Last Week in Richmond Column:: 25 Bills Moving

Last Week in Richmond Column:: 25 Bills Moving

In the General Assembly, the first week of February is always the week we deal with difficult and controversial legislation and this year was no different. 

I have introduced 27 bills and 25 appear headed for passage to the House of Delegates, one was tabled and referred for study at my request and one was killed. That bill was intended to make serving in the General Assembly more realistic for people whose employers would not be supportive of service in a part-time legislature like ours. 

On a 35 to five vote, the Senate approved a bill I am carrying with Del. Israel O’Quinn to reduce Virginia’s methane emissions. Methane is a planet-warming greenhouse gas that is 85 times more potent than another greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. I am hopeful that the bill will incentivize utilities like Washington Gas to work with local sewage authorities to recover methane generated at sewage plants and landfills so that it can be captured and used instead of generating more methane from hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for natural gas to heat homes and power buses, stoves and water heaters. 

We also considered legislation addressing in-person learning and masking in schools. In the last month, major medical journal articles have reported that this pandemic is moving into an endemic phase and will persevere in ways similar to the common cold or the flu.  Last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert, confirmed that we are moving into an endemic and Fairfax County Public Schools announced a new policy that will effectively end the mask mandate once Fairfax County achieves certain metrics. In addition, the Prince William County School Board Chairman Babur Lateef said the mandate needs to end. The governors of Oregon, California, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware are moving away from universal masking mandates while the Biden administration is exploring adjustments to masking guidance. 

Last week, we debated an amendment to one bill, SB 739, to standardize state masking optional policies.  I voted for the amendment to include a mask policy in the bill that would be effective July 1, 2022. Several constituents have asked about my vote. 

Unfortunately, our schools, school boards and communities are being torn apart because some are politicizing public health issues instead of respecting health experts. It is virtually impossible to have a rational discussion about the effectiveness of masks, quarantines and even vaccines across party lines. Virginia school boards cannot even agree on what the Center for Disease Control guidance says. In many cases, Democratic-led school boards are concluding that mandatory masks are required and Republican-led school boards are saying that they are not. 

Our school systems need clarity on this issue and we need to get school boards, teachers and children out of the political crossfire. As a state senator, I have to vote on policy for the entire state, not just Northern Virginia. I also want state legislators to be at the table in this discussion after our current masking law expires on Aug. 1, 2022, instead of creating more uncertainty by ceding the issue solely to Governor Youngkin, school boards and courts and perpetuating a climate in which school board members face death threats and citizens carrying firearms to local school board meetings. 

I voted against the bill's final passage because it restricted school boards’ ability to mitigate pandemic emergencies in perpetuity. Attacks on medical science have caused more Virginians than ever to doubt vaccines and challenge vaccine policy.  No one knows when the next pandemic will arrive or whether we will start seeing localized breaks of measles or other viruses. 

Unfortunately, Governor Youngkin added an emergency clause to the bill making it effective March 1 instead of July 1, refused to add a sunset provision to the bill, and three of my Democratic colleagues crossed over to support it. I remain opposed and expect litigation to ensue once again. 

It is an honor to serve as your state senator. I hope you will share your views with me at