U.S. 1 Multimodal Study To Begin!
In the 2013 General Assembly Session, Senator Puller and I secured $2 million for the U.S. 1 Multimodal Transportation Study in the 2013 amendments to the 2013-14 Biennial Budget. This study will analyze and recommend the appropriate mode of transit from I-495 to the Occoquan along U.S. 1.
For current information about the project, I have created this link to the official webpage maintained by the Department of Rail and Public Transit:
If you would like to see more information about where things stand on U.S. 1, I have created a page on my official website here:
This study is the first legally required step to improve U.S. 1 between Woodlawn and I-495. It is great news.
The Governor's Press Release is below the flip:
The Pot Is Calling for the Kettle - Hypocrisy on Concealed Weapons
Last session, one of few contentious gun safety bills we debated was legislation regarding confidentiality of concealed carry permits (CCP) for handguns.
If a Virginians wants a CCP today, they are required to apply at the Circuit Court. Anyone can go to the courthouse and review them like any other court document. If you want to see what they look like, you can click here for the standard application
Around the United States and in Virginia, several newspapers have published the names and addressed of people who CCP's, including recently after the Newtown Shooting. Gun rights groups have taken offense to that and fought to make these records confidential.
In 2011, legislation was introduced but was killed in a Senate Committee. This year, the proponents got smart. Senator Mark Obenshain, the Republican nominee for Attorney General, introduced legislation (Senate Bill 1335) in the Senate to make CCP applications for protective order victims confidential
. That bill flew through the Senate, made it to the House who struck the limitation for protective order victims, made CCP applications confidential for everyone, and shot the bill back to the floor of the Senate for approval of the amendment bypassing the problematic Senate Committee
. The same method was used to pass legislation restricting abortion clinics in the 2011 Session - also called "TRAP" regulations, Targeted Regulations for Abortion Providers.
During the debate on the amendment, gun safety groups pleaded to keep the information public so that crime perpetrators with CCP's could be determined. Others opponents felt that licenses granted by the government should not be confidential.
However, several of my Republican colleagues were adamant that this information should remain private and that no one had the right to know except for the government and the CCP holders. They say it makes gun owners robbery targets (for people wanting to steal guns). You can watch the floor debate here
(around the 1:20 mark). The Minority Leader raised a germaneness argument since the amendment radically altered the scope of the bill - the Speaker overruled that because the amendment was made by the committee that has jurisdiction over the subject matter of the bill.
As of July 1, 2013 and unless there is a change in law, CCP information will be sealed.
Today, I was astonished to learn from Ryan Nobles over at Richmond's Channel 12 that the this data is being requested pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act from all courthouses in Virginia by the Republican Party of Virginia
This thing was like a Trojan Horse inside a Trojan Horse. I'm speechless.
Hispanic Housing Discrimination Alive and Well in Northern Virginia
The Equal Rights Center
has just come out with a disturbing report
entitled Precaucion: Obstacles for Latinos in the Virginia Rental Housing Market,
that should concern everyone.
After conducting study with live prospective renters, they found that landlords routinely discriminate against Hispanics prospective renters in Northern Virginia. Given that 24% of the population of the 44th District is Hispanic, this is an issue that should be of special concern to anyone living in our area.
Here's how it worked:
- The study conducted 106 matched pair (one Hispanic and one white going to the same property) tests in areas where Hispanic populations lived in close proximity to predominantly white populations.
- The tested landlords required at least 25 units.
- The Hispanic pairs gave had the same personal and financial profiles.
- The Hispanic pair went first to ensure they'd receive more favorable information (e.g. before a unit was rented)
- They both visited the same day and frequently saw the saw property agent
- Everyone was lawfully present in the United States
- They conducted the study in the City of Fairfax, Henrico & Richmond, Loudoun, Prince William, Manassas, Roanoke County, and the Northern Shenandoah Valley (Augusta, Culpepper, Frederick, Rockingham), and Virginia Beach.
In 58 of 106 tests, the Hispanic pair was discriminated against. Here were the specific findings:
- 6% - Were quoted higher rents/fees
- 14% - White applicants were informed of incentives and special offers that were not offered to Hispanics. This occurred in 23% of Prince William County tests and 17% in Loudoun
- 16% - Hispanics were offered later availability dates for apartments than white applicants
- 22% - Hispanics were informed of fewer available apartments
- 6% - Did not require credit checks of Whites versus Hispanics
- 19% - Imposed additional requirements on Hispanic renters such as security deposits, proof of social security number, notarization, information about prior civil suits, criminal background checks, verification of prior rental history
They also broke this down by region.
