RICHMOND – Governor Terry McAuliffe and Governor-elect Ralph Northam today proposed their joint legislative agenda for the 2018 General Assembly session. The legislative package includes proposals to expand Medicaid, implement universal background checks in order to purchase a gun, reform the absentee voting process, formally join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), prevent the personal use of campaign contributions, raise the felony larceny threshold, institute a Borrower’s Bill of Rights creating an ombudsman who can help borrowers understand their payments, and support for the Whole Women’s Health Act.
“I am proud to be here today with Governor-Elect Northam as we propose policy steps that will build on the progress we have made over the past four years and create real opportunity for the families we serve,” said Governor McAuliffe. “During my time in office, we have taken steps to build a Virginia where everyone can live, work and lead successful a successful life. I am hopeful that each of these proposals can start a positive conversation and finally move solutions forward on these issues ensuring Virginia remains the open and welcoming place it has become. Together with my budget proposal, these policy ideas build on the vision we share for a prosperous Commonwealth.”
Governor Northam continued, “I want to thank Governor McAuliffe for his outstanding leadership and for working with my team and me on this legislative agenda. This session is our opportunity to do the job voters sent us to do by making their lives better for everyone, no matter who they are or where they are from. I look forward to advocating for this agenda and working with both parties in the General Assembly to pass legislation that makes Virginia safer, healthier and more prosperous for every family.”
The details of the proposed joint legislative agenda are below:
The Governor and Governor-Elect offered their support for language in the proposed budget that would expand access to healthcare for nearly 400,000 low-income Virginians, create 30,000 new jobs and save Virginia taxpayers more than $400 million over the next two years. This expanded access would help working Virginians who make too much to qualify for the Commonwealth’s current Medicaid program but too little to afford coverage on their own.
Universal Background Checks for Gun Purchases:
The Governor and Governor-Elect proposed legislation which would keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them by implementing universal background checks for all gun purchases in the Commonwealth. Currently, only federally licensed firearms dealers are required to obtain the results of a background check when selling or transferring a firearm. In 2017, the Virginia State Police reported a total of 3,584 denied firearms purchases through federally licensed firearms dealers.
No-excuse Absentee Voting:
The Governor and Governor-Elect proposed legislation which would simplify the absentee voting process in the Commonwealth. Under the proposed legislation, any registered voter would be allowed to cast an absentee ballot in-person within 21 days of Election Day. The bill would also keep current requirements for absentee voting by mail or absentee voting more than 21 days before Election Day. These reforms will not only expand voting opportunities for every registered voter but will also decrease lines at the polls on Election Day for those who choose to vote in person.
Formally Joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI):
The Governor and Governor-Elect proposed legislation to make Virginia the first Southern State to cap carbon and formally join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Earlier this year, Governor McAuliffe signed Executive Directive 11, which directed the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to draft regulations enabling Virginia to develop a carbon reduction program for power plants under DEQ’s existing authority. That program will link to the broader carbon market established through RGGI, but Virginia cannot formally join RGGI or spend the revenues the new regulations generate without the approval of the General Assembly.
This legislation would enable the Commonwealth to directly auction the allowances, and invest the revenues in programs that benefit the public. Virginia will move forward with a carbon reduction program that links to the broader RGGI market regardless of what occurs this session. But, this legislation would give the General Assembly an opportunity to weigh in on how the revenue is allocated. Participation in a broader market will allow Virginia to reduce costs and drive more investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency, while also decreasing our carbon emissions and mitigating the impacts of climate change.
Personal Use of Campaign Funds:
The Governor and Governor-Elect proposed legislation that would ensure that campaign contributions cannot be used by political candidates and elected officials for personal use. When Governor McAuliffe took office he issued Executive Order 2 which strengthened the ethics rules for himself and his administration. Additionally, he created the Commission on Integrity and Public Confidence in State Government and charged them with producing a series of substantive recommendations to reform Virginia’s ethics system. The reforms passed – including a cap on gifts that can be accepted from lobbyists – have contributed to a new culture of accountability in Richmond. The proposed bill would ensure that campaign contributions cannot be used by political candidates and elected officials for personal use. This was one of several reforms recommended by the bipartisan Integrity Commission.
Raising the Felony Threshold in Virginia:
The Governor and Governor-Elect proposed legislation that would raise the threshold for felony larceny from $200 to $1,000. The $200 figure has not been changed since 1980 and currently, Virginia and New Jersey are tied for having the lowest rate in the country. Fifteen other states have thresholds of $500 to $950 and thirty more states have thresholds of at least $1,000. Raising the felony larceny threshold will ensure that fewer people will be ensnared in this life-long punishment for making a small mistake.
Borrower’s Bill of Rights:
The Governor and Governor-Elect proposed legislation implementing a Borrower’s Bill of Rights and creating a state ombudsman for student debt. Today, over one million Virginians owe over $30 billion in student loan, which threatens families’ financial security, and holds back our economy because people delay their decisions to buy homes and cars, save for retirement, and start their own businesses. The Borrower’s Bill of Rights will require student loan servicers in Virginia to follow commonsense rules and obtain a license from the Bureau of Financial Institutions. Additionally, the establishment of an ombudsman within the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) would help borrowers understand their payment options and keep them on track, protecting their financial futures.