Legislators Discuss 2017 Session

There was no major budget battle in a “caboose budget” year and no drama over another attempt to expand Medicaid coverage (although the Governor may try that via an amendment at the veto session). Indeed 11th district delegate Sam Rasoul and 8th district delegate Greg Habeeb have both quipped that the 2017 General Assembly short session (45 days) was “boring.”

But sometimes boring is okay, right? Rasoul and other area legislators spoke about the session during the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual legislative breakfast in late March.

Funds for workforce development – more than $300,000 – that lawmakers authorized via a budget amendment for mechatronics courses in Botetourt County schools and at Virginia Western Community College will help train people for good paying jobs said sponsoring delegate Terry Austin, who represents much of Botetourt County. “[It happened] as a result of Eldor Manufacturing [the Italian auto parts maker] choosing Botetourt County as a site for their new facility,” said Austin.

As a former Supervisor in Botetourt, Austin said he realized that having a trained workforce “was critical to the success of the region.” That funding will also be used to train Botetourt high school students in mechatronics – a program Eldor officials took note of before they selected the Greenfield Center for its new plant.

“I personally believe that we have to marry the community college to our public school system if we are going to be successful in getting kids on the proper career path at an earlier age,” Austin said to applause.

House transportation committee member Greg Habeeb, the Republican Salem delegate, talked about funding for I-73, the long proposed interstate that would connect Roanoke to North Carolina, roughly along the U.S. 220 corridor. “Virginia is behind all the other states in building out I-73,” noted Habeeb.

A bill that would convert remaining bond funds from Route 58 construction to I-73 is just a small step said Habeeb, but “sends a message to the Feds as they work on their transportation infrastructure bill … that I-73 is an issue that some folks would like to see get done.”

Habeeb did say however that people don’t talk to him much about transportation – but when they do it’s always about improvements – or expansion – needed on I-81. “They are both multi multi-billion dollar projects.” Another lane from exit 141 (419 interchange) to the I-581 interchange is in the works.

17th district delegate Chris Head spoke about a bill carried by New River Valley delegate Nick Rush that he expects Governor McAuliffe to sign – it would allow a tax exemption for those using venture capital money for a Virginia enterprise that grows into a successful business.

“It’s a way to think outside the box,” said Head, “the success … and return on that [venture capital] money would be exempt from taxes in Virginia.” Head noted that Virginia entities only receive about 3 percent of the “hundreds of billions of dollars,” in venture capital dollars available.

Democratic State Senator John Edwards talked about the “opioid epidemic,” in the Commonwealth and a bill that made it through the General Assembly; it would take tobacco settlement money and use if for youth education, “to expand the scope of the Foundation for a Healthy Youth … a simple bill [for] a serious, serious problem.”

Rasoul co-sponsored a bill that would require hospitals to establish a protocol for psychiatric services. “If there’s going to be a referral the potential admitting doctor [must] speak to the referring doctor. Believe it or not that might make sense for them to be able to communicate.”

Again, not many fireworks, at least from the local delegation, when it comes to the 2017 General Assembly. Lawmakers return to Richmond briefly in early April for the veto session, where they can also vote to override the governor’s vetoes (some 40-plus to date) if there is sufficient support.

Gene Marrano