Following the completion of the Virginia General Assembly, Del. Wren Williams, R-Stuart, took time to reflect on his second year in the House of Delegates.
Williams said it was nice to be back in session, be prepped, ready, and know what to expect.
“I was very happy with how the session went, and very happy with my successes in the house. I’m looking forward to going back because we’ll have even more opportunities next year with more bill slots and another budget year,” he said.
From his second General Assembly session, Williams said he learned one has to be creative to get things done.
“You can’t just go up pound your fists and wave your arms around and expect to get things done. You have to be diligent and knowledgeable,” he said. “You have to be capable of explaining and arguing these nuances.”
Williams said he believes he implemented those concepts this year, especially because he knows the process and rules better than during his first session.
“So, now I was able to be much more successful in the legislative process,” he said.
During the session, Williams was able to get seven bills passed. While many of them were more administrative-focused, one bill he passed was the Religious Freedom Bill, which targeted the closing of churches during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This bill stems from that because that was something that really upset me and the folks in my district, which was not being able to go to church and fellowship at that time,” he said.
Williams said the bill bars the governor from using the Emergency Powers Act to close churches and other places of worship.
He believes his ability to get the bill passed was huge considering the General Assembly is split, with the House having a Republican majority and the Senate a primarily Democratic majority.
“I was able to really get creative with the language because that’s what we have to do around here,” he said.
Williams said the bill he brought before the House that was passed was similar to the one he brought last year, but then “I worked to get the words right so that voting against it was almost immoral, and that’s how we were able to get it through” the Senate, he said.
One of his administrative bills focused on the process of how to remove an elected official that is failing to do their job.
“It’s always been a very complicated process because you have to have signatures on a petition, but there was no signature standard form,” Williams said. “So, you might get 10 percent of the electorate to sign pieces of paper and then show up to court and the judge says you didn’t do it right.”
Williams said this would happen regularly over several years.
“This bill was able to craft a much better solution, and a much cleaner process, and a much more clear and understandable duty, and it moves at a much quicker pace,” Williams said of the proposal that also won approval.
Under his proposal, “you don’t necessarily have to wait around for 10 months to put this person on trial for not doing their job,” he said. “It’s much quicker, like a few months. If you had all your signatures together and you knew what you were doing, you could do it in about 45 days.”
Williams said he is looking forward to the removal of a “bad actor” from office using the bill he drafted.
“That’s going to be full circle for me,” he said, adding that the bill came from a large committee of lawyers that regularly deal with similar issues.
“I get a lot of those like nuanced, legislative bills that are fixes, or they’re like large packages of bills that really play more in like a state-wide arena because of my relationship with the Attorney General’s Office. They gave me a number of bills this year,” he said, adding he’s honored the office trusted him to carry some of its signature legislation.
Another bill he helped get passed was the bipartisan Parole Board Transparency Bill.
“We wanted to see more sunlight on the parole board, and so did the Democrats. We wanted to do it a little bit differently, but ultimately, we were able to come to an agreement about what was best and that passed,” he said.
The Rebuttable Presumption Against Bond bill, which Williams has been working on for two years, was not passed.
The proposal “means is like, say you’re a felon and you are on bond for a pending trial, and then you go out and commit another felony. That person would have been held in jail without bond until they went in front of a court and proved why they were not going to be a flight risk and why they were safe in the community they were in,” he said.
Williams said this presumption is gone since Virginia has become a “soft on crime Commonwealth and puts felons first.”
The bill was among those presented to Williams from the Attorney General’s Office.
“This was very important to them, and so we’ve got some other bills that are related to magistrates, bail, and bail reform, and that Admission of Bail Bill would likely probably take a Republican trifecta to get it back to Rebuttable Presumption Against Bail,” he said.
One thing he tried to work through the Senate was a requirement that bail would be secured because some people are able to sign out on an unsecured bond.
“They’re not putting up any collateral,” he said. As a result, “there’s not a downside if they break the law, there’s no disincentive to break the law because nothing going to happen to you.”
Williams said his impetus for proposals comes from a variety of sources — representatives collect ideas, problems, and needs throughout the district and the communities.
“Last year, we heard a tremendous amount of concern from all of our localities when it came to outdated and failing and crumbling water and sewer infrastructure. We heard it from multiple localities, so we worked on putting together a study for opportunities for rural area public water and sewer system upgrades,” he said, adding that study would have benefitted all the communities.
“But it took speaking to all of them to realize, ‘oh, we need a global solution on this issue,’” he said.
If he’s elected in the Nov. election to serve the new 47th District, Williams said he looks forward to listening to the new district’s concerns and issues and then putting his experience as a successful legislator to work to find solutions.