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2017 Virginia General Assembly Highlights

We commenced the 2017 General Assembly facing a $1.2 billion state budget shortfall and over 2,900 bills and resolutions to review.  I am pleased to report that after working tirelessly to strengthen Virginia’s economy to help middle class families, improve our education system so all children can succeed, and chart a responsible fiscal course for the future, we adjourned the 2017 General Assembly on time on Saturday.

In just 46 days we not only closed the budget shortfall, but also provided our valued state police, state employees and teachers with raises, passed major initiatives geared towards stimulating economic growth, improving education, making college more affordable and attacking the opioid crisis.  

I also carried several pieces of legislation and introduced budget amendments aimed at addressing our region’s need to adapt to flooding, provide mental health support for psychiatric patients, protect young children from substance abuse, restore inflation inpatient hospital payments to CHKD, and restore funds for care coordination for our senior citizens.

I continue to focus my efforts on offering a positive governing vision for our Commonwealth.  I have included a short summary of key highlights  by subject  to provide you with a  general session overview.  The General Assembly will reconvene on April 5th to take action on any budget item or bill amended or vetoed by the Governor.

We are now back in the district office, so please call my district telephone at (757) 633-2080 or email me at delcstolle@house.virginia.gov should you need assistance with a state agency or would like to share your thoughts on an issue.  I also invite you to connect with me on social media or visit my website at https://ChrisStolle.com.

It is an honor and a privilege to represent you in the House of Delegates.

Warm Regards,

 

The most important task of the General Assembly is crafting the two year state budget. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I can tell you that this session was especially challenging to pass a state budget that not closed the $1.2 billion shortfall, but also used your taxpayer dollars wisely by investing in the core functions of state government. I am happy to report that the House of Delegates passed a conservative, responsible, and structurally-balanced amended budget protects precious taxpayer resources and funds core services. Here are the highlights of the amended 2016-2018 state budget: - The budget does not contain any tax or fee increases on hardworking Virginians. - 3% salary increase for state employees - We are investing over $18 million in new funding for K-12 more than Governor McAuliffe proposed. Our funding also gives local school divisions added flexibility to spend the money as best fits them. - We’ve secured $32 million for a 2% teacher pay raise, with no local match required, effective February 2018. - We are providing over $20 million in new funding for higher education to hold down tuition costs for Virginia families. - We are making strategic investments in economic development, but adding additional oversight to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. - $32.2 million to strengthen the delivery of mental health services through the expansion of the GAP program, same day arrest, and supportive housing.

Improving our public education system is a top priority for the House of Delegates. We remain committed to supporting our world-class public education system. That is why a 2% teacher pay raise was a priority in this year’s budget. There is also room for innovation is the classroom so all students can learn in a way that best fits their needs. The House passed legislation to create Education Savings Accounts for parents and took steps to finalize the establishment of Virginia’s virtual school. This legislation, combined with our investments in public schools, will help make sure all children have the opportunity to succeed. While most Virginia students attend a good school, some are still being left behind. We are committed to maintaining Virginia’s strong K-12 system, and working to give all children the opportunities in education they deserve by enacting reforms in public education, promoting choice and flexibility, and encouraging early childhood education. Some of the education initiatives passed this session include: - Establishing the Virginia Virtual School to allow students to take K-12 coursework online that is not offered locally. - Awarding verified units of credit for a satisfactory score on the PSAT exam. - Allowing any individual who has obtained a valid out-of-state teachers license reciprocity with Virginia. - Awarding students partial credit for correct answers on multipart Standards of Learning assessment questions. - Establishing a policy for granting undergraduate general education course credit to any entering freshman student who has successfully completed a dual enrollment course. - Broadening eligibility for the Two-Year college Transfer Grant Program by including more low-income students. - Establishing the Online Virginia Network for the delivery of each online course, degree program, and credential program offered by a public institution of higher education.

To help strengthen Virginia’s economy, the House of Delegates advanced several major pieces of legislation aimed at fostering private-sector economic growth, promoting a positive, pro-business climate, and protecting small businesses through regulatory reform. We are also leading the effort to review Virginia’s economic development spending to ensure that we are maximizing the effectiveness of your tax dollars. Key jobs, opportunity and economic growth legislations passed includes: - Making changes to the Small Business Investment Grant Fund to make it easier for investor applicants to qualify for grants and provide more benefits for investor applicants. - Reducing the minimum percentage of revenues that a small business must derive from out-of-state services from 50% to 35% in order to be eligible for grants from the Small Business Jobs Grant Fund Program. - Granting localities authority to create economic revitalization zones to provide incentives to entities to purchase properties. - Reforming the Virginia Economic Development Partnership Authority to ensure the Commonwealth has an efficient economic development organization.

