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Del. Ken Plum: Back to School

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Last week I had the opportunity to visit one of my grandsons’ school, and I was genuinely impressed. Parents were invited to come by last week to meet the teachers because his school started on August 15. It was one of the friendliest environments I have experienced–smiles everywhere, genuinely warm greetings for all, and an obvious feeling of caring for all children and parents and grandparents coming into the school. My grandson was clearly eager to get back to school and to see his teachers. He has some special needs that require additional understanding and assistance, and he is clearly getting it in his school setting.

The teachers and administrators wore the school’s special tee shirt and were giving high-fives all around. As one who taught in the classroom for several years, many old memories came back to me. I remember the need to always be “on” in the school day for students who needed help or attention. In most careers we can coast on a bad day and make up for it later; not so with teaching. You are always the center of attention and must be appropriately responsive to student needs whenever they occur. Students can learn as much about life from your body language and attitude as they can from the subject you are teaching them.

While teachers are assigned a grade level or a subject area, ultimately teachers are teaching children more than just content. I am convinced my son who teaches students in automotive technology is teaching as much about attitude, work habits, developing confidence and being a good citizen as he is about an automobile. Our daughter who teaches multiply challenged children at the elementary level is demonstrating for parents, the school, and the community the inherent value and potential for every student regardless of the challenges they might face. My wife who was a preschool teacher and director demonstrated how important it is that young children get off to a good start and is now teaching other teachers to do the same.

Increasingly school divisions are getting an exception to the “Kings Dominion Law” requiring that schools begin after Labor Day. Fairfax County Public Schools is one district now starting before Labor Day. I have always opposed the current law and have voted to repeal it many times. A bill carried over from the past session for further consideration would leave the decision of the starting date for schools up to the local school division based on the unique circumstances of the community.

The legislature can do much more to support the education of our children than dabble in the starting date for schools. Pay for Virginia teachers lags below the national average by about $4,000. Clearly, teachers do not stay in the profession for the money, but they should not have to suffer with low pay because they chose to educate our children. At least in the community, we can express appreciation and offer our thank you to our teachers for the important work they do!

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Del. Ken Plum: Old Dogs and New Tricks

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Regardless of the old adage, it is possible to teach old dogs new tricks. In fact, if old dogs are to survive in a modern world characterized by rapid change they must adopt many new tricks of survival and adaptation. Those who do not are headed to the scrap pile of history to serve as examples for those who follow.

As I have mentioned in this column many times, the forerunner of the Virginia General Assembly met first in 1619 making it the oldest continuous legislative body in this hemisphere. Sometimes our current General Assembly meets serious challenges as the leader in change for the good, but too often it acts as a barrier to change that was needed.

I was reminded of this in my recent attendance at the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). NCSL describes the states as the laboratories of democracy where different histories, culture, and geography define each of the 50 states with similar challenges for which various approaches to governance are tried. As I explained last week, we can learn a great deal from each other as we meet together. I will share several examples that I think make my point.

All states are struggling with making higher education more accessible, affordable and relevant. Most state higher education systems are based on models that date back centuries. Most agree that those models are not meeting the needs of the students of today. I attended a session at NCSL where the president of the University of Arizona spoke on the changes he has brought about at his school in increasing enrollment, raising the graduation rate, reducing student debt, and increasing research dollars all while decreasing the per student costs.

His story is a very impressive one that can be most easily explained by his setting aside the usual model of university organization and operation and the adoption of an enterprise model that combines good educational policies with successful business practices. We need to take a hard look at adopting some of these successful practices in Virginia.

The conference was in California that is suffering through historically high temperatures, a very serious drought and wildfires that are devouring thousands of acres. My cell phone was set to alert me of happenings back home in Virginia. I got regular alerts of heavy rains, lightning, flash flooding and road closures. It is obvious that the federal government is not going to provide leadership on climate change that is at the root of these issues, and the states must take on the responsibility.

A final example of the need for the old dogs of state legislatures to step up and provide leadership is in juvenile justice reform. We must reduce the classroom to prison pipeline by intervening early with young people in need of services and assistance to keep kids out of prisons that increase rather than resolve their problems. It is less expensive and more humane. Virginia is doing a much better job in this area, but I was also impressed with what I heard is going on in Kentucky and California.

