Samuel Miller District Supervisor Liz Palmer sends her first newsletter about her work on the Board of Supervisors.

This is the first in a series of occasional newsletters that I plan to send to keep folks up to date on recent and upcoming actions of the Board of Supervisors.  I hope to keep them brief and relevant, and I hope you’ll take the opportunity to read them. If you know someone whom you think may wish to receive these emails please forward this. On the other hand, if you’d rather not receive them you may unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link below.

First, here are some ways to keep in touch with me and the rest of the Board of Supervisors:

  • Please note my new email address: lpalmer@Albemarle.org
  • To send a message to all the Board of Supervisor members useBOS@Albemarle.org
  • To get regular notices of meetings, sign up for A-Mail, the electronic newsletter from the County

As you may recall, I ran on these central issues: school excellence, natural resource protection and infrastructure maintenance, and transparency and citizen involvement in government.   Much has happened in my first ten weeks on the board and I hope to report on transportation, the Comprehensive Plan, solid waste management, and rural internet service in subsequent newsletters.

Transparency and Citizen Involvement:  I pledged to dedicate myself to maintaining the public trust by involving citizens in all important decisions.

Public Hearings and Town Hall Meetings: As the news media has reported, the Board has held several well-attended public hearings, and I’d like to thank all of you who took time to voice your opinions or to write to us and/or the media. Please mark your calendars for one more important upcoming public hearing at Lane Auditorium in the County Office Building:

  • Tuesday evening April 8th at 6 pm on the proposed Tax Rate.

I will be holding three upcoming Town Hall Meetings for Samuel Miller Residents:

  • Saturday morning March 22nd 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. at Yancey Elementary School.
  • Monday evening March 24th 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. at Red Hill Elementary School.
  • Tuesday evening March 25th 7:00 to 8:30 pm. at Meriwether Lewis Elementary School.

Eric Strucko, our District’s elected School Board representative, will attend each of these meetings to discuss the School budget, which as you may know is about 60% of our overall county budget. Representatives from the Police and Fire and Rescue Departments will be available to address questions about their services.

Please plan to attend!

On the Road: I have been visiting with PTOs and a variety of interest groups and organizations.  Each meeting has been valuable to me.  Please let me know if you’d like me to attend your group’s meeting.

Internet Streaming of Board Meetings: I have been working to implement live video streaming of Board meetings just as many other localities do, but I’ll need public support to make that happen.  Audio streaming is available during meetings, and podcasts are available a few days after each meeting.  I’m arguing that we need video streaming to more fully engage the public, so feel free to speak up on that issue at a board meeting or in an email to the Board.

The Budget, the Tax Rate, and Schools:  Our most immediate concern is setting the tax rate at a level that will ensure our ability to responsibly fund our schools, public safety, and other county services. In early February the County Executive released the proposed 2015 county budget to the Board of Supervisors at the same time it was released to the public. The County Executive’s proposed budget reflected choices of the previous Board. The proposed budget included a 1.7 cent tax hike, which would bring the rate from the current 76.6 cents up to 78.3.  Most of that increase — 1.3 of the 1.7 cents – was required just to cover unfunded mandates handed down from the state: increased local contributions to the Virginia Retirement System, and funding to clean up the Chesapeake Bay by controlling storm water runoff into our rivers and streams. The remaining 0.4 cents was to shore up our general government and capital improvements fund.  The proposed budget would have only funded 60% of this year’s capital improvement projects and would have left the schools with $5.8 million less than their budget request.

The Board then held a series of work sessions and a well-attended public hearing (where speakers were supportive, by about a 5:1 margin, of increasing taxes to fund our schools). It was also noted that our tax rate is relatively low compared to similar localities in Virginia. After some back-and-forth, we voted to advertise a tax rate that marked the highest rate the Board was willing to bring to the public for discussion.  This was a 4.2 cent increase to 80.8 cents, which is 2.5 cents higher than the county executive’s proposal. The majority of this increase would go to the schools. If adopted, this new rate would help ease our schools’ budget gap but would still leave them with $2.4 million less than their budget request.

The Supervisors do not have line item veto over the school budget. We appropriate the total amount the schools will operate on for the coming year, but the school board decides how to spend the money. The School Board has not given the Board of Supervisors a prioritized list of what they would cut, but they have given us a list of possibilities. At the top of this list is the potential for teacher layoffs with subsequent increase in class size. Because of the recession, the last few years have already seen significant cuts in staff positions and important support services. Possible cuts on the table also include a proposed 2% salary raise for county and school employees.

