Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Weekly Column: One Week Left!

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of March 3, 2014.
One Week Left for General Assembly

We have one more week before the General Assembly Session is scheduled to adjourn, and pressure is mounting to finish our work. 

On Friday, live on WTOP, Governor McAuliffe signed legislation repealing the $64 per year Hybrid Tax and mandating refunds to everyone who paid.  I am pleased that we will no longer be taxing virtuous conduct and that the wishes of 7,700 Virginians expressed in the petition I circulated with Senator Adam Ebbin were honored. 

Closing the healthcare coverage gap or the Medicaid expansion continues to dominate the discussion in Richmond.  Republicans in the State Senate have proposed a compromise plan which would use federal monies to fund a state insurance program to cover some, but not all of the individuals currently not insured.  It is not as comprehensive as a full Medicaid expansion, but it is at least something.

Unfortunately, the House of Delegates has continued to refuse to negotiate on expanding Medicaid and continued to insist that we need to go slow.  Families’ lack of health insurance is an urgent matter along with escalating health insurance premiums.  Virginians are also paying a whole series of new taxes due to the Affordable Care Act that are being diverted around the United States but coming back to Virginia.  I also do not think it is right to fund a $400 million new office building for ourselves while telling 400,000 Virginians we cannot afford to expand health coverage at virtually no cost to Virginia taxpayers. 

Both sides are now threatening to refuse to pass a budget which means our session will either go into overtime or we will adjourn and immediately convene a special session to consider a budget. 

We also continued work on ethics legislation last week.  The House Republicans agreed to include my proposal to limit gifts to the Governor and Attorney General during litigation.  However, they limited it to tangible gifts and still allowed intangible gifts so Johnnie Williams’ $1,500 turkey dinner for Ken Cuccinelli will still be allowed.  Also, the Senate is pushing back on restrictions on the House’s version of ethics reform.  I am concerned that the bill that ultimately emerges might not be strict enough.

We also passed legislation last week reducing the number of Standards of Learning (SOL) exams.  SOL reform has been a bipartisan goal this year.  That moves closer to reality.

Legislation attempting to make “revenge porn” a misdemeanor was approved this week.  I voted against this legislation a number of reasons.  First, nearly all “revenge porn” websites are outside Virginia and Commonwealth’s Attorneys rarely extradict accused person’s charged with misdemeanors.  The legislation also could have unintended consequences, and the crime is extremely difficult to prove as a matter of evidence.  The better course of action was a civil cause of action instead of involving our Commonwealth’s Attorneys in one more series of crimes that are very time-intensive and difficult to prove.  I have written a fuller explanation on my online newsletter at scottsurovell.blogspot.com.     

Some of my government efficiency legislation is closer to law.  For five years, I have been pressing legislation allowing Fairfax County to charge a $5 per ticket fee to fund software and equipment that will allow police computers to communicate directly with court computers when writing tickets.  This will keep police officers’ out of danger on highway shoulders.  It will also improve ticket accuracy and free up eight Fairfax County Police employees who currently are required to hand-enter over 200,000 summonses per year to focus on actual law enforcement.

Finally, the Governor also signed my legislation clarifying the control of a real estate brokerage upon death of the owner.  This will protect consumers from nasty collateral family disputes when selling or buying real estate.  This bill was suggested to me by 44th District resident and Estates Attorney Deborah Matthews.

There is still much to be done during this last week of session as we continue to reconcile competing bills.  The budget is the biggest dispute, but ethics legislation, A-F schools grades, SOL reforms, and judge allocations remain outstanding.

If you have any feedback, always feel free to send email to me at scottsurovell@gmail.com.  Thank you for allowing me to serve as your state delegate.

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