Monday, February 3, 2014

Weekly Column: Bills Are Moving

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of February 3, 2014.
Bills Are Moving

Several of my bills moved in the Virginia House of Delegates last week and we saw some political theater in Richmond.

Several of my ethics bills are either passing or being incorporated into  "omnibus" ethics legislation. 

This week, we learned that taxpayers have spent over $800,000 defending former Governor Bob McDonnell before Attorney General Mark Herring terminated his taxpayer-funded outside counsel. My legislation proposed limit attorneys’ fees to the same rates that Virginia pays for court-appointed counsel for individuals charged with serious felonies -- $1,235 – but was modified to require the Attorney General to pay "reasonable" attorneys’ fees.

I also introduced a budget amendment at the request of the Appropriations Committee Chairman requiring the Attorney General to file a report every year detailing outside counsel and their costs so we can conduct closer budget oversight of this practice.

Two of my other bills are moving.  One limits contributions and gifts to the governor while negotiating Governor's Opportunity Fund grants and a second bill prohibits the giving and receiving of gifts between the Attorney General and litigants during pending litigation. I call this my "No More Turkey Dinners" Bill because former Attorney General Cuccinelli accepted a $1,500 Thanksgiving dinner and $3,000 lake house stay from Johnnie Williams during pending tax litigation with his company.

My bill to allow a 911 recording to be admitted in court without having the dispatcher in court is nearing passage. This will enable dispatchers to spend time doing their job instead of waiting around courtrooms to testify that a recording is authentic.

The House of Delegates approved two of my other bills last week. One would allow a locality to charge up to $5 per traffic ticket to fund hardware and software so that police officers can use barcode readers and printers in their vehicles when issuing traffic citations and to purchase software to digitally transmit citation information to courts. Improving their digital capabilities will reduce typographical errors, speed up the ticket-writing process and get officers off the side of roads where they can be injured.

In Fairfax County, it will also get nine administrative professionals who hand-enter over 200,000 tickets per year off the computers and out into active law enforcement.  I was able to move this legislation through with help from my Republican colleague, Delegate Ron Villanueva from Virginia Beach.

The House also unanimously passed my bill to clarify who is preferred to run a real estate brokerage upon the death of its owner. This will not only provide stability and clarity to employees, it will also ensure that  real estate listings continue to be managed by competent professionals and prevent listings from being caught up in family disputes. Mount Vernon trust and estates attorney Deborah Matthews suggested this bill to me after one of her clients was caught up in a family fight over a brokerage.

Last week, Attorney General Mark Herring announced that in his opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor nullified Virginia’s constitutional and statutory bans on same sex marriage.  Now, the House of Delegates is poised to pass legislation giving a single legislator legal standing to go to court to defend Virginia’s gay marriage ban or enforce any law the Attorney General refuses to apply. This legislation will die in the Senate, but my House colleagues are pressing forward nonetheless. This week, we will also vote on legislation to call a new United States Constitutional Convention to rewrite our Constitution.

Carla Castro Claure, Colleen Grady, Regine Victoria,
Nia White, Dorothy Bowerfind and Dr. Jane O'Hara
My five Amundson Fellows visited Richmond this week with their chaperone Dr. Jane O’Hara,  Assistant Principal at Fort Belvoir Elementary School. We had three students from West Potomac, two from Mount Vernon and one from Edison High Schools. They testified at a hearing on the need for computers and broadband connections for low-income students, met with their Senators, cabinet members, government relations professionals, and toured historic state buildings.

Finally, I have received over 500 responses to my 2014 Constituent Survey. If you have not responded, please complete it at  Encourage high school students to as well. It’s a good civics lesson!

Please keep the feedback coming and thank you for allowing me to serve as your state delegate.


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