While a snowstorm may be enough to bring most of the Commonwealth to a slow crawl, business is moving forward at a rapid clip this week at the General Assembly.

Tuesday was “Crossover Day” at the General Assembly, which marks the halfway point of the 2014 session.  After crossover, the House of Delegates exclusively takes up bills originating in the Senate and vice versa.  On Sunday, February 16, the House and Senate “money committees” will release their respective budgets, and debate will continue over the next couple weeks on the floors of both chambers and then within conference committee meetings behind closed doors.

The Conference is supporting several budget amendments, including the elimination of the waiting list for Medicaid waivers to provide care to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/DD).  These waivers allow individuals with ID/DD to get the care they need, including nursing care, physical and occupational therapy and assistance with personal care, transportation, and household chores.  Almost 8,000 Virginians are on waiting lists for the Medicaid Intellectual Disability (ID) and Developmental Disability (DD) Waivers (or “slots”), including 3,755 individuals who have been identified as being in “urgent need.” To prevent the waiting list from growing and to eliminate the waiting list within 10 years, 1,000 waivers for ID and 400 waivers for DD are needed each year.

Click here to urge your legislators to increase funding for ID/DD waivers.

The Conference is also advocating in the budget process for healthcare that protects every life and covers every life.  Click here to tell your legislators to ban taxpayer funding of abortion to the greatest extent possible under federal law and to ensure access to healthcare for the lowest-income Virginians.

Here’s a summary of the legislative action taken on some of the Conference’s priorities this week:

Abortion: On Tuesday, the Virginia Senate considered and voted upon two attempts to repeal important pro-life laws. SB 618 (Senator Locke) would have repealed important taxpayer conscience language and allowed abortion-on-demand coverage in health plans sold on the federal health exchange operating in Virginia. In a 22-18 vote, two Democrat Senators (Senators Chuck Colgan and Phil Puckett) joined a united Republican caucus to defeat the bill and prevent public funding of abortion on demand.

Tragically, SB 617 (Senator Locke) passed the Virginia State Senate due to a procedural mistake. This legislation would repeal the essential requirement that requires a woman to receive a transabdominal ultrasound prior to an abortion. Initially, the measure was defeated 22-18; however, Senator Toddy Puller (D-Fairfax) voted to defeat the legislation when she meant to vote in support. Senator Puller motioned to reconsider the vote. The reconsidered vote was tied 20-20, with a tie-breaking vote then cast in support of the legislation by Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam (D). Senator Colgan (D- Prince William), a consistent supporter of pro-life legislation, accidentally voted in support of the legislation. Unfortunately, Senator Locke, the bill patron, denied Senator Colgan the opportunity to correct his vote, acting as the lone “no” vote in a move for unanimous reconsideration of passage, 37-1. The Virginia Catholic Conference is hopeful that the legislation will be defeated in the House, as identical legislation (HB 1056, Delegate Ward, D-Hampton) was defeated in a House subcommittee just last week.

Death Penalty: This week also featured further debate on SB 607 (Senator Carrico), a Conference-opposed bill which would have allowed the Department of Corrections to stop seeking lethal injection drugs and use the electric chair instead, thus forcing condemned people who have chosen lethal injection to die by electrocution.  Last Friday, we reported to you that SB 607 was referred from the Senate floor to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee for further analysis.  On Monday, the committee discussed the bill at length.  After extensive questioning of representatives from the Department of Corrections and the Office of Attorney General by several committee members, the committee voted 15-0 to delay further consideration of the bill until next year’s session.  Meanwhile, an identical bill (HB 1052) already passed the House weeks ago and has been referred to the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee.  The Conference will continue to monitor HB 1052 closely.

Minimum WageThe Senate also considered legislation, SB 590  (Senator Marsden), to raise Virginia’s minimum wage to $8.25 by July 1, 2014 and to $9.25 an hour by July 1, 2015.  The Conference supported the bill as a positive step toward ensuring a living wage for workers to support themselves and their families and respecting the dignity of work. The Senate Commerce and Labor committee heard the bill on Monday and voted to report the bill and refer it to Finance 10-6. On Tuesday, the Senate Finance committee passed the bill by an 11-6 vote.  Since Tuesday was “crossover day”, the last day that each chamber had to consider and pass bills, the bill was fast-tracked through the process. After substantial debate, the Senate had a tie vote 20-20, with Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam (D) breaking the tie to secure passage. Unfortunately, earlier in session the House of Delegates defeated similar legislation in committee and will likely spike SB 590 as well.