Old and new legislative leaders must learn new solutions!

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Del. Ken Plum: In-Service Training

This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

The only common requirement for holding elective office is that one be a registered voter in the state meaning then of course that you must be at least 18 years of age.

You do not need to be a resident of the district you hope to represent although you will have to move into the district if you win. The concept of a citizen legislature is that it is made up of people from all walks of life in the community who can collectively speak for the community at large.
Supposedly there would be no professional politicians–just regular every-day folks. Such an approach should work out well to have the community broadly represented.

In the past, because of laws and practices, most legislatures have been filled mostly with old white men. Recent years have seen a shift including in Virginia as more women are running for office and getting elected. This year has more women, young people, and people of color running than ever before.

With the diversification of who sits in the legislature the challenge becomes taking people of many different backgrounds, perspectives and constituencies and bringing them together to work for consensus on legislation to get a majority vote. While skills acquired in business and civic activities teach many of the soft skills of interpersonal relationships and team building that are transferable to a legislative body, there are unique differences that are important to recognize.

Most legislatures with whom I am familiar have orientation programs to acquaint new members with where the bathrooms are, rules of order in committee meetings and on the floor, and operating procedures around the capitol. Putting legislation together, developing a strategy for its passage, and keeping constituents back home happy are most often handled by the political party caucuses or helpful mentors.

Another source of in-service training I have found invaluable are conferences put together by professional associations, specifically the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). I am at their national conference this week. NCSL keeps up with what is happening in state capitols around the country and through publications, conferences and consultancy keeps legislators informed. The association is truly non-partisan, although its leadership–chosen from among state legislators across the country–maintain their party allegiance while the staff is able to stay out of the partisanship.

Virginia of course had the first representative legislature in the western world beginning in 1619. Not everyone followed the Virginia model however in writing their constitution of organizing their legislatures. I continue to be amazed as I work with colleagues from around the country as to the number of different ways that legislative bodies can organize themselves and do their business. No one has a corner on the best way to do the people’s business, but we can learn from taking a look at how other states conduct their business.

NCSL refers to the states as the laboratories of democracy. The description is appropriate as we all face mostly the same challenges. Our responses are different, however. By getting together for what some would call a conference, but what I think is more appropriately called in-service training, we can do a better job for the people we represent.

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Del. Ken Plum: Some Good News

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

This past week was horrible for our country! How much longer can we sustain the decline of our liberties and way of governing? I feel a sense of despair.

But, at the same time, good things are happening. I am going to focus on them in this column but with the assurance to you that I am not giving up on helping to turn our country around.

I shook hands with Bryce Harper last week! My grandson assures me that is a very big deal. Harper was in our community for the dedication of the Bryce Harper Sports Complex at the Fred Crabtree Park by Crossfield Elementary School. I know that the late Fred Crabtree who was a friend of mine would have been elated as he spent his life working to ensure that children have a place to play ball. I was impressed with Harper’s message to the young people who were there to be the best they can be whether it is playing baseball, soccer, piano or dancing. Harper went on that evening to win the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby.

Two weeks ago, my two sons who are now in their fifties (!) invited me to go with them to visit the area near Shenandoah, Virginia, where I grew up and that they remember visiting as young children. Nothing stays the same. The home that my Mom and Dad kept immaculate with the grass mowed and a garden full of vegetables is now a shambles for lack of maintenance and the accumulation of junk. Regardless, we had a good time sharing stories about their grandparents and their growing up.

President Obama gave a speech last week in South Africa, and it was marvelous! His understanding of the broad course of history, appreciation of human struggles and their outcomes, and his dedication to our institutions and moral values continue to give me a sense of hope. I have listened to his speech twice so far and will no doubt listen to it more times in the future. It is available online through several sources.

Special Olympics celebrated its 50th anniversary. How inspiring to hear the story of its founding, its amazing success, and the tireless effort of so many volunteers who make possible the activities for some of the most challenged among us. Thanks to all who are so unselfishly a part of such a wonderful program to help others.

