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Freshman delegate says communication is key in navigating GA

Republican Del. Bob Thomas of Fredericksburg

RICHMOND – After winning the 28th House District by only 73 votes, Republican Del. Bob Thomas of Fredericksburg dove head first into the 2018 legislative session, saying communication with his colleagues was key to navigating his first year in the General Assembly. Apparently, he’s a good communicator.

The House and Senate approved five of Thomas’ bills – tops among first-year delegates:

  • HB 73 would increase the speed limit from 55 mph to 60 mph on U.S. Route 301, U.S. Route 17 and State Routes 3 and 207.
  • HB 119 will create a separate classification for the inventory of any wholesaler stored in a facility that is at least 100,000 square feet. The governing body of any locality can tax such inventory at different rates than the tax levied on other merchants’ capital.
  • HB 530 would allow the speaker of the House of Delegates to appoint members of the House to serve on intergovernmental boards, committees and commissions.
  • HB 1221 would require the chief information officer of the Virginia Information Technologies Agency to conduct an annual review of cybersecurity policies of every executive branch agency and report the findings to the chairs of the House Appropriations Committee and Senate Finance Committee.
  • HB 1482 would allow law enforcement officers to use drones without a warrant to survey the scene of a vehicle accident for the purpose of crash reconstruction or required reports.

Gov. Ralph Northam already has signed HB 119 into law. He has until April 9 to act on the other four bills.

Of the 19 new members of the House of Delegates, Thomas and Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk, passed the most legislation – five bills each. Del. Jerrauld Jones, D-Norfolk, passed four. Five freshmen were unable to get any of their bills passed, and five others managed to get only one bill passed.

Besides introducing legislation, Thomas served on three House committees: Transportation; Counties, Cities and Towns; and Technology. He spent a lot of his time introducing himself to his 139 new colleagues in the House and Senate.

“Taking the time to sit in everyone’s office before subcommittee meetings allows you to hear the people who might have a really valid question or concern and address it,” Thomas said. “And being able to tweak or modify your bill really goes a long way – and it’s a really good excuse to meet a lot of people.”

Thomas said meeting individually with lawmakers was a crucial step in negotiating agreements and getting bills passed in both chambers. That was especially the case with HB 1482, which would allow law enforcement officers to deploy drones to survey the scene of car accidents.

The House and Senate each passed its own version of the bill, and so a conference committee was appointed to hash out the differences. One member of the conference committee was Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath.

“In the conference for the HB 1482, there was a minor change to the bill that I could have just dropped off the paperwork for in Sen. Deeds’ office,” Thomas said. “But I went back and said, ‘You know what – this is a good reason to actually meet with and talk to the senator, so I’ll be back’ – and I think that communication will serve us well in the long run.”

Thomas said he plans to continue pursuing certain issues that were killed this session in next year’s legislative session, like HB 1346, which would make more students eligible for special education programs.

In Virginia’s General Assembly, sessions during odd-numbered years are 30-46 days long compared with 60 days during even-numbered years. Because the state’s two-year budget will be adopted in a special session this year, Thomas said he looks forward to a quicker, less intensive 2019 session.

In the offseason, Thomas said he will focus on constituent services while also revving up his campaign for the 2019 election. He said he plans to bring in campaign staff a year early in hopes of winning by a bigger margin than he did last year.

By Lia Tabackman/Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.