- My questions about the safety of the water in the Dan River continue this week as it was revealed that the second pipe at the site was leaking. I, and the entire House Agriculture Committee, attended a briefing by DEQ on Wednesday updating us on the spill. There are still a lot of unanswered questions that I fear will remain unanswered until the long term effects can be more closely studied.
Briefly, both pipes have now been plugged. Water samples continue to meet minimum requirements. Fish sampling has begun by DEQ. VDH has released an updated coal ash fact sheet which is available on their website: http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/news/pdf/Coal%20Ash%20Release%20Fact%20Sheet%202-20-14.pdf. I will continue to monitor this situation as long as necessary.
- This week was dominated by discussions on the budget. Session on Thursday lasted well into the evening while discussing various budget amendments. The House of Delegates introduced its Biennial Budget which totals a little over $99 Billion. In the proposed budget there are no provisions for Medicaid Expansion, however, I do believe that a compromise will be reached with the Senate's version of the budget which includes a Medical Exchange to handle Medicaid Expansion. The Senate plan has merit and it is my hope that all of the issues associated with any expansion can be ironed out during the conference process. Our obligation is to the core functions of government – education, public safety, transportation and healthcare. Our budget puts an emphasis on investments in K-12 and higher education, mental health services, hospitals and healthcare, and state employees
Some of the major highlights of this budget include:
State Employees – If Virginia meets its revenue forecasts, the revenue reserve fund will be used to provide some state employees with pay raises and bonuses, and to fully fund the state's pension system.
Health Care Safety Net & Hospitals – The House budget includes $81 million in total funds to restore the Medicaid inflation adjustment for hospitals, and $111 million inflation adjustment for Virginia nursing homes.
Health Care Safety Net & Mental Health – Caring for Virginia's most vulnerable citizens has always been a House priority. That's why we have included an additional 50 ID and 15 DD waivers over and above the Governor's proposed budget. The House version also provides $48 million for mental health access, treatment and services.
K-12 Education – The House budget includes an additional $530.9 million for public education. This strong investment, when combined with numerous reforms over the last several years to ensure that money is spent in the classroom, will help provide teachers with the tools and resources they need to provide our children with a high quality education.
Higher Education – The budget commits over $210 million to higher education, including $20 million to help keep tuition affordable and $6 million for more in-state slots at William & Mary, UVA, Virginia Tech and JMU. I am pleased that the House version also maintains additional funding for the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center and much needed funding for Longwood University.
- Some of you may have been following the issue of fox penning, SB 42. My sub-committee met on Wednesday to hear this bill. About 75 people who support the sport were in attendance to show their support for the bill. You can read the entire text of the bill by clicking on this link:
http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?ses=141&typ=bil&val=sb42. The sub-committee voted 4-1 to "lay the bill on the table." It remains to be seen whether the Attorney General will ask DGIF to revoke all licenses as has been rumored.
- This year saw the lowest number of introduced bills since 2000, with a total of 1473 bills, minus resolutions, introduced. That fact, combined with a new administration, has led to a much less frantic session this year.
OF LOCAL INTEREST:
- Longwood University celebrated its 175th anniversary on Monday of this week. I am pictured reading the resolution I had prepared to honor this auspicious occasion. Congratulations to Longwood and President Reveley and here's hoping for another 175 years of educating students!
- I enjoyed the visits of many local people this week. Included were visits by Halifax Regional Health System LEAD Program, lead by Vance Midgett. Thursday was Breast Cancer Awareness day and I was visited by a group advocating for more funding. A group of student from Centerville Christian School, lead by Trevor Heims and his wife, Becca. I also met with Hanif Williams from Charlotte Courthouse and Taikein Cooper from Farmville. Benny David and his daughter, Paige, from Brookneal visited on Thursday.
- Remember, any legislation can be read in full on the Virginia General Assembly website, http://virginiageneralassembly.gov/. A wealth of additional information on the legislative process can also be found on this site. In addition, you can actually watch video for the House by clicking on the link on my website, http://www.friendsofjamesedmunds.com/.