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Governor Northam and Speaker Cox announce bipartisan compromise on grand larceny threshold and legislation to protect crime victims

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RICHMOND – Governor Ralph Northam, Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox, and Senator Mark Obenshain announced today a bipartisan compromise to raise the felony larceny threshold and adopt into law legislation to ensure that crime victims are paid the restitution duly owed to them.

The General Assembly will pass and the Governor will support and sign a package of five bills, including legislation introduced by Delegate Les Adams (R-Pittsylvania) and Senator David Suetterlein (R-Roanoke) to raise the felony larceny threshold to $500; two bills (HB484) introduced by Delegate Rob Bell (R-Albemarle) and Senator Obenshain (R-Rockingham) to ensure that restitution ordered by the courts is collected from defendants, and two bills (HB483) to ensure that that restitution that has been collected is finally delivered to crime victims.

“This compromise is a key breakthrough for commonsense criminal justice reform,” said Governor Northam. “Raising the felony larceny threshold will maintain Virginia’s tough position on criminal theft, while modernizing our law so that one mistake does not define a person’s entire life. I want to thank members of my team and leaders on both sides for proving yet again that Virginia is a place where we come together to get things done.”

“After several years of work to ensure crime victims are paid the restitution owed to them, I am thrilled that Governor Northam has agreed to sign this important legislation. Over the last several weeks, Chairman Rob Bell negotiated with Secretary Brian Moran at my direction to include this strong public safety measure in a compromise that increases the larceny threshold to $500,” said Speaker Cox (R-Colonial Heights). “We appreciate Governor Northam’s commitment to support and sign these important bills. I also want to thank Chairman Bell, Secretary Moran, and Senator Obenshain for their hard work on this agreement.”

HB 1550, introduced by Delegate Adams and SB 105, introduced by Senator Suetterlein will raise the felony larceny threshold to $500.

HB 484 (Bell) will require probation officers to monitor payment of restitution and will require courts to review restitution before releasing a defendant from probation supervision or court oversight. In the event the defendant has not complied with the court’s restitution order, the court may impose punishment, schedule additional reviews, and take other steps to ensure that the restitution is paid. Governor Northam will send down a bill for the Senate to consider on the issue of restitution. A bill number and patron will be announced soon.

HB 483 (Bell) and ensures that all restitution that is collected shall be delivered to the victim by requiring Clerks of Court to annually transmit any restitution where the victim cannot be found, to the Victim Compensation Fund. The bill then provides the fund with two personnel who will work to locate victims and help them obtain their money.

A Crime Commission study found that there was over $230 million in restitution owed to victims across the Commonwealth, but was unpaid and overdue. More recently, WRIC8 reporter Kerri O’Brien found and research confirmed that $8 million in restitution was collected from defendants, but never delivered to the crime victims.

“We were shocked when we learned how much outstanding restitution was owed to crime victims,” said House Courts of Justice Committee Chairman Rob Bell (R-Albemarle). “This is money that crime victims need to pay their bills and rebuild their lives. They have to come to court, testify under oath, and many have to describe the most frightening moment of their life to strangers, only to be cross examined and scrutinized in the media. The least we can do is ensure that they receive the restitution that the justice system promises to them.”

“At $200, Virginia’s current felony larceny threshold is the most severe in the nation,” said Delegate Joe Lindsey (D-Norfolk). “By raising it, we are sending a clear message that theft is a serious crime, but stealing one phone or pair of boots should not ruin a person’s life.”

“I am pleased with this package, as it incorporates two critical policy goals,” said Senator Mark D. Obenshain (R-Rockingham), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Courts of Justice. “The victims of crime don’t have a large lobbying firm 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. With the felony for threshold having been last modified in 1980, raising it nearly 40 years later is the right thing to do.”

“When this session began, Governor Northam asked the General Assembly to step away from partisan battles and work together to solve real problems,” said Senator Janet Howell (D-Fairfax). “This bipartisan compromise is a huge step in that important direction. Senate Democrats look forward to continuing our work on criminal justice reform and many other issues that will make life better for Virginians.”

“Having worked on this issue for the last three sessions, I am thrilled that Virginia is taking this step forward and happy that my bill will be included in this reform,” noted Senator David R. Suetterlein (R-Roanoke). “Taxpayers are not well-served when a young person who steals $200 sneakers becomes permanently labeled as a convicted felon. When Governor Northam reaffirmed his commitment to raising the threshold, I enthusiastically applauded. I’m clapping today, too, because these changes make Virginia better.”

“I am honored that the Governor asked me to work with members of both parties to negotiate a compromise that will accomplish a goal that many of us have been working on for decades” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. “This legislation properly balances the need to keep Virginians safe with our responsibility to ensure that punishments match the crime.”

