Update from the General Assembly | Week Eight
Updated: Apr 30, 2020
Greetings to the Constituents of Virginia’s 19th House District:
The 2020 Session has completed its seventh week in Richmond, and I’d like to take a moment to update you on the latest from the General Assembly as we prepare to adjourn on March 7th. With only one week remaining, we still have more than 900 bills and resolutions to consider, as well as Virginia’s $138 billion budget. Though concerned with the potential effects a number of these bills could have on Virginia, I will continue working to protect our constitutional rights, ensure a fair election process, create economic opportunity, and improve our education system.
Several gun bills passed this week, including the so-called “Red Flag law” that would allow law enforcement to confiscate firearms from individuals reported to pose a substantial risk to themselves or others. My colleagues raised several concerns over this law. In particular, we worry that the threat of having their guns confiscated may discourage people with mental health concerns from seeking the appropriate help, or that individuals may abuse this law to confiscate a person’s guns out of retribution.
In spite of this, we remain tentatively hopeful for a final display of bipartisanship before session concludes. Republicans have urged our colleagues across the aisle to vote on the proposed Constitutional amendment that would end partisan gerrymandering in Virginia. The Democratic leadership, who voted with overwhelming support for the amendment alongside Republicans last year, is now backing off their support. This has led to a rift between House and Senate Democrats between those who support the amendment and those who do not. Now Governor Northam has intervened by promising to provide his own solution, further muddling any clear notion of the Democrats’ intentions. I and my fellow Republicans remain committed to our pledge to pass nonpartisan redistricting.
As for my legislation, I am pleased to report that my bill to expand membership to organizations such as the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority was signed by the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate. It is now on its way to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law. Increasing participation in these authorities will help facilitate the expansion of broadband in our region and the Commonwealth and is vital for increasing economic and educational opportunities in the areas that need it most.
My bill to implement bonding for the improvements to Interstate 81 was incorporated into the Speaker’s transportation omnibus bill. While I don’t agree with everything in it, the state bonding provision will ensure that the improvements on Interstate 81 are performed in an expeditious manner. Without bonding, the 63 improvements currently under way would take almost ten years longer to complete. If we have the ability to address the safety and reliability issues of this highway in a timelier fashion, then we should do everything we can to do so.
My bill to create a funding mechanism to attract airline service in our region passed through both chambers, but not before the Senate amended it. Because Senator Edwards is also carrying a similar bill in the Senate, the differences will need to be ironed out in conference. I was appointed by the Speaker as a bill conferee and look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that this program is created in a thoughtful and effective manner. This is an economic development issue and I am hopeful that we can come to an agreement on how to attract airline service to our airports in Virginia.
I continue to advocate for my budget amendments to create a regional health sciences program, ensure that two important health sciences courses are still offered in our college system, and restore online Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) funding. These amendments seek to expand educational opportunities for Virginians and satisfy the current needs of our region’s economy. Establishing a robust education system will ensure a strong future workforce, and these amendments will help move us towards this goal.
As always, please contact my office to let me know your position on current issues. I can be reached on the Richmond office phone number (804) 698-1019 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The General Assembly Building continues to be renovated and my office is now located at Room E405 in the Pocahontas Building on 900 East Main Street, Richmond, VA 23219.
Delegate Terry L. Austin
19th House District