Virginia House of Delegates 48th District!
As redrawn in 2011, Virginia’s 48th Delegate District includes the area in Northern Virginia covering north Arlington, as well as much of McLean from the Arlington border to the Beltway. It also runs along the Potomac from Chain Bridge to National Airport and Crystal City.
I’m proud to have represented the 48th District’s citizens in Richmond since 1998. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read about my background, the legislation I have championed in Richmond, and my stand on issues that matter to Northern Virginia and the Commonwealth.
I encourage you to visit my website often. Please contact me if you have any questions or if there’s an issue involving state government that I can help you resolve.
As we head toward our scheduled adjournment date on March 6, this week much of the rhetoric on the floor of the House centered around the most contentious issue of this session — whether or not to expand health coverage to hundreds of thousands on Virginians. Right now nobody knows how or whether this issue will be resolved and whether we’ll be able to complete our work on time. There’s another issue in the budget that we’ve delayed dealing with year after year. That’s the condition of the General Assembly Building. The GAB is the office building in Capitol Square that houses the offices of the delegates and senators while we’re in session, as well as several hundred support staff year-round. The GAB is actually four separate buildings dating from 1912 to 1965 that were combined in the 1970s. So we’re dealing with an infrastructure that’s as much as a hundred years old, and we’re on borrowed time.
One of the biggest problems with the GAB is in the newest wing. When it was built in the sixties, the west part of the building was fireproofed by spraying asbestos on the structure and its beams and girders. But this material has degraded over the past 50 years,and there’s a constant danger that asbestos will be introduced into the heating and cooling system, If that happens, we might have to evacuate the building and shut it down immediately.
In addition, the building contains numerous fire code violations, including exit doors that swing inward, missing exit signs, a dead-end corridor, and insufficient ways of getting out of some conference rooms. On top of that, the sprinkler system has reached the end of its useful life. The building is out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, ranging from access barriers at the entrance to door hardware to service counters to the restrooms.
For the Senators and Delegates who are in Richmond part-time, the GAB is an inefficient and inconvenient eyesore. Far more seriously, we’re requiring the building’s full-time employees to work in conditions that can only be described as life threatening, and we’re denying disabled employees and visitors the opportunity to participate fully in the work of their government. So I’m glad that both the House and Senate budgets include funding for a new General Assembly Building and other necessary improvements around Capitol Square. This is a long overdue and urgent investment. Report from Richmond #6.
This past week the major item of the 2014 session, the state budget for the next two years, took several steps forward. Governor McDonnell submitted his budget before the session began in January. The General Assembly members had a chance to propose amendments to change specific funding items in that budget. On February 16th the money committees for both the House and the Senate reported out their amendments. On the following Thursday, the full House and Senate debated their money committees’ budgets, with a series of votes on individual items and proposed changes. Both chambers passed their respective budgets with minor changes.
In one major aspect the House and Senate budgets couldn’t be more different. The principle area of disagreement is whether to extend health care coverage to hundreds of thousands of Virginians through the expansion of the Medicaid program. The House refused to support Medicaid expansion. The House budget includes 81 million dollars to hospitals to adjust for the cost of inflation, as well as $6 million to free clinics and community health centers.
On the Senate side, things are a little different. The Senate Budget includes a program called “Marketplace Virginia” which would help around 250,000 Virginians buy private health insurance. The Senate plan would include cost-sharing by recipients and unemployed recipients would have to show they were looking for work. The Senate adopted the “Marketplace Virginia” proposal on a bipartisan vote of 23 to 17, while the House rejected it on almost straight party lines.
In the next step of the process, members of the two money committees will try to reconcile differences between the House and Senate bills. If they’re successful, they’ll report back to us in a few weeks. Then we’ll have a budget by our scheduled adjournment date of March 8. But there’s a lot to be resolved before that time. Report #5 from Richmond: Not only Medicaid, but also education reform remain to be decided.
A major education issue this year is SOL reform. In recent years there’s been a nationwide discussion on the merits of standardized testing, and Virginia is no different. My friend and colleague, Delegate Rob Krupicka from Alexandria, was among those spearheading the bill that passed through the House this week. The new reforms would not only establish an independent committee to investigate further reforms, but it would limit the number of tests from grades three through eight. It would also allow local school boards to come up with their own tests or projects.
There’s one higher education bill I wish we had been able to advance. This was the proposal by Republican Delegate Tom Rust of Herndon and Arlington Delegate Alfonso Lopez to allow undocumented young men and women to attend Virginia public colleges and universities at in-state tuition rates. In addition to the humanitarian aspects of this bill, it also makes good economic sense: after taxpayers have spent large sums educating these men and women in elementary and high school, we should want to encourage the best and the brightest to stay in Virginia and contribute to our economy rather than going out of state. We’ve missed the opportunity to do the right thing this year. It will have to wait and the dream will be deferred for large numbers of our best students. Report #4 from Richmond: 810 House Bills sent to the Senate for Consideration.
Several issues have arisen in the General Assembly that this session that demonstrate one of modern Virginia’s dividing lines: the split between urban and suburban regions and rural Virginia.
The urban/rural divide often is dramatized when the issue has anything to do with firearms. Almost all of the Delegates and Senators representing urban and rural districts are supportive of firearm safety measures aimed at controlling the proliferation of weapons, while rural legislators generally are fiercely protective of unfettered gun rights. But this week the urban/rural debate on guns played out in an odd way. The issue was “Sunday Hunting” – the provision in law that bans hunting on the Sabbath. The restriction is one relic of the time when Virginia’s “Blue Laws” prohibited a wide range of activities, including retail sales, on Sunday.
We had before us a bill that would have loosened the Sunday hunting ban. Much of the support for the bill, effectively expanding firearms activity, came from urban and suburban legislators, while there was opposition from many traditionally gun-friendly rural members. The metropolitan members were reflecting the concerns of their hunter constituents, who find it difficult to get away to hunt any time during the week. Many of the rural legislators, on the other hand, were hearing from their constituents who liked the peace and quiet of one day out of the week during hunting season, and from many other religiously devout people who regarded lifting the ban as intruding on “the Lord’s day.” In the end, the bill passed overwhelmingly, with a mixture of urban and rural votes on both sides of the issue.
And then there was the debate on transportation issues where agreement was hard to find! Report #3 Urban Rural Divide.
More than 2300 bills have been introduced into the 2014 General Assembly. These bills are assigned to committees for consideration. Frequently, they are referred to sub-committees for more detailed study and recommendations. Some are defeated, “passed by indefinitely” or “laid on the table;” others may be reported out favorably or with amendment or even deferred to 2015. You can follow the progress of bills in the General Assembly through the Legislative Information System.
This process is used for all bills, those that deal with major or minor changes. Often the minor clean up bills don’t get much press, but they are important. Frequently they clean up ambiguities in state law or close loopholes in the law. These smaller measures are often requested by state agencies. I’m carrying a couple of them through the legislative process this year. For instance, one that was requested by the State Treasurers Association drops an obsolete sentence in the Code on judicial sale of derelict or blighted housing. The Department of Motor Vehicles asked me to carry a bill conforming the state code to Federal Motor Vehicle regulations. Among other things, it would prohibit holders of commercial licenses from using cell phones while driving. In my Report from Richmond #2 I will talk about on another seemingly small bill in which the demand for the perfect became the enemy of the good.