How Much Have We Lost?

Monday, October 16, 2017

Weekly Column: Four Big Issues No One is Discussing This Election Cycle

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Mt. Vernon Voice, and the Potomac and Stafford Locals in the week of October 16, 2017.
Four Big Issues No One is Discussing This Election Cycle
Virginians go to the polls in three weeks and if you followed the new cycle, you would think that the next General Assembly Session is going to be all about Confederate Statutes, street gangs and natural gas pipelines – none of which is accurate.  Here are four big issues facing Virginia that have been missing in action this cycle. 
Redistricting
Hyper-partisan legislative districts are at the root the partisan gridlock we see today.  While the Senate Democratic Caucus drew Virginia’s Senate districts in 2010, Virginia’s congressional and legislative districts were otherwise drawn by Republicans majorities with the cooperation of Republican governor’s in 2000 and 2010.  Democratic voters have been crammed into a small number of seats and Virginia’s Congressional and House of Delegates districts are way out of proportion to Virginia’s actual voting.
 
Virginia’s next Governor will participate in Virginia’s next redistricting process.  Ralph Northam and I have repeatedly endorsed and voted for non-partisan redistricting which would go a long way towards voters picking their leaders instead of leaders picking their voters.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Weekly Column: People Support Firearm Limits. Elected Officials Should Too.

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Mt. Vernon Voice, and the Potomac and Stafford Locals in the week of October 7, 2017.
People Support Firearm Limits. Elected Officials Should Too

Stephen Paddock’s Las Vegas assault rifle killing spree has again highlighted the dangers of Virginia's and America’s much-too-lax firearms environment.  Virginians know the dangers of high-powered weapons having experienced snipers Malvo and Muhammad and the Virginia Tech massacre.  Some of us have been steadily, but unsuccessfully, trying to pass reasonable firearms violence prevention laws in Virginia for years.

For example, after Jared Loughner’s 2011 attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, I cosponsored legislation to prohibit the sale of firearm ammunition magazines that hold more than 20 bullets.  The legislature has rejected the bill every year since.

In 2015, a Fairfax attorney told me about a client he defended in a mental commitment proceeding in which his client was found to be a danger to himself or others.  Virginia law prohibits these people from obtaining a concealed weapon permit or possessing a firearm, but the law does not prohibit the possession of ammunition.  I tried to prohibit mentally-incapacitated people from purchasing or possessing ammunition, but the legislature struck it down.  (video at right)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Weekly Column: Burying Utilities Should Be A Priority

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Mt. Vernon Voice, and the Potomac and Stafford Locals in the week of September 5, 2017.
Burying Utilities Should Be A Priority

As we enter hurricane season, I start to get questions about burying utility lines.  We are making limited progress in Virginia but efforts hit a setback last week. 
In communities built since the mid-1980’s all utilities are underground.  In the older parts of Northern Virginia, such as where we live here in Eastern Fairfax and Prince William Counties, nearly all utilities are above ground.   
In June, 2012, Northern Virginia was rocked by a Derecho that stormed in from Chicago, killed 22 people and caused over $2.9 billion in damage. Our older infrastructure, coupled with our heavy older and established tree canopy caused major utility outages.  In the Derecho’s aftermath, I heard calls through my district for undergrounding of utility lines.  I even held a town hall focused exclusively on undergrounding power lines.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Leesylvania State Park Under Big Pressure

The Potomac Local reports that Leesylvania State Park has now closed its gates six times this summer due to over capacity problems.


This has been a problem for years and only underscores the urgency of getting Widewater State Park in Stafford County open for business.

Stafford County has no public water access.  Two years ago, funding for all three phases of Widewater State Park's buildout was funded in the state budget, but was removed after private campground operators complained about damage to their business.


We did get Phase I of three funded and held a groundbreaking last March on a canoe launch and other amenities but no public bathrooms.  