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Governor Northam signs legislation to establish eviction diversion pilot program

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Delegate Christopher Collins

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam has signed Senate Bill 1450, sponsored by Senator Mamie Locke, and House Bill 2655, sponsored by Delegate Christopher Collins, identical bills which create an Eviction Diversion Pilot Program aimed at reducing rates and collecting concrete data on evictions in the Commonwealth. This legislation is part of a series of eviction-related bills that support Governor Northam’s affordable housing priorities, which he set forth in Executive Order Twenty-Five signed in November of 2018.

The program will be piloted in the cities of Danville, Hampton, Petersburg, and Richmond. In addition to the goal of reducing eviction rates in the pilot cities, concrete data on the effectiveness of the program will be collected to help develop better methods for preventing evictions across the Commonwealth.

“Virginia localities have some of the highest rates of evictions in the nation, yet there are clear gaps our ability to obtain tangible data and fully address this crisis in our Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. “My administration remains focused on increasing access to quality, affordable housing and this pilot program will assist the state in developing stronger methods for preventing evictions and expanding important protections for all renters in Virginia.”

The Eviction Diversion Pilot Program was created based on policy recommendations from the Virginia Housing Commission. The Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia will administer the program and collect data that will be used by the Virginia Housing Commission to evaluate the effectiveness of eviction diversion methods in the four pilot cities.

“Housing eviction rates in our Commonwealth are a disgrace,” said Senator Mamie Locke. “It is no secret that the laws and regulations around eviction in Virginia are intentionally vague and disproportionately target our most vulnerable communities. After months of hard work in conjunction with the Virginia Housing Commission, I’m proud to announce the passage of bipartisan legislation that helps to ensure greater consumer protections and renter fairness so that hard-working Virginians are not losing the roofs over their heads. ”

“I am happy that we have approved this program and look forward to seeing the benefits it has to our citizens,” said Delegate Christopher Collins. “Losing a home due to a loss of a job or medical emergency does not benefit anyone and this program will balance the needs of tenants with those of landlords.”

The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) will also collaborate with the Virginia Housing Commission to evaluate the Eviction Diversion Program and the effects from legislation passed during the 2019 General Assembly session related to evictions. From this data, Virginia will be able to develop consistent methods for resolving unlawful detainer actions and reduce the overall number of evictions that negatively impact low-income Virginians, including children and vulnerable populations.

Additionally, the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA) recently made available a free online renter education course titled “How to be a Successful Renter,” which covers the rights and responsibilities of renting.

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Governor Northam vetoes legislation limiting Commonwealth’s ability to combat vehicle pollution

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RICHMOND—Governor Northam vetoed House Bill 2269, which would prohibit the Commonwealth from entering into a regional program to reduce carbon dioxide air pollution from vehicles and other transportation sources unless authorized by two-thirds of the General Assembly. This measure violates the Virginia Constitution and would significantly undercut efforts to reduce air pollution and combat climate change. The Governor’s veto statement is below.

March 14, 2019
Pursuant to Article V, Section 6, of the Constitution of Virginia, I veto House Bill 2269. This bill would prohibit the Governor, local governments, and a majority of those voting in the General Assembly from enacting or entering any regional program to reduce air pollution from vehicles and other transportation sources unless explicitly authorized by a super-majority (two-thirds) vote of the General Assembly.

Climate change, extreme weather, and sea level rise endanger public safety, economic vitality and the natural and built environments. To address these challenges and protect the people of Virginia, the Commonwealth must be able to use all available tools to combat climate change.

These tools include the ability to adopt regulations, rules, and guidance that mitigate the impacts of climate change by reducing carbon pollution in the Commonwealth. The Governor and state agencies should not be limited in their ability to protect the environment and in turn, the citizens of the Commonwealth.

America’s leaders have taken several bipartisan actions to protect human health from air pollution, as they did with the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the amendments to it in 1977 and 1990. Slowing climate change and reducing its potentially devastating impacts should be no different, especially in a Commonwealth that faces some of the worst climate-related challenges of any state.

Like other air pollutants, the emissions that cause climate change do not respect state lines, district lines, or other political boundaries. In the absence of a federal plan, Virginia is obligated to join other states and face this threat to our collective public safety and economic health.

Finally, House Bill 2269 violates two provisions of the Virginia Constitution: Article III, Section 1 (Separation of Powers) and Article IV, Section 11 (Enactment of Laws).
Accordingly, I veto this bill.
Sincerely,

Ralph S. Northam

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Governor Northam vetoes legislation limiting Commonwealth’s ability to combat power plant pollution

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RICHMOND—Governor Northam vetoed House Bill 2611, which would prohibit the Commonwealth from entering into a regional program to reduce carbon dioxide air pollution from power plants unless authorized by two-thirds of the General Assembly. This measure violates the Virginia Constitution and would significantly undercut efforts to reduce air pollution and combat climate change. The Governor’s veto statement is below.

