It is a privilege to serve you in the House of Delegates. I am writing to provide an update on several topics that may of interest to you.
In my last legislative update, the urgency of passing a budget, the issue of Medicaid expansion, and the on-going special session were discussed. Since then, the General Assembly met twice: On June 12th to pass the biennial budget and on June 23rd to consider the Governor’s vetoes.
While it is good news that the General Assembly passed a $96 billion budget before the July 1, 2014, deadline, Medicaid expansion was not included. Governor McAuliffe vetoed a line item that explicitly requires the legislature to approve any money needed to expand Medicaid; however, after much disagreement, Speaker Howell ruled the veto out of order on procedural grounds. Thus, the members of the House of Delegates could not vote to pass or fail the veto. This means that the original line item is still active and Governor McAuliffe cannot use state money to expand Medicaid without approval of the General Assembly. Despite this happening, the Governor says he will still work to provide Medicaid to the 400,000 working citizens without adequate health coverage. Secretary of Health and Human Resources, Bill Hazel, has been instructed to provide a report on the issue by September 1, 2014.
The Governor also directed the Department of General Services to suspend planning for a new $300 million General Assembly building. He argued that if the legislators could not find $10 million to fund housing and homelessness efforts, he would not approve expenditure of funds for a new office building for the legislature.
Due to the projected budget shortfall, there were cuts in the areas of education and health care. Raises for teachers and state employees, a boost in spending for K-12, and spending increases for mental health were neglected. Additionally, Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia lost $15 million in funding for providing services to people who are uninsured.
In other news, Senator Puckett resigned from his seat representing the 38thdistrict, which is located in southwest Virginia, earlier in June. His resignation left the Senate with 19 Democrats and 20 Republicans. This new majority in the Senate gave Republicans the opportunity to re-arrange committees and leadership. A special election will take place in August to determine who will take Senator Puckett’s place.
For those living within the 69th House District or other parts of the Richmond and Chesterfield area, Senator Henry Marsh announced his retirement from the Senate on July 1, 2014. The date of the special election will be on November 4, 2014, on the same day as the general election. He has served the 16th Senate district for 22 years, was a pioneer of civil rights, and served as Richmond’s first African-American mayor. I’m thankful and happy to have worked with him on many key issues. He will be truly missed in the General Assembly.
In July, over 800 new laws passed during the legislative session and signed by the Governor have gone into effect. For a more complete summary, read the Virginia Division of Legislative Services’ In Due Course: 2014 Changes to Virginia’s Laws or the Times-Dispatch’s summary. Below I detail a few new laws that I find to be of particular importance in our community.
As you may recall, during this past legislative session along with Senator Marsh, I passed a bill making a conviction for celebratory gunfire that wounds a person a Class 6 felony.
The next time you vote, remember that you must present a photo ID. Acceptable forms of photo identification include: Virginia driver’s license, a U.S. passport or any other photo ID issued by the United States or Virginia, a student ID issued by any institute of higher learning in Virginia, or any employee ID card. You can also apply for a free, state-issued photo ID card with registrars in any locality within the Commonwealth.
Hybrid Car Tax
Many hybrid car drivers and supporters throughout the Commonwealth were unhappy with the hybrid car tax that was part of the major transportation funding bill during the 2013 legislative session. Now, the $64 annual tax on hybrid vehicles is no longer in effect, and many hybrid vehicle owners have received a $64 refund.
Mature Driver Crash Prevention
Drivers 75 years old or older must now go before the DMV for license renewal every five years.
When operating a moped or scooter, you do not need to be licensed, but you need to carry a government-issued photo ID. You must also wear a helmet, as well as a face shield, safety glasses, or goggles. Title and registration is also required for mopeds and scooters (titles cost $10 and annual registration is $20.25).
Under the new law, passing cars must give cyclists at least three feet of clearance.
Standards of Learning (SOL) Reform
The new law requires a maximum number of 17 SOL assessments, five fewer than previously required, to be administered to students in third grade through eighth grade. Additionally, the Secretary of Education created a “Standards of Learning Innovation Committee” to periodically review and make recommendations on the SOL system. On June 30, 2014,the Governor announced the new members to the committee.
Following the tragedy involving Senator Creigh Deeds’ family, new changes have been made within the mental health system. The duration of emergency custody orders has increased from six to eight hours, the state is required to find a bed for temporary detention at a state mental hospital, and the length of temporary detention orders has increased from 48 to 72 hours. The creation of a web-based psychiatric bed registry, including both private and public mental health facilities, has been mandated, as well.
Pet Owners Protection
If a veterinarian certifies a diseased dog or cat is unfit for purchase, whether the buyer returns or keeps the animal, then the pet dealer must reimburse the buyer for certain veterinary fees. Currently, the pet dealer must refund the purchase price or exchange the diseased pet for a pet of equal value. The new law extends the return or reimbursement period from 10 to 14 days for animals with parvovirus.
Employment for Veterans
Private employers are now allowed to grant preference in hiring and promotion to honorably discharged veterans, or their spouses, with a service-connected permanent and total disability.
Nicotine vapor products and alternative nicotine products, such as e-cigarettes, have been added to the list of tobacco products that cannot be sold to, purchased, or possessed by a minor.
Over the past few sessions, I have worked on updating privacy rights for the 21st century in our state code. This past session, I introduced three bills aiming to require warrants for tracking and searching electronic devices and retrieving telecommunication records. By co-patroning HB17, I was able to help pass a bill that required law enforcement to have a warrant in order for electronic communication services to release an individual’s real-time location data. This became law on July 1st. Similarly, the United States Supreme Court ruled on June 25, 2014, that law enforcement officers must obtain a warrant in order to search cell phones. Along with many other Virginians, I am pleased with this ruling that protects our privacy rights in our technological era. It has been an important legislative priority for me.
Looking ahead to August, I am excited to spend the evening of August 5thtraveling around the 69th district and visiting with constituents for National Night Out. This year marks the 31st annual celebration. Be sure to contact your local civic association for more information about the festivities going on in your neighborhood.
If you have questions or concerns about the new laws, the legislative process, or another issue, please do not hesitate to contact my office at 804-698-1069 or firstname.lastname@example.org. I am happy to hear from you.
Thank you. It is an honor and privilege to serve the 69th district in the House of Delegates.
Betsy B. Carr