RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — During a drama-filled day at the Virginia State Capitol, a gas tax holiday proposal was rejected, a top Democrat was ousted from leadership and an effort to create new marijuana penalties failed.
The politically-divided General Assembly came back to Richmond to act on 26 vetoes and more than 100 amendments from Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Other matters stole the show in the morning.
Gas tax holiday rejected
Youngkin’s push to suspend the state’s portion of the gas tax was rejected by the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee on a bipartisan vote of 12-3. The legislation sought to eliminate the tax entirely for 90 days starting in May before phasing it back in fully in October.
“It’s a chance for us to give Virginians a break when they need it most. So yeah, I’m disappointed that the Democrats don’t see that and they continue to think it’s their money,” Youngkin told reporters during a brief appearance at the State Capitol.
Opponents of the gas tax holiday raised concerns about hurting transportation funding and questions about whether consumers would actually see savings.
“There is only one reason why the conditions of the roads look the way they are today: money, they don’t have the money,” Senator Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said. “This whole thing could not have come at a worse time from the standpoint of highway maintenance.”
“We can’t stop inflation by having a tax holiday, we can’t. Number two, construction costs are going up rapidly…and then three, I just simply don’t think that a gas tax holiday makes a difference,” said Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax).
The legislation is still alive in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates but the rejection signifies an uphill battle.
Top Democrat removed from leadership
Drama from House Democrats generated more headlines.
Former House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn was ousted as minority leader by a thin margin in a closed-door caucus meeting.
Filler-Corn declined to comment on camera but, in a statement, she thanked Virginians for allowing her to become the first woman and first person of Jewish faith to serve as Speaker.
“I was proud of all that we accomplished after taking the majority in 2019 and was willing to step up as Minority Leader once more to regain that majority. Our caucus is made up of 48 talented and diverse individuals and I look forward to working with them to retake the majority,” Filler-Corn said.
Delegate Don Scott (D-Portsmouth), who’s hoping to fill the now-empty top spot, refused to give specific reasons justifying Filler-Corn’s removal.
“It’s family business,” Scott said.
Bill creating new marijuana penalties, cracking down on Delta-8 dead
The Senate used a procedural maneuver to kill a bill amended by Youngkin that could have created new misdemeanor penalties for marijuana possession starting at two ounces.
Youngkin won’t have an opportunity to approve the original bill that came to his desk as is standard, according to Senator Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William).
“Number one, it created new crimes,” said McPike in an interview before the vote. “It’s a non-starter. That substitute needs to fail and it’s important that folks do a reset on this. I think there was good intention with the original bill.”
The now-dead bill as passed set new per package and per serving limits on THC that sent shock waves through the CBD industry. Many feared they would be forced to discontinue products.
The legislation also sought to ban the retail sale of Delta-8 cannabis products and certain edibles that may be appealing to kids.
“For this body to fail to take action this year…I think it’s really an egregious irresponsibility,” said Senator Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico).
Youngkin’s vetoes were either uncontested or upheld, despite pushback from Democrats.
“This is what we’re up against. Nonsensical rationale for killing bipartisan legislation that could’ve helped thousands,” Delegate Marcia Price (D-Newport News) said on the House floor.
Budget stalemate continues
Notably absent from the action on Wednesday was a vote on the state’s next budget. Lawmakers have been at a stalemate since the regular session ended in March.
Senator Steve Newman (R-Bedford) isn’t expecting a deal until next month.
“We’re still making some progress but there are a couple of big issues, including how much money we’re going to return to working Virginians in tax cuts. That’s still up in the air,” Newman said.