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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

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

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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

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

Read other updates from Albemarle’s Democratic elected officials.

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

Dear Friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best,

Creigh

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

Read other updates from Albemarle’s Democratic elected officials.

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

Dear Friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best,

Creigh

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

Read other updates from Albemarle’s Democratic elected officials.

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

Dear Friend,

The 2014 session rolls on, and we are nearing crossover.  Crossover is the time when the Senate must complete work on bills introduced in the Senate, and the House must complete work on bills introduced in the House.  It’s called the crossover because after it occurs, the bills cross over to the other house for consideration.

As usual, the budget is the major piece of work to be completed in this session of the General Assembly.  In past years, transportation has been the topic at the top of the agenda. With the passage of the comprehensive transportation package last year, there are more arguments over spending priorities and how to balance the budget.  With that said, the transportation plan last year has not raised nearly as much money as anticipated because last year’s numbers were built on the presumption that the price of gas would continue to rise.  The good news for consumers is that the price of gas, though high, has remained fairly stable. 

Not surprisingly, the big issue this year with respect to the budget is the expansion of Medicaid.  As outlined in this space a few weeks ago, I think expansion would be a good deal for Virginia.  It would provide health care, including mental health service, to between 200,000 and 400,000 currently uninsured Virginians; and it would create a significant number of new jobs in Virginia.  The federal government has committed to funding 100 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion for the first three years and at least 90 percent in subsequent years.  To me, it’s a no brainer: it is the right thing to do, and it makes good economic sense.  A proposal to create a Virginia Marketplace to provide coverage for these individuals has been advanced in the Senate.  The General Assembly is far from reaching a consensus on this issue, which risks tying up the budgetary process for a considerable period of time.

A number of controversial topics have been debated this session that generated a lot of phone calls and emails.  Among the most contentious measures are:

  • Sunday Hunting:  This year a bill was fashioned by Senator Phillip Puckett and others to allow Sunday hunting on private property by the owner of the property or those to whom he gave permission.  I have long resisted voting for Sunday hunting because I think there are things to do outside on a Sunday other than hunt.  In Bath County, where I live, hunting remains a popular activity.  In the fall, Sunday is the only day that you can participate in other outdoor recreation, like trail riding or hiking, without coming across hunters in the woods.
  • Boating on Non-Navigable Streams:  Senator Dave Marsden introduced a bill this year granting anyone the right to float on a stream with a drainage area of at least seven square miles.  The bill was framed somewhat innocuously but would have allowed, from my perspective, floating on just about every stream in Virginia.  Because I was concerned that this approach would have negatively affected some people’s property rights and would have provoked confrontation, I voted no.
  • Death Penalty: Currently there is a bill pending from Senator Bill Carrico that would mandate execution by electrocution, a method that is optional under current law, if the chemicals for lethal injection are not available. Starting in 1994 Virginia joined the trend of performing executions by lethal injection.  Today, some of the drugs that have been used to make the cocktail for the lethal injection are in short supply.  I understand why Senator Carrico introduced the bill.  However, there are only four states that currently allow the use of the electric chair.  I am inclined not to support this legislation.  I think we need to make sure that our statutes are constitutional, and I am concerned that this bill will actually weaken our death penalty statute.
  • Ethics Reform: The high profile case involving former Governor Bob McDonnell generated a great deal of interest and legislation pertaining to our ethics laws. The bill moving through the Senate would create the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council, expand reporting requirements to include gifts to children, require semi-annual reporting of lobbyists and elected officials, and cap tangible gifts to legislators at $250, among other provisions. The bill is pending on the Senate floor as we debate amendments.  While the bill does not go as far as some would like, the provisions are an improvement over current law.

A large portion of my work continues to be in the area of reforming our mental health laws.  Two of my proposals, Senate Bills 260 and 263, and legislation sponsored by others have been merged into one bill.  The omnibus bill will require subjects be held up to 24 hours under an emergency custody order, create a database of available psychiatric beds, and ensure people in need of hospitalization cannot be “streeted” by establishing state hospitals as providers of last resort.  That bill is currently on the floor of the Senate, and I expect to move it to the House by next week.  The resolution creating a joint subcommittee to study mental health services passed the Senate and is pending in the House Committee on Rules.

The response to my legislative work on mental health has been overwhelming. People from throughout Virginia and the United States have shared their stories and reached out to me for help.  Getting in touch with your elected officials and voicing your concerns is critical to effecting change.  The Governor’s Task Force of Mental Health Services and Crisis Response will continue to meet throughout the year.  You can submit public comment here.

