Virginia’s 12th district delegate Chris Hurst met with constituents on Feb. 25 at the Blacksburg Recreation Center. Monday’s town hall followed two others held in Giles and Radford/Pulaski where Hurst updated constituents on the General Assembly session that convened on Jan. 9.
Before the meeting, Hurst talked about two bills he was chief patron on.
HB 1720, which patched a gap in the state’s changing cannabis laws that affect students and nursing staff at Virginia public schools, successfully passed the House and Senate.
“What we wanted to make sure happened is nurse staff and any other person at a school who has been designated to handle health records or administer medication for a student would be protected from any type of criminal liability,” Hurst said. “So we passed this bill that will become law that protects nursing staff and also protects students as we continue to see more and more individuals being prescribed or being giving these medications in order to be treated for an illness.”
Another bill Hurst discussed was HB 2382, a bill that would better define the role of student journalists and the protections afforded to them. HB 2382 failed in committee.
“We first need to define what a student journalist is, and a student media adviser, student publication. We don't have those definitions in the code right now,” Hurst said. “We also need to clearly spell out in the education code that unless there is some obvious danger that would result … from the publication or it might seriously alter the student learning environment, that absent those you can't arbitrarily censor student media or publications because it may paint a picture in a bad light or shine a light on something that a school might not want to see.”
These bills and others were part of Hurst’s opening announcements. One such announcement on a resolution to reform Virginia’s redistricting process drew applause from attendees.
“On Saturday, we were able to approve the first iteration of a resolution for a constitutional amendment that would address gerrymandering and redistricting reform,” Hurst said.
Federal judges ruled last year that 11 of Virginia’s legislative districts had been gerrymandered on the basis of race. This was the catalyst for reform measures in the General Assembly. The proposed resolution would change the membership of the commission that draws district lines to include citizens in the process.
“Currently, the General Assembly draws all the lines for house races, senate races and for congressional seats. They are the ones who come up with the lines and approve them,” Hurst said. Now, according to Hurst, “We'll have 16 people on the commission: half will be lawmakers from the House and the Senate and half will be citizens.”
Following announcements about his legislative work, Hurst received the constituent questions he holds town halls for. The majority of the questions focused on the Mountain Valley Pipeline, specifically the controversial re-appointment of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor.
One citizen asked Hurst, “You specifically said, ‘I will work against the confirmation of DEQ Director David Paylor, one of the most corrupt people in our state.’ I want to hear your explanation for why you voted in confirmation of David Paylor.”
Hurst explained that certain state level appointments are voted on in blocks rather than individually, as is done for presidential appointments. He also acknowledged that he and his colleagues considered trying to pull Paylor out and vote for him as an individual.
“I ultimately decided that I didn't want to do that,” Hurst said. “The reason why I didn’t want to do that is we were still actively working to try and work with the government administration to get some things that were also top priority agenda items, things like trying to get a stop work order and a full hearing with the water control board.”
Citizen concerns like these are Hurst’s main goals in holding town halls with constituents.
“This is how I understand what my constituents need from me; I can communicate to them what some of my priorities are and see if they're interested in those,” Hurst said. “But really, I think it provides an opportunity for them to come and not only hear what I think we've accomplished and what is left to be done, but also what they think I need to know in order to do my job more effectively.”