Weekly Column: One Week Left!
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of March 3, 2014.
One Week Left for General Assembly
We have one more week before the General Assembly Session is scheduled to adjourn, and pressure is mounting to finish our work.
On Friday, live on WTOP, Governor McAuliffe signed legislation repealing the $64 per year Hybrid Tax and mandating refunds to everyone who paid. I am pleased that we will no longer be taxing virtuous conduct and that the wishes of 7,700 Virginians expressed in the petition I circulated with Senator Adam Ebbin were honored.
Closing the healthcare coverage gap or the Medicaid expansion continues to dominate the discussion in Richmond. Republicans in the State Senate have proposed a compromise plan which would use federal monies to fund a state insurance program to cover some, but not all of the individuals currently not insured. It is not as comprehensive as a full Medicaid expansion, but it is at least something.
Unfortunately, the House of Delegates has continued to refuse to negotiate on expanding Medicaid and continued to insist that we need to go slow. Families’ lack of health insurance is an urgent matter along with escalating health insurance premiums. Virginians are also paying a whole series of new taxes due to the Affordable Care Act that are being diverted around the United States but coming back to Virginia. I also do not think it is right to fund a $400 million new office building for ourselves while telling 400,000 Virginians we cannot afford to expand health coverage at virtually no cost to Virginia taxpayers.
Both sides are now threatening to refuse to pass a budget which means our session will either go into overtime or we will adjourn and immediately convene a special session to consider a budget.
We also continued work on ethics legislation last week. The House Republicans agreed to include my proposal to limit gifts to the Governor and Attorney General during litigation. However, they limited it to tangible gifts and still allowed intangible gifts so Johnnie Williams’ $1,500 turkey dinner for Ken Cuccinelli will still be allowed. Also, the Senate is pushing back on restrictions on the House’s version of ethics reform. I am concerned that the bill that ultimately emerges might not be strict enough.
We also passed legislation last week reducing the number of Standards of Learning (SOL) exams. SOL reform has been a bipartisan goal this year. That moves closer to reality.
Legislation attempting to make “revenge porn” a misdemeanor was approved this week. I voted against this legislation a number of reasons. First, nearly all “revenge porn” websites are outside Virginia and Commonwealth’s Attorneys rarely extradict accused person’s charged with misdemeanors. The legislation also could have unintended consequences, and the crime is extremely difficult to prove as a matter of evidence. The better course of action was a civil cause of action instead of involving our Commonwealth’s Attorneys in one more series of crimes that are very time-intensive and difficult to prove. I have written a fuller explanation on my online newsletter at scottsurovell.blogspot.com.
Some of my government efficiency legislation is closer to law. For five years, I have been pressing legislation allowing Fairfax County to charge a $5 per ticket fee to fund software and equipment that will allow police computers to communicate directly with court computers when writing tickets. This will keep police officers’ out of danger on highway shoulders. It will also improve ticket accuracy and free up eight Fairfax County Police employees who currently are required to hand-enter over 200,000 summonses per year to focus on actual law enforcement.
Finally, the Governor also signed my legislation clarifying the control of a real estate brokerage upon death of the owner. This will protect consumers from nasty collateral family disputes when selling or buying real estate. This bill was suggested to me by 44th
District resident and Estates Attorney Deborah Matthews.
There is still much to be done during this last week of session as we continue to reconcile competing bills. The budget is the biggest dispute, but ethics legislation, A-F schools grades, SOL reforms, and judge allocations remain outstanding.
If you have any feedback, always feel free to send email to me at email@example.com
. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your state delegate.
"Revenge Porn:" A Crime or a Civil Action?
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907 by Pablo Picasso
(One of Picasso's girlfriend's - Revenge Porn?)
Last month, we sent legislation to the Governor about "revenge porn." Much of the media has focused on legislatures making it a crime, but has not provided much analysis about this issue.
There's no question that ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends posting naked pictures of each other on the internet is stupid behavior. However, whether the Commonwealth of Virginia should invest taxpayer resources in putting people in jail and then housing them for a period of time for that behavior it is a much more complicated issue.
