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.
Quantico Creek Area Coal Ash Remediation to Move Forward
|Picture of coal ash on hand of Amy Adams from |
Appalachian Voices during Dan River Spill (NBC News)
Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new rules on the construction
, maintenance and remediation of coal ash ponds which are used at coal-fired power plants. This has consequences for the 36th District and communities along the Potomac River and other areas of the Commonwealth.
There are currently five old coal ash ponds at Dominion Resources Possum Point Power Station in Quantico, Virginia
which is in the 36th District. Coal ash or fly ash is the end product of burning coal to create electricity. Decades ago, it was common practice to mix it with water and store it in ponds into a "slurry."
If ponds are not properly lined with impermeable barriers, then they can leach toxic metals into ground water and surface water. According to some sources
, depending on the coal used, they can leach toxic elements such as arsenic, beryllium, boron, cadmium, chromium, hexavalent chromium, cobalt, lead, manganese, mercury, molybdenum, selenium, strontium, thallium, and vanadium, along with dioxins and PAH compounds. Metals like this store in the fatty tissues of fish and can aggregate in fish consumers such as birds or humans. Modern practice is to store ash in dry landfills.
|Picture of Possum Point Power Station in Quantico, VA|
Courtesy of Dominion Resources
The Dominion ponds were built in the 1950's to these older standards and given that the plant was converted to natural gas and oil, the ponds are no longer active, but were capped off with dirt and are still on site. They are not being monitored but are currently leaching heavy metals into Quantico Creek and the Potomac River due to the construction methods used at the time.
The ponds recently came to light after Dominion disclosed them to the public following a spill of 50,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River in February, 2014. After the disclosure, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) filed suit
in an effort to force Dominion to clean the ponds up.
On Wednesday, I had a meeting with several Dominion representatives about this problem and they advised me that once the rules were issued, they expected to begin remediation on these ponds in accordance with practices agreed upon with state and federal regulators, but they could not begin work until the EPA made remediation rules clear.
Yesterday, in response to the new rules, Dominion announced
that they are closing all coal ash ponds currently in use.
Water quality reports from the tidal Potomac River still show impairments of numerous metals and toxins such as PCB's and mercury. Eliminating the sources of these contaminants is a vital step in solving these problems.
Now that the rules are issued, I am pleased that Dominion will start making plans to remove this environmental hazard from our community, and I will continue to stay on top of this situation and push our state regulators as cleanup plans move forward.
Weekly Column: Transportation Funding Hearing Comes to Route 1
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.
Transportation Funding Hearing Comes to Route 1
Last week, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) held public hearings at the South County Government Center at the request of Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay and Board Chairman Sharon Bulova.
These deliberations include whether to help fund the $14 million estimate for the initial design and environmental analysis of widening U.S. 1 from Fort Belvoir to Napper Road near the Costco, including reserving space for bus rapid transit to Woodbridge and constructing a sidewalk and multi-use path along the entire length. It also includes about $60 million for widening U.S. 1 in Prince William County (Featherstone to Mary’s Way and Fraley Boulevard to VA-234).
First, here’s some background. Virginia’s transportation system suffered from a twenty-year funding shortfall, and the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) “borrowed” maintenance money (paving and bridge reconstruction) so there was something to spend on construction. This is why about 75% of the secondary roads in the 36th Senate District now require paving. In 2013, the General Assembly passed legislation, now law, raising taxes to fund about 20% of our known long-term new construction needs. The bill had statewide and local components.
Statewide Funding Components
The statewide component repealed the $0.175 gas tax and replaced it with wholesale taxes equal to about a $0.10-0.12/gallon tax, and raised sales taxes on cars from 3% to 4.3%.
It also raised sales taxes by 0.3% and then diverted $700 million over five years from education, public safety, and higher education to the Transportation Trust Fund to help make up the lost $0.05/gallon. The bill also enacted a new $100 tax on Virginia’s hybrid vehicles which was repealed after I led the fight with Senator Adam Ebbin.
This plugged the statewide maintenance shortfall and funded new paving in the Northern part of the 36th District around Sherwood Hall Lane last year and is why many roads between Sherwood Hall and Collingwood Road will be paved this year.
