By Callie Hietala and Debbie Hall
Although Del. Wren Williams, R-Stuart, is a junior member, he’s been hard at work during his first week in the General Assembly, crafting legislation that he hopes will fulfill his campaign promises and the mandates he feels he was given by voters in the November election.
In addition to his headline-making bill to ban critical race theory (CRT — see related story on page 2), Williams said he has introduced several other pieces of legislation including one that he is “most excited about for Patrick County.”
The bill directs the Virginia Department of Health to investigate and examine the feasibility of reopening that county’s hospital, either entirely or in a limited capacity “so that we can use the recently-renovated emergency department.
“This is a bill that I put in on behalf of the people of Patrick County who are obviously in need of an emergency room, healthcare services, EMS services,” he said. “I feel like this bill creates a door that Patrick County can walk through in order to really start to see some traction or movement on a problem that stretches back as far as 2018.”
House Bill (HB) 1305 proposes that state legislators direct the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to investigate and examine the feasibility of reopening the Pioneer Community Hospital of Patrick County, formerly known as the R.J. Reynolds Patrick County Memorial Hospital, “either fully or in a limited capacity so as to provide emergency and rural health care services by utilizing the existing structure in its entirety, or solely utilizing the recently-renovated emergency department, either in connection with a local hospital provider, a regional hospital provider, or as a stand-alone facility to offer telemedicine, EMS services such as triage and transport, imaging, and other patient care items for Patrick County and the surrounding localities.”
If state health officials find that reopening the hospital is not feasible, they would then be “directed to investigate and examine alternative locations for the previously stated healthcare and EMS service needs of the community, such as the Patrick County Dialysis Center,” the vacant building located at 110 E. Blue Ridge Street “and any other feasible locations within Patrick County.”
The proposal further calls on state health officials to report their “findings, conclusions, and recommendations to the Senate Committee of Education and Health, and the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions by October 1.”
Another proposal would “eliminate the ability of our executive branch to ever close our places of worship ever again,” Williams said of House Bill 775 (HB 775).
Churches across the state were closed in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic as part of a statewide lockdown.
“I believe fully in the protections under the First Amendment, which say we have the right to peaceably assemble, and we have the right to practice our religion freely,” Williams said. “In the past couple of years, we have seen those rights trampled on. This bill would eliminate the ability to continue trampling on those rights.”
Williams also introduced House Bill 776 (HB 776), which he described as a “born alive infant protection act.” The proposal “creates an affirmative duty for doctors who deliver children to administer live-saving medical care” to those children.
A summary on the state’s Legislative Information System’s website (lis.virginia.gov) states the bill “requires every physician … who attempts to terminate a pregnancy to … exercise the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of a human infant who has been born alive following such attempt as a reasonably diligent and conscientious heath care practitioner would render to any child born alive at the same gestational age.”
Under the bill as currently written, physicians who fail to comply would be guilty of a Class 4 felony.
While the fate of his proposals remains unknown at this point, Williams said his first week as a delegate in the General Assembly has been “pretty amazing.
“This is a very, very historic place that’s steeped in tradition and procedure and as both a lover of Virginia history and a nerd for procedure and governmental interaction, it’s been absolutely a pleasure to get to serve this role for my community,” he said.
“I have learned a lot, I have met hundreds of people, I have been engaging with constituents that have been passionate about their bills. Lobbyists who have come to see me and other colleagues, other delegates are signing on to my bills or asking me to support theirs—the whole process has just been surreal, amazing, and absolutely humbling during my first week here,” Williams said.
He shares part of that experience during Facebook videos titled, ‘Walks with Wren,’ that are recorded on his morning walks to work. The videos are intended to give people the ability to connect with the day-to-day activity in Richmond. Williams said he plans to continue the videos, though perhaps not with the same frequency.
“Prior to my time as a delegate, I always felt we were a bit cut off from the information. It came to us through the news, it was sort of slow and we had to dig for it. I want to make it available and accessible to people back home” so they can see the process of governing, Williams said, adding that he hopes to hear from constituents.
“If you come to Richmond, feel free to reach out. We can set up Capitol tours, we can host you. Give us a call, set up a Zoom meeting—we’re very accessible and we’d love to hear from our home district while we’re here,” he said.
This session of the General Assembly is scheduled to end March 12.