How Much Have We Lost?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Weekly Column: A National Spotlight Shines on Virginia and Fighting Education Cuts

This column below was my weekly column that appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette, Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in their February 29, 2012 editions:

A National Spotlight Shines on Virginia and Fighting Education Cuts

This past week, the Virginia General Assembly received even more national media attention. None of it related to our budget debate and none of it was good.

Early in the week, the legislature was featured by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. That lead to a slew of news stories, negotiations, speeches, and legislative maneuvers. When all the dust was cleared, the so-called “personhood” bill that would ban contraception was continued by the Virginia Senate to 2013 for discussion.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

General Assembly Honors Maj. Justin Constantine USMC

Today, I had the honor of taking Center Aisle in the House of Delegates Chamber to present my friend Major Justin Constantine a commending resolution (below) on behalf of the House, Senate and all Virginians today.

Video of my presentation is below where Major Constantine received a forty second standing ovation which was incredibly moving. 

 

Justin is a graduate of Fairfax High School.  He and I met at James Madison University.  We were both political science majors and regulars in each other's fraternity basements.  He went on to law school in Colorado and enlisted with the United States Marine Corps' Judge Advocate General. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Weekly Column: National Controversy and the Budget Process Begins

This column appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette, Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch on February 23, 2012: 
National Controversy and the Budget Process Begins

Crossover Week at the General Assembly found us in the national media spotlight of Saturday Night Live, CNN and the Rachel Maddow Show. Over 1,000 demonstrators appeared at the State Capitol this week.

On Monday and Tuesday, the House of Delegates passed legislation redefining a “person” for purposes of the Code of Virginia as beginning at conception. This has been called the “Personhood” bill. Given that the word “person” is used 25,000 times in the Code of Virginia, this would have far-reaching consequences. This would include taxes, child support, life insurance, health insurance, the practice of medicine, criminal statutes, civil liability, or even High Occupancy Vehicles (e.g. HOV-2).

My caucus attempted to add an amendment to the bill to clearly exclude FDA-approved contraception from this legislation. That amendment failed on a 64-34 vote.

We also passed legislation requiring an ultrasound within twenty-four hours of having an abortion. Given that many abortions occur in the first trimester and a fetus cannot be properly visualized in the first trimester with an external sonogram, this would require a medically-unnecessary transvaginal or what some are calling as vaginally penetrating ultrasound.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Counterintuitive Politics of Poverty in Virginia

The New York Times ran a story about the geography of the receipt of government payments in the country.  It includes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Income Support (food stamps, disability, EITC), Veterans Benefits, and Unemployment Insurance. 

You can see the interactive chart here.  The accompanying NYT article is here.

I zoomed the overall government benefits charts of Virginia for kicks, ran it from 1969 to 2009, and then pieced the pictures together so we could see them together for comparative purposes.  If you click on the picture at the right, it will blow up so you can see it more easily. 

If you're really curious, you can click on individual charts an isolate Social Secuirty, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. by jurisdiction.

As a preface, let me say that it drives me crazy when people lump all of Fairfax County together as one jurisdiction.  Fairfax County is now larger than eight states.  Looking at the County as a whole always masks the issues in my district and it is really frustrating when this kind of information goes out.  The same thing is true for Prince William County which has its pockets of have's and have not's notwithstanding its relative wealth overall. 

For example, I was recently given data by the state that said 15% of my constituents are receiving Medicaid.  Delegate Kory's district (near Bailey's Crossroads) is at 15%.  The rest of Fairfax County is between 3% and 10%.

In terms of Virginia, there are probably different trends at work. Looking at the individual charts, the drivers are mainly increased percentages of Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment Insurance. 

2012 Session Interview with Cable Reports

About two weeks ago, I was interviewed by the Cable Reports with the Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association and Cox Communications to provide an update of events in my district.

We talked about:
  • Redistricting changes to the 44th District
  • Congressional Redistricting
  • Voter Suppression Legislation
  • U.S. 1 Redevelopment
  • K-12 Investments
  • Higher Education Cuts
Here's the interview.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Car Title Lenders Explode on U.S. 1

Today, Patch is reporting that Mike's Italian Restaurant is being converted into a Car Title Lender. 

They will joint the new lender at the Ranch House near Walmart at King's Crossing and the other one on Beacon Hill.  The number of car title lenders have tripled on Route 1 in six months.

In our 2010 session, we voted on legislation to reform our car title lending laws to limit the predatory practices of this industry.  In the 2011, session, the industry came back and said that the General Assembly had "mistakenly" prohibited them from allowing non-Virginia vehicles to be used as collateral for their loans.

