Capitol Briefs 2021 | Issue 1

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A most unusual start in a most unusual year.

Session 2021, Issue 1
January 18, 2021

The 2021 Session of the Virginia General Assembly convened on Wednesday, January 13. We usually end that sentence with “in Richmond.” But this year, legislators are spread out all over the Commonwealth, meeting virtually to do their annual business because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

House of Delegates members are not in Richmond, and holding committee meetings and floor sessions virtually. The Senate is meeting in Richmond, though a rule change allows for virtual participation by members on an as-needed basis. Senate committee meetings are closed to in-person public participation, allowing only virtual testimony on the bills they consider.

Not unlike almost everything over the past year, these changes have completely upended our normal way of doing business during Session. We usually spend long hours down at the Capitol, catching legislators here and there to discuss legislation of interest to Virginia dealers. Those conversations with lawmakers in the elevator, walking between meetings, and other meaningful connections are simply impossible to replicate in this new virtual legislative world.

Knowing these changes were coming, most interest groups — VADA included — recognized the difficulty of pursuing any complex or controversial legislation this year. Legislators recognized the constraints of doing their work virtually by severely limiting the number of bills each legislator could introduce. But there is still a lot of work to be done.

Even with all disruptions caused by the pandemic, the General Assembly has found time for partisan wrangling over its first three days. Republicans balked at the normal practice of extending the odd year Sessions to 46 days, beyond the constitutional limit of 30 days. The Governor announced he will call the General Assembly into special session after those 30 days to give them the additional time normally allotted by agreement.

And the General Assembly has not been immune from effect of the current upheaval in national politics. Three members of the House of Delegates who vocally opposed certification of the presidential votes of Virginia electors in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence were stripped of committee assignments by the Democratic House Speaker. A member of the Senate who attended the January 6 U.S. Capitol protest-turned-riots gave a speech on the Senate floor stoking claims of voter fraud, earning a strong rebuke from her colleagues on the floor from both sides of the aisle. Several Senators have introduced a resolution to censure her.

If this is how Session has started, we wonder what we will see in the coming weeks.

There are issues we are working on that will impact our dealer members. Here is a rundown of some of the most important bills we will be addressing:

ZEV Mandates – HB 1965 (Bagby)

Requires adoption of California Air Resources Board (CARB) LEV and ZEV mandates.

Virginia dealers support the adoption of EVs. They have adapted to changes in their industry for generations, and electric vehicles represent just the latest in a long line of advancements. The adoption of electric vehicles will be achieved, but only with the investment of all parties: manufacturers, dealers, electric utilities, environmental groups, government, consumers. Virginia dealers are doing their part.

Adoption of California Air Resources Board (CARB) ZEV mandates is but a small step that requires significant investments by both the public and private sectors. Because the ZEV mandates have the potential to affect dealers most significantly, we must ensure legislators understand the potential adverse impacts. Virginia should only consider ZEV mandates in conjunction with the necessary commitment of resources to assure successful implementation the regulations without unfair impact on any party, including dealers.

Electric Vehicle Rebate Program – HB 1979 (Reid)

Establishes a point-of-sale rebate program for EVs. This bill would provide rebates to reduce the cost of EVs. Currently the bill calls for a $2,000 rebate for the purchase of a new or used EV, along with an additional $2,500 for low-income purchasers. This is a critical part of efforts to spur the adoption of EVs. However, sufficient funding for this program would run into the tens of millions of dollars and only several million are on the table right now.

Test Drives – (Bill Number TBD) (Roem)

Allows localities to regulate test drives in residential areas. As originally drafted, the bill would allow the locality to pass an ordinance prohibiting test drives in residential areas. Any driver operating a vehicle on a dealer tag in a residential area would be subject to a traffic infraction. The problem with the bill is that it could result in police stops on any person driving on a dealer tag in a residential area in locality that adopts an ordinance, whether or not the person is on a “test drive.”

We worked with Del. Roem and the City of Manassas Park (which requested the bill), and the proposed measure is now much more limited in its impact on dealers and their customers. Dealers in any locality that adopt an ordinance regarding test drives in an enhanced speed area under §46.2-878.2 (Virginia’s code section on maximum speed limits in residential areas) must give notice of the ordinance and areas to avoid on a test drive. If a customer violates the speed limit or runs a stop sign in that enhanced speed area, the locality may contact the Dealer Board so the Board can determine if the notice was given by the dealer. If so, end of inquiry. If not, the dealer may be subject to a civil penalty by the Board.

The language solves the problem of the potential for anyone driving on a dealer tag to be stopped in a residential area. It also clarifies what a “test drive” is, making clear it does not include a prospective buyer who is driving a vehicle to their residence when the dealer allows them to take a vehicle for several days.

Other measures we’re monitoring:

  • Tax conformity measures to address the tax implications of the proceeds of PPP loans. The administration is proposing that the expenses paid for with PPP funds NOT be deductible for state tax purposes. This is different from the federal tax treatment of those expenses.
  • COVID-related issues like sales tax exemptions for PPE and liability protections.
  • Employer-related issues including paid sick leave, equal pay and right to work.

As always, it is a pleasure to serve the new car and truck dealers of Virginia.

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