We are two weeks into the General Assembly and the dominant issue remains Medicaid expansion. Almost every interest group in Richmond, from the Chamber of Commerce to the Medical Society of Virginia to the Hospital Association to various anti-poverty groups have supported efforts to bring federal dollars to Virginia to help insure up to 400,000 people who presently do not have coverage. Gov. McAuliffe stands firmly behind the principle of accessing these federal dollars and bringing them back to Virginia to both spur our economy and provide coverage to more Virginians. Republicans in the House generally have been skeptical of this approach, arguing that the federal commitment to reimburse the state 100 percent of the cost of new enrollees will ultimately be eliminated, with the result that Virginia taxpayers will have to pick up the tab.
I gave two floor speeches on this topic in the last week. The first was a general exploration of the issue. I emphasized how we have 1 million uninsured Virginians (many of whom are using the hospitals’ ERs as their primary care) and how we are sending our taxpayer dollars to other states which have decided to use federal monies to insure their citizens. You can watch the speech here.
The second speech involved the challenges faced by our hospitals because of cuts in federal spending. This is particularly troubling for rural hospitals who are often the centers of economic activity in their localities. Many of these hospitals will face extremely difficult business decisions that may require layoffs, acquisition, or possible closure in the event that we do not access this money. Virginia is refusing $5 million per day in federal monies that could otherwise assist us in insuring the uninsured and supporting our hospitals. We must find a way to bring these dollars back to Virginia. You can see my speech on hospitals here.
In other news, the House continues to work on bipartisan ethics reform. I am part of the subcommittee that is writing this bill. I believe that we need to have a cap on gifts that can be taken by legislators and a strong Ethics Commission that has the ability to enforce the rules and sanction legislators who transgress.
Mental health continues to be an important topic for the General Assembly. Later this week, we will consider a number of bills that could provide assistance to a person in crisis. There are additional monies in the budget to help serve more people with serious mental illness, particularly persons under the age eighteen.
A bill to eliminate the $64 annual tax on hybrid vehicles has passed the state Senate and a similar bill appears poised to pass the House of Delegates.
Several of my bills are moving through the House, including one that will provide additional tools to help elderly citizens who are victims of financial exploitation; a bill that will require additional financial disclosure of tax preferences provided to large corporations; and a resolution that condemns the ABC for their role in the incident in Charlottesville last April.
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 our office. It is a pleasure serving you in the General Assembly.