Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Governor's Budget

It’s going to be a much different year in the Virginia House of Delegates in 2017 with Democrats having secured at least a 50-50 tie in the Chamber pending the outcome of a disputed election in Fredericksburg.

Democrats seem likely to be in a position to insist on a power sharing arrangement that allows us to Chair committees and possibly control the speaker’s gavel. As of this writing many of those details remain to be worked out, but be assured that I will revisit them in upcoming columns as session approaches.

Meanwhile, earlier this week outgoing Governor Terry McAuliffe unveiled his final biennial state budget, and in it, his last and best effort to provide health care to the over 400,000 Virginians who make too much money to qualify for traditional Medicaid coverage and not enough to afford even subsidized insurance in a health care exchange or in the open market by expanding Medicaid in Virginia.

The two-year budget plan relies on savings that will be realized only if we accept the roughly $6 million dollars a day that Medicaid expansion would provide and use it to pay for essential services that we've paid for from the General Fund instead for the last four years.

Two years ago, the Governor introduced a budget that used the savings to be realized from expanding Medicaid to lower the state's corporate tax rate. The thought was that Republicans love a good corporate tax cut more than they hated Obamacare, and that would give them cover to accept Medicaid expansion while doing something that would help McAuliffe lure more companies to Virginia to help diversify our economy.

Only he miscalculated. It turned out Republicans hated Obamacare more than they loved the idea of cutting corporate taxes.

This year the approach is different, and with the new make-up of the General Assembly, which now likely includes at last 50 Democrats, and possibly 51 depending on the result of pending recounts and lawsuits, it just might work.

Overall, things are looking good. Revenue forecasts are looking up and our unemployment rate is down to 3.6% - the lowest in nearly a decade. General Fund collections exceeded the official forecast by more than $134 million. Over the next biennium, the General Fund revenue forecast is just over $42 billion.

The Governor’s top budget priorities are funding vital public services like the Standards of Quality for public education and the existing Medicaid program.

Other highlights from this year's budget include:
  • Funding to automate the teacher license application system and to support principal recruitment and retention in our hardest-hit school divisions.
  • Updating Virginia’s education formulas including the Standards of Quality, which will add $436 million in education funding over the next two year.
  • In the area of workforce development, $1 million in new funding is added to the budget for two-week cybersecurity camps dedicated to exposing high school students to careers in this rapidly growing industry.
  • Children can’t learn if they are hungry, so we’ve added $2 million to support our breakfast incentive funding, which has dramatically improved participation in our high-need elementary schools.
  • There is $4 million in increased funding for the New Economy Workforce Credential tuition assistance program to address the high demand of students wishing to participate in the program.
  • In an effort to make Virginia a little greener, $2 million to support the development of the solar industry in Virginia. $110 million in Commonwealth Transportation Capital Projects Revenue Bonds for mass transit projects in FY 2020 to maintain the state’s commitments to these services.
  • In addition to expanding Medicaid, the budget provides Full funding for the revised Medicaid forecast for foster care and adoption programs and Children’s Services Act caseloads as well as funding to support 825 additional Medicaid waiver slots over the course of the biennium for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
  • I’m excited about funds that will allow Virginia to continue to make strides in the way we treat people living with Mental Illness in Virginia, including $11 million to begin primary care screening and monitoring at the Community Service Boards, $1 million for the creation and expansion of mental health dockets in jurisdictions with high caseloads, $2.9 million to establish special units and programs for seriously mentally ill inmates and $10 million to support medication-assisted treatment for individuals who seek help with opioid addiction, through our Community Service Boards.
  • Finally, the budget includes a 2% raise for state employees, including teachers, law enforcement, and state agency workers.
In year’s past a budget that includes these priorities might have been viewed as Dead on Arrival. With a 50/50 House of Delegates, well, not so fast. Should be an interesting session.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

When we vote, We win

I was always the crazy one
Who broke into the stadium . . .

How do you like me now
How do you like me now
Now that I'm on my way
Do you still think I'm crazy standing here today?

~Toby Keith, “How Do You Like Me Now?”

All the votes have been cast, most of the ballots counted, and in addition to a Democratic sweep of all three statewide offices, as it currently stands the Virginia House of Delegates will have 49 Democrats and 48 Republicans next year, with three races still too close to call. Although the outcome of the state sponsored recounts is not certain, Democrats are favored to win one and Republicans appear poised to hold off challengers in the other two.

That would result in a House of Delegates evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, 50-50. This has only happened once before in recent memory, after the 1999 elections. During my four years in the House of Delegates, Republican have held a 2-1 margin with Democrats having no more than 34 seats.

What a difference a year makes.

Things look much brighter today than they did in November of 2016, as we all wondered how bad a President Trump could be, and whether Democrats could ever win anything ever again. Many of us took solace in the fact that Hillary Clinton carried Virginia.

Most everyone agrees that Virginia is no longer a "purple" state up for grabs by either party. No, after this week we're as blue as the ocean.

