How Much Have We Lost?

Monday, March 28, 2016

Weekly Column: Proffer and Firearms Reforms; the Electric Chair Returns

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 28, 2016.
Proffer and Firearms Reforms; the Electric Chair Returns
In the past two weeks, I reviewed action on my legislation and the state budget.  This column covers some of the major bills to pass the state legislature.
We passed legislation to reform the proffer process for residential rezoning.  Many localities have abused the process by requiring builders to make flat cash payments as high as $40,000 per home instead of improvements linked to increase infrastructure demands created by a specific rezoning.  This practice abuses the intent underlying the proffer process, drives up the cost of housing and lacks any meaningful accountability in Virginia’s courts. 
Going forward, for rezonings, proffers must be tied to an infrastructure impact specifically caused by the proposed development.  Additionally, the law completely excludes commercial rezonings and at the request of Fairfax County, excludes rezonings in tax districts servicing Metro stations and land zoned for higher densities adjacent to transit facilities – e.g. most of Route 1.   These changes will incentivize local governments to zone future development as mixed-use, higher-density, “smart growth” instead of more sprawl. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Nine Days in Bavaria & Austria

The Surovell Family at Neuschwanstein Castle
(aka "Cinderella Castle")
A few days after session ended, I headed off to Germany and Austria with the family to unplug a bit, experience some new countries, and reconnect.

I had not been to Germany since I backpacked it back in 1995 a few years after the wall fell.  Even then, I only spent about twelve hours in Berlin, an evening in Frankfurt, and some time in Strasburg and hiking around the Alps in Innsbruck.  This time, I really got to see things. 

We spent most of our time around Bavaria: two days in Rottenberg, two in Bachrach (Rhine Valley), two days in Reutte, Austria on the border, two days in Salzburg, Austria and the last two days in Munich itself. 

Last night, I asked everyone in the family to tell me what differences they noted between Germany/Austria and Virginia.  Everyone's lists had to be mutually exclusive. My kids' lists are first and mine is last.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Weekly Column: The State Budget: More for Schools, the Disabled, State Troopers

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 14, 2016.
The State Budget: More for Schools, the Disabled, State Troopers
Last week, I covered the good news in the state budget for the 36th Senate District.  This week, I am detailing some of the important features of the state budget that help the entire state.
 
First, the budget restores some honesty to the budgeting process.  During the McDonnell Administration, the state skipped state employees' retirement plan contributions for two years and then promised pay missed contributions over a 10-year period with interest.  I repeatedly voted “no” on those budgets, in-part, because they were an end run around our state constitution's requirement for a balanced budget.  The proposed budget prepays all of the entire remaining obligations and funds 100% our recommended pension obligations for this biennium. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Weekly Column: Over $210 Million in New Funds Coming to the 36th District

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 14, 2016.
Over $210 Million in New Funds Coming to the 36th District

The last week of the 2016 General Assembly session brought a flurry of activity on some of our most difficult bills, along with approval of a state budget.   
In this column, I will detail highlights in the final budget affecting our area.  Next week, I will report on other important budget items.  In the near future, I will cover some of the more important legislation that we considered and the fight over the state Supreme Court.  I will also let you know about my eight bills the Governor has signed or are awaiting his signature.  
The legislature approved a final budget, including two of my amendments.  First, I advocated for an additional $100,000 to fund the Virginia Star Program which provides refurbished computers to low-income, public school students.  Prince William County’s public schools are using this program extensively in the U.S. 1 corridor.  The final budget includes my complete request.

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.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Voter ID Disenfranchises

Tonight, I received the following email from a former 44th District constituent.

Tonight at Paul Springs a women was turned away because her Virginia drivers license was expired.  I approached the poll worker who told me the law is the license can't be more than 12 months expired. The poll worker pointed out a sheet with the rules in Virginia. I was furious, I asked if the women could be given a provisional ballot and the poll worker said not in a primary. She apologized and said she wished things were different . I just wonder how many other people were turned away today.

Voter identification rules disenfranchise voters.  If one person was turned away at every precinct in Virginia, it would negate over 5,000 votes. 
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