Thank you to everyone who came out to my Town Hall meeting with Senator Petersen. We had almost 200 people in attendance. There was a lot of great discussion on a variety of legislative issues. One of the reasons I love serving in the House is the opportunity to have this thoughtful, vigorous dialogue.
This week is cross-over. Cross-over is the half-way point in the session where the House must take action on all of its bills, and the Senate must do likewise. What survives crosses over to the other body. These are traditionally the longest days of the session - and this year is definitely no exception. On Monday we will take final action on approximately 130 bills, and on Tuesday we will take final action on an additional 148 bills. While many of these are on the uncontested calendar, others represent significant policy decisions that merit robust discussion. I'm ready to "coffee-up" for a long day!
Virginia Clean Economy Act
One of the most important bills we will consider on Monday is the Virginia Clean Economy Act (HB1526). Moving Virginia to a cleaner energy grid has long been a priority of mine. In 2007, I was appointed by then-Governor Kaine to the first-ever Virginia Commission on Climate Change. The commission included a wide-spectrum of stakeholders, including business leaders, electric utilities, academia, economists, and the environmental community. What I remember most was the near unanimous recognition that action was needed and the adoption of a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2025. Unfortunately, that initial momentum ground to a screeching halt, costing us precious time.
While we need to move aggressively, I also recognize that we need to move smartly. Electric utility regulation is complicated business - so it is important to get this right. If electricity rates skyrocket, public support will erode. In that spirit, I am very pleased to be a co-patron of the Virginia Clean Economy Ac. This bill establishes aggressive, but achievable targets for transitioning to carbon-free energy sources (100% carbon-neutral by 2050), increasing energy efficiency, and promoting energy storage. It is also designed to increase transparency and foster more competition. What is impressive about this measure is the support by several large employers with operations in Virginia, including IKEA, Mars, Nestle, and Unilever, to name a few.
So far, 18 of my bills have passed the House and are on their way to the Senate. Here are a couple of highlights:
Early Childhood Education (HB1012) - Easily my favorite bill of the session! Quality early childhood education can play a defining role in the future success of a child. However, according to Virginia's Kindergarten Readiness Program, 44% of all children (and 56% of at-risk children) enter kindergarten lacking key literacy, math, and social-emotional skills. HB1012 is the result of years of work by early childhood education experts, including our First Lady Pam Northam. The bill is designed to improve the quality of early childhood education and make it easier for parents to navigate the system. Click here for a video of my testimony before the House Committee on Appropriations.
Use of Hands-Free Technology While Driving (HB512) - Distracted driving has become an epidemic across the nation. In 2017, at least 208 fatalities were linked to distracted driving in Virginia compared to 248 deaths linked to drunk driving. These numbers are likely under-reported since it can be difficult to prove distracted driving. My bill prohibits holding a handheld personal communications device while driving a motor vehicle. The measure was incorporated into HB874 and has now passed the House on a vote of 72Y-24N.
Wildlife Corridors (HB1695) - This one was a late-comer to my legislative agenda, but I am glad that I took on the effort. As Virginia has become more developed, our natural areas have become fragmented by roads and other infrastructure. This means an increase in direct conflicts with wildlife on our highways, which results in more than 5,000 animal-vehicle collisions in Virginia every year. HB1695 requires the development of a state-wide Wildlife Corridor Action Plan to identify major problem areas and prioritize projects. Most importantly, the bill will require VDOT to consider wildlife habitat corridors when designing new roads or expanding existing roads. A pilot project in Albemarle County resulted in a dramatic decline in collisions. Click here for a story on my bill from WHSV in Harrisonburg.
Many times in the past I have extolled the requirement in Virginia's constitution that we must balance our budget every year. This has served the Commonwealth very well - and is in sharp contrast to our federal counterparts.
I was thrilled to be appointed this year to the Committee on Appropriations, which is responsible for developing our biennial budget. But, as I've discovered, there is a down side. All of those great policy ideas that we passed out of other committees now simply land back in Appropriations - to the tune of $10.3 billion in great policy ideas. Now, instead of policies, it is about priorities. Those are much tougher votes!
Watch for my next newsletter where I will release the results of my 2020 Constituent Survey. As always, it is an honor to serve you in the House of Delegates!