What does this mean to you? For a person with a $300,000 home, the tax bill would go up $126 per year at the advertised rate. This does not include increases or decreases in this year’s property assessments. The average Samuel Miller home assessment is up 1.58%, but the range is wide.

On April 15th the board of Supervisors will need to decide on a tax rate.  It’s a tough call. No one likes paying taxes, but we know there’s no free lunch.  We have a growing county with growing demand for services.  I’ve heard from a number of citizens in our community who find it difficult to make ends meet given current expenses and income, and for whom a tax hike would be burdensome.  Others ask to have their taxes increased. They can afford the increase and feel that good schools and other services raise property values and benefit everyone.

For more information, please see the adopted budget and the school funding request.

If you’ve contacted me already – thanks again.  If you haven’t, please consider coming to a town hall meeting and to the public hearing on April 8.  And thank you again for giving me this opportunity to serve our county.

Liz

Read other updates from Albemarle’s Democratic elected officials.

2014 James and Nellie Butler Albemarle County High School Scholarships

Butlers

This Scholarship program was established in 1998 by the Albemarle County Democratic Party to honor James and Nellie Butler, life-long members of the Democratic Party. The scholarship honors their commitment to Albemarle County and their support for public education. All graduating Albemarle County High School students who plan to attend college, university or an accredited technical/ vocational program are eligible to apply.

Since the creation of the scholarship by the Albemarle County Democratic Party, over $20,000 in scholarship money has been awarded to students to help defray part of their college costs. The Butler Scholarship Committee, after a review of the applications which include an essay, will select the recipients of the 2014 scholarships. Financial need is a consideration.

One $500 scholarship toward post-secondary education tuition is awarded to a senior at each of the four Albemarle High Schools: Albemarle Senior high, Western Albemarle Senior High, Monticello Senior High and Murray Senior High.

Jim Butler served Albemarle County for over 35 years as an agricultural extension agent. He was the first African-American to be named Unit Chairman for an agricultural extension office in Virginia. Jim was also the first African-American elected to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, winning the seat from the Rivanna Magisterial District in 1981.

Nellie Butler was a Girl Scout leader and a 4-H advisor in Albemarle County. She taught at Piedmont Technical Education Center in Culpeper for over 25 years.

Jim Butler was recognized for his many contributions to Albemarle County in 2000, when the Baker-Butler Elementary School was named for him and John Baker, the first African-American Chair of the Albemarle County School Board.

Find additional Information and download the 2014 application. Applications are due by May 10th.

Delegate David Toscano sends his latest update from the  General Assembly  Session.

The General Assembly adjourned on March 8, 2014 without a budget. This is the third time that this has occurred in the nine years that I have been serving you in Richmond. We have until the end of June to have a budget in place, but most of us want this to occur as soon as possible because our localities need to have firm figures from Richmond as to monies that are coming to them so they can prepare their budgets. The budget impasse is tied up in the Medicaid debate. It is my view that you cannot separate Medicaid from the budget. If we can access more federal dollars as part of Medicaid expansion, we would not have to appropriate monies in ways set forth in the House budget. We could replace millions of dollars in state dollars proposed for indigent care and for hospitals with federal dollars, freeing up state dollars to be spent on education and public safety. This debate will continue to occur when we reconvene in a special session beginning March 24th.


ALERT

Joint Town Hall
Senator Creigh Deeds and Delegate David Toscano
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
6:30-8:30 p.m.
Forum @ Monticello High School

Charlottesville, VA

Sign up at davidtoscano.com


While most press coverage focused on the Medicaid issues, there were several significant actions taken by the General Assembly this session. They include the following:

  1.  Mental Health Reform. I served on the Mental Health subcommittee in the House that was able to advance a number of reforms, including the extension of emergency custody orders for citizens in crisis from six to twelve hours, requiring the state hospitals to provide a bed in the event that no other beds are available, and the implementation of a psychiatric bed registry to more quickly find beds for people in need.
  2. Ethics Reform. I was the chief co-patron on a bipartisan bill that enacts a $250.00 cap on tangible gifts, requires that gifts to family members be reported, and ensures that the gift disclosures be made online so that citizens can easily see them.   There is still much to be done in this area, but this is the first overhaul of this statute in many years, and represents a good effort to restore some faith in our ethics laws in the aftermath of the McDonnell scandal.
  3. Standards of Learning Reform. We have reduced the number of SOL “high-stakes” tests in Grades 3 to 8, and have created a new committee that will recommend additional reforms.
  4. Transportation Reform. The hybrid vehicle tax that was part of the 2013 transportation reform measure that many of us opposed was repealed.
  5. Utility Service. We passed a bill that will make the undergrounding of utilities easier to accomplish by spreading the costs across the ratepayers. This is a very important measure for older communities like Charlottesville where above ground power lines often fail when major tree limbs fall during storms.
  6. School Reform. We delayed by two years the issuance of the “A-F” letter grades for schools.
  7. Bicycle Safety. We provided some additional protections for bicyclists by enacting a 3-5 foot passing distance around bicycles.