How did it happen? What drove it? Well, in addition to wanting to send a message to Donald Trump, Virginians decided to embrace our diversity. As a result, the House of Delegates will look a lot more like Virginia in 2018.

All fifteen of the seats we have flipped or may flip are seats that were held by white men. Eleven of those were won by women. That will bring the total number of women in the General Assembly to twenty-six. We’ve also elected our first transgender delegate, our first two Latina delegates, our first lesbian delegate, and our first Asian American woman delegate.

Now, about those recounts.

In the 28th House District in Stafford there is an 84 vote margin and in the 40th House District in Fairfax a 115 vote margin. In the 94th House District race in Newport News, we trail by only TEN (10) votes. Never let anyone tell you that your vote doesn't count.

As I said before, one likely scenario is a 50-50 split. That said, there are other possibilities.

Even if the Republicans retain control of the House, they will be spread pretty thin. They’ve lost chairs for four committees: Militia, Police, & Public Safety, Science & Technology, Transportation, and Courts of Justice. Their near supermajority of delegates will have dwindled to at most a single vote. With such a small majority, they will have to relearn how to work with Democrats. It won’t be easy to steamroll the things that they don’t like anymore.

If the Democrats win complete control of the House, it will be the first time since 1999. It also means that one third of our caucus will be brand new. We’ll go from being the opposition party playing defense against the worst legislative proposals to the party that governs.

A 50-50 split in the House also has huge implications for the upcoming 2018 Session and beyond. It will be a cage match, figuring out power-sharing, electing a Speaker we can all agree on, and possibly even a new Clerk of the House.

All these scenarios mean change is coming to the General Assembly. That change should be good for Falls Church and the values of our community. It will mean you have a Delegate who can't be ignored, not anymore. A Delegate who will finally get on some good committees, and may even chair one of them. There is a lot still to unfold, but all of it is good - much better than a year ago. That's for sure.

Thank you to all of you that voted, that encouraged your friends and neighbors to vote. Thank you to those that volunteered their time to work on a campaign. And a special thanks to Win Virginia, Code Blue, Indivisible Virginia, Network NoVA - to all the groups that never wavered in their determination and enthusiasm to make sure that we elected more Democrats across the state. 

You proved it - When we vote, we win!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Government that works for you

I'm on my way I'm making it, huh!
I've got to make it show yeah, hey!
So much larger than life
I'm gonna watch it growing...

The place where I come from is a small town
They think so small, they use small words
But not me, I'm smarter than that,
I worked it out
I'll be stretching my mouth to let those big words come right out

~Peter Gabriel, "Big Time"

Something is in the air these days.

Most years there are only a few issues people want to talk to me about on the campaign trail. What's going on in their kid's schools, what can I do to make their commute a little easier, and are we doing enough to keep their families safe. Education, transportation, public safety.

Some folks are particularly passionate about common sense gun safety laws, protecting a woman’s right to control her own medical decisions without interference from politicians, and most of my constituents are confident that the science that tells us man-made climate change is wreaking havoc with our environment.

In addition to the issues that affect them and their families directly, my constituents have always been concerned about the plight of the less fortunate. I've always had plenty of support for my efforts to shore up the holes in the social safety net and make sure the most vulnerable among us are protected.

This year, though, the term "economic insecurity" has become a new buzzword. Many people think it explains our recent Presidential election, and the strong feelings of many that the current system is in need of a major disruptor-in-chief to shake things up.

What are Democrats and folks like you, Delegate Simon, going to do about that? That’s the tough question I’ve been hearing most lately.

The truth is there is a lot that I and my Democratic colleagues have been doing - or trying to do. We recognize that the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few is corrosive to our form of participatory democracy.

A Living Wage, Paid Sick Days, & Student Loan Debt

Virginians working hard at a full time job ought to earn a living wage - to make enough to meet their basic human needs. While this may not be something that folks reading this e-mail have to worry about personally - we understand that all of us are better off when everyone who works a full-time job can find decent housing, can afford to feed their kids nutritious food, and can even afford to put money aside for major purchases like cars and homes. And no one should be one illness away from losing their job, or one serious medical issue away from bankruptcy.

That's why I was the first person in Virginia to propose minimum wage legislation that would eventually get us to a $15.00 an hour wage.

That's why I am the small business owner and entrepreneur that also supports mandatory sick days for all Virginia employers.

And that's why I support allowing those saddled with thousands of dollars in student loan debt and unconscionably high interest rates to have the opportunity to refinance that debt with a state backed loan, to lower their interest rates and payments, and fully participate in the Virginia economy.

The growing gap between rich and poor, between haves and have nots, has many causes. There is no one solution that will bring our economy back into balance. State government and the Virginia General Assembly can do many things to make life better for working class Virginians, and all Virginians for that matter.

