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Virginia Senate whiffs on VMSDEP fix a second time

President pro tempore of the Virginia Senate Louise Lucas and Majority Leader Scott Surovell during Monday's special session.
Brad Kutner
Radio IQ
President pro tempore of the Virginia Senate Louise Lucas and Majority Leader Scott Surovell during Monday's special session.

Senate Democrats in Richmond once again failed to pass a bill to fix issues with a state veterans education benefit program Monday. It was the second special session held to address the issue and dragged into the evening.

“We have a bill that will solve everyone’s problems. But instead, we’re not going to vote on it because of a procedural objection,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell, chastising Republicans for failing to cross party lines and approve a sped-up vote on the majority’s suggested changes to the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program, or VMSDEP.

The program was reined in by the legislature and Governor Glenn Youngkin during the recent budget cycle after costs were projected to skyrocket in the coming years. The families of injured vets complained and an effort to roll back the changes while maintaining the program's sustainability has been a challenge ever since.

Last Friday the House of Delegates passed a so-called “clean repeal” 92-0. It included directions for a state watchdog to study the program and bring findings and suggestions for changes before the 2025 session. That study is still expected by early September.

But Senator Louise Lucas, that chamber's leading Democrat, refused to hear the House bill Monday and instead pitched her own fix: one that rolled back much of the changes, and included millions of dollars in funding over the next two years.

Surovell said there were also constitutional issues with the House’s measure, but Republican Senator Mark Peake challenged that assessment and argued enough Senate Democrats were in support to pass it.

“We’re here, it's our second time here, the House has done their job. We should have voted on this bill,” Peake said from the chamber floor Monday.

The Senate will now have to return at a to be determined date to approve their new effort without Republican support. The House would also then have to return to approve the bill. A spokesperson for House Speaker Don Scott had no comment as of Monday evening.

In a statement sent after Monday’s session, Governor Youngkin condemned the Senate’s fruitless, second return to Richmond and asked both chambers to return again as early as next week.

“If they can’t agree on coming back together to fix this, I will call them back to do exactly that,” he said.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Brad Kutner is Radio IQ's reporter in Richmond.