The General Assembly meets annually, beginning on the second Wednesday in January, for 60 days in even-numbered years and for 30 days in odd-numbered years, with an option to extend annual sessions for a maximum of 30 days. The Senate of Virginia and the Virginia House of Delegates, both bodies of the Virginia Legislature, meet in the historic, working Capitol building in Richmond, Virginia.
The following issues, proposals and legislation comprise the City’s legislative priorities for the 2013 Virginia General Assembly session.
A — MAJOR FISCAL ISSUES
- Discontinue the Local Aid to the State Program. In the 2009 General Assembly, a provision was added to the biennial State budget requiring localities to give back funds to the State to help the State deal with its revenue shortfall. This “give back” was set at $50 million annually statewide, and was in addition to various programmatic reductions in state funding of state-local programs. The portion of the $50 million allocated to the City of Alexandria was $1.1 million; the City had to give back a similar amount in FY 2010. As the State’s FY 2011-12 budget was prepared, this local aid to the state program was increased to $60 million annually statewide. The City share for the current biennium (FY 2011 and FY 2012) is approximately $2.5 million. The State should never have balanced its budget on the backs of local governments, and now that State revenues have improved, this program should be discontinued. City position: the State should discontinue the Local Aid to the State Program, effective July 1, 2013.
- Funding the State-Local Partnership. In order to balance the state budget in recent years, the State has adopted a number of unusual and sometimes questionable practices, including the Local Aid to the State program described above. Others include funding for human service, social service, and mental health programs; HB 599 local law enforcement; K-12 education; and funding for constitutional officers and local jails. Again, now that State revenues are improving, the State should redirect more of its revenues to shared state-local programs. In addition, any proposals that would reduce the ability of localities to raise local revenues (such as the BPOL tax) should be resisted. City position: the State should fully fund its responsibilities in shared state-local programs, as well as other statutory revenue-sharing programs such as HB 599 aid to local law enforcement. The State should take no actions that would reduce local revenues unless it provides an equal amount of alternative, sustainable revenues.
B — TRANSPORTATION FUNDING PROPOSALS
- Transportation Funding Issues. The City of Alexandria and other Northern Virginia jurisdictions (as well as localities statewide) continue to seek additional funding for transportation. Revenues from all major transportation funding sources continue to deteriorate, yet needs continue to rise. New funding must cover major transit needs, as well as road construction and maintenance. Any funding source must continue to include dedicated revenue needed to meet federal match requirements for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Transportation formulas should not be revised in a way that will lessen revenues coming to Alexandria. Finally, any new transportation funding must not be taken from traditional core service funding programs, such as education and public safety. City position: the State should provide new, sustainable, non-general fund revenue sources to fund its multimodal transportation needs.
- Urban Crescent Transportation Letter. Many of the Mayors and Chairs of the Urban Crescent (those localities in the Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Hampton Roads areas, as well as the areas falling between) have written a joint letter to the Governor and the leadership of the General Assembly, noting the need for adequate and sustainable solutions to meet the Commonwealth’s transportation needs. They asked the Governor and General Assembly to find a way to fund new transportation infrastructure with stable, reliable, permanent, and balanced sources. Alexandria Mayor William Euille is a signatory to the letter. City position: the City supports the Urban Crescent request for adequate and sustainable solutions to meet the Commonwealth’s transportation needs.
- Regional Transportation Funding. Legislation may be introduced that would grant referendum authority to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) so that NVTA can propose transportation projects for the region to be funded by certain tax increases, which would also be subject to referendum approval. This approach would be similar to the referendum which occurred under Governor Mark Warner but it would differ in that the projects proposed in the referendum would be developed by the NVTA and the revenue resources needed to finance these improvements would also be proposed by the NVTA and subject to voter approval. City position: the City supports such Northern Virginia regional transportation referendum legislation if introduced.
- Funding for Potomac Yard Metro. The City requests the General Assembly to include financial support for the proposed Potomac Yard Metrorail station in conjunction with any appropriation by the State for the construction of the new Metrorail Silver Line (Rail to Dulles). Construction costs for the Potomac Yard Station were estimated at $240 in 2010; updated cost estimates are being prepared and should be complete later this year. Like the new Silver Line, the Potomac Yard Station will attract economic development and bring additional revenues to the State, particularly from income and other taxes for the businesses and residents that reside or work nearby and use the station. The City plans to use special tax district add-on real estate taxes and developer contributions to cover most of the debt. A State contribution would help fund this project. City position: the City requests funding for the Potomac Yard Metrorail Station in conjunction with any appropriation that is made to fund construction of the Metrorail Silver Line.
