Legislators set priorities

Published 7:13 pm Wednesday, January 18, 2017

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Virginia General Assembly opened its 2017 session a week ago on Jan. 11, Delegates Roslyn C. Tyler and Thomas C. Wright Jr. had pre-filed bills — either as chief patrons or co-patrons for their fellow legislators to consider.

State Sen. Frank M. Ruff Jr. also filed bills ahead of the new session.

Tyler, 55, is a Democrat and was elected as a delegate in 2006. She holds the House District 75 seat representing all Brunswick and Greensville counties and the city of Emporia, and parts of Dinwiddie, Isle of Wight, Lunenburg, Southhampton, Surrey and Sussex counties and part of the city of Franklin.

Tyler sits on the Militia, Police and Public Safety; Education; and Commerce and Labor committees.

Her only piece of pre-filed legislation was HB 1615, which would shift responsibility for the state’s chief medical examiner to appoint one or more medical examiners in each county and independent city from a requirement (“shall”) to an option (“may”).

Tyler did not respond to a request for an interview.

Wright, 69, is a Republican who was elected in 2001. He holds the House District 61 seat representing all of Cumberland, Amelia, Mecklenburg and Nottoway counties and a portion of Lunenburg County.

Wright vice chairs the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee. He is also a member of the the Agriculture Chesapeake and Natural Resource and the General Law committees.

Wright pre-filed two bills as chief patron.

HB 1429 would direct the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue special license plates for active U.S. Air Force members and certain veterans with the “U.S. AIR FORCE” legend.

“I was attending a summer festival and this man asked me why there wasn’t a license plate for the Air Force,” Wright said. “There are for certain units, but not for the Air Force as a whole.”

HB 1532 would increase the Fire Program Fund’s assessment from 1 percent to 1.4 percent of the total gross premium income for fire and related lines of insurance. It would also increase the share of the fund to localities from 75 percent to 80 percent beginning Jan. 1, 2018.

“They are having a tough time in retaining and recruiting (volunteer) members. They are having more paid personnel and some fire departments are struggling,” Wright said.

He said the money would go into a grant program which, through the increase, would allow fire departments to provide more training as well as assist with fire prevention and other safety programs and the purchase of personal protection equipment.

Another bill Wright said he is considering would have park rangers added to the list of retired law enforcement personnel who can obtain concealed weapons permits. Yet another potential bill would be similar to one being offered by state Sen. Frank Ruff that would direct the Joint Legislative and Audit Review Commission to study the feasibility of allocating more Virginia Lottery prize money to localities.

He also said he is considering a bill to add personnel to the Piedmont Regional Jail (PRJ). Wright said his bill would add 40 correctional officers to PRJ and convert 13 existing temporary officers to permanent status.

“I had a meeting this morning with sheriffs, teachers and other state employees,” Wright said. “I think they deserve a pay raise.”

Wright also pointed out that he would work to enact these bills without having to raise taxes.

Ruff, 68, is a Republican who was first elected as a delegate in 1994 and was then elected as a state senator in 2000. He holds the Senate District 15 seat representing all of Lunenburg, Charlotte, Mecklenburg and Nottoway counties and portions of Brunswick, Campbell, Dinwiddie, Halifax, Pittsylvania and Prince George counties, as well as part of the city of Danville.

Ruff is chair of the State Senate’s General Laws and Technology Committee and also sits on the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources and the Rules committees.

As of Tuesday, Ruff had filed a total of 17 bills.

He said his priority for the session is the budget.

“The budget the governor put out was a bit too optimistic, so there have been cutbacks,” Ruff said. “When you promise state and state-supported employees a raise and then don’t give it to them, that’s kind of demoralizing.”

He said that is especially the case concerning state police and county deputies.

“There is too much turnover and not enough training,” Ruff said.

Perhaps the most notable of Ruff’s pre-filed bills is SB 948, which would not only alter the member nominations to the Virginia Tobacco Board, but double the tax rate for harvested tobacco from 20 cents per 100 pounds of tobacco harvested to 40 cents per 100 pounds.

“This is something the board came to us about,” Ruff said, explaining that the tax is used for research in how to make tobacco safer and to promote its sale.

He noted North Carolina’s tax is 50 cents per 100 pounds and that the proposed 40-cent rate for Virginia would bring it more in line with other states.

Another bill Ruff pre-filed, SB 950, would cut the red tape required to determine if a vehicle being deemed non-repairable or rebuilt should be totaled by insurance companies by eliminating the need to determine damage on a percentage basis. He said Virginia is the only state in the country that still uses percentages. Ruff said Virginia’s policy is “very bureaucratic” and his proposal would mirror what is done in every other state.

Some of Ruff’s other pre-filed bills include:

• SB 949 — makes changes to the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, including replacing the Halifax County Public Schools superintendent as an ex-officio member with a superintendent from any Southside region public schools division.

• SB 951 — require school services providers to provide each student or their parent with the student’s personal information upon request in a downloadable electronic format.

• SB 953 — include the criminal law definition of “muzzleloader” into the current definitions of muzzleoading pistol, rifle and shotgun.

• SB 998 — require the Department of Motor Vehicles to provide copies of accident reports to a requesting party within five days of the request.

• SJ 247 — a joint bill to direct the Joint Legislative and Audit Review Commission (JLARC) to review all forms of compensation to commonwealth employees.

• SJ 248 — a joint bill to direct JLARC to study the feasibility of allocating more Virginia Lottery prize money to localities.