By Brandon Martin
Rob Catron, a lobbyist for Henry County to the General Assembly, provided an update to the Board of Supervisors on items that were passed in this year’s legislative session.
One item of interest to county residents is the approval by Gov. Ralph Northam of House Bill 46. The bill, proposed by Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, will allow for voters to decide in November on whether or not to increase the sales tax in the county by one percent. The funds will specifically be set aside for school construction and major renovation work, according to Catron.
County Administrator Tim Hall said that the move was big for the county because it has the potential to generate $4 to $5 million in revenue for the renovation projects.
Catron said that two other bills by Marshall regarding a voter referendum tied to Martinsville reverting to a town, were voted down.
“The bills that Del. Marshall submitted on our behalf to ask for a referendum in both Henry County and Martinsville in this November’s election, both of those bills were defeated because the General Assembly is very reluctant to get in the middle of these kinds of issues between local governments,” he said.
The issue of firearms has been a concern for residents in Virginia and Catron said that six of the seven bills presented on the topic were passed by the General Assembly, with the ban on assault weapons being the lone bill to not make it to Northam’s desk.
“The first bill that was passed was uniform background checks,” Catron said.
According to his brief, no matter who is selling the gun, they must have a background check run on the person the firearm is being sold to through the state police. State police will be given three days to complete the check.
The next bill was in regards to stolen or lost firearms.
“If anyone loses a firearm, or one is stolen, they must report it to local law enforcement or state police within 48 hours,” he added.
The “red flag” bill was also passed through the legislative body.
Any judge or magistrate can issue an extreme risk protection order on a person that is deemed to pose an immediate risk to themselves or others. The order prevents the person from purchasing, possessing or transporting a firearm. The decision can be appealed, if the recipient disagrees with the judge.
The provision limiting purchases of handguns to one was also reinstated, according to Catron who said that it had previously been in effect from 1993 to 2012.
The final bill on firearms gives localities the ability to pass ordinances if they want to prohibit the ability to carry a firearm in public buildings, parks and recreation centers and public streets.
Catron said another big win for the county came in the form of funding of schools.
“The state budget dramatically increases funding to K-12 education,” he said.
For the past two years, Henry County schools have received $54.2 million and $56.4 million from the state. The next two years, it’s expected to be over $60 million.
In other matters covered in the brief:
*The Commonwealth Transportation Board voted to move forward with the Southern Connector unanimously.
*One bill waiting to be signed by Northam would allow for collective bargaining for local public employees. It is expected to pass with little to no amendments. It allows for local public employees to come before a board and be recognized as a union. The law will take effect on July 1 and does not include employees of Constitutional officers or state employees.
Half of whatever group it is, teachers for example, would have to ask to be recognized for negotiation purposes, according to Catron. The board could then vote on whether or not to go through with it. The process is separate for the school board and the Board of Supervisors. Just because the school board negotiates with a group, it doesn’t tie the Board of Supervisors to them when it comes to the budget.
*Equal taxing authority as cities was given to the counties.
*A bill that will increase the minimum wage was passed. As of January 1, 2021, the minimum wage will be raised to $9.50 an hour. A year later it will be raised to $10.50 and eighteen months after that, it raises to $11.50.
A training wage that would be 75 percent of the minimum wage is allowed for full-time students working less than 20 hours per week. It also applies for on-the-job training programs that last 90 days or less.
*Localities will have to get pre-clearance from the state on voting location changes. It applies to a county with a minority population of 20 percent or more. If you wanted to change the location of a polling place in the precinct, you’d have to get approval from the General Assembly. The Registrar’s Office would handle the submission. Catron said that it’s likely to always be approved.
*One bill would allow for “no reason” absentee voting. Localities could establish voter satellite offices so those wishing to vote absentee don’t have to come to one specific location to cast a ballot. Another bill created same-day voter registration, including election day, to take effect on Oct. 1, 2022. The final voting bill discussed requires the county to provide pre-paid postage for the person to mail the absentee ballots back.
*The General Assembly created a commission to determine how the districts are realigned. If the committee can’t come up with a decision, the State Supreme Court will have the ability to make the decision.
*Senate Bill 561 will provide for local law enforcement and firefighters to file for Worker’s Compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder. It also requires that everyone in those fields be insured. Certain employees will qualify for Workers Compensation if they develop specific cancers and have worked for the county for at least five years.
Catron said that if a person meets the requirement and leaves to retire somewhere else in public service for another state, but that state doesn’t have a similar law, then the cost would be absorbed by Henry County.
Jim Bryant, supervisor for Collinsville, asked if it only applies to professional staff which Catron said it did, and that volunteer workers will not be included.
*A bill passed to prohibit the use of handheld communication devices, like a cell phone, while operating a motor vehicle. It doesn’t apply if a car is stopped or parked and it will go into effect January 1 of next year.