Currently viewing the tag: "Creigh Deeds"

Senator Creigh Deeds sends his latest update from this year’s General Assembly Session

Dear Friend,

The midpoint of the 2015 General Assembly Session has passed. We are nearing crossover, the point when the Senate and House of Delegates must complete work on bills generated by its members. While the budget remains the focus, a number of controversial issues have come before the Senate thus far.

With respect to mental health, there are some issues that have to be worked out. A house bill sets up a study for whether emergency room physicians should have the ability, now performed solely by CSB evaluators, to determine whether one should be subject to a temporary detention order. The participation of ER doctors is already being studied by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) and by the joint subcommittee I chair. Nevertheless, it is somewhat in conflict with legislation I sponsored as a result of the DBHDS study on the qualifications and training of emergency evaluators.  My sense at this point is that we will try to work out the differences, but it may be wise to take the cost of improving the program into consideration and try to have the Governor incorporate the changes into his budget and legislative priorities next year.

Senator Mark Obenshain sponsored a resolution to establish charter schools in the Constitution of Virginia and grant decision-making authority to the State Board of Education. I voted against the measure, as I have in the past. Charter schools have a place in our educational system, but unless we develop a different funding source I am not willing to strip local school boards of the authority to determine whether the creation of a charter school is best for their community. Public charter schools would no doubt be funded through the current educational funding stream, and the money would come out of the public schools in the locality where they are located. Therefore, I am not willing to substitute the state’s judgment for that of the local school board.

There has been a lot of promise and a lot of discussion in charter schools. We want children to have the best outcome possible and the best hope for positive outcomes in the future. However, our obligation as a Commonwealth is to make certain every child has an opportunity to succeed. The best way to do that is to make certain our public schools are as strong as possible. Looking around the country at the charter school movement, the results are mixed in states where charter schools are more prevalent. I am not encouraged that charter schools are the answer to addressing the needs in our public school system.

Senator Tom Garrett introduced Senate Bill 1132 to allow guns on school property by concealed carry permit holders after school hours. I voted against the bill because I think it sends the wrong signal. We banned firearms from public school property years ago, and I do not see any reason to change that policy. Over the years I have been an advocate for the rights of law-abiding citizens to own and possess firearms. However, there are limits to everything. Schools need to be a place of safety for young people. In addition, the legislation would have required private schools to allow firearms on their premises. Many of the private schools are run by churches, and I do not think the state should override churches in this regard.

A number of bills of interest relating to energy and power companies are still pending before the legislature. The first, Senate Bill 1338, sponsored by Senator Emmett Hanger would repeal a 2004 law that gave natural gas companies the right to enter onto private property, prior to the exercise of eminent domain, to conduct a survey to determine if the property is suitable for a pipeline. Frankly, the utilities can already do this with permission. I voted against the law in 2004 and am co-sponsoring the bill because I do not think the state absent exigent circumstances has the right to give private companies or individuals the right to come onto the property of someone else without permission. It has effectively legalized trespass and is totally unconstitutional, in my view.

Senate Bill 1349, which is sponsored by Senator Frank Wagner, would remove two of the major energy suppliers in the Commonwealth, Dominion and American Electric Power, from much of the regulation that are currently subject to in exchange for a temporary rate freeze. There is no freeze proposed or promised for the entire period of the deregulation. I am interested in the debate on this bill, but I am inclined to vote no. Public utilities that essentially have a monopoly over services should be subject to regulation.

I pulled three bills this past week. The first was modeled after a Minnesota law that is designed to protect our declining number of pollinators. Bees are the bedrock of agriculture, and thus the economy. Recent declines in the number of pollinators are disturbing. The bill, which was designed ultimately to reduce bees’ exposure to toxins through more stringent labeling requirements, was pulled to give me more time to review the effectiveness of the Minnesota law.

The other two bills I pulled were the bills relating to subaqueous bottomlands. In recent years, Senators Petersen and Marsden, both from the rapidly growing area of Northern Virginia introduced legislation that would have effectively required bottomland owners to open up their land to fishermen and canoeists.  I led the charge against those bills because I thought they were unconstitutional takings. However, in 2013 I requested the Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources to direct the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to convene a working group of interested parties to see if there were any areas of consensus. The results of the study, issued in the fall of 2013, prompted the two bills I introduced this year.