It continues to be my distinct honor to serve you in the General Assembly.  This will continue to be a busy session for me, and I look forward to your input throughout the process. Concerns, questions, or requests should be directed to my office at:  PO Box 396, Richmond, VA 23218,district25@senate.virginia.gov, or (804) 698-7525.

Best,

Creigh

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

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

Dear Friend,

This past week saw significant changes at the Virginia General Assembly.  Nearly half way into the 2014 session two new senators were seated.  Since both senators, Jennifer Wexton from Loudoun County and Lynwood Lewis from Accomack County, are Democrats, the balance of power shifted in the Senate of Virginia.  With 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans, the balance of power tipped to the Democrats now that we have a Democratic Lieutenant Governor in Ralph Northam.

Twice before in Virginia’s recent history, the Senate was evenly divided.  In January 1996 the parties agreed to a power sharing arrangement. The committee chairs and majorities were staggered, with both the Democrats and the Republicans having what amounted to an equal say in the business of the Senate.  That precedent was not followed when the 2011 elections yielded a 20-20 tie.  Rather, the Republicans seized power and, for the first time in the history of the Senate of Virginia, threw members off committees.  You might recall that I lost assignments to both the Committee for Courts of Justice and the Committee on Commerce and Labor during that upheaval.

This year, the Democrats followed the precedent from 2012.  The Lieutenant Governor broke the procedural ties, and Democrats have claimed majorities on all but two committees and each committee chairmanship.

The result of the transfer of power is that my committee assignments have changed again.  I have served on the Transportation Committee of the Senate since 2002, under chairs Marty Williams, Yvonne Miller, and Steve Newman.   Earlier this week I was elected chair of the Transportation Committee.  The chairmanship will give me a significant voice in the establishment of transportation policy throughout the Commonwealth.  I still just have one vote on the Committee, but I will have more control over which bills are heard and the order of business.

I also gained two committee assignments.  As a committee chair, I have a seat on the Rules Committee.  This committee has a significant role regarding the conduct of business in the Senate and considers a wide variety of issues that are raised primarily with resolutions.  Significantly, I have been appointed to the Senate Finance Committee.  Without question, this is the most important committee in the Senate because it handles the budget and all legislation with a fiscal impact.  A majority of bills and public policy matters require funding, and sometimes bills pass but are ineffective because money is not attached.  My vote on the Finance Committee will give me and my constituents a significant voice in the conduct of government in Virginia.  This is my 23rd year in the General Assembly and the first time I have been appointed to a money committee.

The work of the Senate Finance Committee is divided up by topic matter into eight subcommittees. I have three subcommittee assignments in the Finance Committee.  First, I serve on the Transportation Subcommittee due to my chairmanship of the Transportation Committee and my long standing interest in transportation policy.  Specific construction projects are not usually funded by the General Assembly, rather decisions about which projects go forward are made at the local level through MPOs and by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.  However, this assignment will give me and my constituents a significant role in determining which policy areas are funded and how we move forward, particularly in the areas of rail and air space, a growing area of economic importance for the Commonwealth.

My second new subcommittee assignment is for Economic Development and Natural Resources.  This subcommittee is very important to me because of my long standing interest in conservation and state parks, and my interest and efforts in the area of economic development.  Some may recall that I introduced the legislation back in 1996 that codified the Governor’s Opportunity Fund.  Any number of economic development projects have been funded through budget amendments I have introduced over the years.  Historically, Virginia ranks near the bottom of the 50 states in spending on natural resources and state parks.  You can expect me to work to increase funding there and to make sure that our economic development dollars are spent wisely.

My final subcommittee assignment is to the Public Safety Subcommittee.  This is the subcommittee that decides what criminal justice or corrections initiatives, whether advanced through the Courts of Justice Committee, or elsewhere, are worth funding.  Difficult decisions are made here because many worthy bills pass, but fiscal constraints require us to set priorities. Without question this subcommittee will involve some of the toughest decisions I will have to make.

I suppose many people wished the power sharing precedent of 1996 was followed.  In fact, that is the model that would probably produce more collegiality and a better work environment.  However, after the events of 2012 when multiple senators were thrown off committees, and the blatant power grab allowed issues such as the invasive ultrasound bill to advance, it was impossible to follow the earlier precedent.  I am confident that the Senate can move on and work toward the goals of the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia. We have vital work to do in the remaining five weeks.

A list of all of the bills I am working on this session is available  here.

It continues to be my distinct honor to serve you in the General Assembly.  This will be a busy session for me, and I look forward to your input throughout the process. Concerns, questions, or requests should be directed to my office 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 weekly newsletter with news from the the last week at the General Assembly.

