Earlier this week Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, which means we’re in for six more weeks of winter. Seeing that we’re in an even-numbered, or “budget” year in Virginia, the prognosticating groundhog’s prediction is just as applicable to the time remaining in the Virginia General Assembly’s 2022 regular session, which wraps up its fourth week today.
With crossover looming on February 15 (the date by which each chamber must act on its own legislation, with the exception of the budget bills), I want to bring to your attention a few priority bills that will likely be on committee dockets this coming week and that could use your support:
Recognizing the importance of farms and forests when siting utility-scale solar
With solar energy ascendant across Virginia, we are beginning to see significant impacts to our farms and forests, with 58% of utility-scale solar projects occurring on forested lands, and nearly 25% occurring on crop land. Our farms and forests provide critical environmental benefits, including climate resiliency.
PEC believes that a false choice is being set up between pursuing a clean energy future and protecting our most sensitive natural resources. That is why we are working with a bipartisan group of legislators, as well as partners like The Nature Conservancy, Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley, and the Virginia Conservation Network, among many others, on House Bill 206, which would establish reasonable standards within the state’s solar “permit by rule” process, requiring mitigation when significant impacts occur to our farms and forests.
[Talking points supporting HB 206]
HB 206 is likely to be on the docket for next Wednesday’s meeting of the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee. Please take a moment to send a message to your delegate asking them to support this legislation (particularly if they’re on this committee)!
Establishing the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Historic Preservation Fund
Senate Bill 158 and House Bill 141 would formally create a new state grant program designed to preserve cultural and historic sites associated with underrepresented communities. This Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Historic Preservation Fund, to be administered by the Department of Historic Resources (DHR), is the natural follow-on to the General Assembly’s action last session, which provided $250,000 in funding to expand DHR’s capacity to survey and document historic resources from underrepresented communities—a budget amendment that PEC helped spearhead.
[Talking points supporting SB 158 / HB 141]
While Senate Bill 158 passed out of the Senate Finance Committee 11-1 earlier this week and will soon be up for a vote on the Senate Floor, House Bill 141 will be up in subcommittee this coming Monday at 4 p.m. You can help push this legislation across the finish line by reaching out to your delegate and asking for their support. Outreach to members of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources, to which House Bill 141 has been referred, is especially important.
Helping prevent involuntary loss of family lands
House Bill 996 addresses an issue often associated with heirs’ property, helping prevent the loss of family farms and forests by ensuring eligible landowners can participate in Virginia’s use-value taxation program, lowering their tax burden.
Heirs’ property is a term that refers to family land inherited without a will or legal documentation of ownership. Heirs’ property disproportionately affects middle and low income families without access to affordable legal services. African Americans are more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to not have a will; therefore, heirs’ property continues to be the leading cause of Black involuntary land loss.
[Talking points supporting HB 996]
For farmland and forests, use-value helps lower the owners’ tax burden by taxing the land on how it’s actually used, rather than its highest possible market value. However, existing law requires all known property owners to agree to enroll their property in Virginia’s use-value taxation program. This presents significant challenges for heirs’ property owners, who can number in the many dozens; some may have never set foot on the land or contributed to the property taxes, and prefer to profit from a forced sale of the land. As such, it creates a de facto 1-party veto.
HB 996 allows the majority of owners to make the decision related to enrollment in Virginia’s use-value program. The legislation passed unanimously out of the House Finance Committee this Wednesday and will be up shortly on the House floor. Once this legislation hopefully passes the House, it will need all hands on deck to advance this through the Senate. Please show your support by contacting your delegate and senator!
In addition to the legislation flagged above, there are numerous bills that PEC staff are actively tracking and weighing in on with legislators in Richmond. We are particularly concerned by several bills that attack the authority of citizen boards, namely the Air and Water Control Boards, which would undermine citizen participation, transparency, and public engagement in environmental regulatory and permitting decisions. Our partners at the Sierra Club have developed a targeted action alert on this issue, and we hope you will take a minute to add your name to their petition.
PEC staff are also closely monitoring HB 250 (take action), a regulatory review and permit pause for large-scale commercial metal mining, SB 400 (contact my senator), allowing Virginia’s Board of Housing & Community Development to promulgate regulations related to agritourism event buildings, and HB 723 (take action) providing greater transparency with our electric cooperatives. We don’t want to overwhelm you, but these measures deserve your attention and advocacy as well!
You can see all of the legislation that PEC staff are tracking at this link here.
As always, if you have any questions about legislation before the General Assembly or PEC’s work in Richmond, feel free to reach out to Senior Policy Manager Adam Gillenwater (firstname.lastname@example.org) or to our Director of State Policy Dan Holmes (email@example.com). We’ll be reaching out again at crossover with an update on where things stand at the unofficial halfway mark of session. Thank you again for lending your voice in support of keeping Virginia’s Piedmont a wonderful place to live, work and visit!