Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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March 3, 2014

Va. General Assembly entering final week of 2014 session with work to do

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Virginia General Assembly enters the final week of its 60-day session today with questions lingering in the air about the state’s biennial budget.

“My sense of it is that we’ll go sine die on March 8th, without a budget in place,” State Senator Phillip P. Puckett, D-Russell, said. “I think the governor will give the Senate and House conferees time to work on the budget before calling us all back in to vote on it.”

Puckett said that a bipartisan group of Senators passed a budget last week. “I worked hard to make it reflect my priorities of creating jobs, protecting our coal industry and fully funding schools,” Puckett said during a telephone interview on Friday from his office in Richmond.

Puckett said that the budget that the Senate passed includes a plan called “Marketplace Virginia” that would keep $7 billion tax dollars in Virginia over the next five years in order to provide private, and not public, health insurance for approximately 400,000 Virginians.

“It would be tragic if we don’t take action on this plan,” Puckett said. “Chambers of commerce from throughout the state are supporting a plan that uses a private option.” He added that local hospitals that are already hard hit economically because the state doesn’t have a way to replace the loss of federal funds.

Puckett said that the Commonwealth Institute estimates that more than 20,000 people in the 38th Senate District would be eligible for health insurance through Marketplace Virginia. However, he added that the House doesn’t appear to share the Senate’s thinking on the concept of private health insurance.

“This is the first time that I can remember the chambers supporting something that the Republicans don’t support,” Puckett said.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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