We are now at the midpoint of the General Assembly session, a time that we call “crossover,” aptly named for the process by which bills passed in one house “crossover” to the other body. The hours are long and the debates frequently heated as many controversial bills get considered during this period of the General Assembly session.
The biggest issue of the session continues to be whether or not to close the health care coverage gap by accepting federal dollars that would be used to add between 275,000 to 400,000 Virginians to the Medicaid program. The Senate has proposed a bipartisan option that would allow Virginia to take the federal dollars and work with the private sector to provide insurance for our citizens. Republicans in the House continue to oppose the expansion of Medicaid, insisting on reforms and an audit of the system to occur before we can accept these federal dollars. Democrats in the House argue that expansion and reform can occur at the same time, and point to the reforms that have been enacted over the last several years that have created millions of dollars in savings. We are losing $5 million a day by refusing federal monies that will initially pay 100% of the costs of expansion. Taking the federal dollars makes good business sense and it is one reason why the Virginia Health & Hospital Association and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce support it. If you want to see some of the debate on this, you can watch the video on this page.
In other news, the House Ethics bill, on which I am a chief co-patron, has passed and will move to the Senate. This bill places a cap on the soliciting or accepting of tangible gifts over $250, increases the disclosure requirements for assets and debts held by legislators, creates an Ethics Commission to address specific ethical issues, and closes many of the loopholes in the present law. The bill is not perfect, and we will continue to work on it as it moves to the Senate. It is impossible to legislate ethical behavior, but this bill is a major step forward in cutting down on some of the behavior that has affected the public’s trust in their leaders.
Mental Health Policy Reform
Several bills have passed both the Senate and House addressing mental health. There are differences between Senate and House versions, but both will increase the time that citizens in crisis can be held while we look for a bed for them, create a bed registry to assist in locating beds, and insure that our state hospitals can accept patients if a bed cannot otherwise be found.
Other Notable House Bills
Some actions taken by the House which have not drawn substantial publicity but are nonetheless interesting and significant include the following:
- HB973 – The House Transportation Committee defeated HB973, a measure that would have eliminated the use of photo red cameras at intersections in the Commonwealth.
- HB331 – This measure will establish a first time “home buyer’s savings plan” by which individuals who want to save for a house can deposit money into a specialized account and the interest earned on the account would not be taxable. While this would not likely generate a huge benefit to savers at the present time, it creates a vehicle for providing some tax incentives over time.
- HB1229 – This measure postpones the A-F grading system for rating schools for an additional year. I supported a three year extension, but that amendment was defeated. While A – F may sound good, it is fraught with unintended consequences.
- HB930 – This reforms Standards of Learning high stakes testing, by reducing the number of assessments students take through 8th grade from 22 to 17 and establishing a study that will review all of the accountability standards. This measure is not only good policy, but will save localities and the Commonwealth money.
Finally, a number of my bills will be heard in the Senate in the next week. Included in those is HB312, a measure that will provide greater assistance to elderly persons who have been financially exploited, and HB121, a measure that will increase the accountability of tax preferences provided to corporate entities by requiring full disclosure of the value of those credits.
As always, I enjoy hearing from you during the assembly session with your concerns and views about specific bills. Please do not hesitate to contact my office. It is a pleasure serving you in the General Assembly.