It’s unclear how many, if any, of Albemarle County’s legislative requests will be carried by area elected officials in the upcoming General Assembly session.
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors met with legislators virtually Friday to present its legislative priorities, but lawmakers were hesitant to commit to most of its asks.
The 2021 General Assembly is a short session this year and delegates will be limited to approximately seven bills, while senators will be limited to 12, they said, which will make it hard to add any more requests.
“What the board needs to understand is this year, we are under pretty severe bill limits,” Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, said. “ ... What that means is I’ve already gone through the pile of requests and commitments I’ve made, including some commitments to introduce legislation, and I’ve had to decide which of those bills are going to go forward and which are not. So it’s going to be very difficult for any of us to add anything to what we’ve already committed to do.”
Nearly all state officials made an appearance at the livestreamed meeting, including Deeds, Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle; Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville; Del. Chris Runion, R-Rockingham; and Del. Matt Fariss, R-Campbell.
A staff member for Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, was also in attendance.
Albemarle’s requests include to enable civil penalties instead of criminal punishment for local violations; increase the civil penalties for zoning violations; enable appropriations to carry over for one year for multi-year capital projects; establish minimum standards for farm buildings and structures; enable public bodies to meet by electronic communication means when a state or local emergency is declared; and amend state code to clarify that prohibiting guns in locally owned facilities and properties may apply to jointly-owned public facilities.
The short session is 30 days, but it is typically extended. Hudson said part of the reason the bill caps have been so severe in the House is that Republicans are “seriously considering” not extending the session to 45 days.
“That is an option that we have, the bill limit would be less severe in the house if we were to be able to work our full 45 days, as is custom,” she said.
Earlier this week, Democratic House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn announced plans for the House to again conduct its work remotely in the 2021 session, while the Senate plans to again meet in person. Senate and House Republican leaders announced that they will oppose extending the 2021 session beyond the 30 days.
Bell said he was not going to commit to having a longer session than 30 days. He said there are concerns about “successfully being able to share communications with members as they are potentially taking measures and voting.”
“The level to which we were able to engage virtually, was very different, and in terms of contact with our constituents, and other interested people, it was much harder,” he said of the virtual special session.
Hudson said working remotely has had its challenges, and she’s missed the in-person interaction.
“I just don’t think any of those problems get better by shortchanging the number of days we have to work,” she said. “If anything, for me, that’s an argument towards using the traditional 45 days, because it will allow us to take carry on appropriately.”
Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley pushed back on Bell about the drawbacks of virtual meetings.
“There’s so much happening now and so much uncertainty, it would seem to me that it would be a benefit to you to have the 45 days so that we could get more things, more bills heard, more bills passed for the benefit of the people in the Commonwealth,” she said.
While the county’s requests to enable civil penalties instead of criminal punishment for local violations and increase the civil penalties for zoning violations seemed “reasonable” to some legislators, they didn’t seem to want to carry them.
Hudson said she would take the county’s packet to the House’s Counties, Cities and Towns Committee chair and see if there are other bills that some of Albemarle’s requests could be worked into.
Christopher Snider, senior advisor for Reeves, said he was holding a spot for the request to enable appropriations to carry over for one year for multi-year capital projects. Currently, counties that operate under the county executive form of government — only Albemarle and Prince William County — cannot do this.
“We have 11 in and we have about 20 other bills that we had prepared but we’re holding that spot for this bill, if we don’t find another solution,” he said. “But it’s a bill that the senator identified, he thinks it’s a good bill that will help local government, only two governments in the Commonwealth, but it’s a good bill.”
County attorney Greg Kamptner said the request to clarify that prohibiting guns in locally owned facilities and properties may apply to jointly-owned public facilities comes from a discussion with Charlottesville, which adopted an ordinance earlier this year, if the library system and other joint properties are covered.
Deeds said he took this to an attorney with Legislative Services.
“His view was that you didn’t need to change the law, you just needed ordinances from both localities,” he said.
“I would not be comfortable advising our board that we have implied authority to exercise this power beyond our boundaries,” he said. “Because of the language it is restricted to, the county can only apply its ordinances to its own public facilities.”
The 2021 session is scheduled to start Jan. 13.
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