Governor Glenn Youngkin is sending 35 budget amendments to the General Assembly to approve on Friday, including a gas tax holiday, a ban on using state Medicaid funds for certain abortions, and a law that would make it a class 6 felony to picket or demonstrate outside a courthouse or residences of justices and judges. The Democratic Senate is expected to block Youngkin’s controversial changes, but eyes are on State Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) to see if he’ll vote with Republicans to approve the abortion funding ban.
Federally, the Hyde Amendment bans spending federal money on abortion, with exceptions in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. Virginia law includes an extra exception in cases where a physician “believes the fetus will be born with a gross and totally incapacitating physical deformity or with a gross and totally incapacitating mental deficiency.”
Youngkin’s amendment would block any state funds from the budget being used for abortion.
“So most Americans, but certainly most Virginians, oppose the idea of using tax dollars to pay for abortions,” Virginia Society for Human Life President Olivia Turner told The Virginia Star
Turner said that’s a strategy that Republicans successfully used once before, using their majorities in the General Assembly to bundle a ban into the 2019 budget despite having a Democratic governor. But for that to happen this year, a Democratic senator needs to flip on votes to approve the amendment.
Morrissey declined to comment on Thursday.
Turner said, “One hopes that Senator Morrissey, who has made it clear that he considers himself to be a pro-life advocate in the Senate, will step up and do the right thing so that we aren’t paying for these innocent unborn children who have disabilities to be killed with our tax dollars.”
State Sen. Jennifer Bosyko (D-Arlington) posted an explainer to Twitter laying out the case for not passing Youngkin’s amendment. She noted that each pregnancy is different, and highlighted the impact to financially disadvantaged Medicaid recipients.
“This financial aid was available to a Medicaid-eligible family who received a ‘gross and totally incapacitating’ pregnancy diagnosis and after an extensive case review by doctors at the Virginia Department of Health,” Boysko wrote. “This aid, on average, helped about two dozen women & families at a minimal financial cost to the Commonwealth. Unfortunately, Governor Youngkin callously stripped that aid with an amendment to the budget leaving vulnerable families at risk and with nowhere to turn if it passes.”
Gas Tax Holiday
Youngkin’s proposed gas tax holiday in the budget would restrict annual tax increases to two percent and would suspend statewide taxes July 1 through September 30. That’s different from his original proposal earlier this year that included a 100 percent reduction May 1 through July 31, followed by gradual increases back to the original level over two months. The Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee blocked that bill.
By legislating through the budget, Youngkin can bypass the strongly Democratic committees straight to the floor, but in addition to Democratic control of the Senate, Republican State Senator Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta) may also vote against the change after voting against Youngkin’s earlier gas tax holiday.
The budget is law for the two years it is in force, and Youngkin’s budget amendments include a crack down on protesting to influence court proceedings after high-profile protests outside U.S. Supreme Court justices’ residences amid ongoing uncertainty about a pending Roe v. Wade-related decision.
Virginia law already includes a law creating a class 3 misdemeanor for picketing outside residences of any individual in a disruptive way. Youngkin’s amendment would make it a class 6 felony to picket or demonstrate near courts; buildings occupied by judges, jurors, witnesses, court officers, or court employees; or residences, “with the intent of interfering with, obstructing, or impeding the administration of justice.”
That’s language similar to a federal statute that makes such activity punishable by fines or up to a year in jail. Youngkin and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan called on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to enforce that law against protestors outside justices’ residences.
The budget also includes other proposals including funding more positions in various offices, and expanding lab school provisions.
“With five-dollar gas prices and plenty of money in the system, I’m continuing the effort to lower gas prices for hardworking Virginians and my hope is, this time, that Democrats will join us to give Virginians a break this summer,” Youngkin said in a Wednesday press release. “We’re also restoring educational freedom by protecting the education scholarship tax credits which expand parental choice. Finally, I am asking that the General Assembly help keep our state and federal judges safe. I’m grateful for the hard work of leaders in the House and Senate for presenting a budget to me that delivers key priorities for the Commonwealth, these amendments build on that and further our goal to make Virginia the best place to live, work and raise a family.”
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Glenn Youngkin” by Glenn Youngkin. Background Photo “Virginia Capitol” by Doug Kerr. CC BY-SA 2.0.