Macy Pressley

Bill to manage wildlife collision rate passes General Assembly

By Macy Pressley, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- The General Assembly recently passed a measure that will create a plan to reduce wildlife-related vehicle accidents, though opponents tout the bill as an example of wasteful government spending.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax, directs the Virginia departments of Game and Inland Fisheries, Transportation, and Conservation and Recreation to conduct a study to identify areas where wildlife habitat is fragmented by human development and roads with a high wildlife collision rate. 

Marsden said the measure, known as the Wildlife Corridor Action Plan, is intended to help prevent wildlife related car accidents. There were 61,000 such collisions reported in 2016, according to VDOT.

“People get killed in wildlife collisions, mostly with deer,” Marsden said. 

There were 211 deaths from such collisions in the United States, according to State Farm, which tracks deer-related insurance claims across the nation.

The bill would give the DGIF two years to complete a study. Marsden said that after the study is done, the General Assembly will look into building wildlife overpasses along roads identified as problem areas. He said wildlife overpasses were successfully implemented in Charlottesville. 

“They tried this on I-64 in Charlottesville and reduced wildlife collisions by 98%,” Marsden said. 

Ryan Brown, DGIF executive director, said the bill addresses a complex issue and is intended to protect wildlife in two ways. 

Brown said his department will work with other agencies to identify places where development has fragmented wildlife habitats and address the work needed to avoid human and wildlife conflict.

“Wildlife moves around and they don't read road signs,” Brown said. 

The agencies will identify wildlife corridors and study migration routes of native, game and migratory species using existing state data. They will assess human barriers such as roads, dams, power lines and pipelines and determine areas with a high risk of wildlife-vehicle collisions. The study will contain maps to detail such wildlife corridor infrastructure, as well as recommendations for creating safe wildlife crossings. Brown said options might include fencing along problem roads and bridge-like structures to assist wildlife with safe crossing.

Brown said this issue is likely to get worse over time. 

“As wildlife habitat becomes more and more fragmented in an urbanizing Virginia, that makes it difficult in terms of management of wildlife population,” he said. 

Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, voted against the bill. He said the measure would be too costly. 

“ I do not believe the legislation is needed and it will end up creating another bureaucratic process that will cost time and money for no real benefit,” Cole said in an email. “The government is very good at establishing needless bureaucratic hurdles.”

Marsden said the legislation is worthwhile, considering Virginia is one of the top states for wildlife collisions. In 2018, Virginia ranked 12th for deer collisions, with drivers facing a 1 in 99 chance of hitting a deer, according to data from State Farm.

“It’s good for the animals and the drivers,” Marsden said. “It’s worth the effort to save property and save lives.”

The bill now heads to the governor’s desk.

House committee tackles consumer protections and cybersecurity

By Macy Pressley, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- In one of the more modern meeting rooms at the over two centuries old State Capitol, 22 lawmakers gather on Mondays to confront the increasing cybersecurity threats looming over Virginia residents. 

This session the House Committee on Communications, Technology and Innovation will consider a variety of issues, including managing data in an increasingly digital world, regulating devices for children in schools and enabling consumers with the right to access their data and determine if it has been sold to a data broker. 

The committee will also hear proposals on a range of cybersecurity issues. These include House Bill 322 which seeks to create a cybersecurity advisory council. HB 524 aims to create a volunteer group of tech industry professionals to help localities and school divisions address information technology and cybersecurity issues. HB 954 requires businesses to take reasonable steps to dispose of customer records when the company no longer needs those documents. 

The committee leadership has a host of expertise in technology and cybersecurity. The chair, Del. Cliff Hayes Jr., D-Chesapeake spent over 25 years working in the cybersecurity field, including time as the director of information technology for the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office. Hayes Jr. said he was optimistic about Virginia’s future in cybersecurity, but did not understate the risks.

“Anywhere in the world is at a high risk in this day in age,” Hayes said. “We have to make sure we do everything we can to protect our infrastructure and those devices that are connected to it.”

Vice Chair Del. Hala Ayala, D-Woodbridge, spent over 15 years working as a cybersecurity specialist for the Department of Homeland Security. She said the committee will work with the federal government to prevent cyber attacks from hostile foreign adversaries.

When it comes to cybersecurity, Virginians have reason to be cautious. Some of the biggest companies in the world such as Amazon store data in the state. Seventy percent of the world’s daily internet traffic is routed through Loudoun County, according to Loudoun’s department of economic development. Since 2010, Microsoft continues to expand its data center operations in Mecklenburg County. Facebook recently opened a 1 million square foot data center in Henrico, with plans to add another 1.5 million square feet. 

Hayes said the committee plans to be proactive when it comes to dealing with the increasing cybersecurity threats. 