Herndon-Reston Indivisibles, who organized soon after the last election, went to Lafayette Park at least three evenings in a row in addition to many other vigils and marches to publicly express their displeasure at the policies of the current administration and the need for citizens to stand up to the damage being done. They are inspiring to me and will ultimately be an important part of getting our country back on track.

I have to remind myself of all that is going on in our families and our communities that is really good and that demands protecting. After this inspiring break to remember the good things I need now to get back to work saving our governmental institutions and moral values! Thanks to all who provide the good news and the inspiration.

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Del. Ken Plum: A Budget Surplus?

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Newspaper headlines last week declared “State posts surplus of more than $500 million.” Such headlines about a “surplus” in Virginia’s budget appear with some regularity. I checked the meaning of “surplus” the old-fashioned way–in Webster’s Dictionary: “an amount or quantity in excess of what is needed.”

Hardly is the term surplus applicable to Virginia’s current situation. More accurately the excess cash the state had on the day it finalized its books should be termed an unappropriated balance or an amount of revenues received beyond the forecasted amount.

Why is the distinction I am making important? To suggest that the state has a surplus of money over what it needs is to totally discount unmet needs in the state that do not even make their way into budget consideration. It would be nice to have more money than needed allowing all taxpayers to get a refund. It is also important that the state not have to go into debt to meet current obligations.

A full assessment of the cost of government if the state met its clear obligations has never been made to my knowledge. Such an assessment would allow for an honest discussion of whether the state has a temporary receipt of cash beyond what it expected or has a surplus of cash beyond what it needs. I have ranted in this space before about my concern with the misleading way the state handles its budgeting.

I believe one example will make my point that there is no reasonable way the state could be considered to have a surplus when there are such outstanding unmet needs in the areas for which the state has a responsibility–that example is funding for public schools. On the same day that the half-billion dollar “surplus” was announced, The Commonwealth Institute issued a report, “State K-12 Funding in Virginia: Incremental Progress and Opportunities for Long-Term Solutions,” that found that if public schools were funded today at the same level they were in 2009 an additional three-quarter billion dollars would have been provided–all the surplus and about half that amount more.

Instead, school staffing in Virginia has declined by 1,242 positions while enrollment has increased by more than 50,000 students since 2009. A promise by the state to fund fifty-five percent of the cost of public schools with localities picking up the remaining forty-five percent has been flipped with localities having to pick up a much greater amount since the recession. Virginia ranks forty among the fifty states in the state funding it provides for public schools.

This example focuses on the inadequacy of the level of public school funding, but other examples could be given in the areas of mental health services and public health and safety. The conservative approach of forecasting revenue and the tight limitation on spending will keep Virginia with a more than balanced budget. If realistic state responsibilities were factored in, we could have a realistic balanced budget. Instead, we have underfunded programs and services with persons scratching their heads wondering how we could have a surplus with so much more left to do.

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Del. Ken Plum: Heat of the Election Season

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

On the fourth of July last week I rode on a float in the Fairfax City Independence Day Parade, one of the largest in the state, with local Democrats promoting the candidacies of Senator Tim Kaine and Congressman Gerry Connelly for re-election and the election of Jennifer Wexton for Congress in the Tenth District. It brought back some pleasant old memories. When I first ran for elective office in the mid-1970s, I was running for the House of Delegates in what was then the 18th District.

It was represented by five at-large delegates. After the courts declared the Virginia redistricting unconstitutional after the 1970 census because it short-changed Northern Virginia in representation, the legislature simply divided Fairfax County into two halves with each half having five at-large members.

When I was first elected in 1978 I was part of a five-person delegation of three Democrats and two Republicans who represented the northern half of Fairfax County from Herndon to Baileys Crossroads including the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church. These large districts were declared unconstitutional in 1982, and single-member districts including District 36 were put into place and have been adjusted each census to reflect the changing population and a bit of gerrymandering of some districts to protect incumbents.

Except for Fourth of July celebrations political campaigns largely got underway after Labor Day. It seems that now they are perpetual. Door knocking on hot summer weekends was questionable when your body was dripping in sweat. Now there are regularly scheduled canvasses each weekend regardless of the heat. There is no better formula for success than direct contact with voters. In the fall the days get shorter and there is less opportunity to knock on doors in the evenings. Ringing doorbells after dark may lose as many votes as gained. Regardless of the heat, candidates need to be out and about to see voters.