Regional Funding Components
The bill also imposed three more taxes Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads only taxes – a 0.7% sales tax, a 3% hotel tax and a “regional congestion relief fee” of about $250 per $100,000 of home value. I voted against initial versions of this legislation for several reasons, including that it only funded one-fifth of our known needs, it relied on regressive sales taxes to fund roads instead of use taxes, and it also included partially unspecified formulas to make spending decisions, and voted for the bill on final passage with Governor McDonnell’s amendments.
The NVTA’s Process
The NVTA is required to make funding decisions based on two different formulas. One, which originated from a bill called HB599 that we passed in 2011, requires VDOT to focus its spending on projects that reduce congestion and improve homeland security. The second formula focuses on a number of variables, including economic development and project readiness.
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the NVTA rated 36 projects. Under the HB599 formula, the widening of U.S. 1 near Fort Belvoir ranked eighth. However, under the NVTA’s 2020 performance measures, it dropped to #18, which was slightly under the cut for projects recommended for funding this year, while the two Prince William projects held their ground to merit recommendations for funding. The Public Hearing
Last week’s public hearing on U.S. 1 drew a larger crowd than the “main” NVTA hearing in central Fairfax County – over 130 citizens – and the message was loud and clear. Our community supports widening U.S. 1 and people has serious concerns about the formulas being used.
I also conducted a robopoll which held that 67% support widening U.S. 1; 13% oppose it. I also posted a petition along with Paul Krizek, candidate for the 44th House of Delegates District. Over 430 people signed on with comments demanding action.
Moving forward, I am working with local officials and state legislators, including Senator Adam Ebbin, who is on the NVTA Board, to work hard to get all of the U.S. 1 projects included in this round of funding.
We cannot wait any longer for the improvement of U.S. 1 and we are fighting hard to fund it now.
Annual Little Hunting Creek Cleanup April 11, 2015!
In 2007, Fairfax County named Little Hunting Creek "the trashiest creek in Fairfax County." Three years ago we started to do something about it.
Since the start of this annual clean up, our volunteers and I continue to work and improve the quality of our local watershed. This past year, the cleanup collected over 300 bags of trash, 17 shopping carts, carpets, a mini-car seat, a mannequin leg and a lawn chair in just 9 hours.
It is that time of the year again! I am once again teaming up with the Alison Ferguson Foundation and The Friends of Little Hunting Creek.
Del. Scott Surovell’s Annual
Little Hunting Creek Cleanup
Saturday, April 11, 2015
9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Hybla Valley, VA Please join us at one of the following locations:
- LOCATION #1 Janna Lee Avenue Bridge: From Route 1, turn west on Buckman Rd, Right on Janna Lee Ave., to the bridge over little Hunting Creek
- LOCATION #2 Creekside Village Location: Take Janna Lee Avenue all the way through Creekside Village Apartments, until terminates at the end of the parking lot
- LOCATION #3 At Mount Vernon Shopping Plaza: Meet on Fordson Rd., beside the Duron Store at the northeast corner of Mount Vernon Plaza. Parking is available behind Shopper's Food Warehouse and the post office, or on Cyrene Drive in South Meadows Condos. DO NOT park in the limited parking in front of Duron and neighboring stores. Be sure to wear rubber boots- the easiest access is to walk in the channel.
For your safety, please wear closed toed shoes, such as tennis shoes or boots during the clean up. Additionally, we will provide light snacks throughout the day.
If you are interested in attending, please RSVP below so we can bring enough supplies for everyone.
Endorsement of Senator Puller in 36th District
I am proud to announce that State Senator Toddy Puller has endorsed my campaign for State Senate.
Senator Puller has served the 44th and 36th Districts with distinction for 24 years. Her passion for veterans, improving U.S. 1, education, and the legacy of George Washington will leave big shoes to fill, and I am honored to have her support.
Below is an email she sent out this afternoon on my behalf:
For 24 years I have served in the state legislature, and for the past 15 years serving the people of the 36th senatorial district. But now it is time for the next generation.
I am pleased to endorse Delegate Scott Surovell for Senate, because I know he is not only a capable leader and passionate advocate, but he is always upbeat and looking to the future.
He was one of the best chairmen the Fairfax County Democratic Committee has ever had. He created new programs and fundraising events to promote Democrats. He showed he was a capable leader willing to work with others to accomplish large goals.
Scott grew up in Mount Vernon and graduated from West Potomac High School, but has never used that familiarity as entitlement. He takes nothing for granted and is a tireless canvasser, knocking on the doors of every one of his constituents along Rt. 1.
