This past Saturday, Senator Marsden and I held our annual town hall meeting at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School. Despite the bitter cold, a good number of people came out to talk to us about what has happened this Session, and what we have remaining over the last 20 days. I am glad I was able to answer some questions and provide some insight on what we are working on at the Capitol.
Town Hall with Senator Dave Marsden at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School on Saturday
With Crossover occurring this week, committee meetings have been longer and more frequent so that all Senate bills are heard. Floor sessions are also long. We will have discussed and debated 982 bills, resolutions, and joint resolutions by the 16th, and this does not even include the number of House bills and resolutions that have already crossed over to our side. I am most appreciative of the many constituents who have continued to reach out to my office and/or met with my staff.
I am pleased to report my bill regarding the Virginia Guaranteed Assistance Program, SB440, passed the Senate. The bill provides an opportunity for full-time students to receive tuition assistance grants. They are incentivized to complete their degree in four years by increasing the full-time status to 30 completed hours annually. Speaking to the bill, Secretary of Education Anne Holton cited the plight of many working students faced with financial challenges, who often do not complete their degree but are saddled with large amount of debt from being a part-time student. SB440 has been embraced by our colleges and universities as a pathway to reducing student debt and accelerating entrance into the workforce. We continue to diligently work on measures intended to make our economy grow with skilled and globally competitive workers.
Another major initiative occurred when Governor McAuliffe announced the first comprehensive, bipartisan plan to relieve congestion on I-66 in 30 years, which should be completed by 2020. The proposed plan should cut down commute times inside the Beltway through a number of measures including:
- Widening the highway between the Dulles Connector road and Ballston
- Allowing single drivers to drive on I-66 inside the Beltway during rush hour by paying a toll, which will lessen the amount of cars merging outside the Beltway and keep traffic moving
- Improved transit service
- Promoting carpools
All of these actions will make it so working commuters are no longer sitting in gridlock while trying to get to work in the morning and home to their loved ones in the evening.
Standing by Governor McAuliffe as he announces the plans for I-66.
Sticking with the theme of economic development, SB449 establishes the Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board, which will administer grants to projects that spur economic and workforce development here in the Commonwealth. Councils created across the state can also submit proposals for projects in their areas. This bill contains years of hard work and dedication by a number of Senators, Delegates, members of the Governor’s office, businesses, and local communities to try and establish the best way to help promote and build a new Virginia economy.
There was much debate over SB671 regarding the treatment of Lyme disease. The bill would have allowed physicians to use treatments listed on the National Guideline Clearinghouse as opposed to following the Board of Medicine Guidelines. There were a few problems with this piece of legislation, which is why I chose to vote against it. The National Guideline Clearinghouse lists some controversial and unconventional treatments on their website, and it would open the door to allowing these methods be used for more than just Lyme disease.
In addition to Senator Howell’s SB49 and Senator Edwards’ SB715 passing the Senate last Friday, Senator Vogel’s bill, SB626, allowing victims of domestic violence who obtain a protective order against their abuser to carry a concealed handgun for 45 days, was passed in the Senate. Currently, if a victim wants to carry a concealed weapon they have to wait for a permit. This bill allows a victim the opportunity to carry a concealed weapon while under a protective order. I supported this legislation because I see stories every week about victims of domestic violence being killed by their abuser. This puts more control in the hands of victims and allows them to feel safe.
Another bill that has garnered a large amount of attention is the bill to “legalize” and regulate Airbnb rentals. Currently, there are approximately 4,100 Airbnb rentals listed in Virginia, and even though it is technically illegal in Richmond, 300 of those are here in the capital city. The biggest opponent of legalization of Airbnb services is the hotel industry. The fear is similar to what taxi companies felt with the rise of Uber: that an unregulated organization is going to come in and take over, as they are not subject to the same regulations that hotels are and can therefore charge lower prices.
The issue of Certificates of Public Need is a difficult one, and a gradual elimination of the process has been proposed in SB561. Those opposed to the system argue that COPNs are unfair as they encourage monopolies and allow hospitals to have complete control over the system. Ultimately, I tend to side with the hospitals. One large issue with getting rid of COPNs is that hospitals are not receiving the funding that Medicaid expansion should have given them, approximately $1.1 billion dollars, and the upheaval of the COPN process could potentially result in huge financial difficulties for the hospitals. This is a closely contested issue that is likely to be revisited in the second half of the General Assembly.
My final topic for this week is women’s health. According to the American Cancer Society, cancer kills more than 270,000 women each year and death rates are the highest in the southern and eastern part of the country, including Virginia. Women can reduce their risk of developing serious cancers by getting regular cancer screenings and health check-ups, however, this can be expensive. Planned Parenthood spends 9% of their funding on cancer screenings and 11% of their funding on other women’s health services. By focusing on a single aspect of what they do, we are drawing attention away from other important health issues that Planned Parenthood and other women’s clinics deal with on a day-to-day basis. We need to increase access to quality, affordable healthcare, especially to organizations that provide preventative cancer screenings and health check-ups.
As always, I welcome your comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.