Friday, May 18, 2018

A Tale of Two Bills

Earlier this week, I stopped by Larry Graves Park for a T-ball game between the Delegate Marcus Simon Nationals and their not-so-bitter-rivals the Merrifield Orthodontics Nationals. (Thanks to a sponsorship agreement with Washington’s Major League Baseball team, every team in Falls Church Kiwanis Little League is named the Nationals.)

It was a great chance to get out and get some photos with the team I proudly sponsor and to chat with the kids and their parents about what’s going on in the General Assembly.

“You guys are done, right?” asked one parent.

“No, not really. We still haven’t passed a State Budget.”

“Oh, that’s right, I think I read something about that . . . something to do with healthcare?”

“That’s right, in the Virginia House of Delegates, we passed a budget that expands Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act - you know, Obamacare. The Senate still doesn’t want to do that,” I explained.

“What’s the hold up? Different party’s in charge?”

“No,” I replied, “But we had an election in the House of Delegates last year. We picked up 15 seats that had been held by Republicans. So even though we are two seats shy of a majority, our Republicans got the message. On the Senate side, they haven’t had an election since 2015. They don’t understand what it’s like to campaign in post-Trump world here in Virginia.”

“What’s the deadline?” he asked.

“June 30th.”

“That’s the law?”

“That’s when we run out of money,” I explained.

Meanwhile, one of the players was in the dugout having a meltdown because she didn’t want to leave the shade and two other teammates started wrestling over a ground ball hit in their general vicinity, both wanting the opportunity to throw it into right field.

The whole scenario was a reminder of how much of what we do in Richmond may not register with our constituents who are busy living their lives. Working, paying their bills, coaching their kid’s sports teams, or just making time to cheer them on from the bleachers.

A Tale of Two Bills

Then he asked me to tell him about one piece of legislation I introduced that passed this year. Thanks to that 2017 election I was telling him about and our 15 new Democrats, I had several bills from which to choose.

I decided on a bill that I’d introduced for two years in a row, with two very different outcomes.

In 2017, I introduced a bill to allow Virginia consumers to greater protection from being caught in recurring payment and automatic renewal offers.

Last year, the bill went straight to the full House Commerce & Labor Committee and was dismissed rather quickly, without much debate or questions from the committee members.

Fast forward to 2018 and I gave it another try. This time, the set up appeared to be even worse. The House Commerce and Labor subcommittee had a long docket that started about 6pm on a Thursday night. Many of the subcommittee members served on another subcommittee that had started at 2pm.

I had three bills. The first two bills I presented had some debate and a few questions, but both failed.

It was late. We were all exhausted after a full day of session and committee meetings. So, I set aside my talking points and just started with a question.

How many of you have ever signed up for something (or been signed up) and couldn’t figure out how to cancel it? Heads were nodding in the affirmative.

And have you ever gotten so frustrated you found it was easier to call and report your credit card lost and get a new number than figure it out? A few actually raised their hands.

My bill will fix that, I said.

I then started to explain how and nearly immediately one of the Republican members of the committee interrupted, “Mr. Chairman, I have a Motion. I move to report.”

That would send the bill to the full Committee for a vote. Ultimately, the bill passed the House and the Senate unanimously.

The bill had not substantively changed between 2017 and 2018. However, the makeup of the House of Delegates had done so dramatically. Whereas my bills previously would have been dismissed without much cause (and they often were), now I can present my legislative ideas and have a better opportunity to see them succeed.

And it’s a bill that, starting on July 1, will make companies doing business in Virginia treat consumers better, and make their lives a little easier, even if they might not notice or know what happened.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The waiting is the hardest part

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part

~ Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, "The Waiting"


Is session over? Are you still in Richmond? When are we going to get a budget?
These are the top three questions I get on the sidelines of my kids' sporting events this spring.

Seems like you should be done by now, but I think I heard somewhere that you all are still in some kind of special session. And I think I saw on Facebook that you were down there in April.

So here’s the deal. We met for our regular 60 day Session which ended March 10th, with the House of Delegates passing a budget that included Medicaid expansion to provide health insurance options to 400,000 Virginians who live on incomes very near the poverty line. The Senate did not include Medicaid expansion and the two houses adjourned without a budget.