Next year we need to fight to get all three ohases funded.  There is clearly demand for more parks on the Potomac River and we need to get this funded as soon as possible so Virginians can enjoy their River.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Weekly Column: U.S. 1 Widening Yields Many Benefits for the Community

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice, and the Potomac and Stafford Locals in the week of August 3, 2017.
U.S. 1 Widening Yields Many Benefits for the Community

On August 3, 2017, the Federal Highway Administration is hosting a ribbon cutting to commemorate the widening of U.S. 1 through Fort Belvoir.  The project’s completion  is an important milestone for our community and has broad ramifications. 

When I first ran for office in 2009, I stated that improving U.S. 1 was my number one priority.  U.S. 1 is the spine of Mount Vernon, Lorton, Woodbridge, Dumfries/Triangle and Eastern Stafford’s central nervous system and  a critical driver of not just transportation, but also access to employment, recreation, retail businesses and restaurants.  U.S. 1’s fate can mean revitalizing area schools and housing and can enhance our overall quality of life from Stafford County to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Weekly Column: Voluntary Background Check System is a Failure

In 2016, the General Assembly enacted a legislation requiring the Virginia State Police to staff gun shows and be available to conduct voluntary background checks upon request by private, non-federally licensed gun sellers as part of a broader compromise on concealed weapon permits.  The law has been a total failure.

The legislation required the state to spend $300,000 to hire three new Virginia State Police employees to be present at all gun shows.  What have we got for our $300,000?

In January, The Daily Press reported that as of January 1, 2017, one person was denied a purchase at 41 gun shows after thirty nine checks.

This week, the Richmond Times Dispatch Reported that since that time, only 18 more checks were performed in the next six months ending June 30, 2017.  In other words, in 77 gun shows there were 59 voluntary background checks.  At 45 of 77 shows, no checks at all were requested. As of today, one buyer was denied.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Weekly Column: Time for Local Governments to Invest in Early Voting

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice, and the Potomac and Stafford Locals in the week of July 10, 2017.
Time for Local Governments to Invest in Early Voting
In Virginia, we have a elections every year.  This year, we even have three including a special election for school board on August 29 and then elections for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General and State Delegate on November 7.
Turnout in our state and local elections plummets. In my experience, a large reason is that voting takes precious time away from jobs and families and given Northern Virginia traffic, time is at a premium.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Time is Now to Plan for NOVA's Boom

UVA's Weldon-Cooper Center recently came out with it's new population projection for 2040 (which isn't that far away!). 

The top lines from the newspapers project Virginia passing New Jersey and Michigan in population, but the local numbers are more interesting.

NOVA counties are going to see some major increases.  I have listed the counties in the 36th District here in blue.  Here's some comparisons:

Jurisdiction
2015 Population2040 Projected
Population
Total
Increase
Percentage
Increase
Total Delegates
Total Senators
Fairfax County
1,129,330
1,347,487
218,157
19.3%
13.2
5.2
Prince William County
443,463
682,111
238,648
53.8%
6.7
2.7
Stafford County
134,251
208,845
74,594
55.5%
2.0
0.8
Loudoun County
374,451
684,911
310,460
82.9%
6.7
2.7
Arlington County
234,678
313,352
78,674
33.5%
3.1
1.2
City of Alexandria
159,571
215,119
55,548
34.8%
2.1
0.8
City of Fairfax
23,193
25,286
2,093
9.0%
0.2
0.1
City of Falls Church
14,183
20,577
6,394
45.0%
0.2
0.1
Fauquier County
67,898
84,873
16,975
25.0%
0.8
0.3
TOTAL
2,581,018
3,582,561
1,001,583
38.8%
35.0
13.9
    Population will continue to shift to Northern Virginia - 35% of Virginia's population will be in Northern Virginia compared with 29.6% in 2010.

    Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    Trump Budget Impacts on 36th District

    Earlier this week, President Trump announced his budget. 

    Aside from the massive layoffs in federal workforce and actual workers actually to lose their jobs with the federal government who live in the 36th District, there are other programs which provide grants or funding to other local programs in the 36th District. 