The first set up a voluntary process for landowners to determine whether there is a crown grant and thus private ownership of the bottomland. There ought to be a process short of litigation for people to figure these things out. The second would have allowed those landowners to place their bottomlands in easement and receive a tax credit if they chose to open their land up for sportsmen. Both bills were totally voluntary and at the complete discretion of the landowner. An early drafting error fed a campaign of disinformation, and at the end of the day, I heard from many people about how the bills were forcing landowners to do something they didn’t wish to do. I also heard from some environmentalists who thought these efforts did not go far enough. At the end of the day, I decided life is just too short to try and legislate in an area where making anyone happy seems impossible.

Some other bills of note include the following:

  • Senators Bill Carrico and Janet Howell have sponsored legislation to address pay issues for our dedicated members of law enforcement with the State Police and Sheriff Deputies. Pay raises and salary adjustments are a frequent request in these high risk jobs. The legislation this year is unique in that they offer a revenue source to fund those increases. Those bills remain in the Senate Finance Committee, and my sense is that the bills will languish there. I think the Committee is working to find a way to provide a two to three percent pay increase for all state employees.
  • A constitutional amendment sponsored by Senator Rosalyn Dance would allow the General Assembly to establish a process for the restoration of civil rights to people who have been convicted of nonviolent felonies. Since I believe everybody deserves a second chance and there ought to be a pathway for people to restore civil rights, I voted yes. Current law gives the Governor alone the right to initiate this process. Frankly, the last four Governors (Warner, Kaine, McDonnell, and McAuliffe) have done a good job in restoring rights for those who have turned their lives around, but this is a process that should not be dependent on the Governor.
  • Two highly contentious resolutions, SJ252 and SJ269, have generated significant debates, rallies, emails, and phone calls. Both resolutions call for a constitutional convention under Article V of the United States Constitution. One attempts to limit the scope of the convention to a Balanced Budget Amendment while the second sought a more general approach of reigning in the federal government. Given the uncertainty of whether the scope of the convention can be limited and how the delegates are selected, I intended to vote no. Both bills have effectively been removed from consideration.

The General Assembly also recognized the passing of two great community leaders, the Honorable James Brady Murray and Mr. Horton Beirne. Jim Murray was a highly respected businessman, conservationist, and former member of the House of Delegates. Horton Beirne was an active member in a number of community organizations and his church, and added to the significant family legacy in newspaper publishing with his work as the publisher of the Virginian Review. Horton’s love of the Highlands and his work for a better future were unsurpassed. Both are sorely missed by their loving family and friends.

Yesterday, I also had the pleasure of commending the Nelson County Future Farmers of America Farm Business Management team and the Nelson County Middle School Future Farmers of America Agronomy team for each placing second in their respective career development competitions at the 87th National Future Farmers of America Convention and Expo. Several of the students and their parents joined Coach Ed McCann, and the superintendent, Dr. Jeff Comer, on a trip to Richmond to be recognized for their accomplishments.

And on that happier note, I apologize for not issuing a column on January 30. There was a birth in my family that required me to travel out-of-state last week.

It continues to be my high honor to serve you in the Senate of Virginia. Please let me know if you if I can be of service to you in any way. You can reach my office during the legislative session at PO Box 396, Richmond, VA 23218,district25@senate.virginia.gov, or (804) 698-7525.

Best,

Creigh

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Senator Creigh Deeds sends his second update from this year’s General Assembly Session

Dear Friend,

The 46 day session is moving rapidly. Subcommittees and committees are meeting around the clock, which leaves little time for reflection. This week I will address a couple of the issues I am working on.

First, Senate Bill 1252 requires colleges and university employees to notify law enforcement officers within 24 hours of a report of a sexual assault or rape. Simply put, I do not believe our colleges and universities should be in the business of investigating criminal activity. The current process is flawed, and I am hopeful the deliberations this winter will yield some positive changes in how these serious crimes are handled on campuses throughout the Commonwealth.

