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Legislative Update

Legislative Update

September 2, 2014

In this update:

 

On Capitol Hill: A Closer Look at Kline’s Approach

Details behind Representative John Kline’s (Minnesota) approach to reauthorizing the Higher Education Act include three small bipartisan bills which have already been ushered through the House. In some ways the House is further along in the reauthorization process, but the three bills it has cleared are narrow and largely non-controversial.

The first would allow federal student aid to be used at colleges, universities, and other postsecondary education programs that operate on a competency-based system versus a traditional credit-hour system. The measure is aimed at getting students degrees faster and thus in a more cost-effective way. The second bill would create an online dashboard for prospective students and their parents with information on tuition and other college costs. The dashboard format is designed to provide only the most important information, and make that information easier for families to understand. Finally, the House backed a bill that would increase the amount of required financial counseling for students and their families accessing federal student loans. Financial counseling is now required upon entering and exiting college, but this measure would require annual counseling.

House Democrats have generally supported the three bills, but criticize Kline's approach for not addressing what they consider the most pressing issue – student loan debt. They argue that while the three bills would have a positive effect, the overall impact would only scratch the surface of the bigger picture.

In June, Kline released an 11-page white paper outlining the chairman's vision for tackling the entire higher education law. The summary includes, consolidating all existing undergraduate federal student loans into one loan and all existing federal grants into one grant, shifting teacher-preparation programs into the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and putting the Pell Grant on stable financial footing.

However there is very little detail about how Kline plans to tackle each proposal. Kline is expected to put a priority on measures that earn the most bipartisan support, but the more difficult issues outlined in his road map are not likely to appear prior to midterm elections. At this point there is no timeline for introducing additional bills.

New Steps to Strengthen the Federal Direct Loan Program

As a result of President Obama’s executive actions to help make student loans more affordable, the U.S. Department of Education has announced several new steps to help federal student loan borrowers better manage their student debt. Following up on the commitments outlined by President Obama in June, the Department has renegotiated the terms of its contracts with federal student loan servicers in order to strengthen incentives for them to provide excellent customer service and help borrowers stay up-to-date on their payments. This action will help ensure that borrowers receive the highest quality support as they repay their federal student loans and help the Department better monitor the performance of loan servicers to help them continue to improve.

In addition to these important steps, Secretary Arne Duncan has directed Under Secretary Ted Mitchell to explore additional action the Department can take that will further strengthen the federal direct loan program to be even more responsive to the needs of borrowers both now and in the future. In the coming weeks, Mitchell and the Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid will announce a series of opportunities to hear directly from student loan borrowers and stakeholders about their ideas for improving the federal student loan program. By the end of the year, he will use this feedback to make key recommendations that will focus on solutions that can help struggling borrowers.

The Department will also begin the process to amend its regulations and allow more borrowers to cap their payments at 10 percent of their monthly incomes under an expanded Pay As You Earn repayment plan option, ensuring that students can repay their debt.

Warner Campaign Accepts Additional Joint Public Forums

Senator Mark Warner’s campaign announced his acceptance of eight additional joint public forums with Republican nominee Ed Gillespie, including two televised debates, to discuss the issues most important to Virginians. These appearances are in addition to the Virginia Bar Association debate, which took place on July 26. The nine public forums agreed to thus far are:

  1. Virginia Bar Association Debate (held July 26, PBS livestream);
  2. Fairfax Chamber of Commerce Debate (October 7, Fairfax County);
  3. The People’s Debate, League of Women Voters of Virginia, American Association of Retired Persons of Virginia (October 13, Richmond);
  4. Northern Virginia Technology Council joint appearance (September 7, Northern Virginia);
  5. Christopher Newport University/Hearsay with Cathy Lewis joint appearance (Date TBD, Hampton Roads);
  6. Central Business District Association joint appearance (Date TBD, Virginia Beach);
  7. Battleground Forum with Northern Virginia Chambers of Commerce joint appearance (September19, Northern Virginia);
  8. Sorensen Institute/Danville Register & Bee joint appearance (October 14, Danville); and
  9. Roanoke Chamber of Commerce joint appearance (Date TBD, Roanoke).

