Greetings to the Constituents of Virginia’s 19th House District:
This past Wednesday, January 13th the Virginia General Assembly convened during what continues to be unusual circumstances. I am honored to represent the constituents of the 19th House District and look forward to serving your interests on the committees of Appropriations, Transportation, and Rules. My focus continues to be protecting your constitutional rights, promoting business-friendly legislation and advocating for our region’s interests.
Though the Senate is to meet in person, the House of Delegates will be holding session virtually. While I understand the need to protect the health and safety of everyone involved in the legislative process, I have reservations with this decision. As legislators, we need to hear from our constituents and stakeholders across the Commonwealth to better understand their positions on general issues and specific bills. This discourse is severely hampered in an all-virtual session. Conversation and debate in committee and subcommittee hearings are stilted and not everyone has access to necessary broadband connections to actively participate. Members of the public are having difficulty simply signing up to do so. Sidebar discussion with my colleagues is not feasible. The end result is that bills introduced by the majority party become one-sided affairs where those with valid concerns are effectively ignored.
Being an “odd year” this Session is intended to be a short one. Constitutionally, the General Assembly is required to be in session for 30 days, and it has been a generally observed custom to extend the short session by 15 days so that the budget can be considered more thoroughly. However, because last year’s Special Session lasted 84 days, and because the budget was debated during that time, Republicans have chosen not to agree to this extension.
From the outset, Virginia’s legislature has been made up of part-time legislators who travelled to Richmond during the winter months. The idea being that representatives are not full time politicians, but actively engaged members of the community who better understand the issues and concerns of the constituents we represent. The Regular Session was chosen to be held in the winter months because it is when the workloads of farmers is considerably less. Having an annual two month long session also allows time for Virginians to digest and adjust to new laws and regulations in a reasonable manner.
I understand and appreciate why our legislature has been structured this way. Unfortunately, it seems that the prevailing trend is for the General Assembly to become a full time legislative body. The upshot is bigger government passing more legislation and creating more regulations. This year, we saw the new majority pass labor laws that will increase the minimum wage and put pressure on small businesses to price themselves out of the market or downsize overall employee numbers – the opposite of their ostensible purpose.
This session, the legislation I am carrying focuses mainly on areas of needed improvement in our education system. I have resubmitted a budget amendment request to expand the health sciences initiative program in our region to include Dabney S. Lancaster, Virginia Western, and New River Valley Community Colleges. I am also submitting two bills that will serve to better reflect the interests of Virginia as it relates to our Board of Education. One bill requires the Board of Education to include at least five members who each reside in different superintendent's regions in the Commonwealth. The other bill requires the Board of Education to include at least one member with experience or expertise in local government leadership or policymaking, at least one member with experience or expertise in career and technical education, and at least one member with experience or expertise in early childhood education. These are common sense adjustments that will better reflect the educational needs of our students, especially here in rural Virginia.
My Republican colleagues and I are working to restore confidence in our elections. A number of changes last year opened the door for doubts about election security. The more secure and transparent our elections are, the more people will trust the results. That’s why we’re working to end policies that could allow for ballot harvesting, reinstating photo ID to vote, and interference with poll and count watching volunteers. None of these changes will make voting more difficult and will address valid concerns regarding election integrity.
We are also continuing to urge the Governor to make the necessary adjustments to vaccine distribution within the Commonwealth. Virginia has received roughly 1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from two approved providers, and efforts to vaccinate as many Virginians as possible are finally beginning to ramp up. Unfortunately, the efforts have been hampered by a failure to properly prepare for this effort. Virginia ranks near the bottom in terms of vaccine distributed as a share of vaccines delivered. I have had numerous conversations with the Virginia Department of Health to express my disappointment with the situation and requesting that it take appropriate action to ensure those who want to get vaccinated are able to do so. If you are interested in learning more about the vaccine please visit the following link: https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-vaccine/.
As always, if there is anything I or my staff can do to help you or your family, please don’t hesitate to contact me at DelTAustin@house.virginia.gov or at (804) 698-1019.
Delegate Terry L. Austin
19th House District