State lawmakers reach halfway point with major issues still ahead

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RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ7) State lawmakers have reached the halfway point in the General Assembly session, and both Republicans and Democrats are claiming victories.

But with some early examples of bipartisan compromise, the biggest headlines might still be ahead.

"We’ve rolled out a very aggressive agenda and we’ve pursued it," said House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah County). "We think the agenda we’ve laid out helps Virginians in a meaningful way."

Now that crossover is behind them, and each house has completed work on its own legislation, leaders on both sides of the aisle are crowing about their accomplishments.

"As you can see on the House floor," House Minority Leader David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) told reporters Wednesday afternoon, "the power of 49 makes a really big difference in how some of these votes turn out."

After the Democratic wave in the November election, it was unclear if lawmakers would get along, but a new Democratic governor and Republican leadership willing to talk have paved the way for compromise.

"I think it’s given people an incentive on both sides of the aisle to say, hey we need to work together," said Delegate Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke).

"We’ve had a really good session. I think it’s been cordial," added Delegate Nick Rush (R-Christiansburg). "We’ve agreed to disagree on some things. And we’ve agreed on a lot of things."

Still unresolved are some of the biggest issues, including Medicaid expansion.

"We’ve had two productive conversations with the Governor on Medicaid," said House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights). "As you know we’ve released our six principles that are very important for us. And we’re just going to have to see how those negotiations go."

Democrats remain optimistic.

"I definitely think that a mechanism to expand coverage for the 400,000 Virginians who would qualify for expansion, I think it’s coming," said Delegate Chris Hurst (D-Blacksburg).

Crafting a new budget is arguably the most important task that lawmakers will accomplish this session.

We’ll learn more about their priorities next week, when House and Senate money committees release their versions of the two-year spending plan.