The 2018 Session is winding down. Our work turns to the last remaining bills. At the beginning of every session initiatives are brought forth from every corner of the Commonwealth. Sometimes a lot of excitement, even enthusiasm, surrounds those ideas. Yet when the subcommittees get to work and the questions and criticisms come, bills often disappear for the year. Certainly that has been the case this year.
Like every year, over 50 firearm-related bills were introduced this session. We considered bills to promote gun safety, to control ownership, and to reduce restrictions on ownership. At least a half dozen of these bills attempted to make it easier to carry a concealed weapon or possess a firearm. At this point in the session, the only bill I think will pass relating to firearm safety is one I introduced, Senate Bill 669. The legislation ensures a minor who is committed involuntarily shall be ineligible to possess or purchase a firearm when he or she comes of age. The law already exists for adults, and many thought this was the state of the law. However, two families reached out to me in recent years about experiences with their loved ones that suggests otherwise. While the bill has moved slowly through the process and people have been trying to research thoroughly the possible nefarious intentions of the bill, it looks like the bill will pass.
The proposed pipeline projects also generated a great deal of legislative proposals. As everyone knows, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the construction of the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines. Both of these pipelines are proposed to traverse Virginia and deliver natural gas into the Carolinas and Hampton Roads. While the General Assembly is not involved in the approval process, we do have some jurisdiction and oversight responsibility if they are constructed. Among the myriad of bills introduced, three significant bills passed. Senator Hanger sponsored Senate Bill 950 to require individual Virginia Water Protection permits for wetlands and stream crossings and requires a review of possible impacts in upland areas for any future pipeline projects. My bills, SB 698 and SB 699, give the Department of Environmental Quality the authority to issue a stop work order in the event the activities have caused or will cause adverse impacts to water quality. Because of the controversy surrounding the pipelines, everyone had to be involved in these bills, so they were amended in both the Senate and the House. All three bills are now headed to the Governor.
Other bills that generate attention are ones related to animals. People are very sensitive about their pets. Some may recall I introduced a bill several years ago to make it easier for localities to implement trap, neuter and release programs for feral cats. I thought it would be a way to reduce the number of these feral cat colonies. The bill ultimately failed after producing an unbelievably high volume of calls and emails from throughout the Commonwealth and the nation. When I first came to the Senate, even though Republicans held a majority, former Senator Reynolds and Senator Puckett served with me on a subcommittee to handle pet bills. We were given that assignment because, while the bills are important to people, they take an awful lot of time and they are emotional. People are rarely happy with the result of a pet-related bill.
This year Senator Lionel Spruill of Chesapeake introduced Senate Bill 872 to prohibit the tethering of dogs during extreme weather. The bill made it out of the Senate only to be watered down in a House subcommittee then ultimately carried over for the year. I heard from many constituents on both sides of the issue. Many dog owners and volunteers with various animal organizations throughout the district supported the bill, while hunters opposed it. Many in the journalistic community saw this as a rural urban divide. I know plenty of people who love dogs that live in rural areas, people who hunt who live in urban areas, and plenty of hunters who love their dogs. While it appeared the policy discussion would have to wait until next year, House Bill 889 was amended in committee yesterday afternoon to accomplish the goals of SB 872. The fate of HB 889 will be decided next week.
In order to become law, a bill must pass both the House and Senate in the same form. If the two chambers cannot agree on the exact language of the bill, the legislation goes into conference. A number of legislators from each body have to develop consensus in order for the proposal to move forward. The primary work during the final week is to take final action on the remaining bills, getting bills into conference, and continue to negotiate the budget. All bills with fiscal implications had to be in conference by Wednesday of this week. The deadline for all other bills is next Thursday. I’ve been appointed to two conference committees so far, both involving bills that came through the Courts of Justice Committee.
It continues to be my high honor to serve you in the Senate of Virginia. If I may be of assistance during this final week of session, please contact me at (804) 698-7525 or [email protected].