By Brandon Martin
Local GOP legislators said they may be in the minority when they returned to Richmond for the 2020 General Assembly session, but that will not deter them from working to benefit their respective districts.
Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Glade Hill, said he plans to tackle internet access disparity.
Compared to the 96 percent of urban residents that have access to broadband internet access, a 2016 study by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce indicates that only 53 percent of rural communities experienced the same.
Internet providers prefer concentrated customer bases because there is more room for profit when they don’t have to expand their reach as far. Providing access to more rural areas is more expensive per customer due to this.
Poindexter, who serves the 9th District, which includes Patrick and Franklin counties as well of portions of Henry County, said that lawmakers like himself are “looking at broadband.” After combing over the budget, Poindexter hopes to find ways to provide “lines going into the remote areas.”
He said he knows there could be financial obstacles.
“It might cost some money, so we need to have some discussions on how we are going to do that,” he said, adding that he is looking at “some of the main ones like Dominion and Appalachian” on how to provide broadband access in a cost-efficient manner.
He also is looking to build off of momentum from last year in regards to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI).
“I’m going to be looking at RGGI and TCI again,” Poindexter said of the regional compacts. “RGGI will put a cap-and-trade tax on electricity generators, which is Appalachian. According to the SEC, electric rates will go up about six billion dollars in Virginia as a result of it.”
RGGI is the first mandatory cap-and-trade program in the country to limit carbon dioxide from the power sector. States currently participating in the initiative are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont with New Jersey set to rejoin this year. It also requires fossil fuel power plants with a capacity greater than 25 megawatts to obtain an allowance for each ton of carbon dioxide emitted annually. Power plants within the region may comply by purchasing allowances from quarterly auctions, other generators within the region, or offset projects.
According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, RGGI states “have seen more than $3 billion in economic benefits from the Northeast’s cap-and-trade program.”
Poindexter also noted that TCI “is going to be real important. This is very important because they are proposing another 17-cents increase on a fuel tax starting 2021, 2021,” he said. “That would be on top of the 12-cents that the governor is proposing, so that’s a big increase for rural people that have to drive a long ways. I’m going to be addressing some restrictions on that.”
The tax that Poindexter referred to was included as a projection in an executive summary provided by TCI. The summary claims that if the petroleum industry decides to pass the cost of complying with the cap-and-trade program onto the consumers, then an incremental price increase of 5-, 9- or 17-cents could be tacked on by 2022.
The summary also notes that those increases are still within the range of historical variability meaning that the cost increase could happen regardless of the cap-and-trade program. They also stated that because of the program, states will be able to invest in clean transportation options, reducing the exposure of the economy to big changes in the price of oil.
Following months of opposition on gun legislation from rural communities near his district, Poindexter also will “oppose any gun bill that is going to take away a person’s right to defend themselves, their family and their property.”
This comes on the heels of many localities in Southern Virginia voting to become Second Amendment Sanctuaries, and seeking to curtail any movement on the issue from the new, Democratic-controlled General Assembly.
While some bills have been pre-filed, Poindexter said he is waiting until the actual bill is rolled out.
“I’m hopeful that the other side of the aisle will back away and be reasonable with what they propose,” he said. “The pre-filings were way too much overreach and I think unconstitutional.”
When asked which items he deemed unconstitutional, Poindexter said the implementation of red flag laws.
“Red flag laws, to me, are unconstitutional because the person would have their guns taken away without a hearing. You’ve got to prove that you might not do something. That’s exactly opposite to our fundamental legal system of being innocent until proved guilty,” he said.
Red Flag proposals would authorize courts to issue a protective order which allows the police to confiscate firearms from people deemed by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others. As of last year, at least 17 states had approved some version of red flag laws.
These laws have been challenged on unconstitutionality before but have so far failed to convince a judge. In Hope versus State in 2016, the court ruled that the state didn’t violate the Second Amendment because ” it does not restrict the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of their homes.” Instead, the court said that the red flag laws are consistent with lawful regulatory measures allowed via the Supreme Court’s decision in Heller versus District of Columbia. Additionally, in Davis versus Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office in 2019, the Florida First District Court of Appeal also rejected a challenge to Florida’s red-flag law, holding that the law is constitutional and does not violate the right to due process.
When asked about working across the aisle on gun legislation, Poindexter said that “as of now, I don’t see anything that’s going to get bipartisan approval.”
Similarly, Del. Les Adams, R-Chatham, vowed to oppose such gun legislation from his Democratic colleagues.
“Now that Republicans are in the minority, and faced with a governor who is vowing to impose New York-style gun control, much of our efforts will be focused on defending the rights of law-abiding citizens who exercise their second amendment rights,” he said.
Adams, who serves the 16th District, which includes the City of Martinsville and a majority of both Henry and Pittsylvania counties, said he also is concerned about too much change in the arena of criminal justice reform since “some changes to our criminal justice system may make sense,” but, he added “a complete overhaul does not.”
As a practicing attorney and partner at the Chatham law firm of Adams and Fisk, PLC., Adams said he thinks “it is important that we support law enforcement and do not create a system that rewards or incentivizes wrongdoing.”
He also added that “Virginia enjoys very low crime and recidivism rates.”
Virginia ranks fourth lowest in property crime and 13th lowest in violent crime, according to the FBI.
When it comes to recidivism, Virginia ranks the lowest in the country with a rate of 23.4 percent.
Looking ahead, Adams said he is hopeful to get bi-partisan support on some issues that he is looking to push.
“In addition to several bills that address various economic concerns, I also intend to introduce legislation that would provide vocational support to law enforcement officers seriously injured in the line of duty. I am also seeking ways to help fund officer training and address the challenges facing volunteer fire and rescue organizations,” he concluded.
Poindexter is wary about what the new Democrat-majority may do with their numbers.
“In general, we do not yet have any idea on whether or not the committees will be proportioned between the number of Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “We have yet to get word on what the committee assignments would be. There will be rules changes to decades-long house rules. I am concerned with all the committees. Nine out of 14 are chaired by members from Northern Virginia that are good people but with that leadership control, I’ve very worried about the fairness across the Commonwealth, especially on the budget and things like that.”
He outlined concerns over tax increases, the spending increases and the budget as top areas where Democrats may move. He also mentioned cultural issues as well such as the removal of Confederate statues in the state.
“I’m concerned about the Dillon Rule, for example, taking down our monuments,” he said. “Land use is a local decision, not something dictated from Richmond.”
The city of Richmond, former capital of the Confederacy and location of monuments to many Confederate figures, voted 6-2 to petition the state to allow the city to take down or modify the statues. Based on current Virginia law, local governments can put up war monuments but they are prohibited from removing or modifying them. The law prevents local governments from moving statues or including explanatory signs pertaining to their existence as well.
State Sen. Bill Stanley, R- Moneta, and Del. Danny Marshall III, R- Danville, could not immediately be reached for comment.