News

Crossover Week Update from Richmond
Crossover marks the halfway point of the 2018 legislative session
February 19, 2018
Jill H. Vogel

Last Tuesday was crossover in the General Assembly. It marks the halfway point of the legislative session when each chamber is required to complete work on its own bills. At the conclusion of crossover, the Senate had passed 591 Senate bills and resolutions and defeated 410.  
 

The time leading up to crossover is consumed by long sessions and lengthy debates, with the most controversial votes left until the end when details are finally refined. This time those bills were healthcare, energy, and infrastructure bills.

 

Addressing Health Care Costs
 
Among the most significant measures that passed last week were a series of health care bills providing relief to Virginians facing exorbitant premiums and staggering out of pocket expenses. SB935 creates small business pools, leveraging combined buying power to negotiate lower rates for coverage. SB844 increases private market participation and choice by requiring insurers doing business with Virginia to also offer plans on the private market. This is intended to prevent scenarios like in Charlottesville, where insurers left the area and then reentered the marketplace with premiums more than 300% higher than before. The bill also extends short-term health insurance coverage limits from 90 days to 364 days with potential option for renewal. 
 
SB964 also passed, permitting patients to choose catastrophic coverage policies which contain essential benefits with affordable premiums. It helps young professionals, entrepreneurs and those on tight budgets obtain coverage. Finally, we approved SB 915 which expands funding for mental health services, addiction treatment, and additional Priority One ID/DD wavers to help clear our backlog of those waiting for services, who now number more than 3,400. 
 

Expanding Utility Regulation
 
Another of the hotly debated subjects dealt with protecting customers of certain regulated utilities like Dominion. The primary bill would reinstitute periodic rate reviews by state regulators which are not happening now. Rates had been frozen in 2015 in anticipation of higher costs imposed by federal regulations. Those higher costs did not materialize, so it was important to pass legislation allowing for rate reviews which protect consumers.
 

We passed such a bill and while the review schedule and rebates are not as aggressive as I might have hoped, the bill sent to us from committee was a compromise and a step forward. The bill is still a work in progress and has wide support in concept, since virtually everyone believes that the status quo is terrible policy and unfair for ratepayers. The full Senate passed a version of the bill that had a broad coalition of supporters which included consumer advocates, business groups, the Governor, and conservation groups like the League of Conservation Voters. In addition to addressing rates, the bill directs surplus profits to needed grid modernization, improving energy security and incorporating more clean, renewable sources into our energy mix. The bill provides for a major expansion of investment in solar production. According to the Sierra Club, in 2016, Virginia had 238 megawatts of installed solar capacity and this bill would provide for expansion to 4,000 megawatts.

 

Our Budget
 
The most significant event came Sunday evening when the Senate Finance Committee on which I serve voted to pass the Senate budget. This balanced budget ensures Virginia will remain one of the nation’s most fiscally responsible states while protecting our coveted AAA bond rating. By setting clear priorities, we have been able to increase funding for public education by $565.8 million over the last biennium, all without raising taxes. This budget also increases need-based aid for higher education, as well as makes significant investments in much-needed rural broadband expansion. Additionally, it sets a high priority on directing money to improve mental health care, fight opioid abuse, and help students with special needs. While this bill substantially increases funding for health care services using existing revenues, it did not include full Medicaid expansion or the proposed “hospital tax” used to pay for it.

 
Other Measures
 
Some important measures which passed the Senate with my support and are now before the House include:
  • Measures to strengthen our prescription monitoring programs as part of our fight against opioid abuse.
  • Legislation developing a plan of action to reduce congestion on I-81.
  • A bill reducing fees for credit report freezes.
  • A restriction on using state funds in animal research on dogs and cats.
  • A measure increasing the grand larceny threshold as part of a bipartisan compromise on criminal justice reform and strengthened restitution requirements.
  • Legislation requiring compactness in Congressional and state legislative districts, as part of my fight against gerrymandering.
  • A measure to protect children by strengthening reporting of abuse and neglect.
  • A bill to train school bus drivers to better serve students with autism.
  • Legislation expanding Virginia’s production of industrial hemp.
  • New protections for taxpayers whose personal information is compromised while in the care of their tax preparer.
  • A bill legalizing non-psychoactive CBD oil when recommended by a patient’s doctor.
  • Several measures to fight voter fraud through better electronic verification of new registrations.
  • Legislation requiring student loan servicers to be licensed and subject to oversight.
  • A measure helping better coordinate the deployment of fiber optic infrastructure in public rights-of-way, as part of my commitment to expand broadband access.
  • Measures eliminating the possibility of jail time for first-time personal-use marijuana possession.
  • Legislation to strengthen our fair housing laws and protect tenant rights.
  • A bill increasing open space conservation in conversion transactions.
  • Legislation to fight human trafficking through heightened awareness of victim support resources.
 

