Each General Assembly session takes on its own special character and tone. 2013 was the year of transportation, as House Democrats ensured passage of a bipartisan bill to inject significant monies into road construction and maintenance, rail, and mass transit.
The 2014 Virginia General Assembly session will likely give most of its attention to the following issues:
This is Governor McDonnell’s last 2-year budget, and his proposal will reflect his priorities. This is the year where we “benchmark for standards of quality,” that is, we determine the costs of providing quality education and hopefully fund it. I will push for additional monies for K-12, higher education, and mental health.
Jobs and Economic Opportunity
The economy is not improving as fast as we would like, and I will be supporting initiatives to create jobs and enhance workforce training to give our citizens greater economic opportunity.
We will see efforts to reform the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests; I support giving local school divisions more flexibility to innovate and pay teachers what they deserve. We must find ways to challenge our students by fostering creative thinking and problem solving, thereby creating a workforce so our companies can remain competitive in the global economy. All of this, however, will take financial resources, and will require legislators to set priorities in their budget negotiations.
Mental Health System Reform
The tragic events involving Senator Creigh Deeds and his family have cast a harsh spotlight on the gaps in our mental health system. We made progress following the 2007 Virginia Tech tragedy but more resources will be needed to improve the system. I support creation of more crisis intervention teams (CITS) and creating protocols to ensure that each person who needs a bed gets one.
House Democrats support enhancement of Medicaid, along with many businesses, hospitals and physicians. There are several reasons to support enhanced Medicaid– which means reforming the system to protect taxpayer dollars while expanding service to those who need it. First, it means jobs and economic activity: $9.9 billion would be injected into Virginia’s economy by enhancing Medicaid, and an estimated 40,000 jobs would be created; it will keep our tax dollars here in Virginia rather than sending them to states that voted to expand Medicaid. Second, it protects local hospitals that provide critical services not to just indigent clients but entire communities; many of us worry that without Medicaid enhancement, some of our smaller community hospitals may risk having to close. Third, it would give up to 400,000 Virginians access to quality care that they do not presently have; it would keep them from having to use emergency rooms, thereby lessening costs for all Virginia taxpayers.
Following the scandals involving both Governor McDonnell and Attorney General Cuccinelli, efforts will be brought forth to reform Virginia’s reporting requirements for our top elected officials. Governor-elect McAuliffe has already stated he will institute a self-imposed ban of any gifts over $100 for himself and members of his family, and the legislature will consider a number of proposals, including the creation of an Ethics Commission.
Thank you for the opportunity to again serve you in Richmond. Your input is important to me. Share your thoughts — take the constituent survey.