In Session: Virginia Assembly Briefs

No More Psych Beds

Robert Johnson of Woodbridge understands the mental health crisis from a personal perspective. Back in 2011, he was struggling with a serious bout of depression and ended up handcuffed to an emergency room bed for nine hours. That’s because no psychiatric beds were available in Prince William County. So he had to wait for one to be available in Fairfax.

“Think of a horse-drawn carriage, and the nearest hospital is 20 miles away and you’re riding over speed bumps. That’s what I’m going through emotionally. That’s the kind of pain that I’m feeling handcuffed to that bed.”

Johnson presented his story to lawmakers last week and asked them to support a bill introduced by Republican Del. Peter Farrell (R-56). But lobbyists for hospitals opposed the bill because they don’t want lawmakers to change laws requiring hospitals to have certificates of public need, known as COPN. Farrell says he’s frustrated people in need won’t get help because hospitals are concerned about their bottom line.

“I don’t think it has anything to do with psych beds. I don’t think they want anything at all having to do with COPN reform period,” said Farrell. "I don’t think they want anything to go anywhere because they don’t want things to change. They enjoy having their cake and eating it too.”

One silver lining, Farrell says, is that the issue will go to the Deeds Commission, which was set up after Democratic Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-25) was attacked by his son because a psychiatric bed was not available.

Ethics Reform or New Loopholes?

Should lawmakers be allowed to receive unlimited steak dinners from lobbyists at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse if they are at a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures? What about a three-martini lunch paid for by coal executives at a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council? All of that would be legal under ethics reform adopted by lawmakers this year.

“The bill says that any meal provided for attendance at such a meeting is not reportable,” said state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30), the only senator to vote against the ethics package. "I don’t see why we need more loopholes.”

Some say that lawmakers are standing up for ethics reform, literally. One provision in the ethics package would allow lawmakers to receive unlimited and unrepeatable food — if it’s eaten standing up. That’s a provision pushed by Del. Todd Gilbert (R-15), who recounted a personal experience to justify the legislation. A few years ago, he said, he went to a lavish reception where he ate some finger food and drank some soda. Several months later, he got notification that the event was valued at several hundred dollars.

“This just is trying to clean up that whole process so that people don’t get caught in unwary traps while they are standing around eating finger food and having a glass of cola or something.”

The bill also allows the state to redact the home addresses of General Assembly members.