Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Weekly Column: Coal Ash, Predatory Lending and Education Equity

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Mt. Vernon Voice, and the Potomac and Stafford Locals in the week of January 15, 2018.
The General Assembly has reorganized, added nearly twenty new members, and we inaugurated a new Governor on Saturday.  The 36th District now overlaps with five new state delegates including four new women.  I am looking forward to the new ideas and energy they bring. 

This year brings a long session and a new two-year budget.  The biggest news in Governor McAuliffe’s proposed budget was about $500 million of new education monies, a proposed funding solution for Metro, and $170,000 to finally clean up a derelict barge in Belmont Bay. 

While we need to fix Metro, Governor McAuliffe’s proposed fix takes over half a billion dollars away from other Northern Virginia transportation projects and will serious jeopardize the current timeline on U.S. 1 projects in Fairfax County and potentially Prince William County.  I cannot support it as written and will work to find other revenue sources to solve this problem.

I have introduced approximately sixty bills this session.  First, education equity is not being addressed in the Commonwealth.  The Constitution of Virginia guaranty’s free textbooks to students and our local school systems are violating this by mandating electronic textbooks without providing computers to all students.  Likewise, our local systems are charging lower income families $50 to $350 fees to take online classes without providing computers – this puts less fortunate students at a competitive disadvantage and is not how public education is supposed to work.  My bill makes both illegal.

Similarly, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology did not admit any students from twelve middle schools last year and perennially admits either zero to five students from Eastern Fairfax and Prince William County’s middle schools while admitting over 50 to 100 from two middle schools in the wealthier regions of Fairfax County.  Its student population has virtually no students from lower income families.  I have raised this issue for nearly nine years to no avail so I have introduced legislation requiring at least five, but not more than fifteen children to be admitted from each middle school and requiring the free and reduced lunch population to be at least fifty percent of the Northern Virginia average (it would be about 17%).

I am carrying six bills addressing Virginia’s coal ash problem.  My bills prohibit Dominion from charging ratepayers to cap coal ash in place, give regulators more flexibility in permitting, require Dominion to conduct and pay for homeowner well tests, and incentivize coal ash recycling so we can get it out of the ground and gone forever while making some jobs.

Predatory lending is back on my docket.  My first bill limits interest rates on all consumer finance loans to 36% APR.  I have also introduced legislation to prohibit car title and pay day lenders from using open ended credit lines to evade Virginia’s interest rate caps and consumer protections. 

Texting while driving continues to plague our roads and I have reintroduced legislation to make Virginia a hand’s free state.  I have also introduced a bill allowing local government to designate some roads as off limits to services like Waze or Google Maps to reduce unsafe cut through traffic which is becoming a real problem.  I have also introduced bills to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety and study the decline in arrests for driving while intoxicated.

I am hosting six Town Halls in Mt. Vernon, Kingstowne, Lorton, Occoquan, Woodbridge, Montclair and Stafford.  Mount Vernon and Kingstowne are this Saturday at 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. and Woodbridge is on Sunday at 4:00 p.m.  Please see my website (www.scottsurovell.org) for more information!

Please take my constituent survey at www.scottsurovell.org/survey, come visit in Richmond or email me at www.scottsurovell.org if you have any feedback! It is an honor to serve as your state senator.

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