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Monday, March 27, 2006

The Good News Report

We were back in Richmond Monday for the Special Session, and with so much focus being on transportation issues, I wanted to take a minute to give a brief update on some of the successes from the 2006 session that you may not have heard about.

First, HB 667 introduced by Del. Wardrup calls for the competitive bidding on all highway maintenance projects. This common-sense measure that has the potential to save the Commonwealth significant amounts on the ever-increasing costs of maintenance passed the House and Senate unanimously, and is now awaiting the Governor’s approval. This is an important component to address Virginia’s transportation needs immediately and long-term.

Del. Tom Rust’s HB458 also gained unanimous approval by the House and Senate. This measure affects the Virginia Public Procurement Act, and allows a public body to enter into cooperative procurements for professional services, even though the public body did not participate in the request for proposal or invitation to bid, if the request for proposal or invitation to bid specified that the procurement was being conducted on behalf of other public bodies.

Del. Lionell Spruill sponsored legislation, HB741 to require the state Comptroller to develop policies and procedures to reduce the costs of collecting debts owed to state agencies. It further permits state agencies to not collect certain debts if the administrative costs of collecting would exceed the actual amount owed. This was unanimously passed, and is now before the Governor for signature.

One big issue we focused on this session was Medicaid reform. Medicaid is currently one of the fastest growing area of the state’s budget, totaling more than $5 billion annually. Delegate Phil Hamilton introduced several important measures to reform Virginia’s Medicaid program, including HB759 to establish a public-private long-term care partnership program for Medicaid. This requires the Board of Medical Assistance Services to include, in the state plan for medical assistance services, a provision to establish a public-private long-term care partnership program between the Commonwealth of Virginia and private insurance companies that must be designed to reduce Medicaid costs for long-term care. HB759 was also approved with unanimous support.

Several other key bills have been carried over until the 2007 session, allowing us more time to educate legislators on their merits and benefits to the Commonwealth. HB1294, the Public-Private Education Investment Act, which would create scholarships for students to use for the education of their choosing, passed in the House of Delegates, and was continued to 2007 in the Senate Finance Committee.

Likewise, HB1295, which establishes the Council on Government Accountability and Efficiency as an advisory council to systematically identify waste and inefficiency, has been carried over by the House General Laws Committee to be taken up in the next session.

Another bill that was unanimously approved by the House, but left in the Senate Finance Committee was HB1473. This would add more requirements for inclusion in the executive budget that is submitted to the General Assembly in December. As a part of the continuation of our efforts to make the budget more transparent, these additional requirements would take another step to ensure that the information in the budget was relevant and understandable.

There were many other great bills introduced this session, and we have plenty of opportunities to continue pushing these issues to bring greater accountability, transparency and competition to our state government. In the coming weeks, I’ll be updating on some of those bills that we will continue to work for as we move forward.

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