REOPEN VIRGINIA SCHOOLS

Thank you for sharing your feelings with me on the issue of school “in-person” attendance for the coming school year. I have heard from many like you with deep concerns for the safety of our students and their teachers. With the second half of the 2019-2020 school year lost due to the ongoing pandemic, many parents are understandably eager to see their children back in the classroom this fall. Of course, reopening our schools during this pandemic will require safeguards to ensure the health and safety of our children, teachers, and other support staff. I’m confident this can be done.

As you may know, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released guidance for reopening schools in the fall. The AAP stated that their guidance “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” They went on to say that “schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being.” The science and data show that all students should be back in the classroom on a regular basis this fall. It’s evident that children rarely transmit COVID-19 between themselves and adults.

And according to an article on the recent comments made by the Director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) on reopening schools. As quoted in the article, the CDC Director, Robert Redfield, states: “I’m of the point of view as a public health leader in this nation, that having the schools actually closed is a greater public health threat to the children than having the schools reopen.” In June, Governor Northam unveiled his mandated guidance to local school divisions and his proposal was quickly rejected by local school divisions — and me — as unrealistic. Under COVID-19 Phase III rules, in-person instruction is allowed, but only with extensive, often unrealistic, social distancing measures such as staggered class schedules and limited bus capacity.

The Governor needs to go back to the drawing board and give our local Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Stafford and Fauquier County School boards the ability to safely offer five-day classroom instruction.

My Republican colleagues and I will introduce legislative changes in the upcoming Special Session if the Governor fails to rework his school reopening plan. Virginia currently has the resources necessary to ensure students and teachers can return to the classroom safely and ensure further education isn’t lost.

There is no question that we are currently facing a public health crisis, but Governor Northam’s lack of leadership has caused confusion and fear for our local divisions as they work to bring our students back to the classroom. His ‘guidance’ has caused confusion on how to comply with his mandates, as well as fear of being sued for not properly implementing them. I know that the lasting impacts of a disrupted school will be felt for years to come and will have a negative effect on an entire generation.

What we’ve seen from the Governor is an unworkable plan that considers only one aspect of closed schools and fails to recognize what happens to students who aren’t in the classroom. Many students in the rural parts of our area don’t have access to high speed internet and computers — they rely on in-classroom instruction to further their education.

Additionally, to afford to live a decent life, many families rely on two incomes and with students out of school, they are burdened with additional childcare expense – or someone quits their job. While some districts can provide these services to their students, I worry that under this current reopening plan, many students will be further left behind in their educational pursuits. Our youth need social interaction. Developing social skills through interactions with other students is equally as important as studying math, sciences and all the rest.

Please contact me with your thoughts about how Virginia should proceed for the upcoming school year. You may want to let Governor Northam know how you feel about his plans, 804-786-2211.

NEW LAWS

NEW LAWS
Most new laws and changes to existing laws take effect on July 1st, following the General Assembly session. Below is a link to a summary from Legislative Services of this year’s changes to Virginia law. I just want to highlight some of the more significant changes that I have been contacted about by concerned constituents.

VIRGINIA’S GREEN NEW DEAL – Several bills were passed during session that fall under the umbrella of “Virginia’s Green New Deal” including House Bill (HB) 981 / Senate Bill (SB) 1027, HB 1526 / SB 851, HB 1634 / SB 629, and HB 1664 / SB 860 / SB998. Taken together, these bills require power companies to phase out the use of fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind. The problem is that these alternative sources are much more expensive and less reliable. This will cause electric rates to significantly increase in the future. This is being done in an attempt to reduce air pollution and combat climate change. Air pollution has already been dramatically reduced in Virginia and the US in recent decades by implementing new, cleaner power generation technology, and an overall reduction of reduction of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will not be achieved unless countries like China, India, and others reduce their pollution. All these bills will do is significantly increase your electric bill, reduce economic growth and jobs in the Commonwealth, for no real benefit to the global climate.

HB1414 / SB 980 – Increases the gas tax by 12 cents per gallon over the next few years, then automatically increases it to account for inflation. The legislation also increases the number of transportation related funds that will receive the gas tax revenue, so I am not sure that this will actually result in an increase of funds to improve our roads or not!

HB 395 / SB 7 – Increases the minimum wage to $ 15 / hour over the next few years, then it will be automatically increased to account for inflation. This will result in fewer entry level and low skilled jobs and more automation.

