2017 General Assembly session review
New American Revolution Museum at Yorktown Opens
On April 1, 2017, H. Benson Dendy III, Chairman of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, joined with Governor Terry McAuliffe, Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment and Colonel Thierry Casanova representing the Embassy of France to the United States to open the new state-of-the-art American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. This new museum presents the entire Revolutionary period, near the site where liberty was won in Yorktown. The museum tells the stories of the great sacrifices made to make freedom possible and give birth to our nation.
The Virginia General Assembly adjourned its 46-day session sine die on February 25th. During that time, the General Assembly considered nearly 2,335 bills, of which over 900 were transmitted to Governor McAuliffe for his consideration.
The top issue for legislators during the 2017 Session was addressing the $1.2 billion budget shortfall that was announced in late 2016. In December, Governor McAuliffe submitted to the General Assembly, his proposed amendments to the Fiscal Year 2016 - 2018 Biennial Budget. This budget process is the final one between Governor McAuliffe and the General Assembly as he is in his final year in office. Governor McAuliffe will have the opportunity to submit a new biennial budget in December and the next Governor will have the opportunity to propose amendments to the General Assembly in January.
Throughout the session, the House and Senate worked in a collaborative fashion to address priority needs with limited resources. From the beginning of the session, legislators indicated that their top budget priority was restoring a three percent pay raise to state employees that was conditionally funded in the FY16-FY18 Biennial Budget but was eliminated due to the budget shortfall. The General Assembly also sought to address the severe staffing challenges at the Virginia State Police by providing a $7,000 increase in starting salary as well as increased pay for veteran officers. The General Assembly ultimately approved the amendments to the biennium budget in a bi-partisan fashion. The budget bill passed in the Senate 40-0 and in the House of Delegates 96-1.
The General Assembly also focused considerable attention on addressing the opioid epidemic that has ravaged communities throughout Virginia. Late last year, Governor McAuliffe declared that the opioid epidemic in the Commonwealth was a public health emergency. Indeed, the Virginia Department of Health has estimated that more than one thousand people have died from fatal opioid overdoses in the past year. The General Assembly recognized the need for action and passed a series of bills aimed at helping curb opioid abuse through placing restrictions on prescribers and reducing the availability of opioid pharmaceuticals. These legislative initiatives were a joint effort between the Administration, the General Assembly and key stakeholders. Vectre worked with a number of our clients in support of these initiatives.
The 2017 General Assembly Session was also the final legislative session for Speaker Bill Howell (R-Stafford), who announced that he would step down after thirty years in the House, and fifteen years as Speaker. Following the announcement by Speaker Howell, the House Republican Caucus acted quickly to elect a new leadership team for 2018. That team includes Delegate Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) as Speaker Designee and Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) as Majority Leader Designee. Delegate Tim Hugo (R-Clifton) will remain the Majority Caucus Chairman and Delegate Jackson Miller (R-Manassas) will remain Majority Whip.
So far, there have been five other retirement announcements including Delegate Mark Dudenhefer (R-Stafford) who announced at the end of 2016 that he would not be seeking another term in the House of Delegates, Delegate Daun Hester (D-Norfolk) who is running for Treasurer of Norfolk, Delegate Rick Morris (R-Suffolk), Delegate Peter Farrell (R-Goochland) and Delegate Jimmie Massie (R-Henrico). It is possible that there will be additional retirements over the coming few months.
There was also a change in the leadership of the Senate of Virginia. Due to the election of Congressman Don McEachin to the United States House of Representatives, the Senate Democratic Caucus needed to elect a new Chairman. The Democratic Caucus elected Senator Mamie Locke (R-Hampton) to serve in that role.
The Vectre team delivered a number of significant legislative victories for clients during the 2017 Session. In particular, the Vectre lobbyists successfully championed legislation that allows for the expedited scheduling of new drugs upon their approval by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), legislation that clarifies a recent ruling by the Department of Taxation regarding a local licensing tax, legislation that modernizes the regulations for Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), legislation that establishes a permanent regulatory framework for Property Transportation Network Companies (PTNCs) and legislation related to the sale of alcohol products at Virginia ABC stores.
These initiatives were in addition to the advocacy work Vectre did on behalf of its other clients. There were a significant number of legislative proposals introduced in the 2017 Session related to the budget, transportation, tax policy, data privacy, the regulation of water and wastewater utilities, Certificate of Public Need (COPN) for hospitals, Medicaid Managed Care Organizations (MCOs), procurement, commercial development, energy, libraries and higher education. Our team responded by successfully advocating our clients' positions to members of the General Assembly on these issues.
The 2017 Session was a productive one for the Commonwealth, its citizens and Vectre's clients.
