Legislators report to the public

Published 10:27 am Friday, March 6, 2015

State legislators whose territories include Isle of Wight gave their reports on the most recent Virginia General Assembly at the Richard J. Holland Post-legislative breakfast on Thursday in the Smithfield Center.

Sen. John A. Cosgrove Jr. (R-14), who represents a part each of Isle of Wight, Southampton and Franklin, described the session as “the most intense” and “incredibly busy” with 3,000-plus bills introduced, and only 1,500 surviving the cut.

But in that time, Cosgrove said, the Assembly got “a balanced budget that doesn’t raise taxes. It was the easiest budget year with very little contention.”

In addition to granting raises to state employees, there was also approval of establishing veteran care centers in Northern Virginia and the Hampton Roads region.

“We stepped up and did the right thing,” the senator said about the bi-partisan cooperation.

He also called upon high school and academy student representatives to become involved in politics.

“You don’t have to run for office, just support a candidate,” Cosgrove said.

Referencing a famous quote that compares making laws to making sausage, he encouraged people to take the time to visit the Assembly when it’s next in session.

Del. Roslyn Tyler (D-75) was reportedly unable to attend because of a family matter, but Del. Rick Morris (R-64) was able to share insights about the role he and other legislators play in state government.

“I do not believe we are elected to solve problems,” he said. “Government is meant to ensure our individual liberties and freedoms are guaranteed.”

After which, the delegate spoke about two of his bills, one of which sought exemption of stormwater fees — which he has in the past referred to as both a tax and a joke — for religious groups (HB 1293). The other bill offered tax exemptions for churches and other religious bodies (HB 1294). Morris said that his research shows that the word ‘fee’ is not defined in the Virginia Code, although in HB 1294, the word is defined elsewhere as a payment for “a direct and immediate service.”

The first bill failed in committee, the second in the House, but was forwarded to the commission on tax for further study. Morris said he’ll try again next year on those bills. He’ll do the same for HB 1321, 1322 and 1323. Those bills, also defeated in the House, dealt with student rights at places of higher education, such as colleges. The first, for example, would have allowed any student facing a student-run court for punishable offenses to have representation at his or her own expense.

Although HB 2223 passed 99-1 in the House, it failed in the Senate. This bill would have penalized officers, employees or members of a public body that deliberately withhold information in Freedom of Information Act requests.

HB 1383, which would have enabled governing bodies the ability to remove local appointees, did not pass in the House, and will be a battle for another year.

One that did pass both sides was HB 1298, which requires law enforcement officers to have reasonable suspicion that a violation exists before boarding or inspecting a noncommercial vessel. But this bill does allow conservation police officers and the Virginia Marine Police officers to stop, board and inspect for fishing, hunting or trapping licenses and bag limits.

Though Morris said he was pleased with the cuts in the state budget, he spoke out against the revised alternative to Route 460.

“A bad idea is a bad idea, and I oppose it,” he said. “It does not meet the purpose for which it’s intended. I’m working against it. It is wrong.”