In his final State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe warned legislators not to pass bills such as ones banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy or restricting which bathroom transgender individuals can use.
“I want to make it very clear that I will veto any legislation that discriminates against LGBT Virginians or undermines the constitutional health care rights of Virginia women,” McAuliffe told a joint meeting of the General Assembly on the opening day of its 2017 session.
McAuliffe, a Democrat who is entering the last year of his four-year term, discussed strides toward economic development and announced that the Navy Federal Credit Union has agreed to locate 1,400 new jobs and invest $102 million in Frederick County.
“We took every meeting we could get and convinced job creators to bring new operations to our commonwealth, or to buy the world-class goods, agricultural products and services our businesses create,” McAuliffe said.
He linked those achievements to social policies.
“As we begin our work together this session, our neighbor North Carolina remains mired in a divisive and counterproductive battle over laws its legislature passed that target the rights of LGBT citizens,” McAuliffe said. “As we have seen in that state and others, attacks on equality and women’s health care rights don’t just embarrass the states that engage in them – they kill jobs.
Another focus of the address was education. McAuliffe said Virginia invested more than $1 billion in public education last year, the most in the state’s history. He said his administration is transforming the K-12 system to prepare students for the jobs of the 21st century.
Last year, Virginia saw 149,000 jobs open in the technology sector and 36,000 jobs in cyber security, McAuliffe said. He said Virginia has created 167,100 net new jobs over the past three years.
In his speech, the governor also addressed transportation, care for veterans, climate change, the opioid epidemic and reformation of the juvenile justice system.
The budget that McAuliffe has submitted to the General Assembly includes funding to provide same-day service to Virginians who suffer from a behavioral health crisis; a $5.3 million increase for substance abuse disorder services; and new tools to prevent overdose deaths. In addition, McAuliffe has proposed legislation and funding to expand mental health screenings in jail.
“One of the most severe challenges facing our commonwealth today is how we care for our fellow Virginians who suffer from behavioral health disorders,” McAuliffe said. “As too many recent tragic events have taught us, our current system is too fragmented and underfunded.”
Del. Ronald A. Villanueva of Virginia Beach and state Sen. Siobhan S. Dunnavant of Henrico County delivered the Republican response to the governor’s address.
Villanueva emphasized the positive effects that the election of Donald Trump as president might have on Virginia, from increased defense spending to the enactment of policies to help the coal industry.
Dunnavant called McAuliffe’s decision not to include federal funding for Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act in his budget a “positive acknowledgment of the changes coming to Washington.”
Villanueva said Republicans would attempt to rise above “partisan squabbles” in the last legislative session before the 2017 gubernatorial election.
“The common-sense priorities we have set for this session are conservative, but they are also intended to garner widespread support from both parties,” Villanueva said.
Those priorities include some of the same issues McAuliffe pinpointed in his address – namely the heroin addiction crisis, funding for public schools, and economic development and incentive programs.
But Dunnavant and Villanueva also touched on issues like expanding school choice, eliminating fraudulent welfare spending, and reducing governmental regulation across the board.
“We will ensure our public safety professionals have the resources they need and address compensation deficiencies for our State Police and Sheriff’s Deputies,” Dunnavant said.
She reiterated a commitment to balance the budget without raising taxes. Lawmakers are facing a $1.5 billion revenue shortfall.
SaraRose Martin and Jim Thomma, Staff Writers
Capital News Service