An area of ongoing controversy is subaqueous lands, or river bottoms. Under Virginia law, land west of the fall line of the James River, river bottoms that were granted out by the crown prior to 1802, are the private property of the landowner. If they were not granted out, those lands are the property of the Commonwealth. This is an issue that has caused mountains of litigation and controversy over the years and resulted in the introduction of any number of bills that ultimately would have taken people’s property away from them. In 2013, I asked the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to convene a work group to examine the issue and develop some alternative means of dispute resolution that protects private property rights but also encourage landowners to open up these bottomlands to canoeists and fisherman.

Those discussions generated two ideas that I brought forward via legislation this year. The first bill, Senate Bill 1271, sets up a means for people to determine, short of going to court, and ultimately to arbitrate whether a crown grant exists. This is a totally voluntary process. If the landowner doesn’t want to go through this process, a landowner does not have to and does not affect ownership at all. The second bill would set up a process whereby a landowner could grant an easement across subaqueous land to the benefit of the Commonwealth, and incur a tax benefit if the public is granted use. Again, there is nothing mandatory about this bill and is solely designed to offer an incentive for those who may open up their property for the sportsmen. Both bills seek to provide additional tools to those involved in this contentious issue.

I continue on the quest of creating the best system of public mental health care in Virginia. The bulk of that work comes through the Joint Subcommittee to Study Mental Health Services in the 21st Century. The Subcommittee will not make recommendations until 2015 and 2017. In the meantime I’ve introduced a number of bills on mental health.

Last year, I sponsored Senate Bill 261. Delegate Rob Bell introduced a companion bill in the House of Delegates. Both bills passed, directing the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) to evaluate the way emergency evaluators are trained and assigned. Today I filed three bills and a $780,000 budget amendment to put into action the recommendations generated from this report and follow through with some of the important work we began last year. Evaluators in these circumstances are making critical decisions that may deprive an individual of his or her civil liberties. It is critical that they are highly qualified and trained.

In addition, I introduced Senate Bill 1270 after long discussions with UVA Law Professor Richard Bonnie. This bill is designed to improve the process for the appointment of an emergency power of attorney in the event of a mental health crisis by providing an alternative to current law. This bill proposes that DBHDS implement a pilot project utilizing this alternative method in the coming year.

I’ve also introduced SB 1263. This bill comes at the request of the Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health and is designed to improve the transportation of an individual for whom a temporary detention order has been issued. SB 1265 adds definitions to the real-time bed registry that was created last year. We want to ensure that the registry is updated as quickly as possible and accurately reflect the availability of psychiatric beds.

The idea of creating a state park in Highland County continues to be a priority. I have proposed a budget amendment with this in mind. This is not the year to find great success on budget amendments, and I am working several routes to try and find the funding to achieve this goal, because I think it will transform the economy of Highland County by creating a destination that will generate tourism and other associated business opportunities. Even though I know the money is not there for the state to fund the park’s creation this year, I have introduced the amendment because I don’t want people to lose sight of the idea.

This year I asked Senator Vogel of Fauquier County to introduce the redistricting amendment that I have carried for many years. She is chair of the committee, and it makes sense to put another face on the bill. I am pleased to report that bill passed out of committee earlier this week with only one no vote and should be voted on early next week on the Senate floor.

I’ve introduced Senate Joint Resolution 280 asking the Joint Legislative Audit and review Commission to consider a consolidation of all state law enforcement agencies under the Department of State Police. This is also an idea I’ve carried forward in the past.

Senate Bill 1261 is also an oldie but goodie and is designed to improve the judicial election process.

There are certainly other bills that I have introduced and more than I am working on this session. It continues to be my great honor to serve you in the General Assembly.  Do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance. You can reach me at PO Box 396, Richmond, VA 23218, district25@senate.virginia.gov, or (804) 698-7525.