- SJR 297 Transit Funding. Senate Joint Resolution 297 (2011 Session) directed the Department of Rail and Public Transit (DRPT) to look into several issues relating to transit funding; the study has focused on one issue only—whether there should be a new, performance-based system of allocating DRPT funds (all transit funds are now distributed by a formula that is based on the amount of funds spent by the locality on transit).
DRPT’s draft recommendations propose that future State transit assistance to localities be divided into two funds: half would be allocated by formula (as is done now), and half would be allocated based on various performance measures. DRPT has proposed six peer groups based on size and other factors. Local transit agencies would compete for funding among other agencies in their peer group based on performance. City staff has several concerns with the proposed approach:
- It would be impossible to accurately predict the amount of future state aid that would be available to local transit agencies;
- The Integrity of data that would be the basis of funding decisions is questionable;
- This approach would result in a disincentive for transit providers to add service because new service traditionally is less productive in the first several years, resulting in lower performance measures; and
- The recommended approach does not control for many factors, such as differences in prevailing wages.
DRPT’s model results using real data have changed each time the model has been run, illustrating that the new approach is very sensitive to data. While we cannot predict the precise impact of the new approach in the short term, we do know that it will undermine the stability of local transit agencies. We also expect that the City would see a decrease in State funding for transit if this proposal is implemented. City position: the City opposes any proposal to base State transit funding on performance measures such as those outlined in the SJR 297 study.
C — OTHER LEGISLATION TO CONSIDER FOR INTRODUCTION
- Protect Employees of All Firms with Five or More Employees from Age Discrimination. Virginia anti-discrimination statutes currently protect only employees of employers with 5 to 14 employees from being wrongfully terminated (on the basis of race, religion, etc.). Federal law generally applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Federal law prohibiting age discrimination, however, applies only to employers with 20 or more employees. The General Assembly could fix this discrepancy by amending the Virginia Human Rights Act so that it prohibits the various types of employment discrimination for any employer with five or more employees, unless the employer is subject to federal jurisdiction. City position: the City requests its delegation to introduce or support legislation to amend the Virginia Human Rights Act so that it applies to any employer of five or more persons, unless the employer is subject to federal jurisdiction.
- Restore Funding for 19 Adult Beds at the Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute. This is a proposal that was included in the City’s FY2012 Legislative Package; it received partial, one-time funding from the State. Nineteen beds at the Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute (NVMHI) have been used in recent years for persons with psychiatric emergencies. Regular State funding for these beds was eliminated in 2010. The Alexandria Community Services Board (ASCB) is requesting that funds ($1.4 million annually) for these beds to be restored by the State. The need for these beds in Northern Virginia is critical. This region has fewer state or privately‐funded psychiatric beds per capita than any other region in the state. Lack of an appropriate hospital bed for a psychiatric emergency can result in releasing people from custody who are a danger to themselves or others. To date, this has NOT occurred in Alexandria, but we need funding for these beds so that will not occur in the future. City position: the City requests its delegation to seek continued funding for the 19 NVMHI beds.
- Fund an Increase in the Reimbursement Rate for Early Intervention Targeted Case Management (from $132 to $175 per month). The Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities (Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA) is a federal grant program that assists states in operating a comprehensive statewide program of early intervention services for infants and toddlers (birth to age 2) with disabilities and their families. In Alexandria, this program is called the Parent-Infant Education (PIE) Program. The State is currently projecting a significant shortfall of funding for FY13 and has informed local programs that there are no additional funds available. During the past three years localities have benefitted from the use of ARRA funds (federal Stimulus funds) for local programs. The Alexandria Part C Program uses state and federal funds and other revenue to pay for contracted services for children in the PIE program. Increasing the monthly Early Intervention Targeted Case Management rate to $175 will bring approximately $30,000 annually in additional revenue to Alexandria. City position: the City requests its delegation to seek or support additional State funding for statewide funding for Early Intervention Targeted Case Management.
