Uphill Battle in Richmond for Reston’s Local Legislators

by Karen Goff February 24, 2015 at 9:00 am 13 Comments

Virginia State Capitol, RichmondA bill sponsored by Del. Ken Plum (D-Reston) that would make cannabis oil legal for patients suffering from illnesses that could be helped by it was left in committee in Virginia’s General Assembly session earlier this month.

However, a similar bill sponsored by Del. Dave Albo (R-Springfield) passed both the house and the senate and will become a law. Albo’s law allows epilepsy to be added to cancer and glaucoma as medical conditions that can be helped by the oil derived from marijuana.

Left in committee is a common outcome for Plum, who has been representing Reston for more than 30 years — the longest of any Virginia House member.

He says each year when he goes to Richmond, he knows is in for a fight as his liberal-leaning perspective is in the minority in the Virginia House, which is dominated by Republicans (67 Republicans, 32 Democrats, 1 Independent this session).

“I am not here for a batting average, I am here to do what’s right,” says Plum. “My role as a senior legislator in the minority party is to see to it that the majority party does not get to ignore the big issues — Medicaid expansion, nonpartisan redistricting, and gun safety as examples.”

Even if he proposes — and loses — big reform, it gets people thinking, says Plum.

“These are game-changers for Virginia,” he says. “It takes a while to get these ideas in place. Over time, we will prevail. Probably more than 90 percent of legislation has little impact. It corrects the Code, deals with courthouse or business affairs with little no no impact on the average person, or are local matters. There’s more than enough legislators to introduce these bills.”

Other topics of bills sponsored by Plum that subsequently died in committee this session:

One that passed: HB1829, which changes the timetable (to even-numbered years from odd-numbered years) the in which the Department of Environmental Quality is required to submit to the committees of oversight a report on the reduction of toxic substances in state waters.

On the Senate side, Reston’s Janet Howell, who has been busy with the state budget and the fight for Medicaid expansion, among other issues, is having a somewhat better outcome. That side of the General Assembly is 21 Republicans and 19 Democrats.

Howell’s SB816, which removes the requirement that a person applying for an absentee ballot because of an obligation occasioned by his religion does not have to give further information about the reason, passed both the House and Senate.

Also passing: a bill that requires the Director of the Department of Health Professions to disclose information from the Prescription Monitoring Program on a person who is in the criminal justice system; one lowering the felony threshold for a person selling contraband cigarettes; a bill that establishes committees with voluntary accreditation and supervisory practices for persons receiving services for sexual and domestic abuse; one that says a driver of a motorcycle cannot stand on the footpegs longer than necessary when dictated by safety concerns.

Some that died in committee: A bill allowing for a tax deduction on long term care insurance premiums; one allowing for a person other than a spouse to adopt a child if the child has only one parent.

Many others are still in committee. See the full list of Howell-sponsored legislation on the Commonwealth’s bill-tracking website.

Photo: Virginia Statehouse/file photo

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