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Senators pass bill splitting DHHR into two agencies

The state Senate passed a bill that would divide the enormous Department of Health and Human Resources into two separate agencies.

In doing so, senators backed off a version of the bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee and went back to an earlier version.

Senators passed the bill 32-2. There was no discussion. Previously, lawmakers in support of the move have expressed concern about DHHR’s handling of the state’s most pervasive problems and suggested dividing the agency would provide more accountability.

As passed originally by the House of Delegates, House Bill 4020 would split the big agency into the Department of Health and the Department of Human Resources. Each would have a co-equal cabinet secretary.

Earlier this week, the Senate Finance Committee changed that to a cabinet secretary over administrative functions, a deputy secretary over health and a deputy secretary over human resources.

That drew a reaction of confusion by the current cabinet secretary for DHHR, Bill Crouch.

“I’m having a hard time kind of figuring out what an organizational chart would look like,” Crouch told senators earlier this week. “It is totally unique from the standpoint of having a secretary who is not the secretary.”

Today, Senate Finance Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, said the bill should return to the earlier version that passed the House. “I ask unanimous consent to withdraw the amendment,” he said, referring to the Senate Finance version.

Tarr then expressed support for dividing the agency into the Department of Health and the Department of Human Resources, with co-equal leadership.

The changes would take effect July 1, 2023.

Crouch testified in a couple of committees about the split, saying that it could be managerially and financially complicated.

Making reference to the agency’s overall annual budget, Crouch told members of the House Finance Committee, “The idea that you can take a $7.5 billion department and split it into two and just keep everything the same underneath it, I just don’t think that’s logical.”

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