We have reached the final week of the General Assembly Session. Most of the standing committees have completed their work and the last bills will be before the Senate over the coming days. The largest item to be completed before the end of the week is the budget for the Commonwealth.
The House and Senate budget conference members are working to finalize the last details of the budget. The budget reflects a fiscally conservative approach that focuses on the primary roles and priorities of government. Despite the shortfall in funding that led to the budget needing revisions, state employees will get the pay raise promised to them in the 2016 budget. I am also proud that no cuts were made to k12 public education and the large new investment made in education has remained intact.
Nearly all of my legislation has now passed the House and Senate. I am pleased that our work has been accomplished on measures to create new jobs, diversify the economy, combat the growing opioid abuse crisis, and support for the coal and gas industry. We have been very successful in our efforts to fight for Southwest Virginia.
I also wanted to update you on the progress of the health insurance plan created by my legislation for localities. For decades, local governments and their employees have been fighting to join the state health insurance plan. My Senate Bill 364 from last year gave the Department of Human Resource Management the authority to develop a new health insurance pool for local governments and school divisions.
The newly created plan is modeled after state health insurance and will have the same benefits that state employees currently enjoy. One of the first steps of the process was to gauge interest from localities and see who would want to join. I am thrilled to announce that localities representing nearly 200,000 total local employees stated their interest in joining the health insurance plan. That is more people in the plan than the entire pool for state employees on state health insurance.
The plan to benefit local employees is a top tier insurance plan and will give localities the option to pool their employees together with other localities in order to obtain likely better benefits, reduce insurance costs, and the opportunity to create more stability for the localities and their employees. What that means is that stable plan costs into the future in this uncertain insurance climate.
From the outset, I knew the new health insurance plan would be a huge success, and it has been. It is fiscally conservative and cost effective to allow these localities to buy into the new plan rather than purchase their own smaller health insurance plan. In addition to the same benefits, the plan will have the same cost as the state health insurance based on the preliminary information. The localities of Virginia participating in the new pool will have the same buying and purchasing power as the state.
The next step of the process will be making sure every locality remains in the plan and makes the final decision to buy into the new pool. The plan will likely be ready for a full rollout sometime in 2018-2019.
Thank you for your continued support. It is an honor to represent Southwest Virginia in the General Assembly. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with your questions and comments during session. You can contact my office by phone at 276-889-1044 or by email at email@example.com. Be on the lookout for my weekly General Assembly Session update in your local paper and on my Facebook page.