Best,

Creigh

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Senator Creigh Deeds sends  his first update from this year’s General Assembly Session

Dear Friend,

The 2015 Session of the General Assembly is underway. This is a short session, scheduled to adjourn on February 28, 2015, so the work will be fast and furious. We will deal with some hefty matters this session, but as usual, budgetary issues will control much attention. Virginia’s economy is changing in fundamental ways, which affects Virginia’s revenue stream. If we fail at this time to meet the changing economy, diversify and do the best we can to insure that Virginians for generations will have the opportunity to succeed, our legacy, regardless of the issues we address this session, will fall short.

 

The Governor is rightfully focused on the economy and job creation, as reflected in his State of the Commonwealth address. While Virginia faces many challenges, there are certainly successes that have occurred in his first year in office. In the past year, he has closed over 200 economic opportunities bringing thousands of jobs to Virginia and $5.58 billion in capital investments to the Commonwealth. That is more than twice as much as any past administration during the Governor’s first year in office.  That is certainly good news.

However, the reality is that in the face of sequestration at the federal level, the loss of defense contracts in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, we have no choice but to remain dedicated to bringing new investment to the Commonwealth. An important tool the Governor has used to bring jobs to Virginia is the Governor’s Opportunity Fund. I am proud to have written that Fund into the Code of Virginia in 1996.  We have to strengthen the Fund and make certain it is available for opportunities throughout Virginia. The Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund is another key tool that supports a critical part of Virginia’s economy. The Governor announced in his speech that agricultural exports are at an all-time high.

Despite the fiscal climate, the Governor made a point of not cutting K-12 spending or making further cuts in higher education this year. I have always likened cuts to education to eating your seed corn. The cuts simply do not make sense if one wants to have a promising future. We must continue to invest in education so that the next generation of Virginians has the tools they need to succeed in the workforce or at the next level of education. Likewise, we need to make sure that the Standards of Learning are realistic and a tool to help our children and schools succeed. We began a reform movement last year and will take that another step this year.

Although we are in a new year, the issue of Medicaid expansion continues to play a role in our economy. By refusing to expand Medicaid or adopt the alternative approach offered last year, Marketplace Virginia, we gave up about $2.1 billion in federal funding for 2014.  Under the Affordable Care Act, 100 percent of the costs of Medicaid expansion will be borne by the federal government in 2015 and 2016 should we expand.  Up to 400,000 Virginians who currently are without insurance and ineligible for existing Medicaid – primarily the working poor – could benefit. Unlike a lot of federal programs, Medicaid expansion is already paid for through new taxes or fees embedded in the ACA, including a tax increase on those who earn more than $200,000 annually.

Virginia has offered a number of reforms, which have ensured accountability and individual responsibility, lessening the likelihood of fraud and requiring co-payments. We have even written into the law that if the federal share of Medicaid expansion drops below 90 percent after 2016, Virginia will drop out.  Nevertheless, the Virginia General Assembly continues to refuse to expand Medicaid.  Expanding Medicaid this year would reduce our budget deficit by over $100 million, provide much needed insurance to hundreds of thousands of people, and improve the long-term health of our workforce. As I have said before, it is just the right thing to do in my view.

In spite of the intransigency of the House of Delegates with respect to Medicaid expansion, the Governor has administratively found a way to provide a level of healthcare to about 20,000 people who struggle with severe mental illness. While this program is important, it’s a drop in the bucket. There are estimates that as many as 77,000 Virginians who struggle with serious mental illness would be eligible if the legislature expanded Medicaid. The inability to fully access services or treatment leaves this population vulnerable and puts them and the community at risk. It is simply irresponsible for us not to find a way to provide more coverage to people with significant health care needs.

Session will be busy for me. I will continue my work on mental health issues this year with a bill that originates from the University of Virginia Law School and deals with advanced directives for people who have a mental illness and with a couple of bills from the Governor’s Mental Health Task Force. My legislative package also includes initiatives to follow up on SB 261, which passed last year. The primary work on mental health reform will generate from the Joint Subcommittee to Study Mental Health Services in the 21st Century, created last year by Senate Joint Resolution 47. The Subcommittee is scheduled to report to the General Assembly in December 2015 and 2017. The process of reform will be deliberate because we want to get it right. And it is my hope that in spite of the measured nature of this work, we do not lose our sense of urgency, because people’s lives are literally at stake.

