Column: Taking Care of the Newborn

Column: Taking Care of the Newborn

I am in Richmond on April 18 for the Reconvened Session of the General Assembly to consider vetoes and amendments proposed by the Governor to legislation passed in the regular session of the General Assembly. This session that is most often referred to as the "veto" session deals mostly with technical amendments that the executive branch feels are important to be made to bills before they become law. The session also deals with bills that the Governor has vetoed and that cannot become law unless passed over his veto by a two-thirds vote in each house.

One particular veto by the Governor is of special concern to me because of the importance I attribute to the bill and to the meaning that could be inferred from its veto. House Bill 99 introduced by Delegate Patrick Hope and passed unanimously by both houses of the legislature creating a statewide process to implement newborn screening for critical congenital heart disease (CCHD) was vetoed by the Governor. Congenital heart defects account for 24 percent of infant deaths due to birth defects, according to the Center for Disease Control. A simple, non-invasive, screening process recommended by the federal Department of Health and Human Services and the American Academy of Pediatrics is available using pulse oximetry screening. When detected as early as possible, CCHD can be treated without further health risks.

Already in Virginia we require hearing tests for infants, and our infant screening tests for 28 different metabolic disorders using the same spot of blood taken from the infant’s heel. During my legislative career I have been involved in the legislation adding the new screenings as research made them available. My bill adding biotinidase deficiency screening to the list was based on research done at the Medical College of Virginia by Dr. Barry Wolfe. It was the first such screening required in the world. The outcomes of these screenings can prevent permanent, mental disability or death.

The CCHD screening can have the same results for children. Maryland is putting such a program in place. The Governor’s explanation for vetoing the bill is that the work group needed to implement the program would expand the size of government when he is trying to reduce its. It says the Health Department can do the work, but past experience shows, as I experienced with infant screening, that it does not get done unless the legislature directs it. The Governor and many legislators spent a great deal of time this legislative session working on their concerns about the unborn. This bill reflects a realistic and responsible concern for the newborn. I will be voting to override the Governor’s veto, and I will be encouraging my colleagues to do the same.