The site in Wythe County. Courtesy of Wythe County IDA.

RICHMOND – Legislation that would establish a grant program of up to $4.6 million to support the recruitment and training of employees at medical glove manufacturer Blue Star NBR’s new nitrile glove production facility in Wythe County is on a fast track to making it to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk after a Senate panel gave it preliminary approval Tuesday.

House Bill 186, a measure sponsored by Del. Jeff Campbell, R-Smyth County, that would make these grant dollars available through the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program, advanced in the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee by a 15-0 vote just days after its companion piece – Senate Bill 595 by Sen. Todd Pillion, R-Washington County, had passed the Senate by a unanimous vote.  

“This was the easiest 30 seconds I’ve ever spent in the Senate,” Campbell told the committee Tuesday after the body had approved his proposal in under a minute. 

Earlier this month, he had urged the House of Delegates to support the measure because domestic supply of personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic had been “woefully inadequate” in the U.S., and that in recent years, “we’ve been under a very dark cloud of a pandemic of monumental proportions and potentially unseen in modern history.”

The plan by Blue Star Manufacturing and American Glove Innovations (AGI) to invest $714 million in a new production facility in Wythe County – which then-Gov. Ralph Northam last fall touted as the largest manufacturing job announcement in Virginia in the last 30 years – could potentially be a game changer for domestic production of nitrile gloves and the nitrile butadiene rubber needed to make them. The company has vowed to bring nearly 2,500 new jobs to the region in the next few years. 

With approval by the Senate’s main money committee, Campbell’s measure will likely be on the Senate floor later this week. 

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Democrats defeat proposal that required absentee voters to mail in their ballots or deliver them to registrars

The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee by a 8-6 party-line vote effectively killed a measure that would have made it more difficult for absentee voters to cast their ballots. House Bill 34 – sponsored by Del. Ronnie Campbell, R-Rockbridge County – called for a statewide repeal of the many drop-off locations for the return of absentee ballots. The panel approved the motion to pass the bill by definitely without discussion. 

In the two major elections in Virginia in the midst of the pandemic – the 2020 presidential election and the 2021 gubernatorial – a record breaking 4 million Virginians voted absentee. Campbell told a Republican-led House panel earlier this month that local registrars in his district had asked him to file legislation that would remove the drop-off locations from the election process, instead requiring voters to deliver their ballots by mail or directly to a registrar. 

Campbell’s measure passed the House by a 52-47 party-line vote 10 days later, but it was all but certain to fail in the Senate, where Democrats still hold a 21-19 majority and control the committees. 

Campbell’s bill is one of almost two dozen measures aiming to restrict or limit absentee voting that cleared the House before crossover, the session’s midpoint. None of them are expected to make it out of the Senate.   

Markus Schmidt

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at markus@cardinalnews.org.