Frank Ruff Jr.: The good and the ugly
Published 12:00 pm Friday, February 24, 2023
We are now in the closing days of the 2023 session. This is the time in the session when nerves get frayed. People are worn out from rushing from meetings to deal with legislation. Not only do we have to be in our Senate committees to hear House bills, but also to be before House committees to present ours to them.
Thursday afternoon was a perfect example of how crazy the system is. At the same time, I had bills before two different House committees hoping to be heard before the Senate Finance Committee started. Not only was I monitoring the progress those committees were making on their agendas, then I received a call from the Governor’s office to discuss an important bill. I made it but lost even more hair in the process.
Much of the media focused on the big issues throughout the session. The first half led with big stories about issues that divide us. The last few weeks have focused on many of those same bills being defeated in either the House or Senate. Now they are starting to cover issues that didn’t get headlines originally. A couple of those were ones that I sponsored.
Many are concerned about this issue. The Virginia Loggers Association contacted me about serious accidents with drivers without insurance on our roads. We talked to insurance representatives, leaving us with little hope for legislation that would end the state’s policy of allowing drivers to pay a $500 fee instead of buying insurance. Despite that, I offered legislation in hopes of focusing the public on this even if it did not pass.
Our research found that about 8% of drivers have no insurance. Therefore, each of our insurance policies has a line ‘uninsured driver fee’. This fee covers you when your insurance company has to pay the expenses you incur because another driver has no insurance.
The policy of allowing drivers to not have insurance if they paid the fee began 65 years ago. All changes in the past have failed. To my surprise, the bill received no opposition in committees or on the floor in either the House or Senate. Longtime General Assembly watchers commented that this was a monumental policy change. It is now going to the Governor for his approval.
Another of my bills that National Public Radio ran a story on their stations dealt with Kratom. An ages old natural treatment made from the bark of trees in Southeast Asia. It has been found to assist those trying to end addiction to opiate drugs as well as other issues. My belief is that, as with most things that we digest, there should be some oversight to assure that it is what it claims to be.
Proponents asked me to offer legislation that would require labeling showing the proper dosage and the effects of overuse. We had witnesses from the medical community, drug addiction consultants, and an expert from Johns Hopkins to testify about something which few were familiar with.
The media has concentrated on proposed legislation changes dealing with Dominion Power. They ignored my bill dealing with changes offered affecting Appalachian Power, the second biggest provider in the state. My legislation would require the State Corporation Commission to review their rates every year rather than every three years. The hope is that this would reduce major increases every three years.
Suddenly, at the end of last week, those in the governor’s office wanted to work with us to change the bill from rate adjustments to every other year. The news media continues to ignore the bill. That will come to an end in these last few days. The problem is that the legislation and rate regulation aren’t flashy issues that are easy to write about.
Those appointed by the Governor to citizen boards usually are not newsworthy; usually that is a good thing. This year, the news media mostly ignored the rejection of one appointed to the Board of Education. Because the appointee was focused on high academic standards, few news stories appeared. The majority party rejected a female of color, trained as an engineer, because of her views. If Republicans had done such a thing, we would have been accused of racism.
Frank Ruff Jr. represents Lunenburg in the state Senate. His email address is Sen.Ruff@verizon.net.