In December 2016, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), a state watchdog agency, issued a report entitled “Managing Spending in Virginia Medicaid Program”. This JLARC report highlighted tens of millions of dollars spent unnecessarily on Medicaid, made 35 recommendations for improvements to Virginia’s Medicaid system, and confirmed that Medicaid is a broken system that needs reform. An overburdened Medicaid system results in lower quality care and access for patients. While we continue to reform our Medicaid system, we also passed legislation this session that creates a new innovative healthcare delivery model between patients and doctors that establishes direct primary care agreements. The House of Delegates also passed legislation to establish a uniform framework for determining the value of charity care and requires health care providers required to provide charity care or to contribute to the charity care fund to report their provider data to the Commonwealth.

Attracting and retaining public safety professionals is paramount to providing public safety to our citizens. Therefore, the budget includes $14.6 million to raise the starting salary of state police officers and provide a $6,793 increase to current state troopers. Sheriff's offices and regional jails are also allocated $7.3 million to provide a compression adjustment for employees. With more than 12 million people impacted by domestic violence each year and recidivism rates as high was 40% in some studies, the House of Delegates continued its commitment to empowering and protecting women. More than 36 pieces of legislation aimed at combatting domestic violence has been passed by the House of Delegates in the past 10 years. This session, legislation is also awaiting the Governor's signature that will give protective order protectees with a provisional concealed carry permit and will provide protective order protectees with firearms safety training courses. The passed budget also includes investments in providing crisis, trauma and advocacy services throughout the Commonwealth.

The Governor's proposed budget presented to the General Assembly in December 2016 omitted allocations that support both the district's and the entire region's citizens. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I introduced and advocated for budget amendments that: - Provide partial funding for the Commonwealth's share of a 3 x 3 x 3 study by the U.S. Corps of Engineers. The name stands for 3 years, $3 Million and 3 levels of Corps Review. Our Commonwealth had a number of authorized Corps Projects but now we don’t have any left, these 3x3x3 studies will make new recommendations for that the Commonwealth needs to gain federal funding for flooding projects. - Restores payment of an inflation adjustment in inpatient hospital payments to Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters (CHKD) in fiscal year 2018. - Restores funding for Care Coordination for the Elderly Virginians Program. The restoration of funds supports the Southeastern Senior Services Center and other programs throughout the Commonwealth. I carried two pieces of legislation aimed at combatting the opioid crisis. My resolution, HJ745, establishes the Substance-Exposed Infant Awareness week as the first week in July of each year to raise awareness of the impact of substance abuse on our youngest citizens. HB1786 provides family support and protection for infants who are believed to have been exposed to a controlled substance in utero. The bill provides that if a local department of social services receives a report or complaint of suspected child abuse or neglect on the basis of one or more of the aforementioned factors, the local department shall (a) conduct a family assessment, unless an investigation is required by law or is necessary to protect the safety of the child, and (b) develop a plan of safe care in accordance with federal law. The bill directs the State Board of Social Services to promulgate regulations to implement the provisions of the bill. I am pleased to report that the Governor sign HB1786 on February 23, 2017. I introduced HB1877 to provide hospital in-patient psychiatric patients with increased support for transitioning outside the emergency room environment. Requires the Board of Health to promulgate regulations that require each hospital that provides inpatient psychiatric services to establish a protocol that (i) requires, for any refusal to admit a medically stable patient referred to its psychiatric unit, direct verbal communication between the on-call physician in the psychiatric unit and the referring physician, if requested by the referring physician, and (ii) prohibits on-call physicians or other hospital staff from refusing a request for such direct verbal communication by a referring physician. To protect confidentiality, I introduced HB1840 at the request of the Department of Health. This bill states that the results of every test to determine infection with human immunodeficiency virus shall be confidential. Such information may only be released only persons or entities permitted or authorized to obtain protected health information under any applicable federal or state law. When a local coin dealer contacted me to ask me to introduce a bill that will allow Virginians Exempts legal tender coins whose total transaction sales price exceeds $1,000 from sales and use tax and extends from January 1, 2019, to June 30, 2022, the same exemption for gold, silver, or platinum bullion. This bill creates opportunity for Virginia to host much larger trade shows and helps Virginia's small business coin dealers much more competitive in our global economy. It is always especially meaningful to pass legislation that resolves an issue directly impacting constituents and to have constituents make the effort to come testify before committee hearings in Richmond. HB1796 places an end to an issue that has gone on for a few years that has create an impasse between watermen and homeowners. Certain oyster ground leaseholders in the Lynnhaven River are subject to the conduct of approved municipal dredging projects to restore existing navigation channels. The bill limits such projects to oyster grounds that are condemned, restricted, or otherwise nonproductive, and it requires the locality to compensate the lessee for the use of the ground. As the Chair of the General Assembly's Joint Subcommittee on Coastal Flooding, I assisted other members of the committee with advanced legislation that will assist the region in flooding adaption and will directly impact homeowners who take steps to adapt their property by taking steps to reduce their flood risk. My bill to create a Coastal Protection and Flooding Adaption Office advanced through the committee process but was re-referred to the Appropriations Committee to its limited fiscal impact. While I am disappointed that in this tight budget year, the bill was not advanced, I will continue my commitment and advocacy for a more flood ready Commonwealth.

