Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Weekly Column: 16 Bills on the Governor's Desk!

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Prince William Times, The Fort Hunt Herald, and Potomac Local in the week of February 25, 2019.

16 Bills on the Governor’s Desk!
The 2019 Session is now in the books.  Notwithstanding the controversy generated by our statewide officials, it was one of the most personally successful sessions in the 10 years I have served in the General Assembly.  This column focuses on my personal legislative agenda. 
First, Governor Northam announced a deal to widen I-95 southbound between VA-123 and the Prince William County Parkway in three years using no taxpayer funds and no penalty payment to Transurban.  I have been urging this solution for three years and it will save millions of drivers millions of hours per month when implemented. 

Monday, February 18, 2019

Weekly Column: Budget Compromise, Child Support Deadbeats & Session End Approaches

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Prince William Times, The Fort Hunt Herald, and Potomac Local in the week of February 18 2019.

It is hard to believe, but the last week of the General Assembly has arrived and we hope to gavel out by this coming Saturday.  This past week was very busy as we tried to complete work on bills from opposite chamber and negotiated amendments to the budget. 
First, the Governor and the money committees announced an agreement regarding tax conformity and the revenue side of the budget.  The compromise provides a $110 refund for each tax return (individual or joint) this year.  From 2020 to 2026, it increases the standard deduction at the state level by $1,500 for individuals and $3,000 for joint filers – resulting in $86 in savings for individuals and $172 for couples.  The bill also removes the $10,000 cap on itemized deductions for state taxes.  Given the state income tax is only 5.75%, the tax relief afforded is about $57.50 for every $1,000 of additional mortgage interest, state or local property taxes paid over and above $10,000.  
I was not happy with this proposal for several reasons.  First, it takes about $450 million per year out of the state budget which could fund desperately underfunded General Fund (non-transportation) priorities such as secondary education, higher education, childcare, healthcare, safety net, environmental protection, parks, and public safety.  Second, most of the people receiving the bulk of these cuts are already receiving big federal tax cuts while we run the biggest deficits in United States history instead of following the Governor’s proposal to target modest tax relief targeted to low wage working Virginia families.  This week, negotiators will attempt to finalize the expenditure side of the budget. 
Next, my legislation to modernize child support collection continued to move through the process.  There is over $2.4 billion of delinquent child support in Virginia.   When child support goes unpaid with low income families, it is often paid by taxpayers through the state’s Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) and it is recovered through the Commonwealth’s Department of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE).  In the last five years, child support deadbeats have begun to seek employment with “gig economy” companies as independent contractors such as Uber and Lyft who are exempt from child support withholding.  My legislation would change that and passed the Courts Civil Subcommittee by one vote.   
My legislation to change the Town of Dumfries Town Charter to move elections from May to November passed the full House and Senate.  There is no need for taxpayers to fund separate elections, especially when they result in much lower turnouts.   
The legislation I introduced to create a pilot project to provide Fairfax County with an additional tool to fund underground utilities on U.S. 1 passed the House Commerce and Labor Committee and should be up for a final vote this Tuesday.   
Next, my bill to give Fairfax County authority to fine retailers for rogue shopping carts after refusing to pick them up for 10 days failed in a House subcommittee on a tie vote.  Several Mount Vernon and Springfield residents testified about the disruption loose carts cause in neighborhoods, sidewalks, and the environment – I have now removed over 250 shopping carts from Little Hunting Creek alone.  We will try again next year. 
Also, my bill to enhance prohibit cars from illegally passed other cars by using bike lanes and creating a new serious traffic offense for seriously injuring a cyclist or pedestrian while distracted passed the House Transportation Committee, but was killed by the House Courts of Justice Committee.  Many rural members do not understand the need for better cycling safety rules. 
My legislation to creates consequences for destroying public records to avoid a Freedom of Information Act passed, but only after fines for violating the state’s public meetings law were removed.  I am moving the bill into a conference committee to negotiate a compromise because the closed meeting rule is routinely abused.   
Finally, on Wednesday, I held my annual Facebook Townhall.  Over 56 constituents posted questions and about 1,500 have viewed the 90-minute town hall.  You can watch the recorded version on my official Facebook page at www.facebook.com/surovell.   
Please contact me at scott@scottsurovell.org if you have any questions.  It is an honor to represent you in the Senate of Virginia.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Weekly Column: Passing Bills, Serving the Public

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Prince William Times, The Fort Hunt Herald, and Potomac Local in the week of February 11, 2019.