At the parade and at neighborhood canvassing I have visited I have been impressed at the dedication of people who are volunteering to help identify, register and persuade voters. While I am overwhelmingly anxious about the direction of our country, I am encouraged and reassured by the volunteers I meet. They are determined to save our democratic institutions and to put us back on the path of a caring and open society.

When a volunteer comes to your door, please thank them for their work on behalf of our democracy. When volunteers from the other persuasion come by be polite and civil. Have faith that they will eventually see the light and join us. I am sure that we will win the vote in November, and we will go back to living together after that.

Thankfully I rode on a float in the parade because the heat was exhausting. It felt good to hear the cheers and see the friendly waves. Nothing like a parade to cheer you up. When the heat of the election season is past, I am confident that our country will have sent a message that we are returning to the moral values we share.

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Del. Ken Plum: You Hit Me First!

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Every parent of two or more children has experienced this scenario: Two children in the back seat of a vehicle get bored. When no one is looking, the first child pokes or pinches the other. The victim yells or screams with lots of drama as to how they have been hurt or offended.

That gives the second child license to strike back just as the parents take note of what is happening. At that moment it looks like the second child is the offender and is given a punishment. The first child is amused, giggles and enjoys that the brother or sister having done nothing is suddenly in trouble.

This little tale is innocent enough as children grow up and learn through experience how to interact and relate to others. Not so innocent and very serious is the situation we have been witnessing for more than a year. The administration uses vile language that is offensive to all but some of its most ardent supporters.

The advocates for democracy and a fair and sane governmental framework criticize the administration. Representatives of the administration respond with name calling, falsehoods and extreme claims and criticisms. Any response by those who disagree is received with further name calling and false claims. Who is to blame for this exchange?

The administration has been successful at pointing fingers at their critics putting them on the defensive. These exchanges can be really tough to unravel especially with an administration that is willing to make up their own reality and tell out-right lies to justify their actions. Shouting matches often ensue; in the worst cases threats are made, and in an all-too-frequent occurrence violence takes place.

While I fully understand the desire on the part of some to yell and scream (I do so to myself frequently), the vile language and threats are examples of speaking past each other. I want to express in as strong terms as I can how upset and concerned I am about the actions of the government and this administration over the past months. I view them as a real threat to our democracy, immoral, and the lowest point we have seen as a society.

I will be present at as many vigils and marches as I can to join with those who want major and immediate changes to what is happening to our country. I will not call for nor participate in violence. I will support court actions to stop harmful activities by the administration as much as possible.

Most importantly I will work for Senate and Congressional candidates who are committed to stopping the damage of this administration and taking back our country from the special interests that have been allowed to run rampant in using the government for their personal profit. I will be tireless and will work to enlist people to join me and the thousands who are committed to reversing these dangerous directions.

I am not going to let the administration convince anyone else that someone else hit first. We need to stick together, be strategic in our responses, and be smarter than they are to reverse what is happening in our country. We can do that this November at the ballot boxes.

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Del. Ken Plum: Keep Families Together

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now

Last week I joined with nearly fifty of my colleagues in the House of Delegates in signing a joint letter to all the Virginia senators and representatives in the United States Congress about “our outrage at the cruel and systematic separation of immigrant children and their families at the U.S. border with Mexico.”

While immigration issues are mainly federal responsibility, the actions on the part of the current administration have been so horrendous that we felt an obligation to speak out. We asked our Virginia delegation to intercede with the administration to cease the policy and to reunite the children involved with their families without delay.

Since our letter there have been some pronouncements from the administration about changes in the policy, but it remains entirely unclear what will happen with the thousands of children who have already been separated from their families and are being held in mass facilities that seem more like prisons than homes.

It is equally unclear as to whether a continuation of a zero-tolerance policy on border entry will simply replace prisons for children with adult prisons. I am pleased that Governor Ralph Northam has withdrawn the use of any Virginia National Guard forces from being involved in implementing this inhumane program.

