Each year it takes me a couple weeks to process what happened during the legislative session. This year is no exception.
The pace in Richmond is frenetic and the number of bills we consider is mind-blowing. During this sixty-day session 3,722 bills were introduced and 1833 passed. Of those, twenty-two were mine. Eleven of those passed. You can see my bills HERE.
The most significant of my successful bills was SB 394 which established the Office of Student Loan Ombudsman. This Office will help student borrowers navigate the lending process, give advice on loan options, and mediate complaints.
The most significant of my unsuccessful bills would have required student loan servicers to be licensed. Many servicers are frankly unsavory. The federal government as well as many states are suing them. Betsy DeVos is protecting them. My licensing bill passed the Senate with a bipartisan super majority. Then the Republicans in the House killed it. I won't give up on this.
By the way, the pedestrian safety bill I wrote about a few weeks ago also failed. After passing the Senate almost unanimously, passing the House subcommittee unanimously, and overwhelmingly passing the full Committee, it was defeated on the House floor. Inexplicable.
The worst part of the session was that we failed to pass a budget. As you undoubtedly know, the House passed a budget approving Medicaid expansion. That provided them with $422 million in General Fund savings. They used those savings to increase teacher salaries, improve public safety programs, invest in economic development and higher education, and address state government's technology needs.
The Senate budget is austere, unnecessarily so. For the tenth year, I am a Senate budget conferee. Some aspects of the Senate budget are better than the House's - human services, for example. But negotiating is tough. How do you negotiate details of a budget when you don't agree on how much revenue is available?
Until we can agree on Medicaid expansion, we are at an impasse. It is important to note that the Senate Republicans are isolated. Governor Northam, a bipartisan majority of the House, and all Senate Democrats support expansion.
Meanwhile, Governor Northam has called us back to Richmond for a special session on April 11. At that time he will send down another budget bill (the same one we started with in January) so we will have a bill to work off of. When we adjourned sine die two weeks ago, the previous budgets vanished. Hopefully, the impasse on Medicaid expansion will be resolved by special session. In that case, those of us who are conferees will stay in Richmond to hammer out details of a final budget.
A few days after we left Richmond, Del. Ken Plum invited me to be on his TV show. On the show, we reviewed the session. If you have twenty-five minutes, please watch it HERE!
Also, Ken and I are having our 27th annual town meeting on the session next week. It is Monday, March 26 from 7:30 to 9:00 PM at the Reston Community Center on Lake Anne. This is an informal meeting during which we will summarize what happened during the sixty-day session and answer your questions.
More town meetings will be held throughout the 32nd Senate district. We will publicize them as they are scheduled.
PS: Now we have adjourned sine die, I can again accept campaign contributions. Please help me prepare for another campaign by contributing.