Having just completed crossover, we are officially halfway through Session. During the first half of the session, both chambers consider the bills filed by their respective members. Crossover is the date by which all Senate bills must be acted on and the Senate decides whether to pass them or not. We heard just under 1,000 bills in the past five weeks.
After crossover, we will be considering bills filed by delegates that won approval in the House. Although delegates filed more than 1,600 bills this session, the Senate won’t have to consider nearly that many during the second half of session. The House will have winnowed down its bills, approving only a fraction of the ones submitted by delegates.
Last week, I was honored to join the Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, Governor Northam and House Courts Chair Rob Bell in announcing an historic criminal justice compromise effort that achieved the dual goals of further protecting victims of crime with enhanced restitution and doing the right thing by raising the felony threshold for larceny. Our felony threshold for larceny has been at $200 for almost 40 years. This compromise, raised the threshold to $500. It is the right thing to do. Stealing is a crime that should and will be punished, but we are overdue in adjusting the level at which someone might be sent to prison for more than a year. On the restitution front, victims of crime don’t have lobbying firms advocating on their behalf. By ensuring they will receive the restitution they deserve, including the millions collected that have gone unclaimed, we’re standing up for their interests. I’m proud to be the Senate patron of the two restitution bills which upon passage, will be signed into law by the Governor.
The major focus of Session thus far has been health care. The Governor has proposed a massive expansion of the Medicaid program envisioned by ObamaCare to cover an ever expanding group of able bodied Virginians. My Republican Senate colleagues and I have been working tirelessly on a package of reforms designed to address the skyrocketing insurance premiums and to provide coverage options to many working Virginians who are being priced out of the health insurance market as a result of ObamaCare.
The Medicaid Program was never intended to be – and never designed to be- a substitute for health insurance. It is instead, a reimbursement program for hospitals and health care providers to mitigate the costs associated with providing care for the most vulnerable (children, disabled, indigent.) Our existing Medicaid program still has severe limitations, many of which were detailed in the JLARC December 2016 report which you can read here. There are clearly those who would like to see a single payer government funded Medicaid style health plan provide universal health coverage for everyone. This approach, while well intentioned, is misguided and will inevitably lead to the rationing of health care seen in Canada and elsewhere.
The Senate Republicans have focused on restoring options and competition to the private health care and health insurance marketplace. Yesterday the Senate passed groundbreaking legislation as part of our Health Care Package to focus on the 80% of Virginians who are dealing with exorbitant premiums and staggering out-of-pocket expenses and to help those most in-need, including those waiting on ID/DD waivers. The package consists of four bills that will increase competition, lower premiums, provide lower costs for services, increase funding for mental health and opioid/addiction treatment, and make catastrophic care coverage available to more Virginians. SB 964, SB 935, SB 915 and SB844 accomplish these goals. I hope it will be the pleasure of the House to pass these critical initiatives and that Governor Northam will sign them into law.
In moving forward, Senate Republicans want to institute more reforms to Medicaid to include: a workforce requirement for eligible able-bodied individuals, personal responsibility measures such as participation in a Health Savings Account, and tying funding to performance-based review to ensure funds being spent and truly improving the quality of life for those in the program. The ultimate goal, however, should be to move more Medicaid recipients into the work force, self sufficiency, and into the private sector health care marketplace.
Since all Senate bills have been acted upon, that means some of my bills are advancing onto the House. SB 521, dealing with mandatory investigations of registered voters in localities where there are more registered voters than voting age individuals, was passed unanimously from the Senate. SB 523, deals with electronic pollbooks. This bill requires that the Department of Motor Vehicles share their database of photographs with registrars so that registered voters have a picture in their file. If they do have a photograph on file, they would not be required to present a form of identification.
Interstate 81 improvements in the Shenandoah Valley have been long overlooked. My bill, SB971, directs the Commonwealth Transportation Board to study I-81 improvements and to consider what revenue could be raised from potential tolls on heavy trucks to fund these improvements along this corridor. Almost half of statewide truck traffic runs along this interstate and about a fifth of crashes involve a heavy truck. With over 2,000 crashes per year, and 30 crashes a year with a clearance time greater than six hours, we must be willing to look at creative methods to find substantive solutions to this problem.
Finally, SB 568, will require public institutions in Virginia to share student loan information with students in order to help spread continued awareness of the potential consequences of overborrowing. Student debt is rampant both here in the Commonwealth and nationally. I believe that we as state legislators have a duty to help inform our students of the financial impact their borrowing decisions will have on their futures. Included in the yearly report that institutions will send will be amount borrowed, interest rate, estimated monthly payment and total amount paid by the end of the payment period.
To see the full list of the bills I am carrying this session, click here.
These past few weeks, we’ve had lots of visitors stopping by our offices in Room E502 of the Pocahontas Building. It was great to welcome the following visitors/organizations: Rise for Youth, students from JMU and EMU along with members of the Virginia Interfaith Council, Copper Fox Distillery, Harrisonburg/Rockingham County Chamber CEO, Blue Ridge Community College President Dr. Downey and students, JMU representatives, Rockingham Co. Board of Supervisors & County Administrator, Warren County Board of Supervisors and County Administrator, representatives from Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative & Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, and VAIL (Valley Associates for Independent Living).
We have four more weeks of session. I always enjoy hearing from citizens in my district on issues that are important to you. Feel free to email me at email@example.com or call our General Assembly office at 804-698-7526.