The politics of building fear of immigrants to further political goals stinks as does the attempted use of children as pawns to bargain for a disastrously conceived wall with our neighbors. Beyond the politics are the long-term human rights issues that many thought and most hoped America was beyond. The negative long-term impact on the children involved cannot be over-looked or not addressed. Nor can the impact be underestimated of sending people back to a country from which they were seeking asylum in fear for their lives.

Earlier this month, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) along with 540 other organizations wrote to the administration as part of the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign stating their opposition to actions that would separate children from their parents. As NAEYC stated it, “There are no ends that justify these means.”

The organization that is well respected for its research on the education of young children went on to state, “The research is clear, and so are our core values…We have an obligation to create and advance policy solutions that support child well-being and strengthen the bonds between all children and their families.”

Part of that research has found the traumatic impact of separation on young children can negatively impact them for the rest of their lives. As NAEYC said, “You don’t have to be either a parent or an educator to understand that separating children from their families–and putting them in a place where they cannot be hugged, touched, or loved–causes harm. And not the kind of harm that is easily repaired. This is the kind of harm that is significant and long-lasting, interfering with positive child development and well-being.”

Please take some time and join me in expressing to the administration our opposition to their policies and actions on immigration.

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Del. Ken Plum: Virginia is for Loving

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

It is somewhat ironic that Loving Day in Virginia, celebrated annually on June 12, has nothing to do with the famous “Virginia is for Lovers” public relations slogan but has much to do about ending a period in history when Virginia was less than loving. Loving Day in Virginia relates to an interracial couple, Mildred and Richard Loving, who were married in the District of Columbia and tried to live near where they grew up in Virginia. They were found guilty of violating state law and banished from their home state for twenty-five years.

The Racial Integrity Act of 1924 in Virginia prohibited marriage between persons classified as white and people classified as colored. Although Mildred and Richard were residents of Caroline County, they went to the District of Columbia to get married to get around this anti-miscegenation law. They returned to live in their home but were arrested because Virginia law did not recognize the D.C. marriage, and furthermore it was also against the law to go outside the state to be married and return as an interracial couple.

The laws under which the Lovings were convicted were eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. One of their lawyers with whom I was later to serve in the House of Delegates, Bernard “Bernie” Cohen, told the Justices that Richard Loving had sent a message to them. “Tell the Court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.”

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court invalidated the Virginia law and all other state laws prohibiting interracial marriage. The case (Loving v Virginia) decided in 1967 is considered a landmark civil rights case that helped to dismantle Jim Crow laws and establish a precedent that was cited in 2015 to invalidate laws prohibiting same-sex marriages.

It is important to recognize Loving Day for the courageous action on the part of Mildred and Richard Loving to allow their case to go forward with the help of the ACLU to challenge an unjust law. Some of our greatest gains in civil rights have come through the courts as legislatures have too many times lacked the political will to do what is right when it might not be popular with some people. It can also be chilling to recognize that this step forward took place just over fifty years ago. We need to study our history and carefully review our current political and societal mores to ensure that such discrimination is not continuing today. Overcoming discrimination and racial biases are not topics of the past but continue to today. We need to support those like the Lovings who stepped up to undo an injustice.

Some long for the “good ole days.” My reading of history suggests that better days are ahead of us. A divided and discriminatory society of the past is not to be celebrated. Virginia needs to be a Commonwealth of lovers of justice, equality and peace.

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Del. Ken Plum: Taking the Summer Off

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

As a teacher for a few years I was often chided by friends as having a “cushy” job getting all summer off from work. Other teachers get the same reaction from those who know little about the profession and certainly have no experience being in the classroom. In many jobs if you are having an off day, not feeling well, or just need a break it is possible to let some of the requirements of work slide until the next day.

Not so with teaching: every day in the classroom you have to be on–ready to face eager students and the challenges and opportunities they present. I continue to be impressed by teachers who can be enthusiastic and understanding early in the morning through afternoon five days a week from fall through spring. That’s why that summer break is so important.

And furthermore, you need the summer to take that additional course or workshop for updating your credentials, work that second or third job to balance the family budget, or recharge your mental and emotional batteries. For anyone with a different opinion about the challenges teachers face, visit some classrooms or better still teach for a while or substitute. You will soon learn why teachers are among the people I most admire.