I urge you to contact our office any time that you have questions or concerns. I can be reached during the General Assembly session at 804-698-7527 or by email at district27@senate.virginia.gov. Our office appreciates the opportunity to serve and we are very grateful for your continued support.

 

Sincerely,

Senator Jill H. Vogel




Session Update from Richmond
Legislative work continues at a diligent pace
February 09, 2018
Jill H. Vogel

Business in the Virginia Senate continues at a diligent pace with two months to complete this year’s business. So far, we have acted on 775 bills, passing 313 and laying the groundwork for many important proposals we will study over the summer and fall.



My Bills

Autism Insurance Coverage: Last week, my bill extending health insurance coverage for children with autism passed unanimously out of its final committee. When I first started working on this issue in 2009, it seemed as if the weight of opposition made this insurmountable. Finally, after years of work we secured coverage for diagnosis and treatment of autism through age 10. This year, I am hopeful that we finally extend this life changing coverage to age 18.

Fighting Opioid Abuse: Tackling Virginia’s opioid epidemic is one of my priorities this session. My first bill on the subject required pharmacies to take back unused prescription medications, while the other helped crack down on “pill mills” through better wholesale supply chain tracking. Just this week, it was reported that 20.8 million opioid pills were shipped to one town of 2900 people in West Virginia. We have to do more to address this issue and I am proud that we made progress on both bills and look forward to further study in the year ahead, as we work with all stakeholders on getting both life-saving bills passed into law. This will help curb misuse while also protecting legitimate patients who need their medication.

Strengthening Ethics: Last week I also presented my bill prohibiting candidates from spending campaign funds on personal expenses. Unfortunately, it did not pass in committee. I am sorry to see this ethics measure fail but I will continue working until we join the 47 other states which prohibit the practice. Read News 8's coverage of this issue here.

A New Addiction Treatment Facility: This week I successfully advanced legislation which would transfer surplus state property to Clarke County. Among the priorities in Clarke County has been to support a growing need in the region for addiction treatment and recovery services and the hope is to use a portion of the property to support that project.

Working to Lower Health Care Costs: Also this week I presented a bill to increase competition and choice in health care by expanding options for MRI and CT scans in our community. As health plan changes classify fewer imaging centers as in-network and healthcare options generally become less affordable, my constituents continue to request measures to create more competition and better choices. The bill was carried over for the year for further study.

Risk-Limiting Post-Election Audits: I advanced a bill out of committee this week to provide for post-election audits which verify the accuracy of reported vote totals and proper functioning of election equipment. After working with registrars, technical experts and non-partisan advocacy groups, I am pleased that we have agreement on legislation creating a panel of experts to develop the policies and statistical procedures we need for this important goal.

 

Virginia's Budget & Other Issues

Our work continues on other important issues, from relieving congestion and improving safety on I-81, to ensuring we protect agriculture and our environment. In response to your concerns, we have also debated legislation addressing the exorbitant tolls on I-66.

In the Senate Finance Committee on which I serve, we continue to work to construct a balanced and fiscally responsible budget without tax hikes. Billions of dollars are at stake and there are 508 separate budget amendments to be heard. We will examine every dollar in the budget to ensure taxpayer money is spent wisely and on our highest priorities.

For our district, I am working hard to secure funding for a new career and technical education center, a new local barracks for our state police, and additional resources to protect survivors of domestic violence among other measures.

While public attention often focuses on high profile issues which generate the most headlines, we work on bills dealing with everything from occupational licensing, to tourism promotion, to fire safety. Whether considering big issues like our budget or transportation funding, to lesser-known issues like adoption leave benefits, we have two months to get these bills right. That’s why we spend most of our time hearing bills in committee and meeting with stakeholders and representatives from home wishing to share their input.

I urge you to contact our office any time that you have questions or concerns. I can be reached during the General Assembly session at 804-698-7527 or by email at district27@senate.virginia.gov. Our office appreciates the opportunity to serve and we are very grateful for your continued support.

 

Sincerely,

Senator Jill H. Vogel




2018 Legislative Session Update - January
As session opens, a busy year lies ahead.
January 29, 2018
Jill H. Vogel

The 2018 session of Virginia’s General Assembly convened January 10th. The Senate has returned with a new Governor Ralph Northam and new President of our Senate, Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax. I congratulate them and we are working together now on a number of issues critical for this year’s session.

