June 2, 2023 2:40 pm

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Legislators and their representatives updated local business leaders on the accomplishments and shortfalls of this year’s session in the General Assembly on Tuesday.

The Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce held its annual Post Legislative Update Tuesday morning at New College Institute before a half-dozen people who attended the event in-person and more than 30 who joined the session virtually.

Those who spoke were Josh Hess representing Congressman Morgan Griffith (R-Salem), Delegate Les Adams (R-Chatham), Delegate Danny Marshall (R-Danville, and Addison Merriman representing Delegate Wren Williams (R-Stuart).

“We had hundreds of bills to consider within our committees,” said Adams. “The State Senate has a Democratic majority there, so due to philosophical differences, some bills that made it out of one House failed to make it out of the other. The [Governor] Youngkin dynamic allowed me to work hand-in-hand with the Governor’s office. We were pretty effective with our priorities.”

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Adams pointed to two bills he helped pass that will help the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) combat fraud that occurred during the pandemic.

“They were overwhelmed by the sheer number of cases they were trying to process,” said Adams. “I got two bills passed that will help the VEC pursue the rampant fraud perpetrated during the pandemic. Hopefully we’ll see some improvement in this new effort to combat fraud.”

Adams said transportation funding addressed by House Bill 2302 was “priority legislation by the governor.”

“The governor may now direct funds to enhance transportation projects allowing grants and loans,” said Adams. “This is new executive flexibility.”

Adams pointed out that Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre in Henry County and the Berry Hill industrial site in Pittsylvania County would both benefit by the new law.

“Previous projects would take several years and now the governor can put dollars on a project so that we don’t lose this business,” Adams said.

A third concern of Adams involved the Virginia Department of Health and the increased prevalence of people and cattle suffering from the ill effects of tick bites.

“There is limited data collection in our state, and the experts have complained about the lack of resources,” said Adams. “My bill directs the Department of Health to recommend what strategies should be implemented. Virginia has not had a focus on this area of health since 2010-11 when we had an epidemic with Lyme disease.”

Redistricting will remove Marshall from representing any portion of Henry County at the end of this year, and he began his remarks by saying what a pleasure it has been to serve an eastern portion of the county.

“Citizens are seeing what’s happening in Washington now with the budget. In Virginia we have to have a balanced budget,” said Marshall. “I wish our friends in Washington would learn that.”

Marshall said Virginia’s economy and revenues were strong, but so is the disparity of how the money is filtered down to localities.

“In Virginia we have this composite index, which measures a locality’s ability to pay. Fairfax and Loudoun counties are two of the richest counties in America. The household income there is $145,000, and that relates back to K-12 funding,” Marshall said. “Loudoun County gets $25,500 per student and here we get about $6,500 per student. Some of my colleagues in Northern Virginia want to change it so it’s based on the number of students and if that occurs, they win and we lose.”

Marshal said energy concerns are the new threat for everyone.

“The Virginia Clean Economy Act passed in 2020 says we have to be carbon-free by 2045. Virginia will have to produce electricity with all solar or wind and no coal or gas, so we have a lot of solar projects,” Marshall said. “Much of the electricity is going to Northern Virginia; it’s not coming to us. An engineer told me that it would take 10% of all the land in Virginia to create enough electricity to power all the cars in the state, so we are going to have to import electricity. It will come from West Virginia and they make their electricity with coal and gas.”

As the best solution, Marshall said, nuclear power should be getting most of Virginia’s attention.

“I’ve been to the shipyards, and they were building a new aircraft carrier there and dismantling the first nuclear carrier that was 50 years old,” said Marshall. “Once you power these things up, they produce electricity for 50 years at a stable rate. I put a bill in; it passed the House but failed to pass the Senate. I’ll bring it back. It will help our energy costs and flatten electricity rates in Virginia.”

Marshall suggested patience for Berry Hill and Commonwealth Crossing.

“We have come in second a couple of times,” Marshall said. “Kia, in February of last year, would have been 8,000 jobs and another 9,000 jobs in a 45-minute radius. So if we had gotten it at Berry Hill, Commonwealth Crossing and Franklin County would have gotten some business. It’s just a matter of when, not if.”

Marshall said the average house sale in Northern Virginia is now over $750,000, and the state is experiencing a housing shortage.

“Danville already has 1,000 jobs that we don’t have houses for,” said Marshall. “We need to be able to build residential like commercial. We want to have land that’s shovel-ready so we can build those houses when a company comes in.”

Representing a western portion of Henry County, Wren Williams of Stuart introduced 15 bills in the most recent session, and seven were passed.

“One was a racketeering bill concerning catalytic converter thefts,” said Merriman. “It’s a major problem for a business with trucks sitting in a parking lot. The value of theft is in the hundreds, but it cost thousands to replace. Racketeering carries a significant higher penalty, so we’re looking forward to that going into effect in July.”

Merriman said another bill by Williams addresses judicial misconduct.

“If a judge has been disciplined, that’s now out in public,” Merriman said. “Basically it brings a criminal justice system into the light. If there is any wrongdoing, then it should be public.”

Hess said that Griffith’s congressional district stretches from Big Island in Bedford County all the way to the Cumberland Gap.

“He’s on lots of committees, and they’ve had a slew of meetings,” said Hess.

Among 15 community project funding requests received by Griffith’s office in the past year, one is in the process of being approved for Martinsville and Henry County.

Henry County Administrator “Dale Wagoner put in for $2.5 million for the Patriot Centre Industrial Park,” Hess said. “Right now it sits with the House Appropriations Committee.”

Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-591-7543. Follow him @billdwyatt.