I chaired the first meeting of the year for Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources on Monday morning and we managed to quickly complete our rather short docket because several bills were carried over to the next meeting.
The committee heard excellent testimony from two experts on the oyster industry, and attempts to restore its success. There is an effort to stay with the reintroduction of native oysters by the practice of aquaculture. While the restoration has been successful in places such as the Lynnhaven River in Virginia Beach and the lower Rappahannock River, it must by done at the right scale.
One of the bills on which we dwelled was Senator Howell’s concerning dangerous and vicious dogs. It seems that no matter what the subject matter is, there is an enormous amount of controversial testimony on any animal legislation. While Senator Howell’s bill did not pass because of a tie vote, she felt she would be able to work to achieve compromise over the year and try again next year. Senator Hangar had two bills which passed out of committee and one of these established a non-profit corporation to foster collaboration and partnerships to raise money for projects providing environmental education, pollution prevention and citizen monitoring and promote the mission of the foundation.
I was glad to see this bill pass, as well as one of Senator Whipple’s to expand and continue the funding process for the Virginia Natural Resources Foundation. This foundation was begun last year as a joint project of environmental organizations and farm interests and it addresses non-point pollution by assisting farmers with best management practices to prevent run-off from their farms into streams, the water supply and ultimately the Bay. I was a co-patron on this bill.
I had two minor bills on Monday, one to honor farmers who have implemented nutrient management plans and best management practices. The other bill was to take care of an administrative change in reporting.
On Inauguration Day we went into session early so we could watch the event on television, which had been set up all over the General Assembly Buildings, on the floor of the House and Senate and in large meeting rooms. I found it particularly moving to sit in my own seat on the floor of the Senate and watch the historic event on the boards that usually tally our votes. We didn’t share the wonder of actually being on site with all our fellow citizens who made such a Herculean effort to travel there, but it was still thrilling.
Local Government has been one of my committee assignments since the beginning of my Senate service, and when it met Tuesday afternoon, I introduced Alexandria’s charter bill which allows City Council to impose term limits on all boards and commissions if it so chooses, and to require any applicant for land use to fully disclose all parties who have an ownership or financial interest in the land or application that is the subject of the hearing. It requires that all parties, members of city council, members of the planning commission, members of the board of zoning appeals and members of the board of architectural review make public any relationship for the 12 month period prior to such hearing. It carries a Class 1 misdemeanor penalty. The bill passed out of committee and I think it will probably pass through the whole process.
Dominion Power announced on Thursday that they and BP are starting a joint study on the possibility of building wind farms in southwest Virginia and have bought 2,560 acres in Tazewell County where some of the studies will take place. Dominion is under fire right now for its plans to build a coal fired power plant in Wise County and has long planned to create renewable resources for power in Virginia.
I had a bill in Rehab and Social Services to remove the lifelong restriction on receipt of TANF funds for anyone ever convicted of non-violent felony convictions for drug possession. It passed out of the committee on a nine to six vote, which means there will be some controversy along the way. This restriction is extremely harsh, especially since there are many single mothers who have had this conviction, sometimes in reaction to domestic violence.
I also had a bill come out of the Transportation Committee to restrict driving with hand-held cell phones. There were exceptions to the bill for emergencies, police, professional drivers and those who are stopped along the side of the road. There are many more accidents when hands-free devices are not used and the distraction level becomes higher.
These bills go to the whole Senate for a vote soon and should they pass there then after crossover through the same process in the House.
Please visit when you are in Richmond, and let us know your opinions on legislation by contacting the Constituent Hotline at 800 889-0229.
Senator Patsy Ticer
Senate of Virginia