Opinion — The work continues

Published 9:47 am Friday, May 6, 2022

The Virginia General Assembly reconvened for Governor Youngkin’s veto session Wednesday, April 27, and the Republican-controlled House of Delegates played part in upholding the Governor’s vetoes that stopped bad bills.

An overwhelming majority of the Governor’s recommendations were adopted in the assembly and all the vetoes were sustained. Key amendments on facial recognition, VEC reform, and charitable gaming reforms were among the many accepted. Now, the general assembly must reach a compromise on the budget to deliver much needed tax relief and investments in education, law enforcement, and behavioral health for Virginians.

Budget negotiations taking place in the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are still in the works. As a result, the rest of the General Assembly is waiting on the sidelines until we are called to further litigate and vote on the budget.

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There are now 30 bills which are in the process of being returned to the Governor for him to simply either sign or veto by the 30-day constitutional deadline. More specifically, the Governor’s deadline to act is now no later than 11:59:59 p.m. Friday, May 27.

When Democrats left the General Assembly in 2021, they left a mess regarding marijuana policy. They legalized possession of up to a pound of marijuana, but with no legal way to purchase it. They allowed people to grow up to four plants but didn’t legalize the purchase of seeds.

They also created a broken framework that would have not only legalized retail sales but would have given those with prior convictions for drug sales first chance at retail sales licenses. Our caucus looked at this mess and realized that we had to start over. If Virginia is to have legal marijuana sales, it must be done in a controlled, safe manner.

Meanwhile, the Democrats’ mess left stores selling dangerous, unregulated drug products like “Delta-8” THC, a variant of the active drug in marijuana, to the public in a completely unregulated manner. Stores selling gummies, candies, and other child-appealing items loaded with intoxicants popped up all over Virginia.

Almost one year after marijuana became legal in Virginia, Virginians will wait another year to see any further movement on cannabis regulation and legalization of retail sales. SB 591 would have regulated cannabis products shapes, banned Delta-8, increased penalties for possessing more than the legal limit, and reclassified many CBD products as marijuana.

When it was first introduced back in January, it initially only dealt with the sale of cannabis products in shapes that could appeal to children like candy, fruit or animals. But a series of amendments from Governor Glenn Youngkin significantly altered the bill, adding in provisions about CBD products, Delta-8, and making possession over the legal limit a crime rather than a civil infraction.

The original bill, introduced by a Republican, was passed unanimously in the Senate and with very limited opposition in the House of Delegates. It was then sent to Governor Youngkin’s desk, who changed it by adding those amendments. It was, then, sent back to the Senate for a vote where it was deadlocked with 20 yeas and 20 nays. However, Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears (R) broke the tie.

With the bill being referred back to the committee, both the Governor’s amendments and the original bill are dead and any related legislation will have to wait until at least next year to be considered again for enactment.

SB 219, a bill reforming a broken unemployment system, is taking effect immediately. Legislators approved the accelerated timeline after Governor Glenn Youngkin proposed adding an emergency clause to the legislation, making it effective April 27, 2022.

The bill directs the VEC to simplify instructions for claimants. State auditors previously found the materials the agency uses are overly complex and are contributing to the confusion. The bill also requires employers to submit files electronically replacing the old paper-based system that often slowed down the initial stage of the benefits process.

It also creates a subcommittee of lawmakers to conduct ongoing oversight. They will be monitoring the implementation of this bill and more than 40 recommendations from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission. The bill creates a multi-agency task force to review successes and failures. It directs resiliency planning so the state will be better prepared to quickly ramp up staff during the next crisis.

The Virginia Rent Relief Program (RRP) is closing its application portal to new applications at 11:59 p.m., May 15. Any application submitted after April 21, 2022 will be prioritized based on these criteria, then processed on a first-come, first-served basis.

Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) requires a prioritization of assistance for households with incomes less than 50% of area median income or households with one or more individuals that have not been employed for the 90-day period preceding the date of application.

For additional information, visit www.dhcd.virginia.gov/rrp.

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