    These are just some of the programs eliminated which have touched the 36th District that I have been able to determine so far:
    • Eliminates the New Starts Program - Entire U.S. 1 Multimodal Transit Study and EMBARK plan is designed around obtaining $1.5 billion in funding from this program to construct bus rapid transit and Yellow Line Extension on U.S. 1.
    • National Wildlife Refuge Fund - 36th District has three National Wildlife Refuges
    • National Infrastructure Investments (TIGER) - TIGER grants funding completion of the Fairfax County Parkway in southern Fairfax County and construction of the I-95 HOT Lanes
    • EPA Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Fund - Self Evident
    • NASA Office of Education - has provided scholarship and summer learning opportunities for 36th District students
    • Corporation for Public Broadcasting - PBS/NPR/WETA broadcast into 36th District
    • Legal Services Corporation - Funds civil legal services for low income populations throughout the U.S. 1 Corridor
    • National Endowment for the Arts - funds Virginia Commission for the Arts and has funded grants in the 36th District
    • National Endowment for the Humanities - has funded grants in the 36th District - including for example effort to result in comprehensive edition of George Washington's papers
    • NeighborWorks America - Invested $191 Million in Virginia including first time homebuyers grants, foreclosure prevention counseling, and affordable housing assistance
    • Community Services Block Grant - Funds human services in Fairfax, Prince William and Fairfax Counties
    There are dozens of other impacts as well that I have not assessed, but these cuts would cost the 36th District millions of dollars of aid, services, and jobs.  If you know of any others, post them up in the comments.

    Monday, April 10, 2017

    Weekly Column: Successes in the Final Session

    The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice, and the Potomac and Stafford Locals in the week of April 8, 2017.
    Successes in the Final Session

    On April 3, 2017, the General Assembly met in Richmond to consider the Governor’s amendments to and vetoes of various bills.   Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed 40 bills, a one-year record in Virginia.  All of his vetoes were upheld.

    The Governor vetoed legislation requiring local governments to pay damages caused by undocumented immigrants in their locality, legislation requiring reports of resettled refugees, a bill prohibiting “sanctuary cities” from receiving state funds and bills requiring Virginia sheriffs to hold people without legal justification.

    He vetoed bills requiring identification to vote early by mail, allowing protective order subjects to carry concealed weapons and to be given weapons training information and allowing Virginians to carry concealed switchblades.  He also rejected bills that would prohibit local governments from requiring contractors to pay employees living wages, bills to expand charter schools in Virginia and numerous other bills designed to limit voting.

    Monday, March 27, 2017

    2017 Puller Institute Policy Projects

             On Wednesday March 22,  the 2017 Puller Institute students presented their 36th District policy projects and received certificates commemorating their completion of the program.

               In 2016, I created the Puller Institute to honor my predecessor, State Senator Elizabeth “Toddy” Puller who served in the Virginia General Assembly for 24 years.  Senator Puller was an avid fighter for the citizens of Virginia and this program is dedicated to her years of hard work for the 36th District. Over a decade ago, my predecessor in the House of Delegates,  Delegate Kris Amundson created her Young Leader Program.  Her program was designed to introduce top high school students in the Mt. Vernon area to Virginia State Government process. The Puller Institute is modeled after that program.
           
                During this year's program, eight students from four different high schools traveled to
    Richmond during the General Assembly Session to be immersed in the legislative process of Virginia.  They observed the legislative process and meet with legislators, policy-makers, advocacy groups, and others.  They also were fourtunate enough to meet with Governor Terry McAuliffe, First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam and Secretary of Education Dietra Trent.         
     

    Wednesday, March 22, 2017

    Governor Acts on Coal Ash


    Possum Point Coal Ash Ponds - 120 acres
    Today, Governor Terry McAuliffe offered his amendments to SB1398 which I introduced to provide better information to the public before we make final decisions on closing four ponds or impoundments holding millions of cubic yards of coal ash located in:
    • Possum Point, Dumfries, VA
    • Bremo Station, Bremo, VA
    • Chesterfield Station, Chesterfield, VA
    • Chesapeake Energy Center, Chesapeake, VA

    While Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has been following existing state and federal law, I have remained concern that DEQ needs more tools and more options need to be on the table. 

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