- Allocate Sufficient State Resources to Support Community Placements for Individuals Leaving the State Training Centers. Alexandria has 13 individuals in the Northern Virginia Training Center (NVTC), nine of whom are slated for discharge by June 30, 2013. Another one should be discharged by June 30, 2014, and the final three by June 30, 2015. Alexandria’s eight residents of Central Virginia Training Center (CVTC) are scheduled to be discharged by June 30, 2020. Costs to support these individuals in the community will exceed that which is covered by existing funding sources such as Medicaid. Ongoing funding for operating expenses is needed for both residential services and day support services. The State should appropriate sufficient funds to cover these, and other costs related to the care of these individuals (for FY13, $160,000 is needed; for FY14, an additional $12,000, and for FY15, an additional $62,500). City position: the City requests its delegation to seek or support sufficient State funding to fully cover the cost of residential and day support services for individuals being discharged to the community from State Training Centers.
- Local Option for Setting the Opening Day of School. Current Virginia law prohibits school divisions from beginning the school year before Labor Day (although exceptions are allowed for school systems that experience a significant number of closures due to bad weather). Many school systems believe they would improve student performance, especially on standardized tests, if they could begin the school year sooner and add additional calendar days. Legislation may be introduced to allow each school board to set the beginning of the school year on whatever day it deems appropriate if the total student days and/or hours for that locality’s school year exceeds the state code standards of 180 days or 990 hours by 5 percent or more. City position: the City requests its delegation to seek legislation to allow school systems which add time to the school calendar (at least 5 percent more than is required by the State) to set the opening day of the school year prior to Labor Day.
- Backup Generators for Nursing Homes and Similar Facilities. In recent power outages, the City found that its nursing homes and long-term care facilities were not required to have a backup power source in case they lost electricity. The City recommends that the State require these facilities to have and maintain auxiliary generators sufficient to support critical patient/resident needs (e.g., HVAC, oxygen, fire alarms, fire extinguishing systems, emergency lighting, etc.). If necessary, the legislation could include a delayed implementation date to give these facilities time to prepare for these requirements. City position: the City requests its delegation to seek or support legislation to require nursing homes to have a backup power source (generator).
- Renewable Energy Legislation. The 2012 General Assembly Session considered legislation (HB 129) that would have clarified certain authorities for non-profit organizations to use renewable energy. Since these non-profits cannot take advantage of federal tax credits designed for this purpose, the legislation would have allowed them to purchase renewable energy from third-party, net-metering sellers. The net-metering seller typically installs the renewable energy hardware (e.g., solar panels), retains ownership of the hardware, and sells the electricity produced by it to the non-profit through a Power Purchase Agreement. Dominion Virginia Power opposed the legislation and it was defeated. City position: the City requests its delegation to support this legislation if it is re-introduced.
D — LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS TO SUPPORT
- Appropriations for the State Housing Trust Fund and Other Affordable Housing Programs. Virginia received a one-time payment of $69 million to partially offset the State’s loss in revenue caused by the mortgage crisis. The Virginia Housing Trust Fund received $7 million of this payment as part of the current biennial budget; the remaining $ 62 million was used to fill gaps in the budget. While the $7 million appropriation is helpful, additional and ongoing funding is needed for the Fund, which is used to support affordable housing. City position: the City supports additional funding for the Housing Trust Fund, and affordable housing in general.
- Prohibit Discrimination on the Basis of Employment Status. Some employers will not hire individuals who are currently unemployed. Several states ban this practice, and others are considering legislation to prohibit it. City position: the City requests its delegation to support such legislation if it is introduced.
- Prohibit Housing Discrimination Based on the Source of Income. In 1968 the federal government passed the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing discrimination based on factors such as race, color, religion, national origin, gender, elderliness, or familial status. Virginia enacted similar legislation in 1972. In recent years, a number of states have added source of income to the list of discriminatory factors which are prohibited under fair housing laws. Source of income is generally defined as any lawful source of income paid directly or indirectly to a renter or purchaser of housing, including wage, pensions, alimony, child support, or government assistance. States have made this change particularly in respect to renters, who say that landlords will sometimes not rent to them because a portion of their income is from government assistance, such as Section 8. Some landlords also set higher security deposits or minimum incomes for such renters. City position: the City requests its delegation to support such legislation if it is introduced.