My current “job” of being a legislator may get the same reaction from some who are not aware that the regular session of a couple of months of time spent in the State Capitol is just part of the job. Members of the General Assembly are considered citizen legislators with other responsibilities and are paid as part-time workers. Actually, the position can take as much time as a legislator can devote to it and the voters are willing to tolerate. Having retired from my full-time job in 1996 I happily devote full time to my legislative duties. Every two years I have to reapply to voters to keep my job, and with a two-year term some time every other year is devoted to campaigning.

During every year there are study committees and commissions that meet when the legislature is not in session. This week I participated in a meeting of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) of which I am a member. We provide oversight to the operation of state government including financial and management audit, reviews of the performance of state agencies and conducting studies on topics as requested by the legislature. I also serve on the Joint Commission on Technology and Science (JCOTS) that has meetings in the interim to consider future legislation and emerging science and technology issues. There are many other groups that work between legislative sessions.

Having a break for the summer from going to work as a teacher, legislator or other worker does not mean you are not working. We all need some mini-vacation times of long weekends or a real vacation to recharge our mental batteries. We can do a better job as a result.

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Del. Ken Plum: Building on Success

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

The approval last week of Virginia’s expansion of Medicaid benefits to close the coverage gap for persons of low income without health insurance coverage was an historic event. After six years of opposition the General Assembly passed the necessary authorizing legislation to allow Governor Ralph Northam to go forward with federal authorities for approval of federal health benefits for as many as 400,000 Virginians with limited income making the Commonwealth the 33rd state to enter the program.

Approval of the program was part of a budget deal that completes the current budgetary year and authorizes funding for the entirety of state government for the next biennium. The expanded program will take effect on January 1, 2019. In addition, acceptance of the federal monies that have already been paid by Virginians through the taxes supporting the Affordable Care Act allows the new budget to free up some of the state monies that have been expended to meet the needs that will now be in the Medicaid program.

About $200 million will be used to raise teacher salaries, expansion of mental health and substance-abuse services, fund almost 1,700 additional waiver slots for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities and expand preschool and programs for at-risk students.

After such an historic action, where do we go from here? Much remains to be done in changing policies in the Commonwealth which while not necessarily budgetary will have an important impact on our communities. Among these are responding to the threats to life and safety brought about with the excessive number of guns that are too often in the hands of violent individuals. Passing common sense measures like universal background checks would make a difference as well as simple measures that keep guns out of the hands of children. Inaction on ending gun violence is not going to be tolerated by citizens much longer.

We have been making slow progress on a variety of mental health issues, but there is much that still needs to be done. One step is to separate those who are mentally ill from those who are criminal. Mixing the two together in local jails and prisons has been a too-common occurrence that serves only one effectively. Likewise, separating juvenile misbehavior from criminal behavior is necessary to reduce the prison population and recidivism and to stop the classroom to prison pipeline.

We need to speed up our movement from the use of fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. With the abdicating of responsibility for environmental matters by the federal government, we need to have a more active state presence to ensure that our air and water are clean. Also, we need to ensure that our laws, institutional practices, and norms do not promote or allow racism, sexism or other discriminatory practices directed towards others for whatever reason. We need to make sure that elected and appointed public officials comport to the highest ethical and moral standards.

That’s the short list. Where do you think we should go in state government building on the success of Medicaid expansion? Let me know your thoughts [email protected] When we have clear goals and set our collective minds to the task we can get results. Expansion of Medicaid proves it!

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Del. Ken Plum: One More Time

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Reading another column about the failure of the Virginia General Assembly to expand Medicaid may be as painful for you to read as it is for me to write. I know I have been predicting for months that a biennial budget would be passed for the Commonwealth and that it would include an expansion of health care coverage for those who are not now eligible for Medicaid. Nervously I stand by that prediction. Even the Majority Leader of the Senate whose members have been holding up the budget in opposition to Medicaid expansion has been quoted in news accounts that a budget will be passed and that it will include Medicaid expansion. So, what is the problem? And as many constituents ask me, what is the hold up?

Historically, biennial budgets for the state have passed by near-unanimous numbers. Not everyone has agreed with every number or every provision of the budget; the document is always a bundle of compromises that satisfies as many people as possible when there are always strict limitations on resources. Ironically, the addition of an expanded Medicaid budget brings hundreds of million dollars to the budget and frees up hundreds of millions of dollars that can be used for education and other needs.