In April, the General Assembly met in Special Session to try again. The House once again passed a budget that included much-needed Medicaid expansion the day before our regularly scheduled Reconvene Session where we sustained all of the Governor’s vetoes (yay!).

Since then, Senate Finance has reviewed the budget and the full Senate will meet on Monday, May 14th to vote on any Senate committee amendments as well as the full budget. Their budget will likely have substantial differences that will need to be reconciled through a conference committee. We should know a little more by the middle of next week, but this may well take until close to our June 30th deadline to avoid shutting down state government.

We also had some debate on the WMATA funding legislation and ultimately accepted some of the Governor's recommendations and voted down ones related to taking less money from Northern Virginia road projects. While this was not the outcome we wanted, the good news is that we do now have a dedicated funding source for metro.

Around the District

Now that I'm back in the district full time, I've been attending community meetings and speaking with local organizations about what happened during the General Assembly Session and what lies ahead.

So, if you've got a civic organization, scout troop, HOA, or other community group, I'd be happy to attend a regular meeting to give an update on the budget or relevant legislation and hear about issues that concern you the most. I can also help schedule a briefing on the I-66 project and how it will affect your particular community.

If you'd like to schedule something, please contact my office (info@marcussimon.com or (571) 327-0053)).

Memorial Day Parade & Festival


In case you'll be in town, the Falls Church Memorial Day Parade and Festival will be held rain or shine on Monday, May 28th from 9:00am to 5:00pm on the grounds of City Hall (300 Park Ave.). Admission is free!

Every year, this family-friendly event has something for everyone - from pony rides to tours of Cherry Hill Farm and live music to booths featuring local business and civic groups. The parade begins at 2pm - if you're interested in marching with us, you can sign up via the Facebook Event Page. Please note that we have to line up at 1pm at our designated location. As the event gets closer, more information will be posted in the event page.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

I-66 Outside the Beltway Project Update

The Virginia General Assembly is supposed to be a part time job. That’s what I keep telling my partners. We meet for 60 days in even numbered years and 45 days in odd numbered years because we adopt a biennial budget during the even years. We meet one day in April to vote on the Governor’s vetoes and amendments, but other than that most of the rest of the work can be done at night or on the weekends.

At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

This year we got to the end of the legislative session, but the House and Senate couldn’t agree on a budget, and they realized they were too far apart to try and hammer out their differences with a couple days extension of the session.

So last week, I trekked down to Richmond mid-week again for Special Session I. (The fact that we number the special session always seems ominous. Could we have Special Session II, III and IV yet to come?)

This special session is to review and vote on Governor Northam’s new budget (which is based largely on former Governor Terry McAuliffe’s outgoing budget) so that we can have another opportunity to get it right.

Of course, the big issue holding things up is Medicaid expansion.

I’ll be down again this week to work on the budget some more and to vote on the Governor’s vetoes as well as his amendments to a few bills. So what happened?

Unfortunately, the sessions didn’t end before my deadline . . . so you’ll have to wait until next month for my take.

For now, let me update you on another issue that is about to start having a big impact on Falls Church and Merrifield residents - the beginning of the construction on I-66 Outside the Beltway.

Construction on the project will include lane shifting and concrete barriers narrowing some of the lanes. There will also be intermittent weekend shutdowns of the Orange line to accommodate some of the construction and to avoid safety issues.

The project completion is expected at the end of 2022. At that time, there will be two toll lanes in each direction (like the I-495 HOT Lanes) plus three regular traffic lanes and a shoulder area. The toll lanes will be HOV-3, requiring drivers to have three or more people in car if they’d like to use the lanes and avoid the toll. Motorcycles and buses will also be able to use the lanes for free, but other cars with fewer than three people will pay the toll. Alternatively, drivers can use the regular lanes at any time without paying any tolls.

As always, if you can carpool, telecommute, or take public transportation, this will help you avoid some of the expected residual issues during construction and avoid the tolls once the project is completed. During construction VDOT and their partner are offering free or reduced bus fare along the corridor to help ease congestion and provide commuters with alternatives to get from points into town.

Some of the revenue generated by the tolls will go toward other regional transportation projects and to provide transit services that include three new bus routes, increased service on existing routes, and connections to metro stations. There will also be a new park and ride lot to support future bus services. In addition, there are some other road and bridge maintenance/repairs that will be possible because of the money from the tolls.

