Danny's Desk: News from the Virginia General Assembly
Feb 24, 2015

Our Final Week    We are working in the final week of the 2015 legislative Session. It has been fast and sometimes furious, with about 2,700 bills and resolutions to handle during the “short” session of 45 allotted days. As we finish our work, I want to let you know about 4 bills that are directly related to our area.

The first two bills make changes to the Tobacco Commission. These bills were brought to us by Secretary of Commerce and Trade, Maurice Jones, at the request of the Governor. Secretary Jones is a member of the Commission by virtue of his office. He has been a faithful member, since his appointment just over a year ago, attending the meetings and always listening and adding to the discussions for economic development.

Introducing the House bill was Tobacco Commission Chairman, Terry Kilgore. His HB2330, passed the House 93-4 and the Senate 40-0. Vice-Chair, Frank Ruff, introduced a similar bill, SB1440, which passed the Senate 38-0 and the House 93-2. As you see, the votes were nearly unanimous. This legislation will make changes to procedures and membership of the Commission.

What the Bills Will Do

The bills require the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission to enter into a management agreement with a manager with respect to certain Commission loans, grants, and other distributions of money. The bill requires the manager to provide a written report on the financial viability and feasibility of any distribution and prohibits the Commission from making the distribution until the manager provides the Commission with a recommendation.

The bills reduce the membership composition of the Commission from 31 to 28 and make alterations on the qualifications of such members. The bills specify that 13 of the 28 Commission members have experience in particular fields.

Also, the bills require the Commission to adopt policies governing the Tobacco Region Opportunity Fund; to require a dollar-for-dollar match from entities receiving grants; to require each project to have an accountability matrix, provide a set of quantified outcome expectations and other figures, and demonstrate how it will address low employment levels or other indicators; to develop a strategic plan every two years; to establish a public database of awards; and to make no distribution to a tobacco-dependent farmer or producer solely based on the historical production of tobacco.

And, the bills establish the Virginia Tobacco Region Revolving Fund, the assets of which are to be used to make loans to local governments for the financing of any project that has an identifiable revenue stream from which the loan may be repaid. The bills empower the Virginia Resources Authority to administer the Fund, pledge assets of the

Fund as security solely for bonds issued to finance projects located in the tobacco-dependent communities in the Southside and Southwest regions of Virginia, sell or collect on loans made from the Fund, and, in accordance with a memorandum of agreement with the Commission, establish the rates and terms of loans.

The Commission, in conjunction with the Authority, will make an annual report to the General Assembly and the Governor on all loans made from the Fund.

 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.

Works in Progress

 Sometimes a bill will easily pass through the legislature and sometimes a bill takes a different turn for good reasons. Two bills that I introduced did not pass this year, but will be looked at for the next session.

 The first is the Dan River Coal Ash bill. It relates to the January 2014 spill that polluted the Dan River. One of the difficult lessons that we learned from the spill is the importance of knowing about the substances flowing into the river, or any body of water, as soon as possible.  

My HB 1846, requires the owners or operators of electric generating facilities and landfills that manage coal combustion materials to give quick notification of spills, leakage or release. When owners or operators have discovered a spill, they must report it within one hour to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia Department of Health and to the local coordinators of emergency services.

Within 4 hours, the owner or operator is required to report to the localities that take in the affected water and to the local media. The idea of the media report is to make the public aware.

As the process moved forward, I discussed my bill with David Paylor, the director of the Department of Environmental Quality. We found that Federal rules were changing. Would this affect the DEQ regulations? I asked for my bill to be tabled for this year and for David Paylor to keep me informed, so that if we need to adjust the bill for next year, we will be ready.

Broadband access is a game-changer in economic development. Another one of my bills, HB 2352 is meant to help rural areas with internet access. It requires any company that installs underground pipeline that crosses more than one county or the Commonwealth's border to equip that pipeline with conduit, capable of housing fiber optic cable or other wiring, and equipment necessary to provide broadband service.

The bill requires the company installing such pipeline to bear the cost of installing broadband conduit and allows it to thereafter lease the conduit to broadband providers. This is similar to Internet providers currently renting space on telephone poles.  

The companies that this would affect told me that they liked the idea, but it could not be worked out during our short session. The problem is that part of the regulations come from the state, but part come from the Federal government. Would the Federal regulations prohibit the conduit? I asked for the bill to be referred to the Joint Commission on Technology and Science (JCOTS). They will closely examine the State and Federal regulations. I hope to get the information from them by next fall, in time to bring back the bill next session.

One main reason that I am working for additional broadband access is to bring information technology (IT) jobs to rural Virginia. When you have broadband, it does not matter so much where you live. You do not need to be in a metropolitan area to do the work. IT can bring high-paying 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