First, here's what the "revenge porn" statute says:
§ 18.2-386.2. Unlawful dissemination or sale of images of another; penalty.
A. Any person who, with the intent to coerce, harass, or intimidate, maliciously disseminates or sells any videographic or still image created by any means whatsoever that depicts another person who is totally nude, or in a state of undress so as to expose the genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or female breast, where such person knows or has reason to know that he is not licensed or authorized to disseminate or sell such videographic or still image is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor....
It is important to remember that the courts review criminal statutes that deprive liberty and major life consequences totally different than civil statutes. Criminal statutes must be very precise and carefully drawn. In the civil world, almost anything is game because the only thing at issue is money.
The first big problem with this statute is that revenge porn situations frequently involve websites in other states. There are several websites promoting this material who are the targets of this legislation. Just Google "revenge porn" to get an idea. This statute makes revenge porn a misdemeanor. In the seventeen years I've been licensed to practice law, I have never
seen a Commonwealth's Attorney jump through the legal hoops necessary to extradict an accused person for a misdemeanor.
Because state prosecutions are limited in jurisdiction and procedural tools, interstate
crimes are normally the responsibility of the federal government, not state government. A state-based misdemeanor charge for this kind of behavior is not practical - it won't work unless both parties and all of the conduct occurred within the Commonwealth.
Proving a case like this is challenging. Rules of evidence do not allow the government to simply put on evidence that something exists on a website somewhere in the world. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that a criminal defendant has a right to confront their accuser and subpoena witnesses in their defense. Websites are not automatically admitted into evidence and nor does the existence of a website prove beyond a reasonable doubt who either supplied or placed the picture.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and the Supreme Court of Virginia have often looked skeptically upon criminal statutes focused that criminalize speech intended to "coerce, harass or intimidate" because they run into First Amendment issues. Civil
causes of action regarding this kind of behavior receive less scrutiny, but criminal
statutes must be drafted with sufficient precision to put people on notice of what is illegal.
For example, someone posting a picture of a "plumber's butt" could be prosecuted under this statute depending upon the person's intent. Picasso's Les Demoiselle's d'Avignon
pictured above could be argued to be revenge porn if his ex-girlfriend revokes her consent to be displayed in a picture. I'm not sure whether making fun of something or displaying artwork that the subject later finds to be unflattering is for purposes of "coercion, intimidation or harassment."
Freedom of the Press is also enshrined in both the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the U.S. Bill of Rights. In theory, this statute could criminalize a newspaper publishing a picture of a celebrity in a "cheeky" bathing suit. That probably would not pass constitutional muster.
The better way to approach this problems is to create a civil cause of action. Harassment, coercion and intimidation are concepts that are readily approved in the civil sphere. It is also much easier to sue people across state lines and judgments are easily enforced in other states. Taking a huge judgment against some of these revenge porn kingpins will be more likely to change their behavior rather than a misdemeanor conviction.
Lastly, there has been a propensity to over-criminalize conduct in recent decades and I always look upon new crimes skeptically. In his last two years, U.S. Senator Jim Webb introduced legislation to create a commission focused on reducing the number of crimes on the books and looking at rationalizing sentences. Criminalizing conduct is expensive and often counter-productive. From my point of view prosecutors core responsibilities ought to focus on violent crime and large scale financial crimes that inflict far more harm on our society than many of the conduct that is the subject of new criminal statutes that gain much press.
Most "revenge porn" is bad behavior, but enabling our criminal justice system to go after is not the best deterrent.
Weekly Column: Schools, Medicaid at Issue in the State Budget
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of February 24, 2014.
Schools, Medicaid at Issue in the State Budget
Last week, the initial skirmish over the state budget erupted in the Virginia legislature.
The proposed House and Senate budgets are significantly different in how they address elementary-secondary education. Virginia provides about 23% of Fairfax County’s public school funding. The federal government pays about 5% and the remainder comes from Fairfax County, which is largely funded by real estate taxes. The only Northern Virginia County with lower real estate taxes is Arlington County.
