By Senator Lynwood Lewis
Listen to this update!
After two and a half weeks of the 2018 General Assembly session, we have a final tally of 2600 Bills which includes Bills put forward by both members of the Senate and members of the House. This is more than a 25% increase from last year when we heard 1900 Bills. We’ve had long committee meetings with incredibly full dockets, and with this number of Bills it looks as though that trend will continue through the end of Session.
This past week brought victories and disappointments, as all General Assembly sessions do, but I want to highlight a few developments of particular interest to the Eastern Shore. Our Virginia Waterway Maintenance Fund Bill, SB693, passed unanimously out of the Finance Committee and is on the uncontested docket for a full floor vote. As I mentioned in last week’s column, establishing this Fund is critical to addressing the Shore’s dredging needs and I’m pleased the legislation has been so well-received. Delegate Bloxom and Delegate Keith Hodges are working with me on this as well as on the accompanying budget amendment, and we hope to bring these much-needed dollars directed for specified dredging projects back home to our districts. Thanks to Shannon Alexander and Curt Smith of the ANPDC and John Joeckel for all of their help and support.
My Bill to address the opioid epidemic that has plagued so many of our communities throughout the Commonwealth made it through Subcommittee 5-0 and through the full Education and Health Committee on a 13-2 vote. This Bill allows the creation of local fatality review teams to study suspected overdose deaths. It is modeled after a successful program in Maryland, and I’ve received help on the direction of this legislation from several stakeholders on the Shore, including the Department of Corrections, the Eastern Shore Community Services Board, the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Virginia State Police. There is bipartisan support for addressing what is an urgent, growing problem, and passing this legislation to implement fatality review teams will put us on the path to finding solutions for the devastating spike in opioid-related deaths.
I also saw my Bill to address security concerns regarding FOIA inquiries into Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (VCSFA) passed unanimously out of Subcommittee. Our current FOIA provisions do not provide a relevant exclusion to the VCSFA for the purpose of Federal Sensitive Security Information. In its role as a national asset of only one of four Spaceports licensed to launch to orbit in the United States (Wallops) and as a secure, testing facility with restricted airspace for Unmanned Aircraft Systems development, Virginia Space is often in control of Federal Sensitive Security Information. The lack of a FOIA exemption for the VCSFA is both a national security risk and a competitive disadvantage, and I am hopeful we will get this Bill through Committee and a full Floor vote.
Our money Committees in both the House and the Senate are working on the new Budget for the 2018-2020 biennium. I will continue to advocate for funding for areas of great importance to the Shore, including more funding for agricultural best management practices, much-needed dollars for Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital and for waterway maintenance, as well as specified funding to address recurrent flooding and oyster restoration.
And, finally, in last week’s column I touched upon a Bill that was of significant concern to many of our local watermen regarding new regulations on all crab pots regulated by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. My colleague’s intentions were good, but it was important that my fellow Senators on both sides of the aisle understood that this technology was not ready for prime time nor had it gone through the proper channels. When I spoke against this Bill on the Senate floor, I explained how and why retrofitting in this manner is overly burdensome for our watermen and that moving forward this should go through the stakeholder process at VMRC. I am happy to report the Bill died on a 15-25 vote.
We’ve had a very busy session so far, and we still have a long way to go. We will be having town halls in the district around the time of Crossover (February 14). If you visit us in Richmond, please stop by our office on the 6th floor of the Pocahontas building – Office 609. As always, I encourage everyone to reach out to us in Richmond and to continue to monitor the activities legislature on the General Assembly website VirginiaGeneralAssembly.gov. I can be reached at our legislative email District06@senate.virginia.gov and while in Richmond by telephone at (804) 698-7506. Please do not hesitate to contact me on issues with questions about legislation or on issues of concern.