Despite Disagreements, Budget Talks Likely to be Smooth

The drama that has since surrounded the budget talks between Governor McAuliffe and the General Assembly has ceased, reports The Washington Post.

Early bird budget fixes and a newly muted Medicaid push, and no threat of elections in 2015 looks like the budget negotiations to be much calmer than they have been in the previous months and there is little danger that partisan politics will derail the budget discussions.

“We certainly can come to an agreement, because that’s what the people want us to do,” said House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox (R- Colonial Heights).

Brian Coy, a spokesman for McAuliffe said: “I don’t think there’s anything in the governor’s budget proposal that would be just cause for bipartisan cooperation to just completely break down in Virginia government.”

Another Republican insider said, “If we don’t do anything this year,we’re okay with that.”

GOP Shoots Down McAuliffe’s Gun Restrictions

Virginia Republicans are not on board with Governor Terry McAuliffe’s plan to limit who can buy a gun, reports The Washington Post.

His plan, which included the renewal of the state’s once-a-month limit on hand gun purchases and the requirement that buyers at gun shows undergo background checks, were met with praise from gun-control activists who celebrated his position on the polarizing issue.

Additionally, McAuliffe wanted to keep guns out of the hands of people convicted of crimes related to domestic assault and taking away permits of parents who are behind on child support payments.

The General Assembly, which is Republican controlled, has shown no tolerance for restricting gun ownership. They say that this package, like McAuliffe’s work on abortion rights and climate change, panders to the left.

“The governor is a pure political animal and always has been,” said Del. C. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah). “This is purely political play on his part. I font think he has any expectation that any of this is viable or defensible. He’s playing to his base on an election year issue that he wrongly believes resonates,” added Gilbert, a criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor.

McAuliffe, who revealed his plan a day after the second anniversary of Sandy Hook, is adamant about finding a compromise on this issue.

Rachel Thomas, a spokeswoman for McAuliffe said, “Keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of criminals and others prone to violence shouldn’t be a political issue, and it won’t become one as long as Virginia leaders put the safety of their constituents ahead of extreme, special interest politics.”

Probation Officers Recommend 10-12 Years for McDonnell

Under federal sentencing guidelines, former governor Bob McDonnell could face a prison sentence anywhere from 10 years and a month to 12 years, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch. 

In a report filed Dec. 2 by a source who is familiar with the guidelines confirmed these sentences toThe Washington Post.

After a six-week federal trial a jury found McDonnell guilty of 11 corruption charges and his wife guilty of 9. However, since the end of the trial in September, a judge threw out one of the former first lady’s convictions bringing her total to 8.

As of now they recommendation laid out by the guidelines is still preliminary and is expected to be argued by both sides.

“I think most people were thinking 10 to 12 years when they looked at the guidelines for public corruption,” said Andrew G. McBride, a former federal prosecutor in Virginia and current defense lawyer. “I think there’s also kind of a consensus that that’s extremely high for the conduct involved here.”

The recommendations are determined by a complicated formula that takes into consideration the nature of the crime, the defendant’s background as well as other factors.

McDonnell’s Lawyers Now Tackle Page Counts

Bob McDonnell’s defense lawyers are not fighting for a page count on McDonnell’s sentencing memorandum, reports The Richmond Times-Dispatch. His lawyers have filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer to be allowed to surpass the 30-page limit on the memorandum.

“The government will likely ask for a very substantial prison sentence for conduct the defense submits is outside the heartland for public corruption cases,” McDonnell’s lawyers wrote.

The lawyers also claim that the extra pages are necessary to completely address “the entire life of the defendant.” They are seeking the ability to be able to file a 50-page memorandum on Dec. 23, the date which all of the parties are required to file their positions on sentencing. The U.S. attorney’s office remains opposed to the request.

“Mr. McDonnell stands before this court convicted of 11 felonies. He should be afforded no greater or lesser consideration from this court than an other defendants. As such, his motion that the court set aside the page limitations…for every other criminal defendant should be denied,” wrote the U.S. attorney’s office. They also argue that more than 30 pages of briefing is unnecessary.

Prosecutors also wrote, “Mr. McDonnell testified on direct examination, without objection from the Government, about the vast majority of his life, including: his parents’ background, times at high school, ROTC scholarship to Notre Dame, military experience, law school experience, prosecutorial experience, experience as a private practice attorney, his children and siblings, his General Assembly experience, his campaigns for  Virginia attorney general and governor, his professional accomplishments as an elected official and his relationship with his wife.”

Prosecutors continue to defend the need for the extension in order to present ” a full analysis of the unusual factors that distinguish this case and this defendant from any other public-corruption case on record.”

McDonnell and his wife Maureen are set to be sentencing on Feb. 20, after they were convicted in September by a federal jury for accepting more than $177,000 in gifts and loans from former StarScientific CEO Jonnie R. Williams, in exchange for promoting the company’s new dietary supplement.

Maureen McDonnell Gets One Conviction Tossed Out

Maureen McDonnell has gotten her conviction for obstruction of justice tossed out, reports The Richmond Times-Dispatch. U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer made the decision saying that “obstruction of justice requires more than a misleading note.”

Spencer did however, rejected the requests from former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife for acquittal or a new trial on the corruption charges they were found guilty of in September. Bob McDonnell was found guilty of 11 of the 13 charges and Mrs. McDonnell was found guilty on 9 of the 13.

The obstruction of justice charge came as a result of Mrs. McDonnell’s efforts to cover up gifts given to her and her husband from Jonnie R. Williams Sr. when she was initially interviewed by prosecutors.

