Weekly Column: Predatory Lending Continues Its March Through Virginia and U.S. 1
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette and The Mt. Vernon Voice in the week of June 23, 2015. Predatory Lending Continues Its March Through Virginia and U.S. 1 The Virginia’s State Corporation Commission latest annual report says that predatory car title lending is thriving in Virginia . With nearly three dozen car title lenders between Alexandria and Quantico on U.S. 1, this is troubling news, except to the lenders out to make big profits. You can read the full report on my online newsletter –The Dixie Pig – at scottsurovell.blogspot.com.
Car title lending began in our state in 2010 after Virginia limited interest rates on payday loans and predatory lenders argued that a new option was needed. Virginia law authorizes lenders to lend money at rates up to 30% per month which equates to around a 297% annual percentage rate (APR). A consumer can borrow up to 50% of their vehicle’s equity and the loan term is limited.
First, the good news from the report. The total amount lent declined from $206 million to around $162 million and the total number of loans dropped from 177,775 to 155,128. This reduction could have resulted from several factors such as more cautious lenders, more informed consumers and an improved economy.
However, the largest lender in Virginia, Title Max,co-located a second business in their car title loan stores and licensed them as relatively lightly regulated "consumer finance companies." Title Max has been promoting these alternate loans, which have higher interest rates, longer terms and marginally smaller monthly payments. I introduced legislation to ban evasion of consumer protections by co-location illegal, but it was killed in committee.
Given the SCC’s reporting methods, it is impossible to determine whether predatory lending is really up or down.
But there is clearly bad news. The interest rates charged on these 177,775 loans ranged from 84% to 268% and the average APR was 222%. Those are not typos.
The number of Virginians who failed to make a monthly payment rose from 33,387 to 38,286. That’s about 400 people per state delegate or nearly 1,000 people per state senator. This means in Fairfax County’s U.S. 1 Corridor, there were probably about 1,000 people in default and probably another 1,000 to 1,500 in eastern Prince William and Stafford Counties.
Out of those 38,286 defaults, 19,368 cars were repossessed and 14,949 were sold at public auction. Court judgments rendered totaled $150,593; the bulk of amounts owed were covered by repossession sales or debt collection tactics.
If you convert those defaults to raw dollars (multiply the number of defaults against the average loan) it equates to about $40 million of defaulted loans or about 25% of the total loans made. For comparison, Experian reports that loans to finance car purchases (not car title loans) have a default rate of 0.62%. Predatory car title loans default forty times more often than traditional vehicle purchase loans.
The small amount of judgments against the lenders also tells me is that this is a very profitable business. If a title loan shop sells only one $1,000 loan per week and has $52,000 under management at the state-sanctioned 30% per month interest rate then the business is projected to earn $187,200 per year before expenses. Given that loans cannot exceed 50% of the vehicle value, there is little risk to lenders if a consumer defaults, thus the tiny amount of reported judgments. These profits are being made off people who are typically in extreme credit distress before they ever borrow the money.
All of these statistics underscore the need for Virginia to step up and short of an absolute repeal of the law that allows these practices, to take action.
The state legislature should pass(1) my legislation to prohibit title lenders from co-locating consumer finance companies in title loan shops and (2) legislation to reduce maximum interest rates from a 297% APR.
Also, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is actively considering my suggestion to prohibit new car title lenders from locating in revitalization districts. Chesterfield County enacted this two years ago. Prince William and Stafford Counties needs to take action as well.
However, more is needed. Localities should also be able to prohibit these businesses from locating near clusters of their favorite targets – active duty military and low-income residents.
With these steps, we can begin to limit the financial destruction and heartbreak that this industry is causing in Virginia.
It is an honor to serve as your state delegate. If you have any feedback, please contact me at email@example.com.
California Ordered to Repay $331 Million - Is Virginia Next?
Today, $350 million worth of chickens came home to roost in California. Virginia might be next and here's why.
In the aftermath of the 2008 mortgage-driven financial crash, federal, state and local government budgets were walloped. One of the jurisdictions hardest hit with foreclosures was Prince William County. Property values plunged. Vacant houses were everywhere as people dumped houses that they could never afford with adjustable rate mortgages coming due for readjustment purchased with "no doc" loans.