State Agencies to Submit Proposed Budget Plans

Governor Terry McAuliffe is ordering state agency heads to come up with across-the-board budget cuts for the next two years in order to cope with a more than $880 million budget shortfall. This mandate also includes higher education institutions. McAuliffe's chief of staff, Paul Reagan, sent a memo to agencies ordering them to come up with suggestions on how to cut 5 percent from their budgets this fiscal year and 7 percent next year. Regan also emphasized the need to find recurring cuts, instead of one-time savings. Proposed budget plans must be submitted to the Governor's office by September 19.

 Virginia Health Care Independence Act

A Republican member of the House of Delegates has crafted a plan to use federal Medicaid dollars. The legislation, introduced by Delegate Tom Rust (Herndon) is called the Virginia Health Care Independence Act. The proposal involves using the new federal funds to incentivize the uninsured to sign up for employer-provided care or purchase private insurance with vouchers. Key elements include:

  • Providing access to health care in several forms, ranging from a premium voucher system to purchase private insurance, to an enhanced network of safety net providers;
  • Implementing a temporary “bridge plan” to provide private insurance coverage to low-income Virginians at or below 133 percent of the poverty level using Affordable Care Act funds; and
  • Allowing individuals without access to employer-based insurance to enroll in private Medicaid-managed care plans initially and then transition to coverage through qualified health plans available on the federal health insurance exchange.

According to Rust, the bill emphasizes comprehensive, system wide reform of Medicaid and leverages to a much greater degree the strengths of the private sector, including the availability of employer-sponsored insurance – in an effort to minimize the role of Medicaid in improving access to health care for the uninsured. Lawmakers will have a chance to discuss the plan and other ideas on September 18, when the General Assembly is expected to resume its special session.

Children’s Services:  NCSL 2014 Legislative Summit

Children’s Hospital Association partnered with nine children's hospitals to host an exhibit booth at the National Conference of State Legislatures' (NCSL) 2014 Legislative Summit. This is the eighth year in a row the Association and children's hospitals have hosted a booth at NCSL's annual legislative conference. The conference, held August 19-22 in Minneapolis, provided an opportunity to raise awareness among state legislators about the vital role of children's hospitals in pediatric health care. At the exhibit, Association staff and children's hospital representatives spoke with legislators and their staff about the role of children's hospitals in delivering high quality care to children, as well as the importance of Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program to children's health. Visitors to the booth also shared many positive stories about their local children's hospital.

 Executive Branch Media Talks

Visit the following links to access President Obama’s and Governor McAuliffe’s regularly scheduled media talks.

President Obama's Weekly Video Address

http://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/weekly-address 

Governor McAuliffe’s "Ask the Governor" Call-in Radio Show

https://governor.virginia.gov/news/audio/

 State & Local Government Meetings

 Visit the following links for information on official state and local government meetings open to the public.

The Commonwealth Calendar - http://www.virginia.gov/connect/commonwealth-calendar

Virginia’s Legislative Information System - http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?141+oth+MTG

Virginia Regulatory Town Hall - http://townhall.virginia.gov/L/meetings.cfm?time=future

Richmond City Council - http://www.richmondgov.com/CityCouncil/index.aspx

Henrico County - http://www.co.henrico.va.us/supervisors

Chesterfield County - http://www.chesterfield.gov/calendar.aspx?id=9753

Hanover County - http://www.co.hanover.va.us/board/mtgagmn.htm

Goochland County - http://www.co.goochland.va.us/Departments/Departments(AF)/BoardofSupervisors.aspx

Legislative Fun Fact

Virginia’s Executive Mansion is the oldest continually occupied Executive Mansion in the United States.

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The next update will be available on or after September 8, 2014. For questions regarding this information, please contact VCU Office of Government Relations at(804) 828-1235 or govrel@vcu.edu

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