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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Weekly Column: My Committees and Legislative Agenda Part II

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and The Potomac-Stafford Local in the week of January 17, 2016.
My Committees and Legislative Agenda Part II
Last week, the 2016 General Assembly gaveled into action and I became your State Senator for Virginia’s 36th District.
New Committees
The Rules Committee assigned me to three committees. (1)  The Local Government Committee considers legislation addressing land use, zoning and local government.  (2) The Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee has jurisdiction over the safety net programs, prisons, alcoholic beverage regulation and childcare.  (3) The General Laws and Technology Committee examines bills affecting homeowners associations, gambling, professional occupation regulation, procurement and the Freedom of Information Act.  Each of these has jurisdiction over issues  critical to the quality of life in our area. 
Blue Line Extension and Multimodal Transportation
Interstate 95 is one of the most congested commuter corridors in the United States. In light of the congestion and the need for more high-quality development and employment, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors endorsed the concept of studying the extension of Metro’s Blue Line from Springfield through Lorton, Woodbridge and Potomac Mills to Quantico.  I have introduced legislation to direct the Department of Rail and Public Transit to conduct a multimodal study for this and U.S. 1 south of the Occoquan so we can plan for the next 25 years.  
As our highways become more clogged and as bike lanes and pedestrian facilities are incorporated into our infrastructure, it is important to encourage drivers to respect other users.  Many states have enacted “vulnerable rider” laws to create heightened penalties for drivers who seriously injure pedestrians, cyclists, wheelchair users and others while distracted.  I have introduced a bill to create a Class 1 misdemeanor for injuring a vulnerable user while distracted.  
Homeowners’  Rights
Over the last two years, I have helped to push back on the growing power of homeowners’ and condominium owners’ associations (HOA’s). Some Northern Virginia localities improperly require property owners to show HOA approval before they issue a building permits.  I have introduced legislation to make clear this is prohibited.  
Helping Our Hispanic Community
In August, 2014, I hosted a Hispanic Town Hall in Hybla Valley.  The number one issue raised was difficulty in obtaining a driver’s license or government identification.  Therefore, I have introduced legislation to allow people to obtain a temporary license if they can establish that they have been living in Virginia for one year and have either filed a Virginia tax return or been claimed as a dependent on another Virginian’s tax return.  Fifteen other states, including Maryland and the District of Columbia, have passed similar legislation.  
At the request of Prince William County Public Schools, I have introduced a bill to require Virginia schools to use a recognized English language proficiency assessment exam for children with limited English proficiency, as an alternative to the 11th grade Standards of Learning English reading exam.  This is a fairer way to measure student achievement and will ensure that test scores in high schools with large ESOL populations are not affected by recently-arrived students.  
Firearm Violence Prevention
During my discussions with the State Police about concealed weapon permit (CWP) proposals, we became aware that CWP’s are automatically revoked for felony convictions, protective orders and other criminal offenses.  However, for people who have received inpatient mental health and/or inpatient drug treatment after their CWP was issued, permits are not automatically revoked.  I have introduced a bill to require automatic revocation. 
Second, I have put in a bill to prohibit mentally ill people who are prohibited from possessing a firearm from also possessing ammunition.  Today, mentally ill people can have as many bullets as they want – just no guns. 
Third, I have re-introduced my 2014 legislation prohibiting individuals on the Terrorist Watch List from obtaining a CWP or purchasing a firearm.  In 2014, the House of Delegates leadership would not give the bill a hearing. 
Town Hall and Constituent Survey
My first two town hall meetings on Saturday, January 23.  My Mt. Vernon Town Hall is at 9:00 a.m. at Walt Whitman Intermediate School and Lee District Town Hall is at 4:00 p.m. at Groveton Elementary School.   
Please make sure you complete my constituent survey online at www.scottsurovell.org/survey and please share your views at scott@scottsurovell.org .  It is an honor to serve as your State Senator.

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