Week #2, Jan. 17-23
We have completed the first full week of the 2021 General Assembly Session. The House continued operating virtually with its limitations and effectiveness hampered by technical issues, limited public participation, and the inability to sufficiently communicate between legislators, constituents, and stakeholders of legislation.
Your and my primary concern continues to be the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccines. As best I can determine due to ever-changing Executive Branch plans and directives, the governor and his team have decided to use the local health department districts to administer the vaccine. I do not see how that can work on the scale required, especially since the districts do not have the resources required. While they are receiving excellent assistance from Franklin Carilion and SOVAH Martinsville, additional vaccine doses must be shipped and, clearly, private sector medical resources immediately added to the toolboxes.
We who reside in the 9th House of Delegates District (Patrick, western Henry and most of Franklin counties), which I represent, plus a few areas nearby, such as Martinsville City, are in the West Piedmont Health District (WPHD). It has been announced WPHD will enter Tier 1b starting January 25 and directs us to monitor the WPHD website for sign-up instructions. They warn to expect it will take some unspecified time before doses are available. Tier 1b includes ages 65 and above, those with certain underlying health conditions, and essential workers. How WPHD sorts out the order of receiving the vaccine within Tier 1b groups is unknown.
The House Republican Caucus met virtually with Gov. Northam’s vaccine leadership team the evening of January 21 to try to obtain more precise information on why the process is bogged down. I only heard excuses for why Virginia is doing such a poor job on roll-out when compared with other states. Answers were not provided as to why the elderly, who are more prone to serious complications or even death from the virus, are not receiving the next top priority status after medical providers.
On the topic of restoring confidence in our elections, House Republicans introduced bills to require signature matching for absentee ballots, restore the photo ID requirement to vote, and other election process related bills. Each of these bills were killed as they entered the Privileges and Election subcommittees this week. Thus, it is clear the Democrats in the House do not want to improve our election laws or restore confidence in the electoral system. I hope to change this next year with a new House Republican Majority after the November 2021 Election.
This week the Democrat Majority continued their anti-police agenda by adding highly subjective requirements for sexual bias reporting, as well as moving to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for crimes, such as rape of a child and drunk driving. The General Assembly decades ago set up minimum sentence safeguards to assure those committing serious felonies would receive appropriate punishments. There is another horrible component to this bill. Many of these criminals will have to be resentenced, meaning the victims and their families will be dragged back to court and forced to relive the trauma a second time.
A few other bills of interest that moved forward included a bill to remove the farm labor (and piece work) exemption from the new minimum wage law, as did a bill in the workplace (e.g., farm) for worker regulations during hot days.
Our Aging Services have long provided assistance for the elderly poor based on income, those most in need, and/or for those in dire straits. Now a bill was forwarded that allows people who claim to be LBGTQ+ to move to the front of the line for Aging Services. This action is based on a theory that this latter group has been discriminated against in the past.
Adding to the anti-gun bills passed in 2020, another bill passed the House to prohibit firearms within 40 feet of a polling place, which will prevent concealed carry. The bill also applies disallowance of firearms by fragile curb voters.
One of my priorities this year is, or was, collecting the data on just how many of our rural acres of production agriculture and forestry lands are being chewed up by industrial and commercial scale solar and wind farms in Virginia. My HB2023 simply would have required reporting of that data so the state, localities, citizens, and both the agriculture and forestry industries can measure the impact as well as consider the data in specific site/permitting of these facilities. My bill was killed in subcommittee without any discussion. I thank all who supported my bill, including the Farm Bureau, whose representative managed to get into the virtual “Public Room” to testify in favor of the bill.
While this year is an unprecedented Session in every respect, I remain honored to serve as your voice in the House of Delegates. I will continue the fight for our rural and small town values and principles. To contact me during Session, call (540)576-2600 or email me at email@example.com. My legislative assistant, William Pace, or I will respond as quickly as possible.