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

Dear Friend,

The 2015 Session of the General Assembly is history.  While we passed over 1500 bills and resolutions, the Session will be remembered for a handful of things including reforming the transportation funding formula, adopting a new ethics bill that changes very little, and adjourning a day early. The Session will also be remembered for what it did not do.  We failed, once again, to expand Medicaid and provide health insurance that we are already paying for through federal taxes to as many as 400,000 Virginians.

Budget

The budget was balanced and adopted on time.  The budget included funding for a number of priorities such as pay increases for public employees, significant new funding for mental health services (drop off centers, child psychiatry, supportive housing, etc.), and an additional $10 million for financial aid at our colleges and universities.

But the budget does not include funding for Medicaid expansion, leaving over $2 billion that Virginians already pay on the table, money that could be providing health insurance to hundreds of thousands of Virginians, and creating jobs and economic activity.  The budget even cuts the Governor’s modest proposal to provide services to the severely mentally ill by reducing eligibility from 100 percent of the federal poverty level to 60 percent. Several hundred people who signed up already will receive one year of care and then be cut off, precisely the thing that House Republicans said that they did not want to occur with Medicaid expansion.

Sexual Assault on Campus

We began this session under a cloud of tragedy.  Hannah Graham, a 19 year old UVA student, was murdered this fall after going missing early one morning on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville. We were all shocked to learn that the primary suspect in the case, Jesse Matthew, had complaints against him while he was enrolled at Christopher Newport University and Liberty University. The incidents did not result in criminal charges or convictions but demonstrated a history and pattern of dangerous behavior.

The University and Charlottesville communities were then stunned by the publication of a

Rolling Stone article, since discredited, detailing a graphic sexual assault of a student and criticizing the University’s fraternity culture and the institutional response to such attacks.  Even though the article did not accurately reflect the facts that had occurred, there was a tremendous feeling on the part of many that we had to address the issue of sexual assault on campuses.

Many families entrust their children to the Commonwealth at our institutions of higher learning. As a Commonwealth, we have an obligation to protect those students and make sure that they can receive an education in safety.  A number of bills were introduced, including a couple that I sponsored, limiting the role of an institution of higher learning in the investigation of sexual assault allegations and requiring dismissals for criminal acts to be noted on a student’s academic record.

In the end, state legislative action was bound to a large extent by federal law.  Privacy rights are protected, and colleges cannot release much information.  The final compromisebill establishes a review team at each institution consisting of the Title IX officer, law enforcement and a student representative, requires certain higher education employees to report sexual assaults to the college’s Title IX officer within 72 hours of learning about the incident, and provides that law enforcement be notified of the incident if there is a risk to the public or the victim. Furthermore, if the incident would be chargeable as a felonious sexual assault, the law enforcement representative on the review team must consult with the Commonwealth’s Attorney.

In addition, we passed legislation requiring a notation on a student’s academic record from any public or private college or university if the student was suspended, dismissed, or withdrew while under investigation for a violation of the institution’s rules or student code of conduct. On a related note, the General Assembly also adopted legislation, sponsored by Delegates David Toscano and Rob Bell, expanding the number of misdemeanor convictions for which a DNA sample is required.

Ethics

In light of the convictions last year of the former Governor and First Lady, there was a push to change the General Assembly’s ethics rules. The legislature overwhelming approved some modest reforms. The legislation maintains the current cap on unreported gifts to $50.  Gifts that are worth between $50 and $100 have to be reported, and gifts over $100 in value are prohibited.

The bill imposes significant travel restrictions, not in where a person can go, but in the compensation or reimbursement one can expect for that travel.  The legislation does not address campaign contributions or the use of campaign accounts, which have been of particular interest to many people who have reached out to me on ethics reform. I anticipate that the bills will be subject to significant amendment by the Governor.

Transportation

In 1986, the most significant investment in transportation for many years occurred under Governor Gerald Baliles. The gasoline tax was increased, and a modern transportation formula was developed. Although the process worked very well for a number of years, beginning in the mid-1990s the formula stopped working effectively due in large part to changes in policy at the state level and population growth. In fact by 2009, the formula was not working at all and transportation funding was insufficient even for maintenance much less construction of new projects.  Governor Warner tried to address it in 2004, but other needs were prioritized. Governor Kaine tried to address it numerous times but was turned away.  In 2013, Governor McDonnell championed House Bill 2013, which for the first time in a generation raised significant money for transportation.

