Opinion — Empowering Virginia, one vote at a time

Published 12:00 pm Friday, February 11, 2022

Virginia turned a page in November.

Fed up with the Richmond power grab and elected officials who do more talking than listening, Virginians embraced a new era of leadership.

They elected a Governor who believes decision-making belongs in the hands of the people, and they elected a Republican House Majority that’s working together with the Governor to empower Virginians to make their own choices.

In the past five weeks, we’ve made incredible progress when it comes to executing the will of the people.

ENDING MASK MANDATES IN SCHOOLS

On Wednesday, after months of rejecting science and ignoring parents, some Senate Democrats did an about face when it comes to school mask policy. In a bipartisan vote (21- 17), the Senate passed legislation S.B. 739 led by Republican Senator Siobhan S. Dunnavant (Henrico) and Democratic Senator Chap Peterson (Fairfax City) that would end mandatory student masking in schools.

This morning, the House Committee on Education held a special meeting to hear the bill and report it to the floor.

We’re working hard to send it to the Governor’s desk as quickly as we can.

As written, S.B. 739 wouldn’t take effect until July 1, but the Governor can ask lawmakers to approve an emergency clause immediately empowering parents to make decisions about masks for their children.

Finally, with a simple majority, we can put an end to the mask hysteria. Like I’ve said before, promises made, promises kept.

PROTECTING ELECTION INTEGRITY

Elections matter, and when people take part in the political process, they deserve to know that their voice is heard, and their vote is counted. This week, we passed legislation that secures our elections and strengthens voter confidence. For example, we passed H.B. 1090 that reinstates photo ID laws. We also passed H.B. 39 that limits the duration during which a person can submit an absentee ballot in-person to two weeks and allows people to vote Monday through Saturday during those weeks from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. We passed H.B. 528 that changes the rules regarding third-party organizations who send unsolicited absentee ballots to Virginia voters. Those organizations would be required to include instructions about how to fill in information, but they would not be permitted to send pre-filled ballots. They would also be required to disclose that the ballot is being sent by a third party, not a government agency. Lastly, we passed H.B. 175 that ends automatic, eternal absentee ballot lists, instead requiring voters to request one year of ballots at a time.

KEEPING COMMUNITIES SAFE

After years of hard work and diligence, the House finally passed H.B. 833, legislation that would create a grant fund to support Group Violence Intervention programs in the Commonwealth under the “Project Ceasefire” model.

Time and time again, the data has shown that – with an action-based approach and the strong guidelines in place – Project Ceasefire works.

First implemented in Boston, Massachusetts in the 1990s as an effort to reduce gang violence, the “Boston Miracle” as it’s sometimes called resulted in a more than a 60 percent reduction in youth homicide numbers and a 27 percent decrease in shootings.

In cities and towns across the U.S. from Stockton, California to Indianapolis, Indiana, the results have been the same.

This approach saves lives. Period.

TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS

H.B. 1360, which I am Chief Patron, helps the Virginia National Guard and promotes state-sponsored group term life insurance programs. This will direct the Adjutant General to facilitate and coordinate efforts to promote participation in the state-sponsored group term life insurance program offered to members of the Virginia National Guard. This legislation reported out of sub-committee and committee unanimously and will come to the floor of the House of Delegates sometime this week. I want to thank Virginia National Guardsman Cliff White, who also serves as the Cumberland County Republican Chairman, and his colleagues retired Colonel Charles “Buddy” Faulkner, and Executive Director, Jake Crocker who drove to Richmond to speak in favor of this legislation. I want to also thank Richard Barnette and Ronald Emerson who spoke virtually in front of the committee. I commend the work of the Virginia National Guard and I’m always proud to sponsor legislation to assist their needs.

H.B. 746, legislation I co-patroned, will help target our Volunteer Fire Department Training Fund. This will help create a special non reverting fund that will be known as the Volunteer Fire Department Training Fund. It will be used solely for the purposes of assisting or reimbursing volunteer fire departments or volunteer fire companies with the costs of training and certifying volunteer firefighters. The bill also requires the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security to establish a workgroup to study the accessibility and availability of training programs with a specific focus on providing training programs to volunteer fire departments, volunteer fire companies, and volunteer firefighters in a cost-efficient and effective manner. Our Volunteer Fire Fighters, especially our firefighters in the 61st, are the backbone of rural Virginia. I appreciate all the hard work they contribute to their constituent’s day and night.

HOME SWEET HOME

Thursday, our office received a warm welcome from Pastor Thomas B. Alvis, of Cumberland County. Pastor Alvis was accompanied by Jack Horrocks of Chesterfield. They came to meet with our office to express their passion for local government and ended our meeting with a prayer, which I appreciated greatly.

Friday, the Deep Run Fox Hunting Club of Cumberland County visited our office. Ginny Perrin, Master of Foxhounds, brought in various age groups of future hunters, known as “pony-riders”, to express their deep appreciation for our heritage of hunting with hounds. It brings great joy to our office to see our youth engaging and practicing safe hunting.

DEL. TOMMY WRIGHT can be reached via email at DelTWright@House.Virginia.gov or (804) 698-1061.