General Assembly

With a new democratic majority in both the House and the Senate, there are new legislative priorities and an immense number of bills have been filed. Given this, we are working hard to track all of the relevant bills, as well as keep our issues in the minds of the legislators.

 

Learn more about the General Assembly and how to contact your legislator by visiting our main General Assembly webpage.

The list of budget amendments and bills is by no means exhaustive and we will continue updating it as we move through session.


Conservation Funding and the Budget

Virginia’s conservation programs are critical to protecting the water we drink, preserving farms that grow our food and saving places that people love. They are also essential to meeting the state’s commitments to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

In general, we were pleased with the introduced budget as it included necessary investments in clean water and conservation. But as the session progressed, we were concerned about the lack of funding for many of the programs we rely upon. The budget now moves forward to the Governor. Read below to find out the level of funding provided in the House and Senate budget bills.

*Update 3/16: The Budget was voted on by the House and Senate on Thursday, March 12. The budget reflects the priorities of the two bodies after differences were worked out by a conference committee (select representatives of the two bodies). The budget now awaits action by the Governor.

Conservation Grant Programs

The most important funding mechanisms for preserving historic, cultural and natural resources come from three grant programs - the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, Farmland Preservation Fund and Battlefield Preservation Fund. PEC works with landowners and counties and provides matching funds under all these programs.

1) Virginia Land Conservation Foundation

The Virginia Land Conservation Foundation provides state matching grants on a competitive basis for the protection of open spaces and parks, natural areas, historic areas, and farmland and forest preservation. The state pays for no more than 50% of the project cost, which leverages local, federal and private investment. And at least half of funding must be used for projects with public access.

Estimated funding needs: $16 million per year

Funding in introduced budget: $20 million per year

*Update 3/16: The budget includes $10 million per year. While this amount is less than what was provided in the introduced budget, it matches the highest level of funding the program has received in prior years.

2) Farmland Preservation Fund

The Virginia Farmland Preservation Fund was established in 2007 to provide grant funding to localities with certified farmland preservation programs i.e. Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) programs. The program requires counties to match dollar for dollar the amount that is granted to them by the Commonwealth.

Estimated funding needs: $2 million per year

Funding in introduced budget: $250,000 per year

*Update 3/16: Budget amendments to increase the level of funding for this program failed to gain traction leaving the program with $250,000 per year of funding. This grant program receives only 12.5% of the funding called for in state code. This is unfortunate as this grant is one that could leverage additional federal dollars for the preservation of farmland.

3) Battlefield Preservation Fund

The Battlefield Preservation Fund provides matching grants to leverage federal matching funds for battlefield preservation administered by the National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program.

The benefits of VBPF reach far beyond the safeguarding of hallowed ground. Preserved battlefields protect open space, serve as “outdoor classrooms,” and are economic engines for local economies, providing jobs and tourism dollars, and generating revenues for state and municipal government coffers.

Estimated funding needs: $2 million per year

Funding in introduced budget: $1 million per year

*Update 3/16: The budget includes $1.25 million per year, an increase of $250,000 per year from what was introduced. While this amount is less than what is prescribed in state code ($2 million per year), it is an increase from what was in the introduced budget and represents over 60% of recommended funding levels.

Clean Water

The introduced budget contained some $400 million in investments for clean water. This includes some funding for the state’s cost-share program for Ag BMPs - funding for farmers to fence cattle out of streams, plant riparian buffers, use cover crops and reduce fertilizer use.

1) Agricultural BMP Cost-Share Program

While there are many sources of non-point source pollution, agriculture is among the most significant in Virginia because many acres here are devoted to farming. The Agricultural Best Management Practices Cost-Share Program (Ag BMPs) help farmers install practices, like fencing cattle out of streams, to improve water quality on the farm and downstream. The program is administered through Virginia’s local soil and water conservation district offices.

Estimated funding needs: Roughly $100 million per year

Funding in introduced budget: $90 million over a two-year period

*Update 3/16: The budget includes $66.6 million and $10 million for technical assistance over a two-year period. This amount is woefully inadequate given known needs. The legislation involving cattle exclusion (HB1422 and SB704 - more below), makes clear that there is an expectation of meeting our pollution reduction targets. Unfortunately, without full funding of the program, it is unclear if we will succeed in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay within the timeframe provided in the legislation - 2025.

2) Stormwater Local Assistance Fund

The Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF) provides matching grants to help localities install efficient and effective pollution-control measures. Practices such as stream restorations, constructed wetlands, and permeable pavement hold, absorb, or filter rainwater before it washes pollution into waterways. These projects also reduce flooding and beautify neighborhoods.

Estimated funding needs: At least $80 million per year

Funding in introduced budget: $182 million over a two-year period

*Update 3/16: The budget includes $50 million for year one and nothing in year two.

3) Virginia Conservation Assistance Program (VCAP)

The Virginia Conservation Assistance Program (VCAP) is an urban cost-share program that provides financial incentives and technical and educational assistance to property owners installing eligible Best Management Practices (BMP’s) in Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Watershed. These practices can be installed in areas of your yard where problems like erosion, poor drainage, or poor vegetation occur. Qualified sites shall be used for residential, commercial, or recreational purposes with a proposed practice that addresses a need." ~Virginia's Soil & Water Conservation Districts.