Passing Bills, Serving the Public

Last week in the General Assembly was a week of accomplishments, revelations and stress. 
The Senate approved and sent to the House of Delegates 20 of my 25 bills  and added several of my budget amendments to the Senate budget. 
The Senate  agreed to $2 million to study extending Metro’s Blue Line to Lorton, Woodbridge and Potomac Mills, along with enhanced transit on U.S. 1 in Prince William County.  I have been fighting for this for three years and with Senator George Barker’s help, we got it included in the Senate budget.  Additionally, my proposal to fund additional treatment services and a study for incarcerated, sexually-violent predators was included so that they can  receive treatment before they are committed to a post-incarceration civil treatment facility, an approach that costs taxpayers significantly more per day than a standard jail.  There is no reason to delay therapy until they have completed their sentence.  This will save taxpayers millions of dollars if it works. 
The Senate, on a 37-2-1 vote, passed my bill to create a framework to clean up Virginia’s coal ash repositories.  The bill requires at least 6.8 million cubic yards of the 27 million cubic yards to be recycled into “encapsulated” products like bricks, cinderblocks or cement.  The bill also requires Dominion to work with localities to minimize transportation impacts; to give priority to local workers; and to continually seek proposals to recycle ash as technology evolves so that we can minimize coal ash landfill storage.  While the bill is not everything I want, it achieves my primary objectives to prohibit “cap in place” or using old leaky ash ponds to store ash forever and to promote recycling. 
On a vote of 29-11, the Senate passed my legislation to give Fairfax County an additional tool to pay for underground utilities on U.S. 1.  The bill allows the County to pay for underground utilities and then recover the cost by levying a utility fee that will cost about $0.80-0.90 per month.  I have heard loud and clear from my constituents that they want underground utilities on U.S. 1.  Prince William County’s government funded it for all 10 miles of U.S. 1.  If Prince William can afford it, so can Fairfax County, and I am hoping to provide County officials with a method to do it. 
On a vote of 34-6, the Senate passed my bill to create penalties for government officials who intentionally try to avoid our sunshine laws.  The bill creates penalties for destroying public records to avoid the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and penalties for officials who incorrectly vote to certify that they only discussed specifically exempted and previously-announced matters in closed public meetings.  
I also passed legislation clarifying that cars cannot use bike lanes to pass other vehicles and making it easier to convict drivers for seriously injuring cyclists and pedestrians.  U.S. 1 is the deadliest road in Virginia for pedestrians and pedestrian deaths are up by 50 percent in the last five years in Virginia.  Most injured cyclists and pedestrians cannot remember what happened or are killed when struck.  This will help balance the playing field on the criminal side of justice. 
Finally, this was another rough week as the Governor’s situation continued to percolate, the Attorney General admitted to using blackface at age 19 in college and two different women accused our Lieutenant Governor of sexual assault.  We were initially willing to wait for time and information after one accusation was made, but when a second woman 4,000 miles away made a very serious allegation, it was clear to some of us that this was becoming an issue that could distract from his duties. The Senate Democratic, House Democratic and Legislative Black Caucuses and called for his resignation.  I am continuing to assess my position on the situations and welcome your input. 
Please weigh in on my constituent survey at http://bit.ly/sd362019survey and email me at scott@scottsurovell.org with your feedback.  I will host a town hall meeting on Facebook on February 13, 2018 at 7:00 p.m.  I hope you will watch and participate online at www.facebook.com/surovell.  It is an honor to serve as your state senator.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Session Interviews with Cable Reports

Every year, I interview with Cable Reports to preview the General Assembly Session.  This year, I did two interviews - one focusing on Fairfax County and the other on Prince William and Stafford Counties. During these interview we were able to cover a wide array topics from the Governor's agenda to items that specifically affect the constituents within my district. I was glad to discuss the coal ash removal bill that was supported by the Governor. We went on to discuss my legislation on predatory lending, the urgency of passing tax conformity, underground utility lines, the tolling situation on I-81 and bi-partisan redistricting.

Fairfax County

Prince William County

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Weeky #4: A Week of Highs and Lows in the State Legislature

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Prince William Times, The Fort Hunt Herald, and Potomac Local in the week of February 3, 2019.

A Week of Highs and Lows in the State Legislature

The fourth week of this session of the General Assembly brought some of greatest highs and greatest lows I have ever experienced in my 10 years serving in the General Assembly. 
In a Monday, January 29 press conference with Governor Northam, we announced a new agreement with Transurban to start the immediate construction of a new lane southbound on I-95 between VA-123 and the Prince William County Parkway. Transurban agreed to waive any compensation event or penalty payment on their existing contract.  With this agreement, we much closer to removing the worst bottleneck in all of Northern Virginia, the most frequent transportation complaint I receive - a traffic nightmare that costs millions of Virginians millions of hours of lost productivity.