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Firearms, elections and coronavirus updates

Gov. Ralph Northam has signed several bills in the past 72 hours, including legislation on voting, energy, firearms and more. The Virginia General Assembly plans to meet April 22 in a reconvened session to work on any vetos or amendments to this year’s legislation.

The governor has also proposed moving the effective date of several significant pieces of legislation to May 1, 2021. Those bills include:

• HB 395, the minimum wage increase bill

• HB 833, the ‘prevailing wage’ legislation

• HB 582, the collective bargaining for public employees bill

• HB 358, the project-labor agreement bill for local governments.

Northam has signed five of seven of the firearms bills that the new majority sent to his desk earlier this year. Rather than targeting actual criminals, these bills are largely focused on law-abiding Virginians. Virginians are seeking to exercise their rights to defend themselves and their families in record numbers.

To do so at a time when we need all Virginians unified in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic is counterproductive. It was clear from the moment these bills were introduced that they would impact law-abiding gun owners far more than criminals.

Northam has used his existing authority to move the June primaries to June 23. He has also asked that legislators move the May town elections to November, but that will require legislation.

Moving the June primary two weeks is a sensible precaution available under existing law. But moving the May elections to November after ballots have been cast is a bad precedent at best. Republicans of all stripes have proposed holding the May election in concert with the June 23 primaries. If it’s safe to hold one election at that point, it should be safe to hold both together.

Northam has included an amendment to HB29 that would allow early release for prisoners with less than one year to serve.

Correctional facilities do face challenges with this outbreak, but opening the jailhouse doors for inmates still serving their punishments for criminal conduct is not the best or safest solution for the rest of Virginia.

The governor has included an emergency clause on the two “Fishback” bills, legislation that will make eligible for parole those who were sentenced after the abolition of parole but their juries were not told that parole was no longer possible.

The governor has also signed legislation mandating a complete transition to clean energy by all major utilities by 2050, with Dominion, the largest, being required to do so by 2040.

There are a number of bills that would raise power bills on hardworking Virginia families. Whether they’re mandating the end of coal fired and natural gas plants or imposing a carbon tax scheme, all of these bills will have the same result –— higher power bills for those who can least afford it.

The Virginia Clean Economy Act will raise bills by nearly 25% according to Democrats. Virginians are losing their jobs at a record pace thanks to COVID-19 and this new act will make it more expensive to keep the lights on.

The new majority has also cleared the way for agreements that will raise Virginia’s gas tax — in an effort to fight global warming. Raising power bills on those who can least afford it simply doesn’t make sense. In the past, we’ve seen people choose between heat and food when power bills spike.

Virginia continues to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak as best we can. Gov. Northam has closed beaches, entertainment venues, and many other non-essential businesses. In the meantime, the commonwealth continues to see a steady growth in confirmed cases, and sadly, deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that those who leave their homes use some sort of face covering, either a cloth mask, a bandana, or some other fabric that constantly covers the mouth and nose. N95 and surgical masks should be reserved for front-line medical providers, but as the surgeon general said at a recent briefing, something is better than nothing. Masks can be made from something as simple as a T-shirt. A cottage industry of mask makers has sprung up overnight on online stores.

Other guidelines remain the same — stay at home as much as possible and wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, frequently.

Del. C. Matthew Fariss represents Buckingham in the Virginia House of Delegates. His email address is DelMFariss@house.virginia.gov.