*Update 3/16: No increase in funding was provided for in the budget. VCAP funding was left at $500,000 per year.


 

Some of the Legislation

PEC is also tracked and speaking out on legislation moving its way through the system. Though not an exhaustive list, below is a list of some of the top ticket items weworked on during session.

Conservation


Support
- SB621 (Deeds)
SB621 is needed to ensure that in instances where there may be ambiguity in the easement that it will be ruled in favor of conservation. The bill adds a construction clause to the Open-Space Land Act and the Conservation Easement Act to conform to current Virginia Supreme Court law regarding the interpretation of deeds.

*Update 3/16: This bill was passed by for the day on February 11, in the last meeting of the Senate prior to crossover. Given this, the legislation was effectively killed by the decision.

Support - SB553 (Ruff) HB1605 (Hope)
This legislation seeks to address partition action abuses that have led many Americans to lose their tenancy-in-common property involuntarily in legal proceedings. This legislation is based on Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPHPA) which preserves the right of co-tenants to sell their interest in inherited real estate, while ensuring that the other co-tenants will have due process, including notice, appraisal, and right of first refusal, to prevent a forced sale outside their family or group. The legislation is needed to prevent the breaking up of family lands thus preventing desirable conservation outcomes.

Read the more about this issue in the Virginia Conservation Network's briefing book - Ensuring Rightful Property Ownership Through the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act.

*Update 3/16: These bills passed their respective bodies with unanimous support and await signature by the Governor. Thank you to anyone who reached out in support of this important legislation. 

Oppose - SB604 (Stuart)
This legislation lowers the threshold for review conducted by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) of conservation easements. Expanding DCR review for conservation easements generating over $500,000 in Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credits is overly burdensome on landowners and will result in redundant efforts by state agencies. Creating bureaucratic thresholds that are administered out of Richmond is contrary to more than 50 years of good conservation practice in Virginia and will hinder the ability of state agencies and private land trust to find innovative solutions to conservation

*Update 3/16: We are pleased to announce that this measure was defeated on the Senate Floor in an 18 Y -21 N vote on January 27th. 

Support - HJ95 (Lopez)
This requests the Department of Conservation and Recreation to study the feasibility of establishing two state parks in Culpeper County, one at Brandy Station Battlefield and one at Cedar Mountain Battlefield.

*Update 3/16: Unfortunately, this resolution was left in House Appropriations through crossover, effectively killing the measure.

Land Use and Transportation


Oppose
- HB364 (M Cole) HB620 (J Cole) HB642 (LaRock)
HB364 and HB620 would open up Smart Scale prioritization process in Virginia, a process that removes politics from transportation decision making, by increasing the radius from the project related to congestion and expanding to include weekend traffic impacts. HB642 would increase congestion mitigation scoring to 55% weighting for northern VA and Hampton Roads within Smart Scale. All of these bills would ultimately skew current scoring methodology to favor some of the worst projects in our region and across the state.

*Update 3/16: HB620 was incorporated into HB364 with that legislation being left in House Appropriations past crossover, effectively killing the measure. HB642 was laid on the table on an 8 Y -2 N vote, effectively killing the measure.

Support - HB1310 (Webert) and HB1639 (Guzman)
These bills address an ongoing issue in our region, the dumping of construction fill on agricultural properties. Increasingly, many in the construction industry are looking to rural lands as a cheaper, unregulated dumping ground as compared to regulated sites. This has resulted in instances where hundreds of dump truck loads have been dumped on individual properties resulting in a loss of agricultural viability and damaging waterways with erosion and sediment. HB1310 would require notice to the locality and adjacent landowners prior to any dumping activity and HB1639 would form a working group to provide definitions and a model ordinance for localities.

*Update 3/16: We are pleased to announce that both bills passed and await the Governor’s signature. Thanks to all that acted through our online campaign or that reached out to their representative on this matter.

Support - SB558/SB556/SB557 (Vogel) and HB940/HB946/HB941 (Webert)
Senator Jill Vogel and Delegate Michael J. Webert have several bills submitted regarding the safety of Rt. 17. Constituents have long had concerns about speeding on Rt. 17 between Warrenton and Marshall so three bills are being considered that would: 1) reduce the speed limit to 45 mph for tractor-trailers and other large vehicles designed for transporting property (SB558/HB940), 2) double fines (House) and $15 additional fee (Senate) for speeding in this section (SB556/HB946), 3) add permanent electronic speed indicator signs (SB557/HB941).

 

*Update 3/16: Four of the six bills were rejected by the House and Senate (see below). The legislation requiring electronic speed indicator signs (SB557 and HB941) both passed and await the Governor’s signature.

Energy


Support
 - HB1677 (Keam and Ware)
This legislation, known as the Virginia Energy Reform Act is supported by the Virginia Energy Reform Coalition (VERC), of which PEC is a proud member. The legislation would end monopoly control over Virginia’s electricity system, creating competition in the retail sector while protecting consumers from unnecessary and excessive rate hikes. For more on the legislation and the principles behind it, please visit the VERC website.

