In memoriam: truth in meat labeling, regulating Facebook and net neutrality

By: , and - January 28, 2019 5:02 am

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Like a school of fish in a sea of predators, many of the hundreds of bills filed during every General Assembly session fail to advance to even a floor vote, never mind the governor’s desk.

Every week, we’ll bring you a sampling of the legislation left on the cutting room floor, either failing to report or done in by other genteel euphemisms of the legislature: “gently laid on the table” or “passed by indefinitely.”

‘It never squealed:’ Delegate seeks truth in meat labeling

Lab-grown meat is getting closer and closer to store shelves, and Del. Michael Webert, a cattle-farmer from Fauquier County, is not here for it.

With the support of the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association, the Farm Bureau and pretty much every other farm-group in the state, he proposed legislation that would require such products to be prominently labeled as imitations of the real thing.

“You’ve got, for lack of a better term, a laboratory piece of protein that they then want to label as meat, a steak, prime rib,” he said.

His colleagues on a House of Delegates subcommittee dealing with agriculture sounded sympathetic to the issues that might arise — “It is a pork product because it is made from pork cells, but it never squealed,” mused Del. Robert Orrock, R-Caroline, — but the measure was unanimously rejected following an outpouring of opposition from the veggie burger industry, including Impossible Foods, which makes a high-tech veggie burger with lab-grown blood flavoring.

Webert said it was not his intent to regulate those products. “A Boca Burger is kind of easy to see it ain’t a real burger,” he said, arguing that veggie-based products generally advertise themselves as such.

But in the end, everyone seemed a little confused about what the changes would mean for the portion of state code that defines “meat food products.”

The committee voted the bill down unanimously.

Supporting—0; Opposing—Knight, Poindexter, Orrock, Morefield, Bloxom, Keam, Rodman —7.

Regulating Facebook like a utility

Citing concerns that conservative and religious groups are facing unfair censorship on major social media platforms like Facebook, Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, proposed regulating them like a major utility under the auspices of the State Corporation Commission.

Specifically, his proposed rules would have prohibited sites with more than 75 million subscribers from deleting religious or political post and prohibit them from classifying certain content as “hate speech.”

Unsurprisingly, lobbyists representing Facebook were among those opposed and Cole seemed aware it wasn’t going anywhere. Members of the House Commerce and Labor subcommittee hearing the bill moved on without saying a word or voting, leaving the bill in General Assembly purgatory.

“I hope this gets the attention of some of these sites and hopefully take it as a warning and perhaps start treating people more fair,” Cole said before walking away from the lectern.

Net neutrality, but just for Virginia

With net neutrality repealed at the federal level, Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, proposed bringing guarantees to Virginia residents that their access to the internet wouldn’t be throttled or otherwise blocked by service providers based on content.

“The idea is once you have access to the whole internet, you don’t have to pay extra to get access to certain parts,” he said.

Cable, internet and phone companies came out of the woodwork in opposition, with Verizon’s lobbyist arguing the bill “is a hammer in search of a nail.”

Members of the House Commerce and Labor subcommittee hearing the bill agreed, saying that while there were lots of concerns about what the repeal of net neutrality might do, none had come to pass as far as they were aware.

“There haven’t been any horror stories,” said Del. Tim Hugo, R-Fairfax. “Nobody said, ‘Hey, I couldn’t get on the internet.'”

Supporting—Kory, 1. Opposing—O’Quinn, Hugo, Marshall, Ransone, Wilt, Heretick, Kilgore, 7. Abstaining—Keam, 1. 

Stormwater equipment on private property won’t be reported

A bill that would have required real estate agents to tell buyers about stormwater management facilities — like ponds or ditches — on property failed in a House subcommittee this week.

If it seems specific, it’s because it is. Del. Kelly Fowler, D-Virginia Beach, introduced the bill because of persistent and worsening flooding in the city partially because of unmaintained drains, ditches and runoff storage ponds, some of which are on private property.

Supporting — Hope, Murphy, 2. Opposing — Hodges, H. Fowler, Miyares, Leftwich, Davis, Carr, 6.

Some of Fowler’s other flooding-related bills fared better and made it through subcommittees.

Want a landfill in your county? You still don’t need permission from neighboring localities

A bill by Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond, would have required that applications for permits for new or expanded landfills include “a certification from the governing body for each locality within a five-mile radius of the facility.”

