By Dick Hall-Sizemore
Each session there are bills that are introduced probably with the best of intentions and approved for those reasons, but are basically bad policy and are likely to have unintended consequences. They are not “big” bills and do not generate headlines, but skate under the radar. I want to highlight three that have come to my attention and are in an area with which I am familiar.
Inmate medical copay. (HB 281—Hope.) This legislation would repeal the authority of the Department of Corrections to charge inmates a co-pay for medical services. Inmates now are subject to a $5 co-pay for offender-initiated medical visits. No inmate is denied medical services due to a lack of funds in his account. The revenue generated by the co-pay is used to support the agency’s telemedicine program. The House amendments to the budget bill include $405,000 from the general fund each to replace the revenue lost.
Many years ago (more than 20) when the co-pay requirement was adopted, the goal was not to raise money. Inmates get bored and will take any opportunity available to break up the routine and get out of their cells and housing units. The goal of instituting a medical co-pay was to discourage frivolous visits to the infirmary or sick call. And it succeeded in its goal; DOC experienced a significant decline in sick call visits after the co-pay was put in place. If this current legislation is enacted, the agency anticipates at least a doubling of sick call requests. That will put more pressure on medical units that are already busy and lead to the need for more nurses and doctors, further increasing already very high medical costs.
Vehicle registration (SB 972—Edwards). This bill would add $4 to the cost of a motor vehicle registration, with the proceeds dedicated to “addressing staffing, retention, and pay suppression issues at the Department of State Police.” It is not good policy to set up a special fund dedicated to funding a portion of the personnel costs of a general fund-supported state agency. Accountability is diminished. This is one of those hidden tax increases that some on this blog have complained about in the past. If the State Police had “staffing, retention, and pay suppression issues,” it should make its case to the Governor and General Assembly during budget development. These issues should be addressed in the overall general fund budget, as the House has done this year. Besides, the State Police is not the only agency facing these issues. The Department of Corrections probably has more severe problems, but it does not have a friendly legislator or convenient revenue stream to tap into.
GIS and E-911 (HB 1003—Subramanyam). This bill would transfer the management of the state’s Geographic Information Network and E-911 Fund and E-911 Services Board from the Virginia Information Technologies Agency to the Department of Emergency Management (VDEM). I do not know the motivation for this major shift of responsibilities, but it is a big mistake. First of all, VDEM has no experience or background in the technical aspects of establishing and maintaining GIS and E-911 systems. VDEM may have “emergency” in its agency title, but the emergencies it is involved with are natural ones, such as floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes. They are vastly different from E-911 emergency telephone systems.
Secondly, for the past few years, VDEM has had serious management problems, as reported by the Auditor of Public Accounts here and here and here. The APA has consistently cited VDEM for “matters involving internal control and its operations” and for “instances of noncompliance with applicable laws and regulations.” In addition, the APA described VDEM’s increasing its spending by adding positions and increasing salaries with fund balances carried over from prior years and said that it had “concerns about the agency’s ability to sustain this level of spending going forward.” Simply put, this was an irresponsible management of its budget. This is not an agency that should be given oversight of an additional $25.6 million annually to operate specialized technical programs.There are currently no comments highlighted.