Saturday, February 22, 2020

Weekly Column: Assault Weapons Ban – Getting It Right

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 February 23, 2020.
Assault Weapons Ban – Getting It Right

Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee considered a House of Delegates’ bill to regulate assault rifles and other firearm attachments.  I have always supported stronger regulation of assault rifles. 

I lived through the 2002 D.C. sniper attacks while crouching in my car getting gas to avoid being shot.  In 2016, three police officers including one of my constituents were shot with an AR-15.  Officer Ashley Guindon was killed on her first day on the job.  I do not support civilian ownership of weapons of war that are unnecessary for hunting or self-protection.

Experts estimate that there are five to ten million assault weapons in the U.S., including at least 100,000 in Virginia.  The proposed House bill felonized the sale or transfer of assault weapons, certain magazines and silencers, and had no buyback program for assault rifles.  It felonized the possession of certain magazines and silencers after two years.  We repeatedly advised the House that the votes did not exist in the Senate, but the House chose to send the bill over by a one vote margin with three House Democrats voting “no” and one not voting.  

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Weekly Column: Big Changes Coming in Energy, Civil Justice, and Labor Laws

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 February 10, 2020.
The Sixth week of the General Assembly brought us to “Crossover” – the day each chamber is required to cease work on their own bills and work on bills from the other Chamber.

The last two days brought furious action on many major bills.  Forty-three of my own bills crossed over to the House of Delegates.  Last week, the Senate passed my legislation creating driver privilege cards for undocumented immigrants for the first time and on a bipartisan basis.  We still have work to do in order to reconcile the House and Senate bills, but it will change the lives of over 100,000 Virginia residents.

We also passed my legislation authorizing state-level class action lawsuits.  Forty-eight other states and the District of Columbia already allow similar lawsuits.  The lack of such remedies in Virginia mean that corporations can steal money from Virginians in smaller amounts and never face justice. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Weekly Column: The Virginia Legislature Is Addressing Many Concerns

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 February 10, 2020.
The Virginia Legislature Is Addressing Many Concerns 
In the fifth week of the Virginia General Assembly session, the Senate passed my legislation increasing the requirement for auto insurance minimum liability from $25,000 to $35,000 and minimum property damage covered from $20,000 to $40,000.  These minimums have not been adjusted since 1975 when cars cost $4,400 on average and medical bills were much lower.  The failure to raise these means that many injured people are not receiving fair compensation for their injuries or property damage.   
The Senate passed a bill to repeal Virginia’s requirement that people produce a photo identification to vote.  This was Virginia law prior to 2012.  Upon enactment, after July 1, 2020, voters will need to show specified identification at the poll check-in, but if they do not have any of the proper forms of identification, they will still be allowed to vote after signing an affirmation of their identity, subject to violation of a felony for lying.  This system worked fine for decades without any incidents of voter fraud.  We should not assume that every person, like some of our seniors or the permanently disabled, has a government-issued, photo identification.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Weekly Column: Week #4 - Important Bills Are Moving

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 17, 2020.
Important Bills Are Moving

In the fourth week of our historic General Assembly session, both the Senate and the House of Delegates voted to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment after a 50 year battle.  Our Clerks transmitted the ratifications to the Archivist of the United States of America and now the battle moves to Congress and the courts.  
We had a lengthy debate in the Senate on repealing unnecessary restrictions on women’s access to reproductive health, including requiring an intrusive, medically-unnecessary ultrasound before seeking an abortion and rules designed to make abortion clinics extremely expensive to construct.  The Senate voted 20-20 and the Lieutenant Governor broke the tie to approve the measure.  
On Tuesday, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee passed my legislation to eviscerate predatory lending in Virginia.  The bill provides a 36% interest rate cap with monthly fees that result in annual percentage Interest rates (APR’s) of 50-110%, depending on the length of the loan.  The longer the loan, the smaller the rate.  The bill would prohibit the 267% loans currently allowed at title lenders, businesses that have exploded along U.S. 1 and online loans currently made at rates exceeding 400%.  I expect a tough Senate floor fight. The House has already passed similar legislation.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Weekly Column: Fracking Ban, No Excuse Voting, and Pedestrian Safety Bills Move Forward

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 17, 2020.
               First, Monday brought a large firearms rights protest to Capitol Square.  Over 20,000 Virginians protested on and off Capitol Grounds.  Several arrests were made before the protest due to anarchists discussing shooting during the protests.  Most counter protestors stayed away to avoid creating conflict. 
               I met with about 30 firearms rights supporters including a handful of my constituents in my office.  We discussed several bills including our “red flag” bill which was the largest focus.  While we agreed to disagree about many matters, we had a very civil discussion and I appreciated their input.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Weekly Column: Virginia Legislature Moved Quickly on Equal Rights and Gun Violence Prevention

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 17, 2020.
Virginia Legislature Moved Quickly on Equal Rights and Gun Violence Prevention

The second week of the General Assembly Session put us at the center of American history.  We moved several long-delayed, legislative priorities.
               On Wednesday, both the Senate and the House passed resolutions to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to make Virginia the 38th and final state to ratify the Constitutional amendment.  The Senate has passed the resolution at least six times in past years, but the House of Delegates has never approved it.  Ratification will hopefully bring equal rights to 160 million women in America and attention will now shift to the U. S. Congress. Congress can abolish or extend the 1982 ratification deadline they previously set.  I was proud to carry this legislation every year since 2012 and even during years when few people were paying attention.  Virginia is finally on the right side of history for the first time in about 150 years. 
          On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which I serve, had its first meeting and we immediately addressed firearm violence prevention.  We considered, modified and passed four bills, three of which the full Senate passed later in the week and one of which was continued for final vote this Tuesday. 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Weekly Column: First Week Brings New Majority and New Priorities

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 10, 2020.
On Wednesday, January 8, I was sworn in for my second term as the State Senator for the 36th District for the next four years.  This this session will be my eleventh Regular Session and it is proving to be an exciting time to be in the General Assembly of Virginia.

This marks the first time that the Democratic Caucuses have held a majority of seats along with a Democratic Governor since I was in law school twenty-six years ago.  We are poised to make significant policy changes in Virginia that will provide long-term benefits to the Commonwealth.

The Senate Democratic Caucus chose me to serve under the Majority Leader and Caucus Chairman as the Vice Chairman of the Caucus.  I am excited and honored to serve in this new role - especially as we assume the majority.  

Monday, December 2, 2019

Weekly Column: Getting Bills Ready for the 2020 State Legislature

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 2, 2019.
Getting Bills Ready for the 2020 State Legislature

The 2020 Virginia General Assembly will convene in about a month and legislators are now preparing bills to propose.   Many constituents and advocacy groups are proposing legislation.

Two weeks ago, I reported on some of the bigger issues we are likely to tackle.  In this column, I am covering a few of the bills that I will introduce.  I will discuss more in future columns.

In the 2018 and 2019 sessions, we came very close to passing legislation prohibiting drivers from having a phone in their hand in a moving vehicle.  In the last session, we approved legislation to prohibit this in construction zones, but the Speaker killed it by ruling Governor Ralph Northam’s attempt to widen it to all highways not germane.  It will pass this session. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Weekly Column: 2020 Virginia Legislature to Consider Many Reforms

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 17, 2019.
2020 Virginia Legislature to Consider Many Reforms

          Election Day, November 5, 2019, brought a political earthquake to Virginia.  The Governor’s office, House of Delegates and Senate of Virginia will be controlled by Democrats for the first time since 1991.  Virginians voted for change and we are likely to see significant changes in Virginia policy after nearly 30 years of delayed and avoided actions.  The 2020 Session is a welcomed opportunity to bring Virginia up to speed with the rest of the country.  Your state legislators are now preparing for the 2020 General Assembly session which will begin on January 8 and end in March.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Get Up to Speed on 395 Express Lanes Opening!

On November 17th, 2019, the I-395 Express Lanes will open to E-ZPass® or E-ZPass® Flex holders. This will allow single-occupancy vehicles to use the high-occupancy vehicles lane at all hours. The 395 Express Lanes project has been underway since August 2017, and with its completion, Northern Virginia commuters will notice the improvement of traffic flow and safety on our interstate.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Montclair Traffic Calming Feedback Needed!

Montclair Community in Dumfries, VA
Earlier this week, Prince William County Department of Transportation proposed three alternatives for changes to the Waterway-Silvan Glen intersection in Montclair. Delegate Elizabeth Guzman and I are bringing these options to the community to invite your feedback. Please review the information from PWCDOT below and complete the form HERE or at the bottom of this blog post so you can make your voice heard!

Waterway suffers from increased traffic volumes and speeding due to electronic way-finding services such as Google Maps and Waze. When traffic backs up on Minnieville and Dumfries Road, it spills into neighborhood streets like Cardinal Drive and Waterway. While I have introduced legislation to allow localities to designate certain streets to be excluded from electronic routing registries, they have not passed committee. The map below shows data gathered by VDOT regarding average traffic volumes and speeds.



Increased speed and volume have become a major concern at Waterway and Silvan Glen because of children entering and leaving Henderson Elementary School. Many parents whose children live close enough to walk are concerned for their children's safety when crossing Waterway to get to school.

PWCDOT has proposed the proposals on the left. County staff are now reviewing these proposals with school and police staff, finalizing the analysis, and will make a recommendation to VDOT after everything is completed.  The proposal will also be presented to the Montclair Homeowners Association for feedback and endorsement. 

The first proposal does away with the southern cross walk and creates an area for respite on the median in the middle of Waterway. It would also add a streetlight on the northeast corner.

The second proposal would retain the southern crosswalk but also move the northern crosswalk up on to the median and add a streetlight to improve visibility.

We need feedback from Montclair residents to forward to VDOT regarding the proposal.  Every comment completed on the form below will be forwarded to VDOT.

Ultimately, speeding poses the greatest risk to safety.  Pole mounted speed indicators have proven effective at lowering speeds on neighborhood roads. As shown on the right, Prince William County is also proposing to add one to the north of this intersection.

Please provide your feedback below.



Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Weekly Column: Assault Weapons and Farmer's Markets Don't Mix

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 September 8, 2019.
Every Saturday morning, my father and 12 year-old son go to the Alexandria Farmer’s Market.  My son gets cookies.  My dad gets ham biscuits.  Two weeks ago, they brought me some homemade salsa.  This weekend, they got something else.
Four men in a group called “The Right to Bear Arms” showed up at the Alexandria City Farmer’s Market carrying AR-15 assault rifles outfitted with scopes and bipods for sniping.  According to a video one of the group members, they staged this action to “educate people” about gun rights and “exercising our constitutional rights without fear to do so.”  The video is also filled with the usual references to freedom and the government taking away rights if you do not use them.  He also indicated they intended to do these kind of “monthly walks.”