Albemarle Supervisors to support legislation to allow advisory body meetings to go virtual

There are 120 days until the 2023 session of the Virginia General Assembly begins, and already there are dozens of bills that have either been pre-filed or carried on from 2022. This is the time of year that localities across Virginia establish what bills they would like their legislators to do.

Last week, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors had another work session on their priorities for 2023, which will build off of what they did not get passed in 2022. 

“One of those was to provide for civil penalties in lieu of criminal punishment for violations of local ordinances,” said Steve Rosenberg, who has been Albemarle’s County Attorney for about six weeks. “Another was to require agricultural buildings used by the public to comply with minimum safety standards that apply to other buildings in the locality. And the third was to expand the authority to use photo-speed monitoring devices.” 

Of those, the only success was on agricultural buildings as a bill carried by Senator Emmet Hanger (SB400) was signed into law. However, it must also pass the 2023 General Assembly in order to take effect. Additionally, an advisory committee has been formed to implement the legislation as it moves forward. They met in August and will meet again later this month.  (read the meeting minutes)

Rosenberg said those priorities will proceed, and three more are being suggested. 

“The first one of those is to provide for county taxing authority for school division capital projects and there are certain localities in the Commonwealth that already enjoy this authority,” Rosenberg said. 

Similar legislation died in a House of Delegates subcommittee last February, as I reported at the time

A second new priority would change the eligibility for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership’s Business-Ready Sites program.

“Currently in order to be eligible in this region a site must have 100 contiguous acres,” Rosenberg said. 

Albemarle doesn’t have such sites in its development area, but other regions have lower thresholds to participate. 

A final priority would be to amend Virginia’s open meetings rules to allow more flexibility for virtual participation in meetings of advisory bodies. Legislation adopted this year (HB444) only allows some bodies to have two virtual-only meetings per year, but not Planning Commissions, School Boards, Boards of Zoning Appeals, or elected bodies. 

“I believe Supervisor Gallaway raised the issue during [a] meeting that this was particularly burdensome on the Community Advisory Committees,” Rosenberg said. “There are some challenges there to separate out one type of a public body for particular treatment

The Crozet Community Advisory Committee meets for the first time in-person on Wednesday, and already at least one member is not attending due to health concerns.  

Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Park (D-45) is expected to revisit the issue with a bill next session, according to David Blount, legislative liaison with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. 

“She is looking to come back with a bill this session and again asking for the authority for all virtual meetings to be allowed for all public bodies,” Blount said. “That’s where she started out this year and I believe it passed the House.”

Blount said the second attempt will be to have non-elected bodies able to hold unlimited virtual meetings. 

Several amendments were made in the Senate that Blount said had whittled down the scope. Supervisors said they want to pursue the legislation. 

“I would love for our advisory bodies to meet by Zoom all of the time and I think we can make a good case for that with our increase in participation,” said Supervisor Diantha McKeel (Jack Jouett). 

Supervisor Ned Gallaway (Rio) said he believes mentalities are changing and that more legislators may support the effort to allow more virtual meetings.

“The state needs to stop trying to dictate who can do what,” Gallaway said. “Just give everybody the authority to do it and put requirements on it. Notice. Record the session. Public access.” 

Gallaway said that virtual meetings for regional bodies such as the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission would go a long way toward helping Virginia encourage part-time legislators. 

“As somebody that has a full-time job, what I learned during the pandemic is that [Board of Supervisors] meetings I set aside time for,” Gallaway said. “But my MPO, my TJPDC, my RHP, all of these other assignments I have to do as an elected official became much easier for me to do and participate in because of the virtual piece.” 

Another possible piece of legislation is the addition of impact fees to mechanisms the county can use to help cover the cost of building infrastructure. Supervisors were in support of all of the priorities. 

They will officially adopt a legislative agenda in October and meet with legislators in November. 

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