February 26th, 2016
It's the budget time of Session. The Constitution of Virginia requires that the Commonwealth balance its budget. We do not have the luxury of spending more money than we take in, printing money or living beyond our means. Consequently, the House and Senate have released budget language that are structurally balanced and responsible. The Roanoke Regional Chamber believes that balancing the budget is the foundation of responsible fiscal practices in Virginia. We also realize that investing dollars in the right projects is essential to economic prosperity across the state. Further, we are following and advocating for dollars that are important to our region. We will provide our detailed analysis of the budget next week. This week we wanted to update you on health care, workforce development and general business legislation. Sadly, we lost a longtime state senator from our region this week - Madison Marye. Please take the time to see the House of Delegates adjourn in honor of Senator Marye at the bottom of the newsletter. 

Last week we mentioned that for the most part this has been a business-friendly General Assembly Session - the same can be said for our delegation. Last newsletter we expressed our appreciation to the Co-Patrons of the budget amendment working to keep Catawba Hospital open - this week The Roanoke Times echoed that appreciation. It was a regional team effort and our delegation, localities, the mental health community and non-profits all played a significant role.

HEALTH CARE

A special Senate sub-committee has been assigned to hear the two remaining Certificate of Public Need (COPN) bills - HB350 from Delegate Kathy Byron and HB193 from Delegate John O'Bannon. On Tuesday, the Roanoke Regional Chamber joined Carilion Clinic, the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association and the Prince William and Hampton Roads Chambers of Commerce to speak in opposition to the legislation. We support the recommendations from the COPN work group to improve the quality of access to health care while also eliminating waste. Supporters of the legislation argue that eliminating COPN will allow the free market to increase competition and lower cost. However, health care is not a free market. Under federal law hospitals are required to provide care even if the patient is unable to pay - many of these patients are uninsured or covered by health programs that do not cover the full cost of care. Having COPN in place helps hospitals offset the impact of charity care. The sub-committee is expected to take action on the bills next week. 

We Advocate  for legislation that promotes personal responsibility, incentives fee-for-performance care, improves the quality of health care while eliminating waste and abuse, and expands affordable health insurance options for employers. We support passage of the health benefit plan legislation in Virginia to help protect small and medium sized businesses.

WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT 

We are pleased to report that workforce development legislation is successfully making its way through the House and Senate. Thursday's Senate Education and Health Committee was busy hearing many of these bills and we've highlighted them below. The Chamber recognizes that a suitably skilled workforce is the cornerstone of economic development and it's equally important that the workforce meet the needs of our businesses. Further, we look forward to connecting our members and the stakeholders involved with the legislation below.


HB279  introduced by Delegate Kathy Byron (R-Lynchburg) Directs the Board of Education to establish a Virginia STEM adjunct faculty provisional license and a Virginia STEM adjunct faculty renewable license for qualified individuals to teach high school STEM courses on a part-time basis and stipulates requirements for such licenses. The bill was in front of the Senate Education and Health Committee on Thursday and was reported out 14-Y 0-N.
 
HB682  introduced by Delegate Chris Peace (R-Mechanicsville) permits district superintendent to apply for teacher licensure waivers for individuals whom the local school board seeks to hire to teach career and technical education if the individual has at least 4,000 hours of relevant employment experience in the field they would be teaching. HB682 was reported out of Senate Education and Health with a vote of 15-Y 0-N.
 
HB66 (Byron) and SB576 (Ruff) establish the "New Economy Workforce Credentials Grant Fund" and continues to have the strong support of the Chamber as one of our top legislative priorities this year. We believe that streamlining the path to workforce credentials is critical to filling skilled jobs that are essential and needed by employers in our region. The previous House workforce bills mentioned in this newsletter (HB792, HB793, HB1206) were all tabled and rolled into Delegate Byron's Bill. A product of the Virginia Community College System's Credentials Plan, these bills align workforce training with the needs of the business community. This legislation creates a funding mechanism that will be administered by the State Council of Higher Education. Students will apply for grants in high demand fields and pay one-third of the cost of the training. Upon completion, the institution will be reimbursed one-third the cost of the training. Lastly, when the student receives the credential, the institution will receive the final one-third payment. There is a state investment cap of $3,000 per student. HB66 was reported out of Senate Education and Health 14-Y 0-N on Thursday. SB576 will be heard by the House Appropriations Higher Education Sub-committee on Monday.
 
We Advocate  for necessary enhancements to Pre K-12 and higher education to prepare all students for careers and all regional businesses with a skilled workforce.


GENERAL BUSINESS 

In one of our first newsletters of the session we updated you on the Airbnb legislation - HB812 (Peace) and SB416 (Vogel). Initially, we had not taken a position on this legislation. However, as we have examined the legislation more closely we felt it was important that we make our voice heard on this issue. The Chamber opposes HB812 and SB416 and believe these bills treat differently the Limited Lodging Platforms, providing special treatment not available for other lodging enterprises. The legislation prohibits localities from knowing the identity and location of these operations taking place in their communities. It is unclear if transient occupancy taxes can be imposed on operators, who under the bill, are not defined as businesses.  Because of this special status not granted to other home occupations or other travel lodging facilities, localities will not be able to add any enforceable ordinances to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the public. In addition, there is no mechanism for the state or any locality to audit limited residential lodging operators or hosting platforms to assure that the proper taxes are being collected/remitted and that similar business operations are treated similarly.

Also, earlier in the Session we made you aware of the Attorney General's new Patent Troll Unit that was announced on Chamber Day at the Capitol. Patent Trolling is when a company or person acquires patents without the desire to develop the product or idea. Instead the company or individual launches patent infringement lawsuits far beyond the value or the patents concept. Many times the accused infringer will settle the lawsuit versus dragging the case out in court. Patent trolls take advantage of our nation's notoriously complicated legal system. As the voice of the business community in the Roanoke region, the Chamber has a long record of advocating for stiffer penalties against patent trolls.

The Attorney General's Patent Troll Unit was made possible by the business community's support of legislation passed during the 2014 General Assembly that gave the Office of Attorney General new enforcement powers and resources to investigate cases of patent trolling and seek financial penalties and injunctions against those who assert patent infringement claims in "bad faith" even if they are based outside of Virginia. 
Instances of patent trolling can be reported on the Patent Troll Unit's website, or by email or telephone. The unit can be contacted by:
 
Phone:  (804) 786-2071
 
We advocate  for legislation that promotes an environment that allows businesses of all sizes to fairly compete on not only a local level, but a global one.  

MADISON MARYE 1925-2016

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Roanoke Regional Chamber | 540-983-0700 | jbaumgartner@roanokechamber.org
| http://www.roanokechamber.org
210 S. Jefferson St.
Roanoke, VA 24011