- Affordable Care Act & Medicaid Expansion. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010, each state has the option of expanding coverage under its Medicaid program to include all individuals with incomes up to and including 133 percent of the federal poverty index (the current federal poverty index for an individual is about $11,000 a year; it is approximately $19,000 for a family of three). This expanded coverage will be paid for entirely by the federal government for the first three years of the program; after that, the federal government will cover 90 percent of the cost, with the state responsible for the remainder.
The City recommends that its legislative delegation support this option for three reasons:
- It will provide coverage for many preventive health care services, especially for low-income women and children;
- By covering individuals slightly above the federal poverty index, many health disparities that are directly associated with poverty and low-income will be addressed;
- The Medicaid expansion will help avoid the cost-shifting that already occurs, as low-income, uninsured people turn to local governments and nonprofits for their health care.
City position: the City requests its delegation to support the Medicaid expansion.
- Northern Virginia Aging Network (NVAN) Platform. The 2013 legislative platform for the Northern Virginia Aging Network includes the following requests:
- Protect vulnerable adults by criminalizing financial exploitation against them.
- Safeguard the rights of beneficiaries in the Demonstration for Integrated Care for Medicare-Medicaid Enrollees [managed care for dual-eligibles] by including procedural safeguards such as a clear opportunity to "opt-out”; plain information in the language of the beneficiary; a managed care ombudsman; and consumer representation on advisory groups.
- Ensure that nursing home residents receive notice of the right to return to a nursing home following a hospital stay; and that notice of any involuntary discharge is provided to the long-term care ombudsman program.
- Provide increased funding for home and community-based services through Area Agencies on Aging.
- Build a quality long-term care workforce by increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates to achieve a living wage; providing workers with sick leave and affordable health insurance; and providing workers with advanced training programs.
- Restore home and community-based services to those who lost them by returning the long-term care Medicaid eligibility threshold for people who would otherwise be in a nursing home from 267 percent to 300 percent of federal Supplemental Security Income levels.
- Support the Northern Virginia RAFT program (Regional Older Adult Facilities Mental Health Support Team), which provides community-based care for older adults with severe mental illness.
- Provide appropriate State financial support for the long-term care ombudsman and the Virginia Public Guardianship Program.
- Increase the monthly Assisted Living Auxiliary Grant and make it state-funded, eliminating local 20% share. City position: the City requests its delegation to support these provisions from the NVAN Platform.
- Early Voting. The City believes that unrestricted early voting (i.e., early voting for any reason) should be allowed throughout the Commonwealth. City position: the City requests its delegation to support such legislation if it is introduced.
- Restoration of Voting Rights for Felons. Under Virginia law, any person convicted of a felony forfeits certain civil rights for life, including the right to vote. The Virginia Constitution reserves to the Governor the power to restore these rights. Although the current Governor and his two most recent predecessors have used a streamlined process instituted by executive order, this process relies totally on the good will of each individual governor. Virginia's process for restoring rights has traditionally been one of the most restrictive in the nation. The City recommends that the General Assembly institutionalize a streamlined process for the restoration of voting rights to ex-felons by statute, or begin the process for a Constitutional amendment that automatically restores voting rights upon completion of a felon's sentence. City position: the City requests its delegation to support such legislation if it is introduced.
- Affirmation of Marriage Act. The City supports any legislation to repeal the Affirmation of Marriage Act (2004), which prohibits any civil union or other arrangement between persons of the same sex that attempts to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage. City position: the City requests its delegation to support such legislation if it is introduced.
E — LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS TO OPPOSE
- Immigration/Law Enforcement. The City believes that requiring local law enforcement officials to enforce federal immigration laws will lessen trust between the police and the City’s residents. City position: the City requests its delegation to oppose such legislation if it is introduced.
- Immigration/Higher Education. The City has regularly opposed legislation that restricts access to higher education by undocumented persons, unless it includes safeguards such as those proposed by Governor Warner in 2003 (i.e., residency in Virginia during high school and at least 5 years prior to graduation; graduation from a Virginia high school; ongoing pursuit of permanent residency in the U.S.; and family payment of Virginia income taxes for at least three years prior to college enrollment). City position: the City requests its delegation to oppose such legislation if it is introduced.
- Obstacles to voting. The City believes that the right to vote is basic to a democracy, and opposes any legislation that would create additional obstacles to voting. City position: the City requests its delegation to oppose such legislation if it is introduced.