By MELINDA WILLIAMS
Fear that “Andrew’s Law” wouldn’t make it through the House Courts of Justice Committee became a reality for the 2014 General Assembly session Wednesday.
Although the committee didn’t “kill” SB293, it did vote to continue it to the 2015 session so the state crime commission can do a financial impact study, according to Lauren Fox, sister of the bill’s namesake, late Virginia State Trooper Andrew Fox.
Lauren Fox said the bill’s sponsor, 38th District Sen. Phillip Puckett, was notified at 1 p.m. Wednesday that he needed to attend the full committee meeting because there were plans to kill the bill. She said the committee cited the proposed legislation’s financial impact as the reasoning, claiming it would be “upwards of $15 million.”
Despite the short notice, Fox said Wayne Huggins with Virginia State Police Association was able to attend the meeting with Puckett. They “shared their findings, saying this enormous impact was ridiculous,” she said.
“The bill was not killed and that is the best news that came out of the day,” added Fox, who has been representing the Fox family. The family expressed gratitude as a whole to everyone who “shared, emailed, called and came to support” the bill.
She said supporters “have not only helped spread the word about reckless driving that endangers the lives of emergency responders, but you have carried those of us who have a personal desire to see that another family never has to experience the devastating consequences of reckless driving as we have.”
Trooper Fox, who was assigned to Pulaski County, was struck and killed by a vehicle in October 2012 while working a special assignment directing traffic at the Virginia State Fair.
Despite Wednesday’s setback, Lauren Fox said the family’s fight isn’t over. They intend to pursue a new bill during the 2015 session, after the impact study is complete.
“With a stronger carrier in the House, we feel we will have better results in the 2015 session. We have also heard of another potential lobbyist who is interested in helping us out pro bono,” she said.
Monday, the bill hit another snag that the family feared would result in its defeat, at least for the 2014 General Assembly Session.
Fox said the family was glad the bill advanced from a Courts subcommittee to the Courts of Justice Committee. “However, we and many other emergency responder organizations and advocates are not completely satisfied with how things went …,” she said Tuesday.
The bill was originally intended to make reckless driving a Class 5 felony if a public safety or highway worker was killed or sustained permanent or significant injury while in the performance of his or her duties on the Commonwealth’s roadways.
Fox said the subcommittee changed that language to include everyone – not just public safety or highway workers.
“This change will significantly increase the fiscal impact on the state and will likely (result in the bill being) killed in the (House) Appropriations Committee,” she said Tuesday. “We feel (the change) was a planned way to avoid action on this bill in this session and is a sign of lack of support of those who provide safety on the roads for the rest of us at the risk of their own lives.”
Puckett introduced SB293 at the request of the Fox family, but it was intended to apply only to emergency medical services personnel, firefighters, government employees or contractors, and law enforcement officers.
Fox said that while one delegate in the subcommittee did not want the wording to be changed before being advanced to the Appropriations Committee, Courts Subcommittee Chairman Delegate David B. Albo (R-Springfield) made it clear he wouldn’t vote for it if it didn’t cover everyone.
“Delegate Albo feels this bill creates a special class of citizens,” she said.
According to Fox, fire and EMS representatives who attended a caucus following the subcommittee hearing were “very vocal in their disapproval of this change.
“The decision of the delegates to reverse the strict measure the Senate applied disappointed those in the caucus meeting because it shows (that) delegates won’t support professional highway safety personnel,” said Fox.
She said that while her family finds no fault with including everyone, “as another delegate stated, that should be added on next year so that this bill could be approved this year.”
The subcommittee voted 8-1 Monday to send the amended SB293 to the House Courts of Justice Committee with a recommendation it be referred to the Appropriations Committee. The dissenting vote came from Delegate Les R. Adams (R- Chatham).