The General Assembly adjourned on March 8, 2014 without a budget. This is the third time that this has occurred in the nine years that I have been serving you in Richmond. We have until the end of June to have a budget in place, but most of us want this to occur as soon as possible because our localities need to have firm figures from Richmond as to monies that are coming to them so they can prepare their budgets. The budget impasse is tied up in the Medicaid debate. It is my view that you cannot separate Medicaid from the budget. If we can access more federal dollars as part of Medicaid expansion, we would not have to appropriate monies in ways set forth in the House budget. We could replace millions of dollars in state dollars proposed for indigent care and for hospitals with federal dollars, freeing up state dollars to be spent on education and public safety. This debate will continue to occur when we reconvene in a special session beginning March 24th.
While most press coverage focused on the Medicaid issues, there were several significant actions taken by the General Assembly this session. They include the following:
Mental Health Reform
I served on the Mental Health subcommittee in the House that was able to advance a number of reforms, including the extension of emergency custody orders for citizens in crisis from six to twelve hours, requiring the state hospitals to provide a bed in the event that no other beds are available, and the implementation of a psychiatric bed registry to more quickly find beds for people in need.
I was the chief co-patron on a bipartisan bill that enacts a $250.00 cap on tangible gifts, requires that gifts to family members be reported, and ensures that the gift disclosures be made online so that citizens can easily see them. There is still much to be done in this area, but this is the first overhaul of this statute in many years, and represents a good effort to restore some faith in our ethics laws in the aftermath of the McDonnell scandal.
Standards of Learning Reform
We have reduced the number of SOL “high-stakes” tests in Grades 3 to 8, and have created a new committee that will recommend additional reforms.
The hybrid vehicle tax that was part of the 2013 transportation reform measure that many of us opposed was repealed.
We passed a bill that will make the undergrounding of utilities easier to accomplish by spreading the costs across the ratepayers. This is a very important measure for older communities like Charlottesville where above ground power lines often fail when major tree limbs fall during storms.
We delayed by two years the issuance of the “A-F” letter grades for schools.
We provided some additional protections for bicyclists by enacting a 3-5 foot passing distance around bicycles.
A number of measures were either tabled or defeated that might have some interest. The Virginia Dream Act, which would allow in-state college tuition for children of Virginia immigrants, was defeated, as was an effort to increase the minimum wage. Efforts by conservatives to push a new constitutional convention were passed by the House, but defeated in the Senate.
There were no new attacks on women’s reproductive health passed by the General Assembly, but our efforts to rollback the forced ultrasound requirement were defeated. The proposal to transfer $3 million from the City schools to the County schools was defeated in the House Appropriations Committee.
We have not yet designated a new judge for the 16th Judicial Circuit, which has been pushed back to sometime in April.
We return to Richmond on March 24th to work on Medicaid and the budget. Debates on this issue will likely continue throughout the spring.
As always, it is a pleasure representing you in the General Assembly and I hope that you will contact me with your views on various issues in the weeks leading up to our next session on March 24th.