March 14, 2019
Pursuant to Article V, Section 6, of the Constitution of Virginia, I veto House Bill 2611. This bill would prohibit the Governor, local governments, and a majority of those voting in the General Assembly from enacting or entering any regional program to reduce carbon dioxide air pollution from power plants unless explicitly authorized by a super-majority (two-thirds) vote of the General Assembly.

Climate change, extreme weather, and sea level rise endanger public safety, economic vitality and the natural and built environments. To address these challenges and protect the people of Virginia, the Commonwealth must be able to use all available tools to combat climate change.

These tools include the ability to adopt regulations, rules, and guidance that mitigate the impacts of climate change by reducing carbon pollution in the Commonwealth. In addition, allowing energy producers to comply with regulation through credit trading would lessen costs to producers and consumers while generating revenue that could be spent to make Virginia more resilient to extreme weather events, sea level rise, and flooding.

We should not be limited in our ability to protect the environment and in turn, the citizens of the Commonwealth.

Further, House Bill 2611 violates two provisions of the Virginia Constitution: Article III, Section 1 (Separation of Powers) and Article IV, Section 11 (Enactment of Laws).

Accordingly, I veto this bill.
Sincerely,

Ralph S. Northam

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Governor Northam announces same day access to mental health services now available at all 40 Community Services Boards in Virginia

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RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam and the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) announced that all 40 Community Services Boards (CSBs) in the Commonwealth have Same Day Access (SDA) available to Virginians seeking mental health services in their communities. A person in need of a mental health evaluation can now access walk-in hours at any CSB throughout Virginia without an appointment, instead of waiting days or even weeks to receive an assessment. SDA marks a dramatic shift from addressing mental health needs only when a crisis occurs to utilizing preventive care to help avoid emergencies and hospital admissions.

“Every person in Virginia should be able to access quality public behavioral health services, no matter who they are, how much money they make, or their insurance status,” said Governor Northam. “Virginia’s Community Service Boards are the front line providers of mental health treatment, and when someone is in urgent need of clinical services, it is important that they receive care in a timely manner. Same Day Access removes many of the barriers to mental health care and helps individuals get treatment wherever they may live in the Commonwealth.”

In 2017, then-Governor Terry McAuliffe signed a bill requiring all 40 of the Commonwealth’s locally-run CSBs to provide SDA, and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) began implementation in an initial group of 18 CSBs. In 2018, Governor Northam and the General Assembly provided funds for the remaining 22 CSBs to implement SDA.

“Implementing Same Day Access is a critical step forward in our efforts to improve Virginia’s behavioral health system, and it is one that came through a tremendous amount of hard work and collaboration,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey, M.D. “I want to thank the Commonwealth’s 40 CSBs and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services for working together to make this important change.”

SDA allows a person who calls or appears at a CSB during SDA hours of operation to be assessed that same day instead of potentially waiting weeks for a mental health appointment. Based on that assessment, the person is then scheduled for appropriate initial treatment within ten days. This best practice virtually eliminates “no show” appointments, increases adherence to follow-up appointments, reduces the wait time for appointments, and makes more cost-effective use of staff resources. These results help Virginians access mental health care services right where they live with as few barriers as possible.

“When someone makes the decision to seek treatment for behavioral health issues, we have an obligation as public health providers to make that process as efficient and accessible as we can,” said S. Hughes Melton, M.D., MBA, Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Commissioner. “Same Day Access fulfills this goal by delivering the right health care at the right time in the right place.”

SDA is the first step in DBHDS’ System Transformation Excellence and Performance (STEP-VA), an innovative initiative for individuals with behavioral health disorders featuring a uniform set of required services, consistent quality measures, and improved oversight in all Virginia communities. The next steps currently underway are implementing of primary care screening and monitoring at all CSBs, phasing in a statewide expansion of outpatient services at all CSBs, and planning for the acceleration of STEP-VA crisis services at CSBs statewide.

“The Virginia Association of Community Services Boards and its member CSBs remain steadfast in our commitment to removing barriers to access in our behavioral health and developmental services system,” said Jennifer Faison, Executive Director of the Virginia Association of Community Services Boards. “The Same Day Access model is an important move in the right direction.”

CSBs function as the single points of entry into publicly funded behavioral health and developmental services, including access to state hospital services through pre-admission screening, case management and coordination of services, and discharge planning for individuals leaving state facilities. CSBs advocate for individuals who are receiving or are in need of services. CSBs also act as community educators, organizers, and planners and advise their member governments about local behavioral health and developmental services and needs.

