This week’s newsletter covers policy discussions held at the Maternal & Child Health Preconference, as a part of the NCSL Forecast ‘24 Conference, shares discussion topics emerging from the Hunt Institute’s Virginia Education Summit, highlights the recent Joint Commission on Health Care (JCHC) meeting, and shares select community meetings and engagements from this past week. Thank you for taking the time to read this newsletter and for staying informed.
NCSL Forecast ‘24: The Maternal & Child Health Preconference Meeting
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) held its annual Forecast Meeting this past week in Austin, Texas. Although I was not able to attend the full conference, I was invited to attend the The Maternal & Child Health Preconference held on the weekend. The sessions and discussions were very informative, providing highlights of the work that is being done in states across the country to address the concerns of maternal, child, and youth health and mental health. Among the key topics discussed were the following:
These are all concerns that impact Virginians, and learning about progress made in other states was helpful. For instance, as access to maternal care in rural communities declines precipitously due to workforce shortages, the shuttering of smaller hospitals and clinics, we must look carefully for other opportunities such as remote patient care through technologies, telemedicine, and the credentialing of healthcare providers such as doulas and midwives.
The discussion on child and youth mental well-being was sobering. Across the country, many children and young people face mental health concerns, struggles with depression, and other social/emotional trauma that often translate into behavioral issues within schools and at home. According to research, responding to behavioral concerns through mental health support, rather than punitive measures such as school suspensions, facilitates recovery for the child, better academic outcomes, and declines in juvenile delinquency. Of course, such measured responses require the staffing in schools of mental health counselors, more wraparound social services for children and families, and increased numbers of support staff. No state, it seems, has the complete answer, but many are making progress in better supporting children and youth facing mental health challenges. Virginia has been working to address these concerns as well, and we will see more legislative and budget items this upcoming Session that seek to make progress on this front.
The Hunt Institute’s Virginia Education Summit
After returning from the discussion on Maternal & Child Health, I joined the Hunt Institute’s Virginia Education Summit for a two-day conference on Monday and Tuesday that brought together the education committees of both the House and the Senate. Monday’s discussions were held on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University and on Tuesday, we convened at the Career and Technical Center off of Hull Street in Chesterfield County.
The discussions of these two days focused on the real challenges and the critical opportunities that we have as we prepare our students for the realities of the 21st century: new technologies, careers in professions that we may not even be able to yet imagine, a complex global context in which cultural and social understanding is even more imperative, needs for new curricula to address emerging degree programs, development of essential workplace skills, opportunities for internships and apprenticeships, and so much more.
As the meeting’s agenda highlights, we sought to address the full spectrum of education concerns, from Early Childhood Education through Secondary and Postsecondary Education opportunities. The insights provided by experts, by those on the ground in classrooms and in education leadership, and by our own policymakers were helpful as we now set the stage for the education legislative and budget priorities of the next Session.
At the conclusion of the Summit, policymakers were treated to a tour of the Chesterfield Career and Technical Center, a site at which innovative education practices and opportunities are put into action. Students at the CCTC travel from their home high schools on designated days and for certain portions of their school day to focus on specialized programs such as culinary arts, engineering and manufacturing, computer science, health care, law and public safety, and much more. We heard directly from students themselves, and they shared some of the impressive projects in which they are involved.
Joint Commission on Health Care
On Wednesday, the Joint Commission on Health Care (JCHC) met to confirm the new Executive Director of the JCHC, to select policy options to adopt as the formal JCHC recommendations for this legislative term, and to approve 2024 study resolutions. I congratulate Ms. Sarah Stanton on her confirmation as the new Executive Director, and I certainly look forward to working with her.
For the upcoming General Assembly session, the JCHC will be pursuing policies and budget items related to expanding access to team-based care models, as well as obesity and eating disorder prevention and treatment. The full presentation, as well as the team-based care study and the study related to obesity and eating disorders, are available for review.
Highlights from Community Events & Meetings
For two days this week, on Tuesday and Wednesday, my staff participated in the legislative assistant training and orientation programs provided by the Senate Clerk's office to ensure that our office is prepared to serve constituents and policymakers this upcoming session. My Chief of Staff, June, and Senator Pillion’s Legislative Director, Tyler, spoke to their colleagues on best practices as they serve in these critical roles.
On Wednesday morning, I attended the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond’s annual legislative breakfast reception. Among the top concerns of the Federation was the growth of antisemitic violence and hate crimes. I was joined at the breakfast by Delegate-elect Michael Jones. I appreciated the opportunity to hear the concerns of the members of the Federation, as well as the chance to catch up with dear friends.
Wednesday morning was also the scheduled time for a second breakfast: the joint meeting of the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors and the county’s School Board. Attending this meeting were both incoming and outgoing members of both Boards. We received a presentation on JLARC’s recently-released report on public education and its problematic funding formula.
On Wednesday afternoon, I joined legislators and representatives from environmental organizations at the Virginia Environment and Renewable Energy Caucus’s (VERE) Central Virginia Regional Roundtable. I appreciate the work of so many organizations that are focused on bringing thoughtful approaches to our exponentially-increasing demands for energy, the impacts of energy needs on our environment and natural resources, and the emerging renewable energy industries.
Later that evening, I joined the members of the Richmond Academy of Medicine for a legislative reception to discuss the issues and concerns of the Richmond-area medical community. We are fortunate to have an abundance of high-quality hospitals and medical providers in the Central Virginia region. Still, the challenges to our healthcare systems continue to face us, as we struggle with workforce shortages, growing mental health issues, patient medical debt, and the untenable costs of providing care. These are all concerns that the Virginia General Assembly will attempt to address again during the upcoming Session. Also attending the event was my friend and colleague, Delegate Betsy Carr.
On Thursday morning, I joined the Midlothian Business Alliance for its 2023 Annual Legislative Update. These small business owners represent several industries and professions; small businesses are the backbone of the local Chesterfield economy, providing critical jobs, goods, and services. I was joined by Delegate Lee Ware, Delegate-elect Michael Jones, and Delegate-elect Mark Earley, all of whom represent parts of Midlothian.
While I spoke at the MBA breakfast, my Chief of Staff met with members of the Military Officers of America (MOAA) Richmond Chapter to discuss their legislative priorities for the upcoming session. Two priorities focused on expanding tax relief for surviving military spouses and preventing predatory attorneys from taking advantage of veterans seeking federal benefits.
Later on Thursday, I visited The Mill House located in Henrico County to learn about its community-based rehabilitation programs for individuals living with traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). I had the opportunity to speak with many of Thursday’s program participants who uniformly highlighted how much The Mill House has meant to them. Individuals living with the physical, mental, and emotional results of TBI often feel socially isolated. Because of trauma-causing accidents or catastrophic physical events such as strokes or seizures, the resulting injuries to the brain painfully disrupt their lives, their interactions with family and friends, and their own self-identity. Clubhouses such as The Mill House provide a vital space for social interaction, physical rehabilitation, and an opportunity to regain essential cognitive and motor skills.
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