Progress in funding mental health and addressing the opioid epidemic on multiple levels were among the successes of the 2017 General Assembly session.
- In addressing the opioid crisis, the General Assembly passed important steps, including Del. Tim Hugo’s bill to limit opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply in most cases; increased access to naloxone, a drug that instantly reverses an overdose; needle exchange programs (to reduce the spread of HIV, viral hepatitis, and other blood-borne diseases); focus on infants born with opioid exposure.
- Increased funding for mental health included $7.5 million to facilitate providing same-day access to mental health screening services by July 1, 2019. (The Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board began offering same day, in-person screening for mental health/and or substance use concerns to adults in July 2015 and extended same day access service to youth. The official launch date for youth walk-in service was Feb. 1, 2017.) Also supports for discharge planning and services for people with serious mental illness being released from jail.
- The budget included 3 percent raises state employees, increase for teachers and a larger increase for state police.
- The Virginia Board of Corrections was given added authority and resources to review deaths in local and regional jails.
- Negotiation and legislation will accelerate the City of Alexandria’s massive undertaking to fix its sewer system that dumps raw sewage into the Potomac River whenever it rains. Wendell Berry’s version of the golden rule: “Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.”
- Scott Surovell’s bill requiring Dominion to provide better information on coal ash pollution, disaster preparedness, and recycling.
- Eileen Filler-Corn’s bill requiring that insurance cover up to a 12-month supply of hormonal contraceptives when dispensed or furnished at one time.
- School boards are required to have anti-bullying policies that includes notifying parents that their student was involved in a bullying incident.
- Use of FaceBook Live allowed members to stream floor discussion, and report to constituents and answer questions directly.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe has already vetoed some of these, and is expected to veto some others.
- Expanded access to concealed weapons; vetoed by Governor. SB1362 would allows anyone with a military ID card to carry concealed weapon; HB2077 would allow guns in emergency shelters and prevents state police or others from prohibiting them for any reason
- End funding of Planned Parenthood, vetoed by Governor.
- Anti-Sanctuary City Law HB 2000 says no locality shall adopt any ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
- As a reality check on the Virginia General Assembly, HB2025 would allow discrimination against LGBT community under guise of religious freedom, and passed 21-19 in the Senate and 57-37 in the House of Delegates.
- HJ 545 would allow special committees of the General Assembly to overturn regulations, upsetting separation of powers. Constitutional amendment (first resolution): “Provides that the General Assembly may suspend or nullify any or all portions of any administrative rule or regulation.”
- Photo identification required for absentee ballots.
- The biggest missed opportunity of the 2017 General Assembly session was the failure to advance any redistricting legislation, which passed in the Senate and died in the House of Delegates. It’s clear that Virginia voters want an end to gerrymandering, but hopes for reform before the next census in 2020 are diminished.
- Mental Health in Jails: $4.5 million was removed from the Governor’s proposed budget that would have paid for desperately needed mental health screening in jails.
- Legislation to raise Virginia’s threshold between misdemeanors and felonies from $200 to $500 failed. Virginia’s threshold has not changed since 1981, unnecessarily focusing “police and prosecutors on minor crimes instead of violent crime while tainting thousands of Virginia’s suffering from depression or drug addiction with felony charges for life,” says Surovell.
- Ken Plum’s bill to increase and index the minimum wage never made it out of committee.
- Bills to address student debt also died during the session, as did bills aimed at reducing student suspensions and expulsions.
- Republicans stripped language that would have brought $6 million in federal funds to provide Long Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) to those at risk for unintended pregnancy at no cost to Virginia voters.
Thanks to Ken Plum, Scott Surovell, Marcus Simon, Jennifer Boysko, Adam Ebbin and others whose columns and responses helped inform this editorial. We welcome opinions and additions to this list.
— Mary Kimm