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Among his proposals are changes to the transportation funding bill and Medicaid expansion.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
RICHMOND — With a stroke of his pen, Gov. Bob McDonnell has opted to make hybrid car owners pay $64 in new annual fees, require photo identification at the polls and restrict abortion coverage under insurance offered through health benefits exchanges.
Those are but a few of the developments emanating from the governor’s office after his Monday deadline to act on more than 800 General Assembly-approved bills that had been pending on his desk.
Among McDonnell’s proposed amendments are changes to the $3.4 billion transportation funding bill and Virginia’s two-year, $87 billion budget, including language related to Medicaid expansion, that runs through next June. Those modifications came days after Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli publicly released nonbinding advisory opinions that called elements of both bills unconstitutional.
The governor offered a substitute transportation bill that maintains the framework of the House Bill 2313 compromise while seeking to reinforce it to withstand possible legal challenge, said Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton.
His changes define the regions of Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia as including those localities embodied within existing planning district commissions from those areas for local taxation purposes. Both regions face 6 percent sales taxes — higher than the new 5.3 percent state rate — and wholesale gas levies under the bill to raise about $500 million annually for priority road needs in those regions.
The governor also proposed a slightly smaller increase in the car titling tax paid on automobile purchases and a reduction of the registration surcharge on alternative fuel vehicles to $64 from the proposed $100 fee.
He also created a mechanism — based on regional population, annual mass transit ridership and vehicles registered in an area — to enable other regions to raise local road revenues if they eventually qualify.
Speaking on a Washington-area radio station Tuesday, McDonnell said his office receives advice from the attorney general on all types of legislation but doesn’t ask for his permission to act. Through a spokesman, Cuccinelli said a preliminary review of McDonnell’s amendments to the road funding bill showed that they “address the constitutional concerns we have raised.”
Democrats scoffed at Cuccinelli’s transportation comments Tuesday, accusing him of trying to take credit after the fact for the transportation deal they say he previously worked to derail.
On Medicaid, McDonnell’s amendments clarify what constitutes progress on reforms to pave the way for Virginia to expand its subsidized health insurance system to cover as many as 400,000 more needy Virginians under the federal health care act.
Legislative votes on the transportation bill became entangled with the debate over Medicaid language in the budget during the General Assembly’s closing days in late February.
More recently, one of Cuccinelli’s opinions questioned the constitutionality of the General Assembly delegating expansion oversight to a 10-member legislative commission.
Despite bluster by both parties, a decision on Medicaid expansion is likely to hinge on the outcome of November’s gubernatorial election: Cuccinelli, the GOP candidate, opposes it, and Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe favors it.
While the transportation and budget bills drew the ire of some conservative Republicans, McDonnell’s legislative efforts to restrict abortion and stiffen voter identification laws are likely to appease some in the GOP base.
The governor amended two bills, House Bill 1900 and Senate Bill 921, adjusting Virginia’s insurance laws to meet federal health care act rules so no insurance plan sold through a health benefits exchange can provide abortion coverage. McDonnell maintains that’s consistent with federal policy, which prohibits spending public dollars on abortions.
Many people who obtain coverage from an exchange will do so with government subsidies, though some are likely to do so entirely with private dollars and they, too, would be denied abortion coverage under the governor’s amendment.
The governor also signed into law Senate Bill 1256, requiring Virginians to show photo ID at the polls starting in 2014, the second change to state voter identification policy in as many years. McDonnell issued an executive order alongside that bill directing state election officials to educate the public on the new law and give local voter registrars the equipment they need to produce free photo cards for voters who need them.
McDonnell also softened a bill to stiffen penalties for texting while driving, lowering the new minimum fine to $125 and making $250 the maximum fine. The bill sent to McDonnell by the legislature established a $250 fine for a first offense.
State lawmakers return to Richmond next Wednesday to consider McDonnell’s amendments that they have the power to accept or reject.
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