Hampton University's four-year effort to tweak Virginia's insurance laws and boost its proton therapy program finally met with some success Thursday.
The program's bill, forbidding insurance companies from holding proton therapy to a different standard than other cancer treatments, cleared committee 16-4. The measure, carried by Del. David Yancey, has died in this committee three previous years running.
House Bill 1656 specifically says it's not a mandate on companies to cover proton therapy, simply that they cannot hold it "to a higher standard of clinical evidence" when they decide whether policies will cover treatment.
Insurance industry lobbyist Doug Gray said that's consistent with current practice. He said companies rely on scientific studies and national norms to make coverage decisions and that insurers cover proton therapy for some cancers and not for others, based on clinical results.
The bill, he said, "doesn't do much." The industry opposed the bill, though, and proton therapy supporters were pleased with Thursday's movement.
"We wouldn't have brought it if it wasn't needed," said Gretchen Heal, Yancey's legislative assistant.
Yancey, R-Newport News, dubbed himself "ecstatic." Hampton University lobbyist Bill Thomas said insurers have discriminated against proton therapy, declining to cover it as they do traditional radiation and chemotherapy. Janet Weymouth-German, whose breast cancer was treated with the therapy, testified in favor of the bill.
"I truly believe that proton therapy saved my life," she said.
Yancey said he expects "a healthy debate" on the bill as it moves, for the first time, to the House floor.
Birth control supply
Legislation requiring insurance companies to cover a full year's supply of birth control won unanimous support Thursday from a key House committee.
House Bill 2267 moves on to the House floor. It has been a priority for some time for advocates who argue that women who lack reliable transportation or work multiple jobs shouldn't be forced to visit a pharmacy every 30 or 90 days.
The new mandate wouldn't take effect until 2018. The bill is sponsored by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Springfield.
A watered-down resolution laying out the ill effects of pornography passed the House of Delegates Thursday.
Once a formal resolution declaring that "pornography is creating a public health crisis," House Resolution 549 has become a formal resolution stating that delegates "recognize pornography as leading to individual and societal harms."
It was carried by Del. Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, a crusading member of the House who frequently targets social issues with his legislation. The measure passed 82-8 with only Democrats voting against. Nine delegates didn't vote on the measure. The resolution states that pornography "perpetuates a sexually toxic environment," "may contribute to the hypersexualization of teenagers," "may normalize violence and abuse" and, because of the internet, is readily available to young children.
"This early exposure can lead to low self-esteem and body image disorders, an increase in problematic sexual activity at younger ages, and an increased desire among adolescents to engage in risky sexual behavior," the resolution states.
Public comment bill
Legislation that would generally require local government and other public bodies to include public comment periods in their meetings went down in committee Thursday.
House Bill 2223 had exceptions for work sessions and obscure appointed commissions. It also had an out for floor sessions of the Virginia House and Senate.
It was tabled, though, by the House Committee on General Laws, which will forward the bill to the state's Freedom of Information Council for more study. The council has already reviewed this idea within the last year.
Legislation that would make it easier for Dominion Power to bury transmission lines and recoup the costs from ratepayers cleared the state Senate with ease Thursday.
Senate Bill 1473 follows a decision from regulators at the State Corporation Commission two years ago not to approve a large burying project. The SCC last year agreed to a smaller one. Dominion has said it hopes to save money in the long run by burying lines that go down frequently in storms. The bill from state Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Springfield, makes SCC approval of future projects more likely but doesn't guarantee it.
It passed 37-3 and heads to the House.
Legislation that would allow more people to seek writs of actual innocence when DNA evidence clears them of a crime passed the state Senate Thursday.
Senate Bill 1066 is a priority for Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Current law allows only people who initially plead innocent to apply for the writ. This bill would let people petition for the writ regardless of their plea.
It also lowers the bar they must clear to win a writ, going from "clear and convincing" evidence to "a pre-ponderence of evidence."
It passed 24-16 and moves to the House.
A complete rewrite of an industry-backed municipal broadband bill that rural governments, in particular, have pushed back hard against this session cleared committee Thursday on a close vote.
House Bill 2108 was once a complex piece of legislation geared toward limiting localities that offer their own internet services on an argument that they shouldn't use taxpayer money to compete with the private sector. The bill is now two pages that would require municipal providers to open their books and share information "concerning the fixing and revision of rates, fees and charges."
Local government advocates remain opposed, saying the bill would strip away proprietary information protections currently embedded in the state's Freedom of Information Act, making public-private partnerships with the industry difficult. Sponsoring Del. Kathy Byron, R-Forest, said the bill will protect taxpayers whose money is on the line when municipal broadband operations go bust.
The bill passed the House Commerce and Labor Committee 11-9, and it heads now to the House floor. Locally, Del. David Yancey, R-Newport News, voted for the bill. Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, voted against.
Fain can be reached by phone at 757-525-1759.