Legislative action to increase transportation revenues was followed in 2014 by House Bill 2, which aimed to depoliticize the process by which major projects are selected.  My view has always been that projects ought to be determined by need rather than by politics.  A legislator should not be able to get a project selected just because he has clout or seniority.  This year, the administration, working with Delegate Chris Jones, introducedHouse Bill 1887 that resulted in a re-write of the funding formulas.  I was honored to be on the subcommittee that reviewed and rewrote this bill in the Senate. We wanted to make sure that all parts of the state were served. The legislation for the first time ensures sustainable funding for transit, which is a significant source of transportation in Northern Virginia and a growing means of transportation in Hampton Roads, and also serves the interests of freight rail as well.  I can tell you that House Bill 1887, while not perfect, does in fact meet the needs of all of Virginia.

After setting aside money for maintenance, 45 percent of the money will go into a fund for “State of Good Repair”, which is for bridges, tunnels and overpasses, statewide.  I think we will see a significant amount of this money in the Staunton, Culpeper and Lynchburg districts.  The remaining 55 percent is broken into two categories.  Half of the money will be used for House Bill 2 projects of statewide or regional significance.  The remaining half will go into the transportation districts for projects of regional or local significance. There is money for dirt roads and to ensure flexibility so that we can utilize technology to pave or otherwise surface these roads.

Of significance, the legislation takes the politics out of the Commonwealth Transportation Board.  This is significant because in the past CTB members have felt obliged to support projects that the Governor who appointed them supported.  Now, board members’ terms will be staggered and they can only be removed for cause.  This bill, House Bill 1887 is significant and may be the most important legislation that passed in the 2015 Session.

Child Day Care

Over the past year or so there have been a number of high profile situations, some tragic, that have thrust into the spotlight the use of unregulated daycare in Virginia.  A number of bills were introduced this year to address this issue. The compromise legislation will require family day home providers who watch 5 or more children to become licensed. Current law sets that limit at 6. The bill also requires unlicensed and unregistered family day home providers to provide written notice to parents that they are unregulated and to share information about a website maintained by the Department of Social Services that discusses the different types of child care available. The compromise also requires fingerprint criminal background checks for those operating family day homes, other adults living in the home, and volunteers at day care facilities. The whole idea is to do as much as possible to protect children and families but to acknowledge that much of this care is run by churches and other groups that are not regulated.  The balance is between protecting children and allowing parents to raise their children as they see fit.

ABC Reform

Those in the Charlottesville area remember all too clearly the details involving the UVA students who purchased bottled water and cookies at a local grocery store only to be confronted in their vehicle by a group of undercover ABC agents. The year prior and every year since, I have introduced a study resolution seeking to consolidate law enforcement functions under the Virginia State Police. While those efforts have failed, the General Assembly did adopt reforms this year of ABC. The legislation overhauls the supervisory structure at the Department and creates the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board Authority as an independent agency governed by a five member board of directors. Those directors must hold a degree in business or a related field and have experience in business management.  The members of the board, which will be paid significantly less than the current three sitting ABC Commissioners, can only be fired with cause. The push for reform was driven to a large extent by what happened in Charlottesville in 2013

For the second time in the 24 years that I have served in the General Assembly, the session ended a day early.  Just as we did in 2000, business finished late on Friday evening in advance of the scheduled Saturday adjournment. While many may laud the legislature for being efficient, I am concerned that details may be overlooked when we rush our business. For example, the ethics bill is forty-nine pages and was changed multiple times on the last day of session.  In fact, changes were written into the bill in the last hour before we voted.  I voted for the bill, because in balance it did many good things, but I worry that we did not have enough time to vet the last minute edits.

While some bills have already been signed into law by the Governor, most are still in the final enrolling process and will soon head to the Governor for consideration. The General Assembly will reconvene in Richmond on April 15 to vote on the Governor’s amendments and vetoes. If you are concerned about any of the bills adopted by the legislature, I urge you to express your views to the Governor.

It is a great honor to continue to serve you in the Senate of Virginia. I can be reached at my legislative office in Charlottesville at 434-296-5491 or PO Box 5462; Charlottesville, VA 22905 or in Hot Springs at 540-839-2473. Or you can reach me by email atdistrict25@senate.virginia.gov.

Best,

Creigh

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

Dear Friend,

With a week to go until the scheduled February 28 adjournment, the Virginia General Assembly is moving steadily along. From what I hear, few areas of controversy remain in the budget deliberations. I still think it is possible, though not as likely as I previously thought, that we adjourn a day or two early.

