Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Weekly Column: Progress on Predatory Lending, Fracking, 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 February 6, 2018.
Progress on Predatory Lending, Fracking, and Education Equity 

The third week of the General Assembly brought action on about two dozen of my bills.
First, my two remaining bills to address education equity were unanimously recommended by the Education Subcommittee.  The first bill prohibits localities from requiring children to use “electronic textbooks” without providing students with devices to use such “books” at home.  Many children in the U.S. 1 Corridor do not have computers or broadband at home and our schools should not mandate electronic learning without providing devices.
My second bill requires school systems to waive all fees and provide computers to students who want to take online classes.  Fairfax and Prince William Counties charge low income students as much as $345 to take online classes and do not provide devices making online classes difficult if not impossible for all students to utilize.  The bills will be considered by the Senate this week.
The General Laws Committee reported my bill creating a sanctions process for government officials who abuse the closed meeting process or destroy public records.  There have been at least six reported or attempted violations of the closed meetings law in the last two years and reports of local governments advising employees to delete emails to avoid public disclosure. 
Predatory lending was on the docket this week.  My bill to place a 36% cap on interest rates for loans made by licensed consumer finance companies and prohibit predatory internet lenders from using existing state licenses passed the Commerce and Labor Committee 12-2.  This is the first legislation to push back against predatory lending passed by this committee in eight years. 
Waze and Google Map driven neighborhood cut through traffic has been a source of significant complaints to my office – especially in Belle Haven, Occoquan and neighborhoods close to the interstates.  I introduced legislation that would authorize local governments to designate a small number of residential secondary roads as off-limits to electronic routing services like Waze and Google Maps and keep commuters out of neighborhoods.  The City of Alexandria was extremely supportive but the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors opposed my legislation (Supervisors Storck and Foust supported).  Unfortunately, the bill died on a 6-6-1 vote in the Transportation Committee. 
My legislation to increase the required state auto insurance minimums for the first time since 1989 passed the Transportation Committee.  My bill would increase the required minimum property damage minimum insurance from $20,000 to $50,000.  Given the increased automobile prices, this is critical. 
Teen “sexting” has continued to create problems for parents, teachers, administrators, clergy, and most importantly children.  This year, I partnered with Senator Bill Stanley on legislation to classify such offenses as misdemeanors instead of either Felony Child Pornography Production or Possession.  This will allow schools, families, and counselors to take care of these issues informally instead of necessitating law enforcement consultations.  Our bill passed the Courts of Justice Committee and will be on the floor of the Senate this week.
Lastly, my legislation to impose a ban on hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” passed the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and will be on the floor this week after being amended to a four-year moratorium.  A Texas company acquired leases to explore for natural gas on 84,000 acres of property on Virginia’s Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula.  This area shares the same aquifer with over four million Virginians living east of Interstate 95 which must be protected.
Approximately a dozen of my bills have not been heard in committee yet including six coal ash bills, bills to reform the credit “freeze” process, and studies regarding the decline in arrests for drunk driving.  This week is the lead up to the deadline for action on all bills in our own chambers so stay tuned!
Please complete my survey at www.scottsurovell.org/survey and email me at scott@scottsurovell.org if you have feedback.  It is an honor to serve as your State Senator.

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