The government is the steward of taxpayers’ money. All too often, government at every level does not innovate or manage its programs in a cost-conscious way that minimizes taxpayer burdens. Here are four simple ways I have identified that we can save taxpayer resources through innovation.
• Electronic Court Filing – Filing Pleadings Via Internet Instead of With Paper.
• E-Summons Program – Producing Traffic Tickets with Mobile Computers Instead of Paper.
• Support Seniors At Home – Support Senior Living At Home Versus Nursing Homes.
• Rethinking Virginia’s Medians – Plant Medians with Alternatives to Grass.
Electronic Court Filing
Problem: When people have to go to Virginia courts, they currently must file paper pleadings. Virtually all of these “filings” are done on paper which requires significant personnel to create, transport and process the forms.
Solution: With the advent of standardized file viewing formats (.pdf) and the internet, many court systems have switched to the electronic filing of documents. Electronic filing saves time, money, energy and paper, given that all of the steps associated with creating and filing the pleading are eliminated – printing, signing, reproducing, transporting the document to the courthouse and back, and having an employee move the document through the court system and log it into the court docketing system. Filing the documents electronically is much more efficient, saves countless hours and reduces people required at the courthouse.
The United States District Courts began pilot programs in electronic court filing in 2002. Today, all federal courts in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area use electronic filing, and many local courts outside Virginia do as well. Northern Virginia’s courts are the busiest and have the heaviest caseload in the state. Electronic filing could bring more staffing efficiencies that would save taxpayers, attorneys and litigants significant expense.
Problem: The Fairfax County General District Court processed 264,099 traffic tickets and 28,519 criminal cases in fiscal year 2008. Currently, every ticket is hand-delivered to the courthouse and manually entered by a clerk who records the name, address, biographical information, officer information and charge information (date/time/law allegedly violated).
If one assumes that it takes three minutes for a person to enter each ticket, that translates to the following:
3 Minutes X 292,618 Summonses ÷ 60 minutes = 14,630 Total Hours of Data Entry
14,630 Total Hours ÷ 2000 Hours = 7.31 Deputy Clerks
In other words, continuing to file summonses on paper amounts to 7.31 clerks doing nothing but data entry without breaks for 50 weeks per year (a very conservative assumption). This process takes place all across all of Virginia’s 120+ local jurisdictions. Plus, none of this accounts for the lost time associated with paperwork errors.
Solution: Police officers can spend more time enforcing our laws by entering summons information from a computer in their cruisers. Many jurisdictions outside of Virginia have implemented e-summons systems under which officers enter an accused person’s information into a computer. The information is automatically uploaded to the court’s central server.
The Fairfax County General District Court has an e-summons pilot program ready to implement. This program would reduce staffing burdens, transcription or data entry errors and unnecessary continuances and put Fairfax County’s 1,400 officers and our local state troopers on the streets enforcing our laws instead of making deliveries to the courthouse. The only thing preventing us from implementing this approach is funding.
Helping Seniors Stay in their Homes
Problem: Mount Vernon has one of the largest concentrations of seniors in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. As our population ages in the other parts of Fairfax County that were built out later than Mount Vernon, demand for senior services will grow. We should start planning today and promoting quality home health care.
Most seniors would like to age in place and live independently in their homes with dignity. Studies have repeatedly shown that there are cost savings to taxpayers approaching 40 percent when people are cared for in their homes instead of moving to a residential facility like a nursing home. Nursing homes can cost up to $70,000 per year. Private insurance and Medicare provide minimal coverage of long-term care and people all too often must “spend down” and deplete their savings to get help paying for nursing home care. Medicaid, a state-federal insurance program, pays for 43 percent of all nursing home care in the U.S.
Solution: Government should support community-based programs that enable seniors to stay in their homes and live independently. One new organization, Mount Vernon At Home, is designed to help seniors stay in our community. It is exactly the kind of community-based program that state government should promote with grants and other incentives.
We must also strengthen home health care in Virginia. The Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation licenses and regulates over 30 professions in the state–electricians, appraisers, contractors, cosmetologists, nail technicians and auctioneers, for example. The licensing budgets are entirely covered by applicant licensing fees. The Department of Health Professions regulates health care workers who work in institutional settings, such as hospitals. No one regulates workers who provide personal care in the home.
There are and have historically been critical shortages of home health and personal care workers in Northern Virginia. They typically work as independent contractors without benefits and are paid low wages and the field frequently attracts minimally-skilled people.
Virginia should establish minimum standards for personal care workers who work in the home, create a licensing program and create benefit pools for workers to obtain reasonably priced benefits such as health insurance. Creating these licensing and benefits programs is not costly. Virginia should also boost Medicaid reimbursement rates so that these workers can earn a decent wage and be rewarded for their hard work. These steps can improve the quality of care , improve their quality of life, provide a stable workforce, and ultimately save taxpayers money as more people can live at home for as long as possible.
Rethinking Highway Medians
Problem: The Commonwealth of Virginia plants nearly all of its highway medians with grass. Grass medians require frequent mowing so that sight lines remain clear and vehicle safety can be maintained. Some locations are mowed as much as eight times per year.
Solution: The Virginia Department of Transportation must explore planting our medians with native species that require less maintenance. In 1976, Virginia implemented its Wildflower Program at the behest of Lady Byrd Johnson partly as an effort to reduce mowing expenses. Maryland is is looking at planting more wildflowers, trees and meadows in an effort to reduce mowing expenses. Colorado, Delaware, Nebraska, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Washington are also exploring this as well. There is no reason Virginia cannot lead.