Aside from Mount Vernon Supervisor Gerry Hyland, most members of the County Board of Supervisors appear to be unwilling to raise taxes of any kind to come close to our neighboring jurisdictions and meet the Fairfax County Public Schools’ (FCPS) request for an increase of $98 million. Therefore, the state’s contribution is critical to enable FCPS pay teachers and staff competitive salaries.
In the FY14 state budget, Virginia sent $584.1 million to Fairfax County for schools. Former Governor Bob McDonnell’s proposed budget would have provided $602.7 and $612.6 million to Fairfax County in FY15-16 or a net increase of $47.1 million. The House of Delegates’ proposed budget parrots McDonnell’s funding, but the Senate budget proposes to increase Fairfax County’s funds in FY15-FY16 by $9 million more. This would cover about 33% of FCPS’s 2015 budget request to the Board of Supervisors.
Both budgets fail to restore funding for “Cost-to-Compete” allocations. In the mid-1990s, a study determined that Northern Virginia’s labor costs should be accounted for in budgeting because they are substantially higher than in the rest of Virginia and out of local governments’ control. This funding was cut during the recession and today it is still $70 million behind formula guidelines. Last week, I introduced a floor amendment to restore $7 million, but it was rejected on a party-line vote.
Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for low-income and disabled people, is also a major controversy. The 44th District has the second largest Medicaid population in all of Northern Virginia. Over 9,000 children or one in three kids in the 44th district receives health care covered by Medicaid. Each of those 9,000 kids has a parent without health insurance.
The Senate budget contains a proposal to extend a private insurance approach to Medicaid for low-income families at 138% of the federal poverty level ($32,499 for a family of four). The House budget does not. The federal government will pay 100% of the cost of this expansion in the first years and 90% in the out years.
Providing health insurance to more people will save taxpayer dollars largely by covering uninsured medical expenses, such as uncompensated emergency room visits that we all pay for through our insurance. Expanding Medicaid can reduce public funding for free clinics and help keep people healthy. Broadening Medicaid coverage is projected to create about 30,000 jobs which will bring revenues to the state.
Because the House budget fails to expand Medicaid and accept $2 billion per year in federal monies, the House budget was forced to cut law enforcement, school resource officers, jail funding, foster care, home care for intellectually and developmentally disabled adults and other safety net programs to make up the difference.
The House budget also funds a new General Assembly Office Building at a cost of $300 million ($400 million including interest). Additionally, legislators continue to have the option of a full state-sponsored health insurance plan with our $17,600 annual salary. (I do not accept state health insurance. Luckily, I have the option of two other plans through my and my wife’s employment.)
Only one of my Republican colleagues voted to expand Medicaid coverage. I am very concerned that both sides are hunkering down for a protracted conflict, but I also feel it is the height of hypocrisy for the General Assembly to fund a new office building for ourselves and keep our own state health insurance in the same budget in which we deny health insurance coverage to 400,000 low-income and disabled Virginians at minimal cost.
I voted “no” on this budget and will continue to craft a better budget.
It is an honor to serve as your state delegate. Please share your views with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 804-698-1044.
Weekly Column: The Budget Debate Begins!
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of February 17, 2014.
The Budget Debate Begins
This week in Richmond brought some surprises, good news and some frustration.
First the good news. On Sunday, the House and Senate announced their budgets signaling the beginning of budget negotiations. Senator Puller was able to secure language to prioritize funding for preliminary engineering and environmental studies necessary to continue the U.S. 1 Multimodal Transit Analysis Study. I am hopeful we can keep that in the final budget once the negotiations begin.
Second, the Senate budget amendments also proposed some Senate Republicans’ alternative way to provide insurance coverage to low income Virginians using a “revenue recovery fund” instead of an outright Medicaid expansion. There is some bipartisan support for expanding coverage, but it is not clear if there are enough votes to get legislation through the House of Delegates.
Third, the Governor’s budget proposed increasing Fairfax County’s education transfer by $18 million in FY14 and $28 million in FY15 – a total of $46 million in new secondary education money for Fairfax County. However, the House’s proposed budget increases Fairfax County’s transfer by $1,000,000 for FY14-15 and the Senate version increases that by approximately $10 million. Hopefully, the Senate will prevail.