A number of measures were either tabled or defeated that might have some interest. The Virginia Dream Act, which would allow in-state college tuition for children of Virginia immigrants, was defeated, as was an effort to increase the minimum wage. Efforts by conservatives to push a new constitutional convention were passed by the House, but defeated in the Senate.  

There were no new attacks on women’s reproductive health passed by the General Assembly, but out efforts to rollback the forced ultrasound requirement were defeated. The proposal to transfer $3 million from the City schools to the County schools was defeated in the House Appropriations Committee.

We have not yet designated a new judge for the 16th Judicial Circuit, which has been pushed back to sometime in April.

We return to Richmond on March 24th to work on Medicaid and the budget. Debates on this issue will likely continue throughout the spring.

As always, it is a pleasure representing you in the General Assembly and I hope that you will contact me with your views on various issues in the weeks leading up to our next session on March 24th.

David

You can signup for Delegate Toscano’s email updates at his web site.

Read other updates from Albemarle’s Democratic elected officials.

Senator Creigh Deeds sends  his weekly newsletter with news from the the last week at the General Assembly.

Dear Friend,

The 2014 Session of the General Assembly is over; we adjourned on Saturday.  However, the main work, the budget, remains to be accomplished.  The General Assembly will go back into session on the 24th of March to try to finalize a spending plan for the next biennium.

The big hang up, as I suggested from the beginning of the session, is the expansion of Medicaid. Opponents of expansion seem to be swayed by the argument that by refusing the federal dollars attached to Medicaid expansion Virginia will send a message to the President and in some way rebuke the Affordable Care Act.  The predominant concern is over whether the federal government can sustain Medicaid payments, despite the requirement that the feds fund no less than 90 percent of the cost of expansion. The argument ignores the fact that the feds have never failed to make their payments to Virginia under the original Medicaid plan, started in 1965.

There are at least three reasons why Virginia needs to move forward with the Senate’s approach, Marketplace Virginia, to this issue.

First, ignoring the fact that a healthier population will result in a healthier community and a more robust economy, hospitals and insurance companies are already subsidizing the cost of providing healthcare to the uninsured.  And thus, the people who pay the bills at the hospitals and the premiums to insurance companies are already picking up the tab.  The people who will be covered by Marketplace Virginia are primarily the working poor, people who are already working but are not making enough money to afford insurance premiums and do not receive insurance through their work.  For many, primary care is received through the emergency room, which cannot refuse care for a sick person.  Those costs are subsidized by the hospital or other providers through increased costs for those who can pay and for insurance companies.  We are already picking up the tab, and it just makes sense to provide coverage to the uninsured.

Second, the flow of federal money to Virginia, up to $1.8 billion a year, or about $5 million a day, is bound to have a positive effect on Virginia’s economy.  Because the plan will provide healthcare coverage to over 200,000 Virginians, expanding coverage is expected to create as many as 30,000 jobs in the next six years. In an area where we need job growth, especially with a stagnant economy, this aspect cannot be ignored.

Third, we are paying for Medicaid expansion anyway.  There is no doubt that fees and taxes went up at the federal level to pay for Medicaid expansion.  In fact, Virginians are paying as much as $2.9 billion a year under the Affordable Care Act.  Why should those dollars be spent anywhere but Virginia?  It is true that we may not recoup all of the money Virginians pay the federal government under the Affordable Care Act, but why should we not receive as much as we can back from the federal government?  Under the law, the feds have to pay 100 percent of the costs for three years and no less than 90 percent after that.  What part of that deal is bad for Virginia?

Obviously there are people who disagree with my point of view.  We will strive in earnest, I hope, to resolve the budget impasse as soon as practical.  Millions of Virginians and hundreds of localities depend on Virginia getting its budgetary house in order.

