February 11, 2022
The final, frenetic, pre-crossover week began inauspiciously on Sunday. The failure of an internet circuit in the Capitol area took down legislative websites and sparked fears of a return to the dark ages of the General Assembly: paper copies of everything. Fortunately, the system was restored in time for a busy week.

Monday brought rain and a fire alarm in the Capitol as committees rushed to complete their work on all bills with a fiscal impact on the Commonwealth. Fiscal impact statements are provided for each bill that comes with a potential price tag for Virginia. House bills requiring funding are ultimately sent to the Appropriations Committee, where they typically fare poorly unless they are funded in the budget or via a budget amendment. The deadline for bills to be referred to Appropriations was Wednesday, which made for a busy early week.

Friday marked a long floor session that culminated in wrangling over the (typically routine) confirmation of the outgoing governor’s appointees to boards and commissions. After six hours on the floor, certain appointees were approved. Afterward, the unfortunate members of the House Courts Committee headed to an evening meeting.
Limiting Executive Powers
Throughout the course of the pandemic, I received countless complaints about the litany of seemingly arbitrary gubernatorial orders. Businesses were flummoxed by last-minute edicts that restricted capacity and established onerous protocols. I am very pleased to share that the House of Delegates on Monday will pass legislation, Delegate Kathy Byron’s House Bill 158, restricting the emergency powers of the Governor. The Governor retains the authority to issue emergency orders; however, the duration is limited. Emergency orders may be issued for thirty days and then extended another thirty. During this extension, the General Assembly may meet to take action on the order. If no action is taken by the legislature, the Governor may extend for another thirty days. After the full ninety days, the legislature must convene to determine whether that is necessary. This places much needed guardrails on executive powers, and I am pleased that Republicans kept their word on this issue—even with a Republican governor in office.
To mask or not to mask?
Masks made headlines this week when Democratic Senator Chap Peterson introduced a floor amendment to Senate Bill 739 which was being carried by Republican Senator Siobhan Dunnavant. The last-minute language specified that parents have the final decision in whether or not their children wear masks in Virginia’s public schools. Adoption of the amendment garnered the votes of twenty-nine (including ten Democrats) of the forty senators. The bill’s final passage was narrower, with a vote of 21-Y 17-N including only three Democrats.

On the House side, I am carrying House Bill 1272, which is the companion bill to the aforementioned Senate Bill 739. To conform my bill to the amended Senate version, I also introduced the language clarifying that parents have the right to decide whether or not their child wears a mask at school.

The response was predictable: outrage from House Democrats and shock about the Democratic Senator’s (and my) amendments. School union representatives voiced vociferous objections. Other school representatives demanded the right to enforce masking, noting that parents have long trusted schools to adopt measures to keep children safe from the flu and other illnesses. Absolutely true. We have indeed trusted schools to adopt measures to keep children healthy during other outbreaks. Those measures never included full-time masking. We trust that schools can continue their longstanding ability to provide a safe environment without keeping children in masks throughout the day. Both bills will be heard on the House floor next week.

For insightful and scientific insight on the subject of masking children in schools, I highly suggest reading this article from The Atlantic.
House Bill 526
Once again, I introduced legislation codifying that any non-Virginia student who is currently present in the Commonwealth as a result of being a victim of human trafficking is eligible for in-state college tuition. House Bill 526 also requires universities to withhold from the public the directory information for such individuals. I carried this bill during the previous two sessions. In both cases, it was killed by the Democratic majority. I am pleased to share that the bill passed the House unanimously this year and will next be heard in the Senate.
Next week will mark crossover--the halfway point of the legislative session. The pace will slow significantly after that time. If you'd like to visit my Richmond office, a time after February 15 would be ideal. Our office is located in Room 432 of the Pocahontas Building at 900 E. Main Street, Richmond, Virginia 23219. As always, we remain available to assist with constituent service. If you have a problem with a state-related matter or agency or would like to set up a virtual meeting, please contact my legislative aide, Ms. Dayle Brittain by phone at 804-698-1096 or by email at [email protected].

Have a wonderful weekend--keep an eye out for some wintry weather!
Contact Delegate Batten
Legislative Aide: Dayle Brittain
Mail: P.O. Box 194, Norge, VA 23127
Phone: 757-741-7001
Paid for and Authorized by Friends of Amanda Batten