HB 33 / SB 793 & HB 35 / SB 103 – Expands the number of criminal inmates that will be eligible for parole, including some murderers and sex offenders.

HB 19 / SB 65 – Removes the requirement that you present a photo ID in order to vote.

HB 1211 / SB 34 – Allows illegal aliens to get a driver’s license.

HB 1547 / SB 935 – Allows illegal aliens to qualify for in-state tuition at our public colleges and universities.

HB 1537 / SB 183 – Gives localities the authority to remove veteran’s and war memorials and statues.

HB 421 / SB 35 – Allows localities to adopt gun control ordinances; this does away local preemption for gun control laws, something that I pushed through the General Assembly 16 years ago. The result will be a patch work of inconsistent laws throughout the state. You should be careful if you are traveling from one locality to another, because you could be legally carrying a gun in one locality and then inadvertently break the law when you go into another locality even if you have a state permit to carry.

HB 874 / SB 160 – Bans the use of handheld cell phones while driving, effective 1 January 2021.

To read more about new laws please visit this web page: In Due Course-New Virginia Laws 

 

PROTESTERS CALL FOR DEFUNDING POLICE

Do you think your home, your church, our schools, malls and theaters would be safer if our local police and sheriff’s deputies were all fired?   That’s what some the protesters are demanding.  They call it “defunding” but without our tax dollars supporting the equipment, training, transportation and salaries of law enforcement professionals, that’s where we would be. No one to answer your 911 emergency call.

I know this sounds crazy, but in the last session of the General Assembly, I sponsored amendments that provided raises for those who protect and defend us…. our front line police.  Governor Northam refused to provide raises for deputies. Since the vast majority of Virginia sheriff’s departments and county boards of supervisors passed resolutions saying they would not support Northam’s gun confiscation schemes if passed, they were going to be punished.

Radical leftist in Virginia are busy doing all they can to ally with Antifa and violent protesters.  Cutting funds for our sheriffs will be just the start.

In Richmond I’ve been a loud and persistent voice for common sense support for our law enforcement.  Sure, what happened in Minneapolis was a crime.  George Floyd’s brutal murder was not about law enforcement.  Perpetrators of that crime will be punished.

I share the anger and frustration of peaceful protesters, but they’ve been hijacked by violent leaders from out of town.  These masked invaders roam the state stirring up angry mobs.  It is undeniable that there are racist elements in our society, but no law can change a heart filled with hatred.  We’ve made gains in our society and there is still room to advance.

Also, in the last session of the General Assembly I introduced a bill that would clear old police records (called expunging) for those who made stupid mistakes in their youth — provided there were no additional charges in the interim.  Members of the minority community would stand to benefit from this greatly and give them better opportunities to get jobs.  Instead of passing it, Democrats decided to “study” this criminal justice reform that was backed by the ACLU and other more liberal groups.

I’m afraid that much of all this is politically motivated.  The left and their media buddies are doing all they can to change our American way of life.

This year they have their eyes on Washington and the White House.  Next year their target will again be the Virginia government.  As one of Governor Northam’s most vocal opponents, I know that once again their sights are set on keeping control of Virginia.  Help me win back the Virginia General Assembly to stop the liberal assault on our freedoms, our jobs, and our values!

This is the earliest I’ve ever started campaigning, but it is critical I do so.  In the last election my opponent raised over $185,000 — nearly all from outside our region.  And the Bloomberg-funded anti-gun groups spent even more with their “independent” ads and grass roots organizers.  I’m sure they’ll be back.

For a long time, I’ve been able to count on your support.  I appreciate your kind words, prayers, volunteer help and contributions.  That’s why I’m writing today.  I hope you can help me build a campaign “war chest” to be prepared for the next election.  Your gift now will signal to those who seek to change our Commonwealth and Country that seizing power won’t be easy and perhaps they should go somewhere else.

Your donation of $35, $50, $100 or more now is worth twice as much today as next year.  I know this is a bad time to ask for help, and if you are not able to give, I certainly understand, but please consider what you can do now.  Thank you and may God bless you.

If you can help with a donation now, please click  here to help stop the radical agenda in Virginia!  Thanks!

EMERGENCY ORDERS

MASK ORDER

Governor Northam’s latest emergency order, requiring the wearing of face masks, has caused a lot of confusion and consternation.  The order requires wearing a covering of your face in most public places, however there are several exceptions to the order.