In 2011, Attorneys General across the United States reached a $25 billion settlement with five major banks regarding illegal and abusive mortgage lending practices. Virginia's share of the settlement was over $66 million and was directed to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to disburse. As part of a floor debate, I made the card on the right.
Here's what the court's order said Virginia could do with the money:
Each State Attorney General shall designate the uses of the funds set forth in the attached Exhibit B-1.
To the extent practicable,such funds shall be used for purposes intended to avoid preventable foreclosures, to ameliorate the effects of the foreclosure crisis, to enhance law enforcement efforts to prevent and prosecute financial fraud, or unfair or deceptive acts or practices and to compensate the States for costs resulting from the alleged unlawful conduct of the Defendants.
Such permissible purposes for allocation of the funds include, but are not limited to, supplementing the amounts paid to state homeowners under the Borrower Payment Fund, funding for housing counselors, state and local foreclosure assistance hotlines, state and local foreclosure mediation programs, legal assistance, housing remediation and anti-blight projects, funding for training and staffing of financial fraud or consumer protection enforcement efforts, and civil penalties.
Accordingly, each Attorney General has set forth general instructions for the funds in the attached Exhibit B-2.
What did Virginia do in the 2012 Session? The Attorney General left it to the legislature, and it was scheduled to be dumped into the General Fund.
After I gave the speech to the right, the Budget Conferees agreed to put about 10% of Virginia's proceeds or $7 million of these funds into the Virginia Housing Trust Fund. The balance, $59 million, went into the General Fund.
I wrote about it here:
Other states did the same thing - simply used the "found" money to plug gaping revenue holes left from the recession instead of helping victims of the largest bank-generated financial crisis since the Great Depression.
One was California has the largest share and put theirs into their General Fund - just like Virginia. Today, a judge ordered the State of California to return $350 million to California's housing assistance fund.
he General Assembly with the Governor's acquiescence willfully violated the court order. I would not be surprised if another judge orders Virginia to pay their money back as well.
My Endorsement for Mount Vernon Supervisor
With the retirement of Supervisor Gerry Hyland, Mt. Vernon is losing passionate fighter with decades of experience. Our next Supervisor must be an experienced leader that will fight for our community's fair share of resources and who has a track record and results.
Mount Vernon has four good candidates who are running. Each have their accomplishments and positive attributes.
However, Dan Storck is the only choice for Mount Vernon and I am proud to endorse his campaign for Supervisor for the TUESDAY, JUNE 9 DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY.
Dan has lived in the Stratford Landing neighborhood of Mount Vernon for over 25 years with his wife Deb and their three children. He previously served as President of the West Potomac High School PTSA and President of Good Shepherd Housing's Board. Dan was first elected as the Mount Vernon Representative to the Fairfax County School Board in 2004.
Unlike the other candidates, Dan can also point to specific concrete results that he has achieved for the Mount Vernon District.
Dan understands the challenges facing Mount Vernon's schools because he has been forced to deal with the underfunding of our schools for the last twelve years and understands why Supervisor Gerry Hyland has been fighting to raise funds for our schools for years. Like Supervisor Gerry Hyland, fully-funding Fairfax County Public Schools will be a priority for Dan.Dan also understands that the strength of our schools is directly tied to the quality of housing and transit on the Route 1 Corridor and has made clear to me that he will work to revitalize Route 1 and extend the Yellow Line as soon as possible. He has also made clear that he finds the explosion of predatory lending on U.S. 1 intolerable and that he will fight to get them under control. In order to fight for these priorities, he needs your support. Please join me in voting for Dan Storck on Tuesday, June 9 and click below to get involved with his campaign this week.
- Opened three brand new schools (South County H.S., South County M.S. and Laurel Hill E.S.) in Mount Vernon in order to tackle overcrowding issues
- Worked to fund construction for two entirely new elementary schools on the Route 1 Corridor in the next few years (at Fort Belvoir E.S. #2 and Pinewood Lake-Area E.S.)
