Important news this month: Governor Northam has called the General Assembly to a Special Session beginning on August 18. At that time, we will hear an updated forecast of state revenues that will impact our work on the state budget. As you remember, we chose to freeze most new spending in the budget passed last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on Virginia’s economy. During Special Session, we will use the revenue reforecast to determine which of our funding priorities the Commonwealth can afford to reallocate. As Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, this budget work will be my primary responsibility.
The other focus of Special Session will be criminal justice reform. (See my statement on Virginia’s June protests in response to police brutality). I encourage you to share your perspective on this issue; the public meetings described below are just one way to get involved.
Public Meetings on Criminal Justice Reform
The House of Delegates’ Courts of Justice and Public Safety Committees have been holding a series of public joint meetings on criminal justice reform. These meetings are open to public comment to inform the House’s policy priorities before Special Session. Watch recordings of the past virtual meetings and livestream the next on August 6 here.
Signing My “Balance Billing” Fix
Last week, Governor Northam held a ceremonial signing of new legislation, patroned by myself and Senator Barbara Favola, that protects Virginians from “balance billing.” The issue of balance billing (when a patient receives a surprise medical bill after being treated by a provider not covered by their insurance plan) has received increasing attention in recent years, with close to 30 other state legislatures enacting consumer protections in the absence of a federal compromise.
Surprise medical bills can cause financial instability and unfairly put patients in the middle of provider-insurer disputes. I am proud we were able to come together in Virginia to pass a solution that takes patients out of the middle, ensures health care providers are reimbursed for the care they provide, and protects Virginia families. Now, insured Virginians will be able to access health care with confidence, knowing there won’t be a surprise bill coming if a treatment or provider wasn’t covered under their insurance plan.
Workplace Safety Standards
On July 15, Virginia became the first state in the country to institute workplace safety regulations in response to COVID-19 when the Safety and Health Codes Board voted to accept a set of temporary guidelines proposed by Governor Northam. The workplace regulations mandate social distancing, face coverings, sanitizing common areas, access to hand washing and sanitizer, timely notice of a coworker’s positive test, and more. This is a great win for Virginia’s workers!
Support for Prince William Residents
Several supports are in place for Virginians and Prince William County residents during the pandemic. Here are a few:
- VA Ready: The Virginia Ready Initiative is a newly formed nonprofit that is connecting the Virginia Community College System with local businesses to retrain those who may have lost work due to COVID-19 for in-demand jobs in high-growth sectors. Those who complete one of VA Ready’s training programs will receive a new credential, a $1,000 achievement award, and interviews with Virginia companies. This is a unique opportunity for anyone looking to change careers or get ahead in their existing industry.
- Rebuild VA: This grant fund is designed to help some small businesses and non-profits whose normal operations were disrupted by COVID-19. Businesses and non-profits that are approved for a Rebuild VA grant may receive up to three times their average monthly eligible expenses up to a maximum of $10,000. The application opens August 10.
- Real Estate Tax Deferral: In July, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors voted to defer payment of the first half of real estate taxes until October 15. This move also deferred any penalties or interest that would have been associated with late payments. The extension is designed to provide some economic relief to Prince William County property owners.
- Housing and Utility Assistance: Prince William County has also instituted an emergency housing assistance program for households impacted by COVID-19. Households meeting income eligibility criteria can receive mortgage, rent, or utility payment support.
U.S. 1 Widening in Dumfries
Traveling through Dumfries will soon look very different. In July, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority approved the next step in a $130 million project that will widen northbound U.S. 1 through Dumfries for traffic relief while transforming the southbound lanes into a local Main Street in the town’s commercial district.
This project will also create a 10-foot hike-and-bike path along the southbound side of the new U.S. 1 and a 5-foot sidewalk along the northbound side.
Thank you for continuing to wear a mask in public and practice social distancing when possible. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions or concerns.