2017 Virginia General Assembly Report

By Becky Bowers-Lanier, VBCF State Advocacy Consultant

The 2017 General Assembly session is now (just about) history, with adjournment on Saturday, February 25, 2017. It was a fast and furious 46-day session, and we punctuated it by VBCF’s own very successful legislative day on Weds., Feb 1st. Many thanks to all of you who attended our orientation and briefing conference calls as well.

As I indicated above, the General Assembly session is “just about” over. One final job remains, and that will occur on Wednesday, April 5, when legislators return for their “reconvened” session. In that one-day session, legislators will review the Governor’s recommendations on bills (these are usually technical in nature) as well as the bills he vetoes. Overriding a gubernatorial veto requires a 2/3 vote in both the House of Delegates and the Senate—a hard hill to climb since neither house has a 2/3 Republican majority. Keep your eye on the newspapers to read about proposed gubernatorial actions.

The session has been punctuated by some of the usual political issues that play to the political bases, especially true in this session because the statewide (governor, lt. governor, and attorney general) offices, and all 100 members of the General Assembly, will stand for election in November. Consequently, we have seen on progressive side measures to raise the minimum wage, raise the felony threshold, expand/restore reproductive rights, protect immigrants/refugees, and assure equal treatment for all individuals regardless of race, ethnicity, religion and gender orientation. On the socially conservative side, we’ve seen measures to safeguard religious freedom and beliefs, protect the unborn, be strong on law and order including the Second Amendment, and protect American citizens from terrorism.

Neither side has been particularly successful in achieving passage of these bills. The progressive bills failed in committees while the conservative bills that passed both houses will most likely be scrutinized heavily by the Governor, who can use his veto pen.
We began the session with two issues in mind: (1) step therapy legislation and (2) continued access or increased access to health care. Along the way, we joined with others in supporting access to medical marijuana.

We supported two measures related to constraining the use of “step therapy” or “fail first” medication policies imposed by insurers. These bills were HB 1755 (Delegate Glenn Davis) and SB 1408 (Senator Bill DeSteph). Step therapy or fail first protocols require health care providers to prescribe less expensive and generally less effective medications to patients, to save money. Although both bills failed in the General Assembly session, we will be using the time from the close of the 2017 General Assembly session until the 2018 session to educate legislators about step therapy and hopefully garner enough support to pass the measures in 2018.

VBCF continues to be a member of the Healthcare for All Virginians Coalition (havcoalition.org). In the last few years we’ve advocated to no avail for expansion of Medicaid for childless adults between the ages of 19 and 65, a component of the Affordable Care Act. With the election of Donald Trump as president and Republican majorities in Congress, we are now watching congressional efforts to repeal and replace the ACA through the American Health Care Act (AHCA). An AHCA provision aims to change how Medicaid is funded through either a block grant or per capita cap. The Virginia state “money” committee leaders have expressed concern with this approach, as have the HAV coalition members. Stay tuned for progress reports on this as it unfolds.

Finally, during the legislative session, we expressed support for efforts to expand the use of cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil for the treatment of cancer, HIV, and AIDS. Bills on marijuana ranged from decriminalizing possession, providing an affirmative defense to prosecution for possession of marijuana, and asking for a Joint Commission on Health Care study of the long-term effects of marijuana usage. Medical studies have reported positive effects of marijuana use and the side effects of nausea associated with chemotherapy. Cannabidiol oil does not have psycho-active effects on the body, so we expect that we’ll continue to see increased interest in the legal use of this type of marijuana.

See the full list of 2017 GENERAL ASSEMBLY LEGISLATION MONITORED BY VBCF. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Becky Bowers-Lanier at bowerslanier@gmail.com or 804-382-0991.