Despite the budget impasse, the General Assembly did achieve some things this session:

  • A package of ethics reform bills passed, and, without question, raises the standard.  For example, the new limit on tangible gifts to legislators is $250.  However, for those looking for real reform, the legislation will not satisfy your hunger.  One obvious flaw is that there is no limit on “intangible” gifts such as trips, or sporting events.
  • Every year there seems to be an argument about the appointment of judges, where the judgeships belong, and who gets appointed.  To satisfy many questions, in 2012 the legislature directed the Supreme Court of Virginia to develop a system to evaluate caseloads and determine the appropriate use of resources in our judicial system. The National Center for State Courts completed the study on behalf of the Court in November. The results show that we need about twenty-eight judges more than we currently provide in the Code.  Because legislators from different parts of the state can pick apart just about every section of the report, particularly those that dealt with their region, the report was somewhat controversial.  Nevertheless, the report provided us with a metric to use, and we finally agreed to increase the number of judges provided in the Code to 429.  That does not mean all of the judgeships will be funded, but at least it gives us a point from which to work.
  • My personal goals with respect to mental health reform were met.  I needed the strongest bill possible to leave the Senate to increase my negotiating power with members of the House of Delegates.  The Senate supported legislation to establish a 24-hour ECO period, a registry of psychiatric beds, and the establishment of state facilities as providers of last resort for any individual deemed to require hospitalization. While we did not achieve the 24-hour wait, the House agreed to the proposal to ensure that the state provide a bed of last resort.  This is significant.  It changes the paradigm.  Under existing law, the issuance of a temporary detention order is triggered not by the need or behavior of the individual, but by whether a bed exists in which to place said individual.  That makes no sense. The new process will effectively end what is known as “streeting”, where one in need of a bed is released at the end of the ECO period because a bed is not identified.  We also lengthened the period of the TDO from 48 hours to 72 hours.  These changes in the law will give the state enormous tools in mental health crisis situations.

But we cannot lose our urgency about the need for changes in our mental health system.  We are still severely lacking, not just in Virginia but around the country, in our system of delivery of mental healthcare services.  Importantly, my legislation creating a legislative study committee passed, and we will spend the next four years working to develop in Virginia a mental health delivery system that, I hope, can be a model for the rest of the country.  In fact, I will not settle for less.  I hope to examine and weigh the costs and benefits of every aspect of our system.  Many argue that funding is the problem. I know that our system of community services boards has been underfunded and that the ones that work best are those that receive a significant amount of funding from local government.  However, funding is not the entire issue.  For example, a recent Inspector General’s report showed that one of the reasons we have a shortage of psychiatric beds is that the state hospitals are inefficient in the discharge of patients.  I believe that we can squeeze inefficiencies out of the system and ensure that money is spent on effective, patient-focused care.

It continues to be my high honor to serve you in the Senate of Virginia.  Should you have concerns, questions or views you wish to share, please contact me at (434) 296-5491 ordistrict25@senate.virginia.gov.

Best,

Creigh

You can signup for Senator Deeds email updates at his web site.

Read other updates from Albemarle’s Democratic elected officials.

Photo Credit: WINA

From NBC 29:

 ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va (WVIR) - An Albemarle County prosecutor wants to be the next circuit court clerk. John Zug declared his candidacy to a crowd of supporters Friday afternoon in Charlottesville’s historic Court Square.

The Democrat pointed out problems he sees inside the current clerk’s office. Zug says they include underserving the court’s needs and mismanaging the office.

“What’s happened is we’ve had a number of situations where either insufficient jurors have been subpoenaed to come to court and in that particular case, we ended up having a mistrial because she had not subpoenaed enough jurors and we quickly lost two or three jurors,” said Zug.

NBC29 has reached out to the current Albemarle Clerk of Court Debbie Shipp for her response, but have not yet heard back.

The election will be held next year.

NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

 

Tagged with:
 

Delegate David Toscano sends his latest update from the  General Assembly  Session.

The General Assembly session is scheduled to adjourn on Saturday, March 8, 2014, and it is not clear that we will have a budget by that date. The stumbling block continues to be Medicaid expansion. Many of us have advocated for a budget that includes closing the coverage gap for over 275,000 Virginians. We support bringing some $1.7 billion of Virginian’s taxpayer dollars back to create 30,000 jobs and bolster hospitals that are experiencing severe financial losses at this time. The Senate’s budget includes a compromise approach to Medicaid expansion called “Market Place Virginia,” a proposal which turns over the coverage of these vulnerable Virginians to the private insurance market.  Many thought this compromise might win enough support in the House among Republicans, given that it is based on private sector principles, to obtain passage but that does not appear likely at present. For a recent press conference on this issue, click here. You can also watch several speeches on the House Floor on this topic by clicking here.

