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Vocal Virginia Advocacy Update: February 23, 2024

The General Assembly has two weeks remaining, and there has been a great deal of legislative activity, as well as activity surrounding the budget. Thank you for your continued advocacy. Because of your involvement, we are seeing legislative changes that will positively impact peers. The House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee released their budget proposals on Sunday, February 18. You may view the House and Senate budget amendments here. Once each side passes its version of the budget, it will be sent to the other chamber for their review and approval. At this point, there will have to be conferees appointed to a conference committee that will work out the differences between the two budgets for a final proposal that will be voted on by the General Assembly and sent to the Governor’s Office.


Vocal Virginia continues to support the proposed general fund allocation of $ 3,433,525 in FY2025 and $3,302,053 in FY2026 to establish and operate two new peer wellness stay programs and to support the continued operation of the peer wellness stay program site operated by the Mt. Rogers Community Service Board. Known nationally as “peer respites,” peer wellness stay programs are peer-run and help provide an alternative to hospitalization for peers experiencing difficulty or finding themselves near crisis. See line “SS” in the Budget Bill Item 297 in the Governor’s proposed budget here.


We also support the proposed budget language to remove administrative barriers and increase access to peer support services. This budget language authorizes the Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) to “adjust caseload limits for peer recovery specialists to align with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) and the Department of Health Professions (DHP) and revised policies to reflect the need to operate within a crisis or emergency room setting. DMAS shall ensure that any provider caseload limit increase does not have any adverse impact on quality of care or program integrity.” See line “VVVV” Item 288 in the Governor’s proposed budget here.


Senator Todd Pillion’s SB626 and Delegate Price’s HB1269 both seek to improve Virginia’s behavioral health workforce by addressing the issue of barrier crimes. Among other things, SB626 places a five-year time frame between when a conviction occurred for certain crimes and when a former offender could be hired by a Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services licensed facility. This bill passed the Senate 33-7 and has reported out of the House Health and Human Services Committee with a substitute 22-0. You may review this legislation here. Delegate Price’s bill, which, among other things, would place a three-year time frame between conviction and employment eligibility, passed the House 96-1 and passed the Senate with a substitute 30-10. You may review the legislation here.


Delegate Vivian Watts’s HB267 makes a mental health crisis an affirmative defense to the offense of assault and battery against a law enforcement officer. Vocal Virginia believes that mental health concerns should not be criminal. We support this legislation and are pleased to report that this bill passed the House 56-42 and is currently pending before the Senate Committee on Courts of Justice. To view the legislation, please click here. Senator Jennifer Boysko’s companion legislation, SB357, passed the Senate 21-19 and the House 49-48. You may review the legislation here.


Vocal Virginia is also advocating for Delegate Marcus Simon’s HB81, which abolishes the common-law crime of suicide. Vocal Virginia believes that this is an important step toward decriminalizing mental health, reducing the burden for families, and reducing stigma. This bill passed the House 62-37 and is currently pending before the Senate Committee on Courts of Justice. You may view the bill here.


For a complete list of bills that Vocal Virginia is tracking, please click here.


Please stay in touch with your Senator and Delegate during these final weeks of session. You may find your representatives by clicking here.

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