Legislators give GA preview

Published 12:08 pm Friday, January 8, 2016

Sen. John Cosgrove (R-14), at the microphone, makes a point during his discussion of upcoming bills that he'll sponsor this session in the General Assembly. Del. Rick Morris (R-64) is seated at left.

Sen. John Cosgrove (R-14), at the microphone, makes a point during his discussion of upcoming bills that he’ll sponsor this session in the General Assembly. Del. Rick Morris (R-64) is seated at left.

Isle of Wight Chamber Director Andrew Cripps’ announcement that Virginia’s budget has a $500-plus million surplus was welcome news, but Sen. John Cosgrove (R-14) gave his large audience a sobering thought immediately afterward.

“Don’t be fooled. They say we have a surplus, but that $500 million is already spoken for,” he said to those people gathered for the 2016 Richard J. Holland Pre-Legislative Session. The General Assembly opens on Wednesday, Jan. 13. The annual preview of coming attractions was hosted by the Isle of Wight, Smithfield and Windsor Chamber of Commerce in the Smithfield Center on Thursday morning.

The bulk of that money will be dedicated to water quality and rainy day funds, Cosgrove said, adding, “Medicaid is growing at a phenomenal rate. It’s the second largest part of the budget next to education.”

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has offered a budget for the next biennium of $106 billion; for fiscal year 2017, operating expenses are $52.3 billion; for fiscal year 2018, $54.0 billion. This information comes from www.virginiageneralassembly.gov.

“We’re very fortunate that we have Del. Chris Jones (R-76) and Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-3),” Cosgrove said. Those two representatives are on finance committees.

As for bills he’s personally sponsoring, one is SB99, which would grant real property tax exemption to the spouses of the military service personnel killed in action; another is SB101, expunging

He’s also concerned with gradually increasing education funding for grades K-12 to 2008 levels; promoting workforce development centers; and granting FOIA exemptions for law enforcement agencies, such as undercover and SWAT teams. The senator believes those identities should be protected for the sake of their safety.

Del. Rick Morris (R-64) has four bills already submitted and named:

• HB61 is the Open Government Accountability Act, in which individuals or businesses failing to comply with FOIA requests are guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor;

• HB62, the Milk Freedom Act, allows a person who has three or fewer milking cows or goats to sell the raw milk director to consumers without regulation or oversight;

• HB86 is the Drug Welfare Act, which requires the Dept. of Social Services to set up a program for substance abuse screening and assessment in people in the Virginia Initiative for Employment not Welfare program; and

• HB308, the Government Email Accountability Act, would require that any officer, employee or member of a public body will use work emails strictly for official business. Further, if those individuals inadvertently using a nongovernment email for public business, then the email and addresses are to be forwarded to the appropriate official for retention as designated by the public body.

“I believe we need to get back to the basics of government,” Morris said.

Two other bills he mentioned, not yet designated, are the Citizens Right to Open Government Act, which requires public bodies to appoint a FOIA designee to respond to all FOIA requests; and the Closed Session Accountability Act. All closed meetings should be recorded with audio and archived, but would be exempt from FOIA.

During the Q&A session, Morris was asked about the Route 460 issue, and said that he’s developing for all Hampton Roads officials to sign a letter that points out the deficiencies of the proposed road project and to disapprove of it.

Neither Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-18) nor Norment were able to attend, but their legislative aides represented them and urged constituents to contact them for questions or concerns.

Del. Roslyn Tyler (D-75) was also absent due to a prior assembly and family commitments. Mary Beth Washington, her aide, noted that Tyler works well with both parties and sides of the GA.

Getting funding for education and workforce development are concerns of her for the session.

Washington also said the delegate is concerned about Isle of Wight County.

Tyler will also be co-patron on Lucas’s SB1, excise tax on peanuts. This would extend the ending of .30 cents per 100 pounds excise tax on all peanuts grown and sold in Virginia from July 1, 2016 to July 1, 2011. The money from the tax is used to promote the sales and use of Virginia peanuts.

But before the legislators spoke, though, the audience got a report from the leader of its biggest industry.

As the new CEO of Smithfield Foods, Kenneth Sullivan assured his audience that the company is secure.

“We’re staying right here,” he said at the start. “Smithfield Foods will continue to be a part of the community,” he said, adding that the company has already earmarked $500,000 of its $1 million donation for a new ball field.

Sullivan, who succeeded Larry Pope this month, has been with the company since 2003.

The company was acquired by WH Group in 2013, which is based in Hong Kong. The ownership by the Chinese led to what Sullivan called misconceptions, such as the shuttering of the plants.

“That’s total bunk,” he said. “They’re not trying to run our business and we’re not trying to run theirs. Smithfield Foods will continue to be part of this community.”

The company is working to to ship more pork — not pigs — to China, Sullivan said, noting that Smithfield Foods is the world’s largest producer of pork, and China is the world’s larger consumer of pork.

“In fact, we overproduce. It’s ironic to me that there were was all kinds of handwringing, such as ‘How did it happen?’ The truth is this is good for Smithfield. We have a more sustainable market.”