Delegate Mark Cole
It is my honor to represent the citizens of the 88th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. The House of Delegates is one half of the Virginia General Assembly, the other half being the Virginia Senate. The General Assembly is currently in session, so I am in Richmond at the Capitol most days. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or concerns about legislation or issues before the General Assembly. If you would like to visit the Capitol during session, please call my office so that we may set-up a tour and assist with your visit. I look forward to hearing from you!
Session began on January 8, 2014 and runs through the first week of March. I will be in Richmond each day during session. If you would like to come to the Capitol for a visit during session, please contact me. Also, if you have any thoughts or concerns regarding legislation that we are dealing with, please let me know.
February 22, 2014
Last week the Virginia House of Delegates passed its budget proposal. The structurally-balanced budget sets aside over $300 million in state savings, including $240 million for the rainy-day fund, while increasing funding for K-12 and higher education, public safety and the health care safety net. The House budget includes over $500 million additional dollars for K-12 education, $20 million for college tuition mitigation, and $6 million to fund more in-state spots at Virginia universities. It includes nearly $50 million for our mental health system to help create new beds, response teams and intervention centers, and includes a total of over $200 million to help Virginia hospitals and nursing homes care for Virginia’s most vulnerable citizens.
The budget sets aside over $130 million for revenue adjustments. This is important since tax revenues have been coming in under projections due to the weak economy. Revenues for the current budget were recently adjusted downward by more than $ 100 million.
The House budget will now go to the Senate for their consideration. A compromise budget will be negotiated between the House and Senate in the coming weeks.
The state Senate has included a version of Medicaid expansion in their budget. During the debate on the House budget, an amendment to expand Medicaid was proposed and rejected by a 67-32 vote due to concerns about waste in the current program and its long term impact on the state budget. Hospitals and many healthcare providers are pushing hard to expand Medicaid. Part of the reason for this is to make up for the loss of Medicare funding.
Medicare is a federal program to pay for healthcare for senior citizens; Medicaid is a joint federal and state program to care for the poor. The Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) made significant cuts to the Medicare program which has created financial problems for hospitals and healthcare providers throughout the state. Medicaid expansion is seen by some as a way to make-up for those cuts.
In my opinion, Medicaid expansion is just a way to shift part of the costs of ObamaCare to the states. The federal government cut a program that is funded entirely with federal funds (Medicare) and expanded a program that is funded with both state and federal funds (Medicaid). Of course the federal government promises to pay the costs of the expansion for a few years, then costs will start being shifted to the states.
February 15, 2014
Last week was “crossover” at the General Assembly; that is the day that the House must complete work on all House Bills and the Senate must complete work Senate Bills. Then each body sends the legislation that passed to the other for consideration. Here are some of the initiatives that have passed the House and now go to the Senate.
When Virginia’s Standards of Learning tests were first adopted in the 1990s, Virginia was a pioneer in assessments and accountability. The SOLs have set high standards and fostered a sense of accountability. As a consequence, Virginia students consistently score above the national average on standardized tests. Over the last several years, a growing consensus among parents, teachers and education leaders has developed to make reforms to the SOLs. Last fall, the House Republican Caucus came out with an outline of the most specific SOL reform plan, calling for fewer and better tests.
House Bill 930 begins the SOL reform process. In order to increase time available for classroom instruction, the bill reduces the number of tests in grades 3-8 from 22 to 17, while requiring an evaluation of the multiple-choice based SOL tests and moves the assessment system to problem-solving, critical thinking, and the application of knowledge. Additionally, HB 930 will allow teachers in subjects that do not require an SOL to utilize performance assessments to locally evaluate and assess how their children are learning and retaining the content. Lastly, the bill establishes the Standards of Learning Innovation Committee which is tasked with evaluating SOLs and assessments on an ongoing basis to ensure that our assessment system is current. A high-quality education system is critical to the success of our young people.
Another significant reform passed by the House is HB 324 which establishes the Virginia Virtual School to offer online educational programs and services to students across the Commonwealth. Online education has been growing by leaps and bounds in the private sector and at many colleges and universities, while it has been moving at a snail’s pace at the K-12 level. In many cases, virtual schooling can offer greater flexibility for students and parents while delivering instruction more efficiently. If this legislation passes the Senate and signed by the Governor, the Virginia Virtual School would soon be open to any school-age student in the Commonwealth and provide an educational program meeting the Standards of Quality for grades kindergarten through 12.
The House of Delegates unanimously adopted HB 2, which incorporates provisions of my HB 87. This legislation reforms how Virginia prioritizes and spends its transportation dollars. It requires the Commonwealth Transportation Board and VDOT to develop and utilize a prioritization model for funding transportation projects to ensure that transportation dollars are going to projects that are needed to move traffic.
HB 1090 directs the Secretary of Transportation to update and revise Virginia’s Smart Travel Programs by evaluating and incorporating new smart road technologies and other innovations in transportation. HB 1095 creates the Innovation and Technology Transportation Fund to fund pilot programs and initiatives pertaining to high-tech infrastructure improvements.
The House unanimously passed "Keep Your Healthcare Plan" legislation. HB 1147 will allow Virginians to keep their health plans under the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act has created a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the healthcare and insurance industry. Many Virginians have had their health care plans cancelled because of the ACA. This legislation puts Virginia in a posture to not be part of that uncertainty. While we cannot control what happens in Washington, we have a responsibility to try to protect Virginians from the negative consequences of the ACA.
House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly passed House Joint Resolution 40 to direct the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to conduct a comprehensive external operational study and financial audit of Virginia’s Medicaid Program. There is clear consensus that Virginia’s Medicaid program needs significant reform. Medicaid spending in Virginia has grown by 1600 percent over the last 30 years, and it continues to grow at an average rate of 8 percent per year. It now consumes over one-fifth of Virginia’s general fund spending, and threatens to crowd out other key services like K-12 education and public safety.
As Virginia continues to debate the future of ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion, we must know exactly what challenges and obstacles we face. With rapidly-changing financial projections on the cost of expansion, significant evidence of waste and fraud and uncertainty about the fiscal future in Washington, a comprehensive external study and audit of Medicaid is the responsible thing to do.
The House of Delegates passed a bipartisan ethics reform bill by a vote of 98 to 1. HB 1211 would significantly reform and update Virginia's ethics, transparency and disclosure laws. These reforms are accomplished by:
• Imposing a $250 gift cap
• Creating a statewide ethics advisory council
• Updating and modernizing several aspects of Virginia's financial disclosure system
• Implementing a mandatory training requirement for elected officials.
This package of reforms will increase accountability, promote greater transparency and help preserve the integrity of state government.
February 4, 2014
ECONOMIC IMPACT OF OBAMACARE
The Congressional Budget Office (not a conservative group) came out with a new estimate projecting that ObamaCare will cause more than 2 million full-time jobs to be lost in coming years. I think that is probably a low number and the impact will be worse.
Here is a video of Delegate Ed Scott sharing the impact ObamaCare is having on his business. This is happening to thousands of small businesses all across the country.
January 28, 2014
I have submitted several bills for consideration this session. One of them is House Bill (HB) 87 which would only allow funding for new road projects that reduce traffic congestion or improve safety. Some transportation projects are completed for economic development purposes. While they may be good economic development projects, they should be funded with economic development dollars and not transportation funds. Given the serious congestion problems we have in our area, Northern Virginia, and Tidewater, transportation money should only be spent on projects that relieve congestion or improve safety.
As Chairman of the House Privileges and Elections Committee, I am sponsoring several bills dealing with elections. HB 679 updates Virginia’s election code to incorporate new technology and terminology. HB 45 makes minor changes to several House of Delegate Districts to reduce split precincts; most of these changes were requested by local registrars. HB 104 allows non-partisan individuals to serve as chief election officers and HB 105 reduces the requirements for tabulating write-in votes.
HB 784 and HB 785 are good government bills that reform and consolidate several boards, commissions, and regulatory bodies to improve efficiency.
NEW ATTORNEY GENERAL REFUSES TO DEFEND VIRGINIA CONSTITUTION
One of the first actions of newly elected Attorney General Mark Herring was to declare that he would not defend a lawsuit against Virginia’s Constitution which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. Not only that, but he plans to join the other side of the lawsuit.
Virginia’s definition of marriage was approved by a wide margin in a voter referendum in 2006. In fact then Senator Mark Herring voted in favor of and supported the amendment defining marriage as being between and man and a woman. During last year’s campaign, he refused to take a stand on the issue.
The Attorney General is Virginia’s lawyer, and as such has a duty to defend Virginia’s Constitution. It is inappropriate for him to use taxpayer resources to actively oppose a duly ratified constitutional amendment. In effect, he is seeking to unilaterally reverse the actions of the people of Virginia who ratified the amendment. If he personally does not feel the law should be defended, he has a duty to appoint outside counsel to represent the people of Virginia.
NEW SENATE MAJORITY
The State Senate is evenly divided with 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans. Previously, they had organized as a Republican majority, due to then Republican Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling casting tie breaking votes. With the election Democrat Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, the Senate has reorganized with a Democrat majority. The practical effect of this is that it will be more difficult to get conservative legislation through the Senate.
January 9, 2014
2014 GENERAL ASSEMBLY CONVENES
The 2014 General Assembly commenced on schedule the second Wednesday in January with several changes. Most important, Virginia has a new Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General, along with 15 new faces in the House of Delegates and we are awaiting two new Senators.
STATE OF THE COMMONWEALTH
Keeping with tradition, Governor McDonnell gave his last State of the Commonwealth address to the Joint Assembly on the first day of Session. He highlighted several accomplishments during his term and particularly thanked the citizens of the Commonwealth, staff, and General Assembly members for helping return Virginia to the number one ranking for best state for doing business. Virginia’s focus on job creation resulted in 177,000 new jobs and an unemployment rate of 5.4 percent, a full 2 points lower than four years ago. The Governor also highlighted record budget surpluses, passage of a transformative transportation infrastructure bill, and major reforms for our public education system.
The Rainy Day Fund, the state’s emergency fund, has dramatically increased in recent years. Our financial reserves have grown from $295 million to just over $1 billion by the end of Fiscal Year 2016, the fourth-largest balance in history giving us a reserve to meet the challenges during these uncertain economic times.
The Governor also took this opportunity to give what I believe was a sincere and heartfelt apology for the appearance of ethical impropriety involving himself and his family. While Governor McDonnell maintains that he did nothing illegal, he did acknowledge poor judgment and the appearance of impropriety.
One of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) was the expansion of Medicaid. Medicaid is a joint Federal and State program to provide health care to the poor. Incoming Governor McAuliffe made Medicaid Expansion a big issue in the 2013 campaigns and no doubt will push for expansion during this General Assembly session.
I have watched, like many Americans, in shock at the failures of the Obama administration when it comes to the new health care law. I have been disappointed by the rising premiums, cancelled health plans and decreased access to health care under ObamaCare.
ObamaCare has demonstrated that government-run healthcare programs don't work well, if at all. Medicaid expansion would further entangle Virginia in Washington's health care mess.
Separate from ObamaCare, Medicaid is in need of serious reforms. Costs are out of control, patients are not receiving the care they need and the program is fraught with waste, fraud and abuse.
Medicaid spending in Virginia has grown by more than 16 times in the last 30 years. Medicaid now consumes 22 percent of the state's general fund spending and threatens to crowd out other key services like education and public safety. We must make reforms to the current Medicaid program to bend the cost curve for both the state and health care providers.
Nearly one third of doctors now refuse to see Medicaid patients due to low reimbursement rates. This has led to decreased access and lower quality care for Medicaid patients. A new study shows that emergency room visits have actually increased under ObamaCare. This is unacceptable. The working mothers and children who rely on Medicaid deserve high quality health care, not a hollow promise from a broken system.
Finally, Secretary of Health and Human Services Bill Hazel recently told the General Assembly that about 15 percent of health care spending in Virginia is waste. Outgoing Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli recovered nearly $200 million in Medicaid fraud settlements last year.
Expanding a broken program just does not make sense to me.
The key argument for Medicaid expansion is the false promise of free money from Washington. There is no such thing as free money, and there is no such thing as a no-strings attached promise from Washington.
With our nation $17 Trillion in debt and facing massive deficits every year, the federal government simply cannot afford to pay the cost of expansion. The truth is that Virginia will eventually get stuck with the bill - likely over $1 Billion per year.
That's why Virginia cannot and should not expand Medicaid.