While much of the focus this session has been on Medicaid expansion, there are other significant initiatives that will likely pass in the next few days. We are making changes in the mental health system to provide better assistance and infuse monies to serve those most in need. The details of these will be finalized in the next several days, but reforms will likely include implementing an internet bed registry so that finding a bed will be easier and provisions that will allow authorities to detain citizens in crisis for a longer period so that assistance can be provided.

Second, we will pass a legislative ethics reform bill that, while not perfect, represents a modest step forward toward restoring some faith that citizens have lost as the result of the McDonnell scandal. We have reduced the number of high-stakes testing associated with the Standards of Learning (SOL), and have set in place a study group to further analyze what needs to happen in the coming years. Finally, the fee on hybrid vehicles that was imposed as part of last year’s transportation package was repealed. Many of us thought that this was not a good idea last year and we are happy to see it overturned.

I was able to pass a number of bills which you can find summarized here:

HB121 – Requires the Department of Taxation to provide to the General Assembly the total amount of credit given for a tax credit regardless of the number of taxpayers who take the credit.  Presently, if four or fewer taxpayers take the credit, the Department of Taxation does not release these figures. We allocate approximately $4 billion in tax credits each year. In order to make sound decisions on whether a tax credit is effective, it is necessary to know the total amount of the credit being taken to compare against the economic benefit to Virginia, if any.

HB312 – Allows courts to award attorney fees in civil cases of financial exploitation based on fraud or undue influence. This will assist our senior citizens and their families in the recovery of assets that have been fraudulently taken from them.

HB890 – Co-patroned with Delegate Chris Peace (Hanover), this legislation corrected oversights in the Code created when some Department of Social Services offices changed the title of their ‘social workers’ to ‘family services specialists’. There were many duties that were specified in the Code to be accomplished by ‘social workers’ by definition that are essential to the delivery of services.

HB407 – This measure provides adult adoptees an alternative to the expensive cost of petitioning the Court for identifying information on their birth parents when the parents are deceased by allowing the Commissioner of Social Services to grant their request after the Commissioner has done a full investigation to determine whether or not good cause is shown to release the information

HB1110 – This measure allows a locality to recoup the additional cost of educating a non-resident student enrolled in a special education program from the student’s originating locality. This measure is particularly helpful to Charlottesville City Schools who host a number of non-resident students who attend specialized public education programs available in Charlottesville. The additional cost to the local taxpayers is approximately $36,000 per student.  This bill allows Charlottesville to be reimbursed for this additional cost by the locality where the student resided with their parents before being sent to Charlottesville.

HB1233 – Brought to me by the Attorney General, this measure allows individuals who are the target of stalkers to be included in the Address Confidentiality Program. This program allows individuals to hide their physical address from public records if they have been the victim of domestic violence. This bill would provide protection to those who fall victim to stalkers.

In the next few days, we are likely to determine whether to adjourn and go into a special session for purposes of discussing Medicaid reform or remain in session and continue to debate this issue in the coming weeks.

Finally, Nancy and I want to thank you so much for the outpouring of support that we have received in the last couple of weeks.  It has made a huge difference to our family and we are humbled by it.

As always, I enjoy hearing from you during the assembly session with your concerns and views about specific bills. This year, Session is scheduled to adjourn March 8, 2014. Please do not hesitate to contact my office.  It is a pleasure serving you in the General Assembly.

David

You can signup for Delegate Toscano’s email updates at his web site.

Read other updates from Albemarle’s Democratic elected officials.

Senator Creigh Deeds sends  his weekly newsletter with news from the the last week at the General Assembly.

Dear Friend,

Every year as the General Assembly session winds down, it’s important to take some time to reflect on the things that have been accomplished, the things yet to accomplish, and perhaps the missed opportunities.  With less than a week left before the scheduled adjournment of the 2014 session, a couple of things are clear.

The biggest opportunity this session has been to try to find a way to provide health insurance to perhaps as many as 400,000 additional Virginians and also recapture some of the federal taxes we are paying to fund the Affordable Care Act.  Some people deem this the expansion of Medicaid.  We in Virginia have come up with a different response, Marketplace Virginia, that basically turns this over to the private insurance market.  Perhaps the next week, and more likely the next few months, will determine whether we are able to take advantage of this opportunity.

I have been on a journey to bring reform to the area of delivery of mental health services.  The road to reform has been somewhat bumpy. My proposals, many of which were roughed out in my mind as I tried to process what happened in November, are moving forward.  The details will be finalized in conference this week.  These proposals are just the first steps of a concerted effort to improve our mental health system.

