state college tuition to certain illegal immigrants and outlaw anti-gay discrimination in housing and employment.
Republicans have announced several deals with Gov. Ralph Northam, D, on criminal justice and regulatory reform. And House Republicans have signaled a willingness to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, a key priority for Northam and his Democratic predecessor, Terry McAuliffe. An additional 400,000 uninsured Virginians could receive health care if the federal-state program is fully expanded.
After years of steadfast opposition - and warnings that Washington could not afford to pick up most of the $2 billion-a-year cost - House Republicans have said they will consider expansion if work requirements are part of the deal.
The vote Tuesday imposed the work requirements on the state’s 1 million existing Medicaid recipients, with exceptions for the elderly, children, pregnant women and others who are not deemed “able bodied.” That bill, sponsored by Del. Jason Miyares, R-Virginia Beach, now heads to the Senate, which so far has not indicated if it would accept it.
Any expansion will be part of the budget. That means the issue, arguably the most important of the session, is not likely to be resolved until the final days, when budget deals are normally finalized.
The status of other issues at the halfway point:
--Student loan debt
The full House and Senate have passed bills calling for the creation of a “Student Loan Ombudsman,” which would review and attempt to resolve complaints from borrowers.
Democratic bills to boost the state’s minimum wage beyond the federally mandated $7.25 an hour died in House and Senate committees, in some cases without getting hearings.
The House approved a bill that prohibits any locality from declaring itself a ‘sanctuary’ for undocumented immigrants. Democratic bills to provide in-state tuition to “Dreamers” - illegal immigrants brought to the county as children - died in House and Senate committees.
Bills to give localities the power to remove or relocate monuments died in House and Senate committees.
--Criminal justice reform
Northam and House Speaker Kirkland Cox announced a plan to raise the dollar value for what constitutes felony theft, unchanged since 1980, from $200 to $500. As part of the deal, Northam agreed to support Republican efforts to increase collection of restitution on behalf of crime victims.
The House and Senate have passed bills to establish certain standards for congressional and state legislative districts, requiring compactness and respecting political boundaries as much as possible. The Senate also passed a bill prohibiting the creation of split precincts for congressional or legislative districts - an issue that complicated a squeaker legislative race last year. It now goes to the House, which shot down a similar bill in committee.
In a sharp turn from recent sessions, Republicans did not propose a single anti-abortion bill. But they killed Democrats’ abortion-rights bills in committees. One would have repealed a law requiring doctors to perform an abdominal ultrasound, and offer the patient a view of the image, before performing an abortion.
House and Senate Republicans tabled every gun-control bill brought by Democrats , including those intended to limit the size of magazines. Democrats also sought to ban “bump stocks” or other devices designed to allow a semi-automatic weapon to mimic the rapid fire of a machine gun. The devices were used in a massacre that took 58 lives in Las Vegas in October.
Firefighters and emergency medical technicians who have concealed handgun permits would be allowed to carry weapons while on duty under a bill that has cleared the Senate.
The Senate voted to make it harder to expel or suspend young children - preschool through third grade - for more than three school days. The measure provides exceptions for offenses that involve physical harm. Its prospects are dim in the House, which rejected a similar bill.
The Washington Post’s Gregory S. Schneider contributed to this report.
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