Andrew’s Law

February 14, 2014

We are perplexed by the apparent decision of the House Appropriations Committee to not take up the well-intended “Andrew’s Law,” a measure that seeks to strengthen the penalty for a reckless driving offense that results in death or serious injury to a law enforcement officer, emergency medical services personnel, highway worker or firefighter.

The bill is named after the late Virginia State Police Trooper Andrew Fox, a native of Tazewell, Va., who died as a result of injuries he received when a woman driving an SUV ran over him as he was directing traffic at the Virginia State Fair on Oct. 5, 2012. The woman who struck the trooper pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge, received a suspended 12-month sentence and was fined $1,000.

The measure was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Russell, and unanimously passed the Senate on a bipartisan 40-0 vote last week. It is scheduled to be moved to the House as early as today. But we are being told by Delegate James W. “Will” Morefield, R-Tazewell, that the House Appropriations Committee will not take up the House version of the bill even though it passed through three Senate committees unanimously and was then cleared by that legislative chamber on a unanimous vote.

And just why won’t the measure be taken up by the House committee? Morefield says the Commonwealth simply doesn’t have the funding available at this time to consider the proposal. What? That explanation doesn’t make sense. Puckett disputes that statement, adding the Senate did a study on the bill, and estimated associated costs at only $50,000. Puckett is vowing to fight for the measure. He says if the House committee members refuse to take up “Andrew’s Law” he, in return, as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, will refuse to hear any bills that come to the Senate Agriculture Committee from members of the House Appropriations Committee.

“I hate to have to do things like that, but this family deserves a fair hearing on the bill,” Puckett told the Daily Telegraph last week. My thought is that there are a lot of bills coming to the Agriculture Committee that won’t be heard.”

Clearly politics are in play here — and that is disrespectful to the Fox family. It’s no secret that Virginia has seen some pretty dramatic political changes in recent months. A Republican administration has been replaced by a Democratic administration, including a new governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. … And Democrats also now control the Senate. Republicans control the House.

We don’t fault Puckett for his willingness to fight for “Andrew’s Law,” as politics would appear to already be clearly in play at this point. But we would expect Morefield, now a veteran lawmaker in the Republican-controlled House, to fight for this measure — even if it means challenging his own political party.

“Andrew’s Law” is a common-sense measure that merits approval. It has cleared the Senate on a bipartisan vote. To say that weak state finances will keep it from being heard in the House is an even weaker excuse. Morefield has been one of the region’s strongest supporters of coal in the General Assembly. And we appreciate that. But we also expect him to fight equally as hard for other important measures.

“I do not understand why a committee that was voted into office by thousands of people who supported this bill would not even deem it worthy to hear,” Lauren Fox, a spokeswoman for the Fox Family, told the Daily Telegraph last week. “I especially do not understand why anyone who values the lives of men and women who are required to work in Virginia’s roads to protect and serve all the citizens of the Commonwealth would refuse to even give the bill a fair hearing.”

We agree. Puckett and the Senate have done their job. It’s now up to Morefield — as our local 3rd Delegate District representative — to fight for this measure in the House. To simply say the bill will be “denied a hearing” by the House Appropriations Committee isn’t how you fight for a measure that is also supported by the Virginia Fraternal Order of Police, the Virginia Sheriff’s Association, the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, the Virginia Professional Firefighters Association, the Virginia State Police and the Virginia State Firefighter’s Association.

There is no logical, non-political reason why “Andrew’s Law” should not be considered by the House Appropriations Committee.

— Bluefield (W.Va.) Daily Telegraph