As the General Assembly nears the midway point of the Legislative Session, committee dockets balloon with oft-amended bills on some of the more substantial and complicated issues of the session. Members and interest groups, searching for consensus, known as “peace in the valley” in General Assembly parlance, are coming to final agreements, or pushing forward against opposition in committee. As the Chairman of the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee, I have the opportunity to set committee dockets and work with stakeholders on varied issues before they come before the committee as a whole. This week has been especially interesting as we tackle the issues of Virginia’s gaming industry, affordable housing access, workforce development, and even the naming of an official Virginia State pony (the proposed icon is the Chincoteague pony).
Since Virginia made its first foray into expanded options for gaming several years ago, we have seen a drastic increase in the size and diversity of our gaming industry. While these forms of gaming have already generated a great deal of economic development and revenue for the state, there have been concerning trends in increased gambling addiction, and unclear effects on lower income and young Virginians. While there are some benefits to the gaming industry, I do not believe that we should view it as a panacea. I was glad to see two proposals which would have dramatically expanded the industry – one to place a casino in northern Virginia, and one to permanently authorize and allow the expanded placement of slot machines in restaurants and convenience stores – struck from the committee docket.
Over the course of the session the committee has taken up proposals to alter the state’s regulations on our building code inspectors, and removing licensing requirements for landscape architects, geologists, interior designers, and auctioneers, among others – part of a push by the Governor to arbitrarily reduce regulations by 25% over his term. We have tackled a number of proposals to further reduce the likelihood of Virginians being evicted or denied housing, a long-time priority of mine. The committee has also reviewed a proposal to create television production grant funds to incentivize more production of streaming and cable shows like Dopesick. There has also been a significant focus on the treatment of our veterans, and creating pathways for novel treatments of PTSD such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy. During the first week of session, we passed legislation to require the Department of Emergency Management to stand up a comprehensive emergency heat response plan in order to more adequately protect Virginians most vulnerable residents – the infirmed, elderly, and homeless, from major heat events, and more recently, passed legislation expanding our local government advisory boards to meet virtually, improving citizen participation and diversity in membership by lowering the barriers to attend and be a member of these committees.
In the coming week we will complete our work on these diverse topics, as well as delving into state procurement, regulations for construction contracts, and even proposals from Governor Youngkin to ban the use of TikTok on state devices – truly putting the “general” in General Laws. I look forward to finishing the work of the Senate, and welcoming a new and equally diverse set of bills to my committee from my House colleagues in the coming weeks.