Culpeper Star-Exponent: Lawmaker succeeds on broadband, drug prices, veterans’ aid and distillers’ tax relief

CULPEPER STAR-EXPONENT, CLINT SCHEMMER

In one fell swoop, Abigail Spanberger achieved four of her top legislative priorities this week.

The Virginia Democrat’s proposals to expand broadband internet access, cut prescription drug prices, support military veterans and help small breweries and distilleries from paying higher taxes all became law.

They were part of the bipartisan fiscal 2021 funding deal and emergency COVID-19 relief package that President Trump signed Monday night. Virginia’s 7th District Representative—which covers Culpeper, Orange and Spotsylvania counties—fought to get them included in the year-end omnibus package.

Her provisions aim to fix the financial-aid process for veterans and their families, provide more money for broadband projects via the Agriculture Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Program, and increase people’s access to generic drugs, the congresswoman’s office said in a statement.

The government funding deal also provides permanent tax relief for Central Virginia craft breweries and distilleries, a concern that Spanberger heard from distillers earlier this year. Otherwise, craft distillers would have faced a 400 percent tax hike in 2021, hindering their recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

“As our communities look to rebuild and recover from the ongoing crisis, the federal government must make smart investments and reforms that allow families and businesses to succeed long into the future,” Spanberger said. “While I fundamentally disagree with the procrastination and repeated shutdown threats that characterized this recent funding process, I am relieved to see an agreement cross the finish line as we prepare for a new Congress and a new administration.”

“I was proud to support this agreement—combined with COVID-19 relief, as it is a necessary component of maintaining government operations, funding critical services, and keeping millions of Americans employed,” said the Central Virginia lawmaker, who represents Virginia’s 7th Congressional District. “Nothing could be more critical in a moment of nationwide crisis.”

Gareth Moore, president of the Virginia Distillers Association, thanked Spanberger and her colleagues for their support. He called the tax issue the single greatest threat to his industry.

“Imposing the same federal tax load on small businesses as multinational corporations was counterintuitive to growing our industry here in Virginia, which is predominantly craft in scale, Moore said. “… Now that relief is permanent, we can focus on investing capital in our businesses, our employees, the commonwealth–and growing the spirits industry as a signature industry for Virginia.”

Midlothian resident Annette Ruzicka, wife of an Army veteran, expressed appreciation to Spanberger for rectifying an injustice troubling veterans and their families.

Ruzicka said disability payments to her retired husband, Matthew, for service-connected injuries were cut dramatically, which reduced financial aid to their children in college. She was surprised to learn Matthew’s benefits were considered income in calculating their children’s financial aid.

Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, valued the legislator’s work to connect rural Americans without access to high-speed internet.

“The USAID Cooperative Development Program is critical to connecting people around the world to affordable, reliable electricity,” Matheson said. “We are grateful for Representative Spanberger’s commitment to the health of rural communities, domestically and abroad.”

Spanberger serves on the House Agriculture and Foreign Affairs committees.

Christine Simmon, executive director of the Biosimilars Council, a division of the Association for Accessible Medicines, said Spanberger’s legislation is a good step toward helping generic drugmakers surmount the patent barriers made by brand-name drug companies.

Less costly alternatives to a whole class of complex drugs, biosimilars are at least a third cheaper than brand-name biologic drugs, on average. The officially approved versions of innovators’ products can be manufactured when the original product’s patent expires.

By boosting patent transparency for prescription drugs, Spanberger’s law will stimulate competition between biosimilars and more established medicines, her office said. Those provisions should speed biosimilar treatments to patients and lower drug prices for consumers.

The fiscal 2021 deal includes $635 million for the USDA ReConnect Program, which joins with businesses and local officials to build high-speed internet and increase connectivity in the nation’s rural and underserved communities.

In February 2020, Spanberger announced $28 million in ReConnect funding for broadband internet infrastructure in Central Virginia, including Orange, Louisa, Goochland and Powhatan counties. Last year, she protected the program from elimination.

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