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This week in Richmond, Virginia’s two-year budget became the latest front in the battle over the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as ObamaCare. And because Governor McAuliffe and Democrat senators have been devoted to the federal healthcare law and fiercely defending it, one of my measures to gather needed information on the law’s impact on Virginians was put on hold by a Senate committee.
House Joint Resolution 147 would require the Virginia’s Bureau of Insurance to study ObamaCare’s effects on consumers in Virginia. It wouldn’t change the law or delay its implementation. Virginia cannot unilaterally do that. But, the measure would allow us to determine, with specific information and data about its effects on consumers. This information directly relates to the premiums our citizens are paying or will pay and it is our duty to know what’s driving these premium costs and if there are ways to make it more affordable. It would be irresponsible for us not to.
Senate Democrats voted to carry over HJR 147 in the Senate Rules Committee, which has a 2-1 Democrat majority. Regardless of the fate of HJ 147, as chairman of the Health Insurance Reform Commission, I will continue to work toward getting the information and data the bill would have required.
Both the House and Senate versions of the budget are now in conference committee. The difference remaining between the House and Senate budgets is just 1/10th of 1 percent. It is 99.9 percent done except for Medicaid expansion. Twenty Democrats in the Senate have stated they will not approve a Budget without Medicaid expansion included in it. It is my hope that we will not hold up funding for our teachers, public schools, mental health, firefighters and others depending on us to pass a budget.
This year’s House budget is a responsible conservative approach to budgeting by limiting the creation of new programs, and sets aside sufficient funds in the state’s savings accounts for emergencies. Second, we invest in the core functions of government that will help our middle class families.
And like Virginia families, we recognize that we have to set priorities. 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.
We are also including $6.2 million to add 1,700 additional in-state undergraduate slots at the College of William and Mary, James Madison University, the University of Virginia, and Virginia Tech. We want Virginia students to be able to afford and have access to Virginia’s world class colleges and universities.
Jobs and economic growth continue to be a top priority in our budgeting process. To support this effort the House budget includes an additional $1.4 million each year for the Virginia Tourism Corporation to advertise Virginia’s attractions in key markets. The goal is to expand online advertising and continue our substantial support for regional and local tourism grant programs.
This week also saw a special election with significant implications for a key Session issue – Medicaid expansion. House District 100, held by a Democrat the last 10 years, won by President Obama and Senator Kaine in 2012 elections, gave Republican Robert Bloxom a big win.
This election was of particular importance because the main issue throughout the campaign was the candidates opposing views on Medicaid expansion. The Democrat candidate, with huge dollar support from Democrat PACs, supported Medicaid expansion, raising the minimum wage, and Obamacare. Bloxom, adamantly against expansion, won by 20 percentage points, and brought House Republicans to 68 members, a historic high.
The voters spoke loud and clear in this election - reject Medicaid expansion in Virginia.
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We had a very distinguished visitor this week. Former Delegate Lacey Putney of Bedford came to Richmond to be honored by the General Assembly. HJR 197, for which I was chief patron and virtually every other legislator was co-patron, honored Delegate Putney for his service to the people of Virginia. On Wednesday, Delegate Putney and his wife, Carmella, stood in the center aisle of the House of Delegates and received the resolution, to the thundering applause of the chamber in which he sat for 52 years.
We also had representatives from the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce and the Carilion Clinic visit. They met with me and Delegates Poindexter and Garrett to discuss the ongoing budget negotiations and proposals to expand Medicaid to fully implement ObamaCare in Virginia.
With just one week left before the scheduled adjournment on March 8, the week ahead promises to be very busy. We’ll be wrapping up work on the remaining bills and, hopefully, the state’s two-year spending plan. I’ll have an update for you on all of it in next week’s column. Until then, have a great week. Spring is coming.