To the Constituents of the 37th House District:
The first full week of the 2024 General Assembly session has concluded. More than 1,500 bills have been introduced in the House, and the process of hearing them in committee and subcommittee has begun in earnest. Public safety, constitutional rights, and transportation infrastructure policy were the themes of the week.
Republicans have introduced legislation that will begin the process of holding fentanyl dealers accountable for the lives they take with this poison. On average, five Virginians a day die from a fentanyl overdose. Under our legislation, anyone who gives or sells a lethal dose of fentanyl is liable for murder. Unfortunately, the Senate has already voted down one version of this legislation.
Firearms are also at the forefront, as Democrats have introduced a raft of legislation about guns. One example requires Virginians to obtain a license from the State Police before they can legally purchase a firearm of any kind. It is important to remember that the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bruen significantly restricts the limits that can be placed on our Second Amendment rights. It is my understanding that most, if not all, of the bills proposed are unconstitutional, and I will not vote for them.
Republicans are also working to end the mandate tying Virginia to California’s emission standards and requiring that all new cars sold be electric vehicles by 2035. This policy is unrealistic, and industry experts have stated that it is impossible to implement. The technology requires long charging times, works poorly – or not at all – in the cold, and is more expensive than gas-powered vehicles. The dearth of charging stations and transmission line capacity further exacerbates the problem. Republicans will continue to point out these flaws.
As for my bills, I am carrying three that promote the VA250 Commission, of which I am chair. Virginia is the birthplace of our nation, and the VA250 Commission is responsible for implementing and promoting Virginia’s leadership role in the founding of our nation and the celebration of its 250th birthday in 2026. It is a privilege to serve as chair and I look forward to leading the Commission’s efforts to acknowledge and honor our shared history and progress. In today’s world, it is vital that we ensure our future generations understand how we developed as a country and why it should not be taken for granted.
The first bill, HB839 makes technical changes in line with previous statewide commemorations. The second, HB840, creates a revenue sharing license plate celebrating the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution. The third bill is a Joint Resolution encouraging public institutions of higher education to display the VA250 logo on men’s and women’s athletic uniforms. College sports are a major part of our culture and there are few better opportunities to promote positive discussion of our nation’s founding than through these venues.
To that point, the popularity of college athletics and the revenue generated for institutions and ancillary business has grown to the point that there is broad agreement in the nation that student athletes should have the opportunity to share in the economic success. As of 2022, Virginia allows student athletes to benefit from their Name, Image, and Likeness, otherwise known as “NIL.” But in the year since, states like Missouri have passed laws to give more flexibility for NIL opportunities, leaving Virginia’s athletic programs at a significant disadvantage when it comes to recruiting in-state and out-of-state students. HB1505 seeks to level the playing field by preventing athletic organizations from limiting how Virginia’s institutions can choose to support their athletic programs.
As former chairman of Transportation I am also carrying bills that expand transportation options for K-12 students, conform Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDL) to federal regulations, enhance the ability to expand rail capacity, and streamline processes for auto franchise dealers and the abandoned vehicle industry. HB842 expands the availability of alternative public school transportation options for localities that choose to do so. The bill allows vehicles other than school buses to be used for transporting students to and from school to CTE centers, governor schools, and extracurricular activities, all while maintaining safety standards. Doing so will create economic efficiencies for school systems, especially those in rural areas with logistically challenging bus routes. Expanding transportation options will decrease barriers for students and address the chronic bus driver shortage we continue to experience.
HB844 places into State Code federal regulations related to drug violations and CDL training. Failure to conform to State Code would result in lost federal funding for the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) Grant Program. This federal program provides financial assistance to states to reduce the number and severity of crashes and hazardous materials incidents involving commercial motor vehicles.
HB1452 provides an exemption to the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority in the Uniform Statewide Building Code (USBC) related to the construction and maintenance of bridges and tunnels. This exemption is currently granted to VDOT and acknowledges that the USBC is not the most efficient tool by which to determine safety of these assets as they are constructed and maintained. The upshot is shorter construction timelines without sacrificing safety protocols. Rail is crucial to taking vehicular traffic off our roads and this bill will help enable this effort.
Two of my bills seek to streamline economic processes related to auto franchise sales and transactions concerning abandoned vehicles. Many auto franchise operations are family-owned businesses spanning multiple generations. Currently, franchise sales must be approved by the manufacturer and these approvals have not been occurring in a reasonably timely manner, causing friction in the market between buyers and sellers. HB191 aims to streamline this sale process, creating objective measures for approval and establishing a 60-day timeline for which approval can be granted.
HB845 creates efficiencies for the abandoned vehicle purchase process. Currently, DMV must contact other jurisdictions to obtain lienholder and owner information for abandoned vehicles. This process often takes up to six months. This bill allows for third-party databases to be used, significantly reducing purchase times and costs for the salvage industry.
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