How Much Have We Lost?

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Weekly Column: Bills Becoming Law As Session Ends

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 March 5, 2016.
Bills Becoming Law as Session Ends
The eighth week of the General Assembly session brought a few vetoes and heated debates as the most contentious bills of the session moved toward final passage.

Eight of my bills have either been signed into law, passed by both houses or are on Governor Terry McAuliffe’s desk awaiting signature.  My legislation to revive the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) cleared a final hurdle.  FOIA applies to all state and local agencies, from the governor to local  school boards and is how citizens can ensure their government is operating openly and fairly.  

Last year, the Supreme Court of Virginia held that government agencies rarely have a duty to redact documents if the documents contain even the smallest amount of information that is exempt from FOIA and that agencies can withhold entire documents.  The court also held that government officials’ decisions to withhold documents should receive “great weight” during court reviews.  

The Virginia FOIA Commission was alarmed by the decision and asked me to partner with Republican Delegate Jim Lemunyon and introduce legislation to level the playing field and require that redacted copies be available to the public when possible.  Our legislation only received three “no” votes all session, but Governor McAuliffe filed an amendment which basically gutted the bill.  After spending hours with his staff this week, I convinced the Governor to withdraw his amendment and sign the bill.  The sun will shine again in Virginia.

My legislation to require school systems using electronic textbooks to have a plan to provide laptops or tablets to all students ran into rough seas.  After clearing the Senate 25-14 and a House subcommittee, the House Committee on Education tabled the bill on a 11-10 vote.  I argued that if Virginia’s school systems do not  act soon,  the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights might do it for us.  

One of my consumer protection measures will also likely pass the House after a heavy vetting.  In 1975, the Federal Trade Commission enacted “The Holder Rule” which requires finance companies to have provisions in their loans subjecting themselves to the same claims as the sellers of goods.  Recently, some companies have stopped doing this, leaving consumers owing thousands of dollars after shady businesses sell shoddy goods and disappear.  My bill gives consumers the ability to sue if they are damaged by a failure of a company to include this language.  

This week, the last week of this session, will be extremely busy.  On Monday, we will debate making the electric chair the default method of execution, revising hospital facility regulation and we the  budget for the next two years.

You can monitor my work on Facebook, Twitter and my online newsletter,The Dixie Pig, at scottsurovell.blogspot.com.Please share your views at scott@scottsurovell.org.  It is an honor to serve as your state senator. 

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