I am carrying a number of bills this session and will report on those in the coming weeks. It continues to be my high honor to serve you in the General Assembly.  If we can of service or assistance during the legislative session, or if you would like to visit Richmond to see the legislature in action, please feel free to contact us at: PO Box 396, Richmond, VA 23218, district25@senate.virginia.gov, or (804) 698-7525.

Best,

Creigh

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unnamedCelebration to Kick Off the 2015 Session

with 

Senator Creigh Deeds 

and Special Guest

Governor Terry McAuliffe

Saturday, January 10, 2015
12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. 

Old Metropolitan Hall
101 E Main Street, Downtown Mall
Charlottesville VA  

Individual tickets … $50
Sponsor … $250
Host … $500
Patron … $1,500 + 

Please RSVP to rsvp@senatordeeds.com 

You may contribute online or by sending a check payable to Deeds for State Senate to PO Box 5462; Charlottesville, VA  22905. 

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Senator Creigh Deeds sends  his latest newsletter ahead of Tuesday’s Election for Senate and House of Representatives. Don’t forget to vote for Mark Warner and Lawrence Gaughan!

Dear Friend,

In less than a week, Virginians will head to the polls. My friend, Mark Warner is running for re-election to the U.S. Senate because he believes that all Virginians should get a fair shot at success. He was the first in his family to graduate from college. His first two business attempts failed, but he pushed forward and met with success on his third attempt.  He wants to ensure that all Virginians have that same fair shot.

Senator Warner has a long track record of working together to find commonsense solutions for Virginians. As Governor, he helped turn a $6 billion deficit into a $1 billion surplus. He made the largest single investment in K – 12 education in Virginia’s history and created 130,000 new jobs. As a result, Virginia was named the best-managed state and the best state for business. He has always put Virginia first.

Senator Warner has brought the same bipartisan approach to his work in the U.S. Senate. He founded the Gang of Six to help tackle our debt and deficit and put our nation on a path to long-term stability.  He supports raising the minimum wage and has stood up for a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions. He has introduced student debt legislation to provide new tools to help students pay down their debt.  And he has always stood up for our military families and veterans, most recently when he worked to pass a provision to bring private sector help to fix the scheduling problems at the VA hospitals.

Senator Warner’s opponent, however, has taken the opposite approach. He has spent his entire career as a political operative and top DC lobbyist.  He even went on TV and called himself a “partisan warrior.”  The last thing Virginians need is another partisan warrior to add to the gridlock in Washington.

This is an important election. The choice is between finding commonsense solutions and going back to the same tired economic policies that drove our country into the ditch. We need to keep the car in drive, not reverse, and re-elect Mark Warner on Tuesday, November 4. The polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.  

Sincerely,

Creigh Deeds

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Senator Creigh Deeds sends  his latest newsletter with news from the the special session  at the General Assembly.

Dear Friend,

On the evening of the 23rd of June 2014, the General Assembly went back into session to consider the Governor’s vetoes to the budget. You will recall from my last missive that I suggested that the Governor could use his constitutional power to line item veto certain articles in the budget, specifically the punitive language that was inserted by the Senate to prevent an executive expansion of Medicaid, and sign the rest of the budget.

The Governor went a little further than I suggested and line item vetoed other matters as well, including the appropriation for the new Virginia Conflicts of Interest and Ethics Advisory Commission, a potential forced partnership between Chesterfield County and Petersburg City schools, and an appropriation that would prevent the Governor from filling vacant judgeships.

The Governor’s ability to line item veto the budget is limited by the Constitution of Virginia. In general, as I explained before, the Governor can sign legislation or veto legislation. With respect to the budget, he can line item veto certain portions. The Constitution of Virginia, specifically Article 5, Section 6, Subparagraph D provides that “[t]he Governor shall have the power to veto any particular item or items of an appropriation bill, but the veto shall not affect the item or items to which he does not object. The item or items objected to shall not take effect except in the manner provided in this section for a bill vetoed by the Governor.”

In the few cases that have been argued about the Governor’s veto, the courts have ruled that the Governor must veto an entire appropriation. He is not entitled to cherry pick language out of a specific item within the appropriation bill or budget.

