The 46 day session is moving rapidly. Subcommittees and committees are meeting around the clock, which leaves little time for reflection. This week I will address a couple of the issues I am working on.
First, Senate Bill 1252 requires colleges and university employees to notify law enforcement officers within 24 hours of a report of a sexual assault or rape. Simply put, I do not believe our colleges and universities should be in the business of investigating criminal activity. The current process is flawed, and I am hopeful the deliberations this winter will yield some positive changes in how these serious crimes are handled on campuses throughout the Commonwealth.
An area of ongoing controversy is subaqueous lands, or river bottoms. Under Virginia law, land west of the fall line of the James River, river bottoms that were granted out by the crown prior to 1802, are the private property of the landowner. If they were not granted out, those lands are the property of the Commonwealth. This is an issue that has caused mountains of litigation and controversy over the years and resulted in the introduction of any number of bills that ultimately would have taken people’s property away from them. In 2013, I asked the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to convene a work group to examine the issue and develop some alternative means of dispute resolution that protects private property rights but also encourage landowners to open up these bottomlands to canoeists and fisherman.
Those discussions generated two ideas that I brought forward via legislation this year. The first bill, Senate Bill 1271, sets up a means for people to determine, short of going to court, and ultimately to arbitrate whether a crown grant exists. This is a totally voluntary process. If the landowner doesn’t want to go through this process, a landowner does not have to and does not affect ownership at all. The second bill would set up a process whereby a landowner could grant an easement across subaqueous land to the benefit of the Commonwealth, and incur a tax benefit if the public is granted use. Again, there is nothing mandatory about this bill and is solely designed to offer an incentive for those who may open up their property for the sportsmen. Both bills seek to provide additional tools to those involved in this contentious issue.
I continue on the quest of creating the best system of public mental health care in Virginia. The bulk of that work comes through the Joint Subcommittee to Study Mental Health Services in the 21st Century. The Subcommittee will not make recommendations until the end of 2015 and 2017. In the meantime I’ve introduced a number of bills on mental health.
Last year, I sponsored Senate Bill 261. Delegate Rob Bell introduced a companion bill in the House of Delegates. Both bills passed, directing the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) to evaluate the way emergency evaluators are trained and assigned. Today I filed three bills and a $780,000 budget amendment to put into action the recommendations generated from this report and follow through with some of the important work we began last year. Evaluators in these circumstances are making critical decisions that may deprive an individual of his or her civil liberties. It is critical that they are highly qualified and trained.
In addition, I introduced Senate Bill 1270 after long discussions with UVA Law Professor Richard Bonnie. This bill is designed to improve the process for the appointment of an emergency power of attorney in the event of a mental health crisis by providing an alternative to current law. This bill proposes that DBHDS implement a pilot project utilizing this alternative method in the coming year.
I’ve also introduced Senate Bill 1263. This bill comes at the request of the Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health and is designed to improve the transportation of an individual for whom a temporary detention order has been issued. Senate Bill 1265 adds definitions to the real-time bed registry that was created last year. We want to ensure that the registry is updated as quickly as possible and accurately reflect the availability of psychiatric beds.
The idea of creating a state park in Highland County continues to be a priority. I have proposed a budget amendment with this in mind. This is not the year to find great success on budget amendments, and I am working several routes to try and find the funding to achieve this goal, because I think it will transform the economy of Highland County by creating a destination that will generate tourism and other associated business opportunities. Even though I know the money is not there for the state to fund the park’s creation this year, I have introduced the amendment because I don’t want people to lose sight of the idea.
This year I asked Senator Vogel of Fauquier County to introduce the redistricting amendment that I have carried for many years. She is chair of the committee, and it makes sense to put another face on the bill. I am pleased to report that bill passed out of committee earlier this week with only one no vote and should be voted on early next week on the Senate floor.
I’ve introduced Senate Joint Resolution 280 asking the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to consider a consolidation of all state law enforcement agencies under the Department of State Police. This is also an idea I’ve carried forward in the past.
Senate Bill 1261 is also an oldie but goodie and is designed to improve the judicial selection process.
There are certainly other bills that I have introduced and more than I am working on this session. It continues to be my great honor to serve you in the General Assembly. Do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance. You can reach me at PO Box 396, Richmond, VA 23218, [email protected] , or (804) 698-7525.