As you likely know by now the Virginia General Assembly adjourned Sine Die on Saturday, March 8th, meaning the 2014 Regular Session has come to a close – that is the good news after 60 days in Richmond that, among other things, saw the inauguration of Governor Terry McAuliffe; the total number of bills considered decreased and the pace quickened compared to other years; three special elections to fill vacant seats; and the Democrats wrestling control away from the Republicans in the State Senate in the middle of the session. The bad news, at least for some, is that 140 legislators will be back in just two weeks (March 24th) for a Special Session to debate the biennial budget, the centerpiece of which is the possible expansion of Virginia’s Medicaid program that would possibly extend benefits to nearly 400,000 Virginians. Republicans in the House, at least for now, are united and standing firm against the idea that is fiercely backed by Governor McAuliffe and a majority in the Senate of Virginia.
Given that budget negotiators have signaled that nearly all other budget matters outside of the expansion issue are close to being resolved, it now is effectively a game of political chicken as to which side is able to mount the most pressure on the other in regards to the all-important matter of Medicaid expansion that many other states are grappling with as well. Governor McAuliffe is hoping the hiatus from the Capitol will prove valuable in engaging hospital execs and business entities (i.e., local chambers of commerce) to put pressure on House Republicans to retreat and support Medicaid expansion in some form or fashion; if for no other reason than the rationale that Virginia could lose nearly $2B Federal per year over the next three years if Virginia decides not to expand. McAuliffe continues to make the case that it is not only the compassionate thing to do but that expansion will create a flurry of healthcare jobs and economic development activity. Meanwhile, budget negotiators and the leadership on the House side argue that the Federal government is already nearly broke and as a result the dollars that they are promising are increasingly unreliable as time marches on.
No matter on which side of the debate you might fall, it will no doubt be great political theatre in the coming days as both sides believe strongly that the outcome is very important to all Virginians. With that in mind, we do not anticipate a quick resolution to the issue at this point and consequently, the details of the final budget could not be known for several months and the June 30th fiscal year deadline will be upon us before we know it. In the meantime, we have put together three items for you below: 1) global summary of issues in the 2014 session including ethics, education and mental health; 2) specific issues related to VDA and some possible areas that will need work for the rest of the year; and 3) end of session headlines from around the Commonwealth. We will of course keep you posted and continue to work hard on issues important to you in the months ahead.
Any questions please let us know.
Chuck Duvall, Tripp Perrin & Denny Gallagher
Global Issues of Interest from the 2014 General Assembly Session
- Education -- Both chambers agreed to cut down on the number of standardized tests that students take between kindergarten and eighth grade and delayed the A-F grading for schools.
- Ethics -- Voted to cap “tangible” gifts to officials from any one entity at $250 a year; required disclosure of gifts to immediate family members; and made disclosures more frequent.
- Mental health – Emergency custody orders would be extended from six to 12 hours, leaving more time to find a bed in a psychiatric facility. Both chambers also passed legislation compelling the state to maintain a “real-time” online registry of available beds. A four-year study of mental health services in the state was launched with the goal of making recommendations for further reforms.
- Hybrid car tax – An annual $64 tax on hybrid cars was repealed.
- Sunday hunting – Hunting on Sundays will be legal in Virginia on private land.
Specific Issues for VDA & Action Items Moving Forward
- Our Deferred compensation bills were heard and passed both chambers and have been signed by the Governor. The program will become effective on January 1, 2015.
- The teledentistry bill (Black-SB647) was amended slightly at the request of the hygienists and passed the Senate unanimously. Due in large measure to the lingering debate over Medicaid expansion, the bill was carried over for the year in the Appropriations committee and sent to the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission (MIRC) for further vetting.
- We continue to closely monitor the budget for VDH language to ensure the transition to a preventative public health model is well funded and make certain the MOM funds stay intact. As noted above the entire budget remains in somewhat of a state of flux.
End of Session Headlines from Around the State