The 2017 General Assembly Session has officially adjourned Sine Die, concluding our legislative session. Over the next few weeks Governor McAuliffe and his staff will review the legislation passed and approve, veto, or amend the bills. Included this year are eight bills that I passed.
The most significant bill I had passed this year was SB1027, legislation to allow for the growing, processing, and dispensing of Medical Marijuana Oils. Three years ago, I met with Fairfax County residents who had members of their family who suffered from intractable epilepsy. Intractable epilepsy is a neurological disorder that produces serious, debilitating, and many times life threatening seizures. Many people, especially children, can suffer from hundreds of seizures a day. The severity of this ailment can’t be downplayed. These families have spent countless hours in emergency rooms trying to stabilize their loved ones and many hours seeking better treatment. The FDA approved drugs come with some of the worst imaginable side effects.
But these families, like thousands across the nation, had found a medication that helped and no side effects. CBD and THC-A Oils are non-hallucinogenic oils derived from marijuana plants. These families saw drastic reductions in seizures and emergency room visits. We are not only helping people with this legislation, but will save hundreds of thousands of dollars by not having patients rely on expensive FDA approved drugs paid for by Medicaid.
In 2015 we passed a law that made it possible for these families to possess this medication without fear of criminal prosecution. However, we did not provide them with a way to legally procure the medication. SB1027 created Board of Pharmacy regulations that allow for the lawful growing, manufacturing, and dispensing of this medication to qualified patients. The oils will be available sometime in 2018 and I am optimistic that other disorders will be added to the list of qualifying illnesses such as Crohn’s Disease, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, ALS, and perhaps others.
Another bill, SB1467, will allow election officers to start counting overseas ballots early on Election Day. Currently registrars cannot start counting these ballots until after the polls close and because of their format they must be counted by hand. In Fairfax County it takes 80 people over six hours to count these ballots, delaying the final vote tally. If you ever wondered why Fairfax County is one of the last localities to report their election results, look no further than this culprit. SB1467 will allow the elections board to begin counting these ballots at 3 p.m. on Election Day.
Two hot button issues during our general assembly session included mental health reforms and our continued battle with the Commonwealth’s opioid problem. I passed SB1031 that would allow access by laboratory staff to Naloxone, a pharmaceutical that helps save lives when someone overdoses on an opioid. This was an important safety measure as our state labs perform dangerous yet important tests and studies on opioids. In Virginia, more than 1,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016. I joined Senator Louise Lucas in passing SB 895/SB935, in response to the tragic deaths of folks who were being held in our jails instead of receiving the mental health treatment they needed. This legislation streamlines the process to allow an inmate to receive mental health treatment in a hospital while awaiting trial.
My final four pieces of legislation on the Governor’s desk include SB812, an important consumer protection bill that would require home inspectors to report the presence of yellow shaded corrugated steel tubing that can cause a fire when the building that contains it is struck by lightning; SB 840, extends the life of the Commission on Civic Education; SB873, authorizes a fire chief to ban or restrict privately owned drones at the scene of fires, accidents, etc.; and SB1488, which I co-sponsored with Senator Scott Surovell that would require a judge to seek reimbursement of fees from a family when a Guardian ad litem has been appointed for a child, an exemption is available for families who are unable to pay.
As you can see it was a busy legislative session. I look forward to the Governor signing these bills and seeing the positive impact they will have on our community and Commonwealth.