Dan Holmes

2021 General Assembly Update

2021 General Assembly Update

The last six months has been a whirlwind of legislative action. The 2020 special session extended into mid-October, creating a mad scramble at its conclusion to prepare for the 2021 regular session. PEC was busy drafting bills and budget amendments, finding sponsors and having the conversations necessary to set up our initiatives for success before the new session began on January 13. The 2021 regular session was eventually extended into a special session that concluded on March 1.

Action Alert: Protecting Farmland Now and For the Future

Action Alert: Protecting Farmland Now and For the Future

Farmland lost is farmland lost forever. Budget amendment 97 #2h (Gooditis) would provide an additional $2 million to the Farmland Preservation Fund grant program (current funding is only $250,000), providing much-needed matching funds and encouraging other localities to adopt Purchase of Development Rights programs of their own.

Support SB 1199 and Reject the Proposed Floor Substitute

Good news! On Tuesday, January 26, Senator Stuart’s attempt at a floor substitute for SB 1199 was defeated. This allowed the bill that came out of full committee to proceed to a floor vote. On Wednesday, January 27, SB 1199 was read a third time and passed the Senate on a 25-14 vote. You can see the full vote count here: https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?211+vot+SV0144SB1199+SB1199

The bill’s house companion, HB 1760 (Webert / Gooditis), passed the house 100-0, putting the legislation on the path to final passage (barring any unforeseen mischief).

aerial image of farmland in the goose creek watershed
Aerial image of farmland in the Goose Creek watershed in Loudoun County, VA. Photo by Hugh Kenny.

A troubling development occurred Friday afternoon on the Senate floor. Our priority land conservation legislation (SB 1199 Petersen) was derailed by the introduction of an unfriendly substitute from Senator Stuart. If accepted, this change would entirely defeat the purpose of the bill. The Senate will consider the substitute during Monday’s floor session. Please ask your state senator to reject the proposed substitute and support the original legislation as passed by the full committee. 

Conservation easements are one of the most effective ways to protect farmland, forests, water quality, scenic and historic resources for current and future generations. SB 1199 preserves the integrity of all existing conservation easements, ensuring that disputes over terms are decided in favor of the conservation purpose of the easement, reflecting the intent of the original easement donor. 

Send a Letter to Your Senator

Ask your state senator to stop this substitute and support SB 1199. Take action ASAP!

More information

Read the briefing paper that PEC’s Dan Holmes wrote with Nikki Rovner from The Nature Conservancy in the Virginia Conservation Network’s Legislative Briefing Book, about the need for this legislation. Sunset over farmland in Greene County photo by Harlow Chandler.

Conservation easements are one of the most effective ways to protect farmland, forests, water quality, scenic and historic resources for current and future generations. Private landowners work with state and federal agencies, along with nonprofit land trusts, on easement terms that protect the public values laid out in the Virginia Conservation Easement Act and the Open-Space Land Act.

These easements are legally binding agreements that stay with the land in perpetuity, ensuring that their natural and cultural resources are protected even if the property is sold. Although rare, there have been several recent legal cases in which new landowners dispute the land uses that are and are not permitted under the conservation easement.

A 2016 Virginia Supreme Court ruling made clear that legislation is needed to clarify how courts should handle these disputes. The introduced bills SB 1199 (Petersen) and HB 1760 (Webert/Gooditis) would direct the courts to interpret the easement terms based on the original intent of the conservation easement donation and their protection of public benefits.

What Does 2021 Hold for Conservation?

The 2020 Special Session, focused on resolving budget issues stemming from Covid and addressing police and criminal justice reform, has ended just in time for the holidays. But as in the movie Groundhog Day, now we prepare to do it all over again. Virginia’s 2021 legislative session opens on Jan 13 and will prove no less challenging than the special session. At this moment, details are still fluid, but here is what we know.

General Assembly Special Session Update

General Assembly Special Session Update

Beginning on Aug 18, the Virginia General Assembly entered a special session to focus on budget impacts related to the pandemic and calls for criminal justice and policing reforms as local and national unrest continued following the death of George Floyd. At the time of this writing, session is ongoing and many questions remain on the shape of the final budget and some of the legislative initiatives. Legislators intend to wrap up their work before the end of September.