In past columns I wrote about measures the Senate adopted to fund pay increases for state troopers and sheriff deputies. The legislation was unique in that it included a revenue source to address the issue of salary compression. Some supervisors make less than those they supervise, and troopers who are being hired might earn more than some who have been on the job for years. As I thought, the House of Delegates may not be as receptive to the idea of a dedicated source of funding to address the issue. Rather, the House is coming up with money from other general fund sources to address salary issues for all state employees. Without question, the issue of salary compression is not unique to state police, and I am hopeful the budget conferees develop a compromise compensation package that recognizes the hard work and dedication of our public workforce.

My mental health bills have run into trouble in the House of Delegates. Over the past 15 months, I have been dedicated to raising standards for mental health treatment and for ensuring that quality treatment is available in every corner of the Commonwealth. Last year, Delegate Rob Bell and I introduced bills requiring DBHDS to study the requirements for emergency evaluators, including qualifications, training standards and oversight and to make recommendations to improve the safety of the individual subject to emergency custody orders and the public. The bills I introduced this year, Senate Bills 1408, 1409, and 1410, encompass the recommendations included in the report issued on December 1 in response to that directive.  All three were designed to improve standards for those who perform the evaluations and ensure that DBHDS has the tools they need to pursue quality across the Commonwealth.

Nevertheless, the bills have stalled in the House of Delegates amid fears about the cost of legislation and concerns raised by change resistant community services boards. DBHDS is the state agency that contracts with and oversees our CSBs, and I trust the judgment of DBHDS professionals to determine what standards should be in place for emergency evaluators. Not to be deterred, I am looking for other routes to continue to make these measures law and improve the quality of care of individuals in crisis situations.

It should be noted that work of the Joint Subcommittee to Study Mental Health Services in the 21st Century, which I chair, continues. The evaluation piece of mental health services is but a small, albeit important, piece of the puzzle.

Other legislation I have carried relating to mental health has met with more success. The Senate and House of Delegates have passed bills to require hospitals and facilities to update the psychiatric bed registry as soon as bed availability changes and to improve the transportation options available in crisis situations. A third bill sought to improve law enforcement access to information about past history of involuntary commitment should be voted on by the House early next week. When responding to emergency, life or death situations, this information can be very useful to law enforcement in responding to the scene. All three bills were recommended by the Governor’s Mental Health Task Force and subsequently vetted by the Joint Subcommittee.

Of interest to some, a bill that failed this morning was one that would have reduced the food to mixed beverage ratio in restaurants. The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control enforcement of the ratio has been inconsistent. At present, the ratio does not even include beer or wine sales. In my view, the issue needs more study and is not ripe for consideration at this point.

Many people have contacted my office about issues associated with the proposed natural gas pipeline that would cross the Counties of Highland, Augusta, and Nelson, as well as other bills related to Dominion. Senator Emmett Hanger sponsored legislation, which I co-sponsored, to repeal the 2004 law that grants natural gas companies the ability to survey land, over landowner objections, for a proposed pipeline. That legislation was not successful. Frankly, I was not surprised by the outcome, but not for the reasons many people suspect. The Constitution prohibits the General Assembly from taking up issues regarding private controversies, and tied to that provision is a tradition of the legislature not to consider bills that may affect pending litigation. There have been a number of suits filed in both state and federal court regarding the pipeline and the underlying issue of the bills, the right to survey. I remain convinced that the 2004 legislation is unconstitutional, but I was not surprised that the legislation stalled in light of the litigation.

Legislation pursued by Dominion to remove oversight of their profit for eight years in exchange for a five year partial rate freeze has passed and is on the Governor’s desk awaiting action. I voted against the legislation because, looking at the recent past and the current earnings of Dominion and American Electric Power, the two utilities affected by the bill, there is a significant indication that ratepayers are entitled to hundreds of millions of dollars in refunds. While it is true that it would likely only amount to a few dollars per customer, that is still a significant issue.

Energy is an issue that we all have to think about very carefully. The past few days have seen record cold throughout the Commonwealth. We must have a consistent and sustainable supply of electric power to provide the heat necessary on these cold days. It gives one pause and ought to cause us all to reflect on the discussions regarding energy production.

The end is in sight of the 2015 Session of the General Assembly. I will soon be home and back at work in my law practice. If I can be of service to you in any way, please send me an email at district25@senate.virginia.gov. If you prefer to send a letter or call, I can be reached at PO Box 396, Richmond, VA 23218 or (804) 698-7525 through February 28. After adjournment, my legislative office can be reached at PO Box 5462, Charlottesville, VA  22905 or (434) 296-5491.

Best,

Creigh

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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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