He attends “back-to-school” nights and is constantly working to improve the educational opportunities for all children. He has a good relationship with Fort Belvoir, the Gum Springs community and local environmentalists working to protect the Potomac River and estuaries feeding into it.
Scott is well-schooled on the issues of transportation and Route 1. For the past two years, he served with me on the Route 1 Multimodal Analysis Study Executive Committee fighting for a truly multi-modal approach for the community, including pushing for creative thinking for Metro extensions into Fairfax and Prince William counties.
I know once the people in Prince William and Stafford counties get the chance to get to know him, they will embrace him like the people of the 44th House of Delegates district have. I look forward to supporting his candidacy for the Senate.
This Saturday, please join me for the Scott Surovell for Senate Campaign Kickoff.
Saturday, March 14th
The Landing Restaurant
13188 Marina Way
Woodbridge, VA 22191
36th Senatorial District of Virginia
March 5, 2015 Storm Update
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning, until 9 p.m. this evening for Northern Virginia. They expect the storm to dump 4-8 inches of snow on the Mount Vernon area. I have cut and pasted an excerpt from the Weather Underground's forecast as of 10:50 a.m. on the right. You can click on it to enlarge.
The following information should help you prepare for the storm:
Dominion Resources Power Outage Line
Dominion Resources Storm Center
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.
VDOT Street Problem Number
1 (800) FOR-ROAD
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
The Top 20: A 2015 Legislative Summary
This is an overview of legislative highlights from the 2015 General Assembly session. Last week, I discussed the budget and some of my bills. Generally speaking, this session was less contentious than the prior five regular sessions in which I have served mainly because the majority caucuses refused to hold hearings on many of the most controversial bills even though many were introduced. Bills restricting birth control, limiting abortion, redefining fetuses as persons, limiting rights based on sexual orientation, marginalizing our newest residents and allowing guns in airports were denied hearings and votes. Here are some highlights. Governor Terry McAuliffe could amend or veto these bills or parts of them. He must act by March 30. My votes are in parentheses for the bills that I had an opportunity to vote on (Y/N).#1 – Firearms Expanded
The General Assembly passed legislation to make it easier for convicted stalkers, mentally ill people and convicted felons to obtain concealed weapon permits (CWP’s) for use in Virginia (N);to require local sheriffs to process background checks for machine gun purchases (N), to ban local governments from prohibiting loaded shotguns in vehicles for CWP holders (N), and to prohibit law enforcement of most other states from electronically verifying the validity of Virginia CWP’s (N). Legislators rejected my legislation to prohibit people declared mentally incompetent from possessing ammunition (Y); Governor McAuliffe’s legislation banning people subject to protective orders from possessing firearms; bills to require universal background checks for firearm purchases, restore Virginia’s “one-gun-a-month” law, and legislation suspending CWP’s when holders accumulate child support arrearages. CWP holders currently owe at least $15 million in back child support.
#2 – Execution Secrecy Rejected
The Senate passed and the House killed legislation to authorize compounded drugs in executions and exempt the entire execution process from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (N).
#3 - Constitutional Amendments
The legislature passed a constitutional amendment exempting the spouses of slain first responders from real estate taxes (Y), to put Virginia’s “right to work” law into the Constitution (N), and to move charter school approval from local school boards to the state (N). The legislature must pass constitutional amendments again next year to be placed on the 2016 ballot for voter approval.
Legislators killed constitutional amendments to allow automatic restoration of voting rights for convicted felons, require nonpartisan redistricting, allow two-term Governors and repeal Virginia’s gay marriage ban. The legislature again did not ratification the Equal Rights Amendment.
#4 –Education Reforms
The General Assembly rejected legislation allowing a pre-Labor Day school start (Y); but we passed legislation making it easier to get a waiver from the post-Labor Day school start requirement which could help Fairfax County if the snow persists (Y).
The legislature approved legislation to provide more flexibility to school systems meeting Standards of Learning (SOL) tests (Y), to allow more bake sales (N) and to restrict seclusion and restraint of students (Y).
The legislature repealed the A thru F school grading system (Y) and Governor Bob McDonnell’s state takeover of local school system initiative (Y).
The legislature passed bills to allow local school systems to allow home-schooled students to play in public school sports (N) and a bill limiting fees that Virginia colleges can charge to support athletics (Y).
#5 – Transit Funded
We passed legislation to head off the so-called “transit cliff” approaching in three years, thus protecting state funding for transit projects like those on U.S. 1 (Y).
