RD41 - Annual Report of the Joint Commission on Technology and Science

    Executive Summary:
    The Joint Commission on Technology and Science (JCOTS), a permanent legislative agency created in 1997 by the General Assembly, is charged with studying all aspects of technology and science, to promote the development of technology and science in the Commonwealth through sound public policy, and to report its findings annually to the Governor and the General Assembly (see Chapter 11 of Title 30 of the Code of Virginia, § 30-85 et seq.).

    Under the leadership of Chairman Delegate Joe T. May and Vice-Chair Senator John Watkins, JCOTS undertook studies of several different issues during the 2007 Interim, including the formation of advisory committees to review issues and develop policy specifically related to aerospace, electronics recycling, nanotechnology, electronic medical records, underground transmission lines, broadband deployment, and open-source education. The advisory committees were comprised of legislators, other government officials, industry representatives, and citizens. Based on the work of the advisory committees, JCOTS recommended several legislative initiatives at its December, 2007 meeting. The key legislative proposals are as follows:

    A recommendation, in concept, for legislation that would create tax incentives for the emerging commercial space flight industry. Such a proposal has become known by some in the aerospace community as the "Zero G, Zero Tax" proposal and would provide income tax exemption for certain spaceflight activities and launches. The goal of the legislation is to spur development at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallop's Island, which provides a prime location for the development of a national commercial spaceflight facility. The advisory committee also recommends that the Commonwealth of Virginia and Maryland enter a formal agreement for the joint operation and funding of MARS.

    Legislation creating a manufacturer responsibility model for recycling televisions and computers. The legislation would require manufacturers of televisions and computers to establish a recovery plan that would provide citizens of the Commonwealth a reasonably convenient means to recycle televisions and computers produced by the manufacturer. The advisory committee also recommends legislation expanding the authority of localities to prohibit the disposal of cathode ray tubes (CRT) in certain facilities.

    With the cooperation of the Department of Education, legislation aimed at updating the textbook approval and purchasing requirements in the Code of Virginia for K12 schools. The open-source education advisory committee identified the textbook purchasing policies of the Commonwealth as a barrier to the adoption of more open and technology based learning materials. A key portion of the legislation expands the definition of 'textbook' to include online and electronic materials.

    Amend the authorization of the Virginia Resources Authority to provide funding assistance for all broadband deployments. During the 2007 Session of the General Assembly, the Virginia Resources Authority was authorized to finance wireless broadband deployments; this new proposal would allow the financing to apply to wireless and cable deployments, so as not to favor one technology over another.

    For the first time, JCOTS and the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council (FOIA Council) had the opportunity to work together. The 2007 Session of the General Assembly referred two bills regarding access to social security numbers and other personally identifiable information to both legislative agencies. Representatives from both agencies met several times to review the privacy and technology issues regarding access to this sensitive information. The collaboration resulted in the recommendation of two pieces of legislation. The first would prohibit agencies from requiring, after July 1, 2009, anyone to provide his social security number, absent specific statutory authority to collect such information. In the next year, agencies would be required to review their current collection practices, and to submit to JCOTS and the FOIA Council instances where they currently collect such information. The second proposal would prohibit any individual from publicly communicating another individual's social security number, regardless of whether the number was obtained from public or private sources.

    In addition to these legislative recommendations, JCOTS also approved several non-legislative initiatives. For instance, JCOTS will endorse a nanotechnology day scheduled while the General Assembly is in session, to allow universities and industry in the Commonwealth to showcase the importance of nanotechnology to the Commonwealth's economy. JCOTS staff will also work on a guidance document to be distributed to local government summarizing and highlighting the various approaches to broadband deployment discussed in the broadband advisory committee. The document will hopefully serves as a template or "how-to" guide for local governments new to such discussions. Finally, JCOTS staff will work with members during the 2008 Interim to review issues related to ownership of electronic medical records.

    Copies of the JCOTS recommendations mentioned in this executive summary are available on the Commission's website at http://jcots.state.va.us. A more detailed report outlining the work of JCOTS during the 2007 session will be forthcoming.