In the months leading up to session, we were hard at work preparing legislation and in December, focused on moving into new offices adjacent to the Capitol while the old General Assembly Building will be demolished.

Amidst the moving chaos, 2,901 bills and resolutions have been introduced and our biggest challenge, drafting Virginia’s next biennial budget, is well underway. Crafting a fiscally responsible and balanced budget is a top priority. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, our focus should be to prepare a disciplined budget which adequately funds core government priorities, including education, transportation, and public safety.

I have introduced a number of bills important to our region, including:

  • A bill to fight opioid abuse by establishing a prescription drug takeback program at retail pharmacies
  • Legislation to fight gerrymandering and draw fairer and more compact legislative districts.
  • A bill to ban politicians’ personal use of campaign funds.
  • A bill to expand choice in health care by allowing for more MRI and CT machines in our district.
  • A constitutional amendment allowing for legislative review of outdated or overly-burdensome administrative rules.
  • A bill to expand health insurance coverage for people with autism.
  • A bill establishing a pilot program to help students with special needs in our public schools.
  • A bill to fight opioid abuse by tracking wholesale prescription drug shipments, allowing law enforcement to more quickly spot harmful activity associated with "pill mills."
  • A bill legalizing industrial hemp for commercial purposes and helping Virginia become a national leader in creating new agricultural jobs.
  • A bill legalizing the use of CBD oil for patients with very serious medical conditions.
  • A bill reforming discovery rules to help fight abusive lawsuits.
  • A measure to fund additional Sheriff's deputies.
  • A measure providing resources for a career and technical education center in Winchester.
  • Measures to fund additional Court clerk positions.
  • An amendment to provide resources for the critical Career Development Program which aides in retention of experienced staff in Constitutional Offices.
  • A measure to fully fund the state's share for Commissioners of the Revenue positions.
  • A provision to restore funding for Deputy Treasurers.
  • A measure to assist people with disabilities in state employment.
  • A measure to provide state surplus hardware to schools in order to implement IT training and certification.
  • A provision to study alternative ways to address college debt and financial aide..
  • A measure to provide resources for the historic Battlefield Preservation Fund.
  • A measure to provide funding for the Laurel Center in Winchester and for services for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence.
  • A measure to fund replacement of water quality monitoring equipment on the Shenandoah River and its tributaries.
  • A measure to provide resources for the State Police Area 13 barracks in Winchester.

I take your thoughts and opinions seriously and urge you to contact our office any time that you have questions or concerns. I can be reached during the General Assembly session at 804-698-7527 or by email at district27@senate.virginia.gov.

If you have an opportunity to be in Richmond between now and March 9th, please consider visiting the Capitol and joining me in the Senate as my guest, or visit our office in room E612 of the Pocahontas building.

Call ahead to let us know and we will make arrangements to welcome you. Everyone in our office appreciates the opportunity to do this important work and we are grateful for your support.

 

Sincerely,

Senator Jill H. Vogel




The Final Week of Session 2017
Finishing our work in Richmond
February 27, 2017
Finishing our work in Richmond

Between January and February, the House and Senate considered 2,959 bills and resolutions. By Saturday, 1,428 of those were killed and of the 1,773 that passed, many had already been sent to the Governor for signature or for veto. At this writing the Governor has approved 255 and vetoed 7.

The most significant measure was the budget bill. The $107 billion amended budget corrected a $1.2 billion budget shortfall and passed the Senate on Saturday as one of the last votes of session. It was the culmination of months of work, partly guided by a Finance subcommittee that I chair which restored compensation for state employees and constitutional officers. Constitutional officers received a 2% increase along with funding to address compression for Sheriff's Deputies. State employees received a 3% increase and state police received a base pay increase of nearly 20%. These increases addressed hiring and retention issues that had reached a crisis level. An additional $15.8 million was allocated to direct aid to education above what the Governor had proposed in his plan. Our budget included a 2% pay increase for public school teachers and other school staff, flexible funding for 42 school divisions coping with enrollment decline, and we restored one-quarter of Governor's proposed cuts to higher education. We added $7.5 million in funds for same day access which requires Community Services Boards to screen for people in metal health crises immediately, included $5 million for permanent supportive housing for homeless or those at risk of being homeless due to serious mental illness and restored $7.5 million in funding for GO Virginia economic development initiative.

It was all accomplished by conservative budgeting, focusing resources on the core functions of government — and without any tax increases.