*Update 3/16: This legislation was continued into the 2021 session in House Labor and Commerce.

Support - HB167 (Ware)
This legislation requires an electric utility, as a condition of approval of any request by an electric utility for recovery through its fuel factor of costs incurred under a natural gas capacity contract not previously subject to review in a fuel factor case, to prove that the utility has determined a true need for a pipeline prior to seeking ratepayers to foot the bill. If they are unable to do so, the utility would have to seek reimbursement for any pipeline project from its shareholders.

*Update 3/16:This legislation has passed the House with amendments and awaits signature by the Governor.

Support - HB969 (Ware)

This legislation establishes requirements for the first scheduled triennial review proceeding for Virginia Electric and Power Company. The measure directs that it shall consist of a generation and distribution rate case conducted solely pursuant to Chapter 10 (§ 56-232 et seq.) of Title 56 of the Code of Virginia, rules of the State Corporation Commission, and this measure. As part of the initial triennial review, among other things, the Commission is directed to review the earnings during the utility's test period and to order credits to customers in amounts equal to any earnings during the combined test periods that are above the utility's authorized rate of return in effect on July 1, 2020.

*Update 3/16: This legislation was incorporated into HB1132 which crossed over to the Senate and went before the Senate Commerce and Labor. Unfortunately, the bill failed by one vote.

Support - HB754 (Kilgore)

This legislation establishes the Virginia Brownfield Renewable Energy and Coal Mine Grant Fund and Program. The fund and program shall be administered by the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, for the purpose of awarding grants to renewable energy projects that are located on brownfields or previously coal mined lands.

*Update 3/16: Unfortunately, this legislation was left in House Appropriations and failed to crossover.

Support - HB572 (Keam) and SB710 (McClellan)
Known as the Solar Freedom Bill, this legislation would remove many of the barriers for citizens and local governments as it relates to small scale distributed generation projects, including lifting the cap on the total amount of renewable energy that can be net metered.

*Update 3/16: This legislation has passed with amendments and awaits the Governor’s signature. Thanks to those who contacted their representative or the respective committee in support of this important legislation.

Clean Water

HB1422 (Plum) and SB704 (Mason)
This legislation originally mandated nutrient management plans and fencing cattle out of streams. We fully support fencing and nutrient management plans, but believe that the original legislation mandating these outcomes had to come with the appropriate levels of funding and staffing upfront. While the legislation has been significantly improved, the proposed budget falls well short of the need.

We raised issues with the Administration and supporters of stream exclusion bill, HB1422/SB704 (Plum and Mason), as it was originally introduced in hopes that the bill would be restructured to provide greater protections for farmers and the money necessary to hit the targets with regard to clean water. We wanted to ensure that small farms are appropriately supported and that we do not lose farms and farmland as a result of the proposed policy prescription. We believe our farms are a part of a larger environmental solution. And as Virginia’s largest industry, we believe the commonwealth should make the necessary investments to ensure our farms continue to operate as a sustainable part of a larger conservation fabric as well as our economy. We support and acknowledge we must get livestock out of our streams and believe the changes that occurred are a significant step in the right direction. But these changes in policy rely upon full funding of the supporting programs.

*Update 3/16:These bills were amended and are a vast improvement to the legislation as introduced. The legislation now awaits the Governor’s signature. If you have time to thank Senator Hanger for his involvement, please do so.


Other Legislation

Opposed - HB705 (Keam)
This legislation removes the authority to issue, reissue, amend, or modify permits or certificates or to hear permit actions from the Air Pollution Control Board, the Waste Management Board, and the State Water Control Board and places such authority with the Department of Environmental Quality. It also changes the appointment structure placing it in the hands of the General Assembly. While we appreciate the patron’s concern about controversial decision(s) that have been made in the past by the citizen boards, we do not believe the bill is in the best interest of the commonwealth. From what we have witnessed, citizen boards are the only relief valve from DEQ issuing an inferior permit. In other words, by the time a permit reaches the citizen boards, DEQ is usually recommending permit approval. 

*Update 3/16: Continued to 2021 with substitute in House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources. The substitute includes a study that will be the center of any discussions in 2021. While we are grateful the legislation as introduced was converted into a study, we are concerned that discussions next year will pick up where we left off with continued push to reduce the citizen boards roles in environmental decision making.

Support - HB592 (Guzman)
This bill introduced by Delegate Guzman (D- 31) would make the pawpaw (Asimina triloba) Virginia's state fruit. The pawpaw is a small understory tree that is native to Virginia, and is valued by both people and wildlife.

*Update 3/16: This legislation was continued to the 2021 session in House General Laws. Please take time to thank Delegate Guzman for increasing the awareness of native plants of the commonwealth.


Just as a reminder, PEC coordinates with our partners at the Virginia Conservation Network (VCN). Please visit their website for additional updates on legislation impacting the environment across the state.

*Update 3/16: The budget includes $50 million for year one and nothing in year two.

 
 
 

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