We have completed the first full week of the General Assembly Session, and committees are now actively engaged in considering bills. To date, I have not had any bills considered before a full committee, though one bill (HB1346) has been sent from subcommittee to the full Courts of Justice committee, by unanimous vote.
Expanding Local Authority
My original bill to permit localities to regulate war memorials and monuments (HB1225) has been criticized by some for reasons that are unrelated to the specific language of my now-amended bill. Unlike other “statue” bills that have been introduced this year, one of which has already been killed in the Senate, my amended proposal is focused exclusively on Confederate monuments. Any criticism that my bill could be used to remove monuments honoring fallen veterans of the United States armed forces from recent wars or conflicts is totally misplaced. My bill also requires a public process to be followed before a locality can remove a monument. This would mean that a local Planning Commission would need to consider any change, and that there would need to be public hearings. Localities would also be permitted, but not required, to conduct a non-binding referendum prior to a vote to remove.
I have two other bills that will provide greater public safety authority to localities. The first is a bill (HB1019) requested by the Governor’s office that will allow localities which issue event permits for demonstrations and major public gatherings to prevent weapons and guns from being carried into such events. This bill has been assigned to the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee, which is not known to favor restrictions on gun possession. I also filed a bill that would add Charlottesville and Albemarle to a list of specific localities that can prohibit semi-automatic weapons in public places (HB1009). This bill has been also been referred to the Militia, Police, and Public Safety Committee, and could be heard early this week.
Governor Northam Visits the House (and Senate)
Gov. Northam gave his first Joint Address to the General Assembly last Monday, and it was greeted with wildly enthusiastic support by Democrats and a tepid response from Republicans, who complained about its “tone.” If you want to see some of the reactions on the House floor, including my comments on the speech, you can view them here.
Focus on Energy
My new committee assignment this year is to House Commerce and Labor, which will likely involve me deeply in the Dominion “rate freeze” reform. In 2015, the General Assembly passed a bill that froze utility rates and provided for significant investment in weatherization projects around the state. This was done in order to protect ratepayers against the potential impacts of the Clean Power Plan. Since then, the Clean Power Plan has been killed by President Trump and congressional Republicans, and now Dominion will also benefit from the tax plan just recently passed by Congress.
For these reasons, many of us feel that the rate freeze should be repealed, that ratepayers should be rebated excess money “overearned” by Dominion, and that consumers’ rates should be reduced. This is likely to be one of the most significant legislative efforts of the session. I will be fighting to ensure that ratepayers receive both rebates and future rate reductions, to have the State Corporation Commission (SCC) resume proper oversight of utilities in setting rates, and for greater investment in grid modernization, weatherization assistance, and renewables. A lot is at stake, especially for ratepayers, and I hope we can jumpstart the transition to a new paradigm for generation, transmission, and distribution of energy, one which emphasizes renewables and energy efficiency rather than building costly new power plants and expensive infrastructure.
I will be supporting several energy-related bills, one of which extends the pilot program on power purchase agreements I had passed several years ago to the entire state, to allow more competition and greater activity in the renewables area. I also have both a bill (HB1018) and a resolution (HJ101) that will encourage the development of battery storage, an essential element in developing a new utility model where more power is generated and consumed locally using smaller scale systems, like rooftop solar installations.
You can find a list of all the bills I have filed this year on the website of Virginia’s Legislative Information System. Just click on “General Assembly Members” and scroll to my name.
Share Your Thoughts
I hope you can take a few minutes to answer and return the survey that you may have received recently by mail or, in the alternative, take the digital version online. If you have just received your mailed copy, please do not think it’s too late to send it in; your responses are important to help me understand your priorities as I vote on the bills before us in this Session.
Please feel free to contact our office at any time during session at (804) 698-1057. It is a pleasure representing the 57th District (Charlottesville and Albemarle) in the General Assembly. I hope that you will watch the daily work of the House of Delegates online; not only are our floor sessions available via livestream, but you can also see committee meetings every day. If you are in Richmond in January, February, or early March, visit with us in Room E601 of the Pocahontas Building, 900 East Main Street. This is the temporary home of the General Assembly for the next few years as the new General Assembly Building is constructed.
P.S. — Update on Energy. One of the more interesting things that is happening in the renewable energy space is the number of large companies which are not only demanding access to this option, but are investing substantial sums to make it happen. Last week, I met with representatives of the Mars Corporation, perhaps the largest privately-owned corporation in Virginia, and Nestle, which is relocating its headquarters to Virginia. Both of these companies are making significant investments in renewables, and Mars has the goal of using totally renewable energy by the year 2040. Some 30 major Virginia companies have committed to power their operations with 100% renewable energy, and more than 85 major employers (including 21 of Virginia’s 50 largest employers) have set targets to reduce their energy consumption and purchase more renewable energy. These include companies as diverse as Amazon, Ikea, Starbucks, and Walmart. Clearly, the energy space is changing rapidly, and businesses are helping to push the change.