Opinion — Public safety first

Published 3:35 pm Thursday, March 10, 2022

Last week, I wrote about a horrible needless death on our road. There was one bill that was still before the Senate that could have corrected the problem created two years ago. Last Monday, I joined the sponsor of that House bill and Delegate Tommy Wright in an effort to clarify how important it is to maintain safe roads for our loved ones. I provided the details of the wreck and pictures of what is called “Carolina Squat”. It made little impact. On a party line vote, the bill was killed. Despite support of sheriffs and state troopers, the majority thought the issue was more important than life itself. The Democrats were focused on tinted windshields and the percentage of drivers being stopped by category.

After the meeting, with the help of two senators ‚ Mark Peake and Bill Stanley, they were able to convince enough Democrats, seeing the details of the wreck, to support a new bill that deals only with the “Carolina Squat”.  For this year, this is the only issue that will be corrected. We expect it will make it through the legislative process in this last week of the session.

We will have to wait another year, and maybe other deaths, to reverse the ridiculous decision to make many offenses secondary offenses. This effectively handcuffs law enforcement.

This was not the only questionable action taken by the so-called Judiciary Committee. One observer recapped the issue this way. “The Senate Judiciary Committee handles legislation related to law enforcement. That means everything from the structure of the courts, to the penalties for crimes, to matters dealing with our police and sheriffs’ deputies is considered by the Committee. With an outsized majority on the Committee of nine Democrats and six Republicans, the rest of the Democrats can talk about being tough on crime knowing the Committee will not. This week, the consequences were on full display.”

He continued, “Monday, the Judiciary Committee torpedoed over a dozen bills that would have strengthened law enforcement and improved public safety.  Legislation that would have ensured child pornographers served their sentences, toughened penalties for illegally distributing fentanyl and distributors, and made it easier to prosecute cases involving the sexual assault of a child. All went down in defeat.

Every Republican voted to enact these common sense changes that would have made it easier for our law enforcement and Commonwealth Attorneys to do their jobs and keep Virginians safe. Unfortunately, Democrats stood firm against these measures and the bills were all defeated.”

Coming to an End

The 2022 Session is scheduled to end on Saturday. However, because of major differences in the House and Senate budget, that might not happen. The difference in the two budgets is about $3 billion dollars! To work out the differences in just a few days appears to be unlikely. The House budget wants to cut taxes while the Senate wants to spend more and hold more in reserve. The fourteen conferees negotiating the differences between them may well take extra time. Those of us that are not in that group will probably be sent home and called back when an agreement is reached. Having served on the Conference Committee for four years, I assure you that every member must work long, hard hours to meet the timeframe. I regret that the deadline might not be made, but a compromise will be reached.

Other Issues

Judges must still be elected. Meanwhile, most legislation has been dealt with by both bodies. Differences in wording and the extent of legislative changes on some bills must still be worked out this week. Most of those differences will be worked out, some will not. If conclusions are not reached by Saturday, the bills die.

I only have one left to be worked through. That is my legislation that deals with catalytic converters. One version focuses on making salvage yards keep better records, making those stolen harder to sell and easier to track. The other version also makes it a felony to be part of the process of either stealing them or taking part in the process. Many are now sold on the internet instead of to salvage yards. My research on the internet for “used catalytic converters” found almost 10,000 This is big business for criminal enterprises!

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.