Crossover and Budget Week
Despite what you hear in the news cycle, legislators are at the Capitol doing the work of their constituents. This week was ‘crossover’ week and we voted on over 500 bills. Each chamber had to complete work on their own legislation by Tuesday, and starting on Wednesday, each chamber could only consider legislation from the other. Put simply, the House of Delegates can now only act on legislation that passed the Senate, and the Senate can only act on legislation that passed the House of Delegates.
I had two resolutions that passed the House and are moving on the Senate. HJ 593, and HJ 720. HJ 720 designates June 20th of every year as World Refugee Day in Virginia and HJ 593 commemorates the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, translated this means the ‘Night of Broken Glass’. This night, for many, signaled the beginning of the Holocaust.
I put forward 15 bills this year that focused on education, mental health education, consumer protection, local business development, and helping seniors and the disability community.Each bill was killed along party lines, and 2 bills were not heard in their committees. I worked across the aisle to ensure that these important pieces of legislation will become law. Senators Dunnavant and Sturtevant are carrying my companion bills in the Senate and they look promising to pass through the House. I worked with Senator McClellan on her Senate bill, SB 1440 akin to my HB 2593, which will expand mental health education to all grades, K through twelve. I will advocate for these bills when they make their way to the House.
There were solid pieces of legislation that I helped get through the chamber this week that I am highlighting here. The House passed HB 1811, a bill that would prohibit texting and driving. I also co-sponsored Del. Karrie Delaney’s bill, House Bill 1659. This makes clergy mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect. I'm proud to support legislation that is key to improving access to healthcare. The House passed a step therapy bill. Step therapy, often called ‘fail first’, occurs when a doctor prescribes a treatment, but the insurance company requires the patient to try one or several other drugs first. This is based on financial, not medical, considerations. The patient must wait for the doctor prescribed treatment for weeks, months, or even years as the patient tried each of the insurer’s preferred treatment. This incorporates an exception process that doctors can utilize when appropriate. In addition, there were two bills that correct surprise billing. I have heard too many stories of patients going to the emergency room and then later getting a surprise bill, because one of their doctors or nurses was not in network. This legislation takes the burden off the patient and forces the hospitals to negotiate with the insurance companies. These bills will now make their way through the Senate.
In addition to it being ‘crossover’ week, it is also budget week. You can explore the budget website by clicking here. There, you will find member requests for amendments, committee approved, and finally, floor approved amendments.
On Thursday we voted on 47 contested budget amendments. I spoke on the House floor against cutting over $15 million in need-based financial aid in higher education. The budget only includes half the funds for teacher raises that was initially proposed, refuses to supplement the expired federal grant money for the Virginia Preschool Initiative, removes funding for affordable housing, critical resources for at-risk students, and undercuts funding for clean air and water. There is still time for the budget to be improved and reconciled with the Senate budget.
In response to the strong push back on the Floor, the House Republicans yielded and came to the table to compromise on the budget. Delegate Vivian Watts, the ranking Democratic member on the House Finance Committee, had proposed a plan and that is the budget plan that is currently being compromised on. There are a lot of lost opportunities with this compromise, and it is a mixed bag of good and bad policy options. The good from this bill is that the standard deduction will increase for the first time in decades. This is a necessary fix and will provide some relief for many families who are harmed by the federal Trump tax cuts. As of right now, the compromise budget does not include the fully refundable Earned Income Tax Credit. This leaves behind 5,200 families in the 73rd who would have benefited from this credit. The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis has produced a document where you can see a visual comparison of the Governors introduced budget, the House Appropriations, and the Senate Finance budget. Please continue to stay engaged in the budget talks as we continue to do this important work.
This week I received an email from a constituent concerning the intersection at Gaskins and Gayton Roads. After a quick check in with VDOT, Gaskins and Gayton Roads have been identified as an important area for pedestrian crossings. I was thrilled to be able to tell my constituent that the intersection is part of an ongoing project to implement a crosswalk for pedestrians, and all signs and signals have been installed. The remaining wiring and pavement markings are set to be completed in June 2019 at which point the crosswalk will be operational.
Thank you for keeping up with the work in the General Assembly. Please contact me any time if you have questions or feedback or if you need a pedestrian crosswalk. I am honored to serve you in the Virginia House of Delegates.