A number of other issues, some a regurgitation of past efforts and others brought on by the exigency of circumstances, have been considered this session.  A few of those are as follows:

  • Legislative ethics reform has been put forward in bills sponsored by Delegate Todd Gilbert of Shenandoah County and Senator Tommy Norment of James City County.  Both of these bills represent a very modest step forward, and many who call for reform in the area of ethics, including me, are going to be left unsatisfied with the results.  Those bills will be in conference this last week.
  • Sunday hunting has been championed through bills from Senator Phillip Puckett of Russell County and Delegate Todd Gilbert.  Those bills limit Sunday hunting to private property with written permission from the landowner and are headed to the Governor’s desk.  He has indicated he will sign them.
  • Delegate Tim Hugo and Senator Dave Marsden, both of Fairfax County, sponsored legislation to require social studies textbooks used in Virginia to identify the body of water between the Korean Peninsula and Japan as both “Sea of Japan” and the “East Sea.”  This legislation appears to be enjoying the majority of support in both bodies but is tied up procedurally right now.  The Governor has indicated he will sign this legislation if it reaches his desk.  The legislation has many proponents in the Korean American population.
  • My effort to increase the court fee paid by those convicted of crime to fund the Internet Crimes Against Children units in Bedford and Fairfax, grants to localities throughout the Commonwealth, and maintenance of the Child Pornography Images Registry appears to be stalled in the House of Delegates.  The bill enjoyed unanimous support in the Senate.  The legislation would raise the fee $5 and generate an additional $900,000 a year for this important work.
  • The legislature has tackled SOL reform through bills championed by Senators John Miller of Newport News, George Barker of Fairfax, and Delegate Tag Greason of Loudoun County.  I also sponsored two bills on the matter. The number of tests, especially for elementary age students, will be reduced as a result of this effort.  High standards are the right thing for our schools and students, but the emphasis on testing has diminished the role of teaching the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.  Many of the concerns some of us had about the SOLs when they were adopted back in 1994 are being heeded 20 years later.
  • The additional hybrid fee added last year as part of the comprehensive transportation package was repealed.  As many recall, Governor McDonnell included the fee in his transportation proposal in 2013.  Both the Senate and the House removed the provisions from their versions of the legislation. When the bills went into conference, the conferees reinserted the language into the bill.  At that point in the process, the bill could not be amended.  While many opposed this particular provision, a majority of legislators voted for the proposal in its entirety. Governor McAuliffe has signed the legislation, which will become law July 1.
  • For the second consecutive year, the General Assembly has passed a resolution to place on the ballot this fall a proposed constitutional amendment to allow localities to grant real estate tax relief to the surviving spouses of service members who were killed in action.  The companion bill that stipulates the details of how this exemption would work is still moving through the process.  Voters should expect to vote on this measure in November.
  • A number of bills were introduced to delay the July 1, 2014 start date for local governments to have in place new stormwater management programs that reduce runoff.  Many localities were concerned about the implementation costs and whether they had sufficient time to put in place the necessary regulations and staff by the deadline.  During the deliberations, a compromise measure came forward that makes the adoption of this program optional for localities that do not operate a municipal separate storm sewer system. The Department of Environmental Quality will manage a stormwater management program in those localities that opt out.

Over 2700 bills and resolutions were introduced this year, ranging from resolutions recognizing great Virginians we lost this year to legislation effecting major policy changes. Today is the final day for committees to meet.  In this final week, we will finish up work on bills in conference and take action on the bills coming out of committees today. I look forward to your continued input during this last week.

It continues to be my honor to serve you in the Senate of Virginia.  This session is rapidly winding down and while it is true that some issues may not be resolved by the scheduled adjournment period, I expect to be able to be back home practicing law soon.  If you have concerns or questions please contact us at district25@senate.virginia.gov. We can be reached by phone in Richmond at (804) 698-7525.  Beginning March 10, please contact the district office at (434) 296-5491 or P.O. Box 5462, Charlottesville, VA 22905.

Best,

Creigh

You can signup for Senator Deeds email updates at his web site.

Read other updates from Albemarle’s Democratic elected officials.

Senator Creigh Deeds sends  his weekly newsletter with news from the the last week at the General Assembly.

Dear Friend,

The 2014 session of the General Assembly is rapidly moving toward the scheduled adjournment onMarch 8.  Both houses passed competing budgets this past week and bills are headed to conference.