We can require employers to pay higher wages, we can repeal laws that prevent us from having stronger unions and we can pass better consumer protection laws for student borrowers and all consumers.

When I was kid I was always taught if I worked hard, played by the rules, and got good grades I'd get a good education. That would be enough to help me find a good job. From there I’d be able to make a comfortable living while I raised my own family.

For too many people that promise isn't being kept. I hope you will vote November 7, 2017 to send me back to Richmond where I'll continue working, harder than ever, and with an even greater sense of urgency, to make good on that promise for all of us.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Government you can trust

Free thinkin', hoodwinkin', unblinkin' man 
Start trouble, burst bubbles, join my caravan 
Someone's got to talk about accountability 
Someone's got to raise some hell, I guess it could be me

~Jimmy Buffett, "Cultural Infidel"

One of the foremost issues of our time is the rapid erosion of faith and trust in our fundamental American institutions. We are hearing from more and more Virginians that the system is rigged for the benefit of wealthy and powerful interests, and that there is no meaningful opportunity for an individual to be a change agent with the hope of improving their own lot in life.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers to solving this problem, but I do know that in Virginia, the General Assembly is a good place to start. Here in the Commonwealth we have lots of room for improvement.

In Virginia it’s too easy to feel like your vote for Delegate doesn’t count, because a district was drawn so safely that the incumbent only has to answer to a few members of the local party committee to stay “safe” in the seat.

It’s easy to feel like your letters, phone calls, and postcards don’t matter nearly as much as the tens of thousands of dollars pouring into the campaign accounts of incumbent legislators in a state where we don’t have limits on campaign contributions. Anyone, any corporation, company, or legal entity can contribute any amount of money and recipients are free to spend the money on themselves and their families.

It’s easy to feel like the whole system is corrupt when you read about elected officials driving around in Ferrari’s wearing, Rolex watches, and flying on private planes to Augusta for the Master’s – all on someone else's dime- someone who wants to curry favor for their client or their company.

I ran for office to continue the good works of my predecessor, Jim Scott, and to also have the opportunity to work to improve people’s lives. This can be done most effectively when we trust the government to do its job. One way to ensure that trust is to have free and fair elections by unrigging the political system that depends on gerrymandering and campaign finance rules that give out-sized influence to map-makers and mega-contributors.

Campaign Finance Reform

For my part, I pride myself on earning more support from small individual donors than from corporations or PACs.

Since 2014, I've introduced legislation every year to address the most obvious (and, in my view, embarrassing) issue - candidates legally converting campaign contributions to personal use. And every year there is a new justification for not passing it - the language is too broad, the language is too narrow, or do we really need this?

I’ve also introduced legislation to prohibit all corporations from contributing to state political campaigns.

Election Reform

More recently we’ve come to learn that foreign powers are working hard to erode our confidence in the integrity not just of the electoral process, but the process of counting our cast ballots as well.

That’s only the latest assault, though, on our election system. For years certain communities have had their vote systematically suppressed through unnecessary laws requiring unexpired government issued photo ID at the polls with no discretion for election chiefs to simply say – I know that person, they are my neighbor.

We have limited the ability to vote early in Virginia, and have artificial and arbitrary deadlines to register to vote. I am an advocate for no excuse absentee voting, vote by mail pilot programs, increasing the time frame for absentee voting, automatic voter registration, and same day registration.

Your continued support means a lot to me. It’s imperative that we have faith in the institutions of a Government that is of the people, by the people and for the people. Should I win my reelection on November 7th, you can trust that I will continue to work for you and your families, our community - for all of us.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Bound to get together

We were victims of the night
The chemical, physical, kryptonite
Helpless to the bass and the fading light
Oh we were bound to get together Bound to get together

~Walk the Moon, "Shut Up and Dance"

After last week's e-newsletter about what we can do about gun violence prevention, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about other bipartisan efforts I've worked on. With Election Day only a month away, it's important that we look ahead.

So, starting this week and going until the election on November 7th, I'll be devoting my almost weekly e-newsletter to reminding you about some of the things I've been up to for the last four years and what I've planned for the next two - should I be re-elected.

Bound to Work Together

My original campaign slogan was "Working Harder, Working Together." I'd like to think that I've delivered on both of those campaign promises during my first two terms as Delegate.

Each Session, there are about 3,000 bills and resolutions that are introduced to be considered during our 45 or 60 day sessions. Starting with the 2014 Session, I have co-patroned 622 pieces of legislation, 422 of which were passed by both the House and the Senate.

In 2014, I introduced HB 49, which prohibited the sharing or selling of pictures of another person without their consent. During the legislative process, my bill was incorporated into HB 326, introduced by a more senior Republican who happened to be the chair of subcommittee that would have to advance the bill. We continued to work together on it as it moved through the committee process. Eventually, the bill made it to the full House for a vote where it passed 99 to 1, then passed the Senate, and was signed into law by the Governor.