Dear Friend,

The 2014 session of the General Assembly is streaking by and will soon be a memory. This year’s session is memorable for several reasons.  First, it is the first year of a new governorship, which always brings a certain level of excitement, together with a period of uncertainty as new people get accustomed to new jobs.  Second, the legislature convenes with the idea of addressing problems and balancing the budget for all the people of Virginia.  While each session resembles the previous one, new legislators and a new administration guarantee a new twist.

For the past several years, I have been forced to deal with the state’s system of mental health on behalf of my son.  In November a lot of issues related to that system were thrust in my face. I am determined to take the experience I have and use what I’ve learned to try and prevent future tragedies. To that end, I’ve introduced several pieces of legislation.

First, I introduced legislation requiring the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) to review the qualifications of workers charged with evaluating people in crisis. Current regulations require the person performing the evaluation to have a Master’s degree or its equivalent or be a registered nurse with a certain amount of experience in the psychiatric field. However, based on my experience, it is not clear that every person charged with doing evaluations has the necessary skills and qualifications; I have asked the Department simply to review the regulations and make a report to the General Assembly. Before wholesale changes are made to current law, we need to take into account that which is currently on the books and review whether it works.

Second, I’ve called for increasing the amount of time a person may be held under an emergency custody order (ECO). Current law allows a person to be held for four hours with, under certain circumstances, one two hour extension. That time frame is the shortest in the nation. Most states hold people between 24 and 72 hours before a determination is made that they should be held pursuant to a temporary detention order. While that legislation has drawn a lot of fire, specifically from the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association and the ACLU, it makes sense to me to bring Virginia in line with the rest of the country. There should not be an incident of one who is in need of stabilization services being released, or “streeted.”

Just as important as extending the time period is to eliminate the requirement that the duration of the ECO be extended by a magistrate. Particularly in rural areas, merely having to seek an extension is a waste of precious time.

Coincident with my legislation, others have introduced bills to require that a state facility be a provider of last resort. That legislation essentially would require that a bed be available when one is deemed necessary.

The third bill I sponsored calls for the establishment of a digital registry of available, public and private, psychiatric beds. The Department has been working on a registry for about three years; however it is not a mandate in the law. In this internet driven information age, it makes no sense for precious hours to be wasted on the phone looking for a bed when live time information could be readily accessible.

The last bill I introduced relating to mental health calls for a comprehensive study of our mental health care delivery system. We need to look not only on how we provide services in the area of crisis intervention, but how we deal with mental health issues long term. What kind of care should we be providing to people who are mentally ill? The study resolution has been rewritten to include issues related to the re-institutionalization of the mentally ill in our jails and prison system. The issues are absolutely related, and I hope we can move this matter forward.

While it is difficult for me even to talk to friends right now, I made a decision to speak publicly about my circumstances in order to prevent future tragedies. And I chose what I consider to be the biggest megaphone. By taking to the airwaves, I hope that I can effect as much change as possible and in some way help the millions of families across the country who are struggling and looking for help.

I look forward to hearing from you as we move through the session.  I appreciate the opportunity to continue to serve you in the Senate of Virginia.  Concerns, questions, or requests should be directed to my office at:  PO Box 396, Richmond, VA 23218, district25@senate.virginia.gov, or (804) 698-7525.

Best,

Creigh

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

Read other updates from Albemarle’s Democratic elected officials.

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

Dear Friend,

The 2014 Session is well underway.  This year, like every year, we have challenges to conquer to meet the needs of the Commonwealth’s 8.3 million residents.  Before we get to those challenges, we have to go through the ceremony that is required every four years.

Last week, Governor McDonnell gave his farewell address highlighting his achievements over the past four years: over 170,000 new jobs in Virginia, brought on largely by the national economic recovery, success in increasing the number of children adopted out of foster care, and last year’s monumental transportation plan.  He also apologized for his role in the gift scandal that plagued his last year in office.  The matter is currently under continuing federal investigation.  There are many who will suggest that all politicians receive such largesse, so Governor McDonnell’s culpability is insignificant; however, I take exception to that.  Sure, there are a fair amount of free dinners and even vacations that people involved in politics accept.  But the magnitude of the gifts accepted by the McDonnell family, and the fact that they weren’t reported, is unprecedented and leaves a stain on the McDonnell administration.

On Saturday, amidst a steady rain, Governor Terry McAuliffe, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, and Attorney General Mark Herring were inaugurated.  Whether it was a sign from above or not, the rain lifted and the sun came out at about the same time Governor McAuliffe began his address.  The following Monday, the Governor outlined his priorities in an address before the Joint Assembly of the House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia.  Primary among his priorities is Medicaid expansion.