Fourth, both the House and Senate budget amendments included my proposal to restore paying Virginia’s dues to the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB). The ICPRB was created in 1940 to collectively manage Potomac River’s seven billion gallon average daily water flow and quality between the five states in the Potomac River Watershed of which Virginia is the biggest. Governor McDonnell refused to pay our dues for four years. That seems to be over.
The House budget also adopted my proposal to require the Attorney General to provide annual reports on spending on outside counsel – such as the $750,000 and counting spent on Governor McDonnell’s outside counsel. Right now, there is little to no budget oversight.
The big surprise of the week was a Federal Court ruling about gay marriage in Virginia. The ruling held that Virginia’s constitutional ban on gay marriage, statutory ban on gay marriage, and statutory prohibition on recognizing out-of-state gay marriages and civil unions all violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th
Amendment. The decision was stayed pending review by the Fourth Circuit, but it really stirred things up.
I have introduced legislation to repeal the constitutional ban the last two sessions and the statutory ban this session. This year, I received bipartisan support for my bill and I am hopeful that one day marriage equality will become a realty in Virginia. My perspective is that marriage is about loving committed couples who want to make lifelong promises to take care of and be responsible for each other in good times and bad. Denying someone a chance at happiness that comes with being married because of who they love seems hurtful to me. We will see if this continues to dominate this session.
Unfortunately, the leadership in the House of Delegates refused to allow a hearing on my legislation that would empower Fairfax County to restrict car title lending. They also refused to docket my hearing that would prohibit someone who is on the Terrorist Watchlist from obtaining a concealed handgun permit or prohibit the sale of a gun to a terrorist.
I also introduced legislation for the fifth time to reallocate seats on the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) by actual population. The Northern Virginia District’s 2.3 million residents still have the same vote as districts with 375,000 people. Similar legislation was introduced by two Northern Virginia Republican colleagues. The Transportation Committee Chairman refused to give the legislation a hearing.
The House of Delegates passed legislation last week authorizing $60 million of tax credits over six years to film and television production. I viewed this as a poor use of taxpayer dollars. Studies from the State of Louisiana and the conservative leaning Tax Foundation suggest the return to taxpayers is $0.13-0.25 for every dollar spent. I believe we have better priorities.
This week, we get to work on bills from each other’s chambers and the budget. As always, if you have any feedback please drop me a note at email@example.com
. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your delegate.
WINTER STORM UPDATE
The impending storm is supposed to affect Northern Virginia beginning Wednesday night, bringing a dangerous combination of snow and ice.
I will update information here as it becomes available.
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm watch, from 7 p.m. February 12th to 10 p.m. February 13 for Northern Virginia. They expect the storm to dump 5 or more inches of snow and sleet on the Mount Vernon area. Snowfall is expected to begin on Wednesday evening and could become heavy at times. The NWS also forcasts winds in excess of 15-25 mph, with gusts around 35 mph.
The following information should help you prepare for the storm:
Dominion Resources Power Outage Line
Dominion Resources Storm Center
VDOT Street Problem Number
1 (800) FOR-ROAD
********Road crews are currently treating interstates and primary roads with salt brine or anti-icing chemicals. Crews will be working overnight and through the duration of the storm treating icy roads and plowing snow.
During the storm, please avoid driving on roads. Automobile accidents account for about 70 percent of fatalities related to ice and snow.
Winter weather driving tips and other preparations:
- Monitor your local news sources for the latest weather conditions
- Prepare your car for winter driving conditions including having an emergency kit in your vehicle
- Prepare your home for winter weather conditions in case of power outages
- Before getting behind the wheel, call 511, go to www.511virginia.org or download the 511 mobile app to get the latest road condition information
- You may also call 800-FOR-ROAD (800-637-7623) to report road hazards or ask road-related questions at VDOT's 24-hour Customer Service Center
- When driving, give yourself extra time to reach your destination, leave plenty of driving room between you and the vehicle ahead and slow down
Road priorities and neighborhood snowplow tracker:
VDOT's goal is to have all state-maintained roads passable within 48 hours after a winter storm ends
Crews first begin clearing roads with the highest traffic volumes - interstates and primary roads - and then major secondary roads, followed by subdivision streets.
