The State Capitol. Photo by Markus Schmidt.

RICHMOND – The House of Delegates on Wednesday by a 91-8 vote approved a Senate proposal that limits any executive order issued by the governor pursuant to his powers under the Emergency Services and Disaster Law to no more than 45 days. 

State Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County.

State Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, had filed his proposal after then-Gov. Ralph Northam had used his vast emergency powers several times during the COVID-19 pandemic, including a declaration aimed at helping health systems deal with an influx of hospitalizations amid the omicron surge in January. 

If the General Assembly does not take any action on said order within the time period set under Suetterlein’s bill, the measure would prohibit the governor from issuing 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.

Several lawmakers in both chambers had introduced similar proposals for this year’s legislative session, including Sens. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg, and Lynwood Lewis, D-Accomack County, whose bills were rolled into Suetterlein’s measure. 

In the House, Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford County, was among those filing companion bills, although Byron described her measure as “a little bit more lenient” when speaking in favor of Suetterlein’s proposal Wednesday. “It was 30 days and then at 60 days with two-thirds of the group you could come back to the General Assembly, but by 90 days, you had to come back and act on the governor’s orders,” Byron said of her House Bill 158, which the House passed last month, followed by approval from the Senate on Tuesday. Both bills will likely be conformed in conference.

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House approves Pillion’s broadband measure 

The House on Wednesday also unanimously approved a proposal by Sen. Todd Pillion, R-Washington County, that would require local school boards to submit an annual report to the Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development listing each student’s address that does not have broadband service.

State Sen. Todd Pillion, R-Washington County.

Speaking before a Senate panel in January, Pillion had described his Senate Bill 724 as “one more tool in our toolkit that we can utilize to ensure we leverage the investment to its fullest extent and prioritize the opportunities to get our students the internet.” 

Broadband expansion has been a critical issue, especially in the mountainous regions of the Southwest. Just four years ago, 660,000 Virginia homes and businesses were without internet, but Virginia has since closed the digital divide by 90% after former Gov. Ralph Northam made the issue a top priority. His efforts were accelerated by the access to $700 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds that allowed Northam to move his previous 2028 deadline for universal coverage in the commonwealth up by four years.

Pillion’s proposal, which was amended accordingly by the House, would require the VDOE to develop and publish a framework and survey tool for school boards to submit such reports by Sept. 1 and to be updated annually. 

Markus Schmidt

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