The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette and The Mt. Vernon Voice in the week of March 11, 2014.
The Top 20 Reasons the 2014 Session Mattered for the 44th District
The 2014 General Assembly session has adjourned and now moves into a special session to finish the budget.
Notwithstanding many disputes, it has been a surprisingly productive session. The legislature passed twelve of my bills in some form and four of my budget amendments. The budget amendments are now part of ongoing budget negotiations.
Below are the top 20 reasons why this session was important for people of the 44th District. Even though some good bills were defeated, debating them has value and it moves us closer to solutions long-term.
(1) Ethics Reforms. We passed a $250 cap on tangible gifts, all gift disclosures will be online, gifts to family members must be reported and tangible gifts during litigation with the state are banned. The legislature also passed my bill banning gifts and political contributions during Governor’s Opportunity Fund grant negotiations . We should have gone much farther and I will continue to work to strengthen ethics laws.
(2) Standards of Learning (SOL) Reform. The number of SOL tests in grades 3-8 will be reduced and we created a new committee to recommend additional reforms.
(3) School Grades Reform. The legislature delayed for two years the pending issuance of “A-F” letter grades for schools.
(4) Digital Divide Ignored. The General Assembly rejected my legislation to require elementary-secondary schools systems using electronic textbooks to provide free computers.
(5) Mental Health. Emergency custody orders for the acutely mentally ill were extended from six to 8 hours, involuntary detention was extended from 48 to 72 hours, plus the state is required to set up a comprehensive acute psychiatric bed registry to allow caseworkers to do real-time searches for beds.
(6) Hybrid Vehicle Tax. The legislature passed my and Senator Adam Ebbin’s bill repealing the $64 hybrid tax and requiring a refund, honoring the wishes of nearly 8,000 Virginians who signed our online petition.
(7) Preventing Identity Theft of Minors. The General Assembly approved a bill I carried with Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn allowing parents to freeze the credit of their minor children to prevent identity theft.
(8) Power Line Undergrounding. The legislature passed a bill to authorize our electricity company, Dominion Resources, to charge ratepayers for undergrounding residential power lines. This will mean fewer power line failures in older neighborhoods during major weather events.
(9) Stalemate on Marriage Equality and Women’s Rights. I did not succeed in removing Virginia’s 1977 ban on same sex marriage from the state law or in repealing the 2006 Constitutional ban, and other attacks on marriage equality were defeated. Legislation to repeal last year’s forced ultrasounds before abortions and my bill to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment were rejected.
(10) Safer Cycling. We enacted legislation requiring a three-foot passing distance around bicycles. We defeated a bill banning tailgating cyclists.
(11) Electric Chair Defeat. We defeated efforts to mandate executions by electric chair if there are shortages of lethal injection drugs. The legislature killed my bill to abolish the electric chair.
(12) State Corporation Commission (SCC) Sunshine. We adopted legislation requiring access to records relating to the SCC’s operations. This was spurred by my legislation to apply the Freedom of Information Act to the SCC, which was defeated.
(13) Homeowners Associations Defeated. The legislature defeated legislation to allow homeowners associations to grant themselves the powers to fine homeowners without changing their government documents and instead adopted legislation expanding court access to both homeowners and associations.
(14) Justice Improved. We passed my legislation copatroned with Republican Delegate Ron Villanueva from Virginia Beach authorizing a $5 fee for traffic tickets to purchase equipment and software to automate the processing of traffic tickets. This will free up officers to catch bad guys instead of doing data entry.Also, Fairfax County saved one Circuit Court and General District Court Judgeship. A Juvenile Court Judgeship was eliminated pending a judge’s retirement, but language was adopted to reconsider the study in light of the number of cases involving interpreters. We will revisitthis in future sessions.
(15) VA DREAM Act Denied. The legislature, unfortunately, defeated a bill to allow in-state college tuition for Virginia immigrant children granted deferred action by the federal government.
(16) Car Title Lenders Dominate. The legislature killed a bill to restrict car title lending locations.
(17) Minimum Wage Hike Killed. The legislature rejected efforts to raise the minimum wage.Three critically important issues for the 44th District are hung up in the pending budget negotiations:(18) Medicaid Expansion. The expansion of Virginia’s healthcare program for low-income and disabled families would cover 400,000 people, and result in about $24.9 million of new healthcare spending and 444 jobs right here in the 44th District.
(19) $4 Million for U.S. 1 Study. Senator Toddy Puller and I secured $4 million to continue the preliminary engineering, environmental studies and federal grant requests for U.S. 1 transit in the Senate Budget.
(20) Secondary Education Funding. At least $47.1 million of new money for Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS). Expanding Medicaid could potentially add another $20 million per biennium for FCPS.It is an honor to serve as your state delegate. Please email me at email@example.com if you have feedback.