RICHMOND – When the General Assembly adjourned Saturday, they did so without finalizing the state’s biennial budget. But while about 50 bills still linger in conference – waiting for lawmakers to return once Gov. Glenn Youngkin calls for a special session sometime in the next few months, House GOP leadership blamed Democrats for leaving behind some unfinished business.
“Unfortunately, the Democrats who run the Senate decided to put their own partisan angst ahead of Virginia’s common good and not just block many common-sense bills, but also leave Richmond before the work was done,” House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah County, said in a statement. “When Governor Youngkin calls us back to Richmond, House Republicans will be ready to get the job done.”
Both parties are still haggling over a $3 billion gap separating their individual spending plans. Most disagreements are related to different versions of tax relief proposals, including
a measure seeking to eliminate the 2.5% tax on groceries and essential personal hygiene products, which passed the House of Delegates by a 80-20 vote in February.
House Bill 90, sponsored by Del. Joe McNamara, R-Roanoke County, goes farther than a former Gov. Ralph Northam who in his final budget proposed to slash the tax while retaining 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.
Additional bills still being weighed by the budget conference is House Bill 563, sponsored by Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington County, the deputy majority leader, which would create a competitive matching grant fund and program that would provide up to $2 billion in bonds to help localities repair aging and crumbling schools. The program would award matching grants on a competitive basis to local school boards that demonstrate poor school building conditions, commitment, and need, in order to fund the construction of new public school buildings in these local school divisions.
The bill was amended to require unobligated state gaming proceeds be directed to the construction fund for the purpose of awarding grants to local school boards – a recommendation made in a Senate Bill 473 sponsored by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, which the Senate conformed with O’Quinn’s House measure.
Budget conferees also will be weighing a proposal that would make available $11.4 million in state funding for the victims of the major flood that destroyed dozens of homes in Buchanan County in August. The allocation is based on legislation sponsored by Del. Will Morefield, R-Tazewell County, that initially sought to create a designated fund for flood victims using money from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program that has brought more than $227 million to Virginia. But just one day after Morefield filed his House Bill 5, then-Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin said that he would withdraw Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative via executive order, jeopardizing Morefield’s plan.
Below, a list of legislation sponsored by lawmakers from Southwest and Southside Virginia that Cardinal News has been tracking since the beginning of the 2022 session and that the legislature has taken action on:
Bills with statewide implications
A measure allowing localities to return surplus personal property tax revenues to taxpayers found unanimous support. Senate Bill 12, sponsored by State Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, passed the state Senate by a 39-0 vote and also cleared the House by 100-0.
K-12 education and school construction
Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, won one of the first victories in the fight for funding for school construction when a Senate panel cleared his proposal that would require school boards to use unspent leftover funds from the state to finance capital projects. Senate Bill 276, which seeks to ensure that school divisions use any unexpended tax dollars for school construction and modernization, was later merged with Senate Bill 481 by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, which the Senate approved by a unanimous vote in February. However, the measure didn’t fare as well in the House, where a subcommittee killed it two weeks later by a 4-3 vote.
Governor’s emergency powers
Former Gov. Ralph Northam did not hesitate to use his vast emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic – much to the chagrin of many lawmakers, including some Democrats. Senate Bill 4, sponsored by Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, which 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, passed the Senate by a 29-11 vote in February, and it cleared the House by a 91-8 vote last week. 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.
Although GOP House leadership had vowed to tackle the commercial regulation of marijuana in Virginia, little has happened. While the Senate has sent the House legislation to consider in the coming weeks, the General Laws committee took no action on HB 176, sponsored by Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville. Marshall’s proposal was an attempt at addressing 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. The measure would have required 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.
A proposal by Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, seeking to expand the state’s current voter ID requirement to include photo identification, passed the House of Delegates by a 52-48 party-line vote after being rolled into House Bill 46, an identical measure carried by Del. Lee Ware, R-Powhatan. But as expected, Democrats in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee blocked the legislation, killing it by a 9-6 party-line vote. The measure would also have repealed 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 House measure by Del. Joe McNamara, R-Roanoke County, that would have changed the definition of wages to include a payment to healthcare benefits on behalf of an employee, was defeated by a 11-4 vote in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee last month after passing the House by 51-48. House Bill 296 did not seek to remove any provisions related to increasing the state wage, but the paid wage plus the cost of healthcare benefit together would have needed to meet the current $11 minimum wage, growing with the planned increments.
