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HILLSVILLE — A proposal meant to protect state “Samaritan” workers, named in memory of fallen Trooper Andrew Fox, has been approved unanimously by the Senate, but family members worry that the bill will not get a fair hearing in the House of Delegates.
Trooper Andrew David Fox died Oct. 5, 2012, of injuries sustained when he was struck by Angelica Valencia’s car while directing traffic at the Virginia State Fair near Richmond.
Lauren Fox, sister to the late trooper, said in an update to news media on Monday that she has been told that the House Appropriations Committee refused to hear the bill (HB 1148) — known as “Andrew’s Law” — due to its fiscal impact, said to be $50,000, she said.
Political experts have opined that $50,000 is not much of a cost.
Andrew Fox, 27, a native of Tazewell, was laid to rest in Summerfield United Methodist Church cemetery in Elk Creek because his wife, Virginia Martin Fox, is from Grayson County.
Valencia pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge in Hanover General District Court in February 2013, according to court documents.
The court found Valencia guilty, gave her a sentence of 12 months and then suspended all of that time and fined her $1,000, according to court documents.
Since then, a grassroots push to strengthen penalties in cases of injury or death involving “Samaritan” workers, including police, led to legislation being introduced to the General Assembly.
Lauren noted that senators approved the Senate version of the bill (SB 293) unanimously. “In fact, all votes in each committee this bill touched were unanimous — that speaks volumes about how senators feel about this bill,” she wrote.
“The question our family has is why is this the excuse we were given if there is no fiscal impact?” Fox said. “Thousands of Virginians have communicated in writing, via phone call and through the signing of a petition that they want this proposed legislation to pass, yet it is denied even a hearing in the House. Why?”
The version of the bill in the Senate defied expectations.
The measure was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Phillip Puckett (D-Russell) and passed the Senate on a bipartisan 40-0 vote.
Despite being told the bill wouldn’t make it through the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, Fox said it went on to gain approval of every Senate committee unanimously, only to get derailed in the House without a hearing.
“After the show of support for the bill from citizens around the Commonwealth, as well as advocacy from major organizations such as the Virginia Fraternal Order of Police, the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association, the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, the Virginia Professional Firefighters Association, the Virginia State Police Association and the Virginia State Firefighters Association, I do not understand why a committee that was voted into office by thousands of people who support this bill would not even deem it worthy to hear,” Fox said in her message. “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.”
The Bluefield Daily Telegraph reported that Del. James W. “Will” Morefield (R-Tazewell) told the newspaper that the House Appropriations Committee wouldn’t take up the bill because “the Commonwealth simply doesn’t have the funding available at this time to consider the proposal.”
The Daily Telegraph reported that Puckett disputed Morefield’s statement, saying the Senate did a study on the bill, and estimated associated costs at only $50,000.
Puckett has vowed to fight for “Andrews Law,” the newspaper reported. If the House committee members refuse to take up the bill, Puckett told the Daily Telegraph that he — 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. 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...” the Daily Telegraph wrote in an editorial backing the bill, noting that Democrats control the Senate, while Republicans control the House.
“To say that weak state finances will keep it from being heard in the House is an even weaker excuse,” the editorial said. “There is no logical, non-political reason why ‘Andrew’s Law’ should not be considered by the House Appropriations Committee.”
The Fox family and other supporters pushed this idea to protect workers from “irresponsible and destructive decisions” of reckless drivers, despite the presence of emergency responders or Virginia Department of Transportation workers, Lauren Fox said.
“What happened to my brother was not a result of accidental behavior,” Fox wrote. “It was a result of reckless behavior and when that behavior destroys lives, it should be punished as more than a misdemeanor.”
The Fox family has asked supporters of Andrew’s Law to write their delegates and ask them to support the bill.
“We are fighting for this along with thousands of Virginians who care about this,” she said. “With your help, this number could grow and citizens could see how powerful their joined voices could be in the legislative process.”