Other measures that passed this session include a requirement that health insurance companies cover 12-month supplies of prescription birth control; the legalization of the sale of 151-proof alcohol; a requirement for principals to notify parents when children are involved in a bullying incident and the status of any investigation within five school days; a prohibition on public institutions from curbing free speech on campuses; discretion for judges not to suspend driver's license of a first time marijuana offense; a requirement for judges to consider personal finances when implementing payment schedules for unpaid fines; a prohibition on localities adopting policies that restrict enforcement of federal immigration laws (a ban on sanctuary cities); authorization for military service members between 18 and 21 to apply for concealed carry permits; and a requirement for schools to test drinking water for lead in school buildings pre-dating 1986. Bills targeting opioid abuse passed with support for needle exchange programs, expanded access to overdose drug naloxone, changes in prescription rules, and new services for infants exposed in utero.

A major transportation measure passed by Delegate David LaRock adds a constitutional "lock box" on transportation funding. It is a long awaited accomplishment for regions with dire transportation needs. As LaRock noted 5% of VDOT-maintained bridges (over 1000 bridges) are currently classified as deficient, 40% of secondary road pavement is rated as deficient, the recent SmartScale application process brought over $9 billion in requests, but only $1 billion in available funding.

Finally my own bills covered in multiple updates cranked through the process and many are on their way to the Governor for action. My more significant achievements were the regulatory roll back constitutional amendment to hit a critical re-set button on a regulatory environment that is hurting the private sector and the economy in Virginia. I passed important legislation for victims of domestic violence to expedite access to concealed carry permits and provide access to training programs. I passed bills to support the disability community in state hiring; to outlaw deadly synthetic drugs many times stronger than heroin; clarifying guidelines for those in poverty seeking assistance from the courts; allowing certain Commonwealth Attorney investigators to act as conservators of the peace; a bill to restrict food and beverage tax referenda; and an online checkbook bill to make the state budget accessible on the internet. Some of the bills I fought for but that were killed included redistricting reform; ethics reform and a ban on personal use of campaign funds; legalization of CBD oil for those suffering from serious illnesses; and expansion of rights to grow agricultural hemp in Virginia.

In March, we launch our race for Lieutenant Governor to take our reform agenda statewide, hoping to address issues related to regulatory reform, tax reform, access to higher education, and hundreds of other issues promoting the kind of philosophy focused on getting government out of the way - out of the economy, out of your business, out of your personal life - so we can have our healthcare freedoms back, our economic freedoms and our freedoms to choose how we want to live and raise a family. I hope you will join our campaign and help us win the nomination on June 13th. We need your help! To volunteer or learn more visit www.VogelForVirginia.com.

We have recently transitioned our Senate office from the Capitol back to the district. If you have a constituent service need or question about legislation, please do not hesitate to contact my office at 540-662-4551 or district27@senate.virginia.gov. I am always happy to hear from you.

 

Sincerely,

Senator Jill H. Vogel




Week Six Legislative Update - One Week Left in Session
Nearing the end of a busy and productive 2017 session
February 20, 2017
Jill H. Vogel

As we move closer to the end of the Senate session, we have seen countless bills pass the House and Senate. More importantly we have made sure that a lot of bad bills have failed. Our budget discussions continue moving toward an agreement between the House and Senate on a final budget to be sent to the Governor. There are a number of substantive differences between the budget adopted by the House and the budget adopted by the Senate. However, they both addressed the high priority issues that were critical amendments and correct issues associated with the recent budget shortfall. We also continue to have debates on bills related to energy, education, agriculture, HOAs, election rules, healthcare reform, transparency, budget reform and how transportation funds are spent.

Remaining Senate bills were heard last week in House committees and now they come back to the Senate for final action. The House killed my SB 1298 last week. It had gained widespread support around Virginia and it was critical to a lot of people suffering from serious illnesses. The bill would have made it legal for doctors to prescribe cannabidiol oil to treat cancer patients and those suffering from Crohn's, MS, ALS and other debilitating diseases. CBD oil is not "medical marijuana" -  a patient cannot get "high" from CBD oil, it is not dealt on the illicit market, it is being compounded by pharmacies and it is an option physicians would like to have in the treatment of some illnesses that will not respond to any other treatment. I am in awe of the hard work of those who supported the bill, many people who are very sick or have loved ones in need of the drug. The bill had easily passed the Senate and we believed that we had more than enough votes to pass it in the House. Supporters of the bill had put in hundreds of hours working to educate members of the legislature and it was heartbreaking to have the bill fail.