From my point of view, the industry wanted to be able to lend to out-of-state lenders because they wanted to lend money to people from D.C. and Maryland (or other border states) who were subject to more restrictive laws, and to active duty military.  I argued to people that U.S. 1 would be ground zero for car title lending due to its proximity to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.  I thought this was the last kind of redevelopment we needed on U.S. 1 if we were going to improve the reputation of our area. 

The bill passed the Senate on one of the closest votes I have ever seen on our floor with the anti-car title lender forces being led by former Delegate Glen Oder from Norfolk.  The final vote was 51-47, but two members later filed slips indicating they had mistakenly voted yes instead of no.  One member didn't vote. 

Looks like I was right.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

**UPDATED** - Black History Month & Mount Vernon's Paul Sullivan

Last year, I was reading a Metro page story about one of my constituents who had recently passed away named Paul Sullivan.  I was dumbfounded that I had never heard of him.  Here's the Washington Post story.


Mr. Sullivan moved his family to Bucknell Manor in 1950's.  When he decided to rent his house to a black family and allowed him to use the membership at the Little Hunting Creek Pool that came with the house, the pool and the neighborhood went into revolt, kicked his family out of the pool, and began a campaign of harassment against him and his family.  Their mailbox was blown up repeatedly, late night phone calls threats ensued, and his pastor refused to discuss the matter from the pulpit. 

Weekly Column: Bipartisan Transportation Progress and A Week of Controversy

This column appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette, Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch on February 16, 2012: 
Bipartisan Transportation Progress and A Week of Controversy

This week brings the midpoint of the General Assembly Session and “Crossover Day” – the day that the House and Senate must finish all work on bills originating from their own chambers.

After three years of work, my legislation to “redistricting” the Commonwealth Transportation Board (“CTB”) passed the House of Delegates. The CTB decides where transportation dollars are spent. There are nine commissioners representing districts derived from the congressional districts in 1930. Today, Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and Richmond have 64.95% of Virginia’s population and three of nine regional votes. The other six districts represent 35.05% of the state and have six of nine regional votes. My bill requires representation based on current congressional districts.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

**UPDATED** VDOT Suspends All Secondary Road Repaving in NOVA

Last week, a constituent emailed me about the condition of Sherwood Hall Lane, a major road in my district that connects U.S. 1 with several major roads including Parkers Lane, Fort Hunt Road and the George Washington Memorial Parkway.
My constituent suggested that a 100 yard stretch of road could be milled and repaved between the fire station and Fordson Road.  He described the present surface as "a minefield" and noted that we were able to recently get Fort Hunt Road repaved. 

I have cut and pasted the response I received below because I thought many of my constituents might find it enlightening.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mulligan Road Construction Begins!

The on and off again Mulligan Road project is now back on.  The bid protest of Overland Corporation was dismissed on December 21, 2011 and it's all systems go for the construction of Mulligan Road.

I wrote about this last in October:



The project is being run by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).  Last month, I spoke with our local liason and he advised me that site preparation work had already begun.

About three weeks ago, our regional VDOT officials advised me as follows:
I have not been by the site myself, but many people have advised me that the contractor has deployed and there are signs of construction on the site.

Rewriting 400 Years of Virginia Common Law

Last week, we voted on two bills relating to "The Castle Doctrine."  Some people call it the "Make My Day Law" or "Stand Your Ground" laws because they remove a common law duty to retreat if that can be done safely.  We have passed these bills in prior years, but this year, it actually stands a change of passing so it is worth talking about.

The name the "Castle Doctrine" comes from the concept that "a man's home is his castle."  The first bill (HB 48) creates a new Castle Doctrine in criminal cases - it says that if someone unlawfully enters "a dwelling" and commits and "over act" towards "an occupant," one may use deadly force.  The second bill (HB 14) creates civil immunity for the "occupant" defending the property - the shooter can't be sued by the deceased person's family. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Weekly Column: Attacking Tax Evasion While Gun, Abortion, and Voter Suppression Dominates

This column appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette, Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch on February 9, 2012: 
Attacking Tax Evasion While Gun, Abortion, and Voter Suppression Dominates

The last week of January brought a quickened pace to the legislative process as committees worked to push bills through committee. We are required to complete all work on bills from our own Chamber by “Crossover” on February 14 which means they must be reported out of committee by February 10.

