Column by Steve Landes
We have now passed the midway point of the 2008 General Assembly session, commonly referred to as “crossover.” The House passed 616 of the 1,576 bills filed by delegates and the Senate approved 433 of the 795 bills filed by senators. Now, the House will spend the bulk of its time considering those 433 Senate bills while the Senate will take up the 616 House bills.
Since there are two-and-a-half times as many delegates as senators, it is understandable that House members filed – and the House passed – more bills than the Senate. This year, the House approved critical measures dealing with issues related to education, health care, mental-health services, illegal immigration, environmental and consumer protections, law enforcement, veterans’ services, senior citizens, economic development and job creation, transportation, and tax relief.
As mentioned last week, among the important bills approved by the House was my legislation, House Bill 85, that requires the Board of Pharmacy to promulgate regulations to establish a Prescription Drug Donation Program to accept certain unused previously dispensed prescription drugs, and re-dispense such drugs to patients of clinics organized in whole or in part for the delivery of health care services to the indigent.
In addition, House Bill 86 which would establish a program for the disposal of unused pharmaceuticals was continued to the 2009 session. This allows time for me to work further with the Board of Pharmacy and the Virginia State Police to address areas of concern related to the regulation of this proposed program. And, we were able to obtain $100,000 in the House Budget for these agencies to study this issue over the next year.
Both of these bill suggestions were brought to me by a registered nurse who really cares about how best to serve and care for people. I am happy to work on these bills to secure passage in order to better serve Virginia’s citizens regarding their health-care needs.
On the same day that Virginia held its presidential primary, Gov. Tim Kaine announced that the shortfall in the revenues projected by his administration was significantly more severe than his earlier forecast. According to his latest estimates, the combined shortfall for the current budget and the one now making its way through the General Assembly is somewhere around $2 billion.
Of particular concern to most of my colleagues were Gov. Kaine’s proposals for budget cuts to offset the shortfall. Frustrating to many legislators, the governor is sticking with his plans to create new government programs and to expand the scope of others, while simultaneously cutting funding for existing needs and core services.
The impact of his latest cuts will have a negative effect on our schools in the 25th House District. Schools in the Counties of Albemarle, Augusta, and Rockingham stand to lose $1.5 million upwards to $2.5 million depending on the locality. The City of Waynesboro is cited to lose almost $800,000. Statewide, the governor’s latest proposed cuts to public K-12 education – eliminating $55 million of construction grants and $165 million of lottery profits dedicated for school building projects – total more than $220 million.
Those paying college tuition are also likely to be hard hit by the governor’s plan. In this latest proposal, Gov. Kaine announced further reductions to funding for higher education, which had already bourn a disproportionate share of the burden in his last round of cuts. As a result, parents with children enrolled in state-supported colleges and universities would soon have to pay even more.
As of today, the House has approved its budget plan to fund core services for the next two years and to address the shortfall. Next week, I’ll be relaying the details of our plan, which will take a very different approach than the governor’s.
Visits from constituents have slowed but remain an important part of our schedule. Carter Melton, retiring president/CEO of Rockingham Memorial Hospital, and Jim Krauss new president/CEO of RMH, came down for a visit this week to bring us up to date on the hospital. In addition, Dr. Fred Fox brought by additional colleagues from RMH to discuss concerns relevant to health care and medicine.
Dr. Linwood Rose, Charlie King and John Putney of James Madison University came down to visit and check on the progress of the Budget. Paul Comes who calls Augusta County home and represents Comcast came by to offer encouragement and well wishes to get us through to the end of session.
Location, location, location
If you will be visiting Richmond during this year’s session, make sure to stop by our office, located in Room 528 of the General Assembly Building. You can contact us here by sending an e-mail to [email protected] or by sending a letter to me at P.O. Box 406, Richmond, VA 23218-0406. Or, if you just want me to know your opinion on a particular issue, you can call on the toll-free Constituent Viewpoint Hotline at 1.800.889.0229 or direct to 804.698.1025.
Have a great week, and look for more news from Richmond in this same place next week.
Steve Landes represents the 25th House District in the Virginia General Assembly.