#6 – Utilities Deregulated (Again)
We passed legislation giving investor-owned utilities (e.g., Dominion Power) a five-year waiver on adjustments – up or down -- to their rates by regulators (N) and requiring some solar investments. Stock analysts immediately upgraded Dominion to a “buy.”
#7 – Hannah Graham and Sexual Assault Legislation
We passed legislation liberalizing proof-of-venue requirements for criminal prosecutions and requiring DNA testing for certain misdemeanors (Y/N). We passed a bill requiring school transcript to indicate if students withdraw from school during rape investigations (Y) and we clarified sexual assault investigation rules (Y).
#8 - Uber Legalized
The legislature authorized ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. See my prior columns about problems with these services (N).
#9 – Child Care Regulations Strengthened
We lowered the threshold for state regulation of childcare facilities from six to five children excluding the proprietor’s kids and required criminal background checks for all employees and volunteers (Y).
#10 - Veterans
We passed bills to establish two new veterans care centers in the state (Y) and to allow veterans to receive certain academic credits at community colleges for training and educational programs they completed during their military service (Y). Another bill would require the Department of Education to determine how to track students with a parent in the military to help children of military families can get federal aid (Y).
#11 - Limiting "Big Brother"
We passed legislation limiting warrantless collection of personal information by law enforcement unrelated to pending criminal investigations (Y). This includes license plate readers and other types of passive data collection. We passed legislation prohibiting the use of drones for law enforcement without warrants except in emergencies and for training exercises (Y).
#12 - Justice for Sterlizations
We appropriated $400,000 to compensate survivors of the state’s eugenics program which sterilized more than 8,000 people between 1924 to 1979 at $25,000 per person. (Y).
In 2002, then-Gov. Mark R. Warner offered “the commonwealth’s sincere apology for Virginia’s participation in eugenics.” He called it “a shameful effort in which state government never should have been involved.” Virginia would be the second state, after North Carolina, to compensate victims.
#13 – Voting Restricted
We passed legislation requiring mail-in absentee voters to provide copies of photo identification unless they are active duty military (N).
#14 - Autism Insurance
We passed legislation that will help about 5,000 Virginia children ages one thru 10 receive health insurance coverage for autism treatments (Y).
#15 - Medical Marijuana & Legal Hemp
We approved a bill legalizing the possession of oil derived from marijuana for people diagnosed with severe epilepsy (Y). We also legalized industrial hemp so we can go back to exporting ropes and sails or something (Y).
#16 – Heroin Crisis
Heroin use and overdoses are on the rise. We passed legislation creating immunity from prosecution for certain persons reporting overdoses in progress (Y). We also expanded a pilot to encourage the use of opioid overdose counteractant drugs by law enforcement (Y) and granted probation officers access to Virginia’s Prescription Monitoring Program to ensure probationers are not abusing prescription drugs (Y).
#17 - Off-Label Prescription Drugs
We passed legislation to expand terminally-ill patients’ access to investigational drugs, under a physician’s supervision if an experimental drug has cleared the first phase of clinical trials but has not yet received final approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (Y).
#18 – Ethics “Reforms”
We passed legislation creating a $100 gift limit, but lifting the $250 overall cap on donations from a single donor (Y). We also prohibited gifts and contributions to the Governor while negotiating grants.
#19 - Tax Refunds
We abolished the unsound policy requiring that tax refunds be issued on debit cards (Y).
#20 - State Song
Virginia might finally have not just one, but two state songs – “Our Great Virginia” and “Sweet Virginia Breeze” (N).
Please email your feedback and suggestions at email@example.com. It is an honor to serve as your state delegate.
Weekly Column: Budget Tweaks, Execution Secrecy and Ethics
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette and The Mt. Vernon Voice in the week of March 2, 2015.
Budget Tweaks, Execution Secrecy and Ethics
In the last week of the recent General Assembly session, we passed a budget and some of the most contentious legislation of the session. We actually adjourned one day early on Friday, the first session in the six regular sessions in which I have served that has finished early.
Here's a quick rundown on several bills:
Four of my bills passed both houses and are with the Governor for his action. I described them in my column last week. I hope they will be signed into law without any amendments.
We approved amendments to our biennial budget that includes money to fund the state’s share of a 1.5% raise for teachers, a 2% raise for state employees and a 2% raise for college faculty. Many of these employees have shad only one raise in the last seven years.
