You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

Virginia transportation plans expected to survive veto session

- - Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's major amendments to bills passed by the General Assembly this year are likely to survive a one-day veto session Wednesday in which lawmakers reconvene in Richmond to consider the governor's legislative changes, political analysts say.

Mr. McDonnell's main accomplishment this session — an $880 million transportation package that raises taxes for roads funding — appears safe from, if still not popular with, many fiscal conservatives.

The Republican governor made a handful of tweaks to tax rates and fees and most significantly addressed constitutionality concerns from Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the Republican candidate to succeed Mr. McDonnell as governor, about a regional tax increase.

Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, said Democrats completely back the transportation proposal and most of the GOP "grudgingly" supports it as well, though far-right Republicans remain opposed.

"My sense is that the General Assembly is not going to overturn any of those changes," Mr. Kidd said. "There hasn't been enough noise."

Lawmakers will consider 80 bills amended by the governor and six bills he vetoed. Amendments may be rejected by a simple majority vote of at least 51 of the 100 House members and 21 of the 40 senators against the amendment. Overriding a veto requires two-thirds majorities in the House and the Senate.

Mr. McDonnell also amended a bill to establish minimum standards to move forward with Medicaid expansion in Virginia, but Mr. Cuccinelli declared that legislation unconstitutional because it allows expansion to be decided upon by a committee of General Assembly members instead of the entire legislature.

The governor did not address the constitutionality of the measure in his amendments, according to the attorney general, but University of Richmond School of Law professor Carl Tobias said the bill is still likely to survive.

Mr. Tobias said many Democrats see the two measures as a "package deal."

"It brings some Democrats along to have Medicaid expansion and a transportation tax," he said.

The most surprising decision was Mr. McDonnell's amendment to health legislation to prohibit abortion coverage through insurance plans purchased from the federally run health care exchange.

Under the amendment, insurers who are part of the federal exchange cannot offer plans covering abortions or write separate, optional riders covering them. The only coverage exceptions would be for rape, incest or to protect the life of a pregnant woman.

Mr. Tobias noted that the amendment was on a topic not debated by the General Assembly nor had Mr. McDonnell previously mentioned the chance of inserting such a change. He said the situation was "very unusual," though not unprecedented and could not recall it occurring with such a controversial subject.Mr. Tobias said that he expects a very close vote in the Senate, in which Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling holds tie-breaking authority over a chamber split between 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats, but that the amendment likely will pass without much opposition in the Republican-controlled House.

Mr. Kidd said that the governor likely avoided discussing abortion and insurance to focus on transportation, and that the abortion amendment likely will be a prominent issues in the governor's race."I don't think there will be any big surprises," Mr. Kidd said. "It will probably be a very short day."