How Much Have We Lost?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Weekily Column: The 2011 Session Concludes: Five Bills Pass, A Unanimous Budget

The following column appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette, Mount Vernon Voice, and Patch.com on March 3, 2011:

The Virginia General Assembly wrapped up the 2011 Session this past Sunday around 8 p.m. It was quite a journey.

Five bills I authored are now sitting on the Governor’s desk waiting for his signature. I discussed those last week. I am especially pleased that legislation I drafted requiring home energy auditors to be licensed was passed by the House of Delegates on a very close vote with 29 Democrats and 28 Republicans in support. I worked hard both last year and this year with the Energy Efficiency industry, Dominion Resources, and the McDonnell Administration to put together a coalition of consumer groups, industry groups, and legislators from both sides of the aisle to get the bill through.

Senator Puller’s resolution authorizing the U.S. 1 Transit Study was unanimously adopted by the House of Delegates last week. Both Secretary Connaughton and the Director of Rail and Public Transit, Thelma Drake, have assured both myself and Senator Puller that they will move forward on the study with available funding. This is the first step in the process of laying the groundwork for an enhanced U.S. 1 transportation infrastructure.

We also passed a budget on a unanimous vote for the first time in anyone’s memory. Both sides made significant sacrifices to reach a budget that was mutually agreeable. During the budget floor debates, House Democrats were unified in saying that “transportation is important, but it’s wrong to take money from children, seniors, education, health care or public safety to pay for roads.” House Republicans heard our message and more than $117 million previously budgeted for roads are now dedicated to funding our schools, police, and mental health services including an additional $4.1 million in education funding for Fairfax County above the Governor’s proposal.

Around the Commonwealth, brave men and women put their lives on the line every day to protect our safety. Sheriffs will receive an additional $22.6 million over the biennium in the adopted budget. An additional $12.4 million is allocated for police through HB 599 funding. We must fulfill our responsibility to children from low-income families by funding the medical services they need. The adopted budget restores $12.5 million in children’s mental health services and provides $3.1 million for a pilot program aimed at managing the care of children in need of community mental health services.

We cannot turn our backs on our seniors when they need us the most. The original proposal to cap personal care services at 40 hours per week was draconian. The adopted budget caps personal care services at 56 hours per week and requires the development of criteria for exceptions to this cap including the level of care, activities of daily living and risk of institutionalization.

To move our intellectually disabled and developmentally disabled citizens from trainings centers to community based care, we established a trust fund of $30 million. This funding begins to address the serious flaws in the treatment of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the Commonwealth as identified by the Department of Justice.

We also passed a significant piece of transportation legislation. Three weeks ago I set out the reasons I opposed the legislation. Several of my concerns were addressed with the compromise legislation, but I still have significant concerns. I ultimately voted “yes” for the final transportation bill, but I want to emphasize that it is a very minor step and does very little to solve our transportation problem beyond 2011.

We are back in Richmond on April 4 for our special session on redistricting and the Reconvened or “Veto” Session. My next columns will discuss the redistricting process and changes that we have seen in our community since the last census, the new transportation legislation, and the other bills we passed this session.

I have also posted a summary of some of the more important votes along with my votes and a more detailed summary of the budget on my blog at scottsurovell.blogspot.com. I will also post my entire voting record on my blog once I have received it. I have also posted over 16 floor speeches and 180 articles in the last fifteen months containing my analysis on the issues facing the General Assembly and our community. You can also email me at scottsurovell@gmail.com if you have any feedback.

It is an honor to serve as your state delegate.

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