In 2015, I had three Republicans co-patron my fair housing legislation to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

In 2016, I worked with three prominent Republicans as chief co-patrons on bills we shared. I worked with a now GOP Congressman on our fair housing bill - a version which passed the Senate in bi-partisan fashion in both 2016 and 2017. With a few pick-ups this November, I'm confident it will pass the House as well in 2018.

I worked with a former GOP Lt. Governor candidate as chief co-patron of our bill to allow students to refinance their federal student loans. That bill was carried over for study by SCHEV and continues to enjoy broad bi-partisan support as we continue to work out the mechanics and details of how to administer and fund the program.

I even chief co-patroned with the House Majority Whip on a bill that made Virginia the first state in the country to pass legislation to regulate Daily Fantasy Sports websites. Working for Us

In this age where much of politics has gotten so tribal, it's not always easy to work across party lines. I've deliberately left the names of my colleagues out of this to try to minimize any grief they may get from their own political base during an election year.

Sometimes working for us means standing strong and playing defense against legislation that is harmful to our shared vision for Virginia. And sometimes it means working with folks who you don't often have much in common with to get things through a legislature where you are outnumbered 2 to 1.

I'm working hard to make sure that your voices are heard in Richmond.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

I won't back down

Well, I won't back down
No, I won't back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down
No, I'll stand my ground
Won't be turned around
And I'll keep this world from draggin' me down
Gonna stand my ground

~Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, "I Won't Back Down"
(October 20, 1950 – October 2, 2017)

It’s getting hard to plan ahead. Several weeks ago I mapped out an e-mail plan for the last few weeks for the campaign that was supposed to start yesterday morning.

Week 1 was going to be about how "Working for Us" sometimes means working together with the majority party in Richmond, sometimes without receiving top-billing for all the hard work.

When I woke up, though, and saw the horrible news alerts pinging my phone, my heart sank. I decided to wait to send my first e-mail.

Then I decided that now is the right time to have a political discussion about common sense gun violence prevention measures we can and should be taking to keep our families and community safe. I mean, the NRA is all set to flood political campaigns with contributions and their own political ads (like the $750,000 TV ads in Virginia they have now scheduled for October 10th). Let’s air both sides of the story.

When Thoughts and Prayers Aren't Enough

Talking to family, friends, and constituents about this, I often hear the same questions. What can we do? What can be done?

Some of you know that I've introduced legislation over the years to help curb the proliferation of guns in our community. None of these bills ever made it out of subcommittee, but they have stimulated discussions, some of which have led to actual policy changes, even here in Virginia.

HB 48/HB 2328 - My very first bill would have prohibited anyone who is convicted of domestic violence from possessing, transporting, or carrying a firearm following a conviction. HB 2328 would require the individual to turn their firearms in to local law enforcement. A version of these two policies passed in 2016, as part of a compromise regarding concealed carry reciprocity.

HB 1142/HB 2359 - Twice I’ve introduced bills that would actually require concealed carry permit holders to demonstrate competence with a handgun. Under current law, you can take an online course that requires no interaction with an instructor or even a demonstration of handling the firearm. Can you imagine licensing drivers of cars without making them take behind the wheel training and passing a road test?

HB 1671/HB 1685 - Twice I’ve carried bills for Governor McAuliffe to reinstate Virginia’s effective one handgun per month purchase policy. This policy was repealed in 2012 after decades of success in preventing "straw man" purchases in Virginia that were later linked to crimes in other states.

HB 149/HB 425 - Would have been Virginia’s version of No Fly No Buy. Individuals who are on the federal Terrorist Screening Database would have been disqualified from obtaining a concealed handgun permit and purchasing a handgun.

HB 423/HB424 - In response to the opening of a gun store next to a local elementary school in McLean, would have prevented individuals from possessing a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school or at least allow localities to adopt ordinances prohibiting firearms within a school zone at their option.

HB 1313 - Would have simply allowed an individual requesting a protective order to request that order include language requiring their stalker or abuser to surrender any firearms to law enforcement.

HB 1683 - Prohibits the carrying of a loaded shotgun or rifle in places open to the public in certain cities and counties.

HB 1684 - Restricts access to firearms for those under 14. Firearms must be reasonably secured or individual is guilty of a Class 1 Misdemeanor.

HB 2466 - Requires all dealers who sell or transfer any handgun to also have personalized handguns available for sale i.e. smart gun technology.

I know many of us feel helpless in the face of all the bad news that seems to be overwhelming our newsfeeds. In Virginia we aren’t - in just over a month we have a chance to make our voices heard by voting. We can send a message that we won’t accept regular mass shootings, inept government response to crises, and divisive debates about who is a true patriot to become the new normal - not here in Virginia.

We have an opportunity to vote out the author of the bill that repealed Virginia’s effective, common sense one handgun a month purchase limit. We have the opportunity to vote out legislators who blocked legislation to ban high capacity ammunition clips, and limit where you can open carry machine guns. So, please be sure to register to vote and then either vote early or on November 7th. We can do this together.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Being an Elected Official

Virginia has a part time legislature, with the House of Delegates and State Senate in session only in January and February, and every other year the first week of March. At least that’s the theory.

