This has been a very good year in the General Assembly. We were successful on several fronts and you all sent several hundred emails to legislators in support of these bills.
Industrial Hemp is something we’ve been supporting for several years – specifically getting a legitimate framework for commercial industrial hemp farming. We are very pleased to announce that Gov. Northam has signed a bill to legalize commercial industrial hemp farming in Virginia.
Our bill sponsors Sen. Mark Peake and Del. Nick Freitas carried SB 333 (Peake) and HB 532 (Freitas) for us to do this in a spectacular way. Ultimately, Peake’s bill was rolled into Sen. Roslyn Dance’s bill SB 247, and passed 40-0. Freitas’s bill was ultimately amended, after gaining extremely important pro-landowner and pro-business concessions from the Northam Administration, and passed 100-0.
We knew that Congress would likely finally recognize industrial hemp as a unique species that is separate from its commonly recognized cousin, and eliminate the federal ban on its cultivating. This mean that if Virginia failed to act THIS YEAR, Virginia would be a decade behind the other states in investment and infrastructure for hemp farming and manufacturing. Successfully getting this bill passed means that Virginia and Virginia’s hemp farmers are open for business as soon as the Feds finish their work.
The US Senate has already passed their bill, and we are now simply waiting for the House to pass their version so that differences can be worked out and it can be sent to the President’s desk.
This is a win worth tens of millions of dollars to Virginia over the next decade, especially since industrial hemp is already legal in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. It was additionally legalized this year in Maryland.
WE KNEW THAT IF WE DID NOT GET INDUSTRIAL HEMP PASSED THIS YEAR ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES WOULD BE LOST FOR YEARS TO OUR NEIGHBORING STATES.
Distillery Freedom is our flagship area of legislative initiative. This year we had 5 House Bills for Distillers (Freitas HB 536, Murphy HB 654, Fariss HB 1299, Head HB 1400, Cline HB 1484). HB 536 gave us everything we wanted and made it out of the House General Laws Sub-Committee and Committee uncontested, and into House Appropriations Committee.
We also had 6 Senate Bills – all carried by Sen. Bryce Reeves (SB 467, SB 482, SB 483, SB 484, SB 486, SB 803). SB 484 and SB 803 made it out of Social Services and Rehab Committee and into Finance Committee. SB 484 was left in committee, but SB 803 gave us everything we wanted and passed out of Senate Finance 16-0 and passed the Senate 23-16.
Here’s where the chicanery comes into play:
Each bill has to be voted on in a certain amount of time in order to go through the legislative processes in the House and Senate. Our flagship bills were killed off in the House Appropriations committee without ever receiving a vote. Make no mistake: This year we unequivocally won the policy argument. We forced the ABC to put their cards on the table and put out their numbers for the first time. Not only did we show that their numbers weren’t accurate, but we also showed that by giving us what we were asking for we would increase revenues to ABC. Appropriations Chair Del. Chris Jones refused to schedule any of our bills to be heard. They knew they would lose, so instead of playing out the hand once we called the ABCs bluff and put our own cards on the table, Del. Chris Jones stood up from the table and refused to deal the last cards.
This situation is extremely similar to the CBD Oil bills last year. The CBD oil bill got out of the Senate for the first time ever last year, but was killed in a House Sub-Committee that refused to vote for allowing Cancer, Crohns, Alzheimer, ALS, and MS patients to use non-psycho active THC oil to treat their diseases. This year, that bill passed the House and Senate uncontested and was signed by the Governor. Because of that, we believe that we are in an extremely good position to get our Distillery Freedom bills passed next year – especially because it’s an election year and these delegates will be vulnerable to challenges after the legislative session if they once again vote against Distillery Freedom & Fairness. Fundraising right now to help ensure this happens is CRITICAL.
We did get an incremental win with SB 486, which allows distillery tasting rooms to serve mixed drinks with spirits not manufactured on location as long as 75% of the spirits are manufactured on location. In short, visitors to Virginia’s Distilleries can now order a Martini.
Occupational Licensing Reform
Delegate Mark Keam’s HB 790 removed licensing requirements for barbershop and hair salon employees who’s duites are constrained to blow drying , styling, or washing hair. It’s a small step, but a step in the right direction none the less.
Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform
Sen. Mark Peake (SB 341) carried a civil asset forfeiture reform bill that would’ve required a conviction before taking people’s property. The bill passed Courts of Justice 15-0, but was killed in Finance 12-3. Del. Nick Freitas (HB 900) carried a similar bill that passed the House, Passed Senate Courts of Justice, but died 8-8 in Senate Finance. The fact that these bills died in Senate Finance Committee (where retired State Trooper, Sen. Bill Carrico sits) tells us that the State Police and others DO NOT want to give up the money they make off of taking people’s things regardless of whether those people are actually guilty or not.
Farm & Food Freedom
On the Farm & Food Freedom front, Sen. Mark Peake’s SB 332 was signed by the Governor. The bill allows farm produce sold at farmers markets and roadside stands to be tax exempt for the first $2500, up from only the first $1000.
Additionally, Del. Barry Knight’s bill (HB 825) that would’ve essentially killed raw milk co-ops was pulled after hundreds of emails and activists opposing his attempts at the regulatory assassination of refrigerator privacy rights. If Del. Knight’s name sounds familiar to you, it should. He’s been one of the biggest enemies of our Distillery Freedom bills in the General Assembly.