- Renovated or expanded ten existing Mt. Vernon schools with an additional Mt. Vernon seven schools in planning or currently under renovation
- Personally re-worked the financing of the South County Middle School development and saved taxpayers $35 Million in financing
- Fought for full-day kindergarten for all Fairfax County Schools
- Created the Smart Services, Smart Savings initiative that has saved taxpayers $1 million by increasing efficiency and cutting unnecessary costs
- Secured a needs-based staffing formula which secured a lower relative student-teacher ratio for most Mt. Vernon area schools
- Fought to create the Priority School Initiative which supplements staffing at the neediest schools
- Prioritized teachers' salaries in the budget
Weekly Column: VDOT Still has a Huge Amount of Catch Up
The following appeared in the Stafford and Potomac Local on May 25, 2015.
VDOT Still has a Huge Amount of Catch Up
As the weather warms and summer nears, we are approaching the road mowing and paving season in Northern Virginia. Several paving projects are coming to eastern Prince William County and northern Stafford County in the 36th District.
|Click to Enlarge|
VDOT plans to pave I-95 from Neabsco Creek to Smoketown Road, all of VA-123 and Old Bridge Road from VA-123 to Minnieville. Cardinal Drive will get a new surface from U.S. 1 to Minnieville as well. Southbridge will see new blacktop in on Wayside Lane, Pine Ridge Boulevard and several surrounding streets. VDOT will pave the entire length of Joplin Road from U.S. 1 to Bristow Road and all the streets of the entire town of Quantico. Main Street (U.S. 1) between Curtis Drive and Quantico Gateway Drive through Dumfries is also scheduled to be repaved.
Many of Stafford County's secondary roads are in better condition than streets in other areas since many are newer. In northeastern Stafford County, VDOT will resurface half a dozen streets around Dorothy Lane and Anita Drive in Garrisonville with all of Stefaniga Road.
Legislature Addressed Road Neglect
Over 70% of Northern Virginia's secondary roads, roads numbered over 600, have been rated as having substandard pavement quality and despite my efforts, the state legislature has not met the challenge. From 1987 to 2013, the Virginia General Assembly refused to raise Virginia’s $0.17/gallon gas tax to even keep up with inflation. As salaries, the cost of materials and infrastructure needs all increased, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) had to prioritize funds for other critical maintenance needs. As a result, VDOT limited grass mowing, prioritized primary and interstate highway maintenance and curtailed secondary road paving. Deficient road pavement has been a consistent, frequent complaint since I have been in office these last six years.
In 2013, the legislature replaced the retail fixed gas tax with a wholesale percentage gas tax plus an overall sales tax supplement, steps which restored some roads and maintenance funding . We also passed a series of local taxes to fund transportation construction, but these taxes do not apply to Stafford County which is in the Fredericksburg Transportation District. Last year, VDOT started a major phase of paving in our communities as the direct result of this infusion of funds.
VDOT tries to bid out paving projects based on need and geographic location. Contractors may provide competitive bids when projects are conducted all within compact areas. This is why VDOT usually does not repave random streets miles apart (there are some exceptions). Also, typically, not but always, roads in entire neighborhoods tend to deteriorate at the same rate.
I am pleased that VDOT is finally taking steps to properly maintain our roadways, but VDOT still has a huge amount of catchup ahead. Nearly every secondary road in Woodbridge still has substandard pavement quality and after this summer, and over 50 percent of Virginia's 36th Senate District’s roads will still need repaving. You can find a map of the 36th Senate District at https://scottsurovell.net/district-36. If you review the entire Northern Virginia map at www.virginiaroads.org, you can see that we are very lucky to be getting attention this summer given the massive backlog. I am working to make our area a continuing priority after this year.
Our experience over the last two decades is a basic lesson in the consequences of starving basic government services. If we do not keep our revenues commensurate with our needs, from schools to health clinics to roads, infrastructure and quality of life will suffer. In 2013, with bipartisan support, the state legislature addressed the transportation revenue shortfall and you are now seeing the results. These steps can likely save your family an alignment or a tire or two.
If you have any questions or complaints, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is an honor to a state delegate and I look forward to earning your vote as your State Senator.
