How Much Have We Lost?

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Weekly Column: Progress on Education Equity and Setbacks on Distracted Driving

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 29, 2018.
               This past weekend, we saw about 150 people turn out at my three Town Hall Meetings in Occoquan, Montclair and Stafford County with Senator Jeremy McPike, Delegates Jennifer Carroll Foy, Hala Ayala, and Elizabeth Guzman.  You can watch videos of all six of my town hall meetings on my Facebook page or on my blog – The Dixie Pig – at scottsurovell.blogspot.com.  Thank you to everyone who turned out!
               On Wednesday, the Senate Transportation Committee killed my legislation to authorize temporary driving permits for Virginians who cannot show legal immigration status but can pass a driving test and are paying Virginia taxes.  Numerous studies in the fifteen states who have done this have shown that it reduces collisions, hit and run incidents, increases reporting other crimes to law enforcement, and results in significantly increased tax collections.  The bill died on a party line vote 7-8 after over three hundred people jammed the room and testified about how a lack of driving privileges affected them on a daily basis.
              Second, my legislation that would prohibit operation of a vehicle with a phone in the driver’s hand also failed.  Road deaths are up in the United States for the first time in fifty years and most studies attribute it to drivers distracted by digital devices.  My legislation passed the Transportation Committee after failing for the last three years, but was referred to the Courts of Justice Committee after the attorneys in the chamber wanted to review it where it died.  I will try again next year.
              On a more positive note, six of my bills have passed the full Senate and are on their way to the House of Delegates.  This week, several of my civil justice reform bills passed clarifying rules for spousal support modification and collection.
              Also, my legislation requiring public school sex education to included education about the dangers of “sexting” passed.  Many minors engage in this conduct with no awareness that “sexting” is a felony (manufacturing and possessing child pornography), or any realistic appreciation of how freely such images tend to be distributed both generally but especially after relationships end.  
               My legislation to reform admission to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) failed in committee.  Approximately five percent of applicant children from the 36th District are admitted while in other areas of Northern Virginia, about one-in-five are admitted.  Also, two middle schools account for approximately 25% of each class while Eastern Fairfax and Prince William Counties admit less than 5% of the students while possessing probably 25% of Northern Virginia’s population.
This situation is unacceptable for a taxpayer funded institution and is a symptom of the larger misallocation of resources in Northern Virginia’s secondary education system.  I will continue to highlight this disparity and fight for more equity in how resources are allocated in Northern Virginia.
On that note, my legislation prohibiting school systems from mandating students to use electronic textbooks without providing computers was recommended by the Secondary Education Subcommittee of the Health and Education Committee along with my bill to prohibit schools from offering online classes without providing computers or waiving fees for lower income students.  Fairfax and Prince William Counties currently have such programs but charge all students fees and do not offer computers to children who want to participate but cannot afford their own device.
This week, approximately twenty of my bills will be heard in committee including my bills on predatory lending, alleviating WazeGoogle-Maps-induced traffic congestion, mobile absentee voting, and more will head to the floor.  You can watch our committee hearings live online at www.virginiageneralassembly.gov.
               Please complete my constituent survey at www.scottsurovell.org/survey or email me at scott@scottsurovell.org if you have feedback.  It is an honor to serve as your state senator!

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