RICHMOND – A Republican-controlled House committee on Monday did not take up a controversial proposal relating to transgender issues in public schools by Del. Marie March, R-Floyd County, after backing a similar measure by Del. Karen Greenhalgh, R-Virginia Beach, minutes earlier.
March for the past week had been encouraging her constituents to show their support for her House Bill 1399, which seeks to ban transgender students at Virginia’s K-12 public schools and colleges from joining sports teams that align with their gender identity.
“HB 1399 is finally seeing the light of day,” she wrote on her Facebook page on Friday, inviting “anyone that would like to speak in this committee about the importance of NOT allowing MALES to play female sports” to email her legislative aide about getting signed up to address the committee over Zoom.
But Greenhalgh’s legislation was ahead of March’s bill on the committee docket, and because member discussion and the following public comment period took nearly one hour, Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, chairman of the Higher Education Subcommittee, did not allow further debate after the panel had passed Greenhalgh’s bill by a 5-4 party-line vote.
“I’m going to bet the testimony on this one is going to be very similar to the testimony on the similar bill. We really need one vehicle moving forward so there might be some opportunity to amend or whatnot as we go through the rest of the committee process,” Freitas said.
Both proposals are nearly identical. However, March’s bill relies on a student’s original birth certificate to determine the biological sex of the same seeking to join a school sports team, while Greenhalgh’s HB 1387 requires identification of the student’s biological sex on an athletics eligibility form signed by a licensed physician.
It’s not uncommon to allow lawmakers with similar bills to merge their legislation and join forces as co-sponsors, and this usually happens in the same committee meeting.
But after asking supporters and opponents of March’s proposal to stand, Freitas advised March to talk with Greenhalgh at a later time about potential amendments to the bill to “see what this could potentially look like.”
However, time is not on the side of March, who so far during this session has seen just one of her proposals advance in the House, with many others still waiting for committee assignments.
And the subcommittee that did not act on her proposal Monday meets only one more time before the session’s midpoint next Tuesday – the last day for each chamber to act on its own legislation.
Senate passes Suetterlein’s bill on special elections
Also on Monday, the state Senate unanimously passed a proposal seeking to prevent political toying with special elections in the state legislature by requiring certain vacancies in the House of Delegates or the state Senate to be filled within 30 days of a member’s departure or death.
Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, filed Senate Bill 944, to ensure that a political leader cannot deny constituents their elected voice in the General Assembly by unnecessarily delaying a special election.
For Suetterlein, the passing of his legislation marks a victory as he had sponsored a similar proposal last year after former Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, waited almost three months to call for a special election to fill a vacancy left by Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Russell, who had died unexpectedly due to complications from COVID-19 on New Year’s Day of 2021. Northam’s move at the time left Chafin’s district without representation for the duration of that year’s legislative session.
But during the 2022 session, a Senate committee decided to carry over Suetterlein’s proposal to the 2023 session, allowing the Department of Elections enough time to provide feedback.
The bill is now headed to the House of Delegates for consideration.
Senate panel backs Hackworth bill on how to use methane
The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee by a 15-0 vote backed the substitute of a proposal by Sen. Travis Hackworth, R-Tazewell County, that would direct the Department of Energy to develop policy options for how to best utilize methane, a very potent greenhouse gas that often is the byproduct of coal mines, and get input from the stakeholders, including producers, businesses and environmental groups doing that evaluation.
In mining, methane is contained within a worked-out area of an underground mine and eventually escapes to the surface via vents, fissures or ventilation holes. Hackworth’s substitute stops short of Hackworth’s original SB 1121, which would have added coal mine methane to the forms of renewable energy under the Virginia Electric Utility Regulation Act.
“In essence what this does is to look at the benefits of the coal mine methane and then report back by Nov. 15, 2023,” Hackworth said of the legislation. If the legislature adopts the proposal, it would add Virginia to a number of states exploring coal mine methane gas as a renewable source of electricity generation.
House panel backs O’Quinn bill to establish nuclear education fund
A House panel on Monday unanimously supported establishing a Nuclear Education Grant Fund and Program to be administered by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. House Bill 1779, sponsored by Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington County, would award grants on a competitive basis to any public or private institution of higher education that seeks to establish or expand a nuclear education program.
O’Quinn filed his proposal – which the House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee backed by a 8-0 vote – in light of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s push to build small modular reactors in Southwest Virginia within the next decade as part of his energy plan. The so-called SMRs are nuclear fission reactors used for power generation and heat. The power capacity is about a third of traditional nuclear power reactors.
House panel also advances Ballard bill on gang violence
The same House panel advanced legislation aimed at cracking down on gang violence. HB 1478, sponsored by Del. Jason Ballard, R-Giles County, would increase penalties for such crime and also expand the definition of “predicate criminal act” to include all felonies and carrying a concealed weapon violation.
The committee backed Ballard’s proposal by a 5-3 vote.