2015 Amundson Institute Presents Policy Projects
This past year, I held my 5th consecutive Amundson Institute. This engaging program was orginially
founded by my predecessor, the Honorable Kris Amundson. This program allows for the 44th District high school juniors and seniors that qualify for the program to join me during the Virginia Legislative Session. During this time, the students experience the Virginia state government first hand, while learning the intricate legislative process.
I was fortunate enough to have 6 very qualified students from Mount Vernon and West Potomac High School join me in Richmond this year and see what the politicians they read about do. From West Potomac High School, we had Kelly O'Meara, Margret O'Meara, Jayne Orleans and Emma Kelly. From Mount Vernon High School, we had Catherine Ming and Taamson Joshua. These 6 students were chosen because they demonstrated a passion for their school work, community and leadership.
While the primary component of the institute is the trip to Richmond, I also require that each individual student pick an issue to present that they are both passionate about and pertains to the 44th District. In the former years, I have drafted bills based on these projects.
This year, the students addressed a variety of subjects:
***To see a specific student's presentation, please click on their name and you will be redirected to their project***
- Ms. Emma Kelly, a junior at West Potomac High School, presented on the need for free screenings for 504 Plans for standardized testing. A 504 Plan is used to ensure that students with mental or phyiscal handicaps receive the help and assistance they need in order to succeed in school. Currently, children who are physically and mentally disabled that need a 504 Plan evaluation, but cannot afford it are suffering during standardized tests due to lack if assistance. Ms. Kelly proposes a bill that would allow these economically disadvantaged households easier access by requiring schools to have therapists in place that are able to diagnose and implement a plan to help these students succeed.
- Ms. Jayne Orleans, a senior at West Potomac High School, proposed implementing riparian buffers to protect the Potomac River from nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. In large quantities, these pollutants create Dead Zones, areas of water with excessive nutrient pollution, that causes aquatic life to either leave the area or die. Ms. Orleans proposes that by utilizing riparian buffers, we would be able to help protect our local water and environment from excessive runoff.
- Mr. Kelly O'Meara, a senior at West Potomac High School, proposed mandating school programs that would teach both parents and students how to effectively manage teen stress. Mr. O'Meara came up with this proposal due to the recent increase in teen suicide because of academic and social pressures. He proposes that by encouraging more mandated and open communication between students and their families, we might be able to help parents and children learn how to balance school work, while encouraging stress-reliving personal time.
- Ms. Catherine Ming, a senior at Mount Vernon High School, presented a project that would implement a container deposit law that would encourage recycling by refunding those who return recyclable bottles. This bill would require a refundable deposit on containers that are turned into mandated locations. This practice would encourage responsibility and reduce waste.
- Ms. Margaret O'Meara, a senior at West Potomac High School, presented the need for crosswalks along US 1 to ensure pedestrian safety. With the increase in traffic on US 1, there is an increase in the need for protective travel measures. Ms. O'Meara proposed installing more cross walks and traffic lights to help ensure pedestrian welfare.
From environmental issues to disability service accessibility, the Amundson Institute students provided well-researched and thought out projects. It was my pleasure to show such a distinguished group of young leaders an inside look of their state government.
Weekly Column: Major Paving Operations Set to Start this Summer in 44th District
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette and The Mt. Vernon Voice in the week of May 9, 2015.
Major Paving Operations Set to Start this Summer in 44thDistrict
As the weather warms and we approach the summer, it also means that we are approaching the road mowing and paving season in Northern Virginia, and good news is coming for the 44th District.
From 1987 to 2013, the General Assembly refused to raise Virginia’s $0.17/gallon gas tax to even keep up with inflation. As salaries, the cost of materials, and infrastructure needs all increased, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) had to prioritize funds for other critical maintenance needs. As a result, grass mowing was massively limited, primary and interstate maintenance was prioritized and secondary road paving was limited. Over 70% of secondary roads in Northern Virginia were rated to have substandard pavement quality (secondary roads are roads numbered over 600).
Over the last six years I have been in office, I have consistently received complaints about pavement quality – especially on major secondary arteries like Fort Hunt Road and Sherwood Hall Lane.
