RICHMOND, Virginia – The Democratic-controlled Virginia Senate rejected almost all budget amendment proposals from Republican members during a lengthy session Thursday afternoon.
As the Senate moves closer to a passage vote on its comprehensive budget, Democrats made it clear they are ultimately running the show.
During the three-hour discussion, nine Republican Senators’ proposed budget amendments were rejected, five were withdrawn by the sponsors and only one amendment proposal was agreed to by the Senate after a 20-20 split among members and then a “yea” vote from the Chair.
“I assume all of them would be rejected so, in the end, [Democras] had to push one through to say: oh look we passed one [amendment],” Sen. Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach) told The Virginia Star after the debates had ended.
Of the nine floor budget amendments rejected by Democrats, some proposals had substantial fiscal impacts while others had none.
One proposed amendment that was eventually rejected by voice vote, offered by Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City County), would have given the Capitol Square Preservation Council expanded authority to review and approve changes to any monuments or artifacts within Capitol Square.
Sen. Mark Peake’s (R-Lynchburg) proposed budget amendment prohibiting COVID-19 vaccines from being mandated by any department, local government or other entity on people’s objection based on their religious tenets or practices was also rejected (19-Y 20-N 1-A).
Norment and Peake’s amendments both had no fiscal impact.
A proposal that would have allocated $23.1 million from the general fund in fiscal year 2022 to provide elected and deputy sheriffs as well as regional jail superintendents and officers a five percent salary increase was introduced by Sen. William Stanley (R-Franklin County).
Stanley gave a passionate speech to his colleagues on the necessity of a pay raise for law enforcement. Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax County) who is Chair of the Finance and Appropriations Committee asked the body to defeat the proposal because a similar action was already in the budget. The amendment was rejected (19-Y 21-N).
One rejected budget amendment from Senators Steve Newman (R-Bedford) and Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico) would have allocated $300 million from federal Coronavirus relief funds for localities to give to parents as reimbursements for educational and childcare costs incurred because of COVID-19’s impact on in-person instruction. The reimbursements would have gone up to $500 per child.
Sen. Ryan McDougle’s (R-Hanover) amendment would have given the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative $50 million in fiscal year 2021 to provide broadband to people in more rural, underserved communities throughout Virginia. It was rejected (19-Y 20-N 1-A).
“Unfortunately, the atmosphere in the General Assembly is reflective of the national atmosphere, its highly charged and highly partisan,” Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) told The Star. “Many of these budget amendments would have done great good for an awful lot of Virginians and Democrats just decided they are just going to lock down and reject everything even if [the amendments] had no fiscal impact.
“I think it’s unfortunate we missed some opportunities, but that’s the way it works. They have the majority; they can kill good bills [and] they did.”
The only Republican budget amendment that was adopted by the body was offered by Dunnavant and called for personal care and respite nurses to be allowed to conduct visits with patients virtually.
Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) told The Star the process should not have taken as long as it did because Senators knew that proposed budget amendments were not going to be heard, but that was not adhered to. Locke also mentioned that when Republicans held the majority those proposals were not taken up.
The Senate will most likely pass its budget during today’s session, and then it will go to the House of Delegates for approval.
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