On Thursday the House and the Senate passed out their respective versions of the biennial budget.  As with all legislation, the budget bills must be approved by the other chamber. Every year, the House and Senate insist on their amendments and send the budget to a committee of conference.  The General Assembly is expected to finalize the budget for fiscal years 2014-2016 before the scheduled adjournment, but the deliberations may stall this year over Medicaid.

At least twice this session I have used this space to talk about Medicaid expansion and about the Senate’s approach, Marketplace Virginia.  A couple of things need to be clear whether or not we expand Medicaid in Virginia.  First, individuals and Virginia businesses will pay additional taxes to the federal government.  Second, Virginia hospitals will experience reduced Medicare payments from the federal government and must continue to provide treatment to the uninsured.  The gap between the cost of providing care to these patients and the reimbursement will grow into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The primary hang-up between the budget advanced by the House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia involves these issues.  Marketplace Virginia is an attempt not only to provide insurance coverage to about 285,000 Virginians but also to recapture almost $2 billion in federal taxes Virginians are paying.  The Senate proposal recognizes the reality of the federal actions and tries to take advantage of it.  The House budget rejects that reality and instead uses millions of state tax dollars to reimburse hospitals for the Medicare cuts imposed at the federal level.  Under the House plan, Virginia taxpayers will pay for Medicaid expansion while nobody in Virginia will receive any benefit under that program.  Virginia taxpayers will also be asked to pay a second time for the cost of Medicaid expansion through the reimbursement program to the hospitals.

Some of my colleagues in the Senate who have been philosophically opposed to the Affordable Care Act recognize that it is the law and believe we should put the law to work in order to benefit as many Virginians as possible.  Enacting a market-based insurance plan to expand coverage to the uninsured is more fiscally prudent than doing nothing.  A rejection of Marketplace Virginia is not a vote against the Affordable Care Act.  At best it is a symbolic gesture, but the action will cost Virginians real tax dollars.  The ongoing discussion about health care is at the heart of why a budget will likely not be agreed to on time.

There was some progress on my efforts to make changes in the mental health laws of Virginia.  Mental health has always been an important issue to me throughout my legislative career.  The community services boards, particularly Region Ten and Alleghany Highlands Community Services, have made great strides over the years in improving services, and the staff has kept me abreast of the needs in our communities.  Family members of institutionalized loved ones have been vocal advocates about Virginia’s abysmal ranking for spending in these vital areas.  Particularly after the tragedy at Virginia Tech in 2007, I have been involved in efforts to ensure that the laws will be responsive to the needs of all Virginians.

I did not ask to be more involved than that, but my circumstances have made it necessary for me to be more directly involved in reforming our mental health laws.  To that end, I introduced a number of bills this year.  I can report that my bills relating to crisis intervention are moving along.  The legislation requiring the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to reexamine qualifications for intake agents and establish a data base for psychiatric beds is still under consideration in the House.  Disagreement remains about how long we should extend the emergency custody order period.  I am confident that we will have a satisfactory bill emerge from conference.  Importantly, the study resolution that asks for a two-year comprehensive examination of the mental health system appears headed for passage.  It has been amended to specifically include the effective re-institutionalization of those with mental illness in our jails and prisons.  Needless to say, this study is the vehicle by which we hope to make significant long-term changes in the mental health system.  I am convinced that through this work we can improve the quality of people’s lives for years to come.

It continues to be my pleasure and distinct honor to represent you in the Senate of Virginia.  If I can be of service, do not hesitate to contact me at PO Box 396, Richmond, VA 23218,district25@senate.virginia.gov, or (804) 698-7525.

Best,

Creigh

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Delegate David Toscano sends his latest update from the  General Assembly  Session.

The House and Senate budgets were debated and ultimately passed yesterday. Budgets are about choices, and the budget that passed the House reflected a choice that Republicans made to reject the expansion of Medicaid coverage to over 275,000 Virginians. In a last minute procedural move, the Republicans offered the Senate plan for Medicaid expansion, the so-called “private option,” as an amendment in order to get a vote on this issue. It was largely a symbolic vote because leadership asked their caucus members to vote as a block. The Medicaid initiative was therefore defeated in the House. It survives in the Senate budget, however, so this issue is anything but dead.

Some interesting contrasts arose in the budget debate. For weeks, a number of us have been arguing that hospitals will experience serious financial losses if we do not expand Medicaid. In response, House Republicans increased appropriations to hospitals by over $100 million. While this appropriation does not approach the shortfall to the hospitals, which is projected at $448 million in 2015, the money nonetheless had to come from somewhere. It was transferred from other parts of the budget, most notably funding for job creation and economic development. House Democrats argued against these transfers: why not help the hospitals by simply expanding Medicaid?

