Author: Becky Bowers-Lanier
The Virginia General Assembly, known for its commitment to history and tradition, experienced a seismic shift in its political landscape after the November 2017 elections. On January 16th, 2018, a new Executive Branch was sworn in. Former Lt. Governor Ralph Northam became Virginia’s 73rd Governor, political newcomer Justin Fairfax was inaugurated as Lt. Governor and Mark Herring began his second term as Virginia’s Attorney General. With Democrats maintaining control of the Executive Branch, a smooth transition is expected between the McAuliffe and Northam administrations. Governor Northam outlined healthcare, education and criminal justice reform amongst some of his top priorities.
The biggest shift occurred in the House of Delegates where prior to the election, Republicans enjoyed a near supermajority. The November 7th elections, described as a “democratic wave” resulted in Democrats picking up 15 seats. Several elections were recounted, most notably the 94th district which was ultimately determined by “drawing lots.” The House of Delegates now sits at 51-49, with Republican control. Delegate Kirk Cox (R- Colonial Heights) was elected the 55th Speaker of the House of Delegates.
House Republicans kicked-off session with a rule change to require recorded votes in committees and subcommittees, a welcomed shift by transparency advocates. Republican leadership also expressed interest in bipartisanship and working with Governor Northam, but called the Governor out on the “partisan rhetoric” in his speech to the joint body. It is unclear how this will play out during negotiations on key topics like Medicaid Expansion.
The 2018 Session began on January 10th in a new location. The General Assembly Building (GAB) is undergoing a four year renovation and legislators and committees are temporarily housed in the Pocahontas Building. The Pocahontas Building is significantly smaller than the GAB, leading to smaller legislator offices and scattered committee rooms. Committees are currently being held in the Pocahontas Building and the Capitol. Several committee meetings have already reached capacity. As a result, both the House and Senate are video streaming committee meetings.
We are currently in the third full week of session. Bills are moving quickly through subcommittees, committees and making their way to the floor of the House and Senate. Bills will be heard three times on each floor before being considered by the other chamber. February 13th is “crossover” when bills move from the House to the Senate and vice-versa. Senate Finance and House Appropriations are currently reviewing budget amendments in order to draft their respective budgets. For a list of committee members, see the House Committee Listings and Senate Committee Listings. You can also find your legislators here.
Three bills in the house, HB 791 (Pogge), HB 1046 (Torian), HB 1254 (Thomas) addressing staffing ratios of school nurses were heard last week. HB 1046 (Torian) and HB 1254 (Thomas) were stricken from the docket and HB 791 (Pogge) reported out of the House Education committee and is headed to the appropriations committee. Similar legislation in the Senate, SB 366 (Stuart) was continued to 2019 for further discussion.
We are also in support of a budget amendment, item 136 #16s to increase state funding for additional school nurses to achieve the a ratio of one full time equivalent school nurse position per 550 students. There are lots of budgetary “asks,” and never enough money to go around. Because SB 366 was carried over until next year, we know that the funds will not be appropriated to support the funding needed for the state’s share of the 1:550 ratio. Thanks to the nurses who attended committee meetings and thanks to you all who advocated for the school nurse staffing bills.
For interprofessional turf battles, we’d have to look at the optometrists versus the ophthalmologists (SB 511) and the nurse practitioners versus the physicians (HB 793). So, I would say that we cannot let a legislative session go by without the “usual” fighting over who can do what in health care.
On Weds, February 7th, HB 791, Del. Pogge’s bill on school nurse staffing, was heard in House Appropriations subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education. The subcommittee recommended that the bill be passed by indefinitely on a vote of 7-2, with Delegates McQuinn and Aird voting in the negative. The full House Appropriations Committee must vote on the subcommittee’s recommendation, and it is very likely that they will accept the subcommittee’s recommendation. Thus, the bill will not advance.
Our bill list is below and color-coded with those bills that are NOT advancing highlighted in red; those that are advancing are in yellow. Those bills that will be heard this coming week are not highlighted. The committees more or less have to complete their work by the end of this week (February 9) in order to be ready for final deliberations in their house or origin the beginning of the following week.