In the middle of this horrific pandemic, yesterday was the last day for the Governor to address the remaining bills in front of him. In addition to the newsletter I sent out earlier about the Virginia Values Act, below are a few more significant bills I expect to become law on July 1, 2020. I introduced these bills, and my outstanding staff and the Governor’s remarkable staff burned the midnight oil to complete the work. In later newsletters, I will discuss six bills we passed to improve the administration of elections and making sure every vote counts, and then later, additional bills related to improving the delivery of health care.
The Governor will also be unveiling his strategy for addressing the new two-year budget as FY 2020 comes to an end on June 30, 2020. Due to the pandemic, our budget work during session is very much at risk with no reliable handle on projected revenue given the dire economic situation we now face. A special thank you, however, if you are a voter in the 43d District for the opportunity to participate in my third budget conference committee—we have laid out a future we will achieve when we have this virus whipped. The approved budget clawed back education funding to pre-Great Recession levels and made significant advancements funding mental health, substance abuse, dental care, worker compensation, housing, early childhood education, and natural resources among other things. Then Covid-19.
HB 896. This bill legalizes sports betting on a mobile application. Experts believe there is a $4 billion illegal sports betting industry in Virginia today. This bill authorizes the Virginia Lottery to oversee and issue at least four and no more than 12 licenses, with some exceptions for economic development purposes that do not count against the cap. While sports betting will raise much needed general funds for our budget at a 15 percent tax rate, it does not raise the kind of funds other types of gambling does; 95 percent of the money wagered goes back to the players. Nevertheless, Virginia would be leaving millions on the table without our own regulated products. I began working on this bill after the US Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that Congress could not carve out Nevada as the only state where legalized gambling can occur. Since that ruling, many states have been scrambling to get their share of the pie. Maryland has a ballot initiative this November on the subject as they must have under their law. Under federal law, you must be in the geographical boundaries of the state where the bet is made. There is amazingly reliable software that enforces that mandate.
HB 1017. This bill creates the Virginia Innovation Partnership Authority (VIPA) to oversee and support research, development, and commercialization, as well as early seed-stage investment in the smallest technology ventures. Over the years, disparate efforts to promote and grow our own 21st Century economy have not been well coordinated. One of the consequences of the unification of our translational research initiatives is the relocation to Richmond, and eventual renaming, of the Center for Innovate Technology in Herndon. CIT’s functions are not going away—a Northern Virginia office will remain here to serve our technology industry and higher education community. The bill was a top priority of the various technology councils, regional chambers of commerce and Virginia’s research universities.
HB 1428. The Virginia Health Benefit Exchange is established in the Bureau of Insurance and will replace the federally run Healthcare.gov for the purchase of health insurance. The Affordable Care Act subsidizes insurance for individuals earning from 138 percent to 400 percent of poverty when buying on the Exchange. The transition to the Virginia Exchange will take time to implement; the most optimistic being a year and a half, the furthest out, maybe three years. The federal government must approve the plan but there are well functioning models, and it should not be exceptionally difficult to get Virginia’s approved. This initiative is intended to assist all individuals to obtain a health care plan that works for them, and would allow Virginia flexibility to address emergencies like the one we now face. The Trump Administration has shortened the open window, reduced the number of navigators, and has declined to open Healthcare.gov during the pandemic.
HB 1506. This bill expands the scope of practice for Virginia’s pharmacists. It allows pharmacists to initiate treatment in certain circumstances and sets up protocols going forward so that new or existing therapies can be approved for pharmacy initiation and dispensing. Ideally, this bill will help bring down unnecessary costs over time. This bill was very controversial and required untold hours of work by staff to bring all the interested parties together.
HB 890. This bill reopens state and local markets for smaller and midsize construction companies. It requires that sealed bidding be used on straight forward construction projects under a $26 million threshold.
As a reminder, Governor Northam's has ordered Virginians to "stay at home" and only leave for essential outings. Remember to practice social distancing, wash your hands, and follow CDC guidelines to wear face coverings when in public spaces. If you need additional assistance during this health crisis, my staff and I can be reached at DelMSickles@house.virginia.gov or (804) 698-1043. We will be checking email and phone messages regularly.
Thank you for the continuing opportunity to serve. Chag Sameach to my friends celebrating Passover and Happy Easter to those celebrating on Sunday.