Governor and Governor-elect Announce 2018 Legislative Agenda

Medicaid expansion, gun safety and reproductive rights were all given support by Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Governor-elect Ralph Northam as they announced their joint agenda for the 2018 legislative session on Tuesday, Jan. 9.

Many of the items on the agenda have been supported by McAuliffe in the past and have bipartisan support, such as raising the state’s threshold amount for grand larceny. Both parties have filed bills this year to increase the current threshold from $200.

“It does not make any sense. It means that if you are an 18-year-old who steals an iPhone today, you will be branded as a felon in Virginia for the rest of your life,” said McAuliffe. ”That figure has not changed since 1980.”

Background checks for gun purchases was also a topic supported by the governor and governor-elect.  

“In 2017, the Virginia State Police reported a total of 3,584 firearm purchases through federally licensed firearms dealers that were rejected,” said McAuliffe. “If you had 3,500 that were rejected at the federal dealers, think how many were going to private sellers.”

Northam also highlighted responsible gun ownership to reduce gun-related deaths as well as Medicaid expansion.

Other bills supported by both McAuliffe and Northam include absentee voting, greenhouse gas initiatives, banning the private use of campaign funds, protections for student loan borrowers and reproductive rights legislation.

The outgoing and incoming governors announced a joint agenda because Northam isn’t sworn in as governor until three days into the legislative session. Northam will be sworn in at noon on Saturday, Jan. 13 in an outdoor ceremony on Capitol Square.

Historically, the governor doesn’t have much power during the legislative session until after bills have had the approval by both the House and Senate. The governor then can choose to veto or sign the legislation into law.

Ravi Perry, associate professor and chair of the political science department at Virginia Commonwealth University, said given the historic Democratic wave of last year’s state election and the nearly 50-50 split of the General Assembly, the governor might have more of an influence during this year’s legislative session.

“(Republicans) understand that they need to work across the aisle now,” said Perry. “What that should mean is we won’t see many far-right bills and policies get through and a lot of things that have a lot of Commonwealth support.”