Update from the General Assembly | Week Five
Greetings to the Constituents of Virginia’s 19th House District:
Week five has concluded and the House of Delegates continues to play catch up as Crossover approaches. The theme continues to be long meetings with large agendas. When coupled with bill amendments that are presented minutes before meetings begin, the result is unsurprising, and the potential ramifications are serious. The bills passing through the House will raise taxes, make Virginia less competitive with other states, slow economic growth and cost hard working Virginians their jobs. All of this to the detriment of Virginia.
Attempts to weaken the Second Amendment continue. Though two Democratic Senators killed the Senate’s “reckless” endangerment bill that passed through the House, there are still attempts to severely curtail our constitutional right. HB961 is the House’s companion bill to SB16, which sought to drastically redefine and expand the definition of an assault weapon and was promptly withdrawn by its patron in Senate committee. The House bill was heard in Public Safety Committee this past Friday, and because citizens were escorted out of the room during debate, public input was stifled. This piece of legislation would require law-abiding citizens to surrender or destroy their lawfully possessed firearms or standard-issue magazines in what is tantamount to confiscation. Virginians who merely own the most common types of firearms and accessories would be made to be felons and subject to prison. The disconnect between our urban and rural areas is apparent.
Another prime example of this disparity are the economic bills passing through the body. HB582, which would allow local government employees to collectively bargain is a massive change in Virginia labor law. Unlike their private sector counterparts, public sector unions can organize and elect people who will give them better terms at taxpayer expense. Private sector unions can't elect a new negotiating partner. Interestingly, this ostensibly pro-employee initiative repeals a section of code ensuring union members have a right to a secret ballot in union elections. Taken as a whole, these policies will place an undue burden on rural counties, forcing them to raise taxes on residents in order to fund any wage and benefit increases. Efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15 continue to be made which, if successful, would severely burden small businesses, particularly those located outside of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.
Very serious bills continue to be referred to the improper committees. HB1700 is one such example. Referred to a Transportation subcommittee on which I serve, this bill seeks to limit the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) from releasing information to “any federal agency that primarily enforces immigration law without a judicial warrant or court order”. In short, it would prevent federal law enforcement agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from accessing crucial data used to locate and arrest violent criminals, many of whom are here illegally. An amendment, presented by the patron mere minutes before the meeting commenced, sought to give the Commissioner of DMV the authority to block data requests by federal agencies. The bill also prohibited the State Board of Elections from distributing certain immigration information provided by the Department. Interestingly, New York recently enacted this very same law on December 14th of last year.
This bill should have been referred to Courts, not Transportation. Enabling the Commissioner of the DMV and the State Board of Elections to effectively hinder the investigations of violent and heinous crimes is not only bad policy, it has very serious security implications for Virginia and the country as a whole. The seriousness is such that on February 6th, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memorandum to New York state informing it that the Department’s efforts are so constrained that it must prevent New York residents from enrolling in its Trusted Traveler Program (TTP). Nationwide access to such data was critical to the arrest of nearly 4,000 child predators, 3,800 gang members and to rescue or identify 1,400 victims of sexual exploitation or human trafficking.
Preventing federal law enforcement from protecting the public at large through a last-second amendment is egregious in intent and insidious in nature. I moved to kill the bill in subcommittee, and the motion passed 7-0. However, it was reintroduced in the full committee, where I again voiced my concerns. Thankfully, I was able to convince my colleagues of the magnitude of this bill, and it did not make it out of Transportation this year. However, it will be brought back again in 2021. This bill is dangerous to the safety of Virginians, and I will continue my efforts to see that it does not prevent law enforcement from performing its duties to protect and serve.
As for my bills, HB1602, which seeks to increase air service across Virginia, including Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport, passed out of Appropriations 20-1 and will be voted on this coming Monday in the House. This bill will provide Virginia’s airports with a much-needed mechanism by which to attract flights, giving travelers the ability to fly out of Virginia, rather than having to travel out of state to do so. HB1538 will establish state bonding to 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. HB1538 was incorporated into the Speaker’s transportation omnibus bill, HB1414.
I enjoyed spending time with everyone from 4-H Clubs throughout the 19th District. These young men and women are the future of our $70 billion agricultural industry and are the backbone of Virginia. They did a wonderful job advocating on behalf of farmers and educating everyone on the important role farming and forestry has on our economy. Their values and personal initiative are something all Virginians should aspire to.
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