Governor Northam weighs in on hot-button issues impacting Southwest Virginia

Governor Northam maintains opposition to arming teachers, despite Lee County lawsuit

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam weighed in on a number of hot-button legislative issues impacting Southwest Virginia during a visit to Abingdon Tuesday. 

Casino Legislation 

A bill that could legalize casino gambling in parts of Virginia cleared the General Laws and Technology Committee Monday, the first legislative hurtle of many in Richmond. 

The bill could allow a resort and casino to be built on the site of the vacant Bristol Mall, pending the outcome of a local referendum. 

The bill must pass the General Assembly and be signed into law by Governor Northam before the people of Bristol can have the final say. 

News Channel 11 asked Governor Northam what he’ll do if the bill comes across his desk. “I’m open minded to the casinos but if we do it, we have to really do it the right way and so this may be a year where we want to do a study, look at the finances of it, look at the social implications, the regulations of it, there’s a lot involved,” said Northam. 

The study Northam referenced was authorized as part of the bill. It will be conducted as the legislative process continues to unfold, so there’s no telling whether its findings will have any bearing on the decisions of lawmakers. 

Lee County Lawsuit 

The Lee County School Board recently filed a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Virginia after the state’s top law enforcement official shot down their plan to arm some teachers. 

Governor Northam came out in opposition to the plan last summer and doubled down on his position Tuesday. 

“Their job is to teach, not to be law enforcement agents and so we have put more resources into our school resource officers. That’s the direction I’d like to go into to make sure that individuals that are handling and carrying firearms are trained to do that,” said Governor Northam. 

Lee County School Board members maintain they don’t have the funds to hire seven new officers, even though they agree this would be preferable.

They’ve said state grant money for school security is insufficient for achieving this goal and that arming teachers is a cost effective solution to keep kids safe. 

I-81 Tolls 

A plan to establish tolls as part of an I-81 improvement project has an organization representing commercial truck drivers considering legal action against the state. 

Governor Northam defended a bill Tuesday that he said would bring in billions of dollars for “desperately needed” repairs. 

The bill allows frequent travelers to purchase an annual pass to save money on tolls but truck drivers will not have that option. 

That’s part of the reason why the American Trucking Association thinks this toll discriminates against interstate commerce. 

When asked if there’s any truth to that argument, Governor Northam said, “No I don’t think so. I think the main thing is we want to be fair. We want to be fair for the people that live in Virginia, the people that live along I-81, the people that need to use it everyday. We looked at an annual pass for those individuals. And we want to be fair to the trucking industry, obviously we need their business coming through.”

The Alliance for a Toll Free Interstate has warned that a lawsuit would delay implementation of tolls and improvements to I-81 they would help fund. 

The ATA has already filed two lawsuits in the past six months regarding tolls in other states. 

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