Tuesday was crossover day at the General Assembly – the halfway point of the 2014 Session. At this point the House has passed 944 pieces of legislation; the Senate passed 696. After crossover, each house in the General Assembly may only consider bills that originated in the other house.
Many longtime Capital observers have commended the House for completing the first half of the Sessions work in such an efficient manner that crossover day proceedings lasted only a couple of hours. In times past, the crossover day lasted well past midnight. This efficiency can be attributed to our well managed committees addressing controversial legislation at the beginning of Session and effectively moving bills to the floor.
Republican members have focused the majority of their legislative effort on kitchen-table issues that families across the Commonwealth care most about. We’ve also worked in committees to combine several overarching legislative initiatives into single bills. For example, 52 ethics reform bills were rolled into one well-rounded, specific bill that addresses the major transparency issues.
I am pleased to report that several House Republican initiatives passed the House with strong bipartisan votes. Mental health enhancements, K-12 education reform, sexual violence and domestic abuse prevention, ethics reform, and improved transportation management resulted in over 3 dozen pieces of legislation passing the House. House Republicans goal this session was to provide a substantive, detailed legislative agenda that addresses the major policy challenges facing the Commonwealth. I believe we’ve done well so far and look forward to continuing that work during the second half of the Session.
We’ve passed a strong package of mental health reforms to ensure all individuals and families experiencing mental health crises have access to needed services and support. Legislation to establish a psychiatric bed registry passed the House unanimously. This online registry will provide real-time information on the availability of psychiatric beds for patients who need further treatment. Focus has been on increasing capacity and availability of the many great Virginia resources and quality services.
The House passed legislation that reduces the number of standardized tests students take by 23%. Instead of students in grades 3-8 taking 22 tests, this legislation would reduce that to 17 tests. This will give teachers more flexibility in the classroom and prevent our students feeling pressure from over-testing.
The bipartisan ethics package passed the House by a vote of 98-1. The package increases disclosure frequency, institutes mandatory training, and puts a cap on tangible gift items. This presents a positive step forward in strengthening our disclosure laws and enhancing transparency in government.
We are working to reform our current Medicaid services for recipients and ensure our citizens are not negatively affected by the Affordable Care Act. Legislation passed the House unanimously that requires health insurance companies to provide written notice 75 days in advance of any increase in premiums or deductibles. House Leadership has stood strongly against the expansion of Medicaid and potential harm to our strong fiscal management policies.
This week I gave a floor speech on why we need to improve the current Medicaid services for those already taking advantage of the program before we expand to an additional 400,000 recipients. Roughly 1/3rd of doctor’s currently don’t see Medicaid patients so they are forced to use expensive emergency room services. We need to improve Medicaid services and find reform before we expand the program.
As public safety is a core function of government, legislation has been passed to support domestic violence and sexual assault prevention and counseling services. Much attention has also been paid to preventing human trafficking. Legislation that passed the House ensures human trafficking is an offense punishable under the section of code related to abductions and kidnapping.
I’m pleased to report that eleven pieces of my legislation have passed the House with overwhelming majorities. Ten passed unanimously and the last passed 97-3. As we now head to the budget negotiating stages, I feel confident my eight amendments will fare well.
The House and Senate will report their separate budgets this Sunday, February 16. Once we release our budgets, we will vote for approval in our separate houses. After approval, 6 budget conferees from each house will work to negotiate a final budget that is presented to the Governor. Speaker Howell has appointed me, Delegates Chris Jones, John O’Bannon, Steve Landes, Tag Greason, and Johnny Joannou to represent the House.
The House Appropriations Committee will continue our tradition of reporting a fiscally responsible budget. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I’m proud that we have balanced Virginia’s budget by cutting nearly $7 billion in spending since 2007 and the Commonwealth’s spending growth is well below the rate of inflation.