Republican legislators were aware of the limitations and attempted to interweave the anti-Medicaid expansion language in such a way that the Governor could not strike it from the bill without striking the entire Medicaid program.

The Governor vetoed the amendment by striking the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission (MIRC) language from the budget. The MIRC was created as a compromise last year to establish a commission to reform our Medicaid program and provide a pathway to expansion once the reforms had been achieved. The MIRC has already fulfilled its responsibility to reform our Medicaid program, yet the commission members have not expanded Medicaid, so the continuation of the MIRC seems totally inappropriate and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

The Speaker of the House of Delegates ruled that the veto went beyond the scope of the Governor’s Constitutional authority and was not properly before the House for consideration. The Speaker claims his precedent from a ruling that former Speaker Tom Moss made in the 1990s. While I was in the House of Delegates during the 1990s while Tom Moss was the Speaker, I do not recall the specific ruling he made.

In spite of the specific language in the Constitution that an item does not become law if it vetoed by the Governor, unless that veto is overturned by a two-thirds majority of both houses, the Speaker’s ruling prevented a vote on the veto. He made a similar ruling with respect to the Governor’s ability to limit judicial appointments.

Now, instead of this matter being resolved by the democratically elected representative of the people, the legislature, the Governor will have to decide whether to pursue this issue in the courts.

The Special Session continues as the Governor’s appointments have been tied up by the newly Republican-controlled Senate, and the judgeships which are vacant still have to be filled. I would anticipate that the General Assembly will go back into session within the next two to three weeks to resolve these issues.

The Republicans used the new majority status to reorganize the committees. I lost the committee assignments – Finance and Rules – that I had gained earlier in the winter as well as my chairmanship. While it is true that most committees will not meet until next January, the move gives Republicans the ability to send their members to any interim committee meetings. The Finance Committee takes no action when we are out of session, but the Committee meets periodically to get information about the budget and the revenue situation. I expect the Rules Committee will also convene to reorganize the membership on study committees.

All of this action could change again depending on the results of the interesting contest underway in the 38th Senatorial District in southwest Virginia to fill the seat of former Senator Phillip Puckett. A Delegate from Russell County and a member of the Tobacco Commission, Ben Chafin, is the Republican nominee. The Democratic nominee is Mike Hymes. Mike is on the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors and works in human resources for a coal company. The special election is set for the19th of August, and I anticipate that the race will be expensive, fast and furious.

It continues to be my pleasure to represent you in the Senate of Virginia. If I may be of assistance or answer any questions, please contact me at 434-296-5491 or district25@senate.virginia.gov.

Best,

Creigh

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Senator Creigh Deeds sends  his latest newsletter with news from the the special session  at the General Assembly.

Dear Friend,

Last week saw the passage of a state budget and also the potential demise of Medicaid expansion in Virginia. Two dramatic events of the previous few days drove the results of the Special Session.

First, word leaked out gradually on June 6th and June 7th of the sudden resignation of Senator Phillip Puckett. His resignation restored the Republican majority in the Senate of Virginia, ensuring that Republicans controlled both houses of the General Assembly.

When I first heard about Senator Puckett’s resignation, I called him. Phillip Puckett has been a good friend of mine for a long time. I have eaten at his table, been a guest in his home, prayed in his church. He told me he was resigning to do what was best for his family and would not give me more detail. I trust Phillip and am certain that his decision to leave the Senate of Virginia was what he thought was right for his family. However, members of the General Assembly also have an obligation to the people they represent and to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Red flags appeared immediately. First, Republican legislators seemed more informed about what was going on than did Democrats. Republican senators were quoted in the papers about Senator Puckett continuing his service and a prominent Republican delegate from southwest Virginia, the Chairman of the Tobacco Commission, indicated that Senator Puckett was going to be considered for the position of Deputy Director of the Tobacco Commission. In fact, the Tobacco Commission had a meeting scheduled for last Wednesday and the only thing on the docket was the consideration of the hiring of a Deputy Director.