There is certainly enough going on to keep me busy 40 hours a week or more being your Delegate and representative in Richmond.

Last weekend was a great example. Instead of my usual Saturday morning trip to the Falls Church farmer’s market, I started out at the Annual Taste of Falls Church and Fall Festival. I was humbled by the number of constituents who approached me and told me they recognized me from my newsletter, or from reading the Falls Church News Press, or following me on Facebook and Twitter.

I was so happy to visit with my friends working the booth at Virginia 2021, a group that advocates for fair and non-partisan redistricting in Virginia. I saw my friends from the League of Women Voters registering and sharing information about the Fall Ballot. I saw familiar faces advocating for common sense action to reduce gun violence, and stopped to chat at the AAUW booth to talk about Student Loan Debt, one of the issues I’m most passionate about.

I got so busy meeting, greeting and chatting with constituents I barely had time to eat.

About half way through the day, I headed over to the Eden Center for another festival, celebrating the Lunar New Year with merchants and members of the Vietnamese community. I ran into the Mayor and introduced my son to bubble tea, and got to speak with many new American residents of the 53rd House district.

Later I returned with my son to close out the Taste of Falls Church before taking him to Flag Football tryouts at George Mason High School where I got reacquainted with the football parents from last season.

Sunday was another full day, as I attended one of a series of neighborhood meet and greets hosted by a constituent in the Pine Spring neighborhood. We chatted about Air BNB ordinances, school funding to help speed along the renovation of Falls Church High School, requiring Virginia employers to have fair leave policies, and even how to get permit parking districts expanded. The things that affect neighbors on a daily basis.

From there I headed to an event for NARAL Virginia. And then on to Gerry Connolly’s half way to St. Patty’s event in the 11th Congressional District one of two in my House of Delegates Districts.

As day turned to evening I headed over to McLean High School (where my daughter goes and I graduated) for a town hall with 8th District Congressman Don Beyer. I was so impressed with Congressman Beyer’s answer to questions on health care for all, net neutrality, improving guest worker visa application processes, and more.

I think maybe you all are starting to get the idea. Being a member of the House of Delegates is about much more than spending a few weeks each winter in Richmond. It’s about more than keeping track of how many bills passed vs. how many failed.

Don’t get me wrong, the time we spend in Richmond is incredibly important. We cast thousands of votes each session on the floor and in committee on an incredible range of issues.

How am I supposed to know how to cast those votes if I don’t know my district? I cast those votes on behalf of you, my constituents, my fellow Virginians.

I’m not complaining. This is a typical weekend in the life of a Delegate. Holding this office and representing all the people of my district, which includes Merrifield and the City of Falls Church, and much of the rest of Falls Church, is a responsibility I take seriously.

Being an elected official is about listening and being active in the community at all levels – city, county, and state. I truly enjoy the opportunity to meet constituents, to hear concerns, and to work to make our community and the Commonwealth the best place to live, work, and raise a family. This is why I keep a full calendar. This is why I’m running for re-election in November.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hate has no place here

The Simon family is on our annual beach vacation this week.

Before I left for vacation, I had my Falls Church News-Press column all ready to go: a back to school column on education issues, student debt and Fairfax County’s school board special election on August 29 (absentee voting is underway, and don’t forget to vote Tuesday after next!).

Every year since I started my own business, we’ve rented a house in Rehoboth or Lewes Delaware, because it’s the beach closest to home. Midweek or middle of the night I can usually make the trip in about two hours forty minutes. As a small business owner, I needed to be able to buzz back to Falls Church on short notice to deal with an emergency, or to handle a case for a really important client.

The business has grown since then, to the point that I can take a week off without interruption. I have very capable partners and associates who can handle just about anything, and the phone in my pocket is more powerful than the laptop I used to tote around back then. Legislative work is rarely an emergency this time of year, so I don’t worry about it too much.

Then Saturday came. On the drive east I couldn’t tear myself away from my Twitter feed. It was full of news and images from Charlottesville. (I had Rachel drive.)

The first clue that this would be no ordinary demonstration came Friday night, when a group of tiki torch-bearing marchers paraded through the university town chanting white supremacist slogans.

On Saturday, a coalition of neo-Nazi white supremacists and neo-confederates gathered in Charlottesville under the guise of a “Unite the Right” rally, ostensibly organized to protest the potential removal of a confederate monument. Counter demonstrations were also planned.

By now you’ve probably all read the news accounts of the violent clashes that seemed to continue to escalate all morning, until a white supremacist from Ohio drove his car through a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Virginia State Police Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates also died when their helicopter crashed while they were attempting to monitor the rallies from the air.

