Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Weekly Column: Session Midpoint: Twelve Bills Marching On

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of February 10, 2014.
Session Midpoint:  Twelve Bills Marching On 

As we approach the midpoint of this session, I have more good news.  Twelve of my bills have passed the House, are poised to pass, or are causing changes:
  • Repeal of the tax on hybrid vehicles passed two weeks ago. 
  • Legislation to allow parents to “freeze” their children’s credit through age 16 passed the House unanimously.  I introduced this after my 13 and 11-year-old daughters received credit card solicitations. Children are easy targets for identity theft because it is not discovered until they are much older. Virginia is now poised to be the sixth state to adopt such legislation.
  • My bill clarifying who controls a real estate brokerage on death of a broker passed unanimously. This will help protect consumers and the deceased owner’s family.
  • Legislation to add Marines and members of the Coast Guard to serve on juries passed unanimously.  I noticed that current law only includes active duty, non-Virginia domiciled members of the Army, Navy and Air Force.  
  • My legislation to allow Fairfax County to charge $5 per traffic ticket to purchase electronic traffic ticketing systems passed last week and will save taxpayers millions of dollars.   
Passage of several others bills by Tuesday looks promising: 
  • My bill prohibiting gifts to the Governor during the negotiation of Governor’s Opportunity Fund Grants was included in the majority omnibus ethics legislation. 
  • My legislation to limit gifts to state and local elected officials and employees during the procurement process was included in the omnibus ethics legislation. 
  • My legislation to allow 911 tapes to be admitted in court without a live witness is likely to pass soon.  Enactment of this bill will help our 911 dispatchers  focus on doing their jobs.
  • My bill to prohibit part-time local government employees from performing political activities as part of their official duties will likely pass the House this week.   A Loudoun County grand jury suggested this bill after a member of the Loudoun Board of Supervisors used his part-time government employee to perform the supervisor’s political activities. 
My legislation to clarify that Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exclusions have no bearing on court subpoenas is poised for passage.

Several other bills are stimulating change without actually passing. I introduced legislation prohibiting circuit court clerks from charging a new filing fees in a case after a confessed judgment is set aside and a case instituted on the docket for trial. These can cost as much as $400. The Supreme Court has changed their clerk’s manual in light of my bill to prohibit the practice.

After I introduced legislation to expand FOIA to the State Corporation Commission (SCC), the SCC worked with the regulated industries and developed a bill seeking to make most of the same information publicly available, but not through FOIA. The SCC’s approach suffers from serious flaws, but it is better than nothing.   

I introduced legislation modeled on Colorado’s successful “solar gardens” to allow groups of homeowners in communities with heavy tree cover to pool their money, rent roof space from a church or school and net the energy generated from the panel against the energy on their home electric bills. While my bill failed, Dominion Resources has agreed to work with me after this session to develop a plan without changes to Virginia law. I am optimistic that people in the 44th District will be able to invest in and choose renewable “green” power for their homes in the near future.

Tuesday is “crossover” – the day that each body must complete work on their own bills before they start to work on bills from the other body and serious negotiations begin over the budget.  

There are also many unsound bills going through which I will address in my next column.   Also, by the end of next week, we should have news on the budget including Medicaid expansion and funding to continuation of the preliminary engineering and environmental studies for the U.S. 1.  Cross your fingers.

Over 500 people have responded to my  survey. Keep the responses and the feedback coming or send me an email at scottsurovell@gmail.com. 

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your state delegate!

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