Our State Senator from the Eastern Shore, Lynwood Lewis was in Cape Charles Tuesday to brief citizens on what to expect as the next General Assembly is set to begin in Richmond. As always, the budget is the key focus, but Lewis also noted that there are many other critical issues on the agenda.
“I serve on the Agriculture and Chesapeake Natural Resources Committee, the Local Government Committee, and on the Health and Education Committee which in addition I serve on the Recurrent Flooding Study Committee which deals with issues dealing around sea level rise. What’s going on in this session, the budget is always the big concern…we have had some issues with revenue flow and we have had to make some cuts, over 2 billion dollars from Virginia’s budget…when we go into session, that is going to be the big issue. The Governor’s budget reflects a significant investment in K-12 education, including 2500 new teachers to replace some that we are losing. There are some SOL reforms embedded in the budget, No Child Left Behind has been replaced by Every Child Succeeds, and that will hopefully give us more flexibility in what we do with SOL testing,” Lewis said.
“There is also a bond issue associated with this budget, which will be used for new buildings on campuses, a new community college, a $21 million dollar facility which is very exciting for us on the Eastern Shore. Also, $350 million to improve our port facilities, to help with our New Economy, to pull in some of these huge cargo ships that are flowing in here. The port is a tremendous spinoff for our economy,” Lewis said.
Wallops, Spaceport and High Tech
“We’re also trying to build on technology, or research and development, in our institutions of higher ed…we’re looking at technology, we’re looking at R&D, cybersecurity which is going to be one of the next big waves of economic activity. We want to be on the forefront of this, to help alleviate some of our DoD(Department of Defense) dependency. The Navy base in Norfolk is probably not going anywhere anytime soon, but we have to be proactive about this. When we talk about diversifying Virginia’s economy, we are very excited about the activity up at Wallops Island. I’m a little concerned about aggressive we are not being as far as luring businesses to be up there, but we’ll be having discussions in Richmond on how we can build on the Spaceport up there. That has spillover effect for the entire commonwealth and certainly for the Eastern Shore,” Lewis said.
“We are going to talk about Medicaid expansion, it’s in the Governor’s budget. Given the politics of it, we’ll probably talk about fifteen minutes and then it’s just going to fade away. The politics of it at this time and place is prohibitive. The Certificate of Public Need is going to be a huge issue; it is a system by which a state, it is how you allocate your healthcare resources. For those that have rural hospitals like Northampton and Accomack, let me just assure that wherever it is, you are lucky to have it. Given the economics of small rural hospitals. There is a school thought that says we need to dramatically reform Certificate of Public Need, which will inject competition and will drive down healthcare costs. There is a competing school of thought that says that healthcare economies are different and given the stress that small rural hospitals are under, those that serve economically challenged folks, that serve large numbers of Medicaid folks, and if we allow other providers to come in and cherry pick the services that do generate money for those hospitals, if you adopt a strip mall model it could be disastrous for rural hospitals,” Lewis said.
Environment and Sea Level Rise
“We are going to talk about sea level rise issues, which is going to have a huge impact, not tomorrow, but gradually over time; the Navy is planning for significant rise in sea level, in Norfolk, they have no political axe to grind, they are just looking at data, and are going to make choices based on what that data tells them. Trying to figure out how to deal with that, and it is a combination of many things, some of which are expensive, some of which are just tough choices, which will be made at the local level with land use and planning,” Lewis said.
“We’re going to be talking about Menhaden again this year. There will be bills in to transfer the oversight of the Menhaden fishery over to the Virginia Marine Resources Committee. This is a frequently occurring discussion, but I believe there is a head of steam to now maybe shift the management of menhaden to the VMRC, we’ll see. I’m on the AG committee, and this is where these bills will be first discussed and where they will pass. It is usually a fairly contentious discussion,” Lewis said.