I was glad to see Virginia Republican leaders, unlike the President, have condemned the overt displays of racism and white supremacy on display in Charlottesville last weekend. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. These demonstrators obviously got the idea somewhere that such displays are now acceptable. They feel comfortable enough to chant “Jews will not replace us” unmasked in front of video cameras.

It is time that the same leaders who denounced the waving of Nazi swastika flags recognize the racism inherent in many of the policies and proposals we’ve seen during the first months of the Trump administration. Policies we’ve seen advocated for in Virginia for years before that.

The president’s Muslim travel ban. Proposals to monitor and track immigrants who settle in Virginia. Virginia’s voter suppression laws (passed under the guise of voter fraud prevention) that disproportionately disenfranchise communities of color. Redistricting bills that courts have found were drawn to deliberately limit African Americans’ voice in Congress and the state legislature.

In the past few days, I have received over 1,000 emails from every corner of Virginia, unequivocally condemning these hateful acts and calling for legislation to track hate crimes and a state task force designed to promote policies welcoming everyone regardless of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, marital status or citizenship. I know my Republican colleagues are getting the same emails. I hope they are listening.

Since my very first session, I’ve introduced or sponsored legislation to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, to promote fair housing, uphold marriage equality, and prohibit discrimination based on religious beliefs. To make voting easier for everyone. To reform Virginia’s criminal justice system to end practices that resulted in the labeling of one in four African American men in Virginia felons depriving them of their civil rights.

These are the issues I am passionate about because it is the right thing to do and because I believe these are the issues that you, my constituents, want me to be passionate about. As your Delegate I’ll continue to work for what’s right, to work for you, to work for all of us.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Petition for Paid Sick Days

This is the moment
Tonight is the night, we’ll fight till it’s over
So we put our hands up like the ceiling can’t hold us
Like the ceiling can’t hold us

~ Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, "Can't Hold Us"

You may have seen the recent news reports about a norovirus outbreak at the Chipotle here in Northern Virginia. Apparently, one contagious employee who made the decision to come to work sick resulted in nearly 100 people being infected.

Why do people make the decision to come to work when they are sick?

Often people fear losing their job, or they can't afford to lose a day's pay. Nearly 42% of Virginians don't have paid sick days or paid time off to care for themselves or their children.

Federal policy makers have proposed the Healthy Families Act to make paid sick leave a national mandate. Unfortunately, given the way things are going in Congress these days, it's unlikely to move forward any time soon.

Once again, that means it is up to each state to figure out the best way to solve the problem and avoid outbreaks like we saw last week in Northern Virginia.

That's why I've introduced legislation and budget amendments to expand paid sick days and paid time off in Virginia.

Why are paid sick days important?

Paid sick days reduce the spread of contagious diseases like the flu (and norovirus!), emergency medical expenses, and employee turnover. Furthermore, communities of color and single parents are disproportionately affected by lack of access to paid sick days.

As a Delegate, I take my role of working to better our community and the lives of all Virginians seriously. And I believe that the majority of Virginians agree that offering paid sick days is is the right thing to do.

If increasing the number of Virginia workers with paid sicks days is important to you, please sign the petition and share it with you friends and neighbors!


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Update on New Laws for 2017

They say it's your birthday
It's my birthday too, yeah
They say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you

~The Beatles, "Birthday"

Every July 1st I step out my front door and remind myself that the grass is just as green as the day before, the sky is the same shade of blue, and everything really isn’t all that different than it was the day before. It’s just that it’s my birthday, so I have to start using a new number to describe my age.

July 1st is also significant in that it is the day that all the new laws that the General Assembly passed and the Governor signed officially become law. And because things don’t really seem that different this month than they were in June, let me highlight a few of the things we did in Richmond during the last session that just might change your life.

If you found a great new summer cocktail recipe that calls for the highest proof liquor available, you can now head out to the local ABC Store and buy spirits with a proof as high as 151.

Sticking with that theme, if you’ve ever walked into a bar starving for something to eat, only to be told the kitchen is closed: businesses with mixed beverage licenses are now required to have food available until at least 30 minutes prior to closing.

Have you have bought a concert ticket for the band you loved in the ‘80s and‘90s on impulse, without checking with your significant other first? Did they tell you, “No, you can’t go. What were you thinking?” Well, we just made it easier for you to more freely resell your concert or event tickets online via whatever website you choose. You’re also protected from discrimination or being denied admission to a concert or event if you purchased resold tickets.

Have you ever received a ticket for an expired pet license because you forgot to mail in the $5.00 renewal form? Counties and cities must now provide the option of a lifetime license for a dogs and cats. The law also sets the maximum fee for these licenses at $50.

For those of you that head out some weekends to the countryside to hunt, blaze pink is now an accepted hunting apparel color during firearms deer hunting season.

Renewing your vehicle registration? We’ve added still more choices to personalize your plate. Supporters of the Virginia Nurses Foundation or highway safety initiatives, can now get a special license plate at the DMV.