A Senate committee last month voted 9-6 to “pass by indefinitely” House Bill 507, sponsored by Del. Marie March, R-Floyd County, that would have repealed Virginia’s so-called red flag law which allows authorities to take guns away from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others. Red flag laws gained traction across the country after the high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in 2018. As a means to prevent mass shootings, the Virginia General Assembly – over strong opposition from gun rights advocates – passed its own version of the legislation in 2020 after Democrats gained the majority in both chambers. Before being defeated in the Senate, March’s proposal to repeal that law had cleared the House by a 52-47 vote.
With just days left in the session, state Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg, sought unanimous consent by the Senate permitting him to file legislation banning so-called Carolina Squat modifications on pick-up trucks and SUVs that have led to at least one traffic fatality in the commonwealth last month. Squatting is a new trend where rivers raise the front of their trucks while simultaneously lowering the back, resulting in a large rake that makes it hard to see the road. Peake’s Senate Bill 777 makes this modification a primary offense, allowing law enforcement officers to initiate a traffic stop. The proposal cleared the Senate earlier last week and passed in the House on Friday.
Bills with implications unique to Southwest and Southside
The House last week in amendment form unanimously approved a proposal by Sen. Todd Pillion, R-Washington County, that requires 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. Under the amended bill, the VDOE will be tasked to develop and publish a framework and survey tool for school boards to submit such reports by Sept. 1 and to be updated annually. Senate Bill 724 had previously cleared the Senate by a 40-0 vote.
Del. Sam Rasoul, R-Ronaoke, was cautiously optimistic after his measure that would have directed the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to study the feasibility of transforming Catawba Hospital into a state-of-the-art campus offering substance abuse treatment and addiction recovery passed with unanimous support in the House last month. But his House Bill 105 didn’t make it out of the Senate, where the Rules committee continued the proposal to the 2023 session. Rasoul estimated that if signed into law, his legislation would have required about $3.5 million to fund the study of continuous care and the planning around Catawba’s campus design.
By a unanimous vote, both the Senate and the House approved legislation seeking to direct Virginia Energy (formerly the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy) to identify the approximate volume and number of waste coal piles still present in the coalfield region and come up with options for their removal, including the use of waste coal for the generation of electricity. With his Senate Bill 120, Sen. Travis Hackworth, R-Tazewell County, initially had wanted to define waste coal – a byproduct of previous coal processing operations – as a source of renewable energy, but he eventually offered the aforementioned substitute. A companion bill by Del. William Wampler, R-Washington County, is also headed to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk.
House Bill 49, sponsored by Del. Matthew Fariss, R-Campbell County, that designates 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, passed in the House by 85-13 and, later, in the Senate by 32-6. 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. It also cleared both chambers.
Nitrile Glove training program
After the House of Delegates in February approved legislation establishing a $4.6 million grant program for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership to support the recruitment and training of employees at medical glove manufacturer Blue Star NBR’s new nitrile glove production facility in Wythe County, the measure also advanced in the state Senate.
House Bill 186 is sponsored by Del. Jeff Campbell, R-Smyth County. A similar proposal, Senate Bill 596 by Sen. Todd Pillion, R-Washington County, also cleared the legislature. Last fall, then-Gov. Ralph Northam had touted the company’s plan to invest $714 million in a new production facility in Wythe County as the largest manufacturing job announcement in Virginia in at least three decades.
Both the House and the Senate approved a measure sponsored by Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County, terminating the town of St. Charles in Lee County – once a bustling commercial hub in the middle of a coal-rich region. But with the decrease of coal mining the population dropped to just 73 residents – none of whom has run for town office or voted in the last two elections. The county, however, is still required to hold – and pay for – elections for the town, which prompted it to seek help from the General Assembly. A companion bill by Sen. Todd Pillion, R-Washington County, also cleared the legislature with unanimous support.
A similar proposal – also sponsored by Kilgore and Pillion – that would strip the town of Pound in Wise County of its charter after dealing with years of problems also passed the legislature. However, the bill still gives the residents of Pound until next year to “get their house in order,” as Kilgore put it, or lose their town.