First, several of my bills have continued to move through the system. Two of my bills have passed to the Senate. My legislation to streamline filings in child custody and visitation cases was unanimously approved by the Courts of Justice Committee but stalled in Appropriations due to the current budget and the cost of reprogramming state computers.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

MWMAA Silver Line Update

Yesterday, we were given a briefing regarding the status of the construction of the new Silver Line.  Phase II to Loudoun County is in its final negotiations.

I am hopeful that the state's investment in this project will lay the groundwork for investment in future transit projects such as the extension of the Yellow Line. 

You can always find more information online at the official website:



WMAA Rail to Dulles Update

Monday, February 6, 2012

Rising Hope Visits the Capitol

Last week, I was visited by about 40 parishoners of Rising Hope Methodist Mission Church on United Methodists' Day. 

In 2011, The General Assembly commended Rising Hope on its 15th Anniversary. It focuses its mission on empowering the homeless, poor, and overlooked in the Richmond Highway Corridor.  Among other things, it helps run the Ventures in Community Hypothermia Outreach Program (VIC-HOP) with other area churches for which they received a General Assembly Commending Resolution in 2010

It is also leading a new campaign to take advantage of Governor McDonnell's program to restore the civil rights of ex-felons who are served their sentences and been law abiding as part of his prisoner reentry program.


You can watch my introducing of Rising Hope in our chamber on the video below.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Weekly Column: Progress on Transportation, Government Efficiency & Controversial Legislation Up for Debate

This column appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette, Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch on February 2, 2012: 

Progress on Transportation, Government Efficiency & Controversial Legislation Up for Debate


Week #4 of the General Assembly saw two of my bills pass and many controversial proposals starting to hit the floor of the House of Delegates.

I had two pieces of legislation that passed the House of Delegates unanimously. Both bills clarify the Code of Virginia on technical issues. I have several other bills that are working their way through committee.

I also saw some progress on transportation – at least on the procedural side. The Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) decides how transportation money is spent in Virginia. The regional commissioners represent districts that were based on 1930’s congressional districts. Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and Richmond have 65% of the state’s population but only 33% of the regional votes on the CTB (3 of 9). In 2010, 2011 and this year, I introduced legislation requiring them to be allocated by current congressional districts. This would give Northern Virginia at least three votes instead of one.

This year, my legislation was also introduced by three Republican delegates and two senators. We agreed to consolidate our proposals into one bill being carried by my colleague Delegate Tom Rust and we now have over fifty-one bipartisan cosponsors from around the state and the bill should be on the floor by the end of the week. I am pleased it is finally moving.

When I turned forty years-old this year, I had to renew my driver’s license. While going through the process, I noticed that if I indicated a change of address, the DMV intended to mail me a voter registration form which I would then have to mail in. I introduced legislation that would require the DMV to electronically transmit the change request to the local voter registrar saving the need for printing, postage, and mailing. Given that the DMV processes 500,000 address changes per year, this should save the DMV at least $250,000 per year. My bill was passed out of subcommittee last week and should be in full committee next week.

Late last week, we debated repealing the requirement that schools advise the parents of sixth-grade girls of the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine and allow parents to opt their child out before administering the vaccine. Virginia passed this requirement in 2007. HPV infects about 80% of all American women at some point in their life. It causes cervical cancer which kills 233,000 women per year in the world (about 4,000 in the US). We had a passionate floor debate. Many in my chamber think that the vaccine incentivizes promiscuity and raised concerns about the safety of the vaccine although studies have shown few problems. I voted against repeal and the bill passed 62-34. The repeal will likely become law.

This week, we are debating additional restrictions to voting including bills to prohibit voting without valid identification and limiting public access to the post-election meetings where votes are verified. I opposed both measures but they are expected to pass. There are no documented cases of voter impersonation in Virginia and I believe prosecution of a felony is sufficient disincentive to discourage that kind of behavior and I believe the motives of this bill are purely political.

Voting is a fundamental constitutional right. In knocking 12,000 doors in my district, I have met many elderly voters that do not need a driver’s license. There is a monastery near Bryant School that where thirty nuns live who probably do not have ID. Over 20,000 licenses are reported lost every year, plus 500,000 licenses are suspended every year and many of those are physically forfeited. Your right to vote should not be dependent upon whether you can pay a traffic ticket or can keep track of your wallet.

Please continue to follow my website (www.scottsurovell.org) or blog (scottsurovell.blogspot.com) for current updates. Friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/ssurovell). Over 200 households have responded so far! You can also comment on legislation, set up a meeting or request a Capitol tour at www.scottsurovell.org.

Good government requires your involvement so please be in touch or come visit in Richmond so I can best represent you in the General Assembly. It is an honor to serve as your State Delegate.

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