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This Tuesday marked the halfway point of Virginia’s 2023 General Assembly Session, a date known as ‘crossover.’ The House and Senate have each finished voting on the bills their members put forward, and now move on to consider legislation passed by the opposite body.
While we are a ways off from the end of session (Feb. 25), this is a good time to provide an update on where various pieces of legislation stand. See below for more specifics.
And while you’re here, we’ve still got two advocacy campaigns ‘live’ – so if you haven’t yet sent a letter, please take a moment to do so!
- Support additional farmland preservation funding →
- Support the study of data center impacts on Virginia residents and ratepayers →
Land Conservation and Restoration
Starting with some positive news from the General Assembly, the Senate and House are supporting, in varying degrees, additional funding for state parks, trails, and land conservation in the Commonwealth. In addition, we are pleased that the House passed 100-0 HB 1755, which will simplify and clarify the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPHPA) while maintaining protections for heirs.
We are also pleased to report that the Senate is calling for an additional $2,000,000 for the Farmland Preservation Fund and $10,000,000 for the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation in FY2024, the second year of the biennium.
Unfortunately, the House did not include any additional funding for farmland conservation in their committee recommendations, referencing the increased funding for Agricultural Best Management Practices as sufficient to meet the state’s water quality goals.
Lastly, the outlook is bright for two bills championed by the conservation community to raise awareness of problematic invasive plant species and support the use of native plant species in our landscapes: Native plant species; state agencies to prioritize use on state properties (HB1998) and Noxious weeds; invasive plant species (HB 2096). After similar bills faced a quick defeat in the 2022 session, these new-and-improved bills have come back stronger than ever and are, so far, sailing through the House.
Land Use, Energy and Transportation
PEC has been tracking and weighing in on a number of bills relating to local land use this year. Here are just a few worth noting:
- Data center development; DOE to study impacts on Virginia’s environment, etc. (SJ 240) is a bill to study and understand the impacts of the huge and rapidly-growing data center industry on Virginia’s ratepayers and the environment—the Commonwealth is home to the largest concentration of data centers in the world, hosting 70% of global internet traffic. We’re happy to report that SJ 240 made it out of the Senate Rules Committee last Friday in front of a packed room of 70+ local advocates, has passed the Senate floor earlier this week, and will now be considered by the House during crossover. Please ask your legislators to support the bill by sending a letter!
- Cloud Computing Cluster Infrastructure Grant Fund (SB 1522 / HB 2479). We highlighted these state subsidies for Amazon and the data center industry in our recent guest column in the Virginia Mercury. The legislation passed the House on an 89-8-1 vote and the Senate on a 38-1 vote.
- Land use classifications; property qualifications (SB 1511) fixes an issue with real estate designations for properties that formerly participated in and continue to meet the qualifications of a state or federal soil and water conservation program. It passed the Senate unanimously!
- Transportation Partnership Opportunity Fund (HB 2302 / SB 1106). These bills are an off-the-top appropriation from the Commonwealth Transportation Fund, reducing available funds for road repair, transit, rail, and Smart Scale and Interstates. The Transportation Partnership Opportunity Fund is available for “transportation projects determined to be necessary to support major economic development initiatives or to enhance the economic development opportunities of the Commonwealth’s transportation programs”. This language gives broad discretion for the Governor to fund almost any transportation-related project with little accountability or reporting. Although PEC opposes this bill as a whole, the current Senate substitute for SB 1106 does create some reporting requirements and provides the General Assembly oversight for distribution of funds in excess of $35 million.
- Two bills we’ve been following related to transparency and open government have reached different fates in the House. HB 1487, which would’ve required Virginia localities to provide a live video broadcast of all public meetings, died on a two vote margin. A similar bill requiring state bodies to provide public access and the opportunity to comment at meetings electronically, HB 1738, has passed. We will continue to watch it closely during crossover.
- Water control; agricultural exemptions, definition for “terrace” (SB 1374) is a bill that would’ve created clearer jurisdiction for DEQ to regulate large-scale fill dirt sites. Unfortunately, it did not make it out of the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.
Water Quality and Metals Mining
Unfortunately, on a party-line vote, House Republicans decided to re-refer (effectively killing) HB 1722, a bill to ban the use of cyanide in metals mining, despite a 19-3 vote coming out of the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee in favor of the legislation. This is a disappointing end to what should have been a bipartisan effort to protect Virginia’s ground and surface water.
Delegate Shelly Simonds gave a powerful speech in defense of HB 1722 on the floor – please contact her and say THANK YOU for bringing this bill forward – it is an issue she is deeply invested in and will continue to work on.
As always, PEC coordinates with our partners and the Virginia Conservation Network (VCN). Please visit the VCN website for updates on other legislation impacting the environment across the state, including an impressive bill tracker covering more than 100 bills this session. I encourage you to take a look!
Christopher G. Miller
540-347-2334 ext. 7100