General Assembly 2015: OSH Legislative Update

It's still more or less like this

It’s still more or less like this

Last month, Old South High wrote about a number of notable bills with local relevance being considered by the General Assembly in Richmond. Since then, some have been shot down, some still await committee hearings and one tenacious little bill (well, actually two companion bills in either house) actually seems to be going somewhere.

Here’s the current situation (as of 2 Feb. 2015 AD; 20:15 EST) and where applicable, the voting records of Harrisonburg’s Del. Tony Wilt & Sen. Mark Obenshain:

Moving Ahead

  • The Industrial Hemp Farming Act has cleared committee and is well on its way to passage. If that happens, hemp research projects could begin soon in Virginia. If and when the federal government legalizes plain old hemp cash-cropping, this bill would also make that legal in Virginia. Two identical bills have advanced through both chambers of the General Assembly. In the House of Delegates, HB 1277 passed committee by a 17-5 vote with Del. Wilt voting in favor of it. The Senate version of the bill, SB 955, received the unanimous approval of the agriculture committee – including a Yes vote from Sen. Obenshain.

Still in Queue

  • Del. Todd Gilbert (Woodstock) has an interesting bill, HB 2077, that would ban law enforcement agencies from acquiring drones without specific permission from the government, and would restrict said drones’ use afterwards. The bill is now before House Criminal Law Subcommittee.
  • Also before that same subcommittee: a bill that would upgrade willful violation of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) from a civil violation to a criminal misdemeanor. This is good stuff. Go, little HB 2223, Go!
  • Next, a few bills prompted by the proposed Dominion gas pipeline that might be built across Augusta County. SB 1169 would prevent Dominion surveyors from entering private property without landowner consent (as they’re currently empowered to do) unless the local board of supervisors says it’s OK. This bill, from Sen. Emmett Hanger, whose district includes about half of Rockingham County, awaits a hearing before the Senate Commerce and Labor committee.
  • SB 1338, also from Sen. Hanger – which I haven’t written about before here because it wasn’t on my radar – would completely repeal the state law allowing public utility surveyors on private property without landowner consent. (Under other code sections, that could eventually happen if a utility, such as Dominion, was further along in the process of condemning property through eminent domain.)
  • Finally, Sen. Hanger has SB 1166, which would require that if public utilities like Dominion use eminent domain to take land, any business related to that eminent domaining would be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Better Luck Next Year

  • HB 1696 was identical to Hanger’s FOIA bill for public utilities, offered by Del. Dickie Bell of Staunton. The House Committee on Commerce and Labor wasn’t sympathetic to the cause, however, and scuttled the bill by voice vote.
  • SB 686 would have decriminalized misdemeanor possession of marijuana – a single charge that accounted for 3.5 percent of all criminal charges filed by the Harrisonburg Police in 2013. Would have, could have, should have: possession of a joint will remain a criminal act in Virginia after the Senate Courts of Justice committee gave it a thumbs-down by a 9-5 party-line vote. Sen. Obenshain joined the rest of the committee’s Republicans in voting to snuff out this bill.
  • Harrisonburg has shockingly high rates of poverty and students who receive free & reduced school lunch. One great way to help out the working poor in this (and every) community would be to raise the minimum wage above the federal minimum of $7.25/hour – which allows a full-time worker to gross just $15,080 per year. HB 1654 would have bumped the state minimum wage up incrementally over the next few years, to $10.00/hour in 2017. But the House Committee on Commerce and Labor said no dice.
  • Del. Marcus Simon tried to shoot the minimum wage moon with HB 1512, pushing the hourly minimum up to $15.15. But curiously, the House Committee on Commerce and Labor didn’t go for this either.
  • SB 704 was a third minimum wage bill that would have allowed localities to enact modest minimum wage increases (up to $10.50/hour) if approved by voters. But the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor wasn’t down, by an 11-4 margin, with Sen. Obenshain joining the majority to kill the bill.


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