Christopher Stolle – Doing more for Virginia’s Veterans

The Virginian Pilot – Editorial, Delegate Chris Stolle

ON MONDAY, we took time to reflect and honor our heroes who have paid the ultimate sacrifice defending our freedoms. We honor not only those who lost their lives while defending our country, but the loved ones they left behind.

While Memorial Day is a special day to honor the memory of those we have lost, let’s also remember those who have fought and may still be fighting battles here at home.

As a member of the General Assembly and the Virginia Board of Veterans Services, I believe that we have an obligation to support our returning and retiring soldiers, sailors, airmen and their families. To me, supporting our troops means providing veterans the help they need when they most need it.

 Washington continues to deal with gridlock. This was evidenced last week when 15 U.S. senators signed a letter urging the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to take action on 18 stalled veterans research and outpatient clinics.

In contrast, on the state level, we have made great strides in the past few years to address key areas geared toward improving veterans’ quality of life. As we remember those who served and died, I would like to honor those who returned by highlighting some of the commonwealth’s services available to support Virginia’s veterans and their families.

Many of our veterans and their family members are seeking workforce development skills or a college degree. Spouses of active-duty military members now receive in-state tuition while living here and Virginia colleges and universities now waive the one-year residency requirement for transitioning veterans who want to make Virginia their permanent home.

Whether you are a younger service member choosing not to re-enlist or retiring after a successful career, we know you’ve developed great skills during your time in the military and we want you to use those skills here in Hampton Roads.

In 2012, we developed the Virginia Values Veterans (V3) program, whose mission is to educate and train employers on the value of hiring Virginia’s veterans, and to help employers connect with veterans.

More than 16,000 veterans have been hired through the V3 program, and we have just launched a new V3 Employment Grant program to incentivize employers to hire more. Additionally, this year I was proud to carry first-in-the-nation legislation that establishes a program to allow military medical personnel, who have transitioned to the civilian world, to keep using the skills they acquired in the military.

The Virginia Military Medics and Corpsmen (MMAC) program will create a much-needed bridge to health care careers for our veterans. Virginia will also be the first state to partner with the DoD for transition assistance for separating service members to help them get the required civilian health care certifications.

The single greatest show of gratitude to our veterans is to support their mental and physical well-being. Virginia has housed more than 1,900 veterans since October 2014, becoming the first state to functionally end veterans’ homelessness.

But, we can do more to support the health care needs of our disabled or aging veterans. Oklahoma has half as many veterans as Virginia and three times as many veterans’ care centers.

State leaders have worked on a two-year effort to bring a veterans’ care center to Hampton Roads. We have waited for years for the federal government to fund its portion, 65 percent of construction, but the federal money never came.

We decided that Virginia’s veterans could wait no longer. The state fully funded two new care centers, one in Hampton Roads and one in Northern Virginia. I thank the city of Virginia Beach for its donation of the land and its commitment to have a facility located on the Southside that can be easily accessed by veterans and family in Hampton Roads.

Most importantly, our veterans should never feel abandoned. If you or someone you know is a veteran who needs help of any kind, DVS has partnered with Virginia 211 to provide a 24/7 hotline service. Dial 211 from a land or mobile phone for immediate assistance. On the go or overseas? The DVS mobile app is now available for both Apple and Android phones.

Virginia’s General Assembly remains committed to working with the governor, localities and employers to make Virginia the most veteran-friendly state in the nation.

