To the Constituents of the 37th House District:
Week four of the 2024 General Assembly has concluded, and the House of Delegates is working through hundreds of bills as the crossover deadline of February 13 quickly approaches. Policy differences in how best to protect our children and victims of violent crime have become increasingly apparent in committee debate. Several bills that would have addressed the detrimental effects of social media on our children were defeated in committee. Meanwhile, legislation calling for the early release of perpetrators of violent crime is advancing, while a bill curtailing our right to self-protection passed out of the House.
We continue to witness the deleterious effects social media can have on our children. A 2019 study of more than 6,500 12- to 15-year-olds in the U.S. determined that those who spent more than three hours a day using social media might be at heightened risk for mental health problems. Another 2019 study of more than 12,000 13- to 16-year-olds in England found that using social media more than three times a day predicted poor mental health and well-being in teens. Other studies have observed links between high levels of social media use and depression or anxiety symptoms. A 2016 study of more than 450 teens found that greater social media use, nighttime social media use, and emotional investment in social media – such as feeling upset when prevented from logging on – were each linked with a decline in sleep quality and higher levels of anxiety and depression.
Common sense measures to address social media use by children under the age of 13 were unfortunately not considered beneficial by my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. These bills would have prohibited addictive features on social media shown to children, required parental consent for social media use, and created common sense safeguards. The data continues to show that something needs to be done.
In discussions on how to address violent crime in our society, the victim is often overlooked. The House is still considering legislation that could allow criminals of violent crimes yet another chance to get out of jail early. I have deep reservations about this legislation known as “second look.” My colleagues heard testimony in committee from victims of crime, as well as from their families. The heartache they expressed at the prospect of having to continually face the people who hurt them, and their loved ones, so deeply is difficult to put into words. I oppose and will vote against this legislation at every opportunity.
At the same time, HB2 passed out of the House this past week. This bill vaguely defines “weapons of war” as firearms that most law-abiding citizens already own and enacts a Class 1 misdemeanor for owning any such firearm manufactured after July 1, 2024. A firearm with a magazine of more than 10 rounds is included in this definition. It also prohibits anyone under 21 years old from legally possessing one of these firearms regardless of the date it was manufactured, effectively raising the age of legal ownership from the current age of 18. This bill does not address the mental health crisis we face in society and diminishes the ability for someone to protect themselves and their families. I voted against this piece of legislation and will continue to vote against the myriad of bills that try to do the same.
As for my bills, I am pleased to report that four of them unanimously passed out of the House. These bills amend the bylaws of the VA250 Commission, create a commemorative license plate for our nation’s 250th anniversary, conform state code to federal regulations for Commercial Drivers Licenses, and create a more efficient process for abandoned vehicle title searches in other states. My bills supporting the Virginia Horse Center, establishing a more objective automobile franchise buy/sell process, and providing clarity to the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority have all unanimously passed out of committee and will make their way to the House floor this coming week.
I enjoyed meeting with constituents of the Virginia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics this past week. We discussed how healthy eating habits and outdoor physical activity can improve physical and mental well being. It is an honor to serve you in the Virginia House of Delegates. If I can be of assistance to you, or you would like to share your position on legislation, please do not hesitate to contact me at DelTAustin@House.Virginia.gov or 804-698-1037.
Delegate Terry L. Austin
37th House District