Local legislators’ concerns with the new Democratic majority in both chambers of the General Assembly are not just partisan, but regional.
“These majorities comprise of mostly people from Northern Virginia,” said state Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Moneta.
The worry is Southside Virginia gets left in the cold while lawmakers’ emphasis will be on the more urbanized northern part of the state.
“Regionalism is going to be as big a part of the problem as partisanship,” Stanley said.
As an illustration of the issue, local legislators point to the large number of localities declaring themselves as Second Amendment sanctuaries in the face of anticipated gun restrictions.
“What we’re seeing with the Second Amendment debate right now is pretty extraordinary,” said Del. Les Adams, R-Chatham. “Is this new majority going to pay attention to this overwhelming [movement] across the state to express their wishes, or are they only going to reflect this small portion of the state [Northern Virginia] that has a heavy population?”
State Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Clarksville, pointed out that Democrats have the numbers they need to pass what they want.
“Hopefully, the Second Amendment action in the counties and cities around the state will give them pause about how far they want to go,” Ruff said. “My guess is that it may become an issue that the courts will have to weigh in on.”
Other matters will need to be tackled as well, including the governor’s proposed two-year budget, whether to decriminalize marijuana possession and whether to allow casinos in such localities as Danville, among other issues.
The biggest question is always, no matter who’s in power, spending priorities for the state’s two-year budget, said Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville.
“That is always the big issue,” Marshall said. “How does that pie get carved up.”
Danville school officials are hopeful about Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed $1.2 billion in additional money for K-12 education in Virginia.
Billed by the governor’s office as one of the biggest new investments in K-12 education ever proposed in the state, it includes the single-largest increase for at-risk schools, raises teacher salaries by 3%, funds more school counselors and new staff supports for English language learners.
But Marshall said he wants to see what proposed spending will be for Danville and Pittsylvania County.
He has expressed support for decriminalizing marijuana possession, reducing it from a felony to a misdemeanor.
“There are a lot of people whose lives are turned upside down because of a bad choice,” Marshall said. “This way, it will just be [like] a parking ticket.”
If decriminalization is passed, those charged with simple possession will receive a $50 civil fine instead of potential jail time. The proposal also would clear the records of those who previously have been convicted of simple possession.
As for a casino, Stanley opposes having one in Danville. He went on to suggest regionalism could taint the issue if Northern Virginia-based legislators approve local referendums on the issue and argue nothing more needs to be done for this portion of the state.
“When they see casinos and the potential of the tax money that is raised from it and the jobs, they’re going to say, ‘We gave you that, what else do you want from us?’” Stanley said.
As for so-called “gray machines,” skilled-based games that people play for money in convenience stores, Stanley said, “You’ve either got to regulate them or get rid of them.”
However, they do eat into revenues generated by the Virginia Lottery, he said.
“That money [for the lottery] goes to the state,” Stanley said. “This money generated by the machines does not go back to the state. If we’re going to regulate casinos, we’ve got to regulate those machines.”
Ruff said he believes gray machines will be approved statewide, “but will be regulated and taxed far more heavily than they are currently.”
The 2020 General Assembly session begins Wednesday and adjourns March 7.
Crane reports for the Register & Bee. He can be reached at (434) 791-7987.