The General Assembly session is scheduled to adjourn on Saturday, March 8, 2014, and it is not clear that we will have a budget by that date. The stumbling block continues to be Medicaid expansion. Many of us have advocated for a budget that includes closing the coverage gap for over 275,000 Virginians. We support bringing some $1.7 billion of Virginian’s taxpayer dollars back to create 30,000 jobs and bolster hospitals that are experiencing severe financial losses at this time. The Senate’s budget includes a compromise approach to Medicaid expansion called “Market Place Virginia,” a proposal which turns over the coverage of these vulnerable Virginians to the private insurance market. Many thought this compromise might win enough support in the House among Republicans, given that it is based on private sector principles, to obtain passage but that does not appear likely at present. For a recent press conference on this issue, click here. You can also watch several speeches on the House Floor on this topic by clicking here.
While much of the focus this session has been on Medicaid expansion, there are other significant initiatives that will likely pass in the next few days. We are making changes in the mental health system to provide better assistance and infuse monies to serve those most in need. The details of these will be finalized in the next several days, but reforms will likely include implementing an internet bed registry so that finding a bed will be easier and provisions that will allow authorities to detain citizens in crisis for a longer period so that assistance can be provided.
Second, we will pass a legislative ethics reform bill that, while not perfect, represents a modest step forward toward restoring some faith that citizens have lost as the result of the McDonnell scandal. We have reduced the number of high-stakes testing associated with the Standards of Learning (SOL), and have set in place a study group to further analyze what needs to happen in the coming years. Finally, the fee on hybrid vehicles that was imposed as part of last year’s transportation package was repealed. Many of us thought that this was not a good idea last year and we are happy to see it overturned.
I was able to pass a number of bills which you can find summarized here:
- HB121 – Requires the Department of Taxation to provide to the General Assembly the total amount of credit given for a tax credit regardless of the number of taxpayers who take the credit. Presently, if four or fewer taxpayers take the credit, the Department of Taxation does not release these figures. We allocate approximately $4 billion in tax credits each year. In order to make sound decisions on whether a tax credit is effective, it is necessary to know the total amount of the credit being taken to compare against the economic benefit to Virginia, if any.
- HB312 – Allows courts to award attorney fees in civil cases of financial exploitation based on fraud or undue influence. This will assist our senior citizens and their families in the recovery of assets that have been fraudulently taken from them.
- HB890 – Co-patroned with Delegate Chris Peace (Hanover), this legislation corrected oversights in the Code created when some Department of Social Services offices changed the title of their ‘social workers’ to ‘family services specialists’. There were many duties that were specified in the Code to be accomplished by ‘social workers’ by definition that are essential to the delivery of services.
- HB407 – This measure provides adult adoptees an alternative to the expensive cost of petitioning the Court for identifying information on their birth parents when the parents are deceased by allowing the Commissioner of Social Services to grant their request after the Commissioner has done a full investigation to determine whether or not good cause is shown to release the information
- HB1110 – This measure allows a locality to recoup the additional cost of educating a non-resident student enrolled in a special education program from the student’s originating locality. This measure is particularly helpful to Charlottesville City Schools who host a number of non-resident students who attend specialized public education programs available in Charlottesville. The additional cost to the local taxpayers is approximately $36,000 per student. This bill allows Charlottesville to be reimbursed for this additional cost by the locality where the student resided with their parents before being sent to Charlottesville.
- HB1233 – Brought to me by the Attorney General, this measure allows individuals who are the target of stalkers to be included in the Address Confidentiality Program. This program allows individuals to hide their physical address from public records if they have been the victim of domestic violence. This bill would provide protection to those who fall victim to stalkers.
In the next few days, we are likely to determine whether to adjourn and go into a special session for purposes of discussing Medicaid reform or remain in session and continue to debate this issue in the coming weeks.
Finally, Nancy and I want to thank you so much for the outpouring of support that we have received in the last couple of weeks. It has made a huge difference to our family and we are humbled by it.
As always, I enjoy hearing from you during the assembly session with your concerns and views about specific bills. This year, Session is scheduled to adjourn March 8, 2014. Please do not hesitate to contact my office. It is a pleasure serving you in the General Assembly.