Danny's Desk: News from the Virginia General Assembly
Feb 10, 2015

Farms and Roads and Tobacco Commission Changes

Youth Working on Farms:

As a youngster living on Route 360, there were farms all around us and I worked on my grandmother’s tobacco farm. A workday on the farm in peak season is long and hot. What I learned on the farm has influenced my life. Farm work teaches physical skills, tenacity, endurance and a sense of responsibility. Ask any adult who worked as a youth on a farm, tobacco or other type, and you usually find a person who says that it was hard and challenging, but that it made him or her a better person. In rural Virginia, some young people work with their families and some for their neighbors. Hundreds have grown up working on farms.

I mention this, because one of the bills that came before the Commerce and Labor Committee on which I serve, was House Bill 1906. It was a bill introduced by a Delegate from Arlington. The bill would have prohibited any person from employing a child under the age of 18 years to work in direct contact with tobacco plants or dried tobacco leaves unless the owner of the farm or other location at which such work is conducted is the child’s parent, grandparent or legal guardian and the child’s parent or legal guardian has consented in writing to such employment.

It made me wonder if the patron of the bill had ever worked on a farm, handed leaves or even seen a tobacco farm. As I listened to an “advocacy group” testify that young people should not work because, “it is hot in the fields” and that “at the end of the day they are tired,” it was hard to believe that they thought that was a bad thing. One can see the same result for young people who practice and play sports-they get hot and they get tired. But learning how to do physical work is not acceptable?

 I asked what statistical evidence they had that the farm work actually caused harm. There was no evidence presented. In my opinion the bill is not just about tobacco farms, but about eventually limiting people under age 18 from working on any kind of farm. Currently a young person under age 14 already has to have parental permission. I moved to table the bill and the subcommittee voted in agreement. It is no longer being considered. My guess is that the group will come back next year.

More Money to Pave Our Roads and Bridges

We passed a transportation bill in 2013-2014 that prioritized high-need projects. We have a new bill this year that makes adjustments and streamlines the funding categories. House Bill 1887 reforms how Virginia allocates its transportation dollars in order to increase transparency and send more money back to localities. 

The bill simplifies the old, complicated funding formula into three simple pots of funding: Now, 40% of funding will be spent to fix bridges and pavements, 30% will be sent to local districts for local projects, and 30% will be spent on key statewide needs.

There is nothing in this bill that raises taxes. There is nothing in this bill that creates new tolls. 

By simplifying the system and reducing the number of funding pots from 10 to 3, we will increase transparency and make it easier to follow the money.

My legislative district is in a part of two Department of Transportation districts. Danville and Pittsylvania County are in the Lynchburg Transportation District and Henry County is in the Salem Transportation District.

Today all highway funding is discretionary at the statewide level – a district is not guaranteed any funds. This bill will provide funds to each district to improve roadways as well as fix aging bridges and pavements. The construction district grant program will provide funds to each district that can only be used for projects recommended by the district’s local governments.

This new formula means that our local districts will receive more funding than under the old system. The Lynchburg District will receive $11 Million more and the Salem District will receive $18 million more. While bridges are evaluated according to safety and prioritized for repair and replacement, localities will set priorities on the unpaved roads. More transportation money to our localities without raising taxes is a win-win situation.

Tobacco Commission Changes

The Governor requested that a bill be introduced to restructure the Tobacco Commission. The Tobacco Commission Chairman, Terry Kilgore, introduced HB2330 and Vice-Chair, Frank Ruff introduced SB1440, similar bills, which will make changes to procedure and membership of the Commission. Delegate Kilgore’s bill passed the House Monday with a vote of 93-4. It will head to the Senate for consideration. Senator Ruff’s bill is up for a vote in the Senate at the time of this writing and I expect it to pass.

These bills make two significant changes to the Commission. One is the procedure for approving projects and the other is the membership.

One of the greatest missions of the Tobacco Commission is to help with economic development. In the past, localities sponsored most projects considered by the Commission and had handled the greater part of investigative vetting. Under the new procedures, the Commission will examine the projects beyond the recommendation of localities and will increase requirements of the entities that apply.

Chairman Kilgore’s bill requires the Commission to enter into a management agreement with a third party with respect to the commission’s distribution of money. That manager would provide a written report on the feasibility and financial viability of any proposed project. The bill also requires a “dollar for dollar” match from entities getting grants from the Commission.

The bill will also cut the number of members of the commission from 31 to 28, eliminating some non-legislative citizen members and a few tobacco producers. Under Kilgore’s bill, 60 percent of Tobacco Commission members would be required to have expertise in business, economic development, investment banking, finance or education.

I believe that these are progressive moves that will help the Tobacco Commission to do a better job. During my time on the Commission, the fund has had a positive impact of bringing jobs and giving scholarships to help hundreds of our young people with their education. But there are always improvements to be made. I want the Commission to work in the most effective way possible to help economic growth and to bring jobs to our region.

As always, I hope that my 14th District constituents will let us know how you feel about the state issues that are before us. If you want to read or keep up with Virginia legislation, you may go on line to: http://legis.virginia.gov/ 

We are currently in our office in Richmond located in Room 702 of the General Assembly Building.  You can contact us by sending an e-mail to DelDMarshall@house.virginia.gov or by sending a letter to me at PO Box 406, Richmond, VA 23218-0406, or by calling 804-698-1014. And, visit www.dannymarshall.com to complete our 2015 Survey (on lower right Homepage).