Opinion — Full speed ahead
Published 12:15 pm Thursday, February 3, 2022
The General Assembly is now running at full speed. The first week or two was focused on making deadlines to draft legislative proposals and getting them submitted. Likewise, any suggested changes to the budget that was introduced by Governor Northam had to be introduced. As well, the changing of guard in the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General’s offices and their leadership teams were the most prominent issues those early days.
This week, the workload in the various committees increased drastically, often overlapping each other. As an example, I serve on the Privileges and Elections Committee that deals with election issues. Before it ends, the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which I also serve on, begins its meeting. Before that one ends, the subcommittee of Finance that deals with the funding of our colleges begins. I serve on that one as well. Most days I am at the Capitol at seven and sometimes don’t leave until after seven in the evening.
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SECOND AMENDMENT RIGHTS
All Senate bills that aimed at correcting some of the bills that restrict the rights of those law-abiding citizens in the last two years have been defeated. There is no doubt that similar House bills will suffer the same results when they come to Senate.
PROTECTING VOTER INTEGRITY
Most of the Senate bills that deal with assuring all voters have free access to the polls and their votes properly recorded have all been killed. Any coming to the Senate from the House will fare no better.
One exception is legislation that Senator Jill Vogel and I both proposed. Traditionally, the political party that wins the governorship is awarded a majority on the State Electoral Board. Our bill would end this practice by adding a member so that both parties would be equally represented. This assures that the State Electoral Department is fair. For far too long, having one party or the other left some believing that our elections are not. We believed that this year, with the Democrats in power in the Senate and Republicans in power in the House of Delegates, that now was the time for this to change.
SUSTAINING OUR WOODLANDS
Another bill of mine that appears to be accepting universal support is legislation that, hopefully, will encourage landowners to leave acreage in woodlands. There is a great deal of concern about forestland being converted to development. With the length of time needed to grow timber, especially hardwood trees, we should all be interested in policy that encourages landowners to keep acreage in forestry. The bill establishes a fund in which the state would offer incentives to counties to tax forestland at a lower tax rate. This has been used in the state for many years to assist the farmers who want to keep their farms producing agriculture products.
Protecting the Most Vulnerable
On Friday, my legislation dealing with the youngest passed the Senate. This bill allows mothers of newborn babies who do not believe they can provide for that baby for financial, mental, or whatever reason, to leave the baby at a hospital or emergency medical facility up to 30 days after birth with no repercussions. Current law only allows the mother to act in two weeks. Our hope is this will prevent babies from being left in unsafe places.
Not so successful were two bills that I had hopes would be enacted. The first was one that would allow Virginia distilleries to sell and ship directly to consumers in Virginia. This is exactly what the ABC department allowed last summer because of COVID. No problems arose during those months. Shipments were made and signed for by adults, however, this fall they ended the practice. The goal was to allow local distilleries around the state to get better exposure around the state. ABC’s opposition blocked passage.
The second bill I carried at the request of Governor Youngkin would have added “opportunity” to the title of his adviser for diversity. This became a target of some Democrats who defeated it on a party line vote. While the legislation was not successful, the lady that Governor Youngkin appointed is very capable. Even without the word “opportunity” in the title, she will focus on opportunity for all Virginians.
FRANK RUFF JR. serves as the 15th District senator in Virginia. He can be reached at Sen. Ruff@verizon.net, (434) 374-5129 or P.O. Box 332, Clarksville, VA 23927.