With crossover looming, there was a lot of activity this week in Richmond. As we pass the halfway point of the 2016 General Assembly session, there’s a lot of discussion on the floors of both chambers, where key pieces of legislation are often being debated at great length.
One of the longest debates of the session came on Friday, when the House of Delegates considered legislation to reform Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need (COPN) law. Since I have been active in the effort to increase patient choice and lower costs by reforming these laws, I played a major role in the debate.
I chose to use a local example to illustrate the problem we are trying to address. Reading from a letter to patients from a hospital that had acquired a medical practice, I detailed the letter’s contents. It said that patients would still be going to the same place to receive their treatment, would have access to the same equipment, and would see the same doctors. The difference: it was going to cost those patients more.
This is the problem with COPN. Hospitals that have been granted local monopolies are maximizing their advantage in individual markets. As a result, families that are already grappling with the higher premiums and out-of-pocket expenses related to Obamacare are finding themselves paying more when they seek treatment.
The COPN debate was not the only time I addressed the House on Friday. I also spoke to my fellow delegates about House Bill 66. The bill represents a transformation of the notion of higher education in the Commonwealth by recognizing that high-demand jobs require industry credentials, not just degrees. It also represents the first time Virginia will direct performance-based tuition assistance to non-credit credentials.
Over the next decade, 40-65% of all jobs will require middle-skill credentials. Whether someone is a student, underemployed, or a career-switcher, Virginia will now have a resource to incentivize real career pathways. Through industry-credential attainment for high-demand occupations at community colleges and higher education centers, the funds for the program will be exclusively for non-credit workforce training programs leading to industry-recognized credentials of high-demand occupations.
As an example, certification as a pharmacy technician can be earned in less than a semester and the recipient would earn over $30,000 a year. A manufacturing technician certification can be earned in six weeks and would earn over $45,000 annually. Cyber-security professionals can earn various certifications in less than two semesters and start at over $60,000.
Accountability is built into the program. The grant program requires the student to pay 1/3 of the costs. If the training is not completed, the student would be responsible for another 1/3 of the program costs. Conversely, the eligible education institution is responsible for 1/3 of the costs if they do not get the student through the program.
House Bill 66 will provide a clear career pathway for thousands of people that have none today. The data shows that the state that builds the most flexible and robust talent development system will win the jobs of the future. I am committed to winning that competition and to having Virginians enjoy the stability of a rewarding career and economic opportunity.
We had several visitors stop by our offices this week. There was a great group of students from Radford University, including Logan Smith, from Forest. A group from Central Virginia Governor’s School stopped by, too.
The superintendents of the Bedford, Franklin, and Lynchburg public schools spent a day at the Capitol. Michael Van Ness of Lynchburg Grows and Tom Hodges with Hodges Insurance paid us a visit. And, Concerned Women of America not only came by to say “hi,” they also brought cookies.
If you’ll be visiting the Capitol before we adjourn on March 12, please remember to stop by our offices in Room 411 of the General Assembly Building. We’re in for a very busy – and very cold – week. Thanks for reading this week’s column. I’ll be back with an update next week.