Monday, March 12, 2018

Weekly Column: Successes in the State Legislature

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Prince William Times, and the Potomac and Stafford Locals in the week of March 12, 2018.
Successes in the State Legislature
Last week brought an end to the regular 2018 session of the General Assembly. Once again, I had some significant successes. The legislature sent 13 of my 61 bills to Governor Northam for his signature. Legislators continued 15 to 2019 for studies and referred several to agencies for administrative consideration.

While several of my budget amendments were included in the Senate budget, including the funding the first staff at brand new Widewater State Park in Stafford, we unfortunately adjourned without adopting a biennial budget due to the Senate Republican Caucus’s refusal to include Medicaid expansion into their budget. Budget discussions have completely stalled out and Governor Northam will call us into special session at some point in the next two months.

This week, my amendment to a delegate’s bill to prohibit operating a moving motor vehicle while drivers have a phone in their hand died after passing the Senate 29-11. Due to fiscal impacts of amendments loaded onto the bill requiring a racial profiling study, opponents were able to push the bill into a conference committee where it died. Car accidents and deaths are on the rise nationally and in Virginia due to distracted driving and this would have saved lives. I will try again next year.

I am especially proud of successful legislation that I carried with a companion bill by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Chris Jones providing compensation to four men who were wrongfully convicted of rape after being coerced into false confessions by a corrupt Norfolk detective currently in federal prison. The four former sailors, known as “The Norfolk Four,” spent between eight to 12 years in jail and another eight-plus years out of jail on the Sex Offender Registry. The legislation authorizes the state to compensate them $3.5 million if the City of Norfolk at least matches that amount. Convicting the innocent is bad enough, but it is especially wrongful if it is achieved through intentional law enforcement misconduct.

The legislature also approved a bill to provide a $154 million dedicated funding stream for Metro. This money will now need to be matched by Maryland and the District of Columbia, but it is desperately needed to make up for 20 years of funding neglect. Metro funding is good news, but I am very disturbed that the Senate’s proposal to increase the Northern Virginia hotel tax and grantor’s tax (the tax on home sales) was omitted. Because of this, an additional $50 million per year will be diverted from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA). This means that those NVTA funds may not be available for U.S. 1 improvements in Fairfax and Prince William Counties. I will urge Governor Northam to amend the bill.

Last week, I met with several state officials. First, I met with Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) officials to address the pending U.S. 1 widening between Fort Belvoir and Hybla Valley. You can read an update in my online newsletter at scottsurovell.blogspot.com. I also met with VDOT about granting them authority to regulate large signs on our interstates to avoid the debacle last week when some I-95 lanes were shut down for three days by a Potomac Mills’ 140-foot sign that fell down.

I also met with state economic development officials to discuss Virginia’s designation of areas to be included in the federal Opportunity Zone Program, which would incentivize redevelopment in low-income or high-unemployment areas. Prince William County has refused to share their submission to the state with me and Fairfax County prioritized the Amazon site in Herndon over U.S. 1 although I am not aware of any low-income areas around the Amazon site. I hope to provide persuasive information to the state about the 36th District’s U.S. 1 Corridor, a designation that could yield significant benefit to this highway’s future.

Please let me know if you have any feedback on this session at scottsurovell@gmail.com. It is an honor to serve as your state senator.

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