As I began receiving annual paving reports from VDOT, I began to question why only a handful of roads, usually totaling less than one mile were being paved in the 44th District. The answer was always lack of funding, but I could not help but notice more activity in others parts of Northern Virginia so I began to be the squeaky wheel.
In 2013, the legislature raised a series of taxes to help fund our roads and maintenance funding was restored. Last year, we saw the first major batch of paving in our community as the direct result of this.
VDOT tries to bid out paving projects on need and geographic location. Contractors may provide on competitive bids when projects are conducted all within compact areas. This is why VDOT usually does not repave random streets miles apart (there are some exceptions). Also, typically – not but always – roads in entire neighborhoods deteriorate at the same rate.
This is why last year, the rest of Fort Hunt Road was paved along with Sherwood Hall Lane which was also restriped for bike lanes, and paving was completed nearby neighborhoods including major areas of Hollin Hills, Bucknell Heights, Bucknell Manor, Mason Hill, Hollindale, Hybla Valley Farms, along with a few roads in Wellington.
This year, much more is planned aided in part by a mild winter (less money spent on snow removal). The short version is that if you live in between U.S. 1, Fort Hunt Road, and Little Hunting Creek, plus the Belleview/New Alexandria area, your road is getting repaved if it did not happen in the last two years. VDOT also plans to pave all of Mount Vernon Memorial Highway from U.S. 1 down to the Mount Vernon Estate and then back out to Woodlawn.
We will also be getting new bike lanes after repaving on Fordson Road, Quander Road, Hinson Farm Road, Parkers Lane/Collingwood Road, and Beacon Hill Road/Belleview Boulevard.
Next year, VDOT plans to work on the areas on the east side of Fort Hunt Road and start moving into neighborhoods in 22309 and the west side of U.S. 1.
If you would like to see a more detailed map including your specific street you can go to my online newsletter, The Dixie Pig at scottsurovell.blogspot.com.
I am pleased that VDOT is finally taking steps to properly maintain our roadways, but VDOT still has a huge amount of catchup to play. Nearly every secondary road in the 44thDistrict has substandard pavement quality and after this summer, fifty percent (50%) of the 44th District’s roads will still be in need of repaving. You can look at the entire map in Northern Virginia at www.virginiaroads.organd see that we are very lucky to be getting the attention this summer that we are.
Our experience over the last two decades is a basic lesson in the consequences of starving basic government services. If we do not keep our revenues commensurate with our needs, infrastructure and quality of life will suffer. In 2013, taxes were raised and you are now seeing the results and that the results will consequently save your family a couple alignments or a tire or two.
If you have any questions or complaints, please contact me at email@example.com. It is an honor to serve as your delegate.
Screenshots of planned paving are below taken from VDOT's website (black hatching = planned paving and blue = roads paved last year) - click on each picture to enlarge
. Alternatively, you can go to www.virginiaroads.org
for an interactive map.
Surovell Receives Consumer Protection Award
**FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE** More Information: Megan Howard, 703.850.8618 SUROVELL RECEIVES CONSUMER PROTECTION AWARD Mt. Vernon, VA- Delegate Scott Surovell (D-44) was presented with the "Champions of Consumer Rights" Award by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA) over the weekend. The award recognizes his years of advocacy to protect consumers, push back against predatory lending and House Bill 2015 which seeks to provide exemptions related to child care support.
NACBA President Edward Boltz stated, “We are pleased to recognize Delegate Scott Surovell with the award in recognition of his tireless advocacy for consumers, including his work in combatting abuses by payday lenders and car title lenders, and particularly his successful effort, working with NACBA members in Virginia, to enact legislation to protect Virginians in bankruptcy from having their child support, spousal support, and earned income tax credits taken by bankruptcy trustees.”
The legislation, House Bill 2015, provides modifications to bankruptcy exemptions related to child care support and allows an individual filing bankruptcy or subject to judgment collections to exempt child and spousal support arrearages from actions to collect debts by creditors. It also allowed debtors to spread existing exemptions for individual vehicles or firearms among multiple assets instead of having to claim only one car of firearm as exempt.
