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Local legislators see mixed results in divided General Assembly

As a divided General Assembly passes crossover, several key bills from local legislators appear likely to pass.

After two years as the majority party, Democrats in Virginia’s House of Delegates lost the their control during November’s election, leading to a significant change in which legislators’ bills will likely pass this session.

Among those impacted legislators is Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, who saw relatively few of her bills survive crossover.

Typically seen as the midway point of the General Assembly’s legislative sessions, crossover refers to the deadline by which a bill or resolution must pass from the body in which it was introduced — either the House of Delegates or the Senate — over to the opposite legislative body where the process begins anew.

With Republicans gaining the majority in the House but not the Senate, some differences in the types of legislation that passed was expected as bipartisanship roles change, Hudson said, pointing to the deaths of several tax bills she introduced.

“The Senate is still a bipartisan place. [Sen. Jenn McClellan] had the analog of a bill that I was also carrying, the statewide sales tax local option that passed with broad bipartisan support” she said. “And as that bill went through the House, at least on the first crack, there wasn’t just a lack of appetite for it, there wasn’t even discussion.”

Under one of the proposed House bills, Charlottesville would receive authorization from the General Assembly to ask voters via a referendum for approval to increase the local sales tax by up to 1% in order to pay for school construction projects.

Another bill would’ve given that authority to all localities in the state. Currently, nine localities in Virginia have received similar authorization from the General Assembly to issue a referendum since Halifax County proposed the idea in 2019.

Hudson said community members and Republican co-sponsors worked hard to show there was bipartisan support for the legislation and were surprised to see the bills killed by subcommittee votes without explanation.

“I think that does speak to the difference in the culture between the two bodies, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not still optimistic that there is a path forward for the project,” Hudson said. “Some of the folks who’ve been around here longer say that, when you’ve got a divided government, [the day after crossover] is really the day that session started all over again and that we should all approach the second half like it’s a brand new ballgame.”

Among those Democratic legislators with more experience working in a divided legislature is Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath. Deeds carried the Senate companion to one of Hudson’s tax bills, SB 298. Unlike its House counterpart, Deeds’ bill passed the Senate and crossed over, though the legislator cautioned that it still has an uphill battle.

“I don’t think there’s much appetite for a statewide approach, but I think that if we combine the bill I’ve got with another bill that came over from the Senate out of Isle of Wight County and resurrect the Prince Edward County bill that was killed in the House, then it’s not special legislation anymore,” he said. “If you can get to the floor, it’ll pass, that’s the bottom line, but it’s not an easy path forward.”

Deeds had the majority of the legislation he introduced cross-over. Some of the few exceptions were bills he withdrew or incorporated into other legislators’ bills. One of those bills was a piece of legislation that seeks to require registrars to report to the Department of Elections the number and results of absentee ballots cast by voters assigned to each precinct in the registrar’s locality.

“Incorporating a bill into another legislator’s allows the legislator to take credit for getting the bill passed and it ensures that anybody who’s got something against me won’t hold it against the bill,” he said. “It also saves me the time of having to chase the bill in the House, allowing me to focus on some of my other bills.”

Although most of Hudson’s bills did not survive crossover, she did incorporate a piece of legislation into two others that also seek to address medical debt collection. Prompted by widely condemned debt collection practices until recently utilized by the University of Virginia Medical Center and other state hospitals, Hudson said the combined bill all seeks to end the debt collection processes that included home property liens for many in Central Virginia.

“In particular, it’s prohibiting not just public hospitals, but now every hospital in Virginia from engaging in the kind of debt collection practices that were posing so much trouble in our community, like wage garnishment and liens on houses and cars,” she said.

Hudson said she was disappointed that some of the topics where she thought there would be more scope for bipartisan compromise did not pan out. Citing bills that sought to lower the punishment for simple drug possession and make recovery easier, Hudson said it was clear from the House Health Committee votes that its Republican members, including Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, have a different view about how long a drug conviction should impact someone.

Although Hudson’s bills faced an uphill battle in the House, Bell saw nearly all of his legislation crossover, including various criminal justice reforms.

Among those bills was HB 740, which seeks to make it a Class 6 felony for a person to commit larceny of a catalytic converter or the parts thereof from a motor vehicle, regardless of the converter’s value.

In a news release following the bill’s passage in the House, Bell said the legislation was prompted by a rash of related crimes in Central Virginia.

“Catalytic converters are being stolen because they contain valuable metals like platinum and rhodium,” he said. “However, the damage to the car is much higher than what a catalytic converter is worth."

In addition to increasing the punishment for this theft to a felony, the bill also would also increase penalties for damaging a vehicle. In addition, the bill requires scrap metal buyers to maintain purchasing records for two years to allow for subsequent investigations.

Another bill that crossed over, HB 734, was prompted by the Jesse Matthew case and seeks to keep criminal investigative records confidential.

In a news release, Bell said the bill was prompted by efforts of television producers to obtain video and other criminal investigative files from the Albemarle County Police Department regarding the Matthew case. The families of Morgan Harrington and Hannah Graham testified virtually in support of the measure before the subcommittee.

“The families who lost loved ones do not want crime scene photos and police video used in a Made-For-TV movie," Bell said. "Once they have testified and the cases have been resolved, they should be able to keep these terribly painful details of what happened confidential."

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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