A sea change in the General Assembly has the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors reconsidering how it will be able to achieve its legislative priorities this upcoming term.
After redistricting, a slew of retirements and a number of longtime politicians falling in last week’s primary election, the state legislature is losing 600 years of institutional knowledge. That could limit what the board can accomplish for its constituents.
“It scares the heck out of me,” David Blount of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission told the board at a meeting on June 21. “I’ll tell you that right now, as someone who’s been around this process for several decades.”
Blount, Steve Rosenberg of the county attorney’s office and Emily Kilroy, assistant to the county executive, provided a presentation to the board advising its members to take a different approach to the state legislature from years past.
“I think it’s probably going to be a good year to slow down, really focus, be deliberate and be strategic about what we do,” Blount said.
Jim Andrews, vice-chair of the board, told The Daily Progress that new strategy makes sense.
“We have been taking same approach for several years without a lot to show for it,” Andrews said.
Rosenberg drove that point home at the beginning of the presentation. Recounting the board’s priorities from the past year’s legislative session, he noted that almost all of the board’s priorities fell flat in the General Assembly.
“Just to be candid about it, the county did not meet with much success, with only one bill enacted and approved by the governor of Virginia,” Rosenberg told the board. “Even that bill only partially addressed particular issues of importance to the county.”
Board Chair Donna Price told The Daily Progress that while Democratic state Sen. Creigh Deeds will be returning to the upper chamber with decades of experience, incoming House Dels. Amy Laufer and Katrina Callsen will be new to the General Assembly.
"So I think it would not be unreasonable to anticipate that this first General Assembly session may have fewer bills than we generally would have," Price said.
With this in mind, Rosenberg, Blount and Kilroy advised the board to make the Rivanna Station Futures project its top priority. Andrews supports that plan.
“Unlike the other priorities that we’ve had in the past, this one is our and ours alone,” Andrews said. “Rivanna Station is here, and we know that’s our charge to make something happen.”
Over the next 90 days or so, the board will consider whether to finalize a $58 million deal to buy 462 acres of property adjacent to Rivanna Station, which is home to multiple highly secretive federal intelligence agencies, including the National Ground Intelligence Center.
Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley told The Daily Progress that because one-third of the General Assembly will be new to the body, there may be a learning curve for those members. So focusing on Rivanna Station, she said, is a good idea.
According to LaPisto-Kirtley, acquiring the land around Rivanna Station will incentivize those agencies to stay in the region instead of taking their business elsewhere.
“Rivanna Station is second largest economic engine in the county. They bring in $1.2 billion and half of that goes to Albemarle County,” LaPisto-Kirtley said.
“We haven’t purchased [the land] yet. We’re making sure that this is good for the county, and we want to get the legislature behind us in supporting Rivanna Station, because it’s an extremely important military facility,” she said. “If this goes through they’ll be bringing in additional jobs that are very high paying.”
But LaPisto-Kirtley and Andrews both cautioned that, while Rivanna Station will be a priority, that does not mean other goals will be ignored.
“I don’t think we’re giving up on anything,” Andrews said. “We’re changing tactics because the approach we’ve taken in the past doesn’t seem likely to be successful without more buy-in from others on bills that have broad implications across the state.”
The new approach is to cooperate with other counties across the commonwealth that may have similar legislative goals.
One example: expanding authority to use photo speed monitoring devices in an effort to reduce car crashes.
That was a goal last session, but a proposed bill on the issue did not make it out of a House committee.
“We’re not really halting that, because if any other county proposes those initiatives, we’ll be supporting that. So photo speed cameras, if other entities are looking at that, then we could support it too,” LaPisto-Kirtley said.
Instead of getting delegates to introduce new bills, the county will keep an eye on what bills other counties are pursuing. If those interests align, Albemarle will partner with other counties to pass the bill.
“If we can focus our energies more on things that are more strategic and maybe have a better chance of giving us that check in the win column, I think that would be more fruitful,” Blount told the supervisors.
Price echoed that sentiment when speaking with The Daily Progress.
"Albemarle County has had a very ambitious legislative agenda for last couple years, and I believe we are looking to reduce the number of legislative items that we are going to be pursuing," she said. "If we focus on fewer items we might be able to achieve more success."