Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Weekly Column: ERA On the Move, Redistricting Reform, and I-81 on the Docket

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Prince William Times, The Fort Hunt Herald, and Potomac Local in the week of January 15, 2019.

        The first three days of the General Assembly ended on Friday and it is proving to me a busy session. 
        On the first day of session, my legislation to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was debated in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.  ERA would prohibit the government from discriminating against all persons on the basis of sex.  It does not apply to discrimination by private individuals (which is covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other laws).   
        The Commonwealth and the country have a long history of discrimination against women and although most forms of explicit discrimination have ended, there are still government actions taken that have disparate impacts on women and as we have seen from recent events, even the most basic political norms can be easily overturned.  I believe this value needs to be reflected in our Constitution.  

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Equity for Who? Comment on Fairfax County Proposal to Delete Six Miles of Planned Bike Trails

High Voltage Power Lines Along Huntley Meadows
Park Boundary
(Click to Enlarge)
Huntley Meadows Park is a wonderful community asset.  I volunteered in the park for about five years checking blue bird nesting boxes for eggs near Hayfield as part of an attempt to bring them back.  I've enjoyed the park with my kids, sent them to summer camps there, jogged in the woods, and spent time there pondering nature.

The community bravely and correct beat back and effort to run highway through the park when I was in high school.  I have been a life member of the Friends of Huntley Meadows for nearly a decade and also secured them corporate financial support in the past.

Map Showing Current Comp Plan and Possible Trail
Realignments to Minimize Wetland Impacts
(Click to Enlarge)
However, this month, the Fairfax County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors will be voting on a proposal to remove two potential bike and walking trails along the boundaries of Huntley Meadows Park on utility easements from the County's Comprehensive Plan.  I support the existing proposed trails, oppose both removal amendments and would like to hear from constituents about the issue to communicate their concerns to County leaders.  You can provide your comments below.

Weekly Column: My Agenda This Session - Coal Ash, I-95, and Equal Rights

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Prince William Times, The Fort Hunt Herald, and Potomac Local in the week of January 2, 2019.

The General Assembly Session gavels in on January 9, 2019 and we have a full agenda awaiting us for our 45-day or “short” session.

First, the budget will probably take center state this year even though we adopted a two-year budget last year.  As I mentioned in my previous column, between federal tax reform, rising revenues, and the Supreme Court’s Wayfair decision that allows states to tax internet sales, the Commonwealth has over $1 billion of excess revenue to appropriate.  Governor Northam has proposed a targeted tax cut to working Virginians, investments in K-12, and investments in higher education.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Joint Commerce & Labor Coal Ash Meeting #3

On December 21, 2018, we met for the third Joint Meeting of the Senate and House Commerce and Labor Committees to focus on coal ash legislation for next session and discuss the report recently issued by Dominion that you can read here:

First, Dominion Resources presented their findings resulting from the study required by my legislation - Senate Bill 807 - from last year's session.
  • There are 11 ponds at four different sites, five have not been closed yet
  • One station (Chesterfield) still burns coal and creates coal ash
  • There are 27 million cubic yards to be disposed of - 1.8 million truckloads or about 300,000 rail cars on 461 acres of ash ponds
  • Dominion believes we have 15 years to close the ponds starting in 2019
They are on track to close six of the 11 ponds as permitted by SB807.  The bill also required them to go out to the markets and obtain proposals on coal ash recycling from cradle to grave including dewatering, removing it, treating it, and selling an end product.  

They summarized the recycling proposals responses as follows:
  • They involve 600-700 trucks per day and/or about 700 railcars per years)
  • Closer in markets used trucks while shipments to far markets involved rail transport
The estimates ranged from a total of $2.345 to $5.642 billion.  Dominion has already spent about $400 million so far on coal ash remediation at the four sites.  About 45-46% of the cash can be recycled based on market demand assumptions.  

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Weekly Column: Small Advances against Predatory Lending, but More to Do

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Prince William Times, The Fort Hunt Herald, and Potomac Local in the week of December 17, 2018.

Small Advances against Predatory Lending, but More to Do

                Predatory lending, imposing abusive terms and high interest rates on borrowers regardless of ability to pay, is a nagging problem in Virginia, the 36th Senate District and especially in the U.S. 1 Corridor.  I will introduce legislation in January to end to these abusive practices.

                There are many kinds of high-interest or predatory loans.  First, payday loans are loans that are secured against a consumer’s pay check.  In 2009, the Virginia General Assembly enacted restrictions on payday loans which caused the practice to scale back to about six locations in and around the 36th District.

                In 2010-11, some of the same companies went back to Richmond and persuaded the legislature to authorize car title loans.  Today, in Northern Virginia car title loans are offered by companies like Title Max, Loan Max, Advance America, Cash Point or Fast Auto Loans.  These companies are allowed to make loans at interest rates between 15-22% per month or up to an annual percentage rate (APR) or 267%.  Several locations have shut down.  The number of locations has gone from 21 to 12 around the 36th District. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Weekly Column: Ending Gridlock, Seeking Transportation Funds for Our Area

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Prince William Times, The Fort Hunt Herald, and Potomac Local in the week of December 3, 2018.

Ending Gridlock, Seeking Transportation Funds for Our Area
As traffic congestion continues to plague us, I  am intensifying my fight for more transportation resources in our area.  Last week, I testified before the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) and made the case for more funds for several critically needed transportation projects:  the I-95/Occoquan bottleneck, U.S. 1 widening and bus rapid transit, U.S. 1 in Dumfries and several other projects. 
A few years ago, we began scoring projects based on objective criteria including congestion relief, economic development, environmental benefits and safety improvements.  Not surprisingly, U.S. 1 scored relatively high using these new metrics as compared to projects around the rest of Northern Virginia, a result that underscores my long-term point that U.S. 1 has been long ignored over the last few decades. 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Weekly Column: Federal Tax Reform to Force Action at 2019 General Assembly Session

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Prince William Times, The Fort Hunt Herald, and Potomac Local in the week of November 26, 2018.

Federal Tax Reform to Force Action at 2019 General Assembly Session
At a recent Senate Finance Committee retreat, state legislators had a preview of economic and revenue projections and other significant issues expected to be debated in the 2019 General Assembly session.
A vice-president of Moody’s Analytics said that Virginia’s economy continues to perform well due to increased federal spending coupled with federal tax cuts.  However, he likened the performance to a sugar high and said that indicators are starting to point toward a recession in the next two years because of increased interest rates and increased import/export tariffs.  He cautioned that rising lending could exacerbate a recession.  He also noted that Virginia’s budget was well positioned for a recession because we have bolstered our Rainy Day Fund.
Next, we examined the state budget.  Nearly 70 percent of Virginia’s general fund revenue comes from income taxes.   Traditionally, Virginia has been a “conforming” state, meaning that the Virginia’s definition of adjusted gross income is identical to the federal definition and taxpayers and accountants do not have to use two different sets of rules to figure out taxes.  However, the tax bill passed by Congress in early 2018 significantly rewrote what constitutes income and limited deductions.  Most significantly, Congress and President Trump limited the deductibility of real estate taxes and state and local income taxes to a total of $10,000 (aka “SALT”).

Monday, November 12, 2018

Weekly Column: We Deserve Answers

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, and Potomac Local in the week of November 12, 2018.
We Need Answers

On November 17, 2017,  coming home from work around 10:00 p.m., I saw police lights at the end of Alexandria Avenue where it intersects with Fort Hunt Road in the Mount Vernon area near my home.  I assumed there was an accident. 
The next morning, I learned that an accountant from McLean, Bijan Ghaisar, had been shot by two U.S. Park Police officers after he drove away after being rear-ended by an Uber driver on the George Washington Memorial Parkway near Slater’s Lane.  Very little about the Park Police’s official story made sense to me the next morning.   
About two weeks later, I sent a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) asking a series of questions.  I received a cursory response.  
About two months after the incident, the Fairfax County Police Department (FCPD) released a dash cam video of the incident starting near Dyke Overlook on the George Washington Memorial Parkway.  The video showed Ghaisar driving down the Parkway slightly over the speed limit trailed by two U.S. Park Police cruisers.  Anyone who drives the Parkway knows that without adequate shoulders there are few places to pull over. 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

November 8 Vigil for Bijan Ghaisar

Last Thursday night, I helped organize a vigil for Bijan Ghaisar at the corner of Fort Hunt Road and Alexandria Avenue where he was shot four times in the head, unarmed after he was the victim in a traffic accident - two blocks from my house.

I have sent two letters to the Federal Bureau of Investigation seeking answers and have merely been told "we are working on it."

The Federal Government's failure to promptly issue a report and make a decision in this case is outrageous.

Thank you to the 100 citizens including many Mount Vernon residents who came out to remember Bijan and tell the government that his family and our community deserve answers.

Here is the news coverage in case you missed it.
WJLA Channel 7 - Rep. Don Beyer says FBI investigation into Bijan Ghaisar shooting wrapped up weeks ago (Nov. 8, 2018)   

WTOP - Vigil marks nearly 1 year after Virginia man fatally shot by Park Police

Channel 9 Coverage - Peggy Fox

Channel 4 Coverage - Jackie Bensen 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Report on Coal Ash Hearing #2

Nate Benforado with SELC Addressing Committee
Spent the day today in Richmond for the second meeting of the Joint House/Senate Commerce and Labor Committee meeting on resolving Virginia's coal ash situation.

Dominion Briefing
Dominion was first to the podium.  They briefed the committee on a recent Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion that reversed a Richmond federal judge who held that their Chesapeake Coal Ash landfill was violating the Clean Water Act.  The appellate court held that the trial judge was wrong and that although the landfill was leaking toxic metals, it was not leaking it in a way that violated the Act.

Next, Dominion talked about the status of their request for proposals on coal ash recycling.
  • 86 people from 51 firms attended Dominion's initial information session
  • 26 suppliers indicated interest in bidding
  • They held tours at four sites where 57 people from 23 firms attended
  • They received 115 questions and issued 12 clarifications for the bid process
  • They ultimately received 12 bids with 2,100 pages of information
  • They are currently asking questions of the bidders and then expect to have a report to the legislature by November 15, 2018
Dominion also noted that they are exploring have multiple solutions are multiple sites and not unitary solutions at each site.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Hurricane Florence Approaching East Coast (UPDATES BELOW)

A powerful hurricane is on track to hit the east coast this weekend bringing heavy rain to our region.

Monitor your local news sources for the latest weather conditions, and check the  National Weather Service  for up-to-date information.
Here are couple important tips, websites and numbers to keep you safe:

Monday, September 3, 2018

Weekly Column: Labor Day 2018: Virginia Has a Long Way To Go

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, and Potomac Local in the week of September 3, 2018.
Labor Day 2018: Virginia Has a Long Way to Go

Labor Day this past Monday was a fitting reminder for us to work harder to not only honor working people in the United States and Virginia, but to strengthen our economy and supports for employees.  Virginia has a long way to go.  
Last week Oxfam America released a study that found that Virginia ranked #51 out of 51 as the best state to be an employee – yes, dead last.  This included rankings of #48 in worker protections, #49 in the right to organize, and #51 in wage policies.   This is troubling news. 
Virginia has done nothing to raise the minimum wage since 2009, when Congress increased it to $7.25 per hour or about $15,000 per year without time off.  In Northern Virginia, anyone earning $7.25 per hour has to be either supported by someone else or on government assistance.