Lawmakers Table Youngkin Gas Tax, Other Budget Amendments

House majority leader Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, left, talks with Del. Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, during the start of a special session of the 2022 Virginia General Assembly to consider budget amendments, Friday June 17, 2022, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
House majority leader Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, left, talks with Del. Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, during the start of a special session of the 2022 Virginia General Assembly to consider budget amendments, Friday June 17, 2022, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin's proposed budget amendments met a mixed fate Friday, some clearing the General Assembly and others, including his push for a gas-tax holiday, voted down on a bipartisan basis.

Legislators sent the Republican governor a compromise spending plan on June 1, and he returned it earlier this week requesting several dozen amendments. They spent Friday churning through them and also elected two Supreme Court justices.

The governor did not seek changes to many budget provisions that would offer tax relief to families and working people, including one-time rebates. But he did push anew for a three-month suspension of the gas tax, which Democrats and one Republican senator have consistently opposed.

“Democrats failed to put politics aside for the good of Virginians — for a third time,” Youngkin tweeted after the amendment failed.

Youngkin's other amendments involved an array of spending and policy areas, including abortion and criminal law. House Democrats repeatedly accused him of overreaching.

“Stop trying to legislate failed policy in the budget," House Minority Leader Don Scott said.

On one amendment, even Republicans who control the House bucked the governor. A Republican made the motion to shelve a proposal to create a new felony penalty for certain actions during demonstrations aimed at judges or other officers of a court. Youngkin advanced the proposal after recent protests outside the northern Virginia homes of some U.S. Supreme Court justices.

The chamber also shelved a companion amendment for funding to the Department of Corrections for a potential increase in prison bed space associated with creating a new felony.

House Speaker Todd Gilbert said his caucus voted against the protest amendment because “it was a unique procedural move that we thought required additional vetting.”

The House agreed to the governor's other proposals, which then crossed over to face more opposition in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

On a party-line vote, the Senate defeated an amendment to further limit when public funds can be used for abortion services. Currently, Virginia denies state funding to women who are eligible for Medicaid and seek abortions, except when the mother’s life is at risk and in cases of rape, incest or severe fetal diagnoses. The amendment would have eliminated the exception for incapacitating fetal diagnoses.

Senate Democrats also blocked an amendment to provide the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University $1.6 million to research ways “to increase opportunities for K-12 students.” The former governor, a Democrat, has backed Youngkin's education initiatives.

Also, Senate Democrats voted down an amendment from Youngkin that would have allocated $229,570 in each year to add two support positions to the office of Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, who presides over the chamber. Republicans defended the spending.

“It’s not really funny because I have constituents who need help,” Earle-Sears said during that debate.

One Senate Republican, Emmett Hanger, voted with Democrats to defeat Youngkin's proposed suspension of the approximately 26-cent-per-gallon tax from July 1 through Sept. 30.

GOP Sen. Steve Newman favored the amendment, saying soaring inflation was hitting working Virginians “right between the eyes.”

Democratic Sen. George Barker moved that the amendment be tabled. He argued that funding for critical transportation and road projects would take a tax revenue hit while much of the benefit would go to out-of-state drivers or oil companies.

On a handful of issues, moderate Democrats joined with Republicans to secure the amendments' passage.

The Senate voted to approve an amendment adding language to the budget requiring each public university and community college to submit an annual report on freedom of expression and free speech and academic freedom to the Secretary of Education.

Several Senate Democrats also joined Republicans in approving an amendment to limit the use of earned-sentence credits by inmates to reduce their time behind bars.

Del. Rob Bell said an estimated 3,201 inmates would be eligible for early release, starting on July 1, under expanded credits approved by the legislature in 2020. Youngkin’s amendment would block the credits from being used by 556 inmates serving sentences for violent crimes, including capital murder, first-degree murder and rape.

Democrats, including Del. Michael Mullin, complained Youngkin was trying to roll back criminal justice reforms passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature in 2020 and would affect inmates “who have worked for years to become drug-free and to become fully rehabilitated.”

“This is step backward for our whole system,” Mullin said.

The Senate also agreed to an amendment expanding the type of institutes of higher education that can partner with K-12 systems on so-called lab schools, an initiative the Youngkin administration says will help foster education innovation.

Other amendments passed both chambers with broad bipartisan support. Those included a proposal to boost funding for historically Black colleges and universities, after many such institutions nationwide faced a wave of bomb threats this year.

They also voted to provide financial assistance to the families of two police officers killed at a private college this year.

This year’s budget process dragged on longer than in past years as House and Senate leaders ran down the clock on the regular session without reaching agreement on the spending plan and other key issues. Negotiators worked privately for about two months on a compromise the General Assembly adopted earlier this month.

Lawmakers also adopted three amendments Friday to the so-called caboose bill that makes technical changes to the current budget; the other budget bill covers the two-fiscal-year period that begins July 1. The legislation now returns to Youngkin, who can wield a line-item veto.