Del. Plum discusses legislative challenges, priorities for 2022

Del. Ken Plum will head back to a very different Virginia State Capitol next month.

As the delegate for the 36th District, he says he’s looking to advocate for changes that Democrats heralded in during the last two years when they controlled both houses in the legislature and the governor’s office, a trifecta that hadn’t been since 1993.

“The election outcome represents a dramatic turnabout from the course we’ve been on the last two years, which has been one that has led to us passing some of the most progressive election laws in Virginia, election laws in the nation,” Plum told Reston Now. “I don’t want to see us turn back the clock on that.”

Virginia will become one of only three states in the country with split legislative control between Democrats and Republicans.

Unfortunately, both parties in both Houses seem to insist on strict partisan voting, and that is really too bad,” he said. “It stands in the … ways which we could work together cooperatively and reach common solutions.”

With the results of the November election, Democrats will lose control of the House, meaning they’ll no long chair various agenda-setting committees, which for Plum was the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.

In 2020, Plum advocated a proposal to create an urban agricultural advisory council to help support local sustainable food programs, but the bill lost steam in the Senate toward the end of the year. The proposed legislation is slated to expire in July 2023, and Plum says it’s something that he would like to revive.

With the upcoming session, which is slated to start Jan. 12, Plum says legislators hope to address issues with the state’s mental health system with a major study of the state’s Community Services Boards, which help people with mental illness, substance abuse, and developmental disabilities.

He said he would like to see more funding for the state’s CSBs, saying the state doesn’t need big mental health hospitals but needs growth with crisis intervention centers.

“That’s not a partisan issue. It’s a human rights issue. And we need to respond to it,” he said.

The 80-year-old legislator, who has represented the 36th District of half of his life, says he doesn’t want reforms to be rolled back, such as the end of the state’s use of the death penalty, a change he thinks will remain. He also highlighted other recent laws, such as the passing of legislation to help prevent racial and ethnic discrimination as well as discrimination of LGBTQ+ individuals.

In 2019, he sponsored a bill that became law regarding universal background checks for people buying guns, strengthening a Virginia law that was in place since 1989. Plum said he’s seen no evidence that it infringes on people’s civil rights, and he said he expects it to remain.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Supreme Court is working to redraw state and federal districting maps after a bipartisan redistricting commission failed to reach a plan by deadline, drawing criticism for partisanship by onlookers including Fairfax County Chairman Supervisors Jeff McKay.

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