Morgan Griffith: Blackjewel and bipartisanship

I have been closely following the situation regarding Blackjewel and the employees who have not been paid for their work, even having their paycheck deposits disappear.

I find it appalling that Blackjewel did not give its workers notice of the situation. While failure to give notice may not be illegal, the conduct is unconscionable.

Further, knowingly writing bad checks is illegal in Virginia.

Blackjewel is currently going through bankruptcy, and that process must settle the company’s obligations. Bona fide wages for bona fide employees are a priority.

Also, I am looking at legislation to benefit workers caught in the ghastly circumstances that the Blackjewel miners are currently in.

Working Together in Washington

Negative stories out of Washington, D.C., often grab the most attention, and there is no shortage of them. But work is being done that might not grab headlines but should reassure you about the ability of Democrats and Republicans to work together on solving problems.

During a July 17 markup, the House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced 25 bills, most of which were introduced by members of both parties and supported on a bipartisan basis.

Throughout the markup, members offered amendments, suggested improvements, and deliberated on the measures at hand. While the bills we advanced are not perfect, they resulted from a collaborative process that respected the roles of all members.

First up was a bill attempting to solve a problem many of us have faced: robocalls. Almost 50 billion robocalls were placed last year, an epidemic that doesn’t merely annoy but can perpetrate scams and cause disruption.

The Stopping Bad Robocalls Act requires telecommunications companies to implement call authentication and blocking measures at no cost to consumers, countering the proliferation of “spoofed” calls from phone numbers with familiar area codes. It also gives the Federal Communications Commission more enforcement authority against the bad actors behind illegal robocalls.

We passed this bill by a 48-0 vote.

The Committee then moved on to a series of consumer safety bills, including one I cosponsored with Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA) to set national standards on furniture flammability. Our bill, the Safer Occupancy Furniture Flammability Act, also passed without votes in opposition.

In some instances, although representatives had lingering concerns about aspects of the legislation we were considering, we supported them in return for pledges from the majority to continue working with us to improve them.

We proceeded to work on energy bills, passing several pieces of legislation that would enhance the security of pipelines and electrical grids and improve efficiency. They were practical measures that will make a positive impact on energy reliability for Americans.

For example, the Smart Energy and Water Efficiency Act would establish a grant program through the U.S. Department of Energy to encourage improvements in water infrastructure. We passed this bill, including an amendment I offered at the suggestion of Virginia Tech researchers

The last several bills we considered pertained to health care.

High prices for prescription drugs are a common concern, and bringing them down is a priority for the Trump Administration and congressional Republicans and Democrats. To that end, the Committee advanced the More Efficient Tools to Realize Information for Consumers (METRIC) Act, a measure that would bring transparency to drug pricing. Sunlight is an ally to patients and to all concerned about the high costs of filling prescriptions.

Another issue that has been a priority of Committee leaders from both parties and the Trump Administration is surprise billing, and we spent time at the markup on the relevant legislation, the No Surprises Act, to make sure we got the policies right.

As an example of the work being done, during the discussion on one amendment, Congressman Don McEachin (D-VA) noted that the draft language under consideration might lead to unintended consequences under Virginia law. I expressed my agreement, and ultimately the Committee agreed to hone the language before taking up the bill on the House floor so that it accomplishes its goal of protecting patients from surprise bills without unintentionally harming Virginians.

The No Surprises Act was included with H.R. 2328, which also had important provisions reauthorizing community health centers, supporting research on diseases, and limiting Medicaid cuts to hospitals that disproportionately serve low-income patients. This legislative package was advanced out of Committee.

It was a successful markup, with good-faith engagement and some disagreement but none of the partisan rancor that so often characterizes Congress. We can work together, and I pledge to continue doing so wherever I can to advance the interests of Americans and Southwest Virginians.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office.  You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at

augusta free press news