Medicaid is insurance provided by the federal government since the 1960s.  The program is regulated and funded to a large degree by state governments, which historically have been able to determine to whom it is provided.  Under a provision of the Affordable Care Act, the role of Medicaid would be expanded by increasing eligibility.  The federal government has committed to funding 100 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion for the first three years and 90 percent of expansion cost the following three years.  Virginia has already adopted regulations requiring us to pull out of expansion if at any time federal funding of the cost of expansion falls below the 90 percent threshold.  Expansion in Virginia makes good sense.  We will provide coverage to an additional two to four hundred thousand Virginians.  The health care of those Virginians is presently being subsidized by those who pay private insurance.  Because they can’t afford preventative care, their health care needs are met primarily in emergency rooms.  When hospitals aren’t paid for emergency room care, the costs are written off and insurance rates must go up to cover those costs.  As many as 30 thousand veterans are among the Virginians who can benefit from expansion.  It is inexcusable that these people who have given so much to this country return home to poverty.

It also makes good business sense for us to expand Medicaid.  As noted above, the uninsured currently drive up the cost of insurance and thus health care.  We simply have to find a way to control the cost of health care.  In addition, Virginia will receive about $2.1 billion in federal funding per year for the next three years if we support expansion.  The investment of federal dollars will continue and injects over $5 million a day into Virginia’s economy.  As a result, Medicaid expansion is expected to create about 30 thousand jobs, primarily in the health care field, over the next six years.

We lost a rural hospital in southwest Virginia this past year.  These critical federal dollars, which all Virginians will pay in the form of taxes whether we expand Medicaid or not, could, save rural hospitals all over Virginia.  Medicaid expansion is the right thing to do.

Much attention has been paid to my focus this session on mental health.  In fact, that issue is important to me and will take a significant amount of time.  However, I am working on other legislation, including:

  • A bill to extend the statute of limitations to one year past the 18th birthday of a victim of a misdemeanor involving sexual misconduct.
  • A bill to consolidate the law enforcement divisions of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.
  • Several bills to revise the Standards of Learning tests for elementary age children.
  • A bill that would include conservation officers who work in our State Parks as members of the Virginia Law Officers Retirement System.
  • An effort to create a state park in either Highland County or Rockingham County.
  • A bill to reform the Board of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

On a personal note, thanks to all for your prayers and support during a tough time.  Your kind expressions have been overwhelming.

This will be a busy session for me.  I look forward to hearing from you as we move through the session.  I appreciate the opportunity to continue to serve you in the Senate of Virginia.  Concerns, questions, or requests should be directed to my office at:  PO Box 396, Richmond, VA 23218,district25@senate.virginia.gov, or (804) 698-7525.

Best,

Creigh

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

Read other updates from Albemarle’s Democratic elected officials.

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

Dear friend,

The 2013 Session of the General Assembly of Virginia is now complete, and conventional wisdom has been turned on its ear. Typically, in a state election year the legislature avoids major initiatives. Delegates and senators, who are on the ballot in odd numbered years (delegates every two years, senators every four) are leery of doing anything, including raising taxes, that will arouse strong feelings in an election year. The 2013 Session broke this trend. Two substantial accomplishments occurred, and the appreciation or blame lay with the House and the Senate, and the Governor.

Since 1986, no major initiative regarding transportation funding has passed. Instead the issue has been booted down the road like a can to future General Assemblies. Funding has dwindled to the point that the formulas which benefit rural counties are beneficial to no one anymore. State funding for secondary roads is insignificant. Projects linger because of insufficient funds. The most prosperous regions of the state have been crippled in traffic jams.  Frankly, over the past ten or fifteen years, as the crisis has developed, both Democrats and Republicans have done a lot of talking about this issue but little of substance has been accomplished. Coming into this session, there was little reason to believe that the norm would change, but it did.

Right before the session, the Governor announced a transportation funding plan. As I have discussed for the past several weeks, the plan had merit and demerit. It raised some money for transportation, and moved a lot of shells around to make it appear revenue neutral. I was not overly critical of plan because I understood that it signaled that the Governor abandoned the approach he took in his campaign of funding transportation projects through gimmickry.

The House and the Senate took different approaches with the bill and ultimately produced a compromise that is too complicated, further balkanizes our transportation system by allowing Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to raise their own money separate and apart from the Commonwealth’s funds, creates different levels of taxation for different fuels, penalizes owners of hybrid vehicles, and raises the sales tax, both in general and on the sale of automobiles. My friend Chap Petersen pointed out all of these deficiencies in explaining to the Senate why he would not vote for the bill.  I agreed with everything Chap said, but I came to a different conclusion.

