Thursday, April 20, 2017

In Memory of James M. Scott


As you may have learned by now, my predecessor and friend, Jim Scott, passed away earlier this month of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Many of you have asked for information about his memorial service. Below please find those details and the text of my recent Richmond Report that appears in this week’s edition of the Falls Church News Press.

Memorial Service and Donations

A memorial for former Delegate James "Jim" Scott will be held on Saturday, May 6th at 2:00pm at the INOVA Center for Personalized Health Conference Center Atrium (3225 Gallows Road, Fairfax).

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that those who are interested make a donation in honor of Jim to either the Insight Memory Care Center, Homestretch, or Northern Virginia Family Services.

In Memory of Jim Scott

This month I’d like to use the space normally devoted to my monthly Richmond Report to share my memories of my early days in Richmond working for former Delegate Jim Scott, who died last week of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

Like many recent college grads, I was anxious to find a job that would allow me to live as an independent adult when I graduated in the spring of 1992. A journalism minor at NYU, I had applied to literally hundreds of newspapers looking for a paid gig. The best offers I got all were all unpaid internships lasting at least six months. It was beginning to look bleak.

Then I got word from home that the new Delegate who just returned from his first session in Richmond was looking for a Legislative Assistant. The ideal candidate would be a decent writer and a hard worker, but also willing to work for next to nothing.

To me, “next to nothing” sounded way better than nothing and would allow me to apply my writing skills. So, I interviewed and accepted my first “real” job working for James M. “Jim” Scott. At the time, practically everyone knew his nickname “Landslide Jim,” based on his one vote margin of victory in the 1991 election.

Coming from journalism school, I was a little apprehensive about going to work for a politician. I expected a self-important, smooth talking, boorish type with either an oversized ego or an incredibly fragile one. All I knew from politicians were the caricatures I’d seen on television.

What I found in Jim Scott, however, was a man of amazing character.

Jim, I learned, was in politics for all the right reasons. First off, he didn’t need to be. He’d retired from the Board of Supervisors and was making a nice living doing government affairs work for the local hospital system. Although Democrats controlled the Virginia General Assembly, party labels didn’t always mean the same thing then that they do now. Few of his Democratic colleagues were as liberal – what we’d now call progressive - as Jim Scott. He could provide a different voice, one that reflected the values of his Northern Virginia district.

In Richmond, Jim didn’t seek the spotlight, but rather sought opportunities to bring his experience and background in local government, health care, and education to bear. Because Jim had expertise in fair housing and housing affordability, he ended up carrying bills on manufactured housing – mobile homes. We didn’t have a lot of mobile home owners in Fairfax and McLean - the neighborhoods that made up the 53rd at the time - but Jim was happy to carry bills that would improve consumer protections for owners of manufactured homes and work with the industry to create a legal and regulatory framework that made sense for their business model.

What I learned watching that process unfold was that Jim’s greatest asset was his ability to learn and understand new information, apply it to what he already knew from his experience working on housing issues in Fairfax, and navigate the process so that everyone came out feeling like a winner. While not all his bills passed, he worked hard on all the issues he fought for, earning a reputation as someone that everyone wanted to work with.

While Jim never sought to be front and center, he prioritized responding to reporters and the news media in a timely manner and as often as possible. One lesson I’ve never forgotten is to always find a way to say yes to the press. You can’t dodge them on a tough question on Monday, then pitch them a story on Tuesday. Jim said it very simply, “If I start saying no, they’ll stop asking.”

Although I only worked for him for a few years before he introduced me to my next great mentor, Kate Hanley, I was careful to stay in touch with Jim and followed his career closely for the next 20 years. I was proud to see him work on issues such as brain injury awareness, ballot access, gun violence and domestic violence prevention, and so much more.

