By Senator Lynwood Lewis
Listen to Senator Lewis’ report!
We’ve finished up our first full week of the 2018 General Assembly session and we are moving at a break-neck pace. The week kicked off with Governor Northam’s State of the Commonwealth address in which he laid out his goals and plans for the Assembly. The rest of the week was as busy as I can remember the first full week of session being, with long committee meetings and full dockets. I had several Bills up in committee already, including my Bills regarding beneficial use and recycling, nonpartisan redistricting, dredging and creating a cabinet position for coastal resiliency and flooding adaptation.
While my Bill to adapt the Iowa model of nonpartisan redistricting – SB427 – failed to report out of committee on a tie 7-7 vote, we are still exploring other avenues of a path forward for nonpartisan redistricting. I’ve also submitted a Bill that would set only criteria for redistricting and am hopeful that it will make it to the Senate floor. Our Coastal Resiliency Cabinet Position Bill, SB 265, reported out of the Agricultural, Conservation and Natural Resources committee and was referred to the Finance Committee on a 10-3 vote. Addressing resiliency and remedial flooding must be a priority for our Commonwealth and this bipartisan legislation will put us in the best position to receive federal dollars and take real steps towards finding solutions. SB218, which directs the Department of Environmental Equality to encourage and support beneficial use and directs the Department to provide an evaluation of Virginia’s solid waste recycling rates and a set of recommendations for improving the reliability of the supply of recycled materials during the next 10 years in order to provide for beneficial use, was uncontested and passed the Senate. It will be heard in the House after cross-over next month.
The Bill I’ve introduced to create the Virginia Waterway Maintenance Fund, SB693, has particular importance for the Eastern Shore. It is accompanied by a budget amendment that would allow for untransferred motor sales tax dollars to be absorbed by the Fund and distributed for small commercial dredging projects. With dozens of our waterways here on the Shore in need of dredging or partial dredging, and with so many of our economic drivers depending upon these waterways’ navigability, the establishment of this Fund is critical. The Bill was well-received by the Agricultural, Conservation and Natural Resources committee and was referred to the Finance Committee on a 14-0 vote. Delegate Bloxom has a companion Bill in the House.
There are still several of my Bills that have yet to be heard, including my legislation to create local and regional drug overdose fatality review teams. Several other legislators have signed on to this legislation, as addressing and finding real solutions for our growing opioid crisis has strong bipartisan and statewide support.
This week in our Agricultural, Conservation and Natural Resources committee meeting we heard a Bill that I’ve already received a lot of concern about from watermen on the Shore. This Bill would require that all crab pots sold in the Commonwealth be fit with marine-biodegradable escape panels by January of 2019 and that all crab pots regulated by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission or used within the Commonwealth be retro-fitted with these panels by July of 2020. I recognize the problems in the bill and am aware that the technology is not yet ready for prime time and that retrofitting is overly burdensome for our watermen. I also believe that this should have gone through the stakeholder process at VMRC. I voted against reporting the bill to a full floor vote was surprised that this made it out of committee, but am working to ensure that it does not pass.
We have already had several groups visit from the Shore and the district, with several more on the calendar for visits in the coming weeks. With Session in until March 10, I encourage everyone to visit 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.