Virginia Lawmakers Will Return in a Special Session to Reach a Decision on State Budget

The Virginia General Assembly voted to request that Gov. Ralph Northam schedule a special session after members adjourn. The session was expected to dismiss on March 10, but lawmakers will not reach an agreement on a state budget before the session’s end.

The two budgets are very different. The House of Delegates’ inclusion of Medicaid expansion sparked a stand-off between the chambers. In the House plan, Virginia will seek a waiver from the Trump administration to institute a work requirement for Medicaid recipients, and extend health care to roughly 400,000 Virginians. The Senate plan didn’t include Medicaid expansion, and members refused to add an amendment allowing it on a split party vote, 21-19.

Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, said on the floor Thursday that the budget committee will not have a budget agreement by Saturday. In light of an extended session, Jones said that it could be helpful for lawmakers to go home and get a better idea of what their constituents want them to do.

When lawmakers need more time, they have two options, either extend the session for 30 days or schedule a special session. The decision must receive a two-thirds vote from both chambers of the General Assembly. The governor will set the schedule for legislators to reconvene.

If a budget is not passed by July, the state government will shut down.

Besides health care, other areas of funding differ in the two budgets, including funding for education, pay increases for state employees, various capital investments and a cybersecurity education program.

Last week, Northam made it clear that if the General Assembly doesn’t send him a budget that includes Medicaid expansion, he will propose an amendment that does. However, he will offer an amendment more like traditional expansion under the Affordable Care Act, rather than a work requirement waiver that was supported by House Republicans. 

“Expanding coverage will also allow us to improve access to care and treatment for people suffering from mental illness and addiction, two issues where we have made bipartisan progress in recent years,” Northam said in a press release. “Once this policy issue is resolved, I am confident that the remainder of the differences in the two budgets will follow a natural course that reflects our shared values.”