The award also recognized Delegate Surovell’s work to restrict car title lenders in Virginia. Ten car title lender locations have opened on the U.S. 1 Corridor between the beltway and Fort Belvoir since 2011. These predatory lenders target low income families in severe financial distress and active duty military service members. They charge interest rates up to 30% per month and annual percentage rates of nearly 300% per year. The proliferation of these businesses acts as a hindrance to high quality development and targets the most vulnerable in the community.
Delegate Surovell's effort to combat predatory lending was also featured in the December 26, 2014 issue of the New York Times regarding the explosion of subprime consumer lending in the United States.
Delegate Surovell stated, “I am proud to have successfully passed legislation to protect families during bankruptcy proceedings. Child support is paid to support children, not creditors. The earned income tax credit is not a refund of taxes paid and is an effective anti-poverty program. It is not a creditor's lottery ticket. I will continue to push back against those who target consumers and cause a cycle of debt for low income families in Virginia. Thank you to the NACBA for their consumer advocacy and for recognizing me with the Champion of Consumer Rights Award.”
The award is given in recognition of and appreciation for extraordinary service in protecting American Consumers and, in particular, the recipient’s critical role in preserving the rights of consumer debtors in need of bankruptcy relief. This year's award recipients also included Rohit Chopra, Assistant Director and Student Loan Ombudsman, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD).
Congress Tries to Breach Metro Obligations Again
The House Appropriations Committee has once again threatened to pull money the Federal Government promised for Metro.
Back in 2005, then-Congressmen Tom Davis, Frank Wolf and Jim Moran, began the push to secure $150 million per year for ten years
from the federal government to fund infrastructure upgrades on Metro provided that such monies were matched dollar-for-dollar by Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. In 2009, it came close to passing
, and it was finally secured in the appropriations act for 2011 which was passed in 2010.
Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia began budgeting to make their contributions and has met their obligation since this deal was struck. Also, all three jurisdictions also changed the WMATA Compact to add another seat for the federal government in light of its contribution. Now - Metro is on track to receive a $3 billion infusion over a ten year period.
However, after the change in party control of Congress, the new majority immediately started talking about revoking this promise. In 2011, Congress attempted to remove this funding, but it was rebuffed by Congressman Connolly, Moran, Hoyer, Edwards, and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Horton
. I spoke on the floor of the House of Delegates about this attack. You can see my remarks on the right.
This week, House Appropriators have once again opening their budget negotiations by trying to cut these monies
One would think after multiple deadly accidents due to failing infrastructure, clearly documented infrastructure problems, and a system that is bursting at the seams due to heavy use, Congress would see the need to continue funding this program. Metro is a service, not just to our region, but to the entire country. Without Metro, Washington, D.C.'s ceremonial core, inaugurations, and other public events would not be nearly as feasible.
Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia have kept up their end of the bargain. It's time for Congress to stop playing politics with the Metro system and honor its promises.
NVTA, CTB ANNOUNCE NEW FUNDING FOR U.S. 1 IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS
**FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE**
April 24, 2015
NVTA, CTB ANNOUNCE NEW FUNDING FOR U.S. 1 IMPROVEMENT PROJECTSMt Vernon, VA—The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) and Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) announced two separate projects this week to improve the U.S. 1 Corridor in Northern Virginia.The CTB’s new Six Year Improvement Plan (SYIP) proposes $4 million allocated to fund the preliminary engineering and environmental impact analysis for Phase I and II recommended by recently completed the Route 1 Multimodal Study. This would include planning to lay the groundwork to implement median-dedicated bus rapid transit from Huntington to Fort Belvoir as an intermediate measure leading to a two-stop extension of the Yellow Line to Hybla Valley.