The requirement to wear a face covering does not apply to following:

  1. While eating or drinking;
  2. Individuals exercising or using exercise equipment;
  3. Any person who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the face covering without assistance;
  4. Any person seeking to communicate with the hearing impaired and for which the mouth needs to be visible;
  5. When temporary removal of the face covering is necessary to secure government or medical services; and
  6. Persons with health conditions that prohibit wearing a face covering. Nothing in this Order shall require the use of a face covering by any person for whom doing so would be contrary to his or her health or safety because of a medical condition.

Any person who declines to wear a face covering because of a medical condition shall not be required to produce or carry medical documentation verifying the stated condition nor shall the person be required to identify the precise underlying medical condition.

It does not require most employers to have employees wear masks while working.  The only employers that are required to have their employees wear masks are retail businesses.  However, the order requires patrons to wear masks (except as provided above).

I have received reports that some stores are requiring everyone to wear masks, with no exceptions.  These stores are private property and the owners may set their own standards, within reason, if they wish; however, they may become targets for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) discrimination lawsuits if they do not provide accommodation for those with health conditions.

This order is different than previous orders in that it will enforced by the Health Department and the Department of Labor and Industry instead of law enforcement.  Because of this some of these businesses are probably afraid of being shut down, then having to file lawsuits to try to reopen, which may explain why some of them are not allowing any exceptions.

You can read the actual order at: https://www.governor.virginia.gov/media/governorvirginiagov/executive-actions/EO-63-and-Order-Of-Public-Health-Emergency-Five—Requirement-To-Wear-Face-Covering-While-Inside-Buildings.pdf

STATE OF EMERGENCY

Virginia has been mostly shut down under a state of emergency since March.  At first, I think most Virginians were supportive of measures designed to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.  We were hearing news of hospitals in China and Italy being overwhelmed with victims of the virus and needed to take action to make sure that did not happen here.  Since then, we have learned a lot more about the virus and how to treat it.

According to the numbers, while the virus can be a significant threat to senior citizens and those with other health issues, most of the population will not have a serious issue with the virus.  As testing for the virus has expanded, they are finding many people already had the virus and did not realize it; they thought they had a cold or a case of the flu and recovered without serious problems.  In short, if you are not a senior citizen and are in good health, you have little to fear from the virus.

Instead of continuing to impose restrictions on the general population, we should focus on protecting the vulnerable population, and let the rest of Virginia get back to work.  It makes no sense to continue to restrict and shut down businesses, forcing people to lose their jobs and health insurance, when most of them would not have a serious problem even if they got the virus.  Forcing people into poverty will be more deadly than this virus.

I invite your attention to an article, written by a medical doctor last month, explaining the hidden health consequences of this shut down:  https://thehill.com/opinion/healthcare/494034-the-data-are-in-stop-the-panic-and-end-the-total-isolation?fbclid=IwAR0aF9UIAPYAX2EbpITAztIPVve_4c0TuKfOYW1CVNaMjNIcK_XLAwy0Zq0#.XrW9WL1-9G0.facebook

COVID-19 PREVENTION

Advice from the Virginia Department of Health on how to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus can be found at this web page:

https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/prevention-tips/

FINAL VETOES

Governor Northam issued his final vetoes of the 2020 General Assembly session, vetoing House Bill 795 and Senate Bill 235.  These bills would have made it easier for people and small businesses to form health insurance associations to provide health insurance to their employees.  Both bills passed during session with large bipartisan majorities.  Governor Northam proposed adding reenactment clauses which would have required the bills to pass again next year before they would become law.  Both the House and Senate rejected this proposal.  In a bipartisan vote, the Senate passed the bill with a veto proof motion, unfortunately, House Democrats refused to go along with this vote, enabling Northam’s vetoes.

Governor Northam vetoed these bills because he wants to force people to use the state ACA (Obamacare) health insurance exchange, which is just too costly for many Virginians and has very limited options for coverage.

RECONVENED SESSION

The General Assembly reconvened last week to deal with Governor Northam’s amendments to legislation that was passed during the regular session. This was an unusual session, as we did not meet in the House Chamber, but under a tent on the lawn of the Capitol in order to maintain social distancing. For the first hour or so, we were serenaded by the sound of freedom, protesters honking their car horns calling on Governor Northam to reopen Virginia’s economy and let people go back to work.