By not adopting an expanded program of Medicaid, Virginia has foregone about ten billion dollars of federal money that required no state match. The funds coming to Virginia would not add to the national debt because of the tax funding included in the Affordable Care Act to support the program.

But I have explained the economics of the program in many past columns. It is a good deal for the state and a wonderful expansion of health care to those who are most in need. What is the hold up? Many of you have already figured out that it is the politics of the issue. For many years it was opposition to anything that had to do with Obamacare.

The former President has gone on to another career, but there have been many unsuccessful attempts in the Congress to undo his legacy as it relates to health care. For those who were part of the opposition to the expansion for many years there may be a problem pivoting to supporting it even if there are thousands of constituents who would benefit in better health care from it. For an even more conservative constituent waiting in the wings to challenge the legislator in a primary there is an opportunity to accuse the incumbent of flip-flopping on the issue.

House of Delegates members had a “refreshing” meeting with their voters last November. Some of the strongest incumbent opponents to Medicaid expansion lost their seats. A majority of the newly elected House voted weeks ago to pass the budget with Medicaid expansion in it. A majority of senators support it and should be allowed to vote. Those who do not can explain their position to voters in the next election cycle leading up to the election in November 2019. I hope I do not have to explain this one more time.

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Del. Ken Plum: The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

As the General Assembly heads back into Special Session on May 23 to continue work on the biennium budget impasse, I looked back at how long we’ve been fighting to expand Medicaid–the major sticking point in our current budget standoff. Here’s what I wrote in September 2014 — nearly four years ago!

Recently the New York Times editorial board wrote about the “health care showdown in Virginia.” Their comments were not favorable. “In Virginia, there are 400,000 low-income people who can’t afford health care coverage but don’t qualify for federal subsidies,” they wrote. “If they lived across the state line in Maryland, West Virginia or Kentucky, which have expanded their Medicaid programs, they could get the coverage they need.” The reason they cannot; “a group of recalcitrant Republicans in the House of Delegates” have blocked Medicaid expansion at every opportunity.

Highly regarded retired editorial writer for the Virginia Pilot, Margaret Edds, wrote about the current impasse in Virginia two weeks ago. Drawing on her extensive command of Virginia’s history, Edds points out that Virginia was the last state to join Social Security in the 1930s.
She argues that there is a moral imperative that “we cannot afford to take this risk” of not expanding Medicaid. She writes that “designing a health care system that embraces everyone is the right thing to do.” Reston resident, Elliot Wicks, in a recent letter to the editor makes the same argument that closing the coverage gap morally is the right thing to do.

In an unprecedented move, the Virginia Chapter of the American Association of Retired People (AARP) called a press conference to announce that letters sent by the Speaker of the House and other Republican lawmakers to their constituents over age 60 contained “inaccurate information about changes in Medicare.”
These letters from Speaker Howell and other lawmakers implied that expanding Medicaid in Virginia would hurt Medicare beneficiaries. “Expanding Medicaid to uninsured Virginians won’t harm the Medicare program or its beneficiaries,” the AARP spokesperson said.

Revenues for the Commonwealth are expected to fall short of projection for this year by as much as $300 million. Ironically, Virginia is losing $5 million a day amounting now to three-fourths of a billion dollars paid by Virginians that could be returned to the state through Medicaid expansion. The money could not be used to balance the budget in the current year, but in future years more than $200 million that Virginia pays for indigent care from its general tax revenue could be paid by Medicaid.

State and local chambers of commerce, medical and healthcare associations, and editorial boards of the major newspapers in the state have endorsed Medicaid expansion. A major compromise in the form of Marketplace Virginia, proposed by three Republican senators and endorsed by all Democratic legislators, has been introduced. The compromise proposed in Marketplace Virginia addresses the Republicans’ stated concerns by including a provision to discontinue the program if the federal government reneges on its commitments.

It is time for Republicans in the House of Delegates to agree to the compromise. Their insistence on separating Medicaid from the state budget is a costly stalling tactic that is hurting a large number of Virginians and threatens to hurt even more if the budget stalemate continues.