It was a privilege to work for him in the early days and an honor to succeed him in representing the 53rd District. Jim’s compassion made him a champion of the people, a true progressive before his time. His sense of humor made him accessible. He embodied the type of public servant I strive to be. I believe that we all serve a purpose and that good people can do great things. Jim Scott was a great man who did great things for our community. He will be missed, but his legacy lives on.

Monday, April 3, 2017

VDOT I-66 Project Update & Public Hearings

With the General Assembly's Reconvene Session coming up on Wednesday, I was going to wait until next week to fill you all in on what's happening with the I-66 outside the beltway, but with some information coming out in various forums, I don't want to wait any longer to share everything I know in the interest of transparency.

Last November, Governor McAuliffe announced that Express Mobility Partners (EMP) was selected to build express lanes on I-66 Outside the Beltway, following a 16-month procurement process. EMP will be responsible for financing, designing, building, maintaining, and operating the project under the Public-Private Transportation Act.

Nothing is set in stone and your input is extremely important.

Since the announcement, EMP has been working on the engineering with the intent to hold public hearings to present the refined plans. I have heard from many of you who are concerned with some of the most recent changes. I, along with other local elected officials whose districts are mostly affected by this project, will be meeting with VDOT and EMP staff to ensure that your voices are heard.

In the meantime, VDOT has promised me they will do their best to meet with any HOA, community organization, or civic association that would like to schedule a briefing on the I-66 Outside the Beltway Project. The best way to do that would be to email my office or give us call (571-327-0053) and I can help you set something up. I want to make sure that the most accurate information is available to you and that VDOT/EMP understand how best to serve our community.

You can also sign up to get project updates via email.

Upcoming VDOT Public Hearings

There are three public hearings scheduled for June 12th, 14th, and 15th. Although not all the meeting details have been finalized, the most up to date information can be found on the meeting page of the Transform 66 website.

Yours in service,

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

2017 Session - La La Land

City of stars Are you shining just for me?
City of stars
You never shined so brightly 


~Ryan Gosling, "City of Stars" - winner 2017 Oscar for Best Song, La La Land


Richmond may not be a city of stars in the same way that Los Angeles is, but during the 2017 Legislative Session, it often felt like I was in La La Land. While my House Democratic Colleagues and I focused on legislation improving the lives of working families, the other side of the aisle seemed intent on pressing hot-button partisan and social issues.

For instance, we introduced bills to give hard working Virginian's a raise, protect student borrowers from predatory and deceptive billing practices, provide guarantees of equal pay for equal work between men and women, and make sure the workers who care for the most vulnerable Virginian's could earn overtime and sick leave.

The House GOP introduced bills to defund planned parenthood, allow more people to conceal carry guns in schools, courthouses and emergency shelters, give tax breaks to encourage more coal extraction, and make it more difficult to apply for absentee ballots.

All that said, there are a number of pretty good things that made it through with bipartisan support. 


Good Things That Passed in 2017

Birth Control

Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn's bill to require health insurance companies to cover a 12-month supply of prescription birth control survived a last minute challenge on the floor from Delegate Bob Marshall of Manassas, who suggested that birth-control was bad for women's health. Fortunately, Dr. Stolle, a Republican Delegate from Va. Beach stood up to set the record straight.

Bullying

Another of Delegate Filler-Corn's bills requiring principals to notify the parent of any student involved in a bullying incident within five school days of the allegation also passed, on the last night of session after some last minute drama. I was pleased to be able to speak on the floor in support of the bill which ultimately passed.

Coal Ash

Senator Scott Surovell made some progress in his crusade to force Dominion Virginia Power to take some responsibility for their large coal ash ponds under a compromise bill that cleared the legislature.
DNR Reciprocity
Delegate Sam Rasoul and I introduced a bill that makes Durable Do Not Resuscitate orders or other orders regarding life-sustaining treatment executed in another state to be deemed valid in the Commonwealth.

Driver’s License Suspensions

We passed bills to require judges consider a defendants ability to pay when imposing a schedule for unpaid fines and to give judges discretion not to suspend a driver’s license for a first marijuana offense.