Some Powhatan County residents have been up in arms about a mega landfill being developed just over the county line in Cumberland.

“This is a good neighbor bill,” Sturtevant said. “Virginia is one of the top importers of out of state trash in the entire country. … That is something that I don’t think we should be real proud of.”

Republican or Democrat, though, Sturtevant was unable to get anyone on the committee to support the bill. Lawmakers were wary of giving one county authority over a project within another’s jurisdiction.

Supporting: 0. Opposing: Stuart, Hanger, Ruff, Obenshain, Petersen, Marsden, Stanley, Black, Lewis, Chafin, Dance, Suetterlein, Mason, McClellan —14.

Taxing state parks shot down

Del. Rob Bloxom, R-Accomac, never thought it was fair that two privately owned campgrounds on the Eastern Shore had to compete with the state-owned Kiptopeke Park for campers.

All three campgrounds have made investments in better camping accommodations and it didn’t seem fair that the state parks were exempt from charging one kind of tax: the local transient tax, Bloxom said.

He proposed a bill that would require state parks with lodging to charge that tax on rentals, which privately owned campgrounds already do (as do many property owners who rent their homes through sites like Airbnb).

His proposal, which made it out of the House Finance Committee, was defeated 78-19 on the floor.

Let nonprofit clinics dispense contraception, STD treatments

A House Health, Welfare and Institutions subcommittee tossed a bill sponsored by Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, that would have allowed nonprofit health groups to receive limited prescribing licenses at a discounted rate to dispense contraception or treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

Simon presented it as a straightforward bill that would allow nonprofit clinics to do what the state already does in its Department of Health clinics. But other groups, like the Family Foundation, saw it as a carve out for clinics that perform abortions.

“We’re just not sure why one would need to create a special carve out,” said Jeff Caruso with the Virginia Catholic Conference. “Why wouldn’t this be treated the same across the board?”

Simon argued that the state creates carve outs for other areas in health care, and that making it easier for nonprofit subscribers to dispense contraception will likely reduce abortion rates. But he didn’t convince the subcommittee, and the bill was passed by indefinitely.

Opponents — Bell, Robert B., Pogge, Stolle, Hodges, Edmunds, Head — 6

Supporters — Hope, Aird, Rasoul, Rodman — 4


One bill, sponsored by Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, returned from the dead. It would allow those with past felony drug convictions to receive TANF benefits. It failed to get by a House Health, Welfare and Institutions subcommittee early in the week, but on Thursday they instead decided to refer it to House Appropriations.

Supporters — Stolle, Edmunds, Head, Hope, Aird, Rasoul, Rodman — 7

Opponents — Bell, Robert B., Pogge — 2

Foster care, Tannerite, temporary licenses for immigrants

Other bills that went by the wayside:

  • Allowing local departments of social services to put a child in permanent foster care at age 14.
  • Allowing injured employees to become eligible for benefits if their accident happens outside Virginia.
  • Allow a locality to prohibit Tannerite (exploding targets) near residential areas.
  • Create a new temporary driver’s license for immigrants who have lived in Virginia for a year, paid income taxes and passed a driving test.

Don’t forget what’s already been covered, related to the $15 minimum wage, finance reform, the ERAoffshore oil drilling and gender-specific pronouns in parentage laws.

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.

Mechelle Hankerson
Mechelle Hankerson

Mechelle, born and raised in Virginia Beach, is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in mass communications and a concentration in print journalism. She covered the General Assembly for the university’s Capital News Service and was among 12 student journalists in swing states selected by the Washington Post to cover the 2012 presidential election. For the past five years, she has covered local government, crime, housing, infrastructure and other issues at the Raleigh News & Observer and The Virginian-Pilot, where she most recently covered the state’s biggest city, Virginia Beach. Mechelle was with the Virginia Mercury until January 3rd, 2019.

Katie O'Connor
Katie O'Connor

Katie, a Manassas native, has covered health care, commercial real estate, law, agriculture and tourism for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond BizSense and the Northern Virginia Daily. Last year, she was named an Association of Health Care Journalists Regional Health Journalism Fellow, a program to aid journalists in making national health stories local and using data in their reporting. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary, where she was executive editor of The Flat Hat, the college paper, and editor-in-chief of The Gallery, the college’s literary magazine.