RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – On Friday, the General Assembly again rejected Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s push for a gas tax exemption in Virginia.
Lawmakers met Friday to vote on these and 37 other changes to bipartisan budget compromises proposed by Youngkin.
The divided legislature rejected Youngkin’s attempt to limit state funding for abortion services but approved other changes that will reverse new criminal justice reform and pave the way for the creation of new schools.
The Senate has rejected a proposed gas tax suspension by a vote of 21 to 18. The legislature voted to allow it for the day, effectively killing it.
Youngkin revived his push for a gas tax holiday after several previous efforts failed.
The plan would have suspended the state tax — 26 cents a gallon on gasoline and 27 cents a gallon on diesel fuel — from July 1 to September 30.
Republicans argued that a temporary tax cut was urgently needed as Virginians see record prices at the pump.
“Every time someone goes to a gas pump, swipes their credit card and fills up their gas tank, it feels like a slap in the face, at least to me,” said delegate Michael Webert (R-Fauquier).
Opponents said suspending the tax could boost retailers’ profits without guaranteeing savings for consumers.
Delegate Danica Roem (D-Manassas) expressed concerns about the price of the proposal and the impact it would have on funding for transportation improvements.
“We underfund transportation by billions of billions of dollars a year every year and our constituents are getting killed because of it,” Roem said.
Youngkin used budget changes to take a stand on abortion and respond to protests that erupted after the US Supreme Court’s draft opinion in Roe v. Wade was leaked.
A change would have further limited when taxpayer money can be used for abortion services in Virginia.
“Taxpayers shouldn’t be held responsible for killing babies,” said Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield).
The amendment effectively failed in the Senate after lawmakers voted 20-19 to pass the proposal.
According to Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, the amendment would have banned Medicaid patients from receiving funds to terminate pregnancies with a severe fetal diagnosis.
“The rejection of this cruel and discriminatory Commonwealth budget amendment is a victory for access to health care,” Jamie Lockhart, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, said in a statement after the vote. “If Gov. Youngkin’s heartless amendment had passed, it would have further exacerbated the health inequalities faced by blacks and browns in Virginia.”
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has shelved another proposal to criminalize protests aimed at influencing or intimidating judges. Youngkin’s amendment was inspired by anti-abortion protests held outside the homes of US Supreme Court justices in Northern Virginia.
criminal justice reform
Lawmakers approved an amendment by Youngkin that reverses new criminal justice reform that takes effect July 1.
The legislation expanded how much time certain inmates can earn from their good behavior sentence behind bars.
The Virginia Department of Corrections said during a recent presentation that inmates cannot apply earned sentence credits to violent crimes, but under the 2020 law, those with combined sentences can use the credits to reduce the nonviolent portion.
Youngkin’s amendment, now approved, will prevent more than 500 people with combined sentences from using the program.
“Many of these people have received letters telling them and their loved ones that they were going home and now the rug is being pulled out from under them. You’ve done the work. They have stood the test of time and I think it is cruel and inhumane to change the rules two weeks before they are scheduled to travel home,” said Senator Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax).
Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) argued that this change corrects an oversight in the bill.
“It’s a gap we should fill. We have a duty to do what we set out to do and to cut back on it,” Obenshain said at a plenary debate ahead of the vote. “If we don’t pass this amendment, we will know about it…if any of those 41 rapists commit another rape. If one of those 43 killers commits another murder.”
The amendment passed the Democrat-controlled Senate by a 22-17 vote, even after failed attempts to reverse the reform earlier this year.
Youngkin’s initiative to create additional alternatives to traditional public schools barely got through in the Senate.
Lt. Governor Winsome Sears cast the crucial vote to expand which colleges can partner with local school districts to open “lab schools,” an effort that was funded with $100 million in the state budget compromise.
Youngkin’s amendment specifically allows certain private schools, not just public colleges and universities, to participate. The governor has argued that this would pave the way for more innovation and allow the state to move away from “one-size-fits-all” education.
“It would fulfill its goal of privatizing public education,” said Senator Mamie Locke (D-Hampton).
Immediately after that vote, the Senate rejected another element of the plan. If it had passed, state funding would have followed public school students who chose to attend laboratory schools.
Another Youngkin amendment to “encourage dialogue, debate, freedom of expression and inquiry” on college campuses also passed. It calls for schools to include an official commitment and guidelines for support in their six-year plan submitted to the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia.