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Legislative agenda addresses improving environmental quality and management of our natural resources

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RICHMOND—Today, Governor Ralph Northam announced a legislative package focused on improving environmental quality and management of natural resources in Virginia. The package includes the Coastal Protection Act, the Water Quality and Safety Act, the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund Amendments Act, and two bills designed to reduce conflicts between shellfish growers and other users of tidal waters.

“During my first year in office, we have taken bold steps to address the pressing environmental threats facing our Commonwealth, and I look forward to building on that progress this session,” said Governor Northam. “With this legislative package, we have a critical opportunity to strengthen our communities and our regional economies, while also ensuring sound stewardship of our natural resources and protecting public health.”

The Coastal Protection Act, patroned by Senator Lynwood Lewis, would allow the Commonwealth to use an estimated $50 million in revenue generated by the sale of carbon pollution credits to be used for coastal resilience projects, and dedicate significant funds to low income energy efficiency and economic transition for coal communities.

“The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has the potential to bring millions of dollars to the Commonwealth that would go towards addressing coastal resiliency and sea level rise, as well as energy efficiency and renewable resources,” said Senator Lynwood Lewis. “As the legislature seeks creative ways to fund critical priorities every year, we have an opportunity through RGGI to instead establish a reliable revenue stream while simultaneously lowering utility bills and bringing new jobs to the state. It’s a win-win-win.”

“I thank the patrons of these bills for their leadership, and I am looking forward to working with them and the rest of the General Assembly to advance these important proposals during session,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “Protecting our coasts, improving water quality, reducing carbon pollution, and promoting sustainable and conflict-free shellfish aquaculture are significant priorities for the Northam Administration.”

The Water Quality and Safety Act, which will be introduced by Senator Scott Surovell and Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, will end Virginia’s moratorium on closing coal ash dumps in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and require that all of the material is removed from unlined pits and either recycled or transferred to a safe, lined landfill.

“This summer’s review confirmed we can innovatively recycle coal ash while creating Virginia jobs at minimal cost,” said Senator Scott Surovell. “Dominion’s original proposal to permanently store coal ash in ponds has been proven unwise—the time has come to resolve the coal ash issue once and for all and to ensure clean rivers and drinking water for everyone.”

“I’m excited to work with Governor Northam on legislation to responsibly clean up coal ash, because clean air and clean water is important to all Virginians,” said Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy.

The Stormwater Local Assistance Fund Amendments Act will make it easier for rural communities to access a portion of the matching funds made available to reduce polluted runoff from impervious surfaces like roads and parking lots. The bill will be carried by Delegate Margaret Ransone and Senator Emmett Hanger.

“Our rural communities that are taking steps voluntarily to improve water quality need access to reliable state assistance,” said Delegate Margaret B. Ransone. “Providing funding through the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund to communities statewide is critical to local water quality and local economies. This legislation is good for rural Virginia.”

“Throughout the Shenandoah Valley, small, rural towns are taking steps to improve their communities and local creeks and streams,” said Senator Emmett W. Hanger, Jr. “This legislation will ensure those localities have reliable support from the state’s stormwater local assistance funding.”

The two bills related to shellfish aquaculture are the product of consensus recommendations delivered to the Secretary of Natural Resources last month by a stakeholder working group that focused on strategies for reducing user conflicts on the water. The first bill, patroned by Delegate Chris Stolle, will improve the process for allowing municipal dredging projects in the Lynnhaven River in Virginia Beach, while also ensuring fair compensation for oyster lease holders that are impacted by the projects. The second bill, which will be introduced by Senator Monty Mason, improves the review of lease applications by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and raises some one-time fees to help weed out bad actors who may lease ground purely for speculative purposes.

“I am honored to represent Virginians who have the opportunity to work and play on the most beautiful waters in the world,” said Delegate Chris Stolle. “We have been trying for several years to find the right balance to the complex issues surrounding the commercial and recreational use of our waterways. I am thankful to Secretary Strickler and the Governor for bringing stakeholders to the table to learn from each other and who were open to finding workable solutions. I look forward to presenting the workgroup’s consensus bill that will advance dredging along the Lynnhaven River while protecting oyster leases for those active in the aquaculture industry.”

“Modernizing the leasing program for shellfish planting grounds is necessary to weed out bad actors and maximize beneficial use while minimizing user conflicts and abuses of the system,” said Senator Monty Mason. “This legislation will allow us to carry out consensus recommendations of the shellfish aquaculture working group in which I participated over the summer and fall, and create lasting stability for the aquaculture industry and others who work or play on Virginia’s waters.”

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Governor Northam vetoes legislation that would undermine efforts to ensure access to quality, affordable health care

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RICHMOND—Governor Northam today vetoed House Bill 2260 and Senate Bills 1027, 1240 and 1674, which would put Virginians at risk of being underinsured, result in rapidly increasing Marketplace premiums, and undermine key protections in the Affordable Care Act. The Governor’s full veto statements are below.

House Bill 2260

March 22, 2019
Pursuant to Article V, Section 6, of the Constitution of Virginia, I veto House Bill 2260, which would direct the Commissioner of Insurance to request federal permission for insurance carriers to offer catastrophic plans to all individuals purchasing coverage through the Marketplace.

This legislation would place consumers at risk of being underinsured and would fragment Virginia’s federal marketplace risk pool, leading to rapidly increasing premiums. House Bill 2260 would allow insurance carriers and individuals to circumvent the protections in the Affordable Care Act. Under current law, catastrophic plans are only available for individuals who are younger than 30 years of age and individuals who qualify for a hardship or affordability exemption. Catastrophic plans typically have lower premiums because they require individuals to very high deductibles before the plan pays for health care costs. Many individuals enrolled in a catastrophic health plan may forego medical services because of cost. Individuals with minimal health care needs are more likely to purchase these threadbare plans, leaving individuals with more complex medical conditions in traditional marketplace plans. This adverse selection would likely contribute to an increase in Virginia marketplace premiums across the board.

Virginia took a positive step to increase the availability of quality, affordable, and comprehensive health care coverage through Medicaid expansion for individuals whose income is lower than 138% of the Federal Poverty Line. Our responsibility is now to look at solutions such as those proposed by the Market Stability Workgroup in order to improve affordability across the Commonwealth’s health insurance markets. House Bill 2260 would undermine those efforts.

Accordingly, I veto this bill.

Sincerely,
Ralph S. Northam

SUMMARY AS INTRODUCED:
Health insurance; catastrophic health plans. Authorizes health carriers to offer catastrophic plans on the individual market and to offer such plans to all individuals. The measure provides that a catastrophic plan is deemed to provide an essential health benefits package and to meet certain requirements of federal law. A catastrophic plan is a high-deductible health care plan that provides essential health benefits and coverage for at least three primary care visits per policy year. Under the federal Affordable Care Act, catastrophic plans satisfy requirements that health benefit plans provide minimum levels of coverage only if they cover individuals who are under 30 years of age or who qualify for a hardship exemption or affordability exemption. The measure requires the Commissioner of Insurance to apply to the federal government for a state innovation waiver allowing the implementation of the provision. The provision will become effective 30 days after the Commissioner notifies certain persons that the request has been approved. This bill is identical to SB 1027.

Senate Bill 1027

March 22, 2019
Pursuant to Article V, Section 6, of the Constitution of Virginia, I veto Senate Bill 1027, which would direct the Commissioner of Insurance to request federal permission for insurance carriers to offer catastrophic plans to all individuals purchasing coverage through the Marketplace.

This legislation would place consumers at risk of being underinsured and would fragment Virginia’s federal marketplace risk pool, leading to rapidly increasing premiums. Senate Bill 1027 would allow insurance carriers and individuals to circumvent the protections in the Affordable Care Act. Under current law, catastrophic plans are only available for individuals who are younger than 30 years of age and individuals who qualify for a hardship or affordability exemption. Catastrophic plans typically have lower premiums because they require individuals to very high deductibles before the plan pays for health care costs. Many individuals enrolled in a catastrophic health plan may forego medical services because of cost. Individuals with minimal health care needs are more likely to purchase these threadbare plans, leaving individuals with more complex medical conditions in traditional marketplace plans. This adverse selection would likely contribute to an increase in Virginia marketplace premiums across the board.

Virginia took a positive step to increase the availability of quality, affordable, and comprehensive health care coverage through Medicaid expansion for individuals whose income is lower than 138% of the Federal Poverty Line. Our responsibility is now to look at solutions such as those proposed by the Market Stability Workgroup in order to improve affordability across the Commonwealth’s health insurance markets. Senate Bill 1027 would undermine those efforts.

Accordingly, I veto this bill.

Sincerely,
Ralph S. Northam

SUMMARY AS INTRODUCED:
Health insurance; catastrophic health plans. Authorizes health carriers to offer catastrophic plans on the individual market and to offer such plans to all individuals. The measure provides that a catastrophic plan is deemed to provide an essential health benefits package and to meet certain requirements of federal law. A catastrophic plan is a high-deductible health care plan that provides essential health benefits and coverage for at least three primary care visits per policy year. Under the federal Affordable Care Act, catastrophic plans satisfy requirements that health benefit plans provide minimum levels of coverage only if they cover individuals who are under 30 years of age or who qualify for a hardship exemption or affordability exemption. The measure requires the Commissioner of Insurance to apply to the federal government for a state innovation waiver allowing the implementation of the provision. The provision will become effective 30 days after the Commissioner notifies certain persons that the request has been approved. This bill is identical to HB 2260.

Senate Bill 1240

March 22, 2019
Pursuant to Article V, Section 6, of the Constitution of Virginia, I veto Senate Bill 1240. This bill would authorize health insurance carriers in the Commonwealth to offer short-term, limited-duration health plans that last up to 12 months and are renewable for up to 36 months.

This legislation undermines an individual’s right to quality, affordable, and comprehensive health care coverage. This would result in many Virginians being underinsured. Short-term, limited-duration plans are allowed to discriminate against individuals with pre-existing conditions, impose lifetime and annual caps, and are not required to provide essential health benefits. A typical short-term policy does not cover maternity care, prescription drugs, or mental health care. Additionally, individuals shifting out of their respective markets into short-term, limited-duration plans are expected to be healthier than average, fueling adverse selection that would increase premiums, negatively impact insurer competition, and destabilize the individual market.

Virginia took a positive step to increase the availability of quality, affordable, and comprehensive health care coverage through Medicaid expansion for individuals whose income is lower than 138% of the Federal Poverty Line. Our responsibility now is to look at solutions such as those proposed by the Market Stability Workgroup in order to improve affordability across the Commonwealth’s health insurance markets. Senate Bill 1240 would undermine those efforts.

Accordingly, I veto this bill.
Sincerely,
Ralph S. Northam

SUMMARY AS PASSED SENATE: (all summaries)
Health insurance; short-term, limited-duration plans. Authorizes health insurance carriers in the Commonwealth to offer short-term, limited-duration health plans. Short-term, limited-duration health plans are defined as plans that have an expiration date that is less than 12 months after the original effective date of the contract, policy, or plan and, taking into account renewals or extensions, have a duration that does not exceed 36 months. Short-term health plans are required to include a specified disclaimer.

Senate Bill 1674

March 22, 2019
Pursuant to Article V, Section 6, of the Constitution of Virginia, I veto Senate Bill 1674. This bill would authorize health insurance carriers in the Commonwealth that offer short-term, limited-duration health plans to offer a guaranteed option for a covered individual to purchase a new plan at a future date without re-underwriting.

This legislation undermines an individual’s right to quality, affordable, and comprehensive health care coverage and would result in many Virginians being underinsured. Short-term, limited-duration plans are allowed to discriminate against individuals with pre-existing conditions, impose lifetime and annual caps, and are not required to provide essential health benefits. A typical short-term policy does not cover maternity care, prescription drugs, or mental health care. Additionally, individuals shifting out of their respective markets into short-term, limited-duration plans are expected to be healthier than average, fueling adverse selection that would increase premiums, negatively impact insurer competition, and destabilize the individual market.

Virginia took a positive step to increase the availability of quality, affordable, and comprehensive health care coverage through Medicaid expansion for individuals whose income is lower than 138% of the Federal Poverty Line. Our responsibility now is to look at solutions such as those proposed by the Market Stability Workgroup in order to improve affordability across the Commonwealth’s health insurance markets. Senate Bill 1674 would undermine those efforts.

Accordingly, I veto this bill.
Sincerely,
Ralph S. Northam

SUMMARY AS PASSED SENATE: (all summaries)
Health insurance; short-term, limited-duration health plans; guaranteed option. Provides that any carrier offering short-term, limited-duration health plans may offer for sale a guaranteed option, defined in the bill as a contract or agreement between a covered person and a carrier that guarantees the option of the covered person to purchase a new short-term, limited-duration health plan at a future date without re-underwriting. The measure specifies that a guaranteed option is not a health benefit plan and that any guaranteed option may set a specified premium rate for any short-term, limited-duration health plan that it guarantees will be available to the covered person in the future.

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Governor Northam vetoes legislation designed to shame TANF recipients

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RICHMOND—Governor Northam vetoed House Bill 2749, which would require the Department of Social Services to report to the General Assembly the number of reported violations of restrictions on the use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance. The Governor’s full veto statement is below.

March 22, 2019

Pursuant to Article V, Section 6, of the Constitution of Virginia, I veto House Bill 2749. This bill would require the Department of Social Services to report to the General Assembly the number of reported violations of restrictions on the use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance (42 U.S.C. § 601 et seq).

House Bill 2749 is a solution looking for a problem. There is no evidence to suggest TANF violations are an issue. In fact, Department data shows that less than 0.2% of transactions are possibly in this category. Therefore, the only purpose of this bill is to codify a false and discriminatory stereotype about hard-working Virginia families who may temporarily need cash assistance.

The mission of the Department of Social Services is to help Virginians triumph over poverty, abuse, and neglect, and its time and resources are more effectively directed to support strong and resilient families. Our administration continues to focus on this important mission and welcomes bipartisan cooperation in its pursuit.

Accordingly, I veto the bill.

Sincerely,
Ralph S. Northam

SUMMARY AS PASSED: (all summaries)
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; restrictions on use of cash assistance; report. Directs the Department of Social Services to report annually by December 1 to the Chairmen of the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services and the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions information regarding the number of reported violations of restrictions on the use of TANF cash assistance, including the number of reported cases involving multiple violations of such restrictions.

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Governor Northam vetoes legislation that would restrict voting access

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RICHMOND—Governor Northam vetoed House Bill 2764 and Senate Bill 1038, both of which would create unnecessary obstacles to voter registration and undermine Virginians’ voting rights. The Governor’s full veto statements are below.

House Bill 2764

March 22, 2019
Pursuant to Article V, Section 6, of the Constitution of Virginia, I veto House Bill 2764. This legislation would have required a person who assists an individual with a voter registration application or collects completed applications to provide their name, telephone number, and name of the group or organization with which they are affiliated.

Virginia law already requires the individual or group assisting applicants with voter registrations to provide the applicant a receipt with their name and contact information, and including this individual’s information on the actual voter registration application is unnecessary. If this contact information is missing from the application, it could potentially lead to denied or delayed applications. Eligible voters should not have their constitutional right challenged because their application did not include contact information for the volunteer who assisted them in their registration.

This legislation places an additional, unnecessary, and burdensome requirement on those facilitating or participating in voter registration drives. The exercise of voting rights is fundamental to the strength of our democracy, and at every opportunity, Virginia must strongly depart from its history of mounting obstacles to the voting booth. We must clearly demonstrate that the registration of eligible voters in the Commonwealth is welcomed and encouraged.

Accordingly, I veto this bill.
Sincerely,
Ralph S. Northam

SUMMARY AS PASSED HOUSE: (all summaries)
Voter registration; persons assisting with completion or collection of completed voter registration applications; certain identifying information required. Requires any person who assists an applicant with the completion of a paper voter registration application or collects a completed paper voter registration application directly from an applicant to provide his name and telephone number and indicate the group or organization with which he is affiliated, if any, on the registration application. The bill prohibits any registration application from being denied on the basis of such information not being provided. The measure exempts from such requirement any state or local government employee who assists with the completion of registration applications or who collects completed registration applications as part of his official duties. The identifying information of the person assisting with the completion of an application or collecting a completed paper application shall not be entered into the registration record of the applicant.

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Governor Northam signs legislation strengthening Virginia’s Apprenticeship Programs

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RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam has signed House Bill 2020, sponsored by Delegate Matthew James, which requires the Virginia Community College System to develop and deliver uniform, related instruction for registered apprenticeships in high-demand programs for which coursework is not otherwise available. The Virginia Board of Workforce Development and the Virginia Employment Commission will determine what qualifies as a high-demand program. This instruction will be available statewide both online and in classroom settings.

“Apprenticeships can be instrumental in gaining the practical experience and developing the high-demand skills to be competitive in our 21st century workforce,” said Governor Northam. “However, there are businesses across our Commonwealth that want to take on apprentices, but are not located in a region of the state where the necessary coursework is available. This bill will ensure that all Virginians have access to the related instruction they need take to advantage of apprenticeship programs, regardless of where they live.”

“This legislation is an essential step forward in improving opportunities for apprentices,” said Chief Workforce Development Advisor Megan Healy. “Developing and offering related instruction will support ongoing efforts to strengthen our workforce by enabling apprenticeship programs to grow across the Commonwealth.”

“This bill is a way to expand opportunities for Virginians who need to earn a paycheck while developing skills to fill the labor shortage in high-demand areas,” said Delegate Matthew James. “This business and education partnership is crucial to grow Virginia’s economy.”

