Virginia House Democrats Defeat Republican Proposals to Alter American Rescue Plan Act Spending Bill

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RICHMOND, Virginia – The House of Delegates voted against several Republican attempts to change proposals to allocate $4.3 billion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds on Tuesday afternoon. House Republicans led by Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) introduced an alternate bill, but it was defeated 53 to 43. House Democrats also defeated amendments from Delegate Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach) and attorney general candidate Delegate Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach).

“It is a shame that despite our concerns that this process was not opened up to the traditional committee vetting process, that members on this side of the aisle were told, and frankly on your side of the aisle were told, ‘Your input is not welcome.’ I would have hoped that in this process we would have at least been afforded the opportunity to explain our bill, but instead we are left with the inevitable two minutes,” Gilbert said. “We didn’t want to have to knock on the door to the smoke-filled room, Madame Speaker. We wanted to participate in this process. So I hate that we’ve been left with this.”

Gilbert’s description of the alternate bill highlights similar-but-different proposals to those made by Governor Ralph Northam. One GOP proposal would provide $1.3 billion to refund the unemployment trust fund, partially funded by Northam’s proposal. Another would change the formula used to allocate $250 million for school repairs and give schools greater flexibility to choose the type of projects, instead of being focused on HVAC.

Gilbert also highlighted proposed $5,000 bonuses to police, deputies, and correctional officers, not just state police. Gilbert’s proposal would have created a Group Violence Intervention Board, and would have funded Project Ceasefire — proposals that Gilbert originally introduced in 2019. Gilbert’s proposal is based on a similar program using a deterrence strategy to target gang violence in Boston, Massachusetts.

Davis’ proposal focused on allocating $200,000 to create a Virginia Diverse Educator Scholarship Fund and Program. The scholarships would go to “diverse students” — students accepted to or enrolled in an education preparation program at a Historically Black College or University (HBCU).

“It allows our HBCUs to provide two scholarships annually to individuals who want to go there, become educated there, become teachers, and go back and teach in those communities,” Davis said.

That money would have been subtracted from the proposed $100 million for need-based financial aid for low- and moderate-income in-state undergraduate students at public higher education institutions. Davis noted that there’s no allocation methodology for the $100 million in the budget bill. He said his proposal would make sure students at HBCUs get some of the funding.

Delegate Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond) moved to bypass Davis’ amendment. She said that the funding for low- and moderate-income students would be allocated fairly.

“I’m delighted to say that this budget reflects our commitment to serve all students of this commonwealth,” McQuinn said. “This gesture will help us reverse the past practice of limited resources going to the HBCUs. And every budget since the Democrats’ majority has been in place, we have increased funding for the HBCUs.”

Miyares launched his proposal by aiming at his opponent in the 2021 attorney general contest.

“Mark Herring recently tweeted that it’s his responsibility as attorney general of Virginia to keep Virginians safe, and I happen to agree with him. The question is, do you feel safer today than you did eight years ago when he took office? By all objective measures he’s failed at his job. Because what we’ve seen is a crime explosion in Virginia,” Miyares said.

Miyares’ amendment would insert language to allow the attorney general to prosecute people who are not allowed to purchase firearms because background check results reveal that they’re not allowed to legally possess firearms.

“My amendment provides the funds so that the attorney general has the tools to prosecute these crimes,” he said.

The budget bill without the Republican changes will have its third reading in the House on Wednesday.

In the Senate, there was bipartisan agreement to postpone hearing amendments to the bill until Wednesday, due to the high number of proposed amendments.

“After conferring with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle, they have graciously agreed to pass the bill by for the day,” Minority Leader Thomas Norment, Jr. (R-James City) said.

He noted that his caucus was willing to waive the third reading of the bill, so that the extra day taken to consider it wouldn’t delay passing the bill.

“Less than an hour ago, each of us got on our desk the yellow folder which is chock-a-block full, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it as full of proposed amendments to our budget,” Senator Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) said. “It seems to me and also to those on the other side of the aisle that we do need some time to read them and reflect on them and be prepared to vote wisely on them tomorrow.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Network.  Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “House of Delegates” by Germanna CC. CC BY 2.0.

 

 

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