Immigration

On straight party lines, Republicans passed a bill to ban “sanctuary” localities here in Virginia. The Governor has promised to veto the bill.

The Governor vetoed a separate bill that would require the Department of Social Services to publish “personally identifiable reports” on refugees, saying “it does not reflect Virginia’s values.”

Lead

We passed a bill introduced by Senator Jeremy McPike that will have school systems create and implement plans to for lead in school's drinking water in pre-1986 buildings.

Mental Health

While we failed to add money for mental health screening in jails to the Governor's budget as he had asked, the House and Senate did approve $7.5 million in state and other funds for a “same-day access” program. The program requires Community Services Boards deal with people who are in mental health crisis the day they walk into the clinic, not days or weeks later.

Also added to the budget was $5 million for permanent supportive housing for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless because as a result of their serious mental illness.

Opioids

The Governor has already signed into law bills to create needle exchange programs; to increase access to naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of certain opioids; changes to prescription policies; and improved services for infants who had been exposed to opioids in utero.

Short Term Rentals

The General Assembly gave local governments more authority to adopt ordinances and otherwise regulate online short-term rental platforms like Airbnb, including requiring owners to register with the locality to be able to offer short-term rentals.

Veterans

We also passed a bill very similar to one I introduced authorizing any member of the US Armed Forces or Virginia National Guard who receives military relocation orders for a period of service of at least 90 days to terminate contracts for certain services (like internet, cell phones, or gym memberships).

Finally, with the end of the Session comes the end of restrictions on my ability to accept campaign contributions. Please consider clicking here to help me raise money to pay my filing fees and other costs of being a candidate for re-election.

I'm looking forward to returning to La La Land next session to fight for us.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

2017 Session - Week 6

You say yes, I say no
You say stop and I say go go go, oh no
You say goodbye and I say hello
Hello hello
I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello
Hello hello
I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello 


~The Beatles, "Hello, Goodbye"


Hello. This is the last week of the 2017 session of the Virginia General Assembly - so this will be the last of my weekly updates. I'll send out a session wrap up next week, though, so stay tuned for that.

Legislative Priorities

Who do you think is in greater need of consumer protection - 17, 18 and 19 year-olds taking out loans for what will almost certainly be the most significant investment of their lives to that point, or middle aged dads who forget their family vacation is scheduled for the same week as the Iron Maiden reunion concert?

If you said the dads - you'd fit right in here in Richmond.

My effort, working with Governor McAuliffe and Senator Janet Howell, to create a student borrower bill of rights and license student loan servicers (SB 1053) died on a party line vote in committee last week, despite passing the Senate with broad bipartisan support.

Meanwhile, Delegate Dave Albo's bill (HB 1825) to guarantee a right to resell tickets, which I happened to support, passed the Senate, even while Delegate Albo admitted that the restrictions on resale were actually disclosed in the fine print when he purchased his tickets. Again, I supported this bill and think many of us will benefit when it becomes law, but I don't understand why Republicans in the House of Delegates found these transactions more worthy of consumer protection than student loan transactions.

Similarly, during the same week that a bill to make it legal to discriminate against same sex couples (HB 2025) passed the House and the Senate, the bill Senator Jennifer Wexton and I introduced to add fair housing protections for same sex couples (SB 822) was defeated in the House General Laws Committee. The committee vote was on party lines after passing the Senate with bipartisan support. This has happened for the second year in a row.

So, instead of establishing consumer protections for student loan borrowers, which there is a clear need for as demonstrated by the current federal lawsuit against Navient, we made it easier to purchase scalped tickets.

Instead of expanding our fair housing statute to include non-discrimination against the LGBTQ community, we legalized discrimination.