Those are some of the lighter issues we tackled this session. We had some serious issues to address as well.

I fought hard on the floor of the House to defend a bill that requires school principals to notify parents of any allegations of bullying within 5 school days. The allegations may turn out to be just that, but we believed that giving information to parents, of both the alleged victim and the alleged bully, would actually help bring these investigations to quicker resolution and enhance student safety.

We’ve brought some new standards to the way we handle evidence in sexual assault cases. Law enforcement agencies must inform victims of their right to have the evidence recovery kit stored for 10 years and the agency must notify the victim 60 days prior to the scheduled destruction date.

In an era where seemingly routine traffic stops have become fraught with peril for law enforcement officers and drivers alike, we modified the public school Driver Education curriculum to include specific instruction on what to do if you’re stopped by a law-enforcement officer. The training will include general procedures and appropriate interactions.

Many parents who work can have more confidence that the people watching their children have been appropriately vetted. Child care providers are now required to get fingerprint-based national criminal history background checks on those that apply for employment or volunteering.

Finally, if you are concerned that the house next door is being rented out for parties every weekend, or you can’t tell whether the occupants are coming or going, there may be something you can do about it. Localities can now adopt ordinances to regulate short-term rental properties like those used on Airbnb. In fact, Fairfax County is considering adopting some regulations - they are also taking comments on this via an online survey until August 31st.

The Division Legislative Services (DLS) prepares a summary of these new laws called In Due Course. While I’ve only highlighted a few relevant pieces of legislation, the full summary from DLS can be viewed online.

As always, if you have questions about this legislation or if you have ideas for something I can introduce during the next General Assembly Session, please contact my office at (571) 327-0053 or

Monday, June 12, 2017

June Primary

Did you ever have to make up your mind?
You pick up on one and leave the other one behind.
It's not often easy and not often kind.
Did you ever have to make up your mind?

~Lovin’ Spoonful, "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind"

Primary Day is tomorrow, Tuesday, June 13th. I wanted to share some information that may be useful, including some tips for voting tomorrow.

The polls will be open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Vote at your regular polling place!

This is a big election year in Virginia. Not only is it the first election after the surprising 2016 Presidential race, but we also have all 100 delegates and our state-wide offices (governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general) on the ballot.

For the Democratic Primary tomorrow, I proudly support Ralph Northam for Governor and Justin Fairfax for Lieutenant Governor.

Over the last four years I’ve gotten to know Ralph Northam well. He’s been a great ally in the trenches as we fought together to build a Commonwealth that works for everyone - no matter who you are, no matter where you’re from - and he’s been doing it for the past decade.

I want to share a quick story so you’ll see what I mean. As a very new State Senator, Ralph was tapped by then Governor Tim Kaine to carry legislation to prohibit smoking in bars and restaurants in Virginia. In tobacco-friendly-anti-nanny-state Virginia, this seemed liked a tall order for a Democratic Governor to get past the General Assembly. And Ralph got it done.

As Governor, he will work hard and effectively to make progress every single day in Virginia, and that’s why we need to elect him as our next governor. He has a bold progressive vision and the knowledge, skill, and experience to get it enacted into law. Justin Fairfax, in addition to being a constituent, is someone who understands the needs of working class families and will work to ensure that our shared progressive values are represented in the Senate. Like Ralph, I know Justin and trust that he will continue to build upon his legacy as Lieutenant Governor. No one I’ve run across on the campaign trail has a negative thing to say about Justin.

I'm especially excited that Justin has made student loan debt a centerpiece of his agenda to empower Virginians to rise to a brighter future while creating economic security and opportunity.

Both candidates have been working hard to earn your vote and I hope you will join me in voting for them in the Democratic Primary on June 13th!

Hope to see you at the polls!

On Tuesday, June 13th, the polls will be open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

At the Virginia State Board of Elections website, you can check your registration status and confirm your polling place. In addition, voter ID laws are in effect. The list of accepted forms of ID and other related information can be found here.

Falls Church Voter Registration & Elections Office Website

Fairfax County Office of Elections Website

Election Day Tips
  • Polls officially close at 7:00 p.m., but everyone waiting in line at that time must be given the opportunity to cast their ballots.
  • If the voting equipment malfunctions at your polling place, inform the election officials immediately. If the equipment cannot be repaired in a timely manner, you may then request an emergency paper ballot.
  • If you are elderly or disabled, or otherwise unable to enter the polling location without physical assistance, curbside voting will be made available to you at your assigned polling place.
  • If you previously requested and received an absentee ballot, but prefer to cast your vote in person on Election Day, be sure to return the unopened ballot to either the local Electoral Board or to the General Registrar before Election Day, or to the election official at your polling place. This will enable you to cast a regular ballot on Election Day. 

