Things continue to move on schedule at the General Assembly, and this week the House of Delegates approved its version of Virginia’s 2016-2018 biennial budget.
The House’s spending plan does not raise taxes or fees, nor does it include the Affordable Care Act’s optional Medicaid expansion. It is a balanced budget that invests over $600 million in the rainy day fund and increases funding to our public schools. It also includes just under $1 million to revitalize the Center for Advanced Engineering and Research in Forest.
Last year, I began advocating that Virginia become one of the states that adopts Safe Families for Children. This is a community-based program that relies on caring volunteers to serve as host families to assist those who are experiencing short-term crises.
I like Safe Families because it provides the least disruption for those children who are part of a family in crisis, providing those who are not at the point of meeting the requirements of government intervention before their situation deteriorates to the point they do. Because host families are customarily in the same community as the families in crisis, the children affected continue with their regular lives outside of the home environment, attending the same schools and participating in the same after school activities.
The House’s budget plan includes language that would establish a pilot program that partners with Patrick Henry Family Services located in our region. I know once this program is initiated and others see its positive results, it will become an integral part of Virginia’s approach to families in crisis, and it has the potential to save the taxpayers millions of dollars in foster care costs.
There was a lot of progress on my legislation this week. House Joint Resolution 7 (HJ 7), which would direct the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) to conduct a two-year review of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership Authority passed both the House and Senate. Ensuring government and government-authorized agencies are delivering for taxpayers is an important function of JLARC, and the Commission is ideally suited to review the success of organization assigned a critical role in economic development.
House Joint Resolution 45 (HJ 45) also passed the Senate this week. It will allow the Health Insurance Reform Commission, which I chair, to continue to monitor the option of mandating health insurance coverage for abuse deterrent formulations for opioid medications. As the FDA continues to approve these deterrent drugs, such as the one already on the market from TEVA in our region, we will be able to look at data as it becomes available. The abuse of opioids is a critical national problem, and I am pleased we will continue to monitor drugs that deter this addiction.
We had visitors from Bedford 4-H this week, as 4-H organizations from across Virginia came to the General Assembly. We also had visitors from Virginia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
For the first time since 1988, Virginia will hold two hotly contested presidential primaries on the same day. With the Democratic and Republican nominations seriously contested, a record turnout is anticipated. Please take the time to vote in these important elections. The polls are open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 1.
That’s all for this week. As several of my bills go before Senate committees in the coming week, I’ll have a lot to report in the next column. Thanks for reading and have a great week.