2008 General Assembly Highlights
The General Assembly convened on January 9,
2008 and is scheduled to adjourn on March 8, 2008. As of February 12th,
the General Assembly is at the mid-point.
The organizational process of the General
Assembly was particularly smooth considering the leadership changes in the
Senate with the Democrats securing the majority and the committee assignment
process in the House with so many new members.
To date, the members of the General Assembly
taken action on a multitude of bills, including mental health issues, campus
safety, immigration, health care, pay day lending, smoking in public places,
among others with modest differences of opinion.
On February 12th the Governor announced
additional anticipated revenue shortfalls of $1.4 billion. The Governor has
announced a strategy to meet the shortfall, including use of the Commonwealth’s
rainy day fund and agency reductions for the remainder of this year and for the
2008-10 proposed budget. Higher education has been spared further reductions
for the budget ending on June 30, 2008, because of the significant cuts made in
October 2007. Higher education may face budget reductions of approximately 2%
for 2008-10. Other agencies are expected to have budget reductions of 3%.
Salary increases for state employees will be reduced from the proposed 3% to 2%
and will take effect in December 2009.
As such, the final weeks of the 2008 General
Assembly will be focused primarily on resolving the budget issues. The next
step in resolving the budget occurs on Sunday, February 17th when the
House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees report their respective
budget recommendations to the Governor’s introduced budget.
Out of the almost 3,000 bills and resolutions that
have been introduced, VCU is currently tracking over 600 pieces of
higher education/administration and
health related legislation. Some highlights include:
VCU Legislative Priorities. For
additional information on VCU priorities for the 2008 General Assembly session:
New School of Medicine Building Proposal.
There are two bond bills (HB 1547,
SB 795) currently being discussed by the General Assembly. At
this point, there is still some uncertainty regarding the funding of capital
projects. Governor Kaine proposed a General Obligation bond bill including
three VCU projects -- the new School of Medicine building, a general classroom
building on the Monroe Park Campus, and the Massey Cancer Center vivarium. The
House Appropriations Committee has adopted a different approach, with some
changes in projects and when the funding would become available. In the
Appropriations Committee bill, the new School of Medicine building,
renovations to the School of Pharmacy, and a new dental clinic in Southwest
Virginia have been included in a set of projects that could begin upon
enactment. The Monroe Park Campus classroom building would be considered for
full funding during the 2010 session.
The Senate Finance Committee advanced
its version of a bond bill, which includes the VCU projects. After each house
has adopted its own proposal, the House and Senate will move to reconcile the
differences between their two bills. We feel that both House and Senate recognize the importance of our capital
projects -- particularly our School of Medicine building -- and we remain
optimistic that we will be well positioned in any capital legislation that is
VCU is seeking Tier 3 status under the Higher Education
Restructuring Act, which will grant the University the highest level of
operational flexibility in key areas. The VCU Management Agreements for Tier
3 status (HB
SB 358) are making their way through the process.
HB 1124, patroned by Delegate Chris Jones passed the House 99-0.
SB 358, patroned by Senator John Watkins, passed the Senate
40-0. Each bill will now move to the opposite chamber
where we are optimistic they will pass without difficulty and move on to the
Governor for his signature. The Management Agreement would become effective on
July 1, 2008. We are deeply indebted to Senator Watkins and Delegate Jones for
their leadership and support of the University.
In addition, budget committees will make midterm
recommendations for base
adequacy, financial aid, and faculty/staff salary increases on February 17th.
Campus Security Concerns (HB
SB 539). Campus safety and related mental health issues have been of
particular concern for the 2008 legislative session. There has been, however,
little effort to reduce the university’s authority to restrict guns on campus.
SB 652). Over 100 immigration bills, ranging from health care, higher
education accessibility, and employment, have been introduced in the 2008
Hospital Mental Health (HB
SB 246). Mental health services have been brought to the forefront after
the tragedy of April 16th. The Governor introduced two omnibus
HB 499 and
SB 246, to help reform the mental health system. The House and Senate have
taken different approaches, as the House now has multiple bills dealing with
separate pieces of the commitment process and reform efforts, while the Senate
has decided on one vehicle.
Certificate of Public Need (HB
HB 381). Two pieces of legislation have been introduced relating to
hospital regulation or Certificate of Public Need (COPN). Delegate Phil
HB 502, which adds citizen accessibility, community support and institutional
competition as criteria to be assessed in an application for COPN.
HB 381, introduced by Delegate John O’Bannon, provides for an exemption from
the COPN process for a particular cardiac catheterization clinic.
HB 381 failed to report.