While the players have changed — it’s now Senate Republicans resisting Medicaid expansion — the song remains the same.

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Del. Ken Plum: The Quest for Education

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

I can remember the conversation almost word for word even though it occurred decades ago. The counselor in my high school asked me to come to her office, and there she told me it was time for me to start preparing applications to go to college. I was about to fall out of my chair. I explained to her that no one in my family had ever been to college, and there was no way that I could go. Most of my family had never finished high school. She told me that lots of people are the first in their families to go to college and that I could be such a person. I did not know what to answer; it was such a new idea that she proposed to me.

Secretly inside she had set ablaze in me a fire that would never go out. The excitement of the idea that I could go to college and learn about so many new things of which I had been curious was more than I could contain. I was skeptical, however, and I did not go to college the first year out of high school. The next year with lots of fear and trepidation I did start my education at a higher level, and I never have stopped.

From my Bachelor of Arts at Old Dominion College, now University, to my master’s in education at the University of Virginia to a thirty-year career with Fairfax County Public Schools, to the Plum Center for Lifelong Learning being named in my honor, to my teaching at George Mason University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, education both formal and informal has been a fundamental part of who I am. I can still feel the excitement that I have had in being a part of so many different educational experiences.

All these reminiscences about my educational background came back last week as my grandson received his MBA from Virginia Tech. Growing up in a family where the highest educational achievement was a brother who graduated from high school, I now live in a family where I, my wife and our children and grandchildren have among us 14 college degrees with six of those degrees being beyond the bachelor’s level. I am honored to represent a district with constituents who are among the very best educated in the state.

Needless to say, education is among the highest priorities I have as a legislator. I want all students to have access to educational programs that will help them realize their highest potential. Fundamental to me is that our educational system leave all students with a quest for knowledge and the appropriate tools with which to pursue their interests. We cannot afford to have students not like school, nor can we ignore the fact that learning is a lifelong adventure. We have the institutions and the resources to make education at higher levels the best in the Nation. Virginia needs to join the states that are making community colleges free. Can we afford it? The answer is simply that we cannot afford not to!

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Del. Ken Plum: Civic Engagement

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

This coming Saturday, May 12, I will be sponsoring a Civic Engagement Fair at South Lakes High School from 9:00 a.m. to noon. It will be very similar to the event I sponsored last year that attracted several hundred people. About two dozen representatives of organizations who use volunteers to improve the quality of life in our community will be present to provide information and answer questions. These organizations include political, civic, and human services groups.

There will be no formal program; you visit the booths of the groups about which you hope to learn more and network with the representatives who themselves are mostly volunteers. Come anytime between nine and noon and spend as much time as you would like getting to know the organizations and their missions. Many of the organizations are active not only in our immediate community but in the region, state and national levels as well. The experience of last year was that most attendees found ways in which they wanted to become involved in the civic life of our community. The organizations were pleased as well because they signed up many volunteers.

There is no question that the direction of our national government spurred many people into action. My scheduling of another civic engagement fair this year came about because I continue to hear from individuals in the community that they want to do more to protect the rights and quality of life of all people in our area. Last year many people who showed up had never been engaged as a volunteer on political or civic or human rights issues but were determined to become involved. They left with more information on how to make their own decision on what they would do to help make a difference. The event is open to everyone regardless of political party affiliation and also to those who want to get involved without being engaged in partisan politics.

Satisfaction from being involved to the extent to which persons decide for themselves their involvement can lead to a high level of satisfaction. You can learn this from people you talk to at the Civic Engagement Fair or by talking to others who had previously decided to get more involved in the community. The experience will help to answer the nagging question of “what can I do?” About a quarter to a third of adults throughout the country are involved in some form of volunteer activity.

An article in Harvard Health suggests that many good health benefits come from helping others by volunteering. An article in Forbes last year concluded that “volunteering is the right thing to do for so many reasons: for your community, for your health, for your leadership development…In spite of the stress of life and the lack of time–or maybe because of it–get out there and volunteer. Do good, feel happier, build relationships, learn new skills and have an impact on something important to you.” Hope to see you on Saturday anytime between nine and noon. Look forward to our working together.

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