The Hampton Roads Planning District Commission adopted its legislative agenda for the 2015 General Assembly session. Key issues were water quality, emergency management and protection of area military facilities. The Commission also supports education, increased funding for PDCs and opportunities for increased recycling. Other issues of concern are possible changes to the Freedom of Information Act, plastic bags, balloon releases and unfunded state mandates.
Water quality and funding for water quality programs remains a high priority for the region’s local governments. TMDLs and stormwater regulatory requirements continue to place more responsibility for water quality improvements on localities, usually without adequate funding. In addition, the Commission has requested changes in groundwater permitting; land subsidence; water and groundwater studies; increased funding for agricultural best management practices; cost-share for sewer hook-ups and a state cabinet level position to coordinate efforts relating to sea level rise and climate change.
State and regional vulnerabilities continue to strain local resources in preparing for, responding to and recovering from emergencies and disasters and a dedicated funding stream is needed. Specific issues relating to emergency management include insufficient shelter capacity, shelter evaluation, alternative power for fueling sites and emergency planning for assisted living and day care facilities. The region’s emergency management planners stress the importance of these issues in maintaining regional readiness.
The defense sector plays a significant role in the economic vitality of Hampton Roads. As such, localities are making strides in mitigating encroachment around area military facilities, but more funding is needed to fully protect existing resources. Onshore and offshore energy proposals will also be monitored for impacts to military bases in Hampton Roads.
The Commission recognizes the vital role of education at all levels and supports adequate funding for staff and a realistic alignment of Standards of Learning and Standards of Accountability with state Standard of Quality funding level.
Despite increased public awareness of the benefits of recycling, beverage container recycling has been declining in recent years, while beverage sales increased. In order to assist localities in meeting their required 25% recycling rate, localities need the authority to require certain businesses to recycle glass. In addition, other incentives are needed to increase business recycling participation.
The Virginia FOIA Council is currently reviewing often cited exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act. The Commission opposes any changes that would unduly burden local governments and reinforces its position against the costly standard of advertising public notices in local newspapers.
It is anticipated that legislation will be introduced again this year regarding plastic bags. The HRPDC supports legislation that would provide localities with the option of restrictions on the use of plastic bags through increased voluntary programs, incentives, taxes or outright bans.
New to the legislative package this year is the issue of balloon releases. State Code currently allows the release of up to 50 balloons an hour; however balloons present a significant threat to wildlife and the environment. The General Assembly is requested to limit the release of balloons to 10 or less for balloons that are made of non-biodegradable or non-photodegradable material.
As with previous years, the Commission opposes unfunded mandates by the Commonwealth and shifting of fiscal responsibility from the state to localities for existing programs. Any mandates or changes in responsibility should include a full fiscal and program analysis to ensure the state is meeting its full funding responsibility.
The General Assembly session convenes on January 14, 2015. Pre-filing of legislation has already begun, with 40 new bills introduced to date. There are 235 bills continued from the 2014 session. The General Assembly standing committees have until midnight on December 3, 2014 to deal with carryover legislation. It should be another exciting session!