The final compromise ultimately will generate $880 million a year for state transportation projects.  It will also generate between $300-$350 million for Northern Virginia and another $175-$200 million for Hampton Roads. While I agreed with everything Sen. Petersen said, I understand that legislating is about compromise. I knew the bill was imperfect, but instead of the flaws, I was captured by the possibilities. New funding will allow projects like the completion of the four-laning between Eagle Rock and Clifton Forge to finally have a chance. It will allow safety improvements to be made in the I-81 and US 29 corridors. It will replenish secondary road funding budgets at the local level.  And importantly, the legislation establishes for the first time a fixed source of revenue for rail and transit. The passenger rail service between Charlottesville and D.C. will remain viable. We are the first state in the nation to have a fixed source of state funding for rail and transit. This is a major accomplishment.

Because there were insufficient Republican votes in either the House or the Senate to pass the bill, the Governor and the Speaker needed Democratic support. The other major accomplishment of the session was that the Medicaid reform process began. This will ultimately provide health care to hundreds of thousands of Virginians. Senate Democrats held out on the transportation bill until we received the approval of the Governor for a proposal to reform and expand Medicaid. The agreements were nearly foiled by an opinion from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

The budget conferees established a 12 member commission to approve expansion after the reforms had been implemented to ensure accountability, integrity and a focus on prevention. The plan will have built-in, reasonable limitations on non-essential benefits and includes provisions for patient responsibility to include reasonable cost sharing and active engagement in health and wellness activities to improve health and control costs. Finally, the plan stipulates Virginia can withdraw from Medicaid expansion in the event that federal funding drops below 90 percent of its costs. The language of the conference report initially gave the commission discretion to approve expansion after those reforms have been agreed to by the federal government. The Attorney General opined that that language provided for an unconstitutional delegation of authority from the General Assembly to a subset of the General Assembly. While lawyers can disagree about the constitutionality of the language, we sought at once to address any potential problems. The language was modified to require the commission to expand Medicaid once the reforms are in place. The Governor’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources is confident that the reforms will be agreed to by the federal government.

The bottom line is that conventional wisdom was foiled this session. The 2013 Session of the General Assembly accomplished two long-term goals for which I have advocated for years.  We expanded health care services to the working poor. Improving access to health care will improve the workforce and, in doing so, improve Virginia’s economy. And we established a sustainable stream of revenue for transportation for at least ten years. The funding will allow us to make necessary repairs to our bridges and culverts, over 45 percent of which are structurally deficient or at risk of becoming so. It will allow us to move forward on projects that have been promised and not built for years. And, the compromise will allow us to unclog the traffic jams in metropolitan areas and to move more people through rail and transit.

The 2013 Session of the General Assembly was busy in other areas as well:

  • Bills were passed to require photo ID at the ballot box.  Just last year we required for the first time, that IDs be produced before voting. This process worked well in large part because the Governor ordered that new voter registration cards be sent out shortly before the election.  There was no need for this change in my view and I voted against it.  It still has to survive the scrutiny of the Governor and the Justice Department.
  • State employees got pay increases, some for the first time in six years. In addition to a two percent increase effective July 25 of this year, employees with five or more continuous years of service will receive an additional $65 per year of service up to 30 years. State-supported local employees will receive a three percent increase effective August 2013. Funding is also provided for a three percent raise in July for faculty at our institutions of higher learning as well as flexibility for colleges and universities to provide other performance based adjustments for non-classified staff.
  • Legislation passed getting tough on texting while driving.  Now an infraction will be punishable by a $250 fine for the first offense and after that by a $500 fine.  If one is found guilty of reckless driving and is texting during that time, they will have a $500 minimum fine.
  • A bill passed to require titling and registration of mopeds.
  • Bills were passed putting a single line into the Code of Virginia establishing that parents have a fundamental right to bring up their children as they see fit.  I voted against this legislation, not because I do not believe it is correct, but I believe it is correct precisely.  Unnecessary language placed in the Code can only have as its purpose mischief.

The General Assembly passed 1527 bills and resolutions out of the 2574 introduced. If you would like additional information about specific bills, feel free to contact me or go to http://lis.virginia.gov/lis.htm. It is my high honor to represent you in the Senate of Virginia. I am back at work at my regular job, practicing law. The General Assembly will reconvene on April 3 to consider the Governor’s amendments and vetoes of legislation, and also to elect judges.  If you need to contact me prior to that time, feel free to call my Charlottesville office at (434) 296-5491, my Hot Springs office at (800) 545-5899 or email me at district25@senate.virginia.gov.

Best,

Creigh

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Read other updates from Albemarle’s Democratic elected officials.

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