RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)–On Friday, the General Assembly once again rejected Governor Glenn Youngkin’s push for a gas tax holiday in Virginia.
Lawmakers convened on Friday to vote on this and 37 other changes proposed by Youngkin to bipartisan budget compromises.
The divided legislature rejected Youngkin’s attempt to restrict state funding of abortion services but approved other amendments that will roll back a new criminal justice reform and pave the way for the creation of new schools.
The Senate shot down a proposed gas tax suspension on a vote of 21-18. Lawmakers voted to pass it by for the day, effectively killing it.
Youngkin revived his push for a gas tax holiday after several previous efforts failed.
The plan would’ve suspended the state tax–26 cents per gallon for gasoline and 27 cents per gallon for diesel fuel–from July 1 through September 30.
Republicans argued a temporary tax cut is desperately needed as Virginians see record prices at the pump.
“Every time someone walks up to a pump, swipes their credit card and fills their gas tank, at least for me it feels like getting punched in the face,” Delegate Michael Webert (R-Fauquier) said.
Opponents said suspending the tax could drive up profits for distributors without guaranteeing savings for consumers.
Delegate Danica Roem (D-Manassas) raised concerns about the proposal’s price tag and the impact it would have on funding for transportation improvements.
“We are wildly underfunding transportation by billions, with a b, dollars per year, every year and our constituents are getting killed because of it,” Roem said.
Youngkin used budget amendments to take a stance on abortion and respond to protests that broke out after the U.S. Supreme Court’s draft opinion on Roe v. Wade was leaked.
One change would’ve further limited when taxpayer dollars can be used for abortion services in Virginia.
“Taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for killing babies,” said Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield).
The amendment effectively failed in the Senate after lawmakers voted 20 to 19 to table the proposal.
According to Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, the amendment would’ve banned Medicaid patients from receiving funding to end pregnancies with a severe fetal diagnosis.
“The rejection of this cruel and discriminatory amendment to the commonwealth’s budget is a victory for health care access,” said Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia Executive Director Jamie Lockhart in a statement after the vote. “If adopted, Governor Youngkin’s heartless amendment would have further exacerbated the health disparities Black and Brown people face in Virginia.”
The Republican-controlled House of Delegates shelved another proposal to create a felony penalty for protests that aim to influence or intimidate judges. The amendment from Youngkin was inspired by abortion rights protests held outside the homes of U.S. Supreme Court justices in Northern Virginia.
Criminal Justice Reform
Lawmakers approved an amendment from Youngkin rolling back a new criminal justice reform taking effect July 1.
The legislation expanded how much time certain inmates can earn off of their sentence for good behavior behind bars.
The Virginia Department of Corrections said during a recent presentation that inmates cannot apply earned sentence credits to violent offenses but, under the bill passed in 2020, those with combined sentences can use the credits to reduce the non-violent portion.
Youngkin’s now-approved amendment will prevent more than 500 people with combined sentences from taking advantage of the program.
“Many of these people received letters telling them and their loved ones that they would be going home and now they’re having the rug pulled out from under them. They’ve done the work. They’ve proven themselves and to change the rules two weeks before they’re supposed to be going home I believe is cruel and inhumane,” said Senator Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax) said.
Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), argued this amendment corrected an oversight in the bill.
“This is a loophole that we should close. We have an obligation to do what we set out to do and limit this,” Obenshain said during a floor debate before the vote. “If we don’t pass this amendment we’re going to hear about it…when one of these 41 rapists commit another rape. When one of these 43 murderers commit another murder.”
The amendment passed in the Democrat-controlled Senate on a vote of 22 to 17, even after attempts to repeal the reform failed earlier this year.
Youngkin’s initiative to create additional alternatives to traditional public schools barely squeaked by in the Senate.
Lt. Governor Winsome Sears cast the tie-breaking vote to expand which institutions of higher education can partner with local school districts to open so-called “lab schools,” an effort that was allocated $100 million in the state budget compromise.
Youngkin’s amendment notably allows certain private schools, not just public colleges and universities, to get involved. The governor has argued this will pave the way for more innovation and allow the state to move away from “one-size-fits-all” education.
“It would satisfy his goal of privatizing public education,” said Senator Mamie Locke (D-Hampton).
Immediately following that vote, the Senate rejected another component of the plan. If passed, state funding would’ve followed public school students who chose to attend lab schools.
Another amendment from Youngkin to “promote dialogue, debate, free speech and free inquiry” on college campuses was also passed. It calls for schools to include an official commitment and policies supporting it in their six-year plan submitted to the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia.