59°Rain

by RestonNow.com — May 22, 2017 at 10:15 am 18 Comments

This is an op/ed submitted by Terry Maynard, co-chair of the Reston 20/20 committee. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.

Reston’s population is a key factor in the County’s high-speed drive to raise the density limits in our Planned Residential Community (PRC) zoning ordinance from 13 to 16 persons per acre across Reston to accommodate growth laid out in the new Reston Master Plan. It argues that Reston is at 12 persons per acre right now, including existing and approved development and we need to create more headroom for growth. Specifically, its “calculated estimate” of Reston PRC population, including approved plans but excluding affordable dwelling units, is 74,192 people.

Not even close on Reston’s current population — including the non-PRC areas of Reston.

The Past

The County was even badly wrong back in 2006 when it adjusted the zoning ordinance household factors — the average number of people living in each type of housing (single-family, townhomes, multi-family — garden and elevator). At that time it put Reston’s “calculated” PRC population at 64,227, roughly 10,000 fewer people than it calculates today.

Then reality set in.

In 2010, the US Census put Reston’s population at 58,404 in 25,304 occupied dwelling units, including such non-PRC areas as Deepwood and much of the Reston station area corridor. That’s a population density of 9.4 persons per acre of Reston PRC, nearly 40 percent below the current density limit of 13 persons per acre –hardly a driver for raising the overall population density ceiling.

The Present

The American Community Survey, the US Census’ official mid-decade estimate of population and other data, then put Reston’s population at 60,112 in 2015. Other unofficial sources tend to have even lower estimates of Reston’s population.

So why is the County claiming the much larger “population calculation” of 74,192 people in the PRC, which is most, but not all, of Reston?

The key reason is that the County includes the population of  developments that have been approved, but not yet built. In fact, many approved proposals have been on the books for a decade or more, including Colts Neck independent living (former Hunters Woods United Christian Parish now under construction), Reston Excelsior Oracle and Boston Properties Property #16 (under construction).

Spectrum Center is a major example. The Board gave final approval to this redevelopment in January 2013, but the developer — Lerner Enterprises — said then that redevelopment may not take place for many years, even decades. Indeed, the strip mall from Staples to Not Your Average Joe’s is still operating at capacity. Among other features, the redeveloped Spectrum Center is approved to include more than 1,400 dwelling units (almost 3,000 people).

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by RestonNow.com — May 19, 2017 at 1:30 pm 72 Comments

This is an op/ed submitted by a group of area bicycling advocates. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.

Today is Bike to Work Day in the Capital Region. Cyclists will be all over the trails and roads like cicadas emerging from their hibernation.

And as the weather turns warmer and summer approaches, it seems true that many of us and our neighbors begin to head outdoors to exercise, emerging from gyms into the spring sunshine. Roads and trails begin to fill up with walkers, runners and cyclists who are enjoying the benefits of warmth and longer days.

Our region has made incredible strides in providing infrastructure to support these activities. From the Washington and Old Dominion Trail to the Fairfax County Bicycle Master Plan (BMP) that was recently passed, we are all fortunate citizens to have a government with the foresight to build and plan infrastructure for the future.

While riding a bike is legally allowed on all non-limited-access roads in the Commonwealth, the increase in traffic of all kinds, motor and bicycle, has led the county to seek ways to increase safety for all road users. One way in which the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) upholds the BMP is through a partnership with VDOT.

When VDOT repaves a road, in many cases the road is studied for installation of a “road diet.” A road diet is a change in the allocation of space on an existing road to increase road safety for all users. A road diet can include a center turn lane for left-turning traffic as well as bike lanes. Since the passage of the Bicycle Master Plan, over 100 miles of bike lanes and road diets have been implemented.

Road diets and the addition of bike lanes and center turn lanes serve to slow traffic through many of our streets, some of which used to be quiet neighborhood roads, but which have now become fast cut-throughs for commuters. The benefit of slowing traffic on those roads, through the re-striping during repaving, accrues to the people who live on those roads as well. People who want to walk their dogs, chat with neighbors, cross the street to pick up their mail — all of them benefit from road design that slows the traffic passing through.

