February 19th, 2016
"You all are what every chamber should be about, taking positions, getting in there, and speaking for the needs of the business community.  I especially appreciate the regular communications which explain the ins and outs of public policy and the chamber's legislative rationale."
           
-Larry Hincker, retired Virginia Tech chief communications officer
            
The Roanoke Regional Chamber appreciates the kind words from Mr. Hincker. Part of our mission is to develop and monitor policy, and subsequently communicate those policies with our membership. Crossover was this week and committee meetings are more succinct as members have already heard presentations on most of the bills before them. This week we wanted to update you on the budget, economic development, transportation and health care. Overall, this has been a business-friendly session and we look forward to closing strong in the final weeks. As always, if you have a question on a specific bill not listed, contact us at the information provided at the end of this newsletter. 

BUDGET

On Sunday the Appropriations Committee and Chairman Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) will introduce the 2016-2018 biennium budget HB30 and SB30. Delegate Jones said we can expect a structurally sound budget that will add to the state's rainy day fund, fully fund the state's contribution to the Virginia Retirement System and cut the corporate tax rate. There is a lot of information to digest with a $100 billion budget and the Chamber is following a few budget items closely - Catawba Hospital closure, biotech spinoffs and workforce credentials.
 
Delegate Joseph Yost (R-Blacksburg) submitted budget amendment 319 #1h to eliminate language and funding in the introduced budget that would have directed the Department of Health and Developmental services to begin the process of closing Catawba Hospital. The Chamber joins the Cities of Salem and Roanoke, Roanoke County, Catawba, Mental Health America and others in opposition to the closing of Catawba Hospital. We applaud Delegate Yost and our local Co-Patrons: Delegates Austin, Habeeb, Head, Poindexter, Rasoul and Rush for submitting this budget amendment.
 
The introduced budget has appropriated $30 million each year ( budget item 106 O ) of the biennium to help accelerate the growth of bioscience spinoffs in our region and across the Commonwealth. The Chamber supports the proposed investment in the bioscience industry and feels strongly this could be a game changer for companies looking to partner with the research institutes in our region.  Delegate Steve Landes (R-Weyers Cave) and Vice-Chairman of appropriations submitted budget amendment ( 106 #4h ) that eliminates the funding to develop biotech spinoff companies. We know there are many needs that have to be addressed in the budget yet we feel this particular appropriation can have a positive impact on the Commonwealth and our region's economy.
 
In the State of the Commonwealth address, Governor McAuliffe emphasized the need to prepare students for the jobs of today and fundamentally change the way we think about education. Critical to that initiative is $25 million in the introduced budget that will give Virginia Community Colleges the resources needed to produce industry certifications and workforce credentials. One of the Chamber's legislative priorities is the necessary funding for Virginia's Pathway to a Middle Class Noncredit Workforce Credentials Act - budget item 216 I .  

We Advocate  for responsible stewardship of the Commonwealth's finances. A structurally sound and balanced budget is a critical component of a successful economy. 

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT 


In our first newsletter of the Session, we discussed the importance of legislation working towards a diverse Virginia economy. Trade and regional cooperation were components of a "new Virginia economy" and related legislation is still alive in the House and Senate. The Chamber is proud of our partnership with two business coalitions this Session that are successfully working to make the Commonwealth business-friendly.
 
HB858 from Delegate Steve Landes (R-Weyers Cave) establishes the Virginia International Trade Authority to promote trade in the Commonwealth by coordinating private and public efforts. The bill also requires the authority to report to the General Assembly a plan for the establishment of a statewide coalition of organizations that have international trade services in the Commonwealth. The bill passed out of the house (99-Y 0-N) and has crossed over to the Senate Finance Committee.
 
The GO Virginia legislative package easily passed out of both Chambers of the General Assembly. The Chamber has supported GO Virginia from the onset and we are confident our region will be adequately represented and competitive. Below you can find details on the composition and implementation of the initiative.
 
The Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board (SB449 and HB834) will administer grants for regional economic and workforce development projects. The two bills are similar but have minor differences. Regional councils are established under these bills and will be certified by the Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board. The regional councils will be comprised of government, education and business leaders. The legislation gives priority to regional grant proposals that promote workforce development that address eliminating skills gaps. The difference in the bills is the makeup of the board. The board established in SB449 has 22 members - 11 nonlegislative citizen members, 3 ex-officio and 8 legislative members. HB834 differs with only 7 legislative members.
 
The Virginia Collaborative Economic Development Act (SB459 and HB846) establish grants for projects in private-sector growth resulting from collaborative efforts among business, education and two local governments. The Governor's budget had $38 million set aside for the grants and we'll know more after Appropriations introduces the budget on Sunday. The legislative package has crossed over and currently in House Appropriations and Senate Finance.
 
Last week the Chamber joined a business coalition opposing SB111 from Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax). This bill would have raised the punitive damages cap from $350,000 to $500,000. The Chamber believes that maintaining our current caps on punitive damages will help keep Virginia from falling behind other states in our business rankings. For example, North Carolina has a cap of $250,000 or three times the compensatory damages - whichever is greater. After making it out of Senate, we are pleased to report that SB111 failed to report in the Civil Law Subcommittee in the House.
 
Before Session the Chamber announced support for research and development tax credits. With the research opportunities in our region, we knew it was critical to encourage additional investment and increase the eligible research expenses for small businesses - HB884 and SB58 do just that. We are pleased to announce that the bills have passed out of their chambers and now are in House and Senate Finance Committees. 

We Advocate for support of the GO Virginia Initiative and results-oriented economic development policies that encourage regional cooperation. 

TRANSPORTATION

The Chamber's Transportation Advocacy Group (TAG) met last week and reviewed the HB2 recommended transportation projects for our region. Based on the group discussion and analysis the TAG released the following statement:
 
TAG applauds the Virginia Department of Transportation and Commonwealth Transportation Board for their transparent and informative application process. We remain confident that scoring projects based on merit and value will increase accountability and invest tax dollars in the right projects. 

Overall, the recommended funding for our region looks to be allocated as expected. We scored well with smaller, low-dollar projects, including operational improvement projects that have often been underfunded in the past.  I-81 in parts of the Salem District scored near the top in the state for economic development. However, projects in our region on critical corridors like I-81, U.S.220, and U.S. 460 did not score well enough to be recommended.

The recommended projects will be beneficial to our region and we look forward to their progression. We plan to go back to the drawing board with local stakeholders and our greater region to make sure our applications are competitive for high-priority funds that are critical to economic vitality in our region. 

We Advocate for alignment of transportation funding to meet the needs of our region.

HEALTH CARE
  Certificate of Public Need (COPN) reform is still dominating the health care discussion at the General Assembly. Between the House and Senate there were a dozen bills dealing with COPN reform at the beginning of Session and now there are two. The Chamber continues to believe that any reform should model the recommendations from the COPN work group to improve the quality and access to health care while also eliminating waste and abuse.

The Senate Education and Health Committee voted to carry over a consolidation of five COPN bills to 2017. Senator Steve Newman (R-Forest) chairs the Senate Education and Health Committee and indicated preference to carrying the bills over for more study. The House passed HB193 repealing COPN on most services over 18 months and HB350 eliminating mental health facilities from the COPN process. The two House bills are expected to be heard in subcommittee 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.


The Campaign Corner



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