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Del. Ken Plum: An Historic Session

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.

As you read this column the Virginia General Assembly will be nearing its adjournment sine die for the 400th year of its existence, having first met in the church on Jamestowne Island in 1619.

During this commemorative year, there will be many opportunities to learn more about Virginia and to reflect on how its history influences it to today even in the current legislative session and in what on another occasion was referred to as its “recent unpleasantries.”

That first session of what became known a century and a half later as the General Assembly was composed of a representative of the 22 plantations that had sprung up along the major rivers of the state as there were no local government, political boundaries or transportation networks in existence. The representatives were all white males who were landowners.

African Americans had to wait for the outcome of the Civil War and women had to wait for the twentieth century before they became part of the electorate. While the right to vote has begrudgingly expanded, over time there continues to be a resistance to making it easier to vote.

In the current session, there were proposals to allow people to vote early or vote absentee without an excuse and to make election day a holiday for the convenience of voters, but it does not appear that any will become law. Establishing a fair way to draw legislative boundaries has been hotly debated, but the decision to establish an independent redistricting commission will await the closing hours of the session.

Slaves were brought to the colony of Virginia in 1619 to work the tobacco fields that were the mainstay of the colony’s economy. They had none of the rights that Englishmen claimed and beginning in the 1640s were subjected to “slave codes” that defined them as property to be bought and sold with no access to learning to read and write or to move about freely.

After the Civil War, these restrictive laws became the Jim Crow laws that continued to limit the rights of black people who were kept in line by the Ku Klux Klan and by public lynchings. White supremacy reigned with black-face entertainment intended to degrade black people through crude humor.

Happenings during this legislative session showed how little we have progressed on issues of human rights and respect, but there is hope. The reminder to the governor of his racist past will make him an even more enlightened person who if he continues can provide important leadership to dismantling racism in the state.

The incredible people of color who were elected to the House of Delegates in the last election bring strong voices to the need for greater equity and justice in the Commonwealth. Some limited reforms that will help establish equity and remove racism in the criminal justice system are on their way to passage.

Women first came to the Virginia colony in 1619. While rights of women have expanded slowly over the centuries, having Virginia ratify the Equal Rights Amendment is still in doubt. May the lessons of this historic legislative session move us forward in future years.

To check on the fate of specific bills, go to lis.virginia.gov.

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Del. Ken Plum: Staying on Track

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.

Despite all the distraction associated with events in Richmond these days, the General Assembly is staying on task dealing with legislative and budgetary issues it faces.

Each house of the legislature has started to work on legislation passed by the other with conflicts resolved in conference committees made up of members from both houses. The really big conference committee is working to resolve differences on the budget. The big differences on the budget are between the Democrats and Republicans and not the two houses — how to deal with additional revenues coming to the state from the federal tax changes. Stay tuned for the differences on the budget because they will not be resolved until the last few days of the session that is scheduled to adjourn on Feb. 23.

Some good news is emerging from the session. Requiring hands-free phones in cars has been required in most other states many years ago and may finally be coming to Virginia. Research shows that the greatest cause of auto accidents is distracted driving with calls and texting being the chief reason.

I remember the many sessions that it took to pass requirements for smoke-free areas. Richmond as the cigarette manufacturing capital was finally over-ridden by popular sentiments, and smoke-free areas were legislated. Amazingly but happily the age to buy cigarettes and the latest craze of buying electronic vaping devices is being raised from age 18 to 21.

Efforts to legalize gambling establishments in areas of the state as diverse as Portsmouth, Bedford and Danville failed this year in favor of a year-long study to determine state policy. I predict we will see casinos established in the state in a few years as some regions see them as economic development and a source of new revenue offsetting anemic state funding. I voted to let a study go forward but would not support public financing of a stadium or gambling establishment.

Bills that would have decriminalized marijuana did not make it out of committee in either house. My bill introduced at the suggestion of the Chris Atwood Foundation to make Naloxone more available to reduce deaths from drug overdoses passed.

Different bills passed that purport to create a fairer way to draw legislative district boundaries, but neither comes close to the independent processes that the public has been seeking to end gerrymandering.

On the environment, bills to require Dominion to clean up their coal-ash ponds passed both houses with endorsement by major environmental groups. A bill I voted for that would have established an ambitious agenda for cleaning up the environment in Virginia failed in the House.

The Senate passed a bill to require public schools to teach a class on the Bible! I will not be voting for it if it makes its way through committee.

All the gun safety bills were defeated in both houses. A bill to make it easier to get a concealed weapon if you are from another state passed with a likely veto by the governor.

Yes, there are other big challenges in the capital these days. I will be addressing them in future columns as the facts involved become better known.

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Del. Ken Plum: Week of Absurdities

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.

[Note: This column was written before the release of the photos from Gov. Northam’s medical school yearbook.]

The 2019 session of the General Assembly has reached its mid-point, or crossover, when the two houses start to consider bills that have survived the other house. It also represents the final action on many bills giving an indication of what the ultimate legislation for the session is likely to be.

In the back of most legislators’ minds is the fact that when the legislature adjourns sine die (until another day) the election season will begin. The thought of going home to meet their voters motivates many votes. After all, that is the way it should be in a representative democracy. The results, however, create some absurdities.

Republicans appear to be planning to focus once again on abortion. Although Roe v. Wade — decided in 1973 — was supposed to set the rules for abortions, the debate still goes on. This week in a massive media campaign linked to fundraising, the opponents accused Gov. Ralph Northam, who is a pediatrician, and first-term Del. Kathy Tran, a mother of four (the youngest of whom she was nursing during the session last year), of favoring infanticide!

I witnessed the verbal ambush by some of the most skilled lawyers in the House who with some editing of the tape of their cross-examination of her created a false impression of her bill and what it did. Calling the episode absurd is a mild description; I think Gov. Northam came closer to an accurate description when he called it disgusting. (Read more at abortion restrictions bill.)

Thirty-seven states have ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. It is looking doubtful that Virginia will join that group this year. In floor speeches on the amendment, one of the women opposing the amendment said that she did not need “words on a piece of paper” to get what she wanted.

Bills that would have created an independent redistricting commission including my perennial bill have been defeated in the House. A bill introduced by the Speaker of the House that would create a commission to redistrict the legislature is far from independent in that it still has legislators picking their voters in order to protect incumbents and hold onto the majority. If the bill makes it through the legislature, it will be amended or vetoed by the governor.

It remains difficult for the majority to play fair especially when it holds control by such a slim sliver of power. A two-vote shift in both houses would put Democrats in charge of the legislature.

Major divisions continue to exist between the parties on finalizing the budget. Republicans favor a plan that continues the federal approach of giving tax breaks to those with the highest income. My bill to establish a partially refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) was defeated. About half the states have used an EITC to help raise the income of working families. There is a slight possibility that Gov. Northam could get the EITC in a compromise budget as he is a strong proponent of it.

Several weeks remain for the legislature to work its will. Some good bills are passing that will be favorable to the people of the Commonwealth, and I will discuss these in future columns. With an election looming in the fall, we may still see more absurdities!

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Del. Ken Plum: Tax Season is Upon Us

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 arrival of W-2 forms in the mail reminds us, even if we may have momentarily tried to forget, that tax season is upon us. This is no ordinary tax year, however. Massive changes in federal tax laws will result in significant changes at the state level as well. No one can speak with authority as to what the differences will be for an individual taxpayer as the General Assembly has not revised state tax law to reflect the federal changes.

The situation we are in is not new. Anytime the Congress makes changes in federal tax policy, the state must adjust to those changes and decide whether to adopt the federal policy or to put in new state provisions. As a conformity state, Virginia has generally followed federal policy allowing taxpayers to file state returns using the information on their federal form.

The difference this year is that the federal changes are so massive that conformity is not realistic without major changes in the way state forms are filed. Adding to the fact that the forms may be different is that there are major differences between the way deductions and credits have been handled and what will constitute taxable income. High-income taxpayers that were the winners with the federal changes could significantly reduce monies to a state that is already struggling to meet its obligations to funding schools, mental health programs and other priorities.

Essentially, Gov. Ralph Northam proposed that additional revenues be used for investments in education, workforce development, expanded broadband and targeted tax relief to those who work at the lowest wages. Republicans have proposed a plan to return more monies to taxpayers, but there is strong concern that the Republican plan will make big dents in the state budget.

All agree that a decision needs to be reached soon for taxpayers to file their tax forms as soon as possible and as accurately as possible. In past years as many as 650,000 taxpayers have filed in the first 10 days of February.

I am the patron of a bill supported by Northam that would make a portion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) refundable to taxpayers based on their income and family size. The current Virginia EITC set at 20 percent of the federal EITC does not allow for a refund of its full value as is done in 23 other states. Under the bill I introduced, it is estimated that as much as $250 million would be returned to the pockets of hard-working Virginians who are at the lowest pay levels. This helps not only those workers, but — since low-income residents typically spend that money on goods and services — it boosts the local economy as well.

There is a sense of urgency in the General Assembly that this issue needs to be resolved as soon as possible, because it impacts every household. Not only is there a great deal of confusion, but that confusion will be multiplied many times as people start to prepare their returns with incomplete directions. The challenge has been known for several months. Tax season is upon us. Our tax policy needs to be resolved now.

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Del. Ken Plum: A Tale of Two Houses

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 General Assembly had not been in session for more than two weeks until the differences between the House of Delegates and the State Senate became obvious. The Founding Fathers who conceived the structure of government built-in safeguards and checks and balances to ensure that a runaway government would be less possible. Two houses in the legislature were part of that scheme.

The lower house would be elected by a popular vote, but in the federal model the so-called “upper house” was first elected by state legislatures before the popular vote was instituted. Another major difference in Virginia is that in the House of Delegates, 100 members were given two-year terms and smaller districts. The 40-member Senate was given four-year terms and districts two-and-a-half the size of delegate districts.

The result is that in some parts of the state there are election contests where the delegate and the senator reflect different values and positions on issues. That is not the case in my district where Sen. Janet Howell and I have taken the same position on every issue I can remember. These structural differences bring about different results as is being dramatically shown in the current General Assembly session.

In alternate election cycles, as is the case this year, senators and delegates all run for office. In light of the last election for House seats, I approached this legislative session with the hope that there might be more flexibility in the House leadership that might result in the consideration of bills that had been summarily defeated in past sessions. My hopes have already been dashed.

Even this early the session has demonstrated the differences that the two-house legislature presents. Certainly, there has been strong public support for Virginia being the 38th and final state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. The Senate passed a resolution for ratification, but was defeated in a subcommittee in the House.

This major struggle between the two houses is the same for establishing an impartial and nonpartisan system for legislative redistricting. The Senate has passed a bill to establish such a process while House leadership is expressing opposition. Since the legislation is a constitutional amendment, it is important that a resolution is passed this year and next to go to a popular referendum in 2020 in time for redistricting after the 2020 census results are known.

Sometimes differences between the two houses can be resolved in a conference committee if both houses pass bills on the same subject. If differences are not resolved, the bill dies. Legislation must be passed in identical form from both houses to be sent to the governor for signature. If the governor disagrees with the bill sent to him, he can send down amendments or veto the legislation. It takes a two-thirds vote of the legislature to override a veto.

Legislating with a two-house body can be cumbersome and difficult. Sometimes it seems to be easier to say how bills are defeated rather than how they pass. In either case, voters can be assured that the two-house legislature ensures full consideration of issues.

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Del. Ken Plum: General Assembly Agenda

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.

In a recent social media post, I indicated that the annual General Assembly session would be underway very soon. AutoCorrect changed the text to be “underwater very soon.” My son alerted me to the change, and I made what I thought was a correction. As the General Assembly session has gotten underway I am starting to wonder if AutoCorrect knew something that I am now coming to realize: the General Assembly may well be underwater!

The session is scheduled to go until Feb. 22. Meeting five days a week means 38 actual days for work on more than 2,000 bills and resolutions. While I have highlighted big issues like redistricting reform, preventing gun violence and ERA ratification, there are many more issues large and small that make up the agenda for the session.

Virginia has always conformed its income tax policies to the federal system. With the massive changes that have been made in federal tax law, the General Assembly will wrestle with what we will do in Virginia. There will be an effort to resolve the issue early in the session to accommodate taxpayers who want to file their returns early. Part of the tax policy debate will be making the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) refundable as promoted by the governor in a bill that I have introduced. The purpose would be to allow persons of low income to keep more of the money they earn and be more self-supporting.

As a Dillon Rule State — meaning local governments have only the powers granted to them by the state — dozens of bills called “local bills” are introduced to extend powers some of which are very minor to a particular locality. Another group of bills is called “housekeeping” to make corrections or clarifications to legislation that passed in previous sessions. All these bills are important but add to the workload of a session.