Questions: call 1--866-OUR-VOTE (687-8683)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Importance of the Veto

The 2017 General Assembly Session was Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s final as Governor. In Virginia the Governor is not allowed to run for reelection. As the deadline for final action on all bills passed earlier this month, he set a record for the most Vetoes ever, acting as a brick wall against bills that would have threatened Virginia’s reputation as a great place to live, work, and raise a family.

Women’s Health

The Governor vetoed a bill that would have prohibited the Virginia Department of Health from entering contracts or providing funds to any entity that performs non-federally qualified abortions. Aimed solely at Planned Parenthood, this legislation would have hurt tens of thousands of Virginians who rely on the health care services and programs they provide, denying accessible, affordable care to those who need it most. Virginians, and particularly low-income Virginians, need more access to health care, not less.

Keeping Virginian’s Safe

The Republican majority in the House of Delegates is working on two tracks to allow any Virginian to carry a concealed handgun anywhere they may go. One track is with a bill that says exactly that. The second, more subtle approach, is to systematically and incrementally limit the places where weapons may be prohibited.

This year the Governor vetoed bills that would have prevented the State Police or National Guard from stopping people from carrying their personal firearms into emergency shelters during natural disasters, would have allowed 18, 19 and 20 year olds to obtain concealed carry permits, and would have allowed anyone with a military ID to carry concealed with no permit at all. He also vetoed bills that would have allowed people to conceal and carry switchblade knives and to allow them to furnish such knives to children.

Protecting the Vote

Voting rights and the ability to participate in election process seem to be under constant siege in the General Assembly. Members of the majority party frequently introduce bills aimed at alleged voter fraud prevention, which have the real-life impact of creating unnecessary obstacles to voting.

The Governor vetoed bill that would have made it easier to remove voters from the roles improperly, and forcing people to submit copies of photo identification when seeking to vote absentee by mail, burdening voters who don’t have ready access to a photo-copiers or scanners and printers. This seems particularly unhelpful and unnecessary since the person receiving the ID copy would have nothing with which to compare it.

Equality for All Virginians

I spoke out against on the floor of the House several times this session in opposition to legislation that would have provided a shield from civil liability to those who actively discriminate against same-sex couples.

Although couched as a "religious freedom" bill, the bill was nothing more than an attempt to stigmatize. The Governor, in his veto statement, mentioned something I pointed out in my remarks and in the press: any legitimate protections afforded by the bill would be duplicative of the first Amendment to the Constitution of the United States; Article I, Section 11 of the Constitution of Virginia; and the Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The additional so-called protections were styled in a manner that prefers one religious viewpoint—that marriage can only validly exist between a man and a woman—over all other viewpoints.

Businesses won’t do business in states that pass laws demonizing same-sex couples. This bill would have damaged Virginia's reputation and severely hindered our efforts to create the new Virginia economy. We don’t have to look far to see the damage these types of laws are doing in other states to understand the harm this bill would have done to the Commonwealth.

What It All Means

What the last four years – and this session in particular demonstrate is that it’s essential we continue to have a Governor who is willing to stand up to a legislature that seems more than comfortable interfering in decisions that ought to be between a woman and her doctor, that believes more guns in more places held by more people is a good thing, and that is willing to deprive people of the right to vote to protect their own seats.

I’ll continue to stand up for our values in the General Assembly, but it helps an awful lot to know I have a Governor who has my back.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

I-66 Update - No Gallows Flyover

I wanted to make sure that you heard the good news about the I-66 Project update that I just received this morning!

I just got off of the phone with representatives from Express Mobility Partners (EMP) who wanted to let me know that they are abandoning their preliminary plans to use a large flyover ramp at Gallows Road near Dunn Loring to avoid an electric facility at the Dunn Loring Metro. VDOT, EMP and WMATA worked together, based on your objections, to find alternatives to the large, unsightly ramp. Although they haven’t settled on a specific alternative yet, they are now confident enough that options exist to announce the ramp will not be necessary.

As the rest of the project moves forward, please know that I will continue to work to ensure that the needs of our community are met while also limiting the overall footprint of the project.

You can view my full statement on this announcement below.


For Immediate Release

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Statement from Delegate Simon on the I-66 Project Update

Richmond, VA – Virginia Delegate Marcus B. Simon (HD-53), whose district is heavily impacted by the planned installation of express toll lanes on I-66, issued this statement today regarding the recent decision to remove a proposed flyover ramp in Dunn Loring from the project plans.

"I was pleased to get a call this morning from Express Mobility Partners (EMP) letting me know that they are abandoning their plans to build a flyover ramp at Gallows Road in Dunn Loring, in response to community concerns. I want to thank VDOT and EMP for their willingness to listen to the community and for working with Senator Dick Saslaw, Senator Chap Petersen, Delegate Mark Keam, and myself to ensure those concerned were addressed early in the process. I credit Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Lane and Governor McAuliffe for their leadership in working with WMATA and the EMP team to make the ramp unnecessary and not letting this issue linger when it became clear there were alternatives available."

More details on the I-66 Outside the Beltway Project can be found at


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,