Local Leaders Applaud Acceleration of Funding for U.S. 1 Road Widening & Multimodal Transit Improvements
In addition to the CTB funding, NVTA voted to fund $1 million as part of the FY 15-16 Two Year Program to widen U.S. 1 between Napper Rd. (Costco) and Mt. Vernon Memorial Highway (Fort Belvoir) on top of $9 million provided from federal surface transportation funds. The NVTA Funding will provide for the initial design and environmental analysis of widening the three-mile segment, reserving space for the future bus rapid transit system contemplated by Phases I and II of the U.S. 1 Multimodal Transit Alternatives Analysis Study and constructing a sidewalk and multi-use path along the entire improvement.“I am very pleased to hear that widening Route 1 in Hybla Valley is moving forward,” Senator Toddy Puller stated, “I have fought for improvements to Route 1 for over 20 years, patroning my first piece of legislation for Route 1 back in 1994. These improvements will provide congestion relief and economic opportunity to our community."The NVTA had originally recommended not funding this project this cycle. However, after Fairfax County Board Chairman Sharon Bulova and Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay requested an NVTA hearing on U.S. 1, over 130 people attended the public hearing and voiced the desperate need for the U.S. 1 Road Widening.“Improving Route 1 is a high priority for Fairfax County,” Chairman Bulova stated. “This is exactly the type of project the General Assembly had in mind when it approved historic transportation funding legislation in 2013. The planned improvements for Route 1 is regionally significant, will reduce congestion, and will provide commuters and visitors with new travel options. These investments, along with federal funds already committed by the NVTA, will help attract new private investment to the corridor. As Fairfax County’s representative on NVTA, I am pleased to be able to advance this important transportation project.”In addition to the support expressed at the public hearing, Delegate Scott Surovell and 44th District House of Delegates Candidate Paul Krizek submitted five hundred petition signatures urging prioritization of the project in this year's two-year plan.Delegate Scott Surovell stated, “The community spoke loud and clear that it is time to start getting shovels in the ground on U.S. 1, making improvements to our core transportation infrastructure in this part of Fairfax County, and laying the groundwork for high quality transit as we move to extent the Yellow Line south to Hybla Valley. U.S. 1 has not been widened in my lifetime between Lorton and Alexandria and this project, coupled with the $180 million federally-funded widening currently underway through Fort Belvoir, will help alleviate congestion, facilitate the redevelopment of our community, and help us finally adjust to the massive job and population gains occurring at Fort Belvoir since the last round of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC). The funding of this project is a validation of strong community grassroots action and the hard work of our federal, state, and local officials to make U.S. 1 redevelopment a priority for Northern Virginia."House of Delegates Candidate Paul Krizek, a long-time Mount Vernon resident, went on to say, "This is very good news and just shows the power of the Mount Vernon-Lee community when it speaks with one strong voice. I am very proud of the almost 500 citizens that signed Del. Scott Surovell and my petition that we circulated, and the 130 citizens that came together at the NVTA hearing last month. Clearly our message was heard. I especially want to recognize our many community institutions and their leaders that testified in support of this important funding for Rt. 1, including from the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation, the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber, the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations and our Mount Vernon Transportation Commissioner, among many others."Lee District Supervisor Jeffrey McKay stated, “When we needed it most, you and your neighbors turned out in droves to support the widening of Route 1 and helped us secure some much-needed funding for the project. Together, we’ve secured a total of $10 million in investment from the NVTA for design, environmental work and possibly some land acquisition for this critical project. We’ve got great momentum going on Route 1 and this news certainly keeps it going.”Following the completion of the Ft. Belvoir $180 million road-widening project, this segment of the road would be the narrowest portion of the U.S. 1 Corridor in Fairfax County. This large bottleneck currently acts as a hindrance to economic development and a safety concern for emergency personnel.The project further implements the vision of the U.S. 1 Multimodal Study which recommended a widening of the road to six lanes in Fairfax County, Bus Rapid Transit from Huntington to Woodbridge and the extension of the Yellow Line to Hybla Valley in October 2014.Senator Adam Ebbin stated, “As a Senator representing Mt. Vernon, and as a member of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, I am proud to have voted to the overdue widening of Route 1. This will make a big difference in the long-term.”Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland added, “This is yet another significant step forward in the transformation of the Richmond Highway corridor. The community and elected officials from the Fairfax County Board and General Assembly worked together to achieve this vital investment in Mount Vernon’s future.”According to the NVTA, over 90% of the public comments they received on their two-year plan related to the U.S. 1 widening in Fairfax County as can be seen in the public comment summaries presented to the full NVTA Board. The NVTA Project Implementation Working Group Memorandum containing the public comment summaries can be found at: http://www.thenovaauthority.org/PDFs/Meetings/2015/4.23.15/VII%20%20Adoption%20of%20the%20FY2015-16%20Two%20Year%20Program.pdfBoth projects build on the momentum of the Route 1 Multimodal Study and implement the vision of a first-rate transit corridor. The U.S. 1 Multimodal Alternatives Analysis Study was passed by Senator Toddy Puller (D - Mt. Vernon) and Delegate Scott Surovell (D - Mt. Vernon) in 2012 and funded in 2013 with $2 million of state money. The Final Report for the U.S. 1 Multimodal Alternatives Analysis can be found at bit.ly/us1multimodalanalysisreport.
