Thanks to the more than 100 people who attended my annual Town Hall meeting with Senator Saddam Salim last weekend. I am proud to have such an engaged community and always appreciate the thoughtful feedback and questions.
As mentioned in a previous post, George Mason University held a meeting to engage the community on plans for a cricket stadium near the intersection of Braddock Road and Campus Drive. If you were unable to attend, you can find a recording of the meeting here.
A BUSY WEEK
Traditionally, this past week is the busiest of the session. Crossover is next Tuesday, which is the deadline for each body to act on its own legislation. What survives is then sent to the opposite chamber for consideration.
This week alone, the General Laws Committee, which I chair, considered 87 pieces of legislation – and that doesn’t include the dozens of bills that were debated in subcommittees but didn’t make it to the full committee. These bills range from tweaks to Virginia’s procurement laws to major bills aimed at creating a retail market for cannabis and cracking down on illegal vaping products. Illegal vaping products are a huge problem across Virginia, including our area. While liquid nicotine vapor products have been promoted as an alternative to traditional cigarettes, the market has been flooded with illegal candy and fruit flavored products designed to hook teens. These products are often manufactured in foreign countries with few, if any, quality control standards. Two bills (HB790 and HB1069) are moving forward to crack down on illegal vaping materials.
What is the most interesting bill to come through the General Laws Committee? Definitely HB248. This bill would authorize the regulation of “autonomous agents” that take on human roles regulated under the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulations. For example, barbers and cosmetologists are required to be properly trained and licensed. Now imagine that your barber is a robot using artificial intelligence. Should that autonomous agent be subject to testing and licensure? How about professional engineers, auctioneers, waterworks operators, real estate agents, and literally dozens of other regulated professions? The answer is likely yes – but the details are complicated. After much discussion, this bill went to the Joint Commission on Technology and Science to study and make recommendations for next session.
While individual bills often get more attention, the most impactful thing we will vote on this year is the $185B biennial budget. Below are a few of the budget amendments I have submitted for consideration:
Item 44#1h – Establish the Office of Commonwealth Resilience. This would fund a new office to coordinate resilience efforts across the Commonwealth, including how to address the impacts of sea level rise, inland flooding, and other threats related to climate change. The new office is a recommendation of a bipartisan workgroup consisting of environmental groups, business, industry, and the administration.
Item 88#1h – Statewide Coordinated Invasive Species Management. This would enhance Virginia’s ability to effectively respond to threats posed by invasive species. These include invasive plants as well as invasive animals, such as blue catfish, emerald ash borer, and spotted lanternfly.
Item 201#27h – Increase Support for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund. This would significantly increase the budget for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund. The fund is Virginia’s primary tool for preventing homelessness and creating new affordable housing through public-private partnerships.
Item 103#3h – Virginia Broadband Resiliency Initiative. The pandemic illustrated just how important broadband is to economic resilience. This budget amendment is part of Virginia’s efforts to fully build out broadband over the next few years, especially in harder to reach rural areas.
Item 109#8h – Capacity Expansion for Solar and Energy Efficiency Projects. This would add additional staff capacity to the Department of Energy so that Virginia can take full advantage of millions of dollars’ worth of federal grants for solar and energy efficiency projects.
Item 117#29h and Item 124#77h – Early Childhood Care and Education Funding. Few investments pay off more than quality early childhood care and education. The Governor’s introduced budget includes funding to make up for a loss of federal funding. These amendments ensure that we can meet projected demand over the next two years.
Item 151#2h – George Mason University Increase in State Support. GMU has long struggled to get its fair share of state funding. When state and tuition funding are combined, Mason is nearly $4,000 per in-state student below the median allocation for Virginia universities. This budget amendment closes the gap on this disparity.
Item 295 #16h – Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Programs. This amendment provides additional funding at the request of our local hospitals to establish comprehensive psychiatric emergency programs in emergency departments.
Item 231#2h – Support for the Arts. Virginia lags behind many other states in its support for the arts. This amendment would move Virginia closer to its long-standing goal of $1 per capita funding to support the arts through grants administered by the Virginia Commission on the Arts.
Item 365#2h, Item 365 #3h, and Item C-53.50#1h – Chesapeake Bay Restoration. While the Governor’s budget includes essential funding to reduce pollution from agriculture, it contained no money to help localities reduce pollution from urban stormwater and wastewater treatment plants. These amendments ensure that Virginia has the resources it needs to continue Chesapeake Bay clean-up efforts.
You can find the entire list of my budget amendments here. The proposed House and Senate budgets will be released on “Budget Sunday,” February 18, and then the negotiations begin!
UPDATE ON MY LEGISLATION
So far, 10 of my bills have passed the House. Another five will come up for a vote next Tuesday. In addition, one of my bills (HB245) was incorporated into another bill that is moving forward. A few of these bills have been covered in the press.
Thanks for taking the time to read my updates! It is an honor to serve you in the House of Delegates.