By Brandon Martin
Local legislatures voiced displeasure with recent moves by the Democratic-ruled legislature and executive during the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce’s Post Legislative Update.
“The session didn’t go very well,” Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, said at the June 16 event that was sponsored by Appalachian Power and held via Zoom.
Marshall was removed from the Virginia Tobacco Commission and New College Institute (NCI) Board this year.
The Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission was established to help determine the appropriate recipients and distribute monies in the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Fund. The fund has helped provide payments to tobacco farmers as compensation for the adverse economic effects resulting from loss of investment in specialized tobacco equipment and barns and lost tobacco production opportunities associated with a decline in quota and revitalize tobacco dependent communities.
Marshall said that under the original legislation, representatives for the commission had to “live in or represent part of the footprint” that it encompasses.
State Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Moneta, who serves as chairman of the NCI Board, said it came as a surprise when he too was notified that he had been removed from the board. He said that his removal was quickly reversed, but that it showed “more overreach” on behalf of the Democrats.
Stanley hinted that he could soon file litigation regarding the removal of Marshall from the Tobacco Commission.
“I’m tired of it,” Stanley said, adding that putting representatives from Northern Virginia on the commission was a way “to dismantle the Tobacco Commission.” He said that the only way to get representation “is to fight, and I’m going to fight.”
After serving for the 16th House District since 2014, Del. Les Adams, R-Chatham, said legislating under the new Democratic majority has come with some frustration.
He said that the General Assembly passed about 1,300 bills during the 2020 legislative session, which was 12 percent higher “than just two years ago.”
Adams said that Gov. Ralph Northam has signed many bills that are “bad for business” as well. Specifically, Adams referenced the “right-to-work” bills which he said will reduce the number of businesses willing to come to Virginia.
Virginia Code § 40.1-58 says that “the right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or non-membership in any labor union or labor organization.”
State Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, introduced Senate Bill 427 in response to House Bill 153 which would have effectively repealed “right-to-work” in Virginia. Under Saslaw’s bill, people cannot be fired for refusing to join a union; however, it would allow contracts that force non-union members to pay fees to the union to compensate for the union’s representation during collective bargaining.
Similar to Adams, Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Glade Hill, criticized Democratic moves in the realm of collective bargaining, but he focused on provisions in House Bill 582 which would allow local governments to recognize unionization of employees like teachers and public safety workers.
He said that “it’s not good economically” for the district, along with other “anti-business” bills, such as increases in the minimum wage.
Poindexter also said an “anti-discrimination bill” could be bad for business owners.
In April, Northam signed Senate Bill 868, prohibiting “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, public and private employment, public accommodations, and access to credit.”
Poindexter said that these “anti-discrimination” bills could lead to litigation which would potentially see business owners lose “their business and home” if they lose the lawsuit.
On June 15, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited under federal civil rights law.
Marshall noted the signing of House Bill 46, which he introduced to allow for voters to decide in November on whether or not to increase the sales tax in Henry County by one percent. The funds will specifically be set aside for school construction and major renovation work.
The referendum will apply to Henry and Patrick counties, but the City of Martinsville opted not to be included, according to Marshall.
House Bill 962, also introduced by Marshall, was signed by Northam and will regulate smokable hemp products for those over 21 and allow the sale of these products in vending machines.
Marshall highlighted the benefits of hemp for the agricultural sector for the Commonwealth including CBD and as production material.
“We really need to look at ways to market hemp,” he said.
The post-legislative update ended with the representatives discussing the movement to defund police and remove school resource officers from schools.
Stanley said that he disagreed with the movement, saying that the answer lies in police education and training rather than “this drastic, draconian” movement to defund police.
Similarly, Adams said it would be “misguided” to defund police, and that he believes making “police the enemy is a bad way to go.”
Poindexter called the move “anarchy,” and said that it would not go over well with Virginians. He said this type of rhetoric would affect law enforcement’s already difficult job of recruiting.
“Law enforcement is so underpaid that they have a serious problem recruiting,” he said.
Stanley said law enforcement is also seeing a 19-21 percent attrition rate.
Marshall, who served on the School Safety Committee in 2018, also took issue with School Resource Officers (SROs) being removed from schools. In terms of what is necessary to ensure the safety of a school, he said “school resource officers are at the top of the list.”