A statewide network of 77 weather sensors in roadways and bridges, plus 16 mobile video platforms, allows crews to quickly identify when and where road surfaces might be freezing.
VDOT has activated a web-based neighborhood tracking map that monitors the status of plowing in Northern Virginia neighborhoods if there is more than two inches of snow. It is available at www.vdotplows.org. VDOT will be testing the tracker concept in other parts of the state this year to determine which regions are best suited for the wireless technology required for the system.
Emergencies, Reporting Outages & Traffic Issues:
Contact information for reporting utility outages and traffic problems follow:
Washington GasPolice non-emergency numbers are:Fairfax County:Prince William County:
Please prepare and be safe during the storm
Weekly Column: Session Midpoint: Twelve Bills Marching On
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of February 10, 2014.
Session Midpoint: Twelve Bills Marching On
As we approach the midpoint of this session, I have more good news. Twelve of my bills have passed the House, are poised to pass, or are causing changes:
- Repeal of the tax on hybrid vehicles passed two weeks ago.
- Legislation to allow parents to “freeze” their children’s credit through age 16 passed the House unanimously. I introduced this after my 13 and 11-year-old daughters received credit card solicitations. Children are easy targets for identity theft because it is not discovered until they are much older. Virginia is now poised to be the sixth state to adopt such legislation.
- My bill clarifying who controls a real estate brokerage on death of a broker passed unanimously. This will help protect consumers and the deceased owner’s family.
- Legislation to add Marines and members of the Coast Guard to serve on juries passed unanimously. I noticed that current law only includes active duty, non-Virginia domiciled members of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
- My legislation to allow Fairfax County to charge $5 per traffic ticket to purchase electronic traffic ticketing systems passed last week and will save taxpayers millions of dollars.
Passage of several others bills by Tuesday looks promising:
- My bill prohibiting gifts to the Governor during the negotiation of Governor’s Opportunity Fund Grants was included in the majority omnibus ethics legislation.
- My legislation to limit gifts to state and local elected officials and employees during the procurement process was included in the omnibus ethics legislation.
- My legislation to allow 911 tapes to be admitted in court without a live witness is likely to pass soon. Enactment of this bill will help our 911 dispatchers focus on doing their jobs.
- My bill to prohibit part-time local government employees from performing political activities as part of their official duties will likely pass the House this week. A Loudoun County grand jury suggested this bill after a member of the Loudoun Board of Supervisors used his part-time government employee to perform the supervisor’s political activities.
My legislation to clarify that Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exclusions have no bearing on court subpoenas is poised for passage.
Several other bills are stimulating change without actually passing. I introduced legislation prohibiting circuit court clerks from charging a new filing fees in a case after a confessed judgment is set aside and a case instituted on the docket for trial. These can cost as much as $400. The Supreme Court has changed their clerk’s manual in light of my bill to prohibit the practice.
After I introduced legislation to expand FOIA to the State Corporation Commission (SCC), the SCC worked with the regulated industries and developed a bill seeking to make most of the same information publicly available, but not through FOIA. The SCC’s approach suffers from serious flaws, but it is better than nothing.
I introduced legislation modeled on Colorado’s successful “solar gardens” to allow groups of homeowners in communities with heavy tree cover to pool their money, rent roof space from a church or school and net the energy generated from the panel against the energy on their home electric bills. While my bill failed, Dominion Resources has agreed to work with me after this session to develop a plan without changes to Virginia law. I am optimistic that people in the 44th District will be able to invest in and choose renewable “green” power for their homes in the near future.
Tuesday is “crossover” – the day that each body must complete work on their own bills before they start to work on bills from the other body and serious negotiations begin over the budget.
There are also many unsound bills going through which I will address in my next column. Also, by the end of next week, we should have news on the budget including Medicaid expansion and funding to continuation of the preliminary engineering and environmental studies for the U.S. 1. Cross your fingers.
Over 500 people have responded to my survey. Keep the responses and the feedback coming or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as your state delegate!
Taxpayers Funding Movies Instead of Schools
Virginia's budget continues to struggle as our economy continues to recover from the Great Recession.