Fairfax County is home to an incredibly diverse population. However, one thing that is universal is we all want our loved ones to come home safely. No one wants to get a call that their mother, husband, daughter, brother, wife, father, sister or son was killed for any reason. This universal human desire is sometimes forgotten when people take to the wheel of a multi-ton vehicle, ignoring the indisputable facts of physics. The human under the bike helmet in front of you us is 150 percent more likely to die when hit by a car at 40 mph than at 25 mph (Source: NHTSA). It’s in all of our interest to address this.

Cyclists are members of the community — we are your neighbors, your doctors, your waiters and your pharmacists. We ride bikes for transportation, exercise and recreation. Some of us do not have cars and commute solely by bike. But we are no different from you and your neighbors in our desire to get home safely. That’s all we ask.

Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling
Reston Bicycle Club
The Bike Lane
Green Lizard Cycling
Evolution Cycling Team

by Del. Ken Plum — May 18, 2017 at 10:15 am 11 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Last week, without provocation, a woman in the checkout line at a local grocery store told another customer — a Muslim woman — “I wish they didn’t let you in the country.”

In the exchange that was recorded on a camera phone, the woman to whom the remark was directed explained that she had been born in the United States. Rather than leave it at that, the first woman went on saying, “Obama’s not in office anymore; you don’t have a Muslim in there anymore. He’s gone — he may be in jail in the future.”

I realize that there are more people than I would like to acknowledge that have strong prejudices against others because of their race, religion, ethnicity or other reason. It continues to shock me when I see the ugliness of the expression of such prejudices as the recording of this event provided. As the woman to whom the remarks were directed pointed out, it’s abnormal to start a conversation like that with someone you do not know. There really is something wrong with people who are so blinded by their prejudices that they feel compelled to lash out at a person who has done them no wrong. The comments reflect a deep-seated hatred that comes out for reasons only a mental health expert could help discover.

What is particularly troubling these days is the blurring of the line between political convictions and prejudice toward individuals. In our deeply divided political landscape, too often political views become opportunities to demonize people who hold different views. Unfortunately talk radio, social media and some cable news shows tend to invite this destructive phenomenon.

In addition to the repulsiveness I feel about the hateful comments, I was also saddened that social media and news accounts described the scene as a store in Reston, Virginia. I know from a lot of personal experience the amount of effort that so many people have made over the years to ensure that Reston is an open, welcoming and inclusive community. While I understand why the store did nothing to address the situation, I wish somehow there had been a disclaimer on the video: The woman speaking does not represent the views of the people of Reston.

The situation reminds us that building community is not a one-time occurrence, a workshop, or a feel-good session. Building a community of respect and love is an ongoing process that we work at a little every day. We greet those we meet; we hug each other; we attend each other’s houses of worship; we show respect to others; we speak out against hate and prejudices; we listen to each other. We use appropriate channels to discuss political views, and whether in person or online we stick to the issues and don’t resort to personal attacks.

A display of hateful and ugly prejudice as we have just witnessed must bring us together in mutual support and respect as we want Reston and every other community to display.

by RestonNow.com — May 12, 2017 at 1:30 pm 15 Comments

This is an op/ed submitted by Terry Maynard, co-chair of the Reston 20/20 committee. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.

Last Wednesday evening may have seen a watershed moment in Reston’s development, as about 150 residents confronted the County’s planning staff and Supervisor Cathy Hudgins at a community meeting on the Board of Supervisors plan that, in addition to other changes, would eliminate any limit on the density of residential redevelopment in Reston Town Center under the Reston Planned Residential Community (PRC) zoning ordinance’s “high” density area category, as long as those plans were consistent with the Reston Master Plan.

Power unchecked is power abused.  That is what Reston is looking at with the Board’s Reston PRC zoning proposal.

Moreover, increasing the zoned density of any property in Virginia creates a “by right” authority for developers to build at that density. It cannot be revoked by the Board, even if experience shows the density is excessive.

High density is a gift to developers that often costs residents increased taxes (such as the new station area Transportation Service District tax), traffic congestion, school crowding, environmental deterioration; reduced livability from overtaxed open space, park facilities and libraries; and greater demands on police, fire and emergency services.

A more specific look at the implications for Reston Planned Residential Community (PRC) areas of Reston Town Center as shown in the