Other bills of mine which saw action this week include:

SJ 295 - Following Senate passage, the House is still considering my Regulatory Rollback Amendment.

SB 1296 - My bill to prevent the repeated introduction of meals tax referenda with deceptive language passed the House with a minor amendment and is now headed back to the Senate for a final vote.

SB 1299 - My bill granting emergency concealed carry rights for certain crime victims also passed the House and is headed back to the Senate for a final vote.

SB 1300 - My bill providing funding to offer gun safety training to crime victims passed its first House committee and is now being heard before the Appropriations committee.

SB 1304 - My bill granting municipalities more control over the timing of local elections passed the House and has been sent to the Governor for his signature.

SB 1305 - My bill granting relief for civil case court fees for impoverished plaintiffs also passed the House and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.

SB 1306 - My bill authorizing a streamlined expansion of industrial hemp cultivation was approved by its first House committee and is awaiting further action by the House Appropriations Committee.

SB 1307 - My bill expanding transparency in the online disclosure of government expenditures currently awaits a floor vote by the full House.

SB 1530 - My bill to help qualified individuals with disabilities find state employment passed both houses unanimously and will be sent to the Governor shortly.

SB 1546 - My bill fighting opioid abuse though banning dangerous new synthetic street drugs lacking any accepted medical use passed the House unanimously with one minor amendment and is headed back to the Senate for approval 

SB 1594 - My bill designating investigators employed by our Commonwealths Attorneys as conservators of the peace passed out of subcommittee and awaits a full committee hearing before it faces a vote on the floor.

It is my honor to do this work and I appreciate hearing from so many people around Virginia on the bills that we have considered. Please contact us if you have any questions or concerns at district27@senate.virginia.gov.

 

Sincerely,

Senator Jill H. Vogel 




Week Five from Richmond: Regulatory Rollback & Hearing House Bills
We're still hard at work after crossover hearing bills from the House
February 13, 2017
Jill H. Vogel

Last week marked the halfway point of 2017's legislative session. This deadline, known as "crossover," is when the Senate must have acted on Senate bills and report those that have passed to the House.

The Senate will consider House bills. Our last bill passed by the Senate was our budget. It was culmination of months of work and it passed unanimously.

The Senate plan addressed compensation very differently than the plan announced by Governor McAuliffe. By prioritizing spending and finding savings, we were able to replace the Governor's proposed bonuses with actual salary increases. We avoided any cuts to public education while finding money to increase salaries for State Police, sheriffs’ deputies, teachers, and many other state employees.

Last Tuesday we celebrated the passage of SJ 295, my Regulatory Rollback Amendment, which allows the General Assembly to roll back outdated or burdensome regulations with a joint vote of the Senate and the House.

I introduced this amendment because of the economic challenges Virginia faces in competing with other states for new jobs and investment. Strengthening our checks and balances and providing additional regulatory transparency will help right-size Virginia's regulatory scope by maintaining the core regulations we need while easing the burdens imposed by rules which are outdated or overly broad.

Under the weight of excessive regulation, Virginia's economic competitiveness has fallen from 5th to 13th and our economic growth to 48th in the nation. In 2016, Virginia's labor force participation rate was at a ten year low.

As another week begins, 16 of my 25 bills and amendments remain alive and pending before the House. Six of these are on track for votes from the full House this week and I look forward to their passage. The remaining ten are being heard in committees.

My six bills expected to face House floor votes in the coming week include:

SB 1296 - Meals Tax Restrictions - Prohibits localities from resurrecting a meals tax referendum in the three years following defeat and requires localities to honestly disclose the full proposed tax rate in the ballot question.

SB 1299 - Concealed Carry for Crime Victims - Allows law-abiding crime victims covered by a protective order to carry a concealed weapon while waiting for a carry permit to be approved.

SB 1304 – Municipal Elections – Expands local control over the timing of municipal elections.

SB 1305 – Court Costs for the Indigent – Requires courts apply existing guidelines for indigency when considering civil court fee waivers for the poor.

SB 1546 – Fighting Opioid Abuse – Permanently bans a number of dangerous synthetic opioids with no medical use.

SJ 295 – Regulatory Rollback Amendment – Allows the General Assembly to roll back outdated or burdensome regulations with a joint vote of the Senate and House.

Please consider visiting our office in room 309 of the General Assembly Building while we are still in session. Also, feel free to contact us if you have questions or concerns. Our office number is 804-698-7527 or email district27@senate.virginia.gov.

 

Sincerely,

Senator Jill H. Vogel