Challenging environmental issues will be coming before the legislature many of which relate to energy. There are proposals to increase the required uses of alternative and renewable fuels. Cleaning up from the past use of fossils fuels and the resulting growth in coal ash ponds will be taken up. There is a strong need to deal with the degradation of water quality in the Chesapeake Bay area. The Tidewater area is subject to recurrent flooding coming about with climate change that needs addressing now rather than later.

There are many bills dealing with criminal justice reform including bills intended to reduce the school to prison pipeline. The governor has announced his support of decriminalizing possession of small quantities of marijuana. A bill that has been introduced would allow casino and sports gambling.

There will be a number of dog and cat bills that include high levels of emotion from interested parties. Being able to limit dogs running across the properties of landowners is a big concern in rural areas.

You can review all the bills on the agenda of the General Assembly.

If you have not done so already, let me know your positions on issues by going to my website and click on Legislative Session Survey.

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Del. Ken Plum: Time for Further Evolution in Virginia

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 Virginia General Assembly will convene for its annual session at noon today. The opening session will no doubt note that a form of representative government first met at the church at Jamestown 400 years ago. I am honored to have served nearly 10 percent of the span of existence of the Assembly.

The events of 400 years ago are being observed through a coordinating body, American Evolution, that in its publicity states that “1619 was a pivotal year in the establishment of the first permanent English colony in North America. It was the year of the first representative legislative assembly in the New World, the arrival of the first recorded Africans to English North America, the recruitment of English women in significant numbers, the first official English Thanksgiving in North America, and the development of the Virginia colony’s entrepreneurial and innovative spirit.”

I encourage constituents to participate in the events of the year for I believe they form an excellent starting point for an understanding of where Virginia is today and most importantly where Virginia is headed.

Some historians and public relations experts would proclaim what happened in Virginia in 1619 as the birth of democracy in America. Certainly, it was a small step, but that was 400 years ago. It is time to take another step in our evolution to a more democratic phase in our government. Namely, it is time for the people of Virginia to pick their legislative representatives rather than their representatives picking them. I am referring to the process of redistricting legislative boundaries after the federal census that is often referred to as “gerrymandering.”

In 1982 I introduced what I believe to be the first bill in Virginia to create a nonpartisan and independent legislative redistricting commission. The Democrats who overwhelmingly controlled the General Assembly at the time dismissed the idea for they were firmly in control. When the Republicans took the majority in the General Assembly years later, they also rejected my proposal because they were now in control.

I am pleased with the growth of awareness on the part of the public that the current partisan-controlled system of dividing up the population into legislative districts serves the legislators’ interests instead of their constituents and the issues important to them.

The General Assembly must act in this session to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot in time for a commission to be organized to do redistricting after the 2020 census. Thanks to all associated with OneVirginia 2021 for the advocacy they are doing to bring about this evolution of democracy in the Commonwealth.

Plan to visit the General Assembly during this session that runs five days a week through Feb. 22. All committee meetings are open to the public. Legislator offices are just across Bank Street from the Capitol, and I am always pleased to see constituents. Let’s make sure that when the history of the 2019 session is written that a major step in representative government will have taken place.

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Del. Ken Plum: Politics and Policies in 2019

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.

Four hundred years ago colonists representing each of the 20 or so plantations in Virginia met together in the church at Jamestown Island to take care of the business of the new colony. The upcoming meeting of the General Assembly which will convene in the Jefferson-designed Capitol in Richmond at noon on Jan. 9 is likely to be historic as well with the enormity of the issues before it. These issues will be taken up in view of the election in November of this year when all members of the House of Delegates and State Senate will be on the ballot.

Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment illustrates what I mean. For 40 years, the Virginia General Assembly has refused to pass a resolution supporting the ERA. This year is different in that Virginia would be the 38th state to ratify the amendment and barring court challenges would be the final state needed for making the ERA a part of the Constitution. Some public opinion polls show popular support of the amendment as high as 80 percent, and supporters of the amendment have never been better organized. A large demonstration of supporters has been planned for the opening day of the session.

A recent story posted on www.fauquier.com about three delegates who spoke before the Fauquier Chamber of Commerce about the issues in the upcoming session illustrates the challenges facing the legislature. The story reported the ERA score as “one for, one against, and one undecided.” The one against is Del. Mark Cole who chairs the Privileges and Elections Committee to which the bill has been assigned and which has defeated or refused to hear the resolution in past legislative sessions. There is little surprise that Cole, who is one of the most conservative members of the House, would continue his opposition. Whether he can refuse to have the resolution taken up to keep vulnerable delegates from having to vote on it will be part of the drama of the session.

Supporting passage of the ERA is Del. Elizabeth Guzman who is in her first term and who was part of the defeat of 15 Republicans in the last election. She has shown herself to be a progressive and effective leader who will not allow opponents a way to duck the issue.

Attempting to stand in the middle as undecided is Del. Michael Webert who in the past would have been counted as an opponent. The report says, “he needs to study the proposed ratifying legislation.” More likely is that he needs to study the changing demographics of his district to see if he could be re-elected after voting against the ERA. Webert also has a record of helping defeat commonsense bills to prevent gun violence as part of a subcommittee that defeats all such bills. He will need to explain his votes to the new constituents in his changing district.

All 140 members of the legislature will be measuring their re-election prospects after voting on the ERA. Constituents need to continue to let legislators know their support of the ERA. As for me, I will be supporting the ERA as I always have in the past.

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Del. Ken Plum: Thank You, Gov. Ralph Northam

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.

By the time you’re reading this Gov. Ralph Northam will have made his annual speech to the House Appropriations and the Senate Finance Committees to advise them of any changes he proposes to the biennial budget of the Commonwealth.

While the complete list of adjustments that he will propose to a budget that was passed nearly a year ago had not been made public when this column was written, we do know from public announcements some of the proposed changes that he is going to make, specifically in funding education. That is why I think he deserves a hearty holiday “Thank You!”

The Governor has proposed an additional $39 million in new money for investments “to ensure safe learning environments for Virginia’s K-12 students.” Of that amount, $36 million will be used as the first installment of a three-year, phased plan to reduce school counselor caseloads to 1:250 from its current 1:425. The additional $3.3 million will go to the Virginia Center for School Campus Safety to train school staff in maintaining safety in schools.

As the Governor explained, “Taking steps to provide additional support to students, raise awareness about suicide, and ensure students, school professionals, public safety personnel and community members are equipped with appropriate training and intervention skills are critical to a holistic school safety strategy.”

To recruit and retain the best teaching talent to the Commonwealth, Governor Northam has announced that he will seek an additional $268.7 million in new money for K-12 education that will among other improvements fund the state share of a 5 percent raise for teachers effective July 1, 2019. That is an increase over the current budget that would have funded a 2 percent raise.

The additional money for public schools includes $70 million for programs for at-risk students targeted to schools with the highest concentration of students eligible for free lunch to provide dropout prevention, after-school programs, and specialized instruction. An additional $80 million will be a one-time deposit to the Literary Fund which is a method by which the state helps poorer school divisions fund school construction.

As explained in a press release from the Governor’s Office, “Altogether, the budget proposals reflect the Governor’s commitment to ensuring that every Virginia student, no matter who they are or where they live, has the same access to a quality education.”

Even with these needed additional funds, the state share of education will continue to trail its pre-2008 economic recession level. With the slow recovery over many years that kept state revenues low, local governments have had to increase their funding to schools at the expense of other local needs. The proposals that the governor is making will help move the state back to a more equal partnership with localities in funding schools and hopefully to a 60 to 40 sharing of costs of state and local funding that had been envisioned for schools.

Gov. Northam deserves a big thank you for giving priority to funding programs for our children and their education. That is about investing in our future!

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Del. Ken Plum: What is Your Opinion?

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 opening of the 2019 session of the General Assembly is rapidly approaching! Just a little over a month away!

This session, held during the 400th anniversary of the founding of a representative legislative body in Jamestown in 1619, is shaping up to be a transitional — if not a transformative — one. The heightened awareness of the public on issues and the widened interest in public participation in civic matters add to the importance and significance of the General Assembly meeting this coming year beginning on January 9.

While I gather information on issues of public concern throughout the year from talking with individuals and groups, I have found that leading up to the legislative session is a time when others want to step up and make their opinions known.

That’s why Senator Janet Howell and I sponsor a community meeting twice each year and encourage public testimony. As has been announced in my newsletter and on social media, we will be meeting with constituents Wednesday evening, December 12 from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. at the Reston Community Center at Lake Anne. All are welcome. No advanced registration is required.