Second, in recent years Senator Puckett has maintained a focus on helping appoint his daughter to the bench. Republicans denied him the 21st vote necessary to have her elected as a judge based on a supposed tradition of the Senate not appointing family members to the bench. While I think such a policy makes sense, history suggests there is no such tradition. In the 1990s, former Delegate Ward Armstrong’s brother was appointed to the district court bench. Later, former Delegate Joe Johnson’s son went on the district court bench and was elevated a few years later to the circuit bench. I have never known of another senator to have a family member considered for a judgeship, but it is clear that there is no such tradition with respect to members of the General Assembly.

After Senator Puckett resigned and the public exploded, he withdrew his name from consideration for employment with the Tobacco Commission. The meeting scheduled for last Wednesday was cancelled.

Senator Puckett’s sudden resignation came at a crucial time in this budget standoff – when the pressure was on both sides to find a way to close the coverage gap and get a budget passed before the end of the fiscal year, June 30. The resignation means that Republicans have the majority in both houses of the legislature. They were able to pass a budget, and they now have the unfettered ability to elect judges.

The second event which turned the political world on its head in Virginia was the defeat of Eric Cantor, the majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives in the Republican Primary in the 7th Congressional District. Eric Cantor was elected to the House of Delegates with me in 1991. I have known Eric for a long time and while we have disagreements on matters of policy, we have always been friendly to one another. His loss in the primary sent a shockwave through the Republican apparatus in Virginia and allowed the House Republican Caucus and the 17 members of the Senate Republican Caucus that opposed Marketplace Virginia, to put pressure on the three senators who have worked with the Governor and with the Democratic Caucus to arrive at a compromise on Medicaid expansion in Virginia.

Much speculation has centered on the strength of the Tea Party and its effect on the primary. The Tea Party is an important subset, a populist subset, of the Republican Party. However, my take on things is much simpler. I think Representative Cantor took his eyes off the ball and paid more attention to his job as majority leader than to the residents of the Seventh Congressional District of Virginia. While he had plenty of money in the bank, he did not have the field organization necessary to turn people out to vote in the primary After all, elections are pretty simple – you just need to get more people to vote for you than the other guy.

The end result of this tumultuous political week in Virginia was that the three Republican senators, described as moderate in the media, caved. Not only did a budget pass without Medicaid expansion, but interwoven into the budget is language aimed at preventing the Governor from trying to expand administratively.

The legality of the Governor expanding Medicaid without prior legislative approval has generated significant discussion and debate. The Constitution requires all monies spent by the Commonwealth, even flow through dollars from the federal government, be appropriated by the General Assembly. Last year, the House and the Senate, working together, agreed to put language in the budget to create the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission (MIRC) to reform Medicaid and set up a mechanism to expand Medicaid. The amendments adopted last week by the House and the Senate removed that compromise language from the budget. Medicaid expansion will now need approval from the majority of the General Assembly.

The Governor’s options at this point are at least threefold. First, he could sign the budget. The budget agreement that passed is balanced. The Medicaid language can be changed (at least theoretically) when we reconvene in January. Signing the budget will end this protracted budget debate and allow local governments to move forward.

The Governor could veto the budget. A veto would leave everything up in the air for the remainder of the month, and the General Assembly would likely be in session for many days trying to craft a compromise before the end of the fiscal year.

The third option is to use the line item veto to eliminate the new budget language that strips authority from the MIRC. Although the language is interwoven in the budget, in my view, this is the best option. Sign the remainder of the budget. Austerity cannot be prevented in a time of declining revenue. If the amended language is stricken, and the General Assembly fails to muster the two-thirds vote to override the veto, the Governor can continue to explore ways to expand Medicaid and close the coverage gap. At this point, there is not much for him to lose if he can find a way to line item veto the amendment out of the budget.

In the meantime, candidates are being chosen to fill Senator Puckett’s seat in southwest Virginia. Elections in that region are driven by the politics of coal. The coal field counties are areas that have seen significant population loss over the past 30 years and face severe economic challenges. I am convinced that we can find a Democratic candidate who can hold on to the seat. If we can accomplish that goal, we can restore balance to the General Assembly.

