Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe asked state lawmakers Wednesday to avoid partisan squabbles but warned the GOP-controlled General Assembly he'd veto any bills on abortion rights or gun control he found objectionable.
The Democratic governor touted his accomplishments and outlined his goals in his State of the Commonwealth speech before the GOP-controlled General Assembly, kicking off its 2016 legislative session.
McAuliffe is entering his third year in office, which is typically when Virginia's single term-limited governors push for an ambitious legislative agenda. But McAuliffe will have little chance of passing any legacy legislation, as Republicans control both the Senate and House.
In his prepared remarks, McAuliffe asked Republicans to work with him on what's been a top legislative priority since he took office: expanding Medicaid to Virginia's able-bodied poor adults. McAuliffe has included expanding Medicaid in his $109 billion biennial budget, but Republicans have said they won't approve it.
“If we sit down at the table together in good will, we can find a way forward on the important issue of Medicaid expansion,” McAuliffe said to loud applause from Democratic lawmakers.
The governor took a hard line on social issues, saying he would veto any legislation he thought would curb abortion rights or expand gun rights in a way he thinks is unsafe.
Republicans said McAuliffe's veto threats undermined his push for bipartisanship.
“That probably tainted a lot of the speech for us,” said House Majority Leader Kirk Cox. But Cox said he did think there were areas that Republicans and the governor could work together, including on improving education and services for veterans.
McAuliffe has been an outspoken advocate for abortion rights and signed an executive order last year banning the open carry of guns in some state-owned buildings.
The governor also asked lawmakers to treat with respect his pick for the Virginia Supreme Court. Republicans have signaled they will not vote to allow Justice Jane Marum Roush to remain on the bench.
McAuliffe also highlighted his accomplishments in luring new businesses to Virginia. He said his frequent trips overseas have helped expand Virginia's economy, including new sales of apples to India and poultry to Oman
The governor also outlined some of his other priorities, which include boosting solar energy development, increasing school funding and efforts at workforce development and tightening the state's ethics laws for public officials.
The 2016 legislative session will last 60 days, and so far about 2,000 bills have been filed. There are seven new members of the Senate and 11 new members of the House.