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.


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


  • 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.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

2018 Session - Crossover

I had a dream so big and loud
I jumped so high I touched the clouds
Wo-o-o-o-o-oh, wo-o-o-o-o-oh...

I'm never gonna look back
Woah, never gonna give it up
No, please don't wake me now

~American Authors, "Best Day of My Life"

We are officially halfway through the 2018 Session.

I knew coming in to the session that it would be different than any of my previous four. After all, we have a new Governor, a new Speaker, and 19 new members, including 16 new members of my caucus, bringing the balance of power from 66-34 to 51-49.

With several races not decided until just before session, we got off to a slow start in early January. We spent more time than usual getting committees organized, causing bills to be heard a little bit later than normal.

That said, the last two weeks more than made up for that slow start.

I presented bills to subcommittees that had as many as 60 bills on their docket for a single meeting. One evening, I had the last 3 bills on the docket and didn't present until 9:30pm. The good news is, one of them even passed.

Early mornings and later nights are not a new thing for session, nor is having multiple bills in different committees at the same time. We also had a few intense floor debates. When I speak on the House floor, I try to get video clips and then post them on my YouTube Channel or Facebook page.

Crossover, the deadline for when all House and Senate bills must be acted on in their house of origin in order to "crossover" to the other house, is this week. It was another long day on the House floor as we reviewed hundreds of bills before voting to send them to the Senate.

Big Issues Update

Rate Freeze | Dominion Bill

This bill passed - I voted yes after the double-dip was successfully removed from the bill. This is a good article discussing what happened on the House floor yesterday.

Felony Larceny Threshold

Bills to raise the felony larceny threshold to $500 passed both houses. While not as big an increase as I would have liked, any increase would have been impossible under the old balance of power.

Metro Funding

Very different solutions to providing a dedicated source of funding came out of the House and the Senate. I voted NO on Delegate Tim Hugo’s bill which contained unnecessary anti-union provisions that misplace the blame for Metro’s woes. I expect to be able to vote for a bill that emerges from the Senate or a conference committee before session is over.

Student Loan Debt

For those that have followed my legislative agenda or my social media pages over the years, you know that I've been working on tackling the student loan debt crisis. On Tuesday, I participated in a tele-town hall with Delegate Marcia Price and Anna Scholl of Progress Virginia, discussing student loan debt legislation as well as taking questions from the audience. The State Innovation Exchange (SiX) hosted the town hall.

Personal Use of Campaign Funds

Later in the week, I was pleased to work with my fellow members of the House Courts Committee and Delegate Mark Cole on HB 122, which addresses personal use of campaign finance. This is another issue that I've been working on since my first session and I'm pleased that the legislation is moving forward.

My Legislative Update

At the halfway point of Session (also known as Crossover), I am happy to report that I have 6(!) bills that have passed the House and will move to the Senate for consideration:

HB 287 | This bill will create a specialty license place with the legend "Stop Gun Violence." It took a few years, but we collected the required 450 pre-paid applications and now the bill will be heard in the Senate Transportation Committee later this week.

HB 311 | I carried this bill for the Virginia Realtors Association which handles unlawful detainers in the case of a foreclosure.

HB 339 | This bill requires universities and colleges to work with student loan borrowers to establish a payment schedule once an account is 60 days past due. Previously, higher education institutions would refer the account to a debt collection agency when it became past due.

HB 690 | This bill removes the residency requirements for registrars in localities with a population less than 15,000.

HB 911 | This bill requires companies offering a recurring contract or automatic renewal to clearly state the terms and conditions of the contract while also requiring the company to acquire the consumer's consent before entering this type of contract.

HB 1424 | This bill clarifies the Code of Virginia when it comes to how many recounts a candidate is afforded.

You can view all the bills I introduced this year online.