While I am confident that the Governor will veto HB 2025, these bills highlight just how out of touch the House Republican Majority is with the problems facing ordinary Virginians.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

2017 Session - Crossover & the Budget

Last week was as busy a week as we are going to have during this year’s 45-day short session. On Sunday at one in the afternoon, we got our first look at the House Appropriations Committee's amendments to the Governor's budget. On Monday and Tuesday, we debated and voted on hundreds of bills and resolutions at the crossover deadline. On Wednesday, floor amendments to the Budget were due at noon and on Thursday we debated and voted on the Budget.

Each year the General Assembly establishes a deadline, near the halfway point of the session, for each house to complete work on its own bills, vote on them, pass them, and send them to other body for consideration.

This year at the crossover deadline we debated and voted on a total of 192 bills. Here are some of the highlights.

Women's Health

We passed HB 2267 allowing women to receive up to a 12-month supply of their birth control as prescribed by a doctor, over the objections of Delegate Bob Marshall of Prince William.

Criminal Justice

We passed HB 2064 which precludes a person who has previously been convicted of any violent felony from being eligible for first offender status for assault and battery against a family or household member, unless all parties agree.

One of many bills aimed at addressing the growing opioid abuse crisis in much of Virginia, HB 1453, expands the category of state officials able to train individuals on the administration of naloxone for use in opioid overdose reversal.

Finally, SB 816 would increase the grand larceny threshold from $200 to $500, meaning fewer acts of petty theft would be charged as a felony. We’ll see how that bill fares in the House of Delegates, where many are still hostile to that idea.

Veterans

Both houses passed language for a Constitutional Amendment to create a property tax exemption for surviving spouses of disabled veterans, even if they move. That bill will have to pass again in identical form next year and then be approved by the voters in a referendum before it can take effect.

My Virginia Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act was folded into HB 1537. It allows any member of the United States Armed Forces or Virginia National Guard (or their spouses or dependents living with them) to terminate contracts for certain services if they receive military orders to relocate for a period of service of at least 90 days.

Redistricting Reform

Several bills were introduced in the House of Delegates this year to reform how Virginia conducts redistricting, the process of redrawing electoral district boundaries. The bills, which were lumped together in committee and killed on a single voice vote, would have taken legislators out of the redistricting process, created an independent redistricting commission and constitutionally banned partisan influence in redistricting.

Budget Update

At the end of the day on Thursday, I was one of only 2 NO votes to the House of Delegate's budget plan. Here's why. Reviewing the budget amendments, I found several that were objectionable, including:

  • Eliminating $4.5 million the Governor had requested to identify gaps in Virginia's community mental health system where people with mental illness were getting lost.
  • Eliminating $6 million in purely federal funds to provide long term contraception to poor families in Virginia.
  • Republicans put language back in the budget to prohibit home healthcare workers from working more than 40 hours in a week and earning overtime pay. You can view my floor speech against this amendment here.
  • Language which stops the Governor from expanding Medicaid if (as many of us expect) it isn't replaced as part of the ongoing effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. You can view my floor speech here.
  • Removes $4.2 million the Governor is seeking to improve mental health treatment in prisons and jails.
Republicans killed every Democratic effort to amend the budget, including a floor amendment I introduced with Delegate Jennifer Boysko to require equal pay between the male Clerk of the House of Delegates and the female Clerk of the Senate.

I also introduced a floor amendment to prohibit discrimination against the LGBT community in public employment which was killed after the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee suggested I should have introduced the language as a bill. This came immediately after the House approved Delegate Bob Marshall's amendment to prohibit the spending of state funds on any abortion services, without any explicit exceptions for viability or the health and welfare of the mother.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

2017 Session - Week 3

We did it 
We did it 
Hooray!

~Dora the Explorer


There is much to report after the second full week of session. We're one week closer to the halfway point of session, which means committees are meeting for longer and we are spending more time on the House floor as we debate bills.