The budget also endorses Governor McAuliffe’s new plan to provide mental health services to 21,600 Virginians with serious mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders who are at 60% of federal poverty level.
We prepaid $129 million for a constitutionally-required Rainy Day Fund deposit and restored about $41.5 million to higher education that was cut earlier in the year because of the economic downturn. We also provided $106 million for construction for new buildings at various colleges, including James Madison University, Virginia Tech, Longwood University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Radford University and funds to restore the historic rotunda at the University of Virginia.
The budget also makes a $129 million one-time payment to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) to reduce our unfunded liability. This will also reduce required contributions from local governments that are largely funded by real estate property taxes.
The budget also includes my proposal to restore one General District Court Judgeship to Fairfax County, a position that is desperately needed.
The legislature did not expand Medicaid as authorized by the Affordable Care Act. To me, this omission is legislative malpractice. As of today, Virginia has left $1.8 billion in federal funds on the table. By next year, this will be the equivalent of $40 million in the 44th Delegate District alone or about 500 per constituent or about $2,000 for each four-person family I represent. We have lost about 400 jobs in the 44th District and health care coverage for about 5,000 people.
In addition, this budget fails to adequately fund education or address our unfair education funding formula, despite my efforts. Virginia also still has a $15 billion unfunded liability in the Virginia Retirement System (VRS). The legislature also failed to repeal or correct dozens of ineffective tax credits and tax preferences for things like coal, yachts and private schools. Virginia also still has $100 billion transportation capital shortfall over the next 20 years. These are some of the reasons that I voted “no.”
This year, the Department of Corrections pressed legislation to exempt the entire execution process from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). I fought this effort and killed the legislation in a bipartisan coalition of 33 Democrats, 27 Republicans and one independent. Execution is the last thing that should be shrouded in secrecy.
Finally, on the last day, the legislature sent “ethics” legislation to the Governor. I voted “yes” on the final bill, but I was anything but happy with it. The bill did include my proposal to limit gifts and political contributions during the Governor’s Opportunity Fund process, but it is riddled with problems.
First, although the bill lowered Virginia’s gift cap to $100, it deleted the $250 aggregate gift cap, so now elected officials can accept an unlimited number of gifts under $100 from the same donor.
The also bill lacks a real enforcement mechanism. There are no mandatory audits. There is no independent ethics commission and the new ethics committee has no subpoena power. Stronger ethics laws are essentially meaningless if they cannot be enforced.
You can see my floor speeches on ethics, death penalty secrecy and the state budget on my You Tube channel. Thank you for all of your feedback and suggestions. It is an honor to serve as your delegate. I hope you will continue to be in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Begging for Education Technolgy in Fairfax County
Ensuring every public school student has access to technology has been a goal of mine for the last three years. Electronic textbooks are here and the learning resources that are now online are critical resources for our children to access.
Kids get it. Watch this news story by Peggy Fox featuring my Janetzy Marisco where she lays it out.
However, most school systems, including Fairfax County, have failed to prioritize funding technology purchases. Obviously, some blame for this lies with a lack of state funding, but in jurisdictions like Fairfax County where the state only provides 20% of the school budget, waiting for the state to show up is not a plausible excuse.
Several large Virginia jurisdictions are already purchasing computing devices for all of their students - Henrico, Albemarle, Arlington, Alexandria, and Chesterfield. Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun Counties continue to lag behind
Teachers are becoming increasingly desperate. A constituent recently forwarded this email from a French teacher.
I have recently written a grant on DonorsChoose.org for funding to buy iPod touches for my students to use in my classroom to do research, record their voices, Skype other French students, and many other activities that would improve their skills in the French language and in using technology.
To read an explanation of my project and to donate, click the link below;
Technology: An Engaging Journey Toward a Successful FutureIf you donate to my project in the next week (by March 2, 2015) and enter the code SPARK on the payment page, your donation be matched dollar for dollar (up to $100) thanks to DonorsChoose.org.
If I reach my goal and the project is funded, all those who donate will receive photos of my students benefitting from the project and our heartfelt thanks. Merci beaucoup!
P.S. If you know anyone who may want to help my classroom, please pass this along!
Please see the attached flyer for more information: DonorsChoose flyer.docx
One of the ten wealthiest counties in the United States resorting to self-funding to purchase iPod's. Requiring computing devices for every public school student in the Commonwealth needs to be an education objective as soon as possible.