Wow! The first weeks of session have flown by fast!
The 2024 Virginia General Assembly commenced on January 10 and immediately made history by unanimously electing Delegate Don Scott as Virginia’s first Black Speaker of the House. Since then, it has been non-stop as committees tackle the work of considering, debating, and voting on 1,546 bills. And that is just on the House side!
TOWN HALL MEETING
I am pleased to carry on a time-honored tradition by hosting a mid-session Town Hall meeting. The meeting will include a session overview and lots of opportunity for Q&A. I will be joined by State Senator Saddam Salim.
I was honored to again be appointed chair of the General Laws Committee (I served in this capacity from 2020-2021). This is one of the oldest, and most active, committees. First organized in 1677 as the Committee on Propositions and Grievances, the name was changed to General Laws in 1901. The committee deals with alcohol, gaming, cannabis, procurement, Freedom of Information Act, regulation of professions and occupations (anything from engineers to barbers), administration of government, housing, symbols of the Commonwealth, cemeteries, conflict of interest, and consumer protection – plus anything else that does not fit into one of our sister committees.
In addition to General Laws, I am grateful to serve on the Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources Committee (where I chair the Chesapeake subcommittee) and the Appropriations Committee (where I chair the Commerce, Agriculture, and Natural Resources subcommittee). These definitely keep me busy – in a good way!
In addition to committee assignments, I have been appointed to the Major Employment and Investment (MEI) Project Approval Commission and the Joint Subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education Funding. The MEI commission is responsible for reviewing and making recommendations on large economic development projects that involve state funding. The Joint Subcommittee is new and has been charged with making recommendations for how to adequately fund K-12 education in light of a recent report showing that Virginia spends $1,900 less per pupil than the national average. Underfunding by the state is a significant contributor to higher real estate taxes, since local governments are left to make up the difference.
This year, I am carrying 18 bills. Below are a few highlights. You can see all my bills, as well as bills I have co-patroned, by clicking here.
HB68 – Workers Compensation for Dispatchers. This bill would provide workers compensation benefits to emergency dispatchers who suffer from PTSD. Right now, they are not eligible under workers compensation. These professionals remain on the line under the most stressful circumstances – hostage situations, suicide, sexual assault, fatal accidents, and more. A recent study by the National Institute of Mental Health found that 17% of dispatchers suffered from moderately severe to severe depression. Making sure that these public servants can get the help they need should be a priority.
HB69 – Interim Appointments for Local Elected Office. This bill was brought to me by the Coalition for Open Government. When a vacancy occurs on a town or city council, Virginia law allows the remaining members to appoint an interim member. While necessary, it is still highly undemocratic and can impact the outcome of council votes. Currently, there is no required transparency to the appointment process. My HB69 simply adds some sunshine by requiring a public hearing to be held prior to appointing an interim member.
HB245 – PFAS/Forever Chemicals. Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS) are fast becoming one of our greatest health concerns. These chemicals are widely used in consumer and industrial products, including cleaning products, water-resistant fabrics, grease-resistant paper, and non-stick cookware. They are also found in firefighting foam. Because PFAS does not easily break down, we are now seeing increasing concentrations in our water, food, and even in the blood of people and animals. The US EPA is on the verge of setting limits for drinking water – which will require installation of new, expensive water treatment technology. Fairfax Water anticipates it could cost rate payers more than $700M in the next few years. HB245 takes a proactive approach by requiring sampling for certain industrial categories known to handle PFAS so that sources can be identified and eliminated.
HB316 – Recycling. Nothing is more frustrating than to sort materials for recycling only to discover that they have been sent to a landfill. While there are many reasons this happens, a major one is the lack of markets for recycled materials. HB316 creates a Virginia Recycling Development Center to further the development of markets for recycled commodities and products.
HB419 – Early Childhood Care and Education. Quality early childhood care and education can set the foundation for a life-time of success. Virginia has come a long way in a relatively short period of time to make child care more affordable and accessible. We can be very proud of that. HB419 builds on this progress by establishing a transparent, predictable formula for funding early childhood education. I am pleased that this bill was reported from subcommittee 6Y-2N with support from child care advocates as well as the business and health care communities.
HB870 – Sewage Sludge Regulations. This one is just fun to say – but also addresses an emerging water quality issue. In the past few years, Virginia has literally spent billions of dollars to upgrade our wastewater treatment facilities to improve water quality. The better job we do of that – the more “byproduct” we have! The sewage sludge is then converted to fertilizers and other products. However, these materials can't be applied on the land during excessively wet periods - which are expected to increase in Virginia due to climate change. That creates a problem if the amount of sludge exceeds storage capacity at the treatment plant. This bill directs the Department of Environmental Quality to develop regulations to address this issue.
HB874 – Campaign Finance Reform. Virginia is one of a handful of states with no limits on giving to political campaigns. This has resulted in skyrocketing campaign costs – with 2023 seeing four of the most expensive state legislative races in Virginia history. Several races topped the $7 million dollar mark. This both discourages otherwise great candidates and undermines the public’s faith in our election system. HB874 would finally set campaign contribution limits in Virginia.
HB880 – Foreclosures. This bill is a recommendation of the Virginia Housing Commission and comes after years of discussion and negotiation among key stakeholders. At issue is that common interest community associations (HOAs and condominiums) have the authority to record a lien for nonpayment of assessments in any amount. That lien is then enforceable by foreclosure. This bill recognizes that foreclosure on a primary residence should be the remedy of last resort and establishes a $5,000 minimum threshold for commencement to foreclose.
HB881 – Hunger Free Campus Program. It is hard to study when you are hungry! According to a State Council of Higher Education for Virginia report, 18% of college students in Virginia experience food insecurity. I was honored to work with George Mason University students to introduce legislation to help tackle this problem.
HB892 – Farmland Preservation. It is easy to forget from a Northern Virginia vantage point that agriculture and forestry are still Virginia’s largest private industries, with a total economic impact of $105B per year! Many of our family farms, however, struggle to make ends meet. I was pleased to introduce this bill to merge two existing agencies into the Office of Working Lands Preservation. This will take advantage of economies of scale and help better support the both agriculture and forestry.
WHAT AN HONOR!
Speaking of farmland preservation, I was honored to receive the 2024 Distinguished Friend of Agribusiness Award at the Virginia Agribusiness Council’s 52nd Annual Legislative Banquet. I’ve always considered agriculture to be an extension of my love for the environment. They are inextricably linked to a respect and love of land and water. Pretty cool for a kid who grew up in suburban Fairfax!
Please do not hesitate to contact me during session if you have thoughts about one of those 1,546 bills we are debating! I look forward to seeing you at my February 3 Town Hall meeting.