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Bills OK'd from Roanoke and New River valleys' delegation show range of legislature

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Senators of the Roanoke and New River valleys passed more bills through the Virginia General Assembly this winter compared to their regional counterparts in the House of Delegates, though numbers alone understate the variety of laws made.

Looking at legislators who represent areas in and around the Roanoke and New River valleys, seven senators batted a collective .512 this assembly session, with 64 of their 125 bills receiving favorable final votes from both chambers.

In the other chamber, 11 delegates shot almost 40% from the House floor during the 2022 lawmaking session, completing passage through both chambers of 60 out of 151 introduced bills, according to a count by The Roanoke Times.

The 140-member state legislature as a whole passed about 40% of its bills during this session, according to data from the Virginia Public Access Project. In total, almost 900 bills out of 2,250 introduced survived both chambers, VPAP data shows.

Here’s a look at some of the regional delegation’s bills that survived the General Assembly this year:

Crypto currency continues its emergence as a financial force, with Del. Chris Head, R-Botetourt, leading passage of House Bill 263, allowing banks the option to handle customers’ virtual currencies, like Bitcoin and Ethereum. The legislation is good business, Head said, keeping current with similar laws in states like Texas.

“As we’re moving into cyber currency being so much of the asset base for so many people right now, the only place that you can work through is something in the cloud, or buy your own piece of hardware to keep your keys that way,” Head said of current crypto storage methods. “But if you want to have a third party to do that, that you can trust … this would give banks the opportunity.”

Head also aided passage of a few bills intended to combat staffing shortages among healthcare workers during times of public health emergency.

Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, saw passage of a few bills intended to fill gaps in the state’s mental health care system. He has long championed the cause of improving mental health care in Virginia.

“We have to focus on building out the best public system we can. The reality is that that we have a long way to go,” Deeds said. “The overall approach to me is a whole lot more important than the specific bills.”

Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, had several bills passed to protect animals. It’s a cause he takes up every session, he said during an interview this week.

“If I had to sum up the General Assembly session in a sentence, I’d say: ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same,’ “ Stanley said.

Localities are required to post their approved meeting minutes online, according to the only bill introduced by Del. Marie March, R-Floyd, that cleared both chambers.

“My most simple bill did make it through,” March said Friday. “I’ll probably be carrying some more [Freedom of Information Act] bills. That’s something that Republicans and Democrats agree on.”

Patrick County will assess the potential for reopening its only hospital, in accordance with a bill by Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick. The 25-bed critical access hospital has been shuttered since 2017.

Roanoke County this winter requested the option to return surplus property tax to its citizens, after collecting a $14 million budget surplus in 2021. Both Republicans representing Roanoke County, Sen. David Suetterlein and Del. Joe McNamara, had bills passed allowing localities to return property tax.

McNamara also introduced a bill to eliminate the state’s 2.5% grocery tax, but that legislation is still undecided, left in conference to be discussed when the legislature reconvenes again, likely soon.

Suetterlein was also patron to a bill that limits the duration of any executive order issued by the governor, capping it at 45 days. Several other bills to curtail the powers of the governor during an emergency were passed by the General Assembly this year.

Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, and Del. Terry Austin, R-Botetourt, both introduced successful bills to remove a requirement for the Department of Wildlife Resources to charge fees for public use of boat ramps. But an impact statement attached to those bills says DWR has yet to implement any fee requirements.

Austin was also patron to a bill that establishes parameters for college athletes to be paid for commercial use of their name, image and likeness, in line with other states that have done similarly.

Another bill from Austin designates a portion of U.S. 220 in Botetourt County as Norvel LaFallette Ray Lee Memorial Highway, named after the Tuskegee Airman, World War II veteran and gold medal boxer born in Eagle Rock in 1924.

Not included in the count of bills, a resolution by Del. Les Adams, R-Pittsylvania, designates October as local history month.

Another House Resolution co-signed by several regional delegates was passed to condemn the Chinese Communist Party for persecuting people who partake in a spiritual practice called Falun Gong. Since 1999, Falun Gong practitioners have endured Chinese state-sanctioned torture, detainment, forced labor and organ harvesting, according to HR 9, signed by Head, March, McNamara and Williams.

Some of the legislation that passed both houses is already signed by the governor, while much still awaits final approval.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin has a deadline of April 11 to sign many of the bills into law, or he can amend a bill for the legislature to reconsider when it reconvenes for what’s commonly known as the veto session, scheduled for April 27.

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Luke Weir covers higher education and state government. He can be reached at (540) 566-8917 or luke.weir@roanoke.com

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