By State Sen. Bill Stanley
January 26, 2021
The second week of the 2021 General Assembly got into full swing as the various Senate committees began doing the “heavy lifting” of considering all of the legislation filed by all 40 senators, and then moving those bills that each committee approves to the Senate Chamber for a final vote. It being early in the session, a relatively small number of bills have been approved by committees and sent to full Senate for consideration. So far, about ten percent of the bills submitted by senators have been approved by the Senate and sent to the House.
Although the early days of session are usually not notable for lengthy debates, this week a topic received a lot of discussion among senators.
Virginia’s disappointing performance in getting its citizens inoculated with the COVID-19 was a topic noted and discussed this week. With an issue this critical – and this important to the people we represent – it would have been unusual were it not a major topic.
Since the vaccine was approved and the federal government began distributing doses to the states, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have kept track of how states are doing in inoculating its citizens. As has been widely reported, Virginia has consistently been at the bottom of the CDC’s rankings. Most of this week, Virginia was ranked 48th, which means 47 states were doing a better job than we were inoculating their citizens.
The CDC’s rankings are based on how many citizens a state has inoculated per 100,000 in population. By mid-week, Virginia was still below 4,000 per 100,000. For comparison, West Virginia was over 8,500 per 100,000 citizens – more than double our performance.
Republican legislators have been asking why we are doing so poorly and what is being done to rectify the situation. This is a critical problem that must be addressed. For our most vulnerable citizens, our seniors and those at risk due to underlying medical conditions, the vaccine holds the promise of saving lives.
Disappointingly, a few of our Democrat colleagues have been more likely to assign blame for the pandemic than requiring the Northam Administration provide answers to Virginia’s poor performance. In these hyper-partisan times, that response may be instinctive. But this is not a partisan issue or a philosophical disagreement over policy direction. This issue can make the difference between life and death.
This week, the majority party, which gets to decide on which committees we serve, made changes to the committee assignments of some senators. I was among the lucky few Republicans to receive a new committee assignment. Currently, I sit on the Judiciary Committee, The Committee on Local Government, and The Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. I have now been appointed to serve on the Senate Transportation Committee. This committee consists of 15 Senators, to consider matters concerning airports; airspaces; airways; the laws concerning motor vehicles relating to rules of the road or traffic regulations; heliports; highways; port facilities; public roads and streets; transportation safety; public waterways; railways; seaports; transportation companies or corporations; and transportation public utilities. Since much of the legislative work, especially on the intricate details of bills, is performed in committees, these assignments are of great importance to senators. I am honored to now serve on this important committee, as I believe it critical for our region, especially in light of the need to move the “Southern Connector”/I-73 project forward as a part of re-building our regional economy. Coincidentally, I have filed a legislative budget amendment in this year to secure the financing for this important VDOT project. I will continue to be a strong voice for our region to ensure that we receive transportation dollars necessary to for road projects such as this one.
Del. Les R. Adams
16th House District
Over the past several days following the commencement of the 2021 regular session, the Virginia General Assembly has held numerous committee meetings and floor sessions whereby scores of votes have been cast on many issues. In the House of Delegates these proceedings are all conducted electronically online, as I described in last week’s column. As expected, this disjointed process is cumbersome, at best, and seriously limits the ability to conduct a deliberative process. Instead, while public participation is diminished, the majority party is pressing full steam ahead with their exceptionally progressive agenda, with few exceptions.
For my part, I am again carrying a heavy workload as a continuing member of several full committees: Courts of Justice, Privileges and Elections, and Transportation. These standing committees are divided into sub-committees where most bills are first assigned. On Courts of Justice, the committee which hears the most bills of any House committee, I continue, as I have since 2014, as a member of the Criminal Law Sub-committee (the most prolific of all sub-committees). As a member of Privileges and Elections, I am part of the Constitutional Amendments sub-committee. And under Transportation, I work on two of its three sub-committees. It is a particularly busy itinerary, but one that provides insight into much of the session’s legislation at its early stages.
In addition to attending this regular meeting schedule, I also recently participated in the first meeting of the Virginia Redistricting Commission. This was the first such meeting of its kind in our state’s history, following the adoption of the amendment to the state’s constitution this past November whereby we instituted a new process for establishing districts for the United States House of Representatives, the Virginia Senate, and the Virginia House of Delegates. These new districts are drawn every ten years following the data collection from the United States Census. Until this year, such maps would be drawn according to the dictates of the majority party in charge at the time. This Commission process dramatically changes that practice and implements a bipartisan approach for arriving at a consensus.
The new commission consists of sixteen members, including citizens, appointed by certain members of the judiciary, and an equal number of legislators from each state house and political party. As one of the two Republican Delegates chosen by the leadership of my caucus, I was honored to accept this task and look forward to working with my fellow commissioners to fulfill the mission set before us.
Lastly for this week, you should know that the House Republican Caucus has persistently pressed the governor’s administration for answers and improvement on the failure to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine in an expeditious manner. From the time the vaccine became available, nearly every other state has obtained more success in this task than has Virginia. What has become clear is that an effective strategic plan was simply not sufficiently developed nor delivered by the executive branch.
For my part, our legislative office is coordinating with all possible resources to help everyone we can. If you need assistance, call us at (434) 432-1600.
By Del. Charles Poindexter
Week #2, Jan. 17-23
We have completed the first full week of the 2021 General Assembly Session. The House continued operating virtually with its limitations and effectiveness hampered by technical issues, limited public participation, and the inability to sufficiently communicate between legislators, constituents, and stakeholders of legislation.
Your and my primary concern continues to be the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccines. As best I can determine due to ever-changing Executive Branch plans and directives, the governor and his team have decided to use the local health department districts to administer the vaccine. I do not see how that can work on the scale required, especially since the districts do not have the resources required. While they are receiving excellent assistance from Franklin Carilion and SOVAH Martinsville, additional vaccine doses must be shipped and, clearly, private sector medical resources immediately added to the toolboxes.
We who reside in the 9th House of Delegates District (Patrick, western Henry and most of Franklin counties), which I represent, plus a few areas nearby, such as Martinsville City, are in the West Piedmont Health District (WPHD). It has been announced WPHD will enter Tier 1b starting January 25 and directs us to monitor the WPHD website for sign-up instructions. They warn to expect it will take some unspecified time before doses are available. Tier 1b includes ages 65 and above, those with certain underlying health conditions, and essential workers. How WPHD sorts out the order of receiving the vaccine within Tier 1b groups is unknown.
The House Republican Caucus met virtually with Gov. Northam’s vaccine leadership team the evening of January 21 to try to obtain more precise information on why the process is bogged down. I only heard excuses for why Virginia is doing such a poor job on roll-out when compared with other states. Answers were not provided as to why the elderly, who are more prone to serious complications or even death from the virus, are not receiving the next top priority status after medical providers.
One of my priorities this year is, or was, collecting the data on just how many of our rural acres of production agriculture and forestry lands are being chewed up by industrial and commercial scale solar and wind farms in Virginia. My HB2023 simply would have required reporting of that data so the state, localities, citizens, and both the agriculture and forestry industries can measure the impact as well as consider the data in specific site/permitting of these facilities. My bill was killed in subcommittee without any discussion. I thank all who supported my bill, including the Farm Bureau, whose representative managed to get into the virtual “Public Room” to testify in favor of the bill.
While this year is an unprecedented Session in every respect, I remain honored to serve as your voice in the House of Delegates. I will continue the fight for our rural and small town values and principles. To contact me during Session, call (540)576-2600 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. My legislative assistant, William Pace, or I will respond as quickly as possible.