How Much Have We Lost?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Weekly Column: Progress on Transportation Safety and Criminal Justice Reform

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 22, 2018.
Progress on Transportation Safety and Criminal Justice Reform

The General Assembly acted on several of my bills last week, the first full week of the session.

Two of my bills passed this week.  First, my bill to expand the types of abuse proceedings in which children can testify by video connection passed unanimously.  Also, the Senate passed my legislation raising Virginia’s threshold between misdemeanors and felonies to $500 after it was combined with other members’ bills.  Virginia’s felony threshold is the lowest in the United States, has not changed since 1980, wastes taxpayer dollars and unnecessarily turns many into felons.  Only two senators voted against the bill and it now heads to the House of Delegates.  

Two more of my bills are headed to the full Senate for a vote this week.  One bill requires all sex education programs to include the dangers of “sexting.”  Second, on a 9 to 4 vote, the Senate Transportation Committee approved my legislation that prohibits people from operating a motor vehicle with a phone in the driver’s hand.  Similar legislation has failed to pass out of committee the last four years, so I am hoping that the unprecedented increase in traffic deaths is finally causing legislators to take note.  Distracted driving is a massive and growing problem.

The last two sessions, I have carried legislation requested by The Education Fund to Stop Gun Violence that would require background checks on all firearm purchases.  Unfortunately, the bill was defeated on a party-line vote along with a dozen other firearm violence prevention bills.  I am pleased that Senator Adam Ebbin’s legislation prohibiting bump stock purchases was reported out of committee. 

This session, I introduced 61 bills and over 50 are still in committee so it will be a busy week.  Senate committees will soon consider my bill modernizing Virginia’s assisted conception laws to account for same-sex couples, a bill to clarify authority to withhold spousal support from paychecks and another to establish consequences to government officials who violate the Freedom of Information Act.

Importantly, my bipartisan legislation to provide temporary driving permits to individuals who cannot establish immigration status but who pay Virginia taxes will be heard on Wednesday.  Numerous studies have found that the 15 states that have adopted this policy have fewer accidents and hit and run cases and have increased tax revenue.  My bill to close loopholes abused by car title and payday lenders is also up for a hearing on Monday. 

I have also reintroduced my legislation to prohibit schools from using online textbooks without providing children with computers.  I have also introduced separate legislation to prohibit systems like Fairfax County Public Schools from charging “tuition” or fees to low income students for online classes – FCPS currently charges up to $350 per class for classes like “online PE” or financial literacy to children receiving free and reduced meals and do not even provide them with computers.  Public education should equally accessible to all and free – especially if your parents do not have resources.

On Saturday, nearly 100 people attended our Mount Vernon town hall meeting and another 50 each in Lee District and Woodbridge.  This coming Saturday, I will host town hall meetings in Northern (Occoquan - 9:30 a.m.) and Southern Prince William County (Montclair - 12:00 p.m.) and Stafford County (3:30 p.m.) with newly-elected Delegates Carroll-Foy, Ayala, Guzman, Thomas and Senator McPike.  Please come out and bring your questions!

Please complete my constituent survey at www.scottsurovell.org/survey and you can always provide me feedback at scott@scottsurovell.org.

It is an honor to serve as your state senator.

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