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Griffith, officials discuss concerns, issues

Sunday, August 11, 2013

By SAM JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Ninth District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith visited Henry County on Friday, partly to thank local government officials for being here when he can’t be.

Griffith, R-Salem, concluded a five-day “appreciation tour” of officials in Virginia’s 9th District with a luncheon at the Dutch Inn in Collinsville. He listened to questions and concerns by local public officials and offered a report on his activities in Washington.

Griffith said part of the reason for his visit was to remind local officials — as well as his other constituents — that he is available when needed. He invited his guests to contact his staff whenever he is needed to come to the area.

“It may not be tomorrow,” he said, “but I will come down here” if they need to meet with him.

Otherwise, any local official can reach him by phone any time they need to talk, “and that’s true of any constituent,” he said.

Griffith said he wants to maintain a rapport with local officials because “they’re the front line. They’re the ones people know, the ones people see in the grocery store on a day-to-day basis,” so it’s important for local residents to communicate with their elected officials often.

He stressed that no local decisions were being made during the closed-door meeting. “I was just giving a report from Washington,” he said. “There was no public business taking place. It was just a discussion.”

Henry County Administrator Tim Hall praised Griffith for holding the meeting.

“It’s always good when a congressman or someone of that stature takes the time to talk to us,” he said.

Often, Hall added, what is discussed is less important than the discussion itself.

“What’s important is that there’s a connection,” he said. “It makes the next communication that much easier because you’re not re-plowing the same ground.”

Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, said the main topic of discussion was the Commonsense Permitting for Job Creation Act, which would address the permit problems facing the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre.

The bipartisan, bicameral measure was sponsored by Griffith, 5th District U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham, Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, and New York Republican Congressman Richard Hanna.

Neither Griffith nor Marshall would speculate Friday on a timetable for passage of the bill. Marshall said predicting that was “like predicting when it’s going to snow next.” However, he said, both he and Griffith are hopeful it will pass before the end of the year.

Regarding the bipartisan nature of the bill, Griffith said, “I’m very pleased. This is one of those instances where you don’t have the House fighting the Senate ... and you don’t have the Democrats and the Republicans fighting.”

All of Henry County and Martinsville’s federal representatives are in agreement that the Commonsense Act is crucial, Griffith said.

“The problem is, the Army Corps (of Engineers) has set up a standard that is a Catch-22” because the Corps will not issue a grading permit for the property until it has a committed business to move to the industrial park, he said. “Of course, businesses are not going to move to a place that isn’t already ready.”

Griffith said Hurt is taking the lead to get the bill passed in the House, while Warner is doing the same in the Senate.

“I’m hopeful that the four of us can get together ... and map out our strategy” to give the bill the best chance possible to pass, he said.

Hall, who repeatedly has sought help from federal officials to obtain the Corps permit, also spoke glowingly of the Virginia delegation, and thanked Griffith and the others for their work.

“He and our other federal folks have worked both sides of the aisle,” he said.

Griffith said discussion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act also was lengthy. He said he listened to concerns from local officials about the law, which will go into effect Jan. 1, as well as aired his own.

“The problem is, it won’t work,” he said. “Even if you like the general concept, the problem is, they threw it together in the middle of the night.”

The Obama Administration last month announced it would delay until 2015 a requirement that businesses with 50 or more workers provide insurance coverage or pay a penalty.

The House later passed a measure supporting that policy — as well as one to delay the individual implementation of health care reform. But Griffith said he did not vote for that bill because, he said, continuing to delay the health care law only will make it worse.

Griffith likened the delay to an “abscessed tooth.”

“The longer you wait to pull it, the worse it gets,” he said. “It’s going to be a disaster, so we might as well start dealing with it now.”

Griffith said the Energy and Commerce Committee on which he serves is crafting a potential replacement law for Obamacare, but it is not yet ready to be released.

Griffith said a member of the Henry County Board of Supervisors expressed concern over the National Security Agency’s (NSA) seizure of Americans’ phone records, concerns he said he shared.

“As a student of history and a lawyer, I don’t understand how that could be constitutional” for the government to seize information without going through the proper checks and balances, he said.

According to the Fourth Amendment, the federal government cannot seize personal information without a warrant, and a warrant cannot be obtained without probable cause, Griffith said.

While he agrees with the NSA’s efforts to maintain security, he argued that it can’t come at the expense of civil rights.

“I think we can craft a balance between trying to catch the terrorists and protecting our freedoms,” he said. “But in order to do that, I need to know exactly what the arguments — pro and con — are.”


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