RICHMOND – As lawmakers descend on Richmond today for the start of the 2022 General Assembly session, they will find a state Capitol that might look and feel quite different from the last two years when Democrats reigned supreme with a Democratic governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, plus majorities in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate.
Despite the recent omicron spike, Speaker designee Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, last week announced new mitigation protocols for the 100-member House of Delegates that rolled back many of the restrictions in place since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Masks and vaccinations are now merely encouraged, but not required.
More challenging for Democrats will be the change of political dynamics in the legislature after Republicans in a statewide sweep in November regained control of the House and of all three statewide offices (Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin, Lt. Gov.-elect Winsome Sears and Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares will be sworn in on Saturday). While it is unlikely that GOP legislators will attempt to overturn some of the Democrats’ major policy wins – including the repeal of the death penalty and the legilization of marijuana – legislation has been filed that would weaken or hollow out some of those victories.
Below, we have compiled a list of proposals drafted by lawmakers from Southwest and Southside Virginia relating to issues with statewide implications and others that are unique to our coverage area.
Bills with statewide implications
House Bill 90, sponsored by Del. Joe McNamara, R-Roanoke County, would eliminate the 2.5% tax on groceries and essential personal hygiene products, such as diapers and bed sheets. Outgoing Gov. Ralph Northam in his final budget also proposed slashing the tax, but his suggestion retains the 1% grocery tax rate that benefits local governments. McNamara’s bill would do away with the entire tax rate, of which 1% currently goes to the state to fund local schools. To make up for the latter, he proposes using the state’s general fund to pay for local school construction, among other propositions.
State Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, filed legislation that would increase the standard deduction for taxable years 2022 through 2025 from $4,500 to $9,000 for single filers and from $9,000 to $18,000 for married filers (one-half of such amount in the case of a married individual filing a separate return). Under Senate Bill 11, the standard deduction will decrease to $3,000 for single filers and to $6,000 for married filers starting in 2026.
Suetterlein also sponsored a measure (SB 12) that would allow localities to return surplus personal property tax revenues to taxpayers. Under current law, localities may return only surplus from real property tax collections.
K-12 education and school construction
A measure introduced by state Sen. Steve Newman, R-Bedford County, would require the governor in any year in which there is a budget surplus to set aside 5% of such surplus to fund the operational costs of local school divisions. Senate Bill 117 also provides for an equivalent decrease in the amount of operational costs funded by the Lottery Proceeds Fund and an equivalent increase in the amount of money in the fund restricted exclusively for local school divisions’ capital construction and renovation costs.
House Bill 63, sponsored by Del. Jim Edmunds, R-Halifax County, would add Prince Edward County to the list of localities that, under current law, are authorized to impose an additional local sales tax at a rate not to exceed 1%, with the revenue used only for capital projects for the construction or renovation of schools.
Governor’s emergency powers
Since the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred a number of statewide crises, outgoing Gov. Ralph Northam has not hesitated to use his vast emergency powers. As recently as Monday, Northam declared a limited state of emergency aimed at helping health systems deal with an influx of hospitalizations amid the omicron surge. That’s why Suetterlein, the state Senator from Roanoke County, once again filed legislation seeking to limit any executive order issued by the governor pursuant to his powers under the Emergency Services and Disaster Law to no more than 45 days. If the General Assembly does not take any action on said order within this time period, under Senate Bill 4 the governor must not issue the same order relating to the same emergency at a later time. Under current law, once issued, such executive orders are effective until June 30 following the next regular session of the General Assembly.
Other lawmakers filed similar legislation, including Senate Bill 166, introduced by state Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg; House Bill 158, sponsored by Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford County, and House Bill 151, carried by incoming Del. Marie March, R-Floyd County. The latter proposal also prohibits an emergency executive order from establishing any moratoriums on the payment of rent to landlords in the commonwealth unless pursuant to a confirmed order of quarantine or isolation.
HB 176 (Del. Marshall)
A proposal sponsored by Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, seeks to address concern by some Republicans last year with the Democrats’ new marijuana law that allows social equity licenses to be issued primarily to Black Americans who have been disproportionately targeted in marijuana arrests over the course of decades and who are seeking to legally sell small amounts of cannabis. House Bill 176 would require the Board of Directors of the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority to expand the definition of social equity applicant to include any applicant who has lived for at least one year in a jurisdiction determined by the board to be economically distressed – which would cover large portions of Southwest and Southside Virginia. Marshall’s bill would also allow industrial hemp processors to apply for a license allowing cultivation, manufacture, and retail sale of marijuana and marijuana products statewide upon payment of a $1 million fee to the board.
Virginia already requires voters to present identification while voting. Currently acceptable forms of ID include Virginia driver’s licenses, U.S. passports and student IDs, but also copies of utility bills or bank statements, which bear the voter’s address, but no photo. House Bill 24, sponsored by Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, would expand the state’s current voter ID requirement to include photo identification. The bill also repeals the provisions of law currently permitting a voter who does not have one of the required forms of identification to vote after signing a statement that he is the named registered voter he claims to be. Instead, the bill only allows such voters to cast a provisional ballot.
A measure by Del. Ronnie Campbell, R-Rockbridge County, would require registered voters to provide a reason for being absent or unable to vote in person on election day in order to receive an absentee ballot to vote by mail. House Bill 35 also repeals the permanent absentee voter list and limits the special annual application to those voters with an illness or disability.
Senate Bill 162, sponsored by state Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg, would require general registrars to verify on a voter registration application that the name, date of birth and Social Security number by an applicant match the information on file in the Social Security Administration database or other database approved by the State Board of Elections.
Peake also filed a measure seeking to repeal a provision that would permit anyone qualified to register to vote up to and including the day of the election, notwithstanding any deadline for the close of registration records. Only active duty members of a uniformed service, anyone residing temporarily outside of the United States, and the spouse or dependent residing with one of the above would be exempt under Senate Bill 167.
Senate Bill 66, sponsored by state Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County and aimed at preventing political toying with special elections in the state legislature, would require certain vacancies in the House of Delegates or the state Senate to be filled within 30 days of a member’s departure or death. Under current law, only the governor can set a special election to fill a vacancy in either legislative body, unless the General Assembly is already in session.
With mask, vaccination and testing mandates being weighed or implemented by many Virginia localities and businesses, a proposal by Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, declares that “each adult has a fundamental right to be free from medical mandates” by the commonwealth or any locality, private employer, healthcare entity or provider, or provider of public accommodations. House Bill 22 also provides for exceptions, such as protocols in health care facilities and food handling operations and valid orders of quarantine or isolation.
The new minimum wage in Virginia increased to $11 this month, up from $9.50 per hour, and is set to gradually increase each year, until it reaches $15 starting Jan. 1 2026. But Senate Bill 173, sponsored by Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg, would cancel those gradual increases, leaving Virginia’s minimum wage at its current rate.
Hunting might soon be permitted on Sundays, if a proposal by Del. Jim Edmunds, R-Halifax County, makes it to the governor’s desk. Under current law, the killing of any wild animal with a gun, firearm, or other weapon, or to hunt or kill any deer or bear with a gun or assistance of dogs is prohibited on Sundays, unless it’s on private property and with the permission of the landowner. House Bill 64 would allow for public Sunday-hunting, but only in wildlife management areas owned by the Department of Wildlife Resources.
Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, wants to invalidate a Virginia law that makes bringing a firearm to church or any other place of worship a Class 4 misdemeanor. House Bill 23 would repeal the prohibition on “the carrying of dangerous weapons in a place of worship without good and sufficient reason” while a meeting for religious purposes is being held at such place.
Bills with implications unique to Southwest and Southside
Virginia Museum of Transportation
Senate Bill 72, sponsored by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, would convert the Virginia Museum of Transportation, which is housed in the nearly 104-year-old, brick-walled former N&W freight station in downtown Roanoke, from a non-profit to a state agency, which would make it eligible to receive state funds. Under the bill, the museum would be governed by a 15-member board of trustees. Edwards is also filing a separate budget amendment that would appropriate $2 million annually to the museum.
Legislation filed by state Sen. Travis Hackworth, R-Tazewell County, for the first time would define waste coal – a byproduct of previous coal processing operations – as a source of renewable energy. Senate Bill 120 also would grant an exemption for the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center, a plant in Wise County that burns gob coal along with regular coal and biomass, to remain open past the end of 2045, when it is due to cease operations under the Clean Economy Act signed by Gov. Ralph Northam in 2020.
House Bill 49, sponsored by Del. Matthew Fariss, R-Campbell County, would designate an additional 44-mile portion of the James River running through Nelson, Appomattox, and Cumberland counties as a part of the Virginia Scenic Rivers System. A similar bill (HB28) filed by Del. Ronnie R. Campbell, R-Rockbridge County, seeks to extend a portion of the Maury River, which was previously designated as a scenic river, by an additional 23 miles.
Spurred by the devastation caused by the devastating flood in Hurley in August, Del. Will Morefield, R-Tazewell County, has filed legislation that would establish a Flood Relief Fund using money from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program that over the past year has brought more than $227 million to Virginia. Under House Bill 5, claims would be paid at 175% of property value in a double distressed locality, 150% of property value in a distressed locality, and 100% in all other localities.
Catawba Hospital study
Located in the western part of Roanoke County, Catawba Hospital specializes in serving adults who need mental health care. Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, wants to expand the hospital’s role in the community. His House Bill 105 would direct the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to study the feasibility of transforming Catawba Hospital into a state-of-the art campus that would offer substance abuse treatment and addiction recovery in addition to its current mental health services.
Nitrile Glove training program
Back in October, Gov. Ralph Northam touted the medical glove manufacturer Nitrile Glove’s plan to invest $714 million in a new production facility in Wythe County as the largest manufacturing job announcement in Virginia in the last 30 years – the company wants to bring nearly 2,500 jobs to the region in the next few years. To support these efforts, Del. Jeff Campbell, R-Smyth County, introduced House Bill 186 that would establish a grant program of up to $4.6 million for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, through the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program, to support the recruitment and training needs of nitrile glove manufacturing companies located in the Mount Rogers Planning District.
Daylight Savings Time study
Del. Joe McNamara, R-Roanoke County, wants the state to study the effects of daylight savings time on the commonwealth. House Joint Resolution 6 would request the Secretary of Commerce and Trade to look into the impact of Virginia’s continued observance of Daylight Savings Time under the federal Uniform Time Act of 1966 and the potential consequences of a decision to use either Standard Time or Daylight Savings Time year-round.
School bus decals
Newly elected Del. Marie March, R-Floyd County, sponsored House Bill 113, which would allow school divisions to display decals with the phrases “In God We Trust” and “One Nation Under God” on the sides and rear of public school buses. In a recent podcast, March said that the measure would expose communists among Democratic lawmakers inclined to vote against it. “If there are communists in the House of Delegates, let’s figure out who they are,” she said.
Del. March also wants to address the shortage of volunteer firefighters and other emergency medical services personnel by rewarding them with special lifetime hunting and fishing licenses. Under House Bill 114, volunteers who have completed three consecutive years of service qualify to receive the incentive.