Plum, Part of ‘Loyal Minority,’ Presses On In Virginia House

Sen. Janet Howell and Del. Ken Plum talk to citizens at Reston Community Center

Del. Ken Plum knows what he is in for every General Assembly session.

Plum, a Democrat who has represented Reston in the Virginia House of Delegates since 1982, introduces legislation annually on topics he feels strongly about, including gun control, expanding Medicaid and repealing Virginia’s Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage.

Every year, his bills generally gain no traction in the Republican-led Virginia house. But he will keep trying.

“We know who is going to be in control in the house,” he said at a Town Hall meeting at Reston Community Center on Thursday. “Unfortunately, I am part of the the loyal minority.

Plum and Sen. Janet Howell (D-Reston) held their annual pre-session public meeting to talk about the 2014 General Assembly session, which begins Wednesday, and hear from residents about which issues are important to them. Both legislators are optimistic that some of their proposed legislation may go farther this year under Democratic governor-elect Terry McAullife.

Two special elections will be held later this month to fill vacant state Senate seats. Should Democrats win, the Senate will be evenly divided. At stake seats of Lt. Gov.-elect Ralph Northam in the (D-Virginia Beach) on Tuesday and Attorney General-elect Mark Herring in the (D-Loudoun County) on Jan. 21. The present Senate lineup is 20 Republicans, 18 Democrats, and the two vacancies.

Some of the top topics at the Reston meeting:

* Ethics. Current governor Bob McDonnell (R) is leaving office under the cloud of an ethics scandal for receiving excessive gifts.  Howell has been asked to chair a committee dealing with ethics. Plum will also serve on an ethics committee.

“We have to beef it up in Virginia,” she said. It is not sufficient. We have found out the hard way you just can’t trust people.”

* Medicaid Expansion. McAuliffe is in favor of expanding Medicaid coverage to 400,000 Virginians who need it. Most Republicans remain opposed.

“The opposition comes from the rural parts of state,” said Plum. “Those areas oriented to Tea Party-type folks. The success of Medicaid expansion is going to rely on the governor’s ability to strike a deal. There is going to have to be a trade-off. I am not clear how that is going to happen, but I am hopeful.”

One citizen suggested that McAuliffe should use executive order on the Medicaid issues.”

“Albert Einstein said said the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and expecting a different result,” he said. “The demographics of the legislature is such that any bills Democrats put in are not gonna get passed. Now we have a Democratic governor. He should use executive order. I think he can use it on Medicaid expansion. A judge might say no, but at least we tried.”

* Gun laws. Plum has introduced legislation again to close the gun show loophole (in which gun buyers are able to bypass a background check).

“Each year, thousands of gun buyers who cannot get through checks,” said Plum. “We [check] about 40 percent. What would happen if we did 100 percent? We will go in there and make our effort again.”

* Mental Health. Both Plum and Howell are passionate about expanding mental health services in Virginia.  Plum points out that $50 million was added to the commonwealth’s budget in the wake of the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech. Soon after, though, $42 million was cut. Still, McDonnell has pledged nearly that amount in his outgoing budget, say Plum.

The recent shooting of Virginia state senator Creigh Deeds by his son, who was in a mental health crisis and committed suicide at the scene, has brought to light again the need for services here.

“The Deeds matter will bring attention,” said Plum. “We have got to get serious and stay serious. It’s not easy. We have got people who need treatment.”

* Same-sex marriage. Both Plum and Howell are backing bills to repeal the 2006 Virginia Constitutional Amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. A citizen asked Howell for her definition of marriage.

“I believe marriage is a religious concept,” said Howell. “The state should be involved in legitimizing relationships between people. Any religion can define it as they want and encrouage members to follow doctrines. But from the point of view of government, was should not be prohibiting relationships. I think the people of Virginia may be ready. Many people who voted [for the amendment] in 2006 regret it, I think. I opposed this in the first place and I still oppose it.”

To search for all legislation proposed for the 2014 General Assembly Session, visit the Virginia Legislative Information website.

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