The former first lady also wrote a note to Williams claiming that she had always intended to return the expensive clothing he bought for her. Mrs. McDonnell’s lawyers claimed that she didn’t know she was under investigation and that her intent to return clothing had nothing to do with the interview.

 

Puckett’s Resignation Foils McAuliffe’s Plans for Medicaid Expansion

Governor McAuliffe has appeared to run out of options to pull off his campaign promise to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, reports The Washington Post.

This defeat lead to the aggressive voicemail he left the man at the root of the problem, Southwest Virginia Democrat Phillip Puckett, who had quit the Senate just days prior to the vote leaving control of the Senate to the Republicans.

“Hey Phil? Terry McAuliffe,” started McAuliffe in his message. “I want you to know we lost the vote, 20 to 19, in the Senate. Medicaid is done. I hope you sleep easy tonight, buddy.”

Puckett’s resignation occurred after discussions of jobs for himself and his daughter with Republicans. Democrats had worked to convince him to stay with offers of making his daughter a state agency head or federal judge.

It is clearer than ever now that Puckett was vital to the passage of McAuliffe’s plan. It also clear that the situation, which spurred a criminal investigation has left lasting hard feelings between the parties. Puckett’s resignation further incubates the increasingly partisan atmosphere in Richmond, and will undoubtedly make it even more difficult for McAuliffe to work with the GOP-controlled legislature to accomplish anything during the remainder of his term.

McAuliffe Announces Nutritional Panel

On Thursday, Governor McAuliffe announced his plan to create the Commonwealth Council on Bridging the Nutritional Divide to tackle hunger in the state, reports The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

McAuliffe called hunger in a state where agriculture is a big business “totally unacceptable”. He signed Executive Order No. 34 at a ceremony held at Richmond’s Little House Green Grocery. His wife, Dorothy McAuliffe will head the new council.

“Virginia has a $52 billion agricultural industry, and we have 300,000 children a day go to school hungry,” said Mrs. McAuliffe. “We need to do a better job of connecting the dots.”

The governor also highlighted the the disparity calling it an embarrassment that the state had so many hungry children.

“We should not tolerate one child going to school hungry,” he stated.

The first lady has worked on a variety of food initiatives since her husband took office in January, which include a federally funded program that offers students in participating school districts free breakfast and lunch.

“Hunger is real, and hunger is here,” she commented, continuing “Too many hard-working Virginia families are choosing between paying their bills and buying groceries.”

Access to”proper nutrition” she said, “isn’t a privilege, it’s a basic human right.”

 

Virginia GOP Urge McAuliffe to Stop Travel From Ebola-Affected Countries

Three prominent Virginia Republicans have begun to put pressure on Gov. Terry McAuliffe to block travelers from Ebola-affected countries from entering the state, reports The Washington Post.

This week Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William), Sen. Richard Black (R-Loudoun), and Del. Mark Berg (R-Frederick) wrote in a letter to McAuliffe that he should consider suing Washington Dulles International Airport or the federal government in order to make sure that anyone with the potential of bringing Ebola into Virginia get quarantined.

Marshall stated in a phone interview that, “He [McAuliffe] has significant influence with President Obama because of his personal relationship as a fundraiser for Democrats,” adding that, “He has been given vast powers to protect the citizens of Virginia from a situation we face.”

According to the governor’s spokesman, Brian Coy, McAuliffe received a briefing from multiple departments including health, emergency management, and public safety on the Ebola issue. Coy said that “He has confidence in the professional responders and the plan Virginia has, should we have a positive confirmation of these cases,” adding, that McAuliffe’s office is working on a response to the lawmaker’s letter.

In a statement Thursday from Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond, the hospital said that one patient had been tested for Ebola, the test came back negative, and the patient was discharged.

Governor McAuliffe Announces Budget Cuts

On Wednesday Governor McAuliffe announced his plan for budget cuts aimed to remedy the state’s budget shortfall, which includes 565 layoffs, reports The Washington Post. 

The state employees slated to lose their jobs mostly work in the Department of Corrections, where Virginia plans to close a prison, residential facility, a diversion center, and plan to postpone the opening of a women’s prison. These cuts will save Virginia almost $4 million in “operational efficiencies.”

In addition, the state plans on gaining another $2.5 million in revenue when the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control increases the mark-up on distilled spirits.

The cuts announced can take effect immediately as they require no approval or action from the General Assembly.

On December 17, the governor will reveal a larger, revised budget plan for how to save money in the 2016 fiscal year, which will require the vote of the Republican controlled General Assembly.

This year was the first year outside of the national recession that the fund revenues in Virginia declined. They fell about $438 million, or 0.9 percent, despite the predicted 1.6 percent growth.

McAuliffe Aid Speaks Out About Puckett Call

Paul Reagan, chief of staff to Governor McAuliffe apologized Friday regarding his phone call to former Democratic state Sen. Phillip Puckett, reports The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Reagan said he acted with “poor judgement” adding “in the fight to expand health care to uninsured Virginians, I was overzealous,” in a statement issued by the governor’s press office.

Controversy arose once it was discovered that Reagan, had made a call trying to convince Puckett not to resign so Democrats could maintain control, thus easily passing the governor’s plan for medicaid expansion. In the call Reagan suggested that if Puckett were to stay on, the McAuliffe administration could help find his daughter a job.

The message further illustrates the level of desperation felt by the Democrats as a result of Puckett’s resignation as Republicans gained power were able to keep Medicaid expansion at bay.

Brian Coy, press secretary for Governor McAuliffe said in a statement Thursday when the situation came to light that “No further conversations about this topic ever occurred. No position was ever formally offered.”