Likewise, you can make your views known to the entire Northern Virginia delegation on January 5. Pre-registration is recommended as there are many people who offer testimony at that event.

Another option of sharing your views with me is through my online Legislative Survey. Access the survey through my website, www.kenplum.com and click on Legislative Session Survey (top right). The information gathered through the survey is helpful to me not as a poll, but as an opportunity for anyone to express an opinion.

Polling information is valuable to get the overall pulse of the community. The most recent poll of Virginia voters on issues that primarily affect the Commonwealth was conducted by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University. The poll found that 81 percent of Virginians sampled support ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

There is a strong advocacy effort underway throughout the state to make Virginia the 38th and final state needed to ratify the amendment. As a supporter of the ERA throughout my legislative career, I look forward to the amendment getting out of committee and being voted on by the entire legislature.

My effort going back to the beginning of my legislative career to establish a nonpartisan redistricting process to draw legislative boundaries has the best chance of approval ever. Nonpartisan redistricting has the approval of 78 percent of voters. Amending the constitution requires legislative approval of two sessions of the General Assembly and a referendum of the voters in order to pass. Passage of an amendment this year is critical to having a process in place for redrawing district lines based on the 2020 census.

The poll found that 49 percent of Virginians sampled support an across-the-board tax cut. At the same time, there is support for increasing funding for education programs at all levels.

Please let me know your opinion on issues of importance to you.

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Del. Ken Plum: Inconvenient But Still True

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.

Former Vice President Al Gore entitled his book on climate change “An Inconvenient Truth.” Many years have passed, but the truth he put forth that the climate is changing and that human behavior is causing it may continue to be inconvenient for a few to acknowledge because of personal biases, ignorance or financial interests.

But climate change is even truer today than when Gore first focused public attention on it and its causes.

Over the last several weeks I have written three columns in this space on the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change brought together by the United Nations. It issued a report last month, written and edited by 91 scientists from 40 countries and based on a review of more than 6,000 scientific reports, predicting much more dire consequences of climate change much earlier than previously had been expected.

Some may see such predictions as inconvenient, but I and most of the world see them as “a warning too dire to ignore.”

Last week the federal government came forth with its National Climate Assessment publication of over 1,000 pages produced by 13 federal departments and agencies overseen by the U.S. Global Change Research Program. The researchers found that climate change “is transforming where and how we live and presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life, the economy, and the natural systems that support us.”

Most significant to this report that has been produced annually over the last four years is the conclusion that “humans must act aggressively to adapt to current impacts and mitigate future catastrophes to avoid substantial damages to the U.S. economy, environment, and human health and well-being over the coming decades.”

As clear as the evidence is about climate change and the near unanimous endorsement of it by climate scientists, the current federal executive branch continues to ignore this truth. Ideally, a national response to climate change could ensure the effectiveness of mitigation and other responses to our country and the globe. Since that seems unlikely in the next few years, state governments must step up. I share the concern that the pace of state action seems too slow, but progress is being made.

Last year in Virginia we moved forward with grid transformation that will allow consumers and utilities to have the information needed to make informed decisions on their electricity usage. The best way to eliminate the need for more electricity is to reduce demand even as the population grows and the economy expands. Since 2015 the solar capacity in Virginia has increased by more than 700 times to 825 megawatts — still a small number, but we are clearly on our way.

What was once described as an inconvenient truth is well documented for all but a few skeptics and is recognized as an emergency by most. I plan to maintain my 100 percent voting record with the League of Conservation Voters and my commitment to making Virginia a leader in ending the behaviors of people and companies that lead to climate change.

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Del. Ken Plum: Amazon is Coming to Town

(Updated at 9 a.m. on Nov. 30) 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.

Amazon, which has made its way into just about every consumer’s home with its online goods and services, has announced that it is bringing its second headquarters — or at least half its east-coast headquarters — to Crystal City. The area — now being called “National Landing” — is actually in Arlington County. The other half of its headquarters, originally expected to be in one location, will be in Long Island City in Queens, New York.

There were few regrets in Virginia or the Washington, D.C. area at getting just half of the prize in the most competitive contest for an economic development project in recent times. Even half of the prize is expected to bring 25,000 top jobs to the region.

I attended the announcement of Amazon’s decision in an abandoned Crystal City warehouse that has in recent years fallen on hard economic times. The warehouse will be demolished to make room for the new HQ2. During Governor Ralph Northam’s remarks, I was thinking that we have truly reached a crossroads in economic development in the northern part of the Commonwealth. There will be little need for the structures like that warehouse.

Northern Virginia that includes Reston and Tysons Corner has fully moved into the arena of high technology and will be mentioned in the future as one of the centers of technological innovation in our country. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is just the latest of a long list of entrepreneurs who have seen the value of a NoVa location.

I am a skeptic of big pay-out deals that have been increasingly used by states and localities to lure companies to their locations. There seems to be almost unanimous agreement among economic development experts that Virginia may have pulled off one of the best deals they have seen in an economic development proposal in recent times.

There is cash to Amazon involved, but that cash is in the form of performance payments when Amazon reaches certain tiers of development and production of top-paying jobs. The math of the proposal shows that in the end, Virginia will be a substantial net winner from the economic activity coming from the new headquarters and supporting development and the new Virginia taxpayers it will include.

For many, the strength of the Virginia Amazon proposal goes beyond the location of a new headquarters. Governor Northam called Virginia’s efforts “a new model of economic development for the 21st century.” As he explained, most of Virginia’s partnership proposal consists of investments in education and transportation infrastructure “that will bolster the features that make Virginia so attractive: a strong and talented workforce, a stable and competitive business climate, and a world-class higher education system.”

The feature of the proposal that is getting the strongest kudos is the location of a billion-dollar extension of Virginia Tech that will offer graduate degrees in engineering, technology and innovation in the city of Alexandria. And yes, there will be transportation improvements to Metro and the highways to better accommodate the new residents who will be working at the new headquarters.

I believe Virginia was a really big winner in this announcement; even half the deal is certain to work to our region’s advantage!

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This story has been updated

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Del. Ken Plum: Happy Thanksgiving 2018

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.

Festivals of Thanksgiving have been celebrated throughout history with most centered around a time of harvest of food. Communities came together to support each other in the work of harvesting crops and to celebrate together the bounty of the fields. Early forms of religion gave significance to the harvesting process and to the gifts of their gods in providing sustenance to the people.

The official holiday of Thanksgiving as celebrated in America today has little resemblance to the early feasts. There are certainly foods that are associated with the holiday, but the attention to Thanksgiving today is divided among consumer sales specials, football games, and a prelude to the bigger holidays that follow later in the year.

President George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation to bring attention to the blessings the new country enjoyed. President Thomas Jefferson did not follow through probably believing it was too much like a religious act with which the government should not be involved. It was not until President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation to bring attention to the blessings the country had even during the Civil War that the tradition was revived and continues with some small tweaks to today.

The tradition of celebrating the harvest as a custom continued in many cultures and communities apart from the government naming it a holiday. The Commonwealth of Virginia celebrating its red-letter year of 1619 when the first representative assembly met in the new world and women and Africans were brought to the Virginia colony also points out that in 1619 an act of Thanksgiving took place at Berkeley Plantation on the James River when a new group of colonizers arrived. For many, what happened at Berkeley was the first English Thanksgiving in America and should be recognized as such. After all, the English on the James River in Virginia were celebrating a Thanksgiving before the Puritans left England for Massachusetts.

To learn more about Virginia’s plans to celebrate the “first” Thanksgiving and the other very significant events in a quadricentennial celebration of 1619, visit americanevolution2019.com.

Recognizing the long and multi-faceted celebrations of Thanksgiving, how can we cut through the commercialism of the holiday and give it meaning in today’s complex world? There is much that causes me and others a great deal of distress from our government’s loss of a moral compass to the rise in acts of hate to the hunger and poverty around the world. Within that, however, there are many wonderful people doing great deeds and communities of diverse people living together and looking out for each other in harmony and mutual respect.

Sharing foods as part of the tradition of Thanksgiving is good but should not be the end result. Thanksgiving offers a time for reflection. It can be less a time of acquiring or wishing for what we don’t have and more a time of appreciating what we do have. Find time to be grateful today. I am thankful for you!

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Del. Ken Plum: A Bloodless Revolution

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.

