Senator Ben Chafin: Highlights from the 2017 General Assembly Session

The 2017 General Assembly Session has adjourned. Throughout our two months in Richmond, we worked tirelessly to achieve success for Southwest Virginia. The Roanoke times called this session the “most productive in a generation” praising the work of the members from Southwest Virginia.

My Senate Bill 1418 passed the House and Senate is now before the Governor. The legislation streamlines the regulatory process and fast tracks the construction of hydro pump storage facilities in the coalfield region. The facilities work by releasing water from an upper reservoir through turbines producing energy then into a lower reservoir. The water is then pumped back to the upper reservoir. The near instant generation of power creates stability for the electric grid and consumers.

A new application of hydro pump storage facilities can utilize the water sitting in idle and abandoned coal mines. Breathing new life into these abandoned coal mines will potentially create a new energy economy in Southwest Virginia in addition to the coal industry. The construction of these facilities could create thousands of new construction jobs and bring much needed revenue to our counties.

As our biggest accomplishment for the region, my legislation will spur new investment in the coalfields and will lead to a big step forward in diversifying the economy. The renewable energy produced could lead to a transformation of the economy in the region creating new jobs and opportunities.

In order to create even more jobs and open up the region, we are also making steps towards the construction of the Coalfield Expressway. Legislation I carried led to an agreement from the Department of Transportation to guarantee any federal funding for the project would be directed towards the Expressway. Also, the agreement reached with VDOT included a commitment from the Department to include state funding if federal funding for Expressway comes to the state.

The members of the Southwest delegation are also working with the Trump administration and Congressman Griffith to have the Coalfields Expressway included in the infrastructure package proposed by President Trump. Together with Delegate Pillion, we worked on legislation that passed this session to set up a Coalfields Expressway Authority. The authority will help direct needed funds to the project and will serve as a conduit to direct federal and state funds to the Coalfields Expressway.

The opioid and drug abuse crisis in Southwest Virginia and other parts of the Commonwealth has reached new heights that led to the Department of Health declaring opioid addiction a public emergency. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that significant increases in prescriptions and overall greater acceptability of their use have contributed to the crisis. Working with our local law enforcement, Commonwealth Attorneys, and state officials, Delegate Pillion and I successfully passed legislation that will restrict the access to certain opioids and medical assisted treatments that are being abused and illegally sold.

Along with these restrictions to reduce the number of drugs being illegally used, our legislation also required the Board of Medicine to draft new regulations on prescribing opioids along with new education and training requirements for medical professionals. We hope these new laws will be valuable tools in combatting this growing crisis in our region.

In addition to these legislative successes, the General Assembly also balanced the budget and closed an over one-billion-dollar revenue shortfall without raising a single fee or tax. Our conservative approach to the budget led to cuts in spending and focusing on the core functions of government and pay raises for state employees and teachers.

Despite the fall in revenue, the General Assembly increased our investment in public education. Following the momentum from the Coal Equity Summit led by our area educators and school officials, the members of the Southwest Delegation worked with Senate and House leadership to include much needed enrollment loss funding in the budget. Our joint effort was successful in guaranteeing new funding in the budget for most of the school systems in Southwest Virginia that have experienced high levels of enrollment loss and funding reductions.

Between new measures to create jobs and investment in the region, legislation to combat the opioid abuse crisis, steps made to build the Coalfield Expressway, and new education funding, the 2017 General Assembly was a success for Southwest Virginia.

It is an honor to serve the 38th District in the Virginia General Assembly. The 2017 General Assembly has been a success and I look forward to continuing our work for Southwest Virginia. If you have any questions or if I can be of assistance, please make sure to call my office at 276-889-1044 or email me at

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