With the elections behind us and the holidays consuming our thoughts, the 2018 Virginia General Assembly may not be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. However, the New Year is going to bring many changes, including a new administration, new delegates and a new venue. We also have a new opportunity — reaching out to the incoming administration and many new members with information and a message of support for conservation. As we have for the past 20 years, PEC is partnering with the Virginia Conservation Network to do just that.
The New Legislators
The Virginia House has many new members with as many as 15 seats, formerly held by Republicans, having flipped to Democratic control prior to recounts. For now, Republicans retain narrow margin of 51-49, with three races heading toward a state-funded recount. If one of the contested seats flips, it would result in a 50-50 tie. This would mean major changes with regard to committee structure and power within the General Assembly.
Many of the new delegates have positive positions on the issues we are interested in, and it is encouraging that 13 of the new members took the Anti-Dominion pledge — a refusal to accept funds from the corporation during the election. PEC has four new delegates within PEC’s service region, having lost Randy Minchew, Scott Lingamfelter, Tag Greason and James Lemunyon. Those seats were won by Karrie Delaney (District 67), David Reid (District 32), Wendy Gooditis (District 10), and Elizabeth Guzman (District 31). We are hoping to meet with our legislators, including the new members, as session nears. For a full look at the election results from around the state visit, results.elections.virginia.gov
The New Building
The General Assembly Building is being demolished to make way for a major construction project, which includes a new building, parking deck and the renovation of the iconic Old City Hall. The Pocahontas Building will be used for the majority of the legislature’s needs, and the meeting rooms in the underground annex of the Capitol will be used for committee meetings.
During this construction period, public access may be limited. My advice is if you want to be sure to meet with your legislator during session this year, schedule a meeting and arrive early. This is especially necessary on busy days like the Virginia Conservation Network Lobby Day on January 22.
This session brings with it a new opportunity for making conservation funding and smart growth a priority for the incoming Administration and our new delegates.
Last year’s attempt to reduce the Land Preservation Tax Credit, HB1470 was defeated early in session. This was in large part due to the overwhelming show of support for the program. We are hopeful that the resounding defeat of the legislation will prevent any attempt to gut the program this year. But, we remain on guard for changes coming through a broader discussion of tax reform or budget negotiations.
The 2018 session will bring with it a new biennial budget, the last filed under current Governor McAuliffe. We are hopeful the Governor will provide full funding for the three main grant programs for conservation — the Farmland Preservation Fund, Virginia Land Conservation Foundation and the Virginia Battlefield Preservation Fund. These grants should, according to Virginia Code, receive $20 million per year. We have some hope the Governor will provide, as he did in 2016, full funding with his final budget.
On Agricultural Best Management Practices
The calls for a clean Chesapeake Bay have not slowed. With our commitments on pollution reductions coming just around the corner (2025), a lot remains to be done to achieve this end. The good news is these reductions can be met in a way that strengthens our agricultural industry and provide for local water quality benefits — through our investment in Agricultural Best Management Practices (Ag BMPs).
Last year’s needs for Ag BMP funding was estimated at $80 million plus, with a mere $16 million being provided. When we fail to meet the need in one session, our shortages are passed along to the following years. What’s needed this year? We are seeking a return to fiscal year 2017 funding levels of $62 million, with hopes for a cleaner bay and improved local water quality. This critical funding not only helps to protect the water we drink, but also helps ensure a sustainable agricultural industry, a vital part of the Commonwealth’s economy.
On Local Authority
PEC often remarks that ‘quality of life’ is affected most directly by decisions made at the local level. This is one of the main reasons we promote strong local land use plans and we act to defend the tools of local governments. Every year, we make you aware of legislation that undermines local authority. And this year will be no different. While we have heard rumors of potential legislative efforts, nothing concrete has arisen at this time. As is the case every year, we are sure to see a few bills that warrant our attention, and we will make you aware of those as they are introduced.
Eye on Richmond
We have always focused on preserving the necessary tools and funding related to conservation and smart growth. This year’s session is no different. With a new Administration, new legislators and a rejection of Dominion’s dollars by new and old members alike, we are cautiously optimistic that the outcomes of the upcoming session will be largely positive. With the support of our members and those of the conservation community, l have no doubt we can make it so.
Be sure you are reading our email alerts during session (pecva.org/signup) or following us on Facebook You can also stay informed through updates from the Virginia Conservation Network. Learn more at vcnva.org. Don’t hesitate to weigh in with your elected officials!
This article was written by PEC’s Director of State Policy, Dan Holmes, and featured in our Winter 2017 member newsletter, The Piedmont View.