I don’t expect that these positives will erase all the animosity toward tolling or that knowing the construction will eventually end will make your current daily commute any easier. But I do hope that having some information will help make it more manageable.

In the meantime, the project website (outside.transform66.org) is a great source for updates. Here, you can sign up for their e-news or visit their social media accounts (@VDOT and facebook.com/VirginiaDOT). The main website has interactive project maps plus a listing of any upcoming public hearings.

Of course, you can also contact my office to let me know about your issues and concerns. I’m happy to relay them to the project team and ensure that your voice is heard. I can be reached at DelMSimon@house.virginia.gov and (571) 327-0053.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

2018 Session - Week 8

What a difference a day made
Twenty-four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers
Where there used to be rain


~Dinah Washington, "What a Difference a Day Makes"


The Speaker just gavelled out the 2018 Session and I wanted to give you an update on what happened with some outstanding pieces of business.

Last year at the end of session, I referenced the movie La La Land, highlighting the stark contrast between the hyper-partisan legislative agenda that my Republican colleagues pursued versus the working families-focused legislative agenda that I and my Democratic colleagues championed.

What an incredible difference a year and another election makes.

During the 2018 Session, there was still some contentious legislation, but far less than in previous years. This had a lot to do with the new makeup of the House - we picked up 15 seats last November and several of these pickups replaced conservative members that were well known for their outrageous and headline-grabbing legislation. Having a Democratic Governor with veto power in addition to 49 Democrats in the House doesn't hurt either.

Legislative Update

So, 2018 has really been different. My personal bill stats:

  • 6 bills through the House of Delegates vs ZERO in 2017
  • 5 bills made it through the Senate
  • 3 bills had to go to Conference committees but all passed
Assuming the Governor signs them into law, beginning July 1, 2018 you will be able to get a license plate bearing the legend Stop Gun Violence (HB287); you will have a more predictable process for evicting or being evicted after a foreclosure (HB 311); students who fall behind in their tuition and fee payments will have more flexible options for getting caught up before having their account turned over to a collections agency (HB 339| a really good Washington Post article highlights this issue); very small cities and localities will have the option of hiring registrars from nearby localities or retaining registrars who move (HB 690); and consumers will have greater protection from being caught in recurring payment and automatic renewal offers that don’t have easy and obvious ways to cancel (HB 911).

Nothing earth shattering, but some little things that should make life a little better for some of you, I hope.

I also spoke against HB 715, which would have allowed EMS and firefighters to carry a concealed weapon while on duty. Not only did EMS personnel and firefighters not ask for this bill, but the Virginia Department of Criminal Justices Services, Virginia Association of Fire Chiefs, the Professional Firefighters, Office of Emergency Medical Services, and Virginia Association of Volunteer Rescue Squads opposed the bill. Fortunately, the majority of my colleagues agreed and it was defeated in the House on a vote of 35 to 62.

On a lighter side, my seat-mate, Delegate Bagby, and I hosted the 1st Annual Coffee Awards in which we awarded coffee mugs to winners in 6 specific categories. You can view the whole awards "ceremony" here.

For my own part, I was awarded The Pop Up Award from the other side of the aisle for regularly "popping up" to speak on legislation that wasn't my own.

The Budget

Unfortunately, the path to reconciling the House and Senate versions of the 2018-202 Biennial Budget remains a long one. Since the Senate version did not contain Medicaid expansion, the differences to be ironed out were large to begin with. It was confirmed yesterday that we wouldn't have a compromise budget to vote on today. Instead, we will return for a special session in a few weeks to vote. As I learn more information about what the compromise will look like, I will share it with you.

Governor's Vetoes and Reconvene Session
While Governor Northam has not vetoed any legislation yet, chances are good that there will be at least a couple of them for the House and Senate to review during the Reconvene Session on April 18th. At that time, we will also address any recommendations that the Governor has made to legislation as well as any amendments he has to the compromise budget.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

2018 Session - Week 7

All my days I prayed and prayed and now I see the finish line
Oh I'm gonna finish mine
All my days I prayed and prayed and now I see the finish line
Gonna finish mine


~Chance The Rapper, "Finish Line/Drown"


The 2018 Session is nearly at and end, but things have only slightly slowed down. We're wrapping up committee meetings to get through the last of the bills to go to the floor for votes. Conference committees are meeting to work out the kinks in bills. So, while this week's update is relatively short, I'll have a longer one next week once more things have been finalized.

