May 04, 2011
The 2011 Legislative Session began in January and, remarkably, it is May and we still have not finished. April was the most intense phase so far. I was heavily invested in the Governor's actions on legislation and played a legal and negotiating role in the redistricting process that became around-the-clock work by the end of April
April started with the formal Veto Session where the Legislature met to consider the Governor's action on all pending legislation. The Governor's office had a very short time frame to evaluate all bills passed by the General Assembly. The Governor either signs the bill, recommends changes or vetoes the bill. This year the Governor recommended changes to 133 bills and made almost 90 amendments to the budget that had passed the House and Senate in February. These were mid-budget year amendments to our two-year $78 billion budget, reflecting changes necessary to carry us through next year when we start from scratch to draft a new 2-year budget.
More people in the district contacted me about changes to the budget bill than any other issues and our office worked hard to address those requests. Other significant measures debated during the Veto Session included a bill to require health insurers to provide coverage for autism, a mandate that schools implement 150 minutes per week of physical education and a bill to change Virginia's medical malpractice cap. The Legislature accepted the Governor's changes to the autism bill, providing more oversight for therapies covered by insurance, but rejected the Governor's amendment to invalidate all provisions of the bill if a court overruled the cap. Also, the House and Senate overrode the Governor's veto of the increased medical malpractice cap in Virginia. The bill had been negotiated by all of the stakeholders and was a deal that allowed an increase in the cap in exchange for locking it down now and providing future predictability in premiums for doctors. The Governor's objection was that any increase in the cap is a hardship and leads to an increase in costs. However, the House and Senate deferred to the physicians, hospitals, insurers and lawyers who had advocated for the plan.
There was no break after the Veto Session and the Senate promptly convened the Redistricting Session. The process formally began when the U.S. Census Bureau delivered results of the 2010 Census to Virginia, demonstrating precise population growth in the Commonwealth. Under the Constitutional requirement of one person one vote, the Legislature must, by law, draw each House and Senate legislative district to reflect equal apportionment utilizing the new population numbers. The changes required the Senate to create Senate districts with a population of 200,026 in each.
The Privileges and Elections Committee held hearings around the Commonwealth and then met to vote on criteria for redistricting. Those parameters included permissible percentage of population deviations between districts and requirements of the Voting Rights Act which protect minority districts by preventing retrogression of minority populations.
There were countless iterations of Senate boundaries proposed by outside groups, colleges and universities, and a bi-partisan commission established by the Governor. Two plans introduced in the Senate were the Howell plan, put forth by the Democratic majority in the Senate, and the Watkins-Vogel plan drafted by Senator Watkins and me to reflect the Republican minority proposal. Our plan was the culmination of months of legal and statistical analysis which we believed rendered a substantially fairer, less partisan and more legally sound map than the one put forward by the majority. The map proposed by the Senate majority raised the ire of communities around Virginia who were upset by split districts and divided communities. Virginia Beach and the southwest were particularly upset as was Prince William County which was divided into six different Senate districts. Likewise, in my district, Clarke and Fauquier Counties were gravely concerned about the manner in which they were carved up, undermining representation in their districts and making the orderly process of elections very difficult.
In the end, the Senate passed the Howell plan on a straight party line vote of 22 to 18. This was a striking contrast to the House's approach, where a plan was passed with the overwhelming support of both parties. Their plan passed the House with 87 out of 100 members voting for the map. As was predicted, when the combined plan went to the Governor, he promptly vetoed the bill indicating confidence in the House map but citing a long litany of legal concerns and community concerns raised by the Senate map. Senate Democrats were furious and initially refused to change a single line. Eventually their position softened and several of us, working closely with the Governor and members of the Democratic leadership, set about to start anew and work toward a consensus.
The stakes were very high in this process if we failed to pass a bill. An impasse over the Senate plan would place all of the reapportionment process in the hands of the courts, where judges would start over and draw plans for the House, Senate and Congressional lines. The Governor, the Congressional delegation and all members of the House and Senate were anxious for a bill as the clock ticked, pushing us closer and closer to the election time frame with local governments, registrars and candidates demanding certainty in the outcome. The Legislature had already moved Virginia's primary date to August to accommodate redistricting this year and there was no time to spare. It was rough, but after a marathon negotiation, we reached a compromise that each side agreed that they would support. On many points the other side would not budge and major issues remained. Yet the final plan represented the absolute best that we could accomplish for our side given our position in the minority. I was also thrilled to have the opportunity to correct the map and make Clarke and Fauquier Counties whole. Finally, at the end of last week, the compromise bill came to the floor and was passed out of the Senate. The Governor signed the bill on Saturday morning and it became law. The final step is for the legislative maps to go through the pre-clearance process, either through an administrative process at the Department of Justice or before a federal three judge panel. We await the outcome of that process and will know by mid-summer whether the plans are upheld.
The last action we took in April was to vote on judges. After a long fight for funding, the judicial vacancy in Fauquier was finally filled. I proposed a budget amendment sent down by the Governor during the veto session to guarantee that funding would not be an issue for this judgeship and I was grateful to have it carried out. Congratulations to Judge Greg Ashwell who was appointed to the General District Court and to Jonathan Lynn who fills Ashwell's vacancy on the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
Support Our Campaign!
Thank you for taking the time to read the legislative update and for your support of the cause. If you are interested in supporting our campaign in the fall, please consider joining the Attorney General of Virginia and me for a fundraiser at my home on Thursday, May 26th. For more details, please visit our website www.senatorjillvogel.com. We need your support and hope that you will consider participating in the event.
As always, if you have questions or concerns contact at our office at 540-662-4551 or firstname.lastname@example.org.