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General Assembly notebook: Senate panel backs jail deaths transparency bill, rural transportation proposal stalls

General Assembly notebook: Senate panel backs jail deaths transparency bill, rural transportation proposal stalls

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Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, speaks during a General Assembly committee meeting in Richmond on Jan. 14.

RICHMOND — A Senate panel backed a bill Friday to make the Virginia Board of Corrections publish on its website an annual report summarizing the jail death reviews conducted by the board.

The bill, Senate Bill 215, from Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, would increase transparency around information that’s not widely known. The report would note any trends or similarities among the deaths and present recommendations on policy changes to reduce the number of deaths.

“The hope is that by shining more light, we can learn more and prevent it from happening and reduce its likelihood,” Suetterlein told the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee, which voted for it 12-1.

More than 50 inmates have killed themselves in Virginia jails in the past five years.

Bruce Cruser, executive director of Mental Health America of Virginia, said he’s been monitoring board of corrections meetings for years and has had difficulties getting the board to improve its transparency on even basic matters, such as publishing its meeting minutes online.

“The public needs to be aware of what’s going on with the jail death investigations,” he said.

House panel backs tobacco commission bill

A bill from Del. Will Wampler, R-Washington, is moving along that would allow the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission to provide matching funds to a grant provided by GO Virginia.

GO Virginia was created by the General Assembly in 2017 to spur private sector growth and high-wage jobs, but it wasn’t clear if the tobacco commission could provide matching funds to spur economic development in Southside and Southwest Virginia.

The tobacco commission was created two decades ago to spend Virginia’s portion of the national tobacco settlement.

Wampler’s HB 1597 would allow the tobacco commission to better harness its funds to secure projects. The commerce subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee voted 6-0 to advance the bill.

Any GO Virginia grant request would still require a contribution of not less than 20% of the required match, or $50,000, whichever is greater, from the participating localities.

The Northam administration supports the bill, said Brian Ball, Virginia’s secretary of commerce and trade said.

Rural transportation funding idea stalls

A proposal from Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington, to create a fund to address rural transportation needs came to a halt.

A subcommittee of the House Finance Committee voted 8-0 to kill HB 1390, which would have created the Rural Transportation Fund. O’Quinn wanted to take 10% of the Virginia Lottery revenues and transfer them into the transportation fund.

“In most of rural transportation districts, particularly ours, we have thousands of miles of unpaved secondary roads and other roads that have gotten cycled to the bottom of the maintenance fund,” O’Quinn said.

The Virginia Constitution directs Lottery profits go toward public education, and the panel felt passing O’Quinn’s bill would violate the constitution.

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