When I first arrived in the House of Delegates in 2006, a friend of mine counseled me not to get too personally attached to any proposed legislation. “Bills are like goldfish,” he said. “You love and care for them when they are alive, but when they die, you go out and get another fish.”
There is some common sense in this attitude, especially when you can bring bills back in the next session to try again, but I have to admit it’s a severe disappointment when very important efforts are defeated, especially when they could make a big difference. In the last week, I have watched this happen to measures like the ERA ratification resolution, which was defeated in the House Privileges & Elections Committee after a herculean lobbying effort. It is not totally dead, and we are working on another strategy to push for a vote on the House floor, but we have some major hurdles to overcome.
There are a few of my bills which have not yet been placed on a subcommittee agenda (as of Friday afternoon, at least), including HB 2377 to grant localities the authority to decide what to do with Confederate statues in public spaces and HB 1959 to allow any voter to vote absentee without having to provide a reason or fit into a special category. For these, the fight to win them is still ahead, and I appreciate all the work being done to help that happen.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE WON’T BE REFORMED BY THE HOUSE
Two of my campaign finance reform bills, HB 1958 and HB 2732, were defeated in subcommittee. The first would have placed individual limits on campaign contributions in Virginia; we should not be a state where wealthy individuals can fund a campaign with huge contributions and make candidates beholden to them. The second would have imposed limits on what investor-owned utilities like Dominion (or PACs controlled by such utilities) can contribute to campaigns. As I said in the subcommittee hearing, Virginia is the “wild, wild West” when it comes to campaign contributions; it was disappointing to have my bills and several more from my Democratic colleagues stymied by party-line opposition.
PROTECTIONS FOR SENIORS AND HEALTH CARE CONSUMERS
I do have some good news. My bill to enhance protections against adult financial exploitation (HB 1987) has passed the House and will be heard by the Senate’s Commerce and Labor committee. Three of my bills to provide more transparency and reduce health care costs (HB 2345, HB 2750, and HB 2639 which I co-patroned with Delegate Byron) have been passed by subcommittees and full committees with no opposition, and will likely pass the full House early next week.
HB 2750 would require hospitals to notify patients of their right to find out what their treatment will cost before a procedure is undertaken. HB 2639 is also related to health care costs: it will allow consumers to share in savings realized by their health insurance company if the patient finds less expensive treatments through competition. HB 2345 provides more teeth 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. The bills all resulted from work I did with the local advocacy group Charlottesville for Reasonable Health Insurance. These Charlottesville and Albemarle residents probably never thought they would become experts in health insurance rate-setting, regulatory processes, and state legislative advocacy—but they’ve done it, and how. Senator Deeds and I learned so much from our meetings with them over the course of 2018 as we worked out what we could do in the legislature to bolster agency powers and safeguard against future instances of outrageous premium increases. I am looking forward to seeing them educate my colleagues next week when HB 2770, my final bill related to health insurance this session, is heard in subcommittee on Tuesday.
REPUBLICANS DEFEAT RANKED-CHOICE VOTING OPTION
Back to the loss column for my bill to permit localities to adopt “ranked choice voting” to elect members of city councils or boards of supervisors, HB 2751, which also failed to clear subcommittee this week. My opponent in the June primary, a co-founder of FairVote Virginia, testified for the bill; she did a great job but unfortunately the skeptics were not persuaded. Even though my bill had a Republican co-sponsor, and another RCV bill was filed by a Republican delegate with a Democratic co-sponsor, the vote that killed both was on party lines and the Republican majority rejected RCV.
MAJORITY SHUTS DOWN RENEWABLE ENERGY AND CLIMATE CHANGE RESILIENCY EFFORTS
Finally, two of my energy measures were defeated in subcommittee. One bill (HB 2697) would have opened up more competition by solar and renewable energy providers in markets dominated by Dominion. Disappointing as that was, the defeat of the Virginia Coastal Protection Act (HB 2735)on a party line vote was even more troubling. In my view, this bill (which I carried for Governor Northam) was one of the most significant bills of the session. The VCPA was intended to direct funds realized through the sale of carbon emission allowances to support projects that will mitigate the damaging effects of sea-level rise and recurrent flooding in our coastal regions.
The Governor has already determined that Virginia will join efforts by other states to reduce carbon emissions using a “cap and invest” approach. In the 1980s, environmental policy was changed when Republicans and Democrats decided to embrace a “cap and trade” approach as a way to reduce the volume of sulfur and nitrogen oxides (Nox and Sox) released into the atmosphere by using market principles. Under that approach, a “cap” was put in place to regulate the emissions. Those who emitted particulates under their cap could sell credits to those who exceeded their own cap, thereby providing financial incentives to reduce emissions. This had the effect of dramatically reducing those oxide particulates in the atmosphere, improving human and environmental health.
A similar approach is being tried for carbon emissions; in the 9 northeastern and mid-Atlantic states which constitute the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a certain number of emission allowances are issued for periodic auction. Facilities that generate atmospheric carbon purchase these allowances at a price set by the market. Monies from the auctions then flow back to the states to be used for energy efficiency improvements. If this bill had passed, 77 percent of the monies returned to Virginia (the total amount in the next year is projected to be $63 million) would have been dedicated to coastal resiliency programs, with the balance invested in energy efficiency.
I still have other energy initiatives, including one (offered as a budget amendment) that will require all buildings constructed by the state after 2021 to be “net zero energy generators.” The entire energy landscape is changing, and I remain hopeful that our policy initiatives will catch up sooner rather than later.
WATCHING FOR YOUR FEEDBACK
If you live in the 57th District, I hope you have received my annual survey mailer and will take a few minutes to fill it out and return it to me. If you’re a constituent and have not yet received one, call my Richmond office at 804-698-1057 or email DelDToscano@house.virginia.gov with your name and address so we can try to send a replacement.
You might think that watching the live stream of the floor session in the House of Delegates would be a good cure for insomnia, and some days you’d be correct. But then there are days like yesterday, when my colleague Delegate Delores McQuinn (D-70th District) brought us to our feet.
To see the House in daily session, go to this webpage. The session usually begins at 12 noon Mon-Thurs, and sometimes earlier on Friday (10:00am).