There are 64 days before the General Assembly convenes for its 2023 session with each political party with a slight majority in each of the two chambers. Some legislation has already been pre-filed and other bills remain from the previous session, but in the weeks to come more legislation will be filed.
All across Virginia’s Fifth District, localities are finalizing their legislative priorities. On Friday, Albemarle Supervisors met with several legislators to try to convince them to carry bills for their wish list.
In attendance in-person were Senator Creigh Deeds, Delegate Rob Bell, and Delegate Sally Hudson. Delegate Chris Runion participated remotely.
County Attorney Steven Rosenberg went through each of the seven legislative priorities identified by Albemarle Supervisors. The first three were also priorities in the 2022 General Assembly.
“The first one is to enable civil penalties in lieu of criminal punishment for violations of local ordinances,” Rosenberg said. “As you all will recall, Delegate Hudson carried a bill, House Bill 627, last session that failed in committee.”
This would include zoning violations, smoking in certain places where it is prohibited, curfews for minors, or failing to return library books.
“The next priority returning from 2022 is to expand the authority of the county to use photo-speed monitoring devices,” Rosenberg said.
Delegate Hudson carried one bill in 2022 and Delegate Bell carried another. However neither HB630 nor HB747 made it out of the House Public Safety Committee. Rosenberg said the goal would be to allow for enforcement of speed limits on rural roads which lack shoulders to pull over motorists in violation of the law.
The third returning priority is to allow agricultural buildings to be subject to minimum building standards. This was adopted by the General Assembly but will have to pass for a second time to go into effect.
“The legislation requires that the Board of Housing and Community Development promulgate safety related regulations for what are called agritourism event buildings, that’s the newly defined term in the state code,” Rosenberg said.
Currently there are no requirements under state law and localities may not regulate safety standards.
The new requests are to allow Albemarle to hold a sales tax referendum for a rate increase that would provide new revenues for school construction. Such legislation was more likely to pass when Democrats held both Chambers, but bills for referendums all died in the House committee in 2022. Here’s my story on the demise of one of them.
Hudson said other legislators may be interested in finding some form of photo-speed monitoring for rural road speed as well as the sales-tax referendums and would welcome those conversations.
Another request is to lower the threshold for eligibility for the Virginia Business Ready Sites program from 100 acres of contiguous land to 50 acres. Currently only one property is eligible at the North Fork Discovery Park.
Delegate Rob Bell wanted to know if there were any identified sites that would be ready to go. Rosenberg said he did not have that information at hand, but said the county’s Economic Development Office has made this a priority in the Project Enable strategic plan.
Bell pressed for more details and said Albemarle has had a history of turning down economic development in the past.
“If they have a list of it that it from the one north of town to five, maybe they can share with us where those five are and what they would use with parcels they would be,” Bell said.
County Attorney Jeffrey Richardson said Project Enable has the support of the Board of Supervisors.
“We’ve worked in the last year with several existing businesses and companies in our county and we’ve worked hard to look for land to support their growth and it’s a real challenge in Albemarle County,” Richardson said.
Another priority is to amend the Freedom of Information Act to allow elected and appointed bodies to hold virtual meetings.
“And there would be no limits to the number of meetings that could be held virtually,” Rosenberg said. “We’ve seen how the virtual meetings born of the pandemic have led to increased participation on the part of the public.”
Delegate Sally Hudson said she was undecided on this issue and wanted to hear more from Supervisors about why they felt this was important.
“And I know that all of you take civic engagement very seriously but my one General Assembly session on Zoom was terrible,” Hudson said. “There was something very seriously lost from the inability to engage with people who could grab you in the hallways.”
Delegate Bell shared similar concerns and also pointed out the earlier part of the meeting was spent discussing how bad broadband was in many rural parts of Albemarle.
Supervisor Ned Gallaway said the pandemic allowed the county to demonstrate that it could adhere to Freedom of Information Act guidelines on providing notice. He said virtual meetings would open up service on elected bodies to more people.
“We have a long tradition of part-time legislators in Virginia and virtual meetings embraces that tradition and allows it to be done by more,” Gallaway said.
Gallaway said he works full-time and being able to virtually attend boards like the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission is made more possible if he can do so remotely. Supervisor Bea LaPisto Kirtley said some bodies haven’t yet made the adjustment back to in-person meetings n Albemarle.
“I’m on the historic preservation committee,” LaPisto Kirtley said. “We haven’t met in four or five months because we can’t get a quorum. We almost had a quorum and one person at the last minute couldn’t come.”
Supervisor Donna Price said she did not think elected bodies should be allowed to meet virtually, but supported advisory bodies able to do so.
Senator Deeds had more sympathy to the idea and said the virtual General Assembly took away a geographical barrier for people who wanted to testify at committee.
“Whether you were from Bristol or Virginia Beach or Arlington, you didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn or spend the night before in Richmond, you could appear before your state legislature,” Deeds said. “We’ve tried to save that element and allow people to appear before committees on Zoom.
Delegate Runion was skeptical.
“Virtual legislation is not where this Commonwealth is in my opinion,” Runion said. “I find it to be very ineffective and very chilling on our republic,” Runion said.
Runion did note the convenience of being able to participate virtually.
The final legislative priority was a proposal to allow for special exceptions for short-term rentals to expire rather than to continue on under different owners.
“The cities of Hampton, Norfolk, and Richmond have this kind of authority in situations where they are considering a special exception or special use permit related to retail Alcoholic Beverage Control licenses,” Rosenberg said.
Senator Deeds said he understood what Albemarle wanted to accomplish but said he was concerned about how to get such legislation passed.
How closely do you follow the General Assembly? What do you want to know between now and then? Leave a comment and a question.
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