By Senator Lynwood Lewis
Listen to this report:
The 2018 Virginia General Assembly has successfully weathered “cross over” and all surviving Senate Bills moved over to the House for consideration by House Committees and the full House and House Bills have done the same. The first few days after “cross over” are spent with each Chamber dealing with identical Bills from the other Chamber and also with Bills that passed unanimously on the uncontested Calendars of the more than 2,600 Bills filed. I have fourteen Bills that have survived the Senate process and will have to be advanced by House Committees and hopefully to the full House for its consideration.
I’ve touched upon many of these Bills as they’ve passed through Senate Committees and the full Senate floor over the past few weeks, and I had four more Bills pass the full Senate floor this past week. Three of these pertained to addressing recurrent flooding, a pressing issue for our entire region. My Bill that I’ve been working on with Delegate Chris Stolle to create an executive-level position to address coastal resiliency and flooding adaptation passed in an amended form with bipartisan support. The amended SB265 would create an executive-level stand-alone special advisor to the Governor tasked solely with dealing with recurrent flooding and coastal resiliency. Delegate Stolle’s companion Bill passed the House, so I expect both Bills to pass and reach Governor Northam’s desk for signing.
My constitutional amendment Bill – SJ21/SB219 – to allow localities the option to issue tax abatements for property owners who take action on their real estate to mitigate and adapt for recurrent flooding passed for the second year and will also move to the House. In order for a constitutional amendment to be put to Virginia voters for a decision, the Bill must pass two years in a row. Since this Bill passed both the Senate and the House last session, if the legislation passes this year the amendment will be placed on the ballot during the next regular election cycle. All Virginia voters will then have the opportunity to vote on its passage. As we enter into the second half of Session, the Budget Committees are pressing forward in reviewing Senate and House Budget Amendments and making decisions about what to include in the Budgets they will bring to Conference. On Sunday, February 18, the Senate Finance Committee will release their proposed Budget. This Budget will move to Conference, where small groups of legislators from both the House and the Senate will begin meeting regularly to iron out differences between the two versions of Amendments to our two-year Budget. I have put in several Budget Amendments that are vital for the Shore and I have pushed for their inclusion in the Senate Budget.
One of these Amendments would designate $1.5 million over two years for Virginia’s share of an Army Corps of Engineers project that will study the reasons for and provide the preferred solutions to the widening of the Chincoteague Island inlet. As many of us are aware, particularly residents of the town of Chincoteague, the town is facing an existential threat due to the widening of the Chincoteague Inlet and the inability of Assateague Island to continue to serve as a barrier island protecting the town. If the inlet continues to get wider, the town of Chincoteague and our prized aquaculture industry would be at risk for devastating damage from
potential natural disasters. To address this issue, Congress recently authorized a feasibility study of Chincoteague Island and the other islands nearby to study what is happening at the inlet, what can be done to stabilize the inlet and what can be done to maintain the viability of Chincoteague. The pressing need for this study also lies in protecting investments in our Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport launch facility at Wallops Island. Corps of Engineer feasibility studies cost up to $3 million and take 3 years to complete. Federal law requires a 50-50 federal/non-federal cost share. My Budget Amendment would appropriate the non-federal share to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission which would, at the appropriate time, contract with the Corps to conduct
the feasibility study.
Another of my Budget Amendments would protect the long-term sustainability of the obstetrical program at Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital. The request is for the Commonwealth to provide a supplemental payment of $2.5 million in each year of the biennium to support acute care hospitals that provide obstetrical services to a rural and federally designated medically underserved area, resulting in fewer than 500 births per year, and is more than a 60 mile drive to the next closest Virginia hospital providing obstetrical services. At this time, RSMH is the only acute care hospital in the Commonwealth that meets these criteria. This funding is critical, as RSMH is the sole obstetrical program on the Eastern Shore. Of all babies born to residents of the Eastern Shore in 2016, 73% (332 infants) were delivered at RSMH, while the remaining 27% of infants were born across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel or out-of- state. Riverside recognizes the critical importance of proving obstetrical care on the Shore and has been committed to identifying creative ways to overcome the challenges of high fixed costs in a low volume setting and those related to recruiting and retaining professional medical staff in a rural, federally designated medically underserved area. These supplemental payments from the Commonwealth are one of those creative ways, and I will continue to work with RSMH to push for the funding
needed to ensure the success of our hospital and its programs.
I have additional Budget Amendments submitted regarding agricultural best management practices, oyster replenishment and shallow-channel dredging, all of which I have discussed at length in previous columns. As a reminder, we will be in Session until Saturday, March 10. As always, I encourage everyone to visit their State Capital and also to monitor the activities of the legislature on the General Assembly website VirginiaGeneralAssembly.gov. I can be reached at our legislative email District06@senate.virginia.gov and while in Richmond by telephone at (804) 698-7506. Please do not hesitate to contact me on issues with questions about legislation or on issues of concern.