Crossover and the House of Delegates Budget
Crossover has now come and gone, and so too has the debate on amendments to the budget. On the budget front, the good news is that the Commonwealth is doing better financially, and as a result, the House budget provides raises to state employees and teachers. The House budget includes 1.5 percent pay increase for school teachers and employees, and an additional pay increase for other state employees. The budget, however, does not go far enough. Our teacher salaries in Virginia are now $7,500 below the national average. State per-pupil spending, even with this new budget, is still lower than it was in 2009. The result has been that localities are forced to pay more of the cost of education than they did in the past, and property tax rates have increased as a result.
The budget also does not go far enough in that it continues to reject Medicaid Expansion, a decision that continues to cost the Commonwealth $4.4 million per day in federal funding ($1.8 billion lost to date) as we continue to send our tax monies to Washington instead of bringing them back here to aid some 400,000 people who do not currently have health insurance. The House budget includes a slight increase for free clinics, but they do not have the capacity to address the vast unmet need for quality medical care. We are very fortunate in Charlottesville that our free clinic does better than most, but neither the extra monies nor our facilities are sufficient to adequately address the problem. House Republicans have accepted elements of the Governor’s Healthy Virginia Plan, but this will affect fewer than 30,000 citizens, and we have yet to determine whether the House proposal will be approved by the Obama administration.
The House budget also cuts pre-K spending substantially and does not give the Governor the flexibility to move some of the money around so that it can service more people throughout Virginia. The budget does not go far enough in dealing with the tax preferences that represent massive transfers of Virginia taxpayer dollars to a small number of corporations, particularly coal and utility companies. Instead, we have a budget that includes a “reform” to the Land Preservation Tax Credit, a program that does a lot to conserve rural land against future development. You may hear my comments on the budget below.
DNA database expansion
A number of my bills survived Crossover either in their original form or combined with another Delegate’s legislation. My DNA bill passed the House resoundingly as incorporated into Delegate Bell’s bill. This bill allows samples of DNA to be taken from people who have committed, and are convicted of, certain misdemeanor offenses. This does not include juveniles or minor misdemeanors. The samples will be included into the DNA database which can be used to exonerate those people who have been improperly charged with a crime and help apprehend people who have committed more serious crimes.
Campus sexual assault
The language of my campus sexual assault bill found its way into another bill (HB 1930), and has now passed the House. After listening to many constituents and advocates for survivors, my bill was transformed into a survivors empowerment bill that none-the-less gives university Title IX Coordinators the ability to report serious offenses in the event that the perpetrator might be a danger to the community. This bill will undoubtedly be changed as it moves through the process, but I think we will have a measure passed that will increase the likelihood of survivors reporting these cases and making more perpetrators accountable for their actions.
Health insurance coverage for children with autism
Two other interesting bills passed that can make a difference to health challenges faced by Virginia. House Bill 1940 requires health insurance carriers to offer coverage for autism in youngsters between the ages of two and ten; any family which has a child with autism realizes what a challenge this is. And HB 1445 decriminalizes the use of cannabis oil for the medical treatment of epilepsy.
We have two more weeks left in the session if we finish on time. It is a pleasure serving you in Richmond. As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office should you have any questions or if we can be of any assistance.
P.S. Eugene and Lorraine Williams, civil rights pioneers, were honored by the House of Delegates last week. You can watch here: