The 2015 session of the General Assembly has officially adjourned. Bills I introduced that now await Governor McAuliffe's signature include legislation on issues from job placement and hospital patients' rights to tax refunds and ethics reform. I believe that this legislation will improve the lives of Virginians.
Jobs: Last year, Congress passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014. This legislation provides more funding, technical resources, and flexibility for creativity and innovation to the Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) throughout the country in order to better train and provide job placement assistance to unemployed workers for the jobs of the future. Essential job training programs for an unemployed worker can cost up to $3,700; however, if we are not able to help them find a position to match their new skills, then that money is not well spent.
That is why I put forward SB1002, which gives local WIBs the flexibility to negotiate pay-for-performance standards directly with job placement agencies. The more we do to empower WIBs across the state and incentivize their partnering organizations, the sooner we will get our neighbors back to work with good-paying jobs and the faster we will grow the Virginia economy.
Hospital Patients’ Rights: As it stands today in Virginia, if you are receiving care in a hospital and your status is changed from “in-patient” to “observation,” there is no requirement for the hospital administration to notify you. A status change can have serious financial ramifications in terms of how Medicare or your private health insurance provider covers the cost of your care.
That is why I introduced and passed SB857 along with Senators George Barker and Dick Black, so that hospital patients will receive explicit notifications of a status change.
Tax Refunds: Another bill I passed with Senator Barker is SB1005, which restores the option for taxpayers to receive their state refunds in the form of a paper check. In 2012, Virginia changed the system of delivering tax refunds so that the only two options for payment would be in the form of direct deposit or a plastic debit card.
This was done under the guise of saving the state money from the printing and postage of the checks. Instead, the change outsourced a core function of the Virginia Department of Taxation to a private, for-profit company that resulted in taxpayers receiving plastic debit cards and being charged fees for using the cards at ATMs, businesses and even for inquiring about their balance too often. A 2013 study by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) shows that 6.5 percent of Virginia’s citizens do not have a bank account for direct deposit, a 1.7 percent increase since 2009. Using fee-ridden debit cards hurts those who can least afford it.
Our legislation will allow taxpayers once again to have the option of choosing a paper check or direct deposit for their tax refund.
Ethics: Virginians need and deserve to have confidence in their elected officials — but the McDonnell scandal gave citizens every reason to doubt. From the outset, I have called for strong, decisive action to fix our laws and restore Virginians’ trust. I introduced reform bills in both 2014 and 2015, and I have offered amendments to strengthen my colleagues’ legislation. I am pleased to see that the final bill incorporates several of the ideas I have fought for.
The legislation we passed moves us in the right direction, but it leaves much work undone. The bill imposes a $100 gift cap on officials, strengthens the Ethics Advisory Council and ensures that disclosure forms will be publicly available online. It will also prohibit gifts of travel unrelated to a legislator's official duties — like trips to golf tournaments on corporate jets. Still, it also leaves gaping loopholes in place. There is no limit on the cumulative value of gifts, and the Ethics Council lacks crucial investigative authority. Many other issues — like the ability for legislators to attend secret meetings on the taxpayer’s dime — go totally unaddressed.
We still need to restore Virginians’ trust — and until we have done that, I will keep working for stronger and more substantive reforms.
There are still many pressing issues that were not addressed this session. Unfortunately, my legislation to address topics such as codifying workplace protections for LGBT employees, reforming our failed drug policies, and enacting smarter regulations to prevent gun violence, all failed to advance. I also co-sponsored bills to raise the minimum wage, make it easier to vote, and create an independent redistricting commission that were also defeated by the Republican majority. It is my hope that the progress that we have made this year will serve as a foundation to build upon in 2016 when next year’s General Assembly convenes.
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also active on Twitter @AdamEbbin and Facebook at www.facebook.com/EbbinCampaign.
It is my continued honor to represent the citizens of the 30th Senate District.