Halfway through the 2022 Virginia General Assembly session, the House of Delegates has passed a wave of Republican reforms focusing on taxes, law enforcement, and education, while much of the Senate’s work has involved Democrats killing Republican bills in committee. The legislature just passed crossover, when each chamber sent its finalized bills to the other chamber. Now, the chambers will clash over conflicting policies as they evaluate each other’s bills and work on the budget.
“[W]e ran on a platform that was informed by what voters told us they wanted the General Assembly to accomplish on their behalf in 2022. They wanted lower taxes and safer communities. They wanted parents involved in their child’s education, not boxed out,” a Tuesday House GOP release said.
“As the House completes its work on our legislative priorities, I’m pleased to report that we’ve accomplished what voters sent us here to do,” Speaker of the House Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) said in the release.
“What I said at the beginning of this session was that I thought at the legislative level, we would probably have a lot of stasis,” State Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) told The Virginia Star. “That is, you know, not a lot of progress one way or the other, because of the split party control and the House Republicans getting back control. It would take them a while to find their feet and figure out where they want to take things. I think that’s pretty much where we are.”
“There’s a few larger bills out there, I think, that have bipartisan patrons, and I think those will probably fare a better shake than others, but you know, for the most part, I expect the House Republicans to propose a lot of bills to sort of dial back things that we did over the last two years, and those aren’t going anywhere,” Surovell said.
Key Moments So Far
House Republicans’ success includes a grocery tax repeal bill, a requirement to have photo identification to vote, a law requiring school officials to report some misdemeanors to law enforcement, and making the Virginia Parole Board subject to FOIA law.
“It’s a radical concept in politics: politicians doing what they said they’d do when they’re elected,” House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore (R-Gate City) said in the House release. “But that’s just what we’ve done in the first half of this 2022 legislative session. We said we’d put parents back in charge of their children’s education. We said we’d cut taxes, and that we’d make our streets safer. Promises made, promises kept.”
Senate Democrats said in a press release that they’ve focused on economic security and educational pathways while delivering 18 key defeats to Youngkin’s agenda. Defeated Senate Republican bills include several bills similar to key House Republican wins, including some charter school bills, an “inherently divisive concepts” bill, and multiple bills focused on GOP tax cuts. Many of those defeats happened in committee, which has enough Democrats to block bills even if one or two Democratic senators vote with Republicans.
“Senate Democrats have stood firm to ensure justice, protect rights, and provide safety to everyone at home, school, and work,” Caucus Chair Senator Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) said in the release published by Blue Virginia. “We are seeking equal opportunity in voting, the justice system, environment and energy, and education. Governor Youngkin has sought to divide, but Senate Democrats remain steadfast in challenging the status quo and helping those who need it the most.”
Another key moment in the first part of the session was the defeat of Youngkin’s nominee for secretary of natural resources, former Trump EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. After Senate Democrats blocked his confirmation, House Republicans retaliated by blocking confirmation of 11 of former Governor Ralph Northam’s appointees, including in key roles on the Virginia Board of Education. That creates vacancies Youngkin can fill.
One major win for Republicans is the passage of a school mask-optional bill, which passed with the support of a few Democratic senators and has already been signed into law. House Republicans already killed a few key Democratic goals, including two constitutional amendments that were passed in 2021 but must be passed again in 2022 before being sent to voters for final approval. Those bills were to remove a ban on same-sex marriage, already inactive after a 2017 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, and an effort to restore felon voting rights after they’re released from incarceration. Delegate Mike Cherry (R-Colonial Heights) carried an ex-convict franchise restoration bill, but it and the same-sex marriage ban repeal were killed in House Republican committee.
Anticipating potential bipartisan support to pass the bills, House Democrats tried a workaround to bring the bills to the House floor, but Republicans voted against that attempt on Wednesday. Democrats said that vote was essentially a vote against those policies, but Republicans said the vote was merely on House rules.
Budget and Other Discussions
“There’s obviously going to be some partisan fights that will erupt in the next week or so,” Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City) told The Star. “You’ve got the House of Delegates controlled by a Republican majority. I would not predict how receptive they will be to some of the more progressive Democratic senators’ legislation. And I don’t know how the Senate Democrats are going to react to some of the more conservative legislation in the House of Delegates.”
The budget bills are one of the most important pieces of legislation the General Assembly will consider, and finance debates affect broad policy goals as well as specific details around implementation. Before leaving office, Northam completed his final budget proposal, which includes some concessions to Republicans on tax policy. Youngkin has released his own list of amendments to the proposal.
“Right now, the Senate is still in the process of constructing its budget. I expect it to be dramatically different than the House budget. And I say that there’s always a difference, but because of different majorities in the Senate and the House, different priorities. So I expect the budgets will be constructed a little strategically to anticipate conference where the differences will be ironed out,” Norment said.
“What I said at the beginning of the session, which I still agree with, is the only thing we have to do this session is pass a budget, and that, I think, is where most of the action is going to be,” Surovell said. “I think most of the governor’s proposals are dead on arrival. We might see some small adjustment of, or moratorium on, the grocery tax. But his whole tax-cut agenda, I think, is not going anywhere.”
Democrats might find common ground with Youngkin on policies to increase spending on education and state employee salaries.
“Raising teacher salaries and state employee salaries has always been a Democratic priority. I’m glad to see the governor’s decided to agree with us on that,” Surovell said. “If that’s one of his agenda items, he’s sort of got on a train that already left the station. But, yeah, he proposes $3.5 billion of tax cuts and spending, and didn’t propose a single way to pay for it. It’s not a very useful way to make policy proposals when we have a constitutional obligation to balance the budget.”
Bills on marijuana sales legalization and on creating an authority to bring an NFL football stadium to Virginia will also be hammered out between the chambers.
“It’s going to be a very interesting time because it has been quite a period of years where we’ve had divided governments. And I think everyone needs to be very mindful that while the House is controlled by the Republicans, the Senate is controlled by the Democrats, there is one major, significant difference. And that’s Governor Youngkin in the governor’s mansion. And his pen can make a lot of changes. And if his changes involve a veto, there’s no way his vetoes can be overridden,” Norment said.
He said, “I say that in the context that he could suggest he might veto something that would give him a little leverage and perhaps negotiate some deals with the Senate Democrats. So it will be interesting to see how it plays out.”
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Mamie Locke” by Mamie Locke. Photo “Terry Kilgore” by Terry Kilgore. Background Photo “Virginia Capitol” by Anderskev. CC BY 3.0.