Weekly Column: Veto Session on Ethics, Voter ID, Government Surveillance
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette and The Mt. Vernon Voice in the week of April 5, 2015.
Veto Session on Ethics, Voter ID, Government Surveillance
Last week, we returned to Richmond for the annual Reconvened or Veto Session where we considered about 20 vetoes and 60 Governor's amendments to various bills.
First, Governor McAuliffe signed the state budget we passed so there were no budget amendments to consider for the first time in my six sessions. However, that did not speed things up.
Governor McAuliffe vetoed several bills relating to firearm violence prevention. These included bills that would enhance Virginians ability to purchase machine guns and carry loaded shotguns in vehicles. I voted to sustain these vetoes and they were ultimately sustained by the Senate.
Governor McAuliffe also vetoed legislation to require Virginians to provide a copy of a photo identification when submitting an absentee ballot application. I fought this bill on the floor and it was amended due to some of the issues I raised — e.g. unfairness to veterans deployed in combat — but it still unduly burdened people without access to copy machines. His veto was sustained on that legislation as well.
The Governor also vetoed the "Tim Tebow" bill — or legislation that would allow homeschooled children to participate in public school sports upon approval of a policy by the Virginia High School League. I voted to sustain the Governor's veto. I do not see public school education as an a la carte service. I could easily see this policy spreading to band, art, or science competitions. Plus, homeschooled children do not live by the same grading or conduct policies as public school students and such a policy could not be fairly implemented. The Governor's veto was sustained.
We also had a lengthy debate about government surveillance. We passed legislation to limit the government's ability to passively gather personal information on Virginians outside of active criminal investigations or without search warrants.
The most famous examples of this are license plate readers — devices which capture the dates, times and places license plates are seen. They have been used in Virginia to track people entering and leaving Washington, D.C., but they could also be used to track attendance at political rallies, gun shows, churches, community meetings, or other activities.
There are other examples. The Fairfax County Police purchased a device called a "Stingray." These devices are the size of a suitcase and mimmick cell phone towers. After tricking a cell phone into locking in to the device, law enforcement can determine the cell phone identifier or every person present at a location, in a building, or even in a room. They have been used without warrants in criminal investigations in other jurisdictions.
The Governor proposed to amend this legislation to limit it to only restrict license plate readers and to allow the police to keep data up to 60 days. I did not support either amendment because I felt that they violated Virginian's privacy and that personal information should only be gathered by the government pursuant to warrants issued based upon probable cause after having been reviewed by a judge or magistrate. The Governor's Amendment restricted the legislation to license plate readers passed. The 60-day limitation failed.
Finally, we also debated several Governor's amendments to ethics reform legislation. We previously passed legislation limiting gifts to $100. However, the legislation lifted the aggregate cap on gifts allowing an elected official to accept multiple sub-$100 gifts per year. Governor McAuliffe proposed to create a $100 per year cap, require annual random "inspections" of forms filed, and providing staffing resources for the new Ethics Advisory Commission.
The Governor's $100 annual cap passed — which I supported — after some procedural gymnastics necessary to cure some drafting errors. But most of his other amendments unfortunately failed. We will continue to debate this next year. The reforms passed this year do not go far enough.