Education still has not recovered to pre-2009 funding levels, safety net funding lags, over 2,000 disabled adults are on the waiting list for services, and state-supported college tuitions continue to rise while 8,662 children are still waiting for childcare help so their parents can afford to work
Prioritizing our spending continues to be a priority which is apparently why the Virginia Legislature felt that in this time of competing priorities it was necessary to send $60 million to Hollywood.
In 2010, Virginia first adopted a $2.5 million per year tax credit with a two-year sunset
. At the time, the justification was the "need" to negotiate with Steven Spielberg to ensure that Lincoln would be filmed in Richmond. This was increased to $4 million in 2012 - I wrote about it here:
This year, HB460 was introduced raising the tax credit to a level that has a $10 million annual impact
through Fiscal Year 2019 - $60 million total through it's 2019 sunset
(click here for Fiscal Impact Statement
). This equates to $7.29 per Virginian or almost $30 per four-person family.Other states have been reconsidering these programs
- especially in light of tight budgets and priorities:
- Arizona and Kansas suspended their film production credits in 2010.
- Wisconsin's program was reduced their program to a $500,000/year grant.
- Iowa put their program on hold due to a criminal investigation.
- Program have also been curtailed or eliminated in Connecticut and Missouri.
- Tax credit participants have also been convicted of tax fraud in Massachussetts.
- Michigan's retirement system is now paying the cost of their under-utilized program.
The conservative Tax Foundation found that these film incentives generate about $0.30 of tax revenue for every dollar spent. Here's their report
. A study in Lousiana
found that it took $7.29 of tax credits to generate $1.00 in tax revenue.
Compare this with a $350,000 grant that Governor Kaine provided to Chesterfield County help attract Sabra to build a plant employing 260 people
. Spending $10 million per year or $60 million on a major road improvement would create more long-term jobs. Ten million per year covers the entire annual tuition and fees for 1,604 students at the University of Virginia.
The House of Delegates passed an expansion 73-23 with bipartisan opposition (16 Democrats, 7 Republicans voting "no"). My floor comments from our debate are on the right.
Hollywood recorded a record $10.8 billion in revenue last year
. Studies show that film production does not create long-term, high paying jobs. It largely produces temporary gains in hotels, restaurants, and lumber purchases.
This is the wrong way to spend $60 million of Virginians taxpayer dollars.
Deputizing 300 Attorneys General
Today, the House of Delegates passed HB706
designed to authorize any member of the state legislature to have standing to represent the Commonwealth in Court. Here's what it says:
§ 30-9.1. Standing to defend laws of the Commonwealth.In a proceeding in which a provision or provisions of the Constitution of Virginia are contested or are at issue, or in which the constitutionality, legality, or application of a law established under legislative authority is at issue and the Governor and Attorney General choose not to defend the law in such proceeding, the General Assembly, the House of Delegates, the Senate of Virginia, or a current member of the General Assembly at the commencement of the proceeding shall have standing and shall have the right to intervene as a party.
This was proposed in anticipation of Attorney General Mark Herring conceding that the Windsor
decision invalidates Virginia's statutory and constitutional prohibition on same sex marriage - a conclusion I predicted about six months ago here:
The legislative concept suffers from many difficulties.
First, there are 140 members of this legislature with about 300 personalities. Deputizing each of us and to represent the Commonwealth on anything is lunacy.
Second, about four years ago, I ran into Ken Cucinnelli at a meeting and told him how upset many of my constituents were about his activities. Without skipping a beat, Ken turned around and said "tell them to make sure they vote next time."
That's all I could think about during today's floor debate. Elections have consequences.
Weekly Column: Bills Are Moving
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of February 3, 2014.
Bills Are Moving
Several of my bills moved in the Virginia House of Delegates last week and we saw some political theater in Richmond. Several of my ethics bills are either passing or being incorporated into "omnibus" ethics legislation.
This week, we learned that taxpayers have spent over $800,000 defending former Governor Bob McDonnell before Attorney General Mark Herring terminated his taxpayer-funded outside counsel. My legislation proposed limit attorneys’ fees to the same rates that Virginia pays for court-appointed counsel for individuals charged with serious felonies -- $1,235 – but was modified to require the Attorney General to pay "reasonable" attorneys’ fees.