 

Across Virginia, Broad Community, Business Support For COPN Reforms That Preserve Vital Health Care Program

Alexandria News

Chambers of Commerce, business leaders, health care advocates, and other stakeholders are joining together to urge the Virginia General Assembly to enhance and protect Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need  program. The groundswell of voices continues to grow as the legislature considers proposals to alter the longstanding COPN process that protects health care access, controls costs, and offsets unfunded charity care mandates on hospitals. Local hospitals and health systems throughout the Commonwealth support appropriate reforms that enhance the program and establish guidelines for future refinement. There is widespread opposition to COPN repeal among Virginia’s local hospitals and health systems because of the serious threat that would pose to our health care system. Support for COPN exists among many business and community organizations including the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance, the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, the Prince William Chamber of Commerce, the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce. The Virginia Rural Health Association and the Virginia Nurses Association also are supportive of reforms to enhance the existing COPN process.

The position taken by the chambers is in line with the recommendations of a state work group created last year at the direction of the General Assembly. After spending much of 2015 thoroughly studying how COPN works, the work group concluded that the program should be modernized but remain in place. The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association similarly supports reform of the COPN program.

Bi-partisan legislation sponsored by Delegate Chris Stolle (R-Virginia Beach) and Senator William Stanley Jr. (R-Franklin County) embodies the recommendations of the work group. Their proposals provide a mechanism for meaningful reforms to the COPN program now and in the future. Delegate Stolle’s HB 1083 has many co-patrons from both sides of the aisle and both chambers of the General Assembly, including roughly one-fourth of all House of Delegates’ members. Senator Stanley’s SB 641 likewise has gained bi-partisan support in the House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate.

Virginia’s COPN program protects health care access, controls patient costs, and offsets unfunded charity care mandates on hospitals. The majority of states (36) maintain COPN-like programs because they are effective at preventing over-expansion the health care market can’t sustain. Virginia is home to 107 local hospitals and 30 health systems which serve as economic pillars. Together, they provide 115,000 good paying jobs totaling roughly $8 billion in payroll, making hospitals among the largest employers in the state. Hospitals generate $36 billion in positive economic activity for the Commonwealth, and support local economies by spending $17 billion on goods and services with local businesses. Those benefits are threatened by unfunded government mandates and federal funding cuts to hospitals which are forecast to approach $1 billion annually by 2021. They are at risk as a result of billions of dollars in uncompensated care hospitals have absorbed in recent years. And they would be further imperiled by a repeal of COPN, which could weaken health care across Virginia. Going that route would allow new entrants to cherry pick only the most profitable types of care to provide, in select communities, leaving community hospitals with the burden to provide other services a community needs even though providing those services often represents a financial loss for hospitals. Without COPN, health care access disparities could widen in Virginia, leaving poorer communities with fewer treatment options in comparison to more affluent areas.

Health care is not a free market. Federal law requires hospitals to provide emergency care regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. Also, many patients who need hospital care are uninsured, underinsured, or are covered by federal or state health programs that do not cover hospitals’ full costs for delivering care. Beyond mandates, Virginia hospitals deliver charitable care because it is central to their community-based service missions. Virginia’s local hospitals, many of which are nonprofits, are committed to caring for those who need medical attention no matter the day or time. That dedication is one reason hospitals are economic pillars and community cornerstones in the Commonwealth. COPN functions to offset charity care. More than $1.3 billion was provided toward Virginia charity care needs in 2013 due to COPN conditions. And despite the fact that health care is not a free market, Virginia has comparatively low health care costs. In fact, Virginia has lower per capita health care costs, and expenses, than the majority of non-COPN states.

In light of the circumstances, several chambers of commerce across the Commonwealth support efforts to protect Virginia’s COPN process. The Bristol Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance, the Prince William Chamber of Commerce, and the Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce have each endorsed resolutions that support “Virginia’s COPN program as an important component of the Commonwealth’s health care policy,” encourage the 2016 Virginia “General Assembly to enact COPN process reforms” consistent with the state work group recommendations, and request that the legislature establish a process for continued COPN review to ensure the law remains effective. The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce included COPN process reforms as a priority in its 2016 legislative agenda. In its Jan. 22 newsletter, the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce expressed support for the work group recommendations, noting that “the Chamber believes that any reform should model the recommendations from the COPN work group to improve the quality and access to health care while also eliminating waste and abuse.” The Virginia Rural Health Association and the Virginia Nurses Association also support COPN reform