We are now in the busiest week of the legislative year. On Sunday, the House and Senate budgets were unveiled. Today, February 5, is “crossover,” the day on which all bills must be passed in one legislative body to cross over to the other side of the Capitol for consideration. We debate the budget this Thursday. All of this work is, of course, going forward in the shadow of the turmoil surrounding the Governor. I posted my thoughts (you can read it here) about this still-unfolding situation as of Saturday morning on social media, and will probably have more to say later. For now, however, we legislators are focused on doing the job our constituents elected us to do.
STATUS OF MY BILLS
Eight of my bills have passed the House and will now be considered by the Senate. Four initiatives address rising health insurance premiums and health care costs, and are directly related to the spike in insurance premiums that occurred in Charlottesville in late 2017 during the ACA Marketplace open season to purchase 2018 health care insurance.
Health Care Related Bills
HB 2750 will require hospitals to notify patients of their right to know the costs of their procedures before they are commenced. HB 2639, which I co-patroned with Delegate Kathy Byron, will allow consumers to share in savings realized if they find less expensive sources of treatment through competition. HB 2345 will give more power to our Bureau of Insurance to scrutinize requests for health insurance rate increases and to order rebates to consumers if the rates are not justified. And HB 2770 (co-patroned with Delegate Kathleen Murphy) will provide greater transparency and more information to the Bureau of Insurance so it can determine if rate increases that are significantly higher in some market areas than others are justified. The bills resulted from work done with our local advocacy group Charlottesville for Reasonable Health Insurance. They passed the House unanimously.
Other Bills Passed
In addition to the health care bills, I have several others that have passed unanimously. HB 1987 is a bill that will assist in combating adult financial exploitation by providing more tools to financial institutions to stop it before it occurs. It allows these institutions to refuse to conduct a transaction that could drain funds from an elderly person’s account if there is reason to believe they are being exploited. HB 1960 allows distillers in Virginia to produce and market “low alcohol volume” products. This would open some new opportunities for Virginia businesses, including some in Charlottesville. HB 1988 clarifies the law related to the division of military retirement benefits in the event of a divorce. Finally, HB 2239, a bill co-patroned with Delegate Rob Bell, will permit consolidation of the local courts in downtown Charlottesville.
BILLS NOT PASSED
Unfortunately, my effort to give localities the ability to control Confederate monuments in public spaces (HB 2377) failed in a House subcommittee. Citizens from Charlottesville and Albemarle traveled to Richmond for a very early-morning meeting and testified passionately for the bill, which was requested by our local governments. Both the Albemarle Board of Supervisors and the City Council sent representatives to ask the subcommittee members to put this decision into local hands, but to no avail. We will mount another effort to empower localities next year.
Republicans continue to reject efforts to combat climate change. They voted against a bill I introduced that would use monies from “cap and invest” market-based policies to reduce CO2 emissions to fund coastal resiliency efforts (HB 2735). I supported the substitute to HB 1635, a bold effort to move Virginia away from reliance on fossil fuels to generate electricity. You can view some of the debate here, including my attempt to impose a moratorium on building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which was defeated on a close party-line vote last week.
The House has just completed the debate on “tax conformity.” As has happened so often since the current President took office, an action that was usually routine and technical has become a major policy debate. Each year, the General Assembly typically passes legislation that conforms our state tax laws to any changes in federal provisions. Usually, this is not controversial and happens early in the session, so that Virginia business and families can file their tax returns on time and without excess complexity. Unfortunately this year, this otherwise-simple action has been complicated by the 2018 Trump tax package, which, without state legislative changes, will require some Virginians to pay more taxes to the Commonwealth even as some of their federal tax bills are reduced. Republicans are holding conformity hostage by insisting that certain tax “reforms” be enacted at the same time that a conformity bill is passed; their state tax proposals disproportionately benefit high-income citizens. I support broader-based relief provisions that are targeted to help working Virginians who earn less than $125,000 per year.
The failure to pass conformity will unduly complicate tax filings for Virginians and make tax relief more complicated. I expect that over the next few weeks, we will find a way to compromise on this issue, and it will I hope the compromise will address three important goals: returning some monies to taxpayers, saving some funds for a rainy day, and investing in critical services such as teacher salaries and expansion of accessible, affordable broadband.
YOUR FEEDBACK POWERS MY WORK FOR YOU
As important as it is for me to send these updates to keep my constituents informed, it’s even more important for me to hear from you so I can stay informed about how you feel regarding matters before the General Assembly, and any other issues on your mind. Please take a few minutes to answer and return my annual survey mailer, if you haven’t already done so. If you live in the 57th District and don’t receive one, call my Richmond office at 804-698-1057 or email DelDToscano@house.virginia.gov and give us your name and address so we can try to get one to you quickly.
If you would like to watch a live stream of the floor session in the House of Delegates, go to this webpage. The session usually begins at 12 noon Mon-Thurs, and sometimes earlier on Friday (10:00am).