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

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Senator Creigh Deeds sends  his latest newsletter with news from the the special session  at the General Assembly.

Dear Friend,

After the Special Session began on the 24th of March, I started to write a column that never got published.  The column began as follows:

“I have always thought that it is important to maintain a sense of wonder, a sense of amazement at life’s twists and turns.  That sense of wonder keeps you from taking for granted the people and places in your life that are important.  So it is with some pride that I can report that on the 25th of March, the first daffodil bloomed in my yard.  However, I can also report that bloom was soon covered with snow as winter is playing the part of Gilda Radner in that old Saturday Night Live skit about the guest who would not leave……speaking of guests that will not leave, the General Assembly is still in session. ”

The Governor called the legislature into Special Session for the purpose of passing the budget.  The Constitution requires that we adopt a balanced budget every two years.  For the most part, finalizing a budget compromise is not a significant problem.  This year, the House and the Senate, Democrats and Republicans, are hung up on the notion of Medicaid expansion.

The real debate does not revolve around healthcare.  After all, most people recognize that it makes sense for us to close the coverage gap and provide insurance for up to 400,000 people.  After all, a healthier workforce makes for a smoother, more effective economy.  Insurance coverage means more illnesses are prevented, and it is simply the right thing to do to help people stay well.  The hang up is on the details of this particular plan.  The column that I started a few weeks ago was shelved, at least in part, because it reflected my pessimism about the Special Session.  I like to remain optimistic.

The real debate this year is about the way healthcare is provided.  Those who argue against Medicaid expansion are concerned the federal government will not be able meets its fiscal obligations and the burden will fall on Virginia’s taxpayers.  It seems to me that this is an argument that can be made about any federal program.  But unlike some federal programs, like Medicare Part D prescription coverage, Medicaid expansion has a funding source set out in the Affordable Care Act.  In 2002-2003, Medicare was expanded to provide a prescription drug benefit.  There is no question that this program was needed, but in passing it, Congress and the President failed to fund it.  Every cent of Medicare Part D that has been spent over the last 12 years has been borrowed money.  The Affordable Care Act on the other hand, is paid for through tax and fee increases at the federal level.  In fact, Virginians are paying about $2.9 billion a year for Medicaid expansion.  What sense does it make to pay for a program that Virginians cannot access?

For some, opposition to expansion is just a continuation of frustration over the passage of the Affordable Care Act.  The appropriate place to have a debate over federal programs, how they are funded, and over the size and scope of the federal government is not in the state legislatures, but in Congress and in federal elections.  That is precisely why Republican senators have joined Democratic senators to pass Marketplace Virginia.  While we have rejected outright Medicaid expansion, we have adopted a Virginia approach that will allow us to provide insurance coverage to hundreds of thousands of people, and bring the federal dollars that Virginians pay in taxes for the Affordable Care Act back to Virginia.  Who can argue that over $5 million a day in federal funds will not have a positive impact on Virginia’s economy?

In fact, expanding access to our healthcare system will require the addition of jobs to take care of those people.  And, access to preventative health care, rather than relying on expensive treatment in emergency rooms for unmanaged illnesses, will save money.  In part, the Affordable Care Act cuts some Medicare reimbursements.  Those cuts will cost Virginia hospitals in excess of $300 million.  Why should we not accept federal money to expand coverage, to make those hospitals whole, and to increase the healthcare workforce?

From where I sit, the hang up now is not over what is the right thing to do for Virginia.  The hang up between the Senate and the House of Delegates is purely political.  The House says no to Medicaid expansion, so the Senate offers Marketplace Virginia, a private insurance based program.  The House continues to say no.  Anything linked to the Affordable Care Act is anathema to some, whether or not it is beneficial to Virginians, to our hospitals, and to our overall healthcare system.

Anyone watching the recent episode of 60 Minutes that contained a story about healthcare in rural southwest Virginia recognizes that we have a huge gap in the number of people that are covered in Virginia.  We need to address it now.  The way to close the gap between the House and the Senate and get a budget passed in Virginia is to adopt Marketplace Virginia and do it now.

Best,

Creigh

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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

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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

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