The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette and The Mt. Vernon Voice in the week of January 26, 2015.
The First Ten Days: Sunshine, Pregnancy Discrimination and Firearms SafetyThe first ten days of the General Assembly session are usually slow, but were full of surprises this year.
First, while on my way to Governor Terry McAuliffe’s State of the Commonwealth Address, I learned that Senator Toddy Puller had announced her retirement. After digesting the shock and speaking to Toddy, I walked into the House of Delegates chamber to hear the governor’s address.
Most of the first week was focused on organizing committees, passing non-controversial bills developed over the summer and putting the finishing touches on our own bills.
I introduced several bills that I did not cover in my prior columns. First, I introduced legislation prohibiting a Virginia employer with more than 15 employees from either discriminating against or firing a woman because she is pregnant. This issue, as it is addressed in federal law, is currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. However, Maryland adopted similar legislation last year and nothing prohibits Virginia from strengthening its own laws.
Second, I introduced a bill to bring some “sunlight” to the State Corporation Commission (SCC), a state agency with broad regulatory power over many industries. Recently, the SCC issued comments criticizing President Barack Obama’s proposed carbon dioxide, greenhouse gas regulations. The SCC is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) so no one can learn from the public record the information, people and other influences that led to the SCC’s conclusions. I introduced legislation requiring the SCC to provide complete disclosure of records and communications any time they issue agency comments on public policy matters.
Third, a fellow attorney told me about his client who had been involuntarily committed for mental health treatment. The client owned large stockpiles of ammunition. State law prohibits people who have been ordered into mental health treatment from possessing a firearm, but they are still allowed to possess unlimited amounts of ammunition. My bill would prohibit that.
I also introduced a study resolution requesting Virginia’s non-partisan government auditor to conduct a study addressing methods to stabilize and improve our transportation revenue sources. We actually collect less in gas taxes today than we did in 2007 due to more energy-efficient, higher-mileage cars, shorter commutes, fewer drivers and less travel. Gas tax revenue is declining. Virginia is still at least $100 billion short in transportation funds over the next 20 years and projects like the Yellow Line Metro extension will not be cheap. My bill was tabled mainly because committee members said we were not ready for more transportation funding discussions.
I also presented three constitutional amendments. One would repeal the ban on marriage equality. The second amendment would allow a two-term governor – that is only common sense.The third amendment would remove the requirement that voters provide a social security number when registering to vote. The General Assembly could still require the number or the last four digits by statute, but this requirement does not belong in the Constitution. The entire social security number is no longer necessary and having a database of six million social security numbers at the State Board of Elections presents an excellent computer hacker target. All three of my amendments were taken under advisement until all amendments are heard.
On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the gun rights lobby came to Richmond along with firearm safety advocates. I gave a floor speech that pointed out that signs on sticks, vuvuzellas, sirens, and even helium balloons are prohibited inside the General Assembly Building, while Bushmaster Assault Rifles, AK-47’s and semi-automatic pistols are allowed – even in the balcony of the House of Delegates chamber if you have a concealed weapon permit. You can watch my speech on my You Tube channel. This needs to change.
Finally, I wrote about Senator Puller’s retirement last week. She has been my mentor and partner for six sessions. Mount Vernon, Lee and Virginia’s veterans could not ask for a more ardent advocate. After talking with my family and business partners, I announced last week that I will be running to replace her in the State Senate. I hope I can count on the community’s support as I embark on a new challenge.
In the meantime, please make sure you go online and complete my constituent survey at www.scottsurovell.org/survey.
Thank you for the honor of serving you.