As the 2021 Virginia General Assembly gets into full swing, Del. Roslyn Tyler, D-75, provided a statement to the Independent-Messenger highlighting her legislative priorities for the session.
The session commenced virtually on Jan. 13, due to challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Tyler briefly spoke about the new hurdles facing her and her colleagues in Richmond.
“COVID-19 has certainly changed the way the Commonwealth does business,” Tyler stated, “but I am dedicated to continuing the work for the citizens of Southside Virginia and the Commonwealth during these unprecedented times.”
A top priority for Tyler and other legislators serving Southside Virginia is increasing broadband access in underserved areas. Tyler serves as vice-chairperson on the Broadband Advisory Committee.
“There are over 500,000 residents across the Commonwealth who do not have access to broadband,” Tyler stated. “The Governor’s budget will provide $50 million each year to maintain a historic level of funding for broadband.”
In Sept. 2020, BroadbandNow reported approximately 697,000 Virginians “do not have access to a wired connection of 25 Mbps or more.” The site also reported that 608,000 Virginians had access to only one Internet service provider (ISP), while another 306,000 had no access to wired Internet providers whatsoever.
Five of the localities that Tyler represents – Brunswick, Greensville, Lunenburg, Surry and Sussex Counties – rank in the bottom 10 in the state in terms of percentage covered by broadband. Surry County ranks last in the state, with only 3.3% of residents having access to broadband above 25 Mbps.
On Jan. 19, Tyler presented HB2304, a bill that would allow utility providers Appalachian Power and Dominion Energy to petition the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to provide broadband capacity to underserved areas of Virginia, particularly rural districts in Southside Virginia.
Tyler is also prioritizing funding for Pre-K-12 and higher education.
“It is especially important to continue to invest in education and make sure our schools do not suffer during this pandemic,” Tyler stated. “It is important that school divisions do not lose funding due to decreases in student enrollment in our public school systems.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced school districts in Southside Virginia to make hard decisions regarding how children will be schooled during this time. As of Jan. 26, every county and city in Tyler’s 75th district is conducting K-12 schooling on a fully remote basis.
These decisions created a whirlwind of problems for school districts. Students in economically disparaged households needed devices to receive virtual instruction, and teachers who had no training on virtual schooling needed to become experts on the fly.
These challenges have affected enrollment across the state. Tyler said it is imperative that schools not lose funding because of decreased enrollment due to COVID-19.
Tyler is also working to make sure that higher education institutions and community colleges have funding to create programs to develop a skilled workforce in rural communities. She reference a proposed G-3 program in the state budget that would provide skilled training and education at community colleges, particularly to individuals who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
“This program will offer free tuition and free job training in high demand fields such as electricians, welding, plumbing, and cyber security,” Tyler stated.