The General Assembly session is moving along quickly. Committees meet early in the morning and late into the evening. The swirl of receptions, which has always accompanied the process, continues to occur, but they are less well attended than ever. Legislators are not only more conscious of the freebies, but the past week’s snow storm and resulting cancellations has backed up our work.
While at home in Bath County, we labored under a fairly modest snow storm for this time of the year; other parts of the state struggled. My friends in Highland County and in Charlottesville told me of accumulations of 18 inches or more. The Richmond area saw similar snowfalls, and some areas in Northern Virginia received over three feet of snow. Travel was treacherous and slowed to a snail’s pace. Once the snow stopped falling, snow disposal, particularly from urban streets, became a significant problem. The Governor has indicated this storm may have been the most expensive snowstorm in the history of Virginia. The clean up alone was estimated to cost $2 to $3 million per hour, in addition to the costs of preparing the roads for precipitation and public safety. Still the General Assembly churns on.
This week saw a major shift towards some compromise on guns, although the final deal is still up in the air. Many elected officials view the issue of guns in black or white terms. Legislators either vote for gun control or they vote to protect the Second Amendment. It is very difficult to find nuanced ground.
The Attorney General seemed to throw fuel on the fire last fall when his office conducted a study of the concealed carry laws in other states, as our law requires him to do, and determined that 25 states with which we have reciprocity have weaker concealed carry laws than Virginia. In fact, in some states even those who have been involuntarily committed to mental health facilities are eligible to carry concealed weapons. As I’ve explained to people before, there is nothing radical about the Attorney General’s actions. The law calls for the Attorney General in consultation with the State Police to determine with which states we should have reciprocal agreements and make a report to the Governor and the General Assembly. A lot of people do not like what he found.
In fact, the NRA made it their top goal in this legislative session to restore the reciprocity agreements. I have heard from many of my constituents who support that view. In the end, a very rare compromise appears close on this issue. Democrats and Republicans, gun control advocates and opponents, have come together on a tentative plan to restore reciprocity with the twenty-five states along with making strides on some gun control policies.
In Virginia during 2014, 112 homicides were the result of family and intimate partner violence. Over half of those deaths involved firearms. Just last year, four people died while an active protective order was in place. This proposed compromise removes firearms from the possession of those against whom protective orders have been issued. This is a major public safety achievement.
In addition, the deal takes a first step with respect to background checks at gun shows. We have debated and discussed the gun show loophole for over a decade. Private sellers, those who sell firearms but are not federally licensed dealers, do not have to submit their buyers to background checks. Only a small portion of weapons are sold at gun shows by private sellers, but it doesn’t take but one weapon for something tragic to occur. This agreement would require the State Police to provide background checks to any private sellers who voluntarily request one of their buyers. Many people will not be satisfied as this falls short of mandatory checks, but if an agreement is reached it will be a step forward.
Proposed changes to our gun laws have been an issue of incredible contention between a legislature controlled by Second Amendment advocates and a Governor who has campaigned for gun safety and gun control. The players were destined to continue to be at loggerheads. The compromise means that everybody gives something, and we make some progress.
On a much lighter note, today the Senate passed legislation I sponsored to designate Nelsonite as the official state rock. Last fall, a group of government and geology students from Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) came to me with this proposal. The students had done their homework. They garnered the support of the state geologist, the chairwoman of the Nelson County Board of Supervisors, our friend Connie Brennan, as well as Frank Friedman, the President of PVCC. Virginia is one of four states that does not have a state rock, mineral or gemstone. Nelsonite is named after Nelson County and had a significant impact on the local economy in the early 20th Century and is mined as far away as China. The bill was amended to include the American Dogwood as the state tree and the Northern Cardinal as the state bird. The General Assembly made those designations in the 1950s, but they were omitted inadvertently.
Earlier this week, Senate Bill 356 passed out of the Senate without opposition. The legislation directs the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to create a stakeholder group tasked with developing the Virginia Pollinator Protection Strategy. The goal is to promote best practices to protect our dwindling bee population. Landowners, beekeepers and farmers all have a shared interest in this regard, and I am hopeful my bill will receive the support of the House of Delegates.
It continues to be my high honor to serve you in the Virginia General Assembly. If I may be of service, do not hesitate to contact me. I can be reached at [email protected] or (804) 698-7525. I look forward to hearing from you.