Thomas Jefferson’s election as President of the United States is referred to as a “bloodless revolution” because in the major shifts of power in world history it occurred without the violence that marked previous changes in who controlled government. While electing a president has caused some consternation over time, the rule of law has been followed rather than having a resort to physical engagement determine the outcome.

While I and others had hoped for a giant blue tsunami wave to occur with the outcome of the 2018 mid-terms elections, a more apt description of the outcome might be that a wave of blue change came upon the land. Leading that change was the first outcome announced by the media with the election of Democrat State Senator Jennifer Wexton to the House of Representatives defeating incumbent Republican Barbara Comstock by a landslide and flipped a district that had been Republican for nearly forty years. Not only did Congresswoman-elect Jennifer Wexton get an overwhelming share of the popular votes, but she assembled an army of volunteers like that seldom seen in elections. She won in the best tradition of the bloodless revolution with volunteers who carried her message door to door.

Downstate in Congressional District Seven an earlier voter revolution had swept the Republican House Majority leader out of office in a primary and replaced him with a true-blue Tea Party candidate. That candidate went on to win the general election only to find himself defeated this year by a first-time Democratic candidate Abigail Spanberger. The incumbent Republican Dave Brat has spent most of the campaign seeming to dodge any engagement with Spanberger who would challenge his right-wing economic theories that had left most people shaking their heads to understand him.

Joining Wexton and Spanberger as winning Democratic candidates was Elaine Luria who won in District Two in the Virginia Beach area against former Navy Seal and incumbent Scott Taylor. In a district that has a strong military presence, Luria was able to flip the district from red to blue.

At the end of the evening of vote counting, Democrats that had been outnumbered in Virginia’s congressional delegation seven to four found themselves in a majority of seven to four. A state that was once considered red has Democrats not only in all of its statewide offices but now as seven of its congressional representatives. A congressional delegation that had only one woman ended with three.

In the Senate, former Governor of Virginia Tim Kaine who represents Virginia along with Senator Mark Warner in the United States Senate easily defeated a strong Trump advocate, Corey Stewart, by landslide numbers. The next step for Democratic gain comes with the state elections in 2019. With the State Senate and the House of Delegates being controlled by a single vote in each, it is reasonable to expect that the blue wave will continue throughout the state.

The shift in power in the U.S. House of Representatives was a bloodless revolution with a major shift in power. Looking ahead, the Senate seats up for election in 2020 could bring the tipping point.

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Del. Ken Plum: Responding to Climate Change Warnings

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 wrote about the dire warning of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about the more immediate consequences of climate change than had originally been predicted. Avoiding the damages to our planet and to our way of life would require “transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has no documented precedent,” according to the report.

The greatest economies in the world must lead the changes necessary to preserve our planet and the quality of life for our families rather than dismissing or debating its findings. The time for action is now with the report describing a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040, a little more than two decades away.

What we have instead are politicians at the highest level of the federal government making promises at political rallies in West Virginia to bring back coal, the greatest offender of climate change, and in Iowa to increase corn production for ethanol that when added to gasoline may release more carbon from the lands than it saves. Scores of regulations intended to reduce climate change have been rescinded to gain favor of those who see them as interference in their quest to make more bucks or to gain more votes from a political constituency.

Absent little or no help on this concern at the federal level for the next couple of years, what can be done in the meantime? At the state level I will be pushing for a strengthening of a commitment by state government to increase its efforts at energy conservation, eliminating any subsidies for coal production, intensive economic development in green jobs for areas previously dependent on coal, a tax on carbon, accelerating the use of renewable energy, and establishing Virginia as a green state in its policies as well as reforestation. There are many reasons to take this immediate action in Virginia if for no other motive than that we stand to be among the first state to lose a significant chunk of our land mass with climate change and sea level rise.

I am pleased that Fairfax County has made a nod in the direction of concern about sea level rise, but there is reason to believe that one of the wealthiest counties in the country can find the will and the resources to do even more. We have been planting trees, but we need to plant many more. We have been working to get people out of their individual cars, and we must incentivize more people to use cleaner transit. Thanks to School Board Member Pat Hynes for her resolution calling for state and federal action on climate change. It is a beginning, but the locality must budget as a social cost for the county and not for the school district the addition of solar panels on the millions of square feet of roof space on our schools. Also, our school lots should be forested and not lawns.

Small actions taken by many can produce significant results. We have our warning. No time for hand-wringing. We need to get to work.

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