Danville and Pittsylvania County legislators, Sen. Frank Ruff and Delegates Danny Marshall Les Adams, took some time May 10 to brief local civic and business leaders on the 2023 General Assembly.
The legislators were joined by Matthew Hall from Attorney General Jason Miyares office for a breakfast hosted by the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.
Hall started off the legislative review with a run down of initiatives coming out of the AG’s office, to include Operation Ceasefire, of which Danville is one of 12 cities in Virginia where it is being implemented, he said.
Operation Ceasefire works to reduce violent crime through partnerships that promote firearm safety, investing in gang prevention and supporting community policing in high crime neighborhoods, according to the AG’s office.
Hall said that the Danville Police Department is a model for working to stop the problem of violent crime before it starts, he said.
Hall also discussed a new awareness program targeting middle and high school students about the dangers of fentanyl called “One Pill Can Kill.”
The program focuses on raising awareness about counterfeit drugs that can be laced with fentanyl, according to the AG’s office.
It was estimated that in 2021, 98% of fatal fentanyl overdoses in Virginia were caused by the illicit, rather than prescription, version of the drug, according to the AG’s office.
Sen. Frank Ruff
A nearly 30-year veteran of the General Assembly, Ruff, a Republican, said there wasn’t much expected of the session with the GOP in control of the House and the Democrats in control of the Senate.
It was known that many bills would not make it through, he said.
Ruff spoke about his work on dealing with workforce issues, particularly with getting someone on the Governor’s cabinet who would deal directly with that area.
That person was Bryan Slater, who was appointed as Secretary of Labor by Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
Ruff said the goal is to take the many agencies that deal with workforce issues and put them under one body that will address the programs that have to do with education and workforce training, said Ruff.
Ruff also spoke about term limits and noted that about a quarter of the state’s current legislators will be gone due to retirements or simply moving on.
This doesn’t take into consideration that there are several volatile primaries to be dealt with in June, said Ruff, adding that six are in fairly liberal districts where incumbents are being challenged by “Woke” people.
And that’s why the General Assembly has not finalized its budget, he said.
The reason is that the House Republicans understand that if they lose the current crop of Democrats and get the “Woke” candidates, it will be worse for Virginia, he said.
Ruff said he predicts that after primary day, the budget will get done.
The primary is June 20.
Ruff advised that the Commonwealth not adopt term limits. When the General Assembly has the turnover it will have this year, it empowers the staff, he said. Staffers have bias and will take those issues away from legislators and give them to staff, who are isolated from the constituents, unlike the elected officials, he said. Then, the staff will do what it wants, and that’s not good for representative government, said Ruff.
Del. Danny Marshall
Marshall explained that this year, the General Assembly was making amendments to the biennial budget passed last year.
Fortunately, this year, the economy is good and Virginia has an “astronomical” amount of revenue and the governor wants to give that back to the taxpayers, he said.
Marshall went over some bills he worked on this year in the General Assembly, such as worker’s compensation. House Bill 1410 allows state troopers who go into a house or building with hazardous materials, such as methamphetamines, to obtain compensation if health problems occur.
The Virginia Banker’s Association asked for a bill that codifies community development financial institutional funds that will bring results to local communities, he said.
HB 1410 was signed by the governor.
HB 1411 codifies the Virginia Community Development Financial Institutions Fund. The program will provide grants and loans to community development financial institutions and other similar entities for the purpose of providing financing to small businesses, housing development and rehabilitation projects, and community revitalization real estate projects in the Commonwealth.
Marshall said this bill was introduced on behalf of the Virginia Banker’s Association.
It too was signed off on by Gov. Youngkin.
Marshall said he submitted a budget amendment of $290,000 add another general district court judge and staff in Danville due to an increased workload.
Once the budget is passed, that will get done, he said.
Marshall also discussed the work of the Virginia Housing Commission, of which he is chairman. One issue is short term rentals — of particular concern in Danville with the arrival of Caesars and the need for more hotel rooms.
Marshall said folks need to check their home owners policy as many do not cover short term rentals.
Another issue is the lack of available housing in the Commonwealth — currently a nine month supply.
The result of this is reflected in the sales prices of houses, which average $750,000 in Loudoun County, but only $250,000 in Raleigh, said Marshall.
Marshall said the Commission wants to create a site ready system, not unlike that used by industrial development authorities, to make the process faster for developers to build houses.
Marshall said his budget amendment for $20 million for the building near the IALR passed the House and is awaiting action by the Senate. Same for another $3 million, and based on a request by the Danville City Council, to develop the white water channel that will go next to the former white mill, now Dan River Falls. The water feature can then be used by first responders from all over the state for training.
Marshall reminded the audience that he is now in a new District, 49, which covers all Danville precincts, as well as the following in Pittsylvania County: Keeling, Kentuck, Mount Cross, Mount Hermon, Ringgold, Tunstall, East Blairs and West Blairs.
Del. Les Adams
Adams said that 100% of his bills passed out of the House and half of those made it through the Senate.
A few of those bills deal with issues that arose during the pandemic with regards to unemployment claims, he said.
Adams said that during the pandemic, the Virginia Employment Commission was overwhelmed with claims due to business closings and during that time, his office received scores of calls.
Under Youngkin, a priority was place on clearing the backlog, as well as pursuing cases of fraud, said Adams.
Adams submitted two bills, HB 2009 and 2010 that address the prosecution of unemployment fraud, and both have received the signature of the governor.
Adams’ House Bill 2023, also signed by Youngkin, creates another pot of money for additional transportation products to support economic development, such as at the Berry Hill mega site, said Adams.
The bill further allows use of grants and revolving loans for property acquisition and new or improved infrastructure to support economic development activities, said Adams.
Adams closed his discussion by announcing the formation of a new Virginia Health Department working group designed to address the proliferation of tick borne illnesses, to include the allergy to red meat.
He began by describing how, as a child, he had a head of curly red hair that was regularly searched for ticks by his mother, who was also a nurse.
Adams said the last time Virginia really focused on tick borne illnesses was in 2009-2010 when Lyme disease became prevalent.
The number of tick borne illnesses has since increased for both humans and in agriculture, and experts have complained about the limited data and resources to treat people, said Adams.
The working group, which has now been assembled, will soon meet to begin this work, he said.
As for the General Assembly, “overall, we were pretty effective,” he said.
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