BY BARRY KNIGHT
RICHMOND — It is my honor and privilege to serve my friends and neighbors in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. It is a truly humbling experience to work for the oldest continuously serving legislative body in the Western Hemisphere.
Unlike our U.S. Congress, the Virginia General Assembly is a part-time legislature meeting for session every even year for 60 days and odd year for 45 days. This format requires me to make laws and then return home to live by them. Being able to experience the impact our legislation has on our district allows me to gain valuable insight on our successes and failures so that I am better equipped to serve you the following year.
The commonwealth operates on a two-year budget, which will be voted upon this year. Convening under a long session of 60 days provides both the state Senate and the House of Delegates more time for deliberation on the governor’s budget proposal and the many amendments from legislators.
The committee review process is a vital role for vetting bills through our bicameral legislature. In this letter, I want to describe my part in that process and discuss issues that matter to our communities.
I have the privilege of sitting on the committees of appropriations, rules, and general laws. I also sit on the committee on agriculture, Chesapeake and natural resources. I also serve on seven subcommittees and chair three of them. I am proud to say that I was reappointed chairperson of both the studies subcommittee and the ABC and gaming subcommittee. This year I was newly appointed as the chairman of the subcommittee on agriculture.
I try to find simple, commonsense solutions for the 81st district.
► The southern area of Virginia Beach has agricultural and hunting issues that are vastly different to the rest of the city. I was able to help our local agritourism industry with an issue they found in their regulations, and I also made it illegal for the governor to raid commodity fund accounts in the commonwealth that are self-imposed to promote their industry.
► While agriculture is important to our area, so are the vast wildlife and natural resources. Legislation was submitted for the wildlife refuge, which enables the park and the state agency to take more aggressive steps to eliminating the invasive wild hog population that is destroying the swamplands by allowing the agency to hunt them from the air.
► Back Bay is also a haven for duck hunting, and I wanted to ensure that destroyed duck blinds are easier to identify in the waters for boater safety. It is important for the owners of the blind to have a cheap, easy fix that would not force them to immediately rebuild the duck blind. This compromise allows the duck blind permit holders to place PCV piping with reflecting tape to mark the underwater blind while keeping in mind boater safety.
► I recently submitted legislation that would take the regulation of the menhaden fishing industry away from the hands of politicians in Richmond and place it in the hands of scientific and industrial experts of the Virginia Marine Resource Commission. The menhaden fish is the only thing that swims in the Virginia waters that is not regulated by the commission. A fish with such importance to the health of the Chesapeake Bay should not be subjected to the political whims of the General Assembly. Furthermore, the commercial fishing of the menhaden produces a foamy, fishy residue that washes on our shore and is unsightly for our locals and tourists. I proposed having the boats stay a certain distance from the coastline in the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, which would alleviate some of these concerns. I have been the tip of the spear for this movement since I was elected to the House of Delegates, and this year I had the support of many other legislators and a grassroots support from the area. Unfortunately, the two pieces of legislation were unsuccessful. I will continue this effort next year.
► Finally, I wanted to correct an oversight by the General Assembly in the code of Virginia. Recently, the legislature passed a property tax exemption of up to a $300,000 property value for surviving spouses of our military heroes that die defending our country overseas. The wording in this legislation limited the exemption to spouses of military members who were “killed in action,” which by federal definition means they were killed on the battlefield. There have been instances in which a member of the military was wounded on the battlefield and passed away shortly after being rushed to a field hospital. These families were thought to qualify for this tax exemption when the original legislation was passed.
However, they could not receive the benefit from the local revenue commissioner because they were not ruled killed in action. Virginia Beach Revenue Commissioner Phil Kellam and I worked closely to see what we could do to get this benefit to the surviving spouses. The legislation has yet to reach the desk of the Gov. McAuliffe, but both versions of the bill passed the Senate, carried by Sen. John Cosgrove, and the House. This bodes well for this legislation to become law July 1. I see it as a priority as an American to ensure families of our heroes that have given their lives are taken care of.
We have accomplished a great deal for both our community and the Commonwealth, but the work is never done. As always, I welcome your thoughts, questions, and concerns. I am proud to be a Virginian and honored to have the opportunity to serve you. Together, we can keep Virginia as one of the best places to live, work, and raise a family.