On the House floor, I once again spoke against a bill that would prohibit localities from requiring a wage floor when entering contracts. A version of this bill has been vetoed for the past two years and I suspect it is headed for the same fate this year.

I also did a speech in honor of my mentor and predecessor, former Delegate Jim Scott. One of the nice things that we can do in the House is adjourn in the honor and memory of someone - I took this opportunity to honor Jim last week as he touched many lives over the years, including many of those still elected to the General Assembly.

Legislative Update

For the first time, I have three bills in conference:

HB 911 | Requires companies offering a recurring contract or automatic renewal to clearly state the terms and conditions of the contract. The bill is in conference so that we can add a line about those companies that try in good faith to comply.

HB 690 | Removes the residency requirement for registrars in localities with a population less than 15,000. There is a Senate version of this bill that has a higher population threshold, which will most likely be what the compromise version looks like.

HB 287 | Creates a Special License Plate for "Stop Gun Violence. Because the House and Senate versions of this bill are different, we need to find the happy medium between the two.

The Budget

Conferees are still hard at work to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the budget. Unfortunately, it may be a long path to consensus since the Senate version did not include Medicaid expansion. There are also rumors that a compromise won't be reached before the last day of Session and what we'll have to have to come back to vote on a final version some time later in March or even April.

Monday, February 26, 2018

February Budget Update #2

It's getting better all the time
Better, better, better
It's getting better all the time
Better, better, better


~The Beatles, "It's Getting Better All the Time"


Making new laws some times feels like making sausage — hopefully what comes out in a nice neat package is tasty, but the process for getting it made can be ugly. Often times the raw ingredients we are given to start with are awful, but getting the right mix of ingredients, along with some sweeteners and some items to spice things up, we come out with a good product.

When you take a look at it before its done, though, it’s really, really unappetizing.

2018-2020 Biennial Budget

In my 4 years here, I’ve never voted YES for a biennial budget. In 2014, Governor McDonnell’s departing budget didn’t expand Medicaid. In 2016, Governor McAuliffe’s original budget did, but House Republicans took it out.

This year, the House version of the budget passed with Medicaid expansion left in tact on a vote of 68 to 32. I'm happy to say that because expansion was included, I was able to vote YES.

I voted YES to helping the nearly 400,000 Virginians who will gain healthcare coverage, to increased funding for mental health services in the community and in our jails and prisons. I voted YES to teacher pay raises, to an Office of Student Loan Ombudsman, and to more Lottery funds coming back to local school districts with no strings attached.

Of course, this version of the budget isn't perfect and we tried to add a few floor amendments to further improve it, including an amendment to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in public employment and in-state tuition for those that have lived in Virginia for at least a year and have filed to become a permanent US resident. We also objected to a few of the amendments that the House Appropriations Committee decided to include. More information on these are below.

Since the House and Senate budgets differ, there will be a conference committee to work out the kinks in the next week or so. The biggest difference, of course, is that the Senate version doesn't include Medicaid expansion. In spite of this, I'm hopeful that the budget conferees will be able to work out a compromise that includes Medicaid Expansion in time for us to vote on the final version of the budget at the end of next week.

Floor Amendments

Budget Item 420 #1h | To establish a See Something, Say Something Hotline, run by the State Police. The hotline would be specifically for tips and help in identifying potential mass shooting instances. This is my floor speech.

Objections

Budget Item 452 #2h | A committee approved budget amendment to require reverse commuter tolling on I-66 inside the beltway. I also spoke on this.

Budget Item 303 #7h | A committee approved budget amendment to eliminate the proposed 2% salary increase for personal care assistants. Here is my speech.

You can still view online the full biennial budget and all the budget amendments.

Rate Freeze Repeal Bill

Another bill that looked awful when we saw it for the first time was a bill to repeal a 2015 bill to freeze rate reviews for our regulated electric monopolies, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Company. I voted no at the time. I’m always skeptical of these sorts of bills, but given how bad the 2015 bill was, I knew we had to do something. The first bill we saw, though, wasn’t much better than the status quo.

I’ve included a chart here that shows you how much better we were able to make that bill through a series of amendments in both the House and Senate committees and on the House Floor. There are three columns, one showing how things work under the 2015 bill we need to repeal, one showing the bill as introduced, and another showing the bill be voted on today.

