First Congressional District Representative Rob Wittman spoke to around 10 members of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance about recently passed and upcoming legislation at a meeting Monday morning.
During the session, Wittman addressed subjects including military spending, environmental preservation and the installation of broadband internet services in the First District’s rural communities. He also answered questions from those present.
One point that Wittman returned to was his commitment to bipartisanship in Congress. As examples, he cited the passage of bills including the National Defense Authorization Act, which determines the annual budget of the Department of Defense. He said the bill was passed in the House of Representatives with more than 380 votes from members of both political parties.
Wittman also cited a bill that he co-sponsored with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) that passed into law earlier this year, which he said supports volunteer groups who want to help protect wildlife refuges.
“He and I are probably on the opposite ends of the political spectrum, but again, it’s a great example of where we have something in common between our districts, and that is how do we make sure we help our wildlife refuges,” Wittman said. “We were able to get through a bill called the Keep Our Refuges Operational Act, so that passed both the House and the Senate and the president passed it into law.”
Wittman also emphasized the importance of offering career and technical education opportunities for young people in the First District. He mentioned the recent passage of the Carl D. Perkins Act, a federal effort to put dollars toward career and technical education programs in public schools, which he said could benefit both students and the local business community.
“We have been working with our school systems and working with businesses to make sure we have that connection where businesses are stating specifically what knowledge, skills and abilities they need for jobs today and in the future, and what school systems can do to work with businesses to define and put in place curriculums so that they can have the educational opportunities for students to fill those jobs,” he said.
Another important milestone in Congress was the inclusion of $630 million in last year’s federal budget which went toward the installation of broadband internet facilities across the United States, Wittman said. Although the broadband installation efforts will be spread across the country, he said Virginia’s rural communities should see some benefit.
After his remarks, Wittman fielded questions from the audience, which covered education, childcare affordability and environmental protection.
Paul F. Scott, executive director for Child Development Resources, said that he’s noticed local businesses run into trouble when looking for ways to provide affordable childcare options for their employees.
The key to that problem would be looking for ways that the federal government could incentivize businesses to make the construction and staffing investments necessary to provide on-site childcare resources, Wittman said.
Dr. John Whitley, president of Consulting Services Group, asked Wittman about his stance on offshore oil drilling off the coast of Virginia, given the representative’s support for Chesapeake Bay conservation efforts. In response, Wittman said that he is cautiously in favor of offshore drilling studies, but supports safer energy alternatives.
“There’s a difference in doing the studies and doing the development,” Wittman said. “To me, if you do it the correct way, it can be environmentally friendly and it can provide the hydrocarbons that you need within that realm and do it in a smart way. What I’ve said is, let’s at least have some data that we can go on and discover what’s out there and then the next step is if you allow for that to be developed, and if you do, what the conditions would be.”
The First Congressional District, which spans from Northern Virginia down to the coast of the Chesapeake Bay, including parts James City County, has been represented by Wittman since 2007. Wittman will face first-time candidate Vangie Williams, a Democrat, for the First District seat in the general election on Nov. 6.
Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.