Opinion: Halfway Home

Opinion: Halfway Home

We’ve hit the halfway point of session, or crossover week, here in Richmond. Crossover is when all the bills introduced by the House must be sent to the Senate for consideration, and vice versa. If a bill is not heard by its chamber of origin before the crossover deadline, it automatically fails. Because of the strict deadline, the Monday and Tuesday ahead of crossover consist of long floor session days of constant voting to move legislation along. In past years, we have had floor sessions beginning at 10 a.m. and lasting until after midnight!

I thought this was a good opportunity to share the status of the legislation I introduced this session on behalf of my constituents:

Three of my bills are up for their third read on Tuesday. If the House votes favorably on them, they will head over to the Senate:

* HB 1465 is a critical bill creating the Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Advisory Committee to enable collaboration and long-term relationship building among prevention and treatment providers and operators of legal gaming in the Commonwealth in efforts to combat problem gambling.

* HB 1987 is a cleanup bill of the charitable gaming legislative package that Senator Reeves and I passed last year. This bill reinstates the ability of licensed veterans’ service organizations and charitable fraternal organizations (like the VFW and Moose Lodges) from selling paper-pull tabs at the state and regional conventions of their organizations.

* HB 1998 directs the Secretaries of Natural and Historic Resources, Agriculture and Forestry, and Administration to coordinate the development of strategic actions state agencies should take to prioritize the use of plant species native to the Commonwealth. The state has a duty to set a standard of controlling invasive plants and prioritizing native species.

Four others have already passed out of the House and are awaiting consideration by the Senate:

* HB 1993 passed the House unanimously 100-0. This is a good government bill, which streamlines fire marshal training by allowing fire marshals with prior or current law enforcement certification a partial exemption from the basic law enforcement courses included in the Virginia Fire Marshal Academy.

* HB 1995 passed the House by a vote of 98-2. This bill extends the amount of time school divisions, vendors, and police departments have to issue tickets for illegally passing a stopped school bus from 10 days to 30 business days. As local governments struggle with staffing shortages, some localities have increasingly found it difficult to investigate and process a ticket in such a short amount of time.

* HB 1997 passed out of committee nearly unanimously, by a vote of 20 to 1. It requires any operator of Historical Horse Racing (HHR) machines capable of hosting a live Thoroughbred racing day to annually hold one racing day, with no less than eight races, for every one hundred HHR machines they operate. The goal of the bill is to promote a healthy and successful equine racing industry in Virginia.

* HJ 548 passed the House unanimously 97-0. This bicameral and bipartisan effort establishes a joint subcommittee to study the feasibility of establishing the Virginia Gaming Commission to regulate and oversee all forms of gaming in the Commonwealth. With gambling rapidly expanding in the Commonwealth, a central gaming agency can focus on gaming regulation as a core mission, as well as facilitate problem gambling prevention and treatment.

Other measures I introduced this year failed and will not move forward for consideration this year:

* HB 1578 was recently mentioned in my Martin Luther King Jr. Day article. This bill aimed to support manufactured park home residents by offering a tax credit to owners of manufactured home parks to incentivize selling to nonprofit organizations or resident associations. Unfortunately, this legislation failed to report from Finance Subcommittee #1 by a vote of 4-4.

* HB 1975 sought to establish a tax benefit for all Foreign Service members aged 60 or older. Foreign service is indeed analogous to service in the United States military, and these members are often assigned to dangerous and difficult overseas assignments in support of U.S national security. This bill was tabled by a vote of 5-3.

* HB 1977 was a request by my constituents living in the Tauxemont community to waive the expiration of the community’s groundwater withdrawal permit for at least five years (and after the halting of commercial or industrial withdrawals like golf courses). This narrowly drafted bill prioritized human consumption over recreational or aesthetic purposes. While this bill failed 4-5 in the subcommittee, I am pursuing budget language to assist Tauxemont in transferring over to an alternative water source.

* HB 2001 was passed by and not heard by the General Laws committee. This bill aimed to increase transparency and promote responsible drinking by requiring alcohol by volume content to be listed on beverage menus.

* HB 2003 was laid on the table and failed by a vote of 5-3 in Commerce and Energy Subcommittee #4. The bill, also a constituent request, sought to require any employer with 50 or more employees, including employees of the Commonwealth, to provide annual interactive training and education regarding sexual harassment and workplace discrimination.

* HB 2004 creates a policy of tribal consultation with state agencies and Virginia’s federally recognized tribal nations on projects that have tribal implications. Unfortunately, this legislative priority of the tribal nations was not granted a hearing by the Agriculture Chesapeake and Natural Resources committee this year.

* HB 2475 was, sadly, laid on the table by a vote of 5-3 in Courts of Justice sub #1. An idea brought to me by a constituent who is a Southern Baptist pastor, this bill aimed to expand the offense of sexual battery to include sexual abuse of an adult witness under the spiritual care of a clergy member or similar functionary of a religious organization who is in a position of trust or authority over the witness.

* HJ 518 was laid on the table by the Rules committee on a party-line vote. This measure would have designated March as Problem Gambling Awareness Month.

Sunday was “budget day” when the House and Senate released their respective budget packages. Later this week, as we move past crossover, I will publish highlights from each chamber’s budget and discuss the fate of my amendments. Thursday is the day the budgets will be voted upon by each chamber. Next week, both the House and Senate will appoint budget conferees who will meet to iron out the slight differences between these two budget bills. Once they have reached a consensus, the General Assembly will vote to adopt a budget to send to the Governor for consideration. In the weeks ahead, I will visit Senate subcommittees and committees to present my legislation there.

It has been wonderful to see so many of you who have traveled to Richmond to visit me in my office this session. Thank you, also, to all of you who have called or written to me to express your opinions on legislation filed by my colleagues. Your advocacy always informs my voting decisions. To continue staying up to date on my legislation as it moves through the process throughout session, make sure to visit www.lis.virginia.gov. As always, it is an honor to serve as your Delegate in Richmond.