Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
By Rip Sullivan
This year’s General Assembly session saw one highly partisan bill after another pass both Republican-controlled chambers, with little or no apparent interest in seeking input from Democrats.
This left Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to wield his veto pen to strike down such extreme bills as one that would shield from civil liability those who would actively discriminate against same-sex couples, and another that would legalize the carrying of concealed switchblade knives.
Veto Session is the day on which the General Assembly reconvenes to vote on whether to sustain or reject the Governor’s vetoes, and to consider amendments that the Governor made to legislation passed by the General Assembly. This year, every one of McAuliffe’s 40 vetoes was sustained, and the vast majority of his amendments were adopted.
For critics of McAuliffe’s extensive use of the veto power, it is worth a closer look at the bills that he prevented from becoming law in the Commonwealth. This year alone, the Governor vetoed bills that were directed at weakening LGBT rights, defunding Planned Parenthood and putting more guns in more places.
Some of the bills passed by the Republican majority were simply messaging bills, often redundant of current law. For example, McAuliffe vetoed one bill that would criminalize the act of giving or receiving any money in exchange for registering to vote. This is already a crime under federal law.
There were other bills that sought to perpetuate the myth of voter fraud by encouraging investigations into Virginia voters without clear standards for when and how those inquiries would be conducted. Voter fraud, though it is exceptionally rare, is already a crime in Virginia.
The Governor also vetoed a number of bills that Democrats universally agree would undermine the economic security of many of Virginia’s most vulnerable individuals. For those living in poverty and receiving public assistance, one bill would have prohibited anyone with a criminal history from receiving this help. Keeping those who have committed a crime – for example, petty theft – from receiving public assistance would make it even more likely that those individuals would be forced back into a life of crime and reduce public safety.
Other vetoed bills included one that would encourage companies to pay workers less – Democrats universally rejected these anti-worker bills and I am glad that the Governor vetoed them immediately. Two bills would have prohibited a state agency and a local government from entering into a contract with a company that requires that company to pay workers at rates above prevailing wages and benefits. We should be encouraging contracts with companies that are willing to pay workers more, not engaging in a race to the bottom for wages and benefits.
Another agenda item that Republicans targeted unsuccessfully was making life more difficult for immigrants and refugees. One particularly dangerous bill included a requirement that the Commonwealth publish personally identifiable information for every refugee settled in Virginia. A reminder: refugees are here legally.
This bill was not only an invasion of privacy, but also a reckless move that would put refugees in immediate danger. Refugees are classified as such because they are fleeing oppression – they have specifically been targeted by the government of their home country. To make a list of their personal information public would be to make those who have sought refuge in our country targets again – even exposing them to their oppressors.
Finally, perhaps the most widely covered issue of this year’s Veto Session was whether the Governor’s budget amendment to expand Medicaid to about 400,000 low-income working Virginians should stand. The Governor’s amendment would have allowed him to expand Medicaid on October 1, 2017, if the Affordable Care Act still stood in its current form with respect to Medicaid. The amendment was rejected along party lines, 66 to 34, meaning Medicaid will not be expanded this year and Virginia will continue to lose billions of Virginia taxpayer dollars reallocated to states that have expanded Medicaid.
During this Veto Session the priorities of both parties were revealed in stark contrast, and I am glad that Democrats were able to fight back through McAuliffe against the most extreme of the bills passed by Republicans.
It will be a far different Veto Session in 2018 if we do not have a Democratic Governor and a strong Democratic presence in the House of Delegates after this November’s election. As we have seen at the national level, turnout matters and elections have consequences.
Rip is a Northern Virginia community activist and a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Virginia’s 48th District, which encompasses parts of Arlington and McLean.