The House Republican leadership also supported a $300 million initiative to provide the General Assembly members with ­new office space. Independent of the problems of the building in terms of its air quality and structural soundness, citizens justifiably find it difficult to understand how members can spend $300 million on a new building but be unwilling to use federal dollars to help insure those most in need.

Because of its failure to include Medicaid expansion, I voted against the House budget. For those of you who have any interest in viewing some of my floor speeches on the importance of expanding Medicaid you can watch them here.

My Telephone Town Hall meeting on Wednesday night was a great success. We had several thousand listeners on the call, despite the fact that we were competing with the public hearing on the 29 Bypass back at home. During the Town Hall meeting, we conducted several instant polls on a variety of issues, from Medicaid to Standards of Learning (SOL) reform. The results were not surprising. Seventy-two percent of the respondents said they support Medicaid expansion, while seventeen percent said they wanted reforms in place before the expansion occurred. And sixty-five percent said they would not support building new offices for the General Assembly unless Medicaid reform was adopted. Sixty-eight percent supported the elimination of certain high-stakes testing as part of SOL reform. Finally, sixty percent said that they were willing to pay a little more on their utility bill if they knew that electricity was being generated through the use of more solar power.

As always, I enjoy hearing from you during the assembly session with your concerns and views about specific bills. This year, Session is scheduled to adjourn March 8, 2014. Please do not hesitate to contact my office.  It is a pleasure serving you in the General Assembly.

David

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Senator Creigh Deeds sends  his weekly newsletter with news from the the last week at the General Assembly.

Dear Friend,

This past week the General Assembly saw the crossover and lots of chest thumping. Both sides, Republicans in the House of Delegates and Democrats in the Senate, claimed to be the source of all things moderate and reasonable.  The proof, however, is in the pudding, and people can make their own judgments.  The big hang up at this point remains from the opening day of session: Medicaid expansion.

As explained in this space before, Medicaid expansion is an optional part of the Affordable Care Act.  Payment for expansion, however, is not optional.  Funding comes from federal taxes.  People are already paying increases in taxes on insurance premiums and in other areas. Virginia taxpayers will continue to pay those taxes whether or not we expand Medicaid; however, if we don’t expand in Virginia, our taxpayer dollars will be spent to provide coverage to residents in other states.  Virginia loses in excess of $5 million in federal funding every day that we don’t expand Medicaid.

Last week Senator John Watkins, a Republican from Powhatan, revealed a new approach to Medicaid expansion.  His proposal, which would need to be approved by the federal government, would allow us to put our own brand on expansion and provide coverage to an estimated 285,000 people.  The plan, Marketplace Virginia, requires recipients of the new coverage to pay a premium, just as they would if they had private insurance.  The proposal also includes language we inserted into the budget last year that says if federal funding ever dips below 90 percent of the cost of expansion, Virginia will be allowed to withdraw.  As explained before, under existing law, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost of expansion for three years, reduced to 90 percent in the sixth year of expansion.  The premiums will be collected to apply against the state’s share of the cost.

Members of the House of Delegates argue that reforms to Medicaid must occur before expansion.  Two of the primary concerns, however, are already written into the law.  We already establish a minimum 90 percent funding level, and we require the payment of premiums. Requiring some form of financial responsibility on the part of the insured is a significant reform. What’s more is the unbelievable pressure that the cost of providing for the uninsured puts on our health care system.  That pressure has shut down hospitals in Virginia and in other parts of rural America.  Expansion of Medicaid will provide the necessary funding to keep rural hospitals open.

And, important to me, expansion of Medicaid requires equity between the treatment of mental illness and other illnesses.  This will pump over $200 million a year into Virginia’s treatment for mental illness.  Without question, this will raise the level of mental health care higher than we have ever had in Virginia.  Expanding insurance coverage, passage of the omnibus mental health bill, and a comprehensive review of our system has the potential to bring much needed transformations in the delivery of mental health care in Virginia and put the Commonwealth in a leadership position among the fifty states in the treatment of those who suffer mental illness.

As Virginians we should not expect to be any less than leaders.

I continue to be overwhelmed by the kindness and the support I receive from constituents, people around Virginia, and people all over the country on a daily basis.  It remains my distinct honor to represent you in the Senate of Virginia.  If I can be of service, do not hesitate to contact me at PO Box 396, Richmond, VA 23218, district25@senate.virginia.gov, or (804) 698-7525.

Best,

Creigh

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