The first full week of the 2016 General Assembly session featured committee hearings, the passage of an important piece of legislation related to healthcare premiums, and visitors galore. Although the week was jam-packed and productive, one topic unrelated to the business of the General Assembly dominated the news and the casual conversations around Capitol Square: the weather.\r\nSurprisingly, the strength of the storm caused the General Assembly to do something that it had done only twice before in nearly 40 years: close. But even though the Capitol was closed on Friday, my staff and I remained at our office.\r\nThe work of considering bills began at a brisk pace this week. The General Assembly has already approved one important piece of legislation. House Bill 58 is \u201cemergency\u201d legislation to fix one of the failings of the Affordable Care Act, so that the current small group insurance market will continue to consist of businesses with 1-to-50 employees. Congress acted last year to make this change, but states have to enact it for it to become effective. The move will head off what would have otherwise been massive premium increases imposed upon businesses with 51 to 100 employees.\r\nThe bill passed by unanimous votes in the House and Senate. With few exceptions, bills passed during a General Assembly session go into effect on July 1. But since this bill is \u201cemergency\u201d legislation, it will go to the Governor and, with his signature, go into effect immediately.\r\nSome of my own bills have been assigned to Senate committees for consideration, and I began presenting them this week. The reform of rural healthcare is an important issue for our area, and I continue to propose legislation in Richmond that will ensure quality healthcare for the people of our region. Some of the legislation that I have written and have proposed relating to this issue are as follows:\r\n\u2022 SB 19 Telemedicine Pilot Program: This bill establishes a tele-medicine\/tele-mental health pilot program for rural areas that will allow quality healthcare professionals to diagnose, treat and manage the healthcare needs of people in rural areas such as ours, at the patient\u2019s home using tele-communications that will improve healthcare outcomes for the patients more effectively, efficiently and at lower costs to both the patient and the healthcare provider. (Passed committee 12-3).\r\n\u2022 SB 20 Patient Medical Home Advisory Council: Establishes the Patient-Centered Medical Home Advisory Council as an advisory council in the executive branch. The bill requires the Council to advise and make recommendations to the Department of Medical Assistance Services on reforms to the Commonwealth\u2019s program of medical assistance that would increase the quality of care while containing costs through a patient-centered medical home system.\r\nThis bill defines a patient-centered medical home as a team approach to providing health care that (i) originates in a primary care setting; (ii) fosters a partnership among the patient, the personal provider and other health care professionals, and, where appropriate, the patient\u2019s family; (iii) utilizes the partnership to access all medical and nonmedical health-related services needed by the patient to achieve maximum health potential; and (iv) maintains a centralized, comprehensive record of all health-related services to promote continuity of care.\r\n\u2022 SB 369 Rural Area Nurse Practitioners: My bill would authorize a nurse practitioner to practice without the requirement of sponsorship by a patient care team physician as part of a patient care team or a written or electronic practice agreement between the nurse practitioner and a physician in any clinic that is located in a medically underserved area of the state or an area of the state that has an unemployment rate of one and one-half times the statewide average unemployment rate. This will allow patients in areas such as ours to receive quality basic primary care from highly-skilled nurse practitioners at low cost for the service.\r\n\u2022 SB 452 Medical School Rotations in Rural and Underserved\/Privileged areas: This bill requires any public institution of higher education that awards medical degrees to require its medical students to participate in at least one clinical rotation in a hospital or clinic located in a medically underserved area of the state as determined by the Virginia Department of Health, in an area of the state that has an unemployment rate of one and one-half times the statewide average unemployment rate, or in a locality with a population of 50,000 or less in the Commonwealth.\r\nThis will allow hospitals in our area to recruit highly qualified young doctors to our area that would otherwise set up their practice in Northern Virginia or Hampton Roads by having them experience the quality of life that we have here in Southside and Southwest Virginia.\r\n\u2022 SB 627 Direct Primary Care Agreements: This bill will permit healthcare providers to enter into a direct primary care agreement with their patients, under which the health care provider and the individual patient agree to a pre-determined flat fee for providing primary care to the patient, which shall not be subject to government regulation or interference. This bill will keep the quality of primary care high, with lower costs to the patient for such services.\r\nI am also pleased to report that my bill SB 197, the Interstate 73 Corridor Development Fund and Program that will go to funding the construction of I-73 passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee this week by a vote of 11-1; it will be considered for passage by the full Senate next week.\r\nf you are visiting Virginia\u2019s historic Capitol between now and March 12, please remember to stop by our offices in Room 313 of the General Assembly Building. If you\u2019d like me to know your thoughts on issues under consideration by this year\u2019s General Assembly, send an e-mail to District20@senate.virginia.gov or a letter to Senate of Virginia, PO Box 396, Richmond VA 23218-0396. You can also call (804) 698-7520.\r\nI hope you stayed safe and warm during Virginia\u2019s first snow of 2016. I\u2019ll be back next week with another dispatch of the comings and goings at Virginia\u2019s Capitol. Until then, have a great week, enjoy the snow as much as possible, and please stay safe.