March 11, 2016
It wouldn't have been a General Assembly Session without a little dramatic flair at the end. The Virginia Supreme Court nomination dominated much of the discussion in Richmond this past week. However, the conference version of the budget was released on Wednesday and both chambers wrapped up final votes. We covered a lot of legislation over the last eight weeks but wanted to highlight some our big legislative victories of the session in workforce development and education, economic development and health care. We've added a bullet section at the bottom linking to other legislative wins. 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. 

WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT AND EDUCATION


On Thursday, Governor McAuliffe signed the First-in-the-Nation Pay-for-Performance Workforce law. Virginia will now provide grants to cover two-thirds of the tuition for programs that train workers for in-demand fields. HB 66 (Byron) and  SB 576 (Ruff) are the legislative vehicles that create the New Economy Workforce Credential Grant Fund and Program providing tuition to students enrolled in a workforce training program for high demand fields in their region. This was one of the Chamber's top legislative priorities this year and we are pleased to with the strong bi-partisan support it received.  

Delegate Chris Head's budget amendment for a Career and Technical Education Governor's School in the Roanoke Valley was also included in the budget conference report. The amendment will provide $100,000 for development. Local school divisions and Virginia Western will offer dual enrollment focusing on regional workforce needs.  

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.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

The budget directed $35 million to the GO Virginia Initiative which  focuses on promoting private-sector growth through regional government, businesses and educational collaboration. The Council on Virginia's Future shall work cooperatively with the Department of Housing and Community Development in establishing GO Virginia, pursuant to the provisions of HB834 and SB449. The Chamber joined a broad coalition of business groups in support of the initiative. We are confident the pieces are in place to make our region competitive when it comes time to fund projects.

Early in session the Chamber joined a coalition in support of Research and Development tax credits. The legislative package moved through both chambers and Governor McAuliffe has signed SB58 and HB884 is on the Governor's desk. This is a big accomplishment and will keep Virginia and our region competitive for existing and incoming businesses. 

The budget provides $750,000 in the first year and $1.25 million in the second year for a pilot project to support the development of business ready sites for industrial development. Specific to our region, a budget amendment in HB29 (2014-2016 budget) has language that allows the Governor to provide $1.5 million from the Commonwealth Opportunity Fund to assist Botetourt County with site improvements related to the possible location of a major automotive manufacturer in our region, should the Governor deem it necessary and appropriate. 

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

HEALTH CARE

 
On Tuesday, HB350 (Byron) - the last standing Certificate of Public Need reform bill - was considered by the Senate and re-referred to the Senate Finance Committee. This action kills the legislation for 2016 and continues to 2017. Last week, the Chamber expressed our concern regarding this legislation. Given those concerns, we are pleased to see additional opportunity to study this complex issue in the off-season.  As legislators, hospitals and other stakeholders meet, we continue 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.  

Our region scored a victory when delegates from our region were co-patrons of an amendment to keep Catawba Hospital open. The amendment remains in the budget conference report eliminating language and funding directing the closure of Catawba. The Chamber joined the cities of Roanoke and Salem, counties of Roanoke and Craig, mental health groups and our delegation in opposition to closing an essential resource for treating patients in our region.

An early health care victory was the passage of HB58 protecting small businesses from an insurance change that was originally mandated under the Affordable Care Act. Businesses between 51-100 employees were due to be moved into the small group market this year - a market that would heavily regulate without the benefits. The Chamber strongly supported this legislation aimed at protecting our small businesses and pleased that it was signed into law by the governor on January 26th.
 
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.

OTHER CHAMBER LEGISLATIVE VICTORIES IN 2016




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