SUMMARY AS PASSED: (all summaries)
Virginia Community College System; certain registered apprenticeships; uniform instruction. Requires the Virginia Community College System, in consultation with the Department of Labor and Industry, to develop and deliver uniform, related instruction for registered apprenticeships in high-demand programs, as determined by the Virginia Board of Workforce Development and the Virginia Employment Commission, and for which coursework is not otherwise available. The bill requires such instruction to be available statewide and to be delivered in a face-to-face, online, or blended format.

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Governor Northam signs legislation establishing Virginia African American Advisory Board

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RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam has signed House Bill 2767, sponsored by Delegate Lamont Bagby, creating the Virginia African American Advisory Board. The board will be composed of 21 nonlegislative citizen members appointed by the Governor, and at least 15 of the members must be African American. The Secretaries of the Commonwealth, Commerce and Trade, Education, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security will also serve on the board as ex-officio members.

“To build a more accessible, inclusive, and equitable Commonwealth we must ensure the voices of all Virginians are heard, particularly those from underrepresented and historically disenfranchised communities,” said Governor Northam. “I am pleased to sign this bill into law, and I look forward to working closely with the members of this board to advance policies and legislation to promote the economic, social, educational, and cultural wellbeing of the African American community in Virginia.”

The Virginia African American Advisory Board is charged with advising the Governor on developing economic, professional, cultural, educational, and governmental links between state government and the African American community. Two other existing state boards, the Virginia Latino Advisory Board and the Virginia Asian Advisory Board, also serve to advise the Governor on issues affecting their respective communities in Virginia, including education, health equity, public safety, and minority-owned businesses.

“The creation of this board is far overdue,” said Delegate Lamont Bagby. “Establishing the Virginia African American Advisory Board ensures that the African American community has a permanent voice in the Commonwealth’s executive branch, and I thank my colleagues in the General Assembly for putting their full support behind this important body.”

Information about applying to serve on this board, or the many other state boards and commissions in Virginia, can be found at the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s website.

SUMMARY AS PASSED HOUSE: (all summaries)
Virginia African American Advisory Board. Establishes the Virginia African American Advisory Board to advise the Governor regarding the development of economic, professional, cultural, educational, and governmental links between the Commonwealth of Virginia and the African American community in Virginia. The Board shall be composed of 21 nonlegislative citizen members of whom at least 15 must be African American. In addition, Secretaries of the Commonwealth, Commerce and Trade, Education, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security, or their designees, shall serve as ex officio members.

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Governor Northam signs legislation cutting sales tax on essential personal hygiene products

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Stilfehler [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam has signed legislation that reduces the Retail Sales and Use Tax rate on essential personal hygiene products, including feminine hygiene products and nondurable incontinence products.

Senate Bill 1715, sponsored by Senator Jennifer Boysko, and House Bill 2540, sponsored by Delegate Kathy Byron apply a reduced Retail Sales and Use Tax rate of 2.5 percent to essential personal hygiene products, including feminine hygiene products and nondurable incontinence products such as diapers. These products are currently subject to the full Retail Sales and Use Tax rate, which is 6 percent in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, 7 percent in the Historic Triangle, and 5.3 percent everywhere else in the Commonwealth.

“I am pleased to sign this commonsense legislation that makes these necessities more accessible and affordable,” said Governor Northam. “The essential nature of personal health care products is not up for debate and I commend the General Assembly for coming together to ensure these savings for Virginians.”

“I am thrilled to see passage of the Dignity Act,” said Senator Jennifer Boysko. “We know that menstrual supplies and diapers are necessary to leave home for work, school, and social activities. Lowering the tax on these necessities is the right thing to do. I am so glad we have made progress on the issue of menstrual equity and at long last will have tax relief for these products that women and families have to purchase. I appreciate that the Governor understands how important this issue is for so many Virginians. We are working together to get things done!”

“This legislation won widespread bipartisan support because it provides tax relief on necessities used by women and men young and old,” said Delegate Kathy Byron. “For the young family buying diapers to those purchasing other essentials for their health, the savings because of this bill will add up and be appreciated.”

SUMMARY AS PASSED: (all summaries)
Sales and use tax; reduced rate on essential personal hygiene products. Applies the reduced state sales and use tax rate of 1.5%, which under current law applies only to food purchased for human consumption, to essential personal hygiene products, defined in the bill as (i) nondurable incontinence products such as diapers, disposable undergarments, pads, and bed sheets; and (ii) menstrual cups and pads, pantyliners, sanitary napkins, tampons, and other products used to absorb or contain menstrual flow. The bill has a delayed effective date of January 1, 2020. This bill is identical to SB 1715.

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