Update from the General Assembly | Week Six
Greetings to the Constituents of Virginia’s 19th House District:
Week six has concluded and the General Assembly has reached the halfway mark of our 2020 Session. Known as Crossover, this is the point where the House of Delegates can only work on the Senate’s legislation, and vice versa. During this time, the new majority has solidified its vision for Virginia with the legislation it has introduced and passed out of the House. For the past twenty years, Republicans have strived to provide the taxpaying citizens of Virginia with the most effective services in the most efficient manner. As a result, Virginia has been a model for fiscally responsible government that prioritized our constitutional liberties and personal initiative. A number of bills passing through both chambers will change this dynamic. Ensuring the integrity of the Second Amendment, defending our business climate, and protecting the rights of citizens continues to be my priority as we enter the second half of session.
Unfortunately, HB961 passed out of the House on a 51-48 vote. Though watered down from its original form it would still turn countless law-abiding Virginians into felons overnight. The current version doesn't ban modern sporting rifles outright, but it does make it a crime to import, sell, transfer or do virtually anything else with them. It also bans the sale of parts that can be "readily converted" into such a weapon, putting repair of a failing firearm in question. As for what constitutes a "high capacity" magazine, the arbitrary number of 12 was chosen, making it a felony to possess the standard magazines that come with most sporting rifles and pistols.
Though three Democrats agreed that the bill was too extreme, the appetite for gun control was too much to overcome. Thankfully, a similar bill in the Senate was withdrawn by its patron a few weeks ago. It is imperative that those who wish to protect our constitutional right to bear arms continue to communicate your thoughtful and well-reasoned opposition to such legislation. I have had conversations with a number of Senators over the course of these past few weeks and believe that the moderating influence of Senate can prevail if the will of the people is not ignored.
Economic measures introduced in the House have already called into question Virginia’s current ranking as the number one state for business. These include increasing the minimum wage, implementing collective bargaining for public employees and requiring employees to join a union. If made into law, the result will be an increased burden on small business, employees, consumers and taxpayers.
Raising the minimum wage will negatively affect the very people it is supposed to help. Doing so in such a quick fashion will place an undue burden on small businesses, diminish job opportunities, and raise prices on those who can least afford it. Firms will be forced to adjust to an artificially raised wage floor by reducing positions and increasing prices. Furthermore, a blanket wage increase will disproportionately affect the 19th District, Southwest Virginia and rural areas throughout the Commonwealth. Understanding that some form of increase will pass, the Senate has proposed a regional approach that takes into account cost of living differences throughout Virginia.
Collective bargaining will place local governments in the precarious situation of raising taxes on its residents, who will be at the mercy of public union negotiators. Because this bill repeals a section of code ensuring union members have a right to a secret ballot in union elections, coercion will supplant common sense when it comes to the fiduciary responsibility of local governments dealing with public sector employment. Placing such a burden on Virginia generally and rural counties specifically will create an environment of higher taxes without an appreciable increase in quality of services received.
Another issue is the prioritization of Virginia’s citizens. We are a nation of immigrants, and embrace everyone who wants to work hard, raise a family, and take part in the American Dream. These goals should be accomplished through the legal pathways that currently exist to do so. Unfortunately, a bill passed out of the House that would blur the line between someone who is here legally versus someone who is not. It seeks to give undocumented immigrants an official state driver’s license almost identical to that of someone who is a citizen. During committee, I argued that because this license could easily misrepresent an individual as a US citizen it would open the door to identity fraud and compromise our safety in the United States.
The Senate also passed out a driving privileges card for undocumented immigrants. This accomplishes the same thing as the House bill but is more easily distinguished from a citizen’s driver’s license. Considering that some form of identification will most likely make it to the Governor’s desk, we hope that it is the one that has a different color background from a citizen’s driver’s license and has to be renewed every two years. We should be welcoming of those who want to become productive citizens, but not at the expense of those who already are.
House Democrats also voted to put big states like New York, California, and Texas in charge of who gets Virginia’s 13 Electoral Votes, passing legislation to ratify the National Popular Vote interstate compact. Should Virginia voters choose a candidate of one party, but the candidate of another party wins the most votes nationally, Virginia’s 13 electors would be required to vote against the candidate chosen by Virginia voters. The Electoral College was designed to preserve the voice of smaller states. Virginians should speak for Virginians.
As a member of Appropriations, I remained in Richmond this past weekend to work on the budget, which will have been reported out this Sunday, February 16th at 1:00pm. An update on my budget amendments will be provided in next week’s update. As for my bills, HB1376 will be heard this week by Senate Finance. It allows an entity such as the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) to have the option of increasing its membership, resulting in a board that more adequately represents the diverse voices and opinions of the local communities, citizens, and businesses it serves. HB1602, which seeks to increase air service across Virginia, including Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport, passed out of the House and will be taken up by the Senate in the near future. 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.
I enjoyed spending time with everyone who visited my office this week. Leaders of the Botetourt and Alleghany Highlands YMCA’s explained the impact that legislation would have on its ability to provide community services and expressed support for our Mock General Assembly Program. This program allows high school students to participate firsthand in the process of creating, drafting, and passing a bill into law and is a great opportunity for our young men and women to engage themselves in government.
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