I also introduced a budget amendment at the request of the Appropriations Committee Chairman requiring the Attorney General to file a report every year detailing outside counsel and their costs so we can conduct closer budget oversight of this practice.
Two of my other bills are moving. One limits contributions and gifts to the governor while negotiating Governor's Opportunity Fund grants and a second bill prohibits the giving and receiving of gifts between the Attorney General and litigants during pending litigation. I call this my "No More Turkey Dinners" Bill because former Attorney General Cuccinelli accepted a $1,500 Thanksgiving dinner and $3,000 lake house stay from Johnnie Williams during pending tax litigation with his company.
My bill to allow a 911 recording to be admitted in court without having the dispatcher in court is nearing passage. This will enable dispatchers to spend time doing their job instead of waiting around courtrooms to testify that a recording is authentic.
The House of Delegates approved two of my other bills last week. One would allow a locality to charge up to $5 per traffic ticket to fund hardware and software so that police officers can use barcode readers and printers in their vehicles when issuing traffic citations and to purchase software to digitally transmit citation information to courts. Improving their digital capabilities will reduce typographical errors, speed up the ticket-writing process and get officers off the side of roads where they can be injured.
In Fairfax County, it will also get nine administrative professionals who hand-enter over 200,000 tickets per year off the computers and out into active law enforcement. I was able to move this legislation through with help from my Republican colleague, Delegate Ron Villanueva from Virginia Beach.
The House also unanimously passed my bill to clarify who is preferred to run a real estate brokerage upon the death of its owner. This will not only provide stability and clarity to employees, it will also ensure that real estate listings continue to be managed by competent professionals and prevent listings from being caught up in family disputes. Mount Vernon trust and estates attorney Deborah Matthews suggested this bill to me after one of her clients was caught up in a family fight over a brokerage.
Last week, Attorney General Mark Herring announced that in his opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor nullified Virginia’s constitutional and statutory bans on same sex marriage. Now, the House of Delegates is poised to pass legislation giving a single legislator legal standing to go to court to defend Virginia’s gay marriage ban or enforce any law the Attorney General refuses to apply. This legislation will die in the Senate, but my House colleagues are pressing forward nonetheless. This week, we will also vote on legislation to call a new United States Constitutional Convention to rewrite our Constitution.
|Carla Castro Claure, Colleen Grady, Regine Victoria, |
Nia White, Dorothy Bowerfind and Dr. Jane O'Hara
My five Amundson Fellows visited Richmond this week with their chaperone Dr. Jane O’Hara, Assistant Principal at Fort Belvoir Elementary School. We had three students from West Potomac, two from Mount Vernon and one from Edison High Schools. They testified at a hearing on the need for computers and broadband connections for low-income students, met with their Senators, cabinet members, government relations professionals, and toured historic state buildings. Finally, I have received over 500 responses to my 2014 Constituent Survey. If you have not responded, please complete it at www.scottsurovell.org/survey. Encourage high school students to as well. It’s a good civics lesson!
Please keep the feedback coming and thank you for allowing me to serve as your state delegate.
44th District Real Estate Data By Zip Code
The Washington Post has put up recent real estate data by zip code. I thought it was interesting to see what's going on in the 44th District.
Unfortunately, the way the data is posted, it is very hard to compare it against the rest of the area or even Fairfax County.
Either way, here it is:
|Zip ||Sales ||MSP || PperSF ||MDOM ||AvgSPtoOLP |
|22308 ||222 || $614,250 || $374 ||20 ||97.20% |
|22307 ||234 || $470,000 || $345 ||18 ||96.90% |
|22315 ||512 || $434,700 || $285 ||12 ||98.30% |
|22306 ||298 || $387,000 || $275 ||16 ||97.30% |
|22309 ||422 || $360,000 || $240 ||16 ||97.10% |
Sales: Number of homes sold
MSP: Median sale price
PperSF: Price per square foot
MDOM: Median days on market (a measure of how long a home was on the market before it went under contract.)
AvgSPtoOLP: Average sale price to original list price
(a measure of how much a home sold above or below its original price)