Virginia General Assembly Sine Die
The Virginia General Assembly is in the rear view mirror for this year, having adjourned today on Saturday, the 25th of February. The major focus, traditionally, of any short session and odd year is amending Virginia’s 50 billion dollar biennial budget, which must by law be balanced. With all 100 seats up in the House and an election year for Governor, it’s normally not a time to rake up controversy or reinvent the wheel on policy among members who are prohibited from raising funds during session. There was a bit more afoot, however, this year as the 2017 session was plenty lively with both key and trivial issues on the table, along with the usual interesting little side “operas.”
Social media was filled with sound bites of memorable moments like the one featuring Delegate Nick Freitas, a rising star and fiery personality from Culpepper. He reminded the body of the true nature and limited role of successful government and its relationship to a vibrant economy. With strong Libertarian leanings, Freitas, who is finishing his first term representing the 30th District and who also represents Madison and Orange Counties, took hard aim with legislation that reduces red tape. His HB2028 concerning the production of hemp was no exception. It called for removing all restrictions on the production of industrial hemp, including licensing and regulation. This was left early on the table at the Appropriations Committee level, but another Freitas bill, HB2029, is heading for McAuliffe’s desk.
HB2029 allows a licensed distiller who has been appointed by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board as an agent to sell spirits manufactured by the distiller on site, at any event licensed by the Board and conducted for the purpose of featuring and educating the consuming public about spirits. It’s ironic and timely, considering the entrance in January of Silverback Distillery owner, Denver Riggleman, as a fourth candidate for Virginia Governor. Riggleman cited the red tape associated with special events involving distilled liquor as one of his reasons for running.
The session video that gets the “most shared” award was that of Delegate Matt Farris, whose colorful tall tale of hunting on the grounds of the Virginia Capital showcased the impractically of what came to be known as the “anti-dog bill.” The bill died, but the issue has just received national attention through an article published in Outdoor Life, sister publication to Field and Stream and one of the “big three” in outdoor publishing
Second Amendment bills fared very well this session and actually had some bi-partisan support in both houses. The Virginia Citizens Defense League kept up a steady pressure, as did just plain folks on social media and twitter, urging the passage of those bills. Here is the short version of an outstanding piece of legislation aimed at saving lives and worth the read by Senator Jill Vogel. She also introduced a bill that allows dollars to be used from the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Fund to reimburse an entity that offers a firearms safety or training course free of charge to victims of domestic violence, sexual or family abuse or stalking.
“Vogel SB1299-Carrying concealed handguns; protective orders. Authorizes any person 21 years of age or older who is not prohibited from purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm and is protected by an unexpired protective order to carry a concealed handgun for 45 days after the protective order was issued.”
These bills passed both the Senate and the House, and are headed for a signature to the Governor’s desk. Last Monday, however, McAuliffe vetoed a bill which would have expanded eligibility for concealed handgun permits and allowed military service members who are between the ages of 18 and 21, and on active military duty, or who have been honorably discharged, to apply for a permit. Second Amendment bills are not out of the woods yet.
Bills originating in support of regulated Industries like Virginia Power were also a huge buzz at the General Assembly this year. Any legislation mentioning towers, poles, electricity, or similar verbiage were thought to be crafted for the familiar power magnate in support of their bottom line. Virginia Power donates hefty sized contributions in some fashion, whether directly or through Caucus PACs, to just about every member of the Virginia General Assembly.
The jury is still out on the real purpose of these bills, like Delegate Habeeb’s HB1766 Utilities Facilities Act, which was heavily debated and morphed on a daily basis with amendments, while being vehemently defended by the Delegate himself. The end product was a bill which mentions only Prince William County, where coincidentally there had been a problem with local approval on Virginia Power projects. In one fell swoop, the verbiage in this bill declared, from the GA level, all local zoning authority regarding construction of any 138 kilovolt transmission line in District 8 of Prince William County, automatically null and void. Localities need to keep track of the precedents set here as the message is, “Why have local government at all?” The one thing these bills had in common was absolutely no citizen support.
Air B&B reared its ugly head again, stepping out from under its ambiguous status where it was left last year in the 2016 GA session. Masquerading yet again as a “property rights” issue, along with vapid statements like it’s “just like Uber,” as well as something the evil hotel industry doesn’t want, a new bill, aimed at relief to localities, was presented by Senator Tommy Norment. SB1578 offers a remedy to localities who have seen a rise in a myriad of illegal activities under the guise of temporary rentals. This legislation would actually allow local government to retain its own Comprehensive Plan, with local zoning intact, and does not allow the override of the authority of HOAs. Once signed by the governor, if you buy a home in a single family residential area or subdivision, you will now have recourse if your property rights are usurped.
There is always a new “Farm Bill” in every session which is universally misunderstood, and this year was no exception. SB1195, carried by Senator Richard Stuart, created much hue and cry over that which was actually an attempt (at the request of many in the farming community) to prevent Federal inspectors from exercising jurisdiction, or in plainer terms, what is already federal law over Virginia farmers of a certain size. Instead, what SB1195 proposed in essence is the ability for the Virginia Department of Agriculture to conduct those inspections instead and take samples. Just as in the federal statute, they are able to seize certain produce that may violate federal regulations. The addition of the language allowing inspectors to do this work only at “reasonable hours” seemed to help the passage. Voted on at the very last day of session, and heading to Governor McAuliffe, the bill had a sunset clause in the hopes that the Trump administration will repeal all or a portion of its regulation. This ensures that the Virginia bill will no longer be in effect.
Delegate Ron Villanueva’s HB2020, which gave the ability to immigrants to get driver’s licenses, was and remains a mystery. The caveat was that immigrants prove they would be allowed to be present in the country 30 days from the date of the application, but provided no other information. Villanueva represents parts of both the City of Chesapeake and the City of Virginia Beach. The Senate wisely killed this one, but not before a number of Republicans, especially on the House side, voted for its passage. The impact statement said only 6,000 immigrants would most likely apply for a license. As Forrest Gump said, “That’s all I have to say about that….”
Stay tuned for Part II, Virginia Assembly Wrap Up (Cable Bill, Voter Fraud, Cannabis Oil, Party Registration, The Tebow Bill, Term Limits and Budget).