2016 Session of the Virginia General Assembly
The Virginia General Assembly adjourned its sixty-day session sine die on March 11, which was one day ahead of schedule and is the second time in two years that the legislature completed their legislative business early. The 2016 Session passed by at a frenzied pace as legislators considered thousands of bills and resolutions in addition to crafting the Commonwealth's biennial budget. Indeed, when the General Assembly adjourned on Friday, March 11 th , legislators had considered 3,286 introduced bills and resolutions of which over 1,803 passed. As of March 28 many bills await action by the Governor during the 30-day bill review process and any amendments or vetoes proposed to these bills will be considered at the annual Reconvened Session scheduled for April 20, 2016.
The top priority of the General Assembly this year was crafting a new biennial budget. As most legislators observed, the budget as introduced by the Governor was structurally sound and made several strategic investments in core government functions. Throughout the session, the House and Senate worked in a collaborative fashion and ultimately approved a biennium budget that reflects the key priorities of the Commonwealth.
The FY2016 - FY2018 Budget totals $105 billion over the biennium. The most significant priority in the budget was the increased funding for K-12 education of $892 million over the current biennium. In addition, the budget invests over $115 million for Virginia colleges and universities and makes several strategic investments into economic development programs aimed at growing Virginia's economy.
The General Assembly also approved a $2.1 billion bond package that included projects for state parks, colleges, universities, museums, and the Department of Corrections. Most notably, the bond package includes $350 million to expand capacity of the Norfolk International Terminal at the Port of Virginia.
Transportation was a major theme during the 2016 Session. In addition to the $350 million allocated for the Port of Virginia, the General Assembly also approved $50 million in non- general funds over the biennium to lower enplanement costs at Dulles Airport. The total funding for all transportation agencies over the biennium is $13.4 billion. The only earmark in the budget for a specific transportation project directs spending of up to $140 million for a third eastbound travel lane on Interstate 66 Inside the Beltway to Ballston (from mile marker 67 to mile marker 71).
The General Assembly approved a new statewide tolling policy that restricts tolling on any existing lanes open to all traffic 24/7 without legislative approval. It also requires relinquishment of the federal pilot tolling slot for I-95 South of Fredericksburg. These tolling restrictions do not impact the express lanes projects in Northern Virginia.
The Vectre team delivered a number of significant legislative victories for new clients during the 2016 Session. In particular, Vectre was part of a lobbying effort that succeeded in promoting legislation that established a non-refundable research and development tax credit for major innovators that conduct research and development in the Commonwealth. This was a top priority for many innovators in Virginia because of their significant footprint in the Commonwealth and the recognition that Virginia must remain competitive with other states that are investing in business incentives.
The most important health care issue before the 2016 Session of the Virginia General Assembly was legislation regarding Certificate of Public Need (COPN) for hospitals. Virginia's COPN program helps to promote health care access, control costs and support charity care in the Commonwealth. The COPN Program requires owners and sponsors of identified medical care facility projects to secure a COPN from the state health commissioner prior to initiating projects such as acute care services, general surgical services and diagnostic imaging. A number of bills were introduced proposing a range of options from reforms to piecemeal and wholesale deregulation of COPN. Vectre was engaged in working to promote responsible COPN deregulation and the health care funding necessary to stabilize an imbalanced system in which hospitals provide significant charity care and must comply with government mandates to deliver free and discounted care. Without such a balanced approach to assure the financial viability of hospitals, Vectre was involved in opposing piecemeal or wholesale deregulation. No legislation was adopted at the 2016 session but this will be an issue that will be considered in the interim and will be before the 2017 Session of the Virginia General Assembly.
These initiatives were in addition to the advocacy work Vectre did on behalf of its existing clients. There were a significant number of legislative proposals introduced in the 2016 Session related to the budget, transportation, tax policy, data privacy, health care, procurement, commercial development and higher education which impacted Vectre clients. Our team responded by successfully advocating our clients' positions to members of the General Assembly.
The 2016 Session was a productive one for the Commonwealth, its citizens and Vectre's clients.
Vectre President Ben Dendy has been appointed and reappointed to the Board of Trustees of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, a state agency, by five Virginia Governors, both Republican and Democrat. He currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Trustees.
…Vectre President Ben Dendy elected chair of The Advocacy Group, premier international public affairs organization…
…In November, Virginia Business magazine hosted a video discussion with five political observers on Virginia’s key political issues—2 political reporters, a college professor observer, and 2 lobbyists, including Ben Dendy…for a quick update, click here… (or go to VirginiaBusiness.com)
…Vectre advocate, Ben Dendy one of first 24 government relations professionals nationwide to complete the State Government Affairs Council Professional Certification Program…12-course program includes Ethics/Ethical Leadership; Building and Managing Coalitions; Legislative Trends, and Media & Communications Training…