To the Constituents of the 19th House District:
The General Assembly has concluded its fifth week of the 2022 Session. House Republicans continue to pass legislation that empowers parents, makes common sense adjustments to our election process, utilizes proven data-based programs to keep our communities safe, and protects our constitutional rights.
On Wednesday, Senate Republicans were joined by their Democrat counterparts regarding school mask policy. In a bipartisan vote the Senate passed legislation, patroned by Republican Senator Siobhan S. Dunnavant and Democrat Senator Chap Peterson, that will end mandatory student masking in schools. To get it to the governor’s desk as quickly as we can, the House Committee on Education held a special meeting to hear SB739 and reported it to the floor on Friday. As written, this legislation will not take effect until July 1. Thankfully, the governor has communicated his desire to request that the General Assembly approve an emergency clause, which would immediately enable parents to make decisions about masks for their children. With a simple majority, we can put the decision-making power back in the hands of parents, where it belongs.
Parental choice is something that I strongly support, which is why I was happy to vote for HB511, known as the “Tebow bill.” This bill allows home-schooled students to participate in public school sports. Athletics is an important part of physical, social, and mental development and we should do everything we can to include and encourage our children to participate, regardless of how they receive their education. A child should not be prevented from participating in sports with his friends and neighbors because they learn better in a different environment.
Legislation that strengthens voter confidence continues to pass out of the House. This includes HB1090, which requires photo identification to vote, and HB175 which ends automatic, eternal absentee ballot lists. We also passed HB528 which addresses the confusing “get out the vote” mailers Virginians received this past election. This bill will require these third-party organizations to include a disclaimer that they are not a government agency and prevents them from sending pre-filled ballots. Voting should be a secure and simple process, and these bills help return us to that posture.
After years of diligent effort, the House finally passed HB833, which creates a grant fund to support Group Violence Intervention programs in the Commonwealth under the “Project Ceasefire” model. Time and time again, the data has shown that an action-based approach with strong guidelines works to decrease gun violence. First implemented in Boston in the 1990s as an effort to reduce gang violence, the “Boston Miracle” resulted in more than a 60 percent reduction in youth homicides and a 27 percent decrease in shootings. In cities from Stockton, Calif., to Indianapolis, Ind., the results have borne the same results. This approach saves lives.
Keeping our communities safe involves targeted enforcement of criminal activity. Responsible citizens should not suffer as a result. This is one reason why I signed on to be a co-patron for HB509, which repeals the Red Flag Law that passed under a different majority. People who follow the law should not be held accountable for those who do not. Mental health in society is a problem that certainly needs to be prioritized, and it can be addressed without infringing on our Second Amendment rights.
As for my legislation, HB507 permits college student athletes to receive compensation for the use of their name, image or likeness. This bill ensures Virginia’s higher education institutions can compete in athletic recruitment with the 24 other states that have similar legislation. It reported unanimously out of the General Laws Committee and will be voted on this week.
HB1363 came at the request of Botetourt County and designates US 220, from Narrow Passage Road to the boundary line between Botetourt and Alleghany County, as Norvel LaFallatte Ray Lee Memorial Highway. Mr. Lee was born in Eagle Rock, earned his wings as a Tuskegee Airman, and won a gold medal in boxing at the 1952 Olympics. Botetourt is rich in history and this designation identifies and acknowledges someone who broke barriers while serving his country and achieved greatness while representing it. I am proud to patron this bill, just as I was proud to patron the one in 2018 that named a portion of US 220 near Greenfield as William Preston Memorial Highway.
I look forward to updating you on the forthcoming weeks of Session. As always, if my office can be of assistance to you and your family, please do not hesitate to reach out to me at DelTAustin@House.Virginia.gov.