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General Assembly 2018 Week 8:
Oddities and Endings
By Stephen J. Rossie

Square2017 imageRichmond – The session is winding down. The last two weeks are bittersweet. Everyone — members, staff, state employees, lobbyists — is exhausted. You’re glad it’s winding down but remorseful about missed opportunities on certain bills, relationships that weren’t built and the fact that this immensely intense two month period ends and you will miss the people with whom you have worked fervently to advance a cause.

Session starts with an adrenaline rush and sustains you for 53 days. Then you suddenly wilt away, trying to sort out what just happened and where you are going next.

About the only ones who remain on an even keel from day one to day 60 are the remarkable Capitol Police. Their delightful, ambassadorial demeanor conceals the life-on-the-line jobs they do in protecting Capitol Square and beyond. They make the commonwealth proud.

The last days are absent committee work, which frees up lawmakers. The ones who were nearly impossible to track down two weeks ago suddenly are available and welcoming — but most of the bills are cleared. Where were they when we needed them?

There are still major issues to work on, namely the budget and Obamacare Medicaid expansion. The House budget includes it. The Senate budget does not. A total of only 13 people, the conferees, will decide what is in the final proposal that will be voted on Saturday. That’s a lot of power for 13 people considering the acceptance of such a program will be the most radical change in role and scope of Virginia government in decades. The program itself represents the largest one-year expansion of state government in at least 14 years.

Many, much less controversial, bills also are in conference. But fatigue plays a role here, too. Often, the three members from each chamber basically have time to stick in the report what the patron wants in it. What comes out can be significantly different than what was seen in committee or on the floor, or back to something that was rejected. The flood of bills coming to the floor the last week makes it nearly impossible to discern exactly what’s in what. All it takes is the conference committee’s recommendation and it usually passes.

Of course, the House and Senate budget conferees may not come to an agreement. That would force an adjournment without a budget and ongoing off-session negotiation to be settled in a reconvened session by June 30. A new budget must go into effect by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

But the session has been marked by several oddities. It was to be expected, after all, with the historic composition of the House after a wave election. It’s that some of the oddities probably weren’t the ones expected.

There was at least one member who cast a deciding no vote in committee when he meant yes, promised to bring back the bill, then still voted no. There were the surreal moments when a subcommittee chairman introduced his bills to his subcommittee, but did not pass the gavel to a temporary chairman. Instead of coming down to the lectern and addressing the members, he stayed in his seat. When people spoke against the bills, he questioned them from the chair as if cross-examining a hostile witness in a trial. No one had ever seen that before as chairmen are supposed to be the arbiter of committee meetings.

Then there was the accidental blast e-mail of a confidential House GOP memo that gave the rationale for the "conservative” Obamacare Medicaid expansion. Worse, there was a link in it that enabled people to access prior confidential memos. Stranger still was that the person responsible was kept on the job. The key votes by members this week will determine if they keep theirs.

Stephen J. (Steve) Rossie is a Richmond-based public and government relations consultant. He has been a General Assembly lobbyist since 2006 and has written about Virginia government since 2007.

 





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