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Governor Northam announces Virginia to receive $2.2 million grant to reduce low-value health care

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RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam announced on March 13th,  that the non-profit Virginia Center for Health Innovation (VCHI) has received a $2.2 million grant from Arnold Ventures to launch a statewide pilot to reduce the provision of low-value health care in Virginia. Low-value health care includes medical tests and procedures that have been shown to add little or no benefit in particular clinical circumstances and can lead to potential harm and a higher total cost of care for patients.

“As a physician and as governor, ensuring that all Virginians have access to quality-based health care has always been my top priority,” said Governor Northam. “With this generous grant from Arnold Ventures and the work of the Virginia Center for Health Innovation, we’ll be able to ensure that more patients in Virginia are getting the right care in the appropriate setting.”

In 2012, the American Board for Internal Medicine’s Choosing Wisely® initiative identified more than 550 tests and procedures that should be questioned by providers and patients. After looking at 42 of these measures and using 2017 claims data for five million Virginians from Virginia’s All-Player Claims Database and the Milliman MedInsight Health Waste Calculator, VCHI identified 2.07 million unnecessary services costing $747 million.

“Reducing low-value care will require a collaborative, data-informed process, and we know there is work that needs to be done,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey, M.D. “Virginia’s health care community has come together through this partnership to commit themselves to serving patients through better care and better value.”

VCHI will employ a two-part strategy to first reduce seven sources of provider-driven low-value care and then to prioritize a next set of consumer-driven measures for phase two. The first part of the strategy calls for the creation of a large-scale health system learning community. This learning community will engage six health systems and three clinically integrated networks representing over 900 practice sites from four regions of Virginia. The second part of the strategy involves the formation of an employer task force on low-value health care.

“At VCHI, our mission is to accelerate the adoption of value-driven healthcare,” said Chas Rhoades, Chair of the VCHI Board of Directors and CEO of Gist Healthcare. “While much of the industry has focused almost exclusively on increasing the provision of high-value care—preventive services such as cancer screenings and immunizations, better chronic disease care, addressing the social determinants of health—we also recognize that we can achieve better value by reducing the provision of medical tests and procedures that clinical researchers and frontline physicians have identified as unnecessary and potentially harmful. Over time, we have worked with our data partners to identify and measure this low-value care and now, with the help of Virginia’s health systems, physicians, employers, and state government, we are ready to take significant steps to help reduce it.”

“It is our quality of data and data analytics that really set us apart,” said Beth Bortz, President and CEO of VCHI. “Access to Virginia’s All-Payer Claims database (APCD) and use of the Milliman MedInsight Health Waste Calculator made it possible for us to see where our opportunities for improvement lie.”

“VCHI’s collaboration makes plain the solid commitment of health care providers, employers and Virginia’s government to identify and reduce low-value care,” said Michael T. Lundberg, Virginia Health Information’s Executive Director. “Coupling their enthusiasm with the power of Virginia’s APCD makes for a potent combination of strong will and actionable healthcare metrics. The APCD continues to increase in value thanks to legislation passed this year by the Virginia General Assembly. Stakeholders worked with legislators to expand the type and amount of healthcare information collected, publicly reported, and which can support efforts to provide the right care, at the right place, and at the right cost.”

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Governor Northam vetoes bill to issue de facto concealed handgun permits

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RICHMOND—Governor Northam today, March 12th, vetoed House Bill 2253, which would jeopardize public safety by requiring the Virginia Department of State Police to issue a de facto nonresident concealed handgun permit if the agency fails to complete its review of an application within 90 days. The Governor’s veto statement is below.

March 12, 2019
Pursuant to Article V, Section 6, of the Constitution of Virginia, I veto House Bill 2253, which would create public safety concerns, place an arbitrary and overly burdensome mandate on the Virginia Department of State Police, and irresponsibly utilize taxpayer dollars to prioritize nonresident applications over resident needs.

This legislation has significant public safety implications, as it would require the Virginia Department of State Police to issue a de facto nonresident concealed handgun permit if the agency fails to complete its review of an application within 90 days. This not only places an arbitrary and burdensome mandate on the Virginia Department of State Police, but would also undoubtedly result in ineligible nonresidents obtaining permits. In order to protect public safety, it is critical that the Virginia Department of State Police be afforded the necessary time to review all available criminal history information and fully investigate each application.

Additionally, this legislation would force the Virginia Department of State Police to use already limited staff and taxpayer dollars to expedite processing of nonresident requests to meet this unreasonable requirement. As governor, it is my responsibility to ensure good stewardship of taxpayer dollars and resources.
Accordingly, I veto this bill.
Sincerely,

Ralph S. Northam

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