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2014 Session 

Final Week Update 

 

 

No End in Sight

 


Locked in an increasingly shrill debate over Medicaid expansion and reform, the House and Senate have so far been unable to find common ground on Medicaid reform and expansion. As lawmakers prepare to leave Richmond on Saturday, both sides have pledged they will take their case for or against Medicaid expansion to their constituents. On Thursday, the House approved a resolution extending the session 30 days. Later that afternoon, the Senate rejected the House resolution which would have required 27 votes for passage. Governor McAuliffe scoffed at the House resolution, stating that political gimmicks have to stop. Had the resolution passed the Senate, the Governor would have been put in the difficult position of having to review hundreds of bills in a short time period. A governor has seven days to sign legislation approved by the legislature if those bills reach his desk with more than week left in the session. 



Earlier this week, Speaker of the House William Howell sent a letter to Governor Terry McAuliffe pushing him to support a 'clean' budget bill by removing Medicaid expansion from the budget. Howell pointed out that local governments and schools boards need adequate lead time to prepare their annual budgets. Howell also mentioned that a delayed budget could threaten Virginia's AAA bond rating. Adding a dose of politics to the issue, Howell also argued that Virginia should not take budget negotiations down to the wire, a common practice in Washington DC. The Speaker reminded McAuliffe of a letter sent by McAuliffe chastising Congressional Republicans for their role in threatening a government shutdown over Obamacare last year. The Speaker accused that proponents of the Senate Medicaid expansion plan are engaging in a similar form of extortion. One wonders if the Speaker expressed similar complaints to his Congressional brethren last year? 

 

A copy of Howell's letter can be found here



Howell's letter echoed a similar plea on Tuesday as House and Senate Republicans called for a special session to consider on Medicaid expansion outside the budget. Needless to say, many Democrats felt that the Republican call for a special session was at best insincere. House Minority Leader David Toscano reminded House Republicans that 'Just Say No' is not a policy and that he would welcome a special session with Republican assurances that the details of expansion could be negotiated. The Virginia Chamber of Commerce entered the fray with a news release making a normative argument for completing the budget in a timely manner and finding a constructive process for settling differences over the budget. 

Other Medicaid Expansion Debate News:
 
-On Thursday, Secretary of Health and Human Resources William Hazelvisited the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce to hear from stakeholders on Medicaid expansion and to take questions on how expansion would be implemented. Hazel emphasized that Virginia's businesses are paying new fees and taxes under the ACA and continue to absorb the costs of the uninsured in the form of higher premiums. The expansion and on-going reforms to Virginia's Medicaid program would provide the Commonwealth an opportunity to relieve pressure on the state's General Fund by using federal dollars. Hazel also mentioned that the existing model of health care is undergoing a transformation with greater scrutiny given to outcomes and transparency. 
 
Secretary of Health William Hazel and Dan Motley, past chair of the Roanoke Regional Chamber

-The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis released a study in support of establishing a trust fund to capture budget savings from Medicaid expansion that could be used to pay for future costs of health care coverage. According to their analysis, the state could accrue a net savings of $625 million in the first six years of Medicaid expansion and then use this money to cover its 10% share of future costs. The Commonwealth Institute points out that Virginia should close the coverage gap without delay as half of the savings ($391 million) would accrue over the next two-and-half years. See more here
-Three former McDonnell aides sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw and Speaker of the House William Howell in support of reaching a compromise on closing the coverage gap. The letter reinforces the call for expansion the Virginia State Chamber, regional chambers of commerce and other industry leaders. See more here
-Both sides have created on-line positions seeking support for their respective positions. 

Workforce Restructuring Bill Advances
 

On Monday, the Senate General Laws & Technology Committee gave unanimous approval to HB1009, legislation that alters the Commonwealth's Workforce Development Office. Sponsored by Kathy Byron (R-22), HB1009 changes the name of the Virginia Workforce Council to the Virginia Board of Workforce Development and gives the governor more authority of the Board. The legislation also reduces membership on the Board from 33 to 25, including 14 members from the private sector and 11 from the state. Byron indicated that the private sector appointees will play a key role in identifying gaps in labor demand. Finally, the legislation establishes a military transition assistance committee to help veterans obtain job training services. 

 
Debate Continues Over McAuliffe Appointee 
 
On Monday, the Senate engaged in a shorter than expected debate over the the appointment of longtime GOP operative turn McAuliffe supporter, Boyd Marcus to the state ABC Board. Earlier in the session, records were released showing that the McAuliffe campaign paid Marcus $140,000 in consulting fees after Marcus endorsed McAuliffe for governor. Seeking to show a quid pro quo, Republicans pointed out that the cushy position on the ABC Board pays an annual salary of $130,000. Senator Mark Obenshain proposed a floor amendment to strip Marcus of his spoils. Obenshain argued that this appointment would reinforce the perception that political favoritism and not an appointee's qualifications shaped McAuliffe's decision. Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment stated that Marcus had 'shopped his wares like a political prostitute and that the Senate should avoid appointing political mercenaries. Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw stated that he had not received any correspondence from his constituents on the Marcus appointment and that only insiders cared about such things. The Obenshain floor amendment was rejected 19 to 20 with Senator Watkins abstaining. Following the Senate vote, state GOP chairman Pat Mullins sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney's office requesting an investigation of what he alleges to be selling an office in exchange for an endorsement. Mullins earlier asked Attorney General Mark Herring to initiate a similar investigation. 
On Wednesday, the House Privileges and Elections Committee stripped Marcus' name from the list of the governor's appointees.