How to Kill a Bad Bill

On Tuesday, my bill to add Virginia to the National Popular Vote Compact (HB 1482) was heard in committee, along with bills to allocate Virginia's electoral votes by congressional district. Under my bill, Virginia would pledge its electoral votes to the presidential candidate that received the most votes nationwide. That bill was killed in favor of a bill that would have awarded 7 of Virginia's 13 electoral votes to the Donald Trump by using Virginia's very gerrymandered congressional districts to allocate our electoral college votes.

On Wednesday, I started to receive emails, social media posts, and phone calls concerned about reports that the General Assembly might actually start awarding its electoral college votes by congressional district.

That evening, I attended a reception at the Governor's Mansion and shared your concerns with him. Not only did Governor McAuliffe give me permission to tell you he would veto Delegate Cole's bill (HB 1425), he handed my phone to one of his aides and made this video.

On Thursday, I know many of you made calls to Delegate Cole's office to share your concerns about his bill.

By Friday, Delegate Cole had decided to strike HB 1425, saying the Governor was going to veto it anyway. Whatever the reason, I was happy to hear this and know that many of you are as well given the high number of emails, Facebook messages, and calls I received opposing the measure.

Thank the Governor!

I'd like to publicly thank Governor McAuliffe for taking a firm stand against legislation like HB 1425, which only serves to further promote gerrymandering and jeopardize our election system. Click here to thank Governor McAuliffe for making the video with me and sending a clear message that we won't stand for this kind of political maneuvering.

Monday, January 23, 2017

2017 Session - Week 2

It might seem crazy what I'm about to say
Sunshine she's here, you can take a break
I'm a hot air balloon that could go to space
With the air, like I don't care, baby, by the way...
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth 


~Pharrell, "Happy"

In a surprising turn of events, when the General Assembly returned last week for the first full week of our abbreviated 45 day Session things moved at a very relaxed and deliberate pace, giving us lots of time for thoughtful, non-partisan discussion of legislation that focused on policy considerations over politics. (Actual facts- we were slammed with visits from lobby groups, overlapping committee meetings, and increasingly long floor sessions.)

On Monday, the Gun Violence Prevention activists finally got through to members of the NRA and Virginia Citizens Defense League and got them to agree that no one wants to confiscate their personal firearms. Here I am pictured with the approximately seven million protesters that descended on the Capitol in Richmond. (Actually, I was proud to participate in the gun violence prevention rally alongside my colleagues, Lieutenant Governor Northam and Attorney General Herring as we advocated for commonsense gun violence prevention measures, most of which face a daunting up hill battle against the gun industry).

Legislative Update - Alternative Facts Edition

On Thursday, I had 5 bills heard in 3 different subcommittees.

Early in the day, House General Laws Subcommittee #2, members stood up to the groups who spoke out on behalf of the construction industry and their various trade associations and instead put the City of Falls Church and its taxpayers first by allowing the City to ride the procurement contracts of some of our larger neighbors. (HB 2170). (Actually- after hearing from five different groups representing the construction industry, the bills died for lack of a motion from any member of the subcommittee, avoiding a vote on the matter.)

In a subcommittee of Militia Police and Public safety the subcommittee members agreed that my bill creating a Virginia Specific Soldier's and Sailors Civil Relief Act was more comprehensive and agreed to roll a Republican Delegate's bill into mine and advance it to the full committee. (Actually, my bill was rolled in the Republican version, which incorporated most everything I was seeking to do, so I'll call that an actual win. HB 2147).

Finally at the end of a long day, the subcommittee took a long and thoughtful look at my 3 very reasonable gun violence protection bills (HB 1683, 1684, & 1685) which they agreed were small, common sense measures that would effectively improve the public safety of all Virginians living in urban areas, the Commonwealth's young children, and end Virginia's status as the number one source of crime guns in many major east coast cities. Members of the subcommittee saw the importance of these bills, of which I have long been a champion and advanced all three.

Actually...but now you've recognized the pattern.

I promise to have some good news to report next week. Two bills which were constituent requests advanced on the Floor today and look likely to pass the house. Stay tuned.