Democratic delegate-elect Sally Hudson met with the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday to discuss county legislative priorities for the 2020 session.
Both Hudson and the board want local governments to have more authority and control on specific issues, such as monuments.
County staff and the Board of Supervisors had presented the county’s legislative priorities for the 2020 General Assembly session to area representatives in September and Hudson was present at the meeting but not yet elected, and thus seated in the audience.
Hudson will represent the 57th district, which includes portions of the county south of Charlottesville, north of the city to the Rivanna River and the Pantops area. She is replacing Del. David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville.
Albemarle’s main legislative priorities include providing the ability to give in-kind resources to volunteer firefighting and emergency service providers, allowing local control over monuments and memorials for war veterans, prohibiting the carrying of specified loaded weapons in public areas, addressing impact fees, looking at equal taxing authority for counties and increasing the minimum tree canopy to be preserved during development.
The board is also asking the state for $15 million over three years to help fund Biscuit Run Park.
Hudson said the two priorities and themes in the legislation that she’ll be introducing are election reform and local authority, which she said is making government responsive to local needs.
Virginia is a Dillon rule state, which prevents localities from exercising any power not explicitly allowed by the state code.
“The redistricting, though, I think is priority number one,” she said. “There’s been no greater threat to government accountability in Virginia than gerrymandering in the last decade.”
She said that in terms of local authority, she plans to introduce bills and support initiatives related to giving Charlottesville greater flexibility to address affordable housing challenges, equal taxing authority for counties and items around wages and procurement policy.
“One that I’ve heard a lot from constituents about, but that you haven’t mentioned … is about local authority to better regulate pollutants and toxins, particularly those that come from single-use plastics, polystyrene,” she said. “Our local Sierra Club advocates are very strong on that, so we put in a bill for drafting to allow that that local authority but haven’t yet released it and would love to talk it up with you.”
Hudson, an assistant professor of public policy who specializes in labor economics at the University of Virginia, said she hoped to be assigned to the finance committee and/or commerce and labor committee.
Supervisors also brought up other issues that were not part of the board’s legislative packet, which was finalized in the summer.
Chairman Ned Gallaway brought up state funding for schools, citing a 2015 Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission report on how state funding has decreased for local school divisions.
“What that does for us means that we’re sending more resources over to the school division to back fill what the state used to fund, leaving us with less resources to do the needs we want to do,” said Gallaway, a former school board member.
“If the state finds their way to getting more money to education, that frees up those resources for us to now go attack our local issues that we haven’t been able to do for the last 10 years,” he said.
The State Board of Elections released a report in November proposing that absentee voting be allowed up to 45 days before an election.
Supervisor Liz Palmer said the possible 45 days of early voting would require the county to immediately devote capital money to that effort.
“And while we all agree [on the extended timeframe]… I’m just saying that it’s going to hit a budget and … it’s robbing Peter to pay Paul, so we’re hoping for some help here,” she said.
“It’s not that we’re opposed to early voting, we’re very excited about it,” said Supervisor Diantha McKeel. “I really think it’s the right thing to do. We just have to figure out how to pay for it.”
Hudson said she would make sure to pass along the message that the localities are concerned about having the funding to handle early voting correctly.
“I think that that message is being heard loud and clear inside of the Democratic caucus, which has put election reform really at the top of the agenda,” she said. “And I think we understand the urgency of doing it well, because if it rolls out poorly, it sours momentum for the effort more broadly.”
Board members also brought up legislation around climate change, sewage sludge and transportation funding.
The 2020 legislative session starts on Jan. 8.