It’s a bill I would never have supported in its original form, or even as it first came out of committee. As a result of the hard work of a large group of stakeholders, it has emerged in a from I was able to vote YES on.

There are certainly folks who won’t like this flavor of sausage - those who think we used too much spice and not enough sweetener. But at the end of the day, I think it’s a product my constituents and consumers will be delighted with, as more of our energy than ever will come from renewable sources, we will experience fewer power outages, and our grid will be more secure than ever before.

Monday, February 19, 2018

February Budget Update

Finally it has happened to me right in front of my face
My feelings can't describe it
Finally it has happened to me right in front of my face and
I just can not hide it

~CeCe Peniston, "Finally"

It's budget week at the General Assembly. The House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees introduced their respective versions of the 2018-2019 Biennial Budget yesterday afternoon.
Finally, after years of Democratic lawmaker's advocating for it, the House Budget includes Medicaid Expansion.

Amendments to House Bill 29 increase health care coverage to uninsured Virginians with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level pursuant to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) effective January 1, 2019, with 300,000 individuals projected to enroll.

As part of the deal to expand Medicaid, the plan incorporates innovative reforms to promote health and well-being, personal responsibility and fiscal sustainability.

Within 45 days after passage HB 29, Virginia will submit State Plan Amendment application & file initial paperwork for the section 1115 demonstration waiver. HB 29 provides $3.5 million General Fund (GF) and federal Medicaid matching funds to hire an expert with successful experience with similar waivers to assist with the design and federal approval process.

House Bill 30 provides $4.6 million GF in FY 2019 and $16.9 million GF in FY 2020 to support the Training, Education, Employment and Opportunity Program (TEEOP) for Medicaid enrollees.

My colleagues and I will be reviewing the entire proposed budget this week. On Thursday, we will vote on the House Amendments to the Governor's budget and any submitted floor amendments. The decision to expand Medicaid has freed up hundreds of millions of state general fund dollars for mental health, education, economic development and other important priorities.

2018-2020 Biennial Budget | House Version

Mental Health

  • Total spending of $163.1 million from the General Fund over the biennium for behavioral health and developmental services including the following major items:
  • $47.8 million for 825 I/DD waiver slots and 50 reserve slots
  • $59.7 million for community mental health services
  • $15.8 million for behavioral health facility capacity and operating costs
  • $15.3 million for Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation capacity and facility expansion and services
  • $36.1 million in savings for Community Service Board funding due to Medicaid transformation

K-12 Education

The Introduced Budget has a net increase of $515.9 million GF higher than the FY 2018 base budget – which includes rebenchmarking, policy changes, new and expanded initiatives
  • $481.1 million for the total cost of Rebenchmarking
  • $34.8 million for new policy changes, new/expanded initiatives
  • To that, the Subcommittee recommends increasing the K12 budget by an additional $98.0 million over the biennium as compared to the introduced bill
  • Increases the Supplemental Lottery Per Pupil Amount (PPA) by $43.4 million the first year and $48.1 million the second year
  • The revised Supplemental Lottery PPA allocation totals $234.7 million the first year and $239.4 million the second year
  • The per pupil amount increased from $274 each year to $336 the first year and to $342 the second year
  • The recommended additional funding increases the total percentage of Lottery dollars going directly the school divisions to 40% in the second year
  • School divisions have 100% flexibility on spending

Higher Education 

  • Finally got funding for an office of Student Loan Ombudsman, which I've been working on with Senator Howell for a few years
  • Commonwealth Cyber (CyberX) Initiative $40.0 million
  • $40.0 million under VRIC for a new cyber initiative
  • Engine for research, innovation, and commercialization cybersecurity technologies
  • Address statewide shortage of advanced and professional degrees within the cyber workforce
  • Hub and Spoke structure with the Hub located in Northern Virginia with Virginia Tech as anchor, along with participating universities and industry partners spokes co-located with, and operated by, other public universities throughout the Commonwealth
  • Opportunity to participate in collaborative programs and access to investment resources via VRIC

I-66 

  • Re-evalution of the inside the beltway tolling algorithm
  • Establishing of reverse commuter tolling inside the beltway (which I don't support and will oppose on the House floor)

You can view online the full biennial budget and all the budget amendments.