Update from the General Assembly | Week Two
Greetings to the Constituents of Virginia’s 19th House District:
Week two has concluded and unfortunately for the Commonwealth, it feels as though the legislative process has ground to a halt. With a newly elected majority comes changes that include not just the makeup of General Assembly members, but its support staff as well. It is the prerogative of the new Speaker of the House to choose the Clerk and legislative committee staff. She has decided to remove G. Paul Nardo from the post which he has served admirably for the better part of the past decade and has hired Suzette Denslow. The role of the Clerk is to ensure that the House is functioning in an efficient and effective manner.
The deadline to introduce bills passed this Friday at 3pm and 1,731 have been filed. This number does not include House Resolutions, which can be filed at any point during session and typically number in the hundreds by the time session ends in March. Two weeks into session, the House has voted on zero bills. The backlog is so great that the current chair of the Courts of Justice - Criminal Subcommittee felt it necessary during session to inform the body that his subcommittee will have an average of 25 bills on the docket. It is likely that bills will not get the full attention they deserve, and some may get no hearing at all.
Morale is such that a highly respected staff attorney on Labor and Commerce recently resigned from his job after years of dedicated service. Committee staff is comprised of the men and women who draft our bills, help create committee agendas, and provide legal guidance to the House. Their institutional knowledge is highly respected and nearly impossible to replicate -they should be valued accordingly. On Friday, our Republicans pleaded with the Speaker to address these issues and offered our assistance to ensure that the House of Delegates functions properly for this 60-day session. Taxpayer money is meant to provide a competent government that serves the people, and these issues need to be addressed immediately.
Not only has time been underutilized, money has been spent on security and resources have been stretched thin. On Monday, legislative staff spent upwards of two hours waiting to get into our office building thanks to the newly implemented and poorly designed security measures that were enacted by the majority party on the first Friday of session. Furthermore, state troopers have been called in from across the Commonwealth to provide additional security. Virginia already has a trooper shortage and assigning them to Richmond has left the localities from which they come at a disadvantage. Fencing has been erected on Capitol Grounds and security systems installed throughout, all at taxpayer’s expense.
What has traditionally been a peaceful lobbying day for gun owners has now morphed into an attack on the Second Amendment and increasingly the First. There are no doubt some bad actors who intend to cause mischief or worse, and security is always paramount for our citizens and legislators, but the manner in which these policies have been enacted and enforced leaves much to be desired. Responsible gun owners visiting the Capitol have always been very respectful people and they have not been made to feel that way this session. Everyone has a right to lobby for their rights as private citizens, and to paint advocates of the Second Amendment as anything different is unjust, wrong, and a disservice to our Constitution. Though this update will be submitted before January 20th, I want to make it clear that these men and women should not be judged on the subversive activities of people who want to diminish our right to self-protection.
That being said, subcommittees were assigned and for Appropriations I am pleased to report that I sit on Capital Outlay, Higher Education, and Transportation & Public Safety. For Transportation I have been assigned to the subcommittees of Transportation Systems, and Transportation Innovation and General Topics. Subcommittees are where bills get their first hearings in the House and I look forward to getting to work.
As stated last week, I am working towards implementing a regional health sciences program for our public schools, creating a Children’s Ombudsman office to ensure that our childcare programs are run properly and efficiently, and improving air service to Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport. These initiatives are important to Virginia and our region and I look forward to championing them in the coming weeks ahead.
I will also work against any attempts to chip away at the Dillon Rule and our state history, both of which are being rebuked by the Governor and the current majority. The Dillon Rule states that local governments are limited to powers expressly provided to them by the state. This rule ensures consistency among localities and is vital in its purpose of maintaining coherence in laws and regulations throughout Virginia. Unfortunately, the new majority is insistent that war memorials that have stood for decades and recognized the history of our commonwealth are now so offensive that they must be removed. It intends to remove them by giving localities the ability to do so. Though it is important to understand the history of our state in totality, one perspective should not be promoted at the expense of another. And it should most certainly not result in creating a state comprised of localities that are run by a complex patchwork of different codes and regulations. A bill to remove Lee-Jackson Day as a state holiday is another example of this effort to diminish Virginia’s history. It will be taken up in Rules Committee, and I intend to vote against doing so.
Concerning local government, I, along with Senator Creigh Deeds, have submitted a budget amendment to provide funding for Alleghany and Covington to continue exploring their desire to merge school systems. Both the senator and I have listened to and agree with the benefits as described by the joint committee created to consider the merger. Our children must be given the best opportunity to succeed and, in this case, it appears that combining resources will accomplish this goal. I have also submitted two budget amendments to restore funding for Circuit Court Clerks and their Career Development Programs. Just like the Clerk’s Office in the House of Delegates, our court systems cannot operate effectively without a sufficiently funded office of dedicated and qualified staff. These two amendments will address these current shortages.
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 email@example.com. 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