“Historically, most of the cyber, artificial intelligence, unmanned systems, and all of those types of issues were referred to other committees for some reason,” he said. “But now, those bills are going to be coming to this committee and we have an abundance of expertise in this area.”

Virginia’s cyber investments aren’t invulnerable, especially given the growing threat of hostile foreign powers such as Iran. The Iranians have spent years cultivating a skilled team of hackers that could potentially threaten U.S. cybersecurity, according to a recent Washington Post survey of leaders from government, academia and the private sector.

“We’re trying to make steps at the federal level to strengthen our security infrastructure,” Ayala said.

At the state level, Ayala said the committee plans to protect consumers against potential breaches and advocate for consumer privacy. 

“You’ll see a lot of privacy legislation come out,” she said. “We want to strengthen consumer data and protection.”

Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford, said the key to protecting Virginians against cybersecurity threats will be education.

“It’s critical that we continue to train young people so we have the workforce and workforce skills to be able to help companies,” Byron said. 

Byron also said there were a number of steps Virginians could take to protect themselves from identity theft. 

“Check daily for activity from your financial institutions to make sure someone hasn’t used that information,” Byron said. 

Ayala said there are a number of ways to protect your online activities as well. 

“Change your passwords every 60 to 90 days,” Ayala said. “I use something called LastPass to encrypt passwords.”

Jordan Eclipse Chukka

Subcommittee advances bill allowing voters to choose multiple candidates

By Macy Pressley, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- A bill allowing Virginia voters to choose more than one candidate on the ballot narrowly advanced through subcommittee Monday.

House Bill 1103, introduced by Del. Sally Hudson, D- Charlottesville, would open a pilot program for ranked-choice voting in local elections, such as city council or school board contests.

 “Rank choice voting is a small change to ballots that makes a big difference for democracy,” Hudson said. “In a ranked-choice election, you don't just vote for one candidate, you get to rank them from most to least favorite.”

According to Hudson, after the votes are ranked, they are counted in a process similar to a traditional election. If one candidate wins more than half of the first choice votes, they win the election. If no candidate emerges as the majority winner in the first round, the lowest ranked candidate is eliminated and the losing candidate’s votes are transferred to the voters’ second choice. The elimination process continues until a candidate earns more than half of the votes.

Hudson said diverse groups of people want to run for office, but that can sometimes lead to overcrowding in elections and a winning candidate who does not have much support, but who was able to eke out a win. She thinks this bill is the answer to that problem.

“It makes sure that we can have a leader who represents a broad swath of the community, no matter how many candidates run,” Hudson said.
Ranked-choice voting is not new, at least 20 cities in the United States have adopted it. In 2018, Maine began using it for federal elections. Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, is the chief co-patron for the bill.

“We have found that in other places where this is practiced, it leads to more positive campaigns,” Hope said. “It means that candidates are working, so if they can't be a voters’ first choice, they can be their second choice, and not the negative campaigning that we've seen lately.”

Localities opt to use the voting method, and according to Hope, it would be up to them to fund it as well.

“We've worked that out, the locality will bear the cost, not the state,” he said.

While Hope does not believe ranked-choice voting will happen at a state level, he said Arlington residents are excited about this measure.

 “I know that there's also a bill floating around to do this statewide,” Hope said. “I thought if the rest of the state is not ready for that, I know Arlington certainly is.”

Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, is a Republican co-patron for HB 1103. He said he supports the legislation because it gives localities more freedom to govern.

 “I always believe that localities should have the option to run elections the way that they think are most efficient, and create the most involvement from the voters,” Davis said. “A lot of studies have shown that voters are more involved when there's more opportunity for the candidates, when there's a ranked election system.”

“So if there are localities out there that would like to try it in Virginia, they should be allowed to give it a shot,” he added.

Davis said that legislation had worked well in other districts and he signed on to encourage voter participation and make the electoral process better.

“I think any way that we can run elections that provide more information, more access to voters in manners that get them more engaged, the better off our our democratic process is,” he said.

HB 1103 reported out of subcommittee, 4-3. Delegates voting yes include: Kelly Convirs-Fowler, D-Virginia Beach; Mark Levine, D-Alexandria; Marcia Price, D-Newport News and Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax.

Delegates voting no include: Dawn M. Adams, D- Richmond; Les Adams, R-Pittsylvania and Chris Runion, R-Augusta.

The bill will now move to the House Committee on Privileges and Elections, which meets Friday.

Another bill that deals with ranked-choice voting proposed an open primary for all state-wide elections. A single ballot would list all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, and the four most popular candidates would continue to the general election. The vote on HB 360 was continued to 2021, and will not be heard this year in the General Assembly.

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