The session started out with Speaker Filler-Corn and the Democrats pushing a change to House Rules to allow remote voting for the House, instead of gathering to meet. Evidently the Speaker intended to pass this rule change, then adjourn, and schedule an “online” session to actually vote on legislation later. This would have required the Senate and perhaps the House to come back on another day to wrap-up the session, which made no sense to me. We were already gathered, there was no reason not to vote and get our work done while we were there.

Keep in mind that this has never been done before, the software to do this has not been tested for reliability or security, and there was no clear plan to allow the public to observe this electronic session. As someone who worked in systems testing and analysis for more than two decades, I can tell you systems hardly ever work as advertised the first time you try to use them. Fortunately, Republicans defeated this proposal and session proceeded has close to normal as could be, given the circumstances.

As it turned out my experience with technology proved true, it took an hour and a half for technicians to get our new, outdoor voting system to work. Our first several votes had to be done via roll call. I can only imagine what a mess an “online” session would have been; probably would have ended up with lawsuits for the lack of transparency or inability of Delegates to fully participate.

Once we got all the bugs worked out of the system, we managed to complete our work. Below is a brief summary of our actions.

STATE BUDGET
The Governor made numerous changes to the state budget, primarily rolling back new spending initiatives and deferring many construction projects in order to reduce spending. This was required due to a significant drop in tax revenues caused by Governor Northam shutting down much of Virginia’s economy in response to the COVID-19 virus. In addition to these amendments, the Governor has the authority to further reduce spending to keep the budget in balance.

Governor Northam has indicated he plans to call a special session of the legislature in August or September to make further changes to the state budget, once we see how badly revenues have been impacted.

BAD BUSINESS BILLS
During session, Democrats forced through a several bills that increased costs on businesses and government, which will make it more difficult and costly for businesses to create new jobs or even stay in business. These bills included collective bargaining, increasing the minimum wage, project labor agreements, and new taxing authority. Acknowledging that these bills are bad for business, the Governor delayed their effective date by a few months, hoping to give businesses a little extra time to recover from the current economic shutdown before imposing additional burdens on them. Instead of just delaying these bills, he should have just vetoed them.

PUBLIC SAFETY
Governor Northam submitted, and Democrats approved, amendments to expand and accelerate the eligibility of criminals for parole and early release from prison, including violent felons and sex offenders.

OTHER AMENDMENTS
Governor Northam amended the “Driver’s Privilege Card” for illegal aliens to remove the required language “Driver Privilege Card: not valid ID for voting or public benefits purposes.” This will make it easier for illegal aliens to use the card as an official ID, including for voting. Democrats passed this amendment over the objections of Republicans.

One of the good things we did during session was pass legislation to make it easier for employees and small businesses to form healthcare associations to offer insurance to their members. Governor Northam’s amendment would have required the legislation pass again next year before it would become law (a reenactment clause). I believe this was really an attempt to kill the bill without vetoing it; he wants to force people to use the Obamacare exchanges, which are just too costly for many. His amendment was defeated, so now he has the option to veto or sign the legislation.

Another amendment that was defeated would have moved May city and town elections to November, despite the fact that absentee voting for those elections is already underway and thousands of votes have been cast. His amendment was opposed by nearly all elected officials in the affected cities and towns.

SESSION SUMMARY

The 2020 Session of the General Assembly has come to a close, wrapping up 5 days late due to extended budget negotiations. This year the Democrats took control of the legislature for the first time in over two decades. While we did manage to defeat or moderate some of their more extreme initiatives, this session saw a number of historic changes for Virginia.  I fear they are moving the Commonwealth in the wrong direction.

Below is a summary of legislative actions this session.  All bills that passed have been sent to the Governor for his action.  We will reconvene in April to deal with any vetoes or amendments made by the Governor.

STATE BUDGET

A new state budget was adopted for the next two years. In short, the budget increases Virginia’s total spending by nearly 20% – a total $21 Billion increase. It includes new taxes and fees with many new commitments. I am concerned that such spending will not be sustainable during an economic downturn, which appears to have already started due to actions in response to the Coronavirus outbreak.  I would not be surprised to have to deal with a big budget shortfall the next time we go into session.

The budget continues the initiative to freeze tuition at Virginia’s public colleges and universities to help keep education affordable and accessible. It includes money for pay raises for state police and other state employees.

The budget provides funds for teachers to receive a 2 percent raise the first year and 2 percent the second year. It includes more than $1.6 billion in additional funding for our K-12 education system. Average per pupil spending has now fully recovered and surpassed the levels before the Great Recession.

The pay raises are contingent on revenue projections in the budget, which I believe are overly optimistic now.

In addition, it deposits $520 million to Virginia’s reserve day fund. This brings our total cash reserves to $2.2 billion, which we may have to use in the near future.

TAX HIKES

During the past year, Virginia’s tax revenue grew at a record pace, but that was still not enough money for Democrats. The new majority has enacted new taxes, including a significant increase it the gas tax, that would bring in more than $600 million over the biennium.

GUN CONTROL

The subject that generated a lot of interest this session was gun control. Democrats had signaled their intention to introduce a series of new gun control measures as early as last summer.

Fortunately, the worst of these measures failed, thanks to the voices of tens of thousands of Virginians who let the Democrats know their bills went too far. Bans on common sporting rifles, standard capacity magazines, and other accessories will not become law this year. Nor will legislation that would allow local governments to put additional restrictions on firearms not authorized in state code.

Bills that will become law are background checks for any firearms sale, including private transactions, as well as a “red flag” law that will allow the seizure of firearms from those alleged to be a dangerous.  Virginia’s “one handgun per month” rule will also return, but with the same exemption for those with concealed carry permits as existed before 2012.

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING

Under current law, local governments come to agreements with employees on an individual basis. With the new legislation, public employees can form unions and negotiate as a group. Unlike the private sector — where a bad deal with a union comes out of the company’s bottom line — a bad deal with public sector unions comes out of the pockets of taxpayers.

While the impact won’t be immediate, the long-term effect will be higher real estate taxes and bigger mortgage payments for homeowners around Virginia.

BAD BUSINESS BILLS

Virginians were rightly proud last year when CNBC found Virginia to be the Best State for Business in the nation.  But that ranking — along with thousands of jobs — is in serious jeopardy thanks to legislation passed this session. Democrats forced through a job-killing increase in the minimum wage, with the goal of stepping it up to $15 per hour over next the few years. Business owners will be forced to cut jobs and raise prices to pay the employees the new government-mandated wage.

They also made major changes to the way workers compensation insurance is handled in Virginia, driving up the cost of coverage for businesses. Those costs will cause prices to rise, taking more money out of the pockets of hard working Virginia families.

Another law was a bill allows employees of subcontractors to sue a primary contractor if the subcontractor doesn’t pay them.  Even if the main contractor has paid the subcontractor, they’re still on the hook for wages not paid by the subcontractor, though they have no real control over the subcontractor.  This is equivalent of making someone responsible for someone else’s debts.

PUBLIC SAFETY

Democrats spent a great deal of time talking about public safety but introduced and passed a number of bills that will make our communities less safe.

Legislation passed that would give people like Lee Boyd Malvo, the Beltway Sniper, a chance at parole. They also pushed legislation that would make it easier for drunk drivers to get back on the road, and defeated legislation to send those who commit felonies with guns to prison for longer terms. Other bills that would have brought back parole for all Virginian felons were ‘carried over,’ meaning they will bring it back next year.

Thieves got a cost of living adjustment, as Democrats voted to raise the felony larceny threshold to $1,000.

ENERGY

One area where Democrats spent a great deal of time arguing among themselves is the “Virginia Green New Deal,” which would spend billions of dollars to close virtually every power plant in the Commonwealth and replace them with more expensive and less reliable solar and wind farms.

They eventually settled on a slightly-less extreme version that requires Virginia to be a “carbon neutral” by the year 2050, which means that all natural gas and coal power plants must close in the next 30 years. Under this legislation, your electric bill will increase by 25 percent or more in the coming years.

ABORTION

Democrats moved forward in their quest to roll back longstanding protections for women seeking an abortion and ensure an informed decision is being made about an abortion. Additionally, under these new policies, those who may perform an abortion has been drastically expanded, to include those who are not doctors, and facility health and safety standards have been repealed.

ELECTIONS

First some good news, last year I sponsored an amendment to Virginia’s Constitution to establish an independent, bipartisan commission to draw legislative and congressional district lines after the census is completed this year.  Basically, it would take away the ability of legislators to draw their own districts.  Since it amends Virginia’s Constitution, it is required to pass twice and then be approved by the voters in November.

The proposed amendment passed last year with strong bipartisan support (83-15 in the House and 40-0 in the Senate) and most candidates of both parties pledged to support it during last November’s General Assembly elections.

While it easily passed the Senate with bipartisan support this year, many House Democrats, who voted for it last year, changed their minds, now that they are in control, and tried their best to defeat it.  House Republicans were eventually joined by only 9 Democrats to pass the amendment.

Even after the vote, the Speaker of the House took the unprecedented action of not sending the amendment back to the Senate, normally a technical formality performed by staff, until she was forced to do so by the Senate. No doubt she wanted to hold the amendment in the House and try to force another vote on it should some supporters be absent.

It should on the ballot for the voters to decide this November.  I want to thank the 9 Democrats who withstood tremendous pressure from their leadership to keep their promise to the voters.

Another positive is that we were able to defeat a Democrat lead effort to give control Virginia’s Presidential Electoral Votes to voters in other states, the so called popular vote compact. It passed the House with only Democrats voting for it, but was continued for further study by the Senate, so it may be back next year.

The bad news, Democrats gutted the voter ID requirement, and passed Election Day voter registration, so someone not registered to vote can walk into a precinct on Election Day, without ID, register and then vote with no way to validate their information.

OTHER LEGISLATION

A bill has passed to allow 5 Virginia cities (Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Richmond) to open casinos if a local voter referendum passes.

Decriminalization of possession of less than an ounce of marijuana passed. There will be a fine of $25 on the first offense and the record can be expunged if dismissed by the court.  Legislation to study how to legalize and regulate it also passed.

It will now be up to cities and counties what to do with statues of Confederate soldiers. They will no longer be required to get approval from the state to remove them.

CORONAVIRUS INFORMATION

I wanted to update you on what we currently know related to the COVID-19 virus in Virginia.  The Governor has issued a state of emergency for our Commonwealth. To help slow the spread of the virus, the Governor ordered all schools to be closed for at least two weeks and has banned public gatherings of over 100 people.

Below are helpful links to stay updated on developments related to COVID-19:

Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH): http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/surveillance-and-investigation/novel-coronavirus/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

Everyone must prepare for some disruption to our lives at work and at home. We must also remain calm and set an example for our families, friends, and neighbors.

In addition to limiting public interaction, there are a few common-sense steps to help keep you and your family safe and slow the spread of the virus:

• If you are sick, stay home.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth as much as possible.

• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve (not hands) when coughing or sneezing.

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

• Avoid contact with sick people as much as possible.

• Avoid non-essential travel.

• CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a healthcare facility).

• Stay up to date with the latest information. Visit www.VDH.virginia.gov/coronavirus.

THE ENVIRONMENT

A clean environment is important to everyone. We all want and need clean air, water, and soil. I am pleased to say that the US and Virginia have taken concerted action to clean up the environment in recent decades, which has resulted in a reduction in emissions and in general a cleaner environment than we had when I was growing up.

The Democrats are advancing a package of bills which are purported to reduce emissions and climate change; Virginia’s version of the “Green New Deal”. They would require increased usage of alternative energy sources, like wind and solar, while restricting or phasing out the use of fossil fuels. I am concerned that this legislation will significantly increase the costs of electricity and fuel for no real benefit.

It would cause electric bills to increase by 25 percent or more. This would not only hit families struggling to pay their bills each month but would increase the costs of all goods and services, like groceries and clothing, since all businesses would have to pay increased energy costs to produce and deliver their products.

These bills have been motivated by predictions of eminent disaster if we do not take immediate action. I have been hearing dire predictions of climate calamity for nearly 40 years; none of these predictions have come true and I doubt the current alarmist predictions will be realized as well.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe we should do what we can to maintain a clean environment. In fact, we have been taking action without wrecking the economy. The US leads the world in reducing harmful emissions. From 1970 to 2017, aggregate US emissions of primary air pollutants have declined by 73 percent. Ambient concentrations of these pollutants have declined an average of 64 percent since 1990.

Virginia is doing its part in this area as well. From 1990 to 2017, Virginia’s emissions of key pollutants have decreased across the board:

* 61 percent reduction in nitrogen oxides (NOx)
* 89 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide (SO2)
* 68 percent reduction in carbon monoxide (CO)
* 60 percent reduction in volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
* 35 percent reduction in fine particulate matter (PM2.5)
* 30 percent reduction in coarse particulate matter (PM10)
* 51 percent reduction in ammonia (NH3)

Additionally, from 2005 to 2016, Virginia’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions decreased by almost 20 percent despite increasing population and energy demands.

While the US and Virginia are doing our part, unfortunately, other nations are not. Countries, like China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and other developing nations continue to dump more pollutants into the air and oceans with little regard for the consequences. Real global progress will be difficult until all nations work together.

The requirements dictated by Virginia’s “Green New Deal” will do significant harm to our economy without making any real difference for the climate. It will increase unemployment and make it harder for families struggling to pay bills, especially the poor. All the while, other countries will continue to pollute. The net effect will be a poorer Virginia, and no change in global climate.

Virginia and the US will continue to do our part to reduce emissions and clean-up the environment, but there is no need to wreck Virginia’s economy and transfer jobs to other countries for no benefit to the environment or climate.

TRANSPORTATION

Transportation has been a top priority for me ever since I was elected. We have significantly increased funding and resources going for roads and transportation; many of the ongoing road projects you see in the region, especially on I95, are the direct result of these efforts. However, our area remains a popular place for people to move to, and this has overwhelmed the transportation infrastructure, so more needs to be done.

NEW TRANSPORTATION PROPOSAL
The latest effort to deal with our transportation problem is HB 1414. I have numerous concerns about this legislation and doubt that it will actually get more resources to reduce gridlock on our roads. The legislation is very complex (convoluted may be a better description) and establishes numerous new funds as well as raising taxes. Here is a brief summary of the legislation (the summary that was provided to legislators was 11 pages long).

It would raise the gas tax 4 cents per year over the next 3 years and then the tax would automatically increase based on Urban Consumer Price Index (CPI-U), as published by the U.S. Department of Labor (it would not decrease, even in the unlikely event that the CPI-U decreased, it only allows increases). I am not a fan of tax increases, especially automatic ones. If taxes need to go up, elected officials should be accountable and have the courage to vote on it and not hide behind automatic increases.

It does propose reducing registration fees and going from annual car safety inspections to once every two years.

In my opinion, the worst part of the legislation is it adds new several transportation related funds, funding streams, and layers of complexity to the process. This gives me concern about the actual amount of money that may end up going to roads, how much will be syphoned off, and the time needed to navigate the additional bureaucratic steps.

A big part of the current problem with transportation is all the bureaucratic hurdles that already exist and must be cleared before a road project can start. Not only do projects have to be reviewed and approved by VDOT in Richmond, but major projects must also be approved by several Federal agencies such as the EPA, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Federal Highway Department. It can take years or even decades for a project to jump through all the hoops needed to proceed. Instead of adding more steps and complexity to the process, we should be simplifying and streamlining.

PAST ACTIONS ON TRANSPORTATION
In recent years the General Assembly, spearheaded by the House of Delegates, has significantly increased transportation funding to try to address traffic issues. Here is a brief summary of some of our efforts to improve transportation.

In 2005, we increased transportation funding by more than $ 1.4 Billion, the largest increase in nearly 20 years, including $ 850 million in funding to reduce congestion on major thoroughfares like I-95. The following year, an additional $ 568 million was directed to transportation.

During the 2007 session, the General Assembly financed largest transportation investment in two decades by providing nearly $ 500 million in ongoing, new transportation funding and authorizing $ 3 Billion in transportation bonds.

In 2008 we restored $ 180 million in transportation funding that former Governor Kaine had diverted to other programs.

Soon after coming into office in 2010, Governor McDonnell ordered a performance audit of VDOT that revealed $ 1.4 Billion in previously authorized funds that were not being spent on needed highway maintenance and new construction. These dollars were collected and redirected to long overdue transportation projects.

In 2011, we passed legislation to authorize nearly $ 4 billion in bond funding for transportation that jump-started over 900 projects around Virginia.

In 2013, the General Assembly passed a variety of fee and tax increases to raise over $ 1.3 Billion in additional funds annually for transportation. Also, other fees and tax increases were imposed on Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to raise funds for critical regional projects.

In 2016 we increased transportation funding by nearly $ 1 Billion and also passed my House Bill 97 which directed the Department of Transportation to conduct an evaluation with the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization to address traffic congestion on the Interstate 95 in our area, with a goal towards reducing congestion on I-95.

Last year I sponsored House Joint Resolution 581 to direct the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) and VDOT to develop a strategic plan to improve I-95 from our area north to the Beltway. Making significant improvements to the corridor will be expensive and take years, but VDOT should have a plan in place so that they can begin working on it.