The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, the Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of February 5, 2013.
Five Bills Poised to Pass; Two Budget Amendments Adopted
The Virginia legislature is now approaching “crossover” – the day that each body must complete work on its own bills and begin work on bills from the other body.
As I write this, one of my bills has passed the House and four more are probably headed to the Senate for consideration. Earlier this year, I represented a client who had work done on his condominium by a contractor. My client did not know the contractor was unlicensed. An unlicensed contractor cannot sue because their contract is illegal (like trying to sue on a contract for cocaine), but he placed a lien on my client’s condominium. I was shocked that there was nothing in the mechanic’s lien statute that required a license. My bill requires all contractors to put their license number and information of any mechanic’s lien. This will help protect consumers from predatory lenders. The House approved it unanimously.
My second bill requires each community college to have a point of contact for student mental health referrals and an express policy in place for teachers. A 2011 Virginia College Mental Health Study found that the number one shortcoming in the Virginia Community College System was the lack of a mental health referral process for students. Referral breakdowns played a part in the Jared Loughner (Arizona) and James Holmes (Colorado) shootings.
My third bill on the Floor would add solar thermal energy to the Virginia Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard to allow individuals, apartments or businesses with solar hot water to generate renewable energy certificates to be sold on the open market. Solar thermal energy is one of the most cost-effective renewable energy solutions on the market.
I am also chief co-patron of legislation that allows some consumers to collectively net their electrical meters against renewable energy generated on their property to do what is called community net metering. Next year, I hope to expand this to suburban communities so families in neighborhoods with heavy tree cover can cooperatively construct solar projects to power their homes.
Legislation that I chief co-patroned making texting while driving is proceeding to the full House and my four-year battle to reconfigure the Commonwealth Transportation Board will be voted on by the full House soon as well.
The House Appropriations Committee accepted several of my budget amendments. First, they included language to require school systems to report on how many children have access to broadband and computers in their homes. If implemented, this would allow us to begin to address the “digital divide” in our schools – urban, suburban, and rural – that I attempted to address with my legislation addressing online textbooks.
The committee also approved my amendment to restore one of Fairfax County’s General District Court judgeships which is critical, in part because Transurban has predicted a massive increase in toll violations in the Beltway’s new express lanes . Adding a judge will get you out of traffic court faster if you get a speeding ticket. If not, expect to spend most of the day in traffic court.
The House Appropriations Committee also recommended expanding Medicaid with major conditions. This could greatly benefit the 44th District which has the highest Medicaid population in Fairfax County, but the conditions needs to go. However, the Senate did not include an expansion.
Redistricting of state senate districts hangs over the chamber. The majority has not chosen to bring the bill up yet and it is not clear what will happen. I will vote no.
Some members also announced new funding last week for school safety officers. I spoke in the House on the failure to discuss the underlying problem, the availability of assault weapons, lethal bullets and multi-bullet magazines. You can watch my floor speech on my You Tube Channel which you can access from my website, online newsletter or You Tube.
We are having a huge transportation fight this week. It is unclear where it is going as I write this. Also, after 400 votes in the next two days, we will move to the budget and Senate bills.
Stay tuned for more information by following my Twitter feed, following me on Facebook or reading my online newsletter, “The Dixie Pig,” at scottsurovell.blogspot.com.
It is an honor to serve as your delegate.