The report made several recommendations including:
- State & Local legislators need to pass legislation that complies with U.S. Fair Housing Laws.
- Housing providers need to better train their staff.
- Housing providers need to develop written materials that detail their rental fees, costs, and application requirements.
- Tenants and prospective tenants need to be better informed of their fair housing rights and be prepared to enforce them.
Housing is a fundamental human need. Finding somewhere to live should not be a challenge because of the color of your skin. Landlords that discriminate against anyone due to their race should be held accountable.
Discriminatory behavior also seems to be more
pervasive in Northern Virginia than the rest of the Commonwealth. In the City of Fairfax, discriminatory behavior ranged from 20-60% of the interviews. In Prince William, it occurred 9-32% of the interviews. Loudoun was 12-17%. In the study, a Hispanic was less likely to be discriminated against in the Shenandoah Valley
This is absolutely unacceptable. I am going to think about solutions to this problem as well. If anyone has any ideas, please post them up or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Changing Virginia's Disclosure Laws
There's been a lot in the news lately about gifts and politicians in Virginia. Apparently, the catering at the Governor's daughter's wedding was paid for by one of his political donors embroiled in a tax dispute with the state
. The Governor didn't disclose it by claiming that it was a gift to his daughter - not him.
Ken Cuccinelli failed to reports a few gifts from the same donor
. Some of the Governor's cabinet members forgot to disclose gifts
. Several legislators also claim that they forgot to disclose gifts
. Apparently, the disclosure system only works effectively when the Federal Bureau of Investigation is in town.
I've had a few constituents email me with questions about where I stand. Here are some thoughts.What's The Law?
In Virginia, we have no limit on the amount of gifts that can be accepted. The trade off for that is that we all gifts made to legislators must be reported
if they are more than $50 unless their are from a close friend or relative. You can see what gifts I have reported here on VPAP
. If the voters don't like the gifts a member accepts, then they can express their judgment accordingly.
The rationale for these laws is pretty clear. As the Lynchburg News Advance recently wrote
In terms of full disclosure of all trips and gifts valued at $50 or more . . . . neglecting to report trip points to the importance of the legislation that requires lawmakers to make public their relationships with special interests seeking to influence the formation of public policy. The 140 men and women who serve in the General Assembly are powerful individuals, and such relationships should be disclosed and fully transparent in the spirit of good governance.
If you are curious about the form we have to file, you can see it here
.Gifts I've Received
I thought it might be helpful to have an understanding of some of the gifts I've received. Last year, I accepted two tickets to a Redskins game (I have season tickets of my own) in their box and Dominion flew about a dozen legislators to Wise, Virginia for a tour of their new Hybrid Energy Center. We also viewed Clinch Valley College while we were there. I posted the pictures on Facebook here
. Driving would take about sixteen hours so by flying we were able to do it all in one day.
I accepted tickets to Kings Dominion and Bush Gardens' Christmas Village. I reported a dinner hosted by INOVA Hospital with many of their executives and the entire Northern Virginia Legislative Delegation. This dinner happens every year. I also attended a dinner with the Virginia Technology Council - it was a pretty typical awards dinner but for some reason they value it as being a $388 gift so I put that down.
I spoke at a Virginia Trial Lawyers continuing legal education class and they claimed a gift of $195 to me because they waived my attendance fees. I didn't stick around before or after my segment because I had work to do, but I guess I could have at no charge.
In 2011, the Taiwanese government funded a seven-day trip to Taiwan with myself, Delegate Joe Morrissey, eight other legislators from Maryland, West Virginia and Delaware, and about a dozen congressional staffers. We met with several cabinet officials, business development groups, The American Institute (Embassy), toured a park and an industrial park, a factory that made screens for tablets, a solar panel company with a factory in Delaware, rode on a high speed train, toured a nursery and the National Museum, and ate a lot of chinese food that was very different from "American" Chinese food. I posted the pictures of my trip here
back in 2011. I also reported a couple other dinners, some more VTLA fees, and INOVA gave me some tickets to the Mystics game (I took my three daughters).
In 2010, the only gifts I reported were for a dinner with the Washington Metropolitan Airport Authority.
For whatever it's worth, my wife did not go to Taiwan or to any dinners. She did go with the kids and I to Busch Gardens and Kings Dominion, and she went to the Redskins game. Life with four kids doesn't permit my wife and I go do dozens of dinners or trips together.
I've also turned down some gifts. For example, Virginia Uranium flew over a dozen legislators to France for a tour of a decommissioned uranium mine in a climate similar to Virginia. We are offered circus tickets every year. There's probably some others I can't think of right now.
From my point of view, we need to clarify the family member issue, possible consider limits, providing better sunshine all around, and taking these issues out of the hands of the legislature. Reform Family Member Gifts
I have always felt that gifts to family members are disclosable and I have disclosed them. For example, I disclosed the gifts that benefited my wife (Dominion, Busch Gardens & Kings Dominion), my children (Busch Gardens & Kings Dominion), she went with me to one dinner (Virginia League of Conservation Voters). There is no question, this needs to be clarified. If Governor's interpretation is being applied by other officials, it would create an exception that one could drive a truck through. Gift LimitsTerry McAuliffe has endorsed a gift limit
. When you look at the quantum of gifts accepted that have been disclosed by the Governor compared to legislators, the statewide office holders receive much larger gifts - the Governor has four listed each valued at $25,000 or more. You don't see many legislators receiving a gift valued over $10,000. A limit of $10,000 per donor to statewide officeholders and $10,000 per legislator might be worth exploring. Sunlight on Other Financial Matters
Disclosure of other matters financial interests should be addressed as well. For example, in 2011, I introduced legislation that would require legislators to disclose whether they have claimed any state tax credits
. If we can directly benefit by a targeted tax credit, the voters ought to know. We have to list our contributions and campaign expenditures, sources of income for ourselves and our spouse, businesses sectors with whom we earn income, representations before the state, our debts and our investments. If a piece of legislation puts another $5,000 of tax revenue back in our pocket, voters ought to know.State Ethics Commission
If we really wanted to get serious, we should create a commission with jurisdiction over setting rules for conflicts of interest, economic disclosures, redistricting, legislator salaries and benefits, staff salaries and benefits, investigations, and referrals for prosecution. Even taxpayers live under constant threat of an audit for voluntarily reported taxes - random audits would also help with accuracy in legislator's campaign disclosures.
There's lots of room for improvement.
The Destruction of Liberty by Government-Owned Rec Centers
As Memorial Day approaches and our local pools open up for the weekend, we thought it was important to highlight Ken Cuccinelli's views on public recreation centers.
I wrote about this and about the history of the Mt. Vernon Recreation Center last week here:
Today, I appeared at the free
Fairfax County pool at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park in Gum Springs to highlight another "liberty-destroying" facility in our community with Democratic Chairwoman Charnielle Herring and Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay. Our conference is below.
Happy Memorial Day!
How Much New Transportation Money Is Actually Coming?
Now that a transportation funding bill has passed, constituents have been asking me about funding new road improvements. However, there's really not as much money as people think. In Virginia, all roads are state roads. Roads are divided into interstates, primary roads and secondary roads. Primary roads are under 600 - U.S. 1, Mt. Vernon Highway, Telegraph Road. Secondary roads are numbered 600 and higher - like Fort Hunt Road, Sherwood Hall Lane, residential streets, etc.Secondary road money comes from the state but is prioritized by the Counties. For the last two years, Fairfax County has effectively received $0 from the state to make any improvements for secondary roads. This has halted all widenings, speed bumps, sidewalk construction, turn lanes, new stop lights - everything.The transportation legislation passed last session added new money into the transportation system for the first time in 27 years. Much of the new money is going to plug the maintenance shortfall - paving, bridgework, etc. Plus, $300 million goes to the Silver Line off the top. One reason I voted against the bill was because I said it was not enough money to solve the needs in the 44th District or the entire state. In reality, it's only about 20% of the total projected statewide shortfall over the next 20 years.Last week, a constituent asked me to follow up on some turn lanes on Fort Hunt Road at Paul Spring Parkway. I asked VDOT for an estimate of Fairfax County's estimated secondary road allocation after passage of the new legislation to get an idea of available money. Here is their estimate:
VDOT Estimate of Fairfax County Secondary Road Allocation
FY14 $ 4,568These numbers are not in thousands - that means $4,568 for all of Fairfax County in FY14. Fourteen million dollars over six years is peanuts - it's equal to $1.6 million per Fairfax County supervisor or about $266,000 per Supervisor per year, and yes it's $507 per Fairfax County Supervisor in FY14. I'm sure each Supervisor is figuring out right now how to spend their $507 a year from now....In all fairness, the legislation also contained a special 0.7% Northern Virginia sales tax, a 3% hotel tax, and a tax when you sell your house (about $1,250 for a $500,000 house). Those monies will go to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) which is starting to prioritize projects. You can see their project list here. Most of these are major projects. Some U.S. 1 improvements are on the list (new intersection at Fort Hunt Road and eight lanes from VA235 to I-495) (See Page 9). However, Blue and Orange Line extensions are on the list - a Yellow Line extension is not. Widening U.S. 1 between Woodlawn and Buckman Road is not on the list. None of these NVTA monies will be programmed for smaller fixes like minor intersection improvements. While I plan to fight as hard as I can for our share, but much of this new money is already largely spoken for and much of it is not heading to this part of the County unless something changes. I will continue to fight to change that, but anyone who knows the history of this area knows it is going to be a tough fight.
FY15 $ 37,323
FY16 $ 56,242
Poverty in NOVA: Redefining Poverty in Virginia
The Weldon-Cooper's Stat Chat blog
continues to be one of my favorites because they are constantly changing the way we look at numbers. Their latest project - redefining Virginia poverty
First, their new report points out that poverty is not something can be defined uniformly across all areas due to different variables - different costs of housing, transportation, healthcare, good, etc. Existing poverty measures are built on consumption models from the 1960's. People spend their money differently today. For example, one big expense variable in Northern Virginia is be childcare - numerous studies have shown that the D.C. Metropolitan Area has the highest childcare costs in the United States.
Therefore, they have defined poverty into something called the "Virginia Poverty Index" or "VPI."
Once you look at the VPI an interesting trend emerges in Northern Virginia. The area inside the Beltway has just as much or more poverty than the Shenandoah Valley, Piedmont, Richmond, Northern Neck, Eastern Shore, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. Only Western Hampton Roads, Southside and Southwest have a statistically significant higher poverty index
than the "inside the Beltway" area. I suspect that if they had drilled down harder, the 44th District would have fit better into the "Inside the Beltway" section than the "Fairfax" section.
The important take away is that most people do not think of Northern Virginia as having anything close to those levels of poverty due to the amount of wealth in Northern Virginia relative to the rest of the Commonwealth, but it does. One fundamental conclusion from the study:
Although Northern Virginia counties and cities enjoy some of the highest median incomes in the nation, the VPM shows that the extent of economic deprivation in the region is significantly greater than what official poverty statistics suggest. For example, by capturing the impact of the region’s high cost of housing, the VPM finds many more Northern Virginia residents in or near poverty, particularly those living inside the Beltway.
Other fundamental conclusions:
- Fewer Virginian children are in poverty.
- More Virginians are in "near poverty," fewer are in "deep poverty"
- Traditional Virginia poverty statistics tends to under report Hispanic poverty,
One thing that has always bothered me in all the data I get about Virginia is that Fairfax County is all lumped together as one big mass of 1.1 million people or all in with Northern Virginia while counties as small as 40,000 are their own dataset.
Fairfax County is larger than eight states - we deserve better information. This takes one step towards that goal, but going forward, I hope they will consider breaking Fairfax County down into further groups so we can see our region's details.
Once you start to shine a light on these issues, it is easier to generate action. Hopefully, this study will help to begin to debunk the idea that Northern Virginia is wealthy. While there is an extraordinary amount of wealth in our community, there is a lot of need to counter it.
Monday Public Meetings on Digital Divide at West Potomac
The economic inequality that currently exists between groups in terms of access to, use of and knowledge of information and communication technology is often referred to as The Digital Divide
Last year, I was disturbed to learn that Fairfax County Public Schools had chosen to roll out "electronic textbooks" without ensuring that every child had the ability to use them. I first discovered they were being used when my children were at home using them.
"Electronic textbooks" are a new tool in education. They are also actually more than just books. They are actually online learning system that have homework problems with real time corrections. They have extra help videos and extra homework problems.
The only problem is that in order to use them you must have both a computer and a broadband connection. From knocking doors on U.S. 1, I am very aware that many of the 44th District's residents do not have a computer or enough computers and broadband connections due to income restraints. I strongly believe that no public school should use a tool that is not equally available to all children in the system, and that family income should not be a barrier to any child's learning potential.
While researching this process, I discovered that both Henrico County Public Schools and Albemarle County Public Schools provide computers to every child in their system from 7th grade and up. Also, Cox Communications has just launched a program called "Internet Essentials" that provides $10/mo. broadband and $150 refurbished laptops to families that qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. However, few people know it exists yet. More information is here:
Therefore, I introduced legislation
prohibiting any school system from using an "electronic textbook" program unless they can show every child in their system has a computer in their home and a broadband connection.
My legislation was referred to the Virginia Broadband Advisory Council
and the Joint Commission on Technology and Science
where it is currently being studied.
However, Fairfax County has begun public hearings to take information as to how they can best close The Digital Divide in Fairfax County. The first meeting in Mt. Vernon:
FCPS Digital Learning Public Hearing
Monday, May 20, 2013
West Potomac High School
7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
If you cannot attend, you can provide input here:
Will a Virginia Expungement Continue to Have Value?
In Virginia, a person is generally entitled to an expungement, if they are found not guilty or their charge is dropped without any finding of guilt. Here's what Virginia Law currently says
The General Assembly finds that arrest records can be a hindrance to an innocent citizen's ability to obtain employment, an education and to obtain credit. It further finds that the police and court records of those of its citizens who have been absolutely pardoned for crimes for which they have been unjustly convicted can also be a hindrance. This chapter is intended to protect such persons from the unwarranted damage which may occur as a result of being arrested and convicted.
Once expunged, a person does not have to disclose the charge on an employment application. It is also a crime to ask someone about an expunged charge in the employment process (excluding federal security background checks).
Notwithstanding Virginia Law, some companies have continued to make information regarding expunged charges available - completely destroying the purpose of Virginia's system - and continuing to subject people to the consequences of having an unfounded charge appear on their record. It's not fair at all and sidesteps Virginia Law.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act currently provides some rights to consumers, but it doesn't cover everyone. Last session, I introduced very simple legislation
to close a hole against people who were selling inaccurate information to the credit bureaus.
§ 8.01-40.3. Unauthorized sale, publication, etc., of criminal history record information
Any person who sells, offers for sale, publicizes, or offers for publication the criminal history record information of another person pertaining to that other person's charge or arrest for a criminal offense more than 120 days after the State Police has confirmed to the person charged or arrested that such information has been expunged pursuant to Title 16.1 or Title 19.2 when he knows or has reason to know that the information has been expunged shall be liable to the other person for actual damages or $500, whichever is greater, in addition to reasonable attorney fees and costs.
It would give Virginians a cause of action against any person who sells access to information that has been expunged from the public record. My legislation was killed after the companies that sell this information said making the information they sell to the public would be too burdensome.
This 60 Minutes piece below that ran a few months ago, gives some insight as to what's going on in the industry. The tolerance within the industry for putting out bad information is astounding.
Mt. Vernon Snakeheads In the News!
One of the great things about living in the 44th District is living right next to the Potomac River. The 44th District was the home of "The Snakehead Invasion" in Virginia when they were first discovered in Little Hunting Creek and Dogue Creek.
Since then, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) has been conducting studies in our creeks to learn more about these fish and how they might impact our ecosystem. Based on what I've seen, they don't seem to live around shopping carts, bottles or cans.... Any any event, I've written about this previously below:
The big question for Virginia is whether we legitimize them - take them off the invasive species list - so they can be bought and sold, served in restaurants, competitions held and citations issued? Once that happens, you will see them in every river in Virginia. They are great sporting fish and I'm told they taste pretty good.
Today's Washington Post has a great video (much better than the ones I did) featuring DGIF Biologist John Odenkirk and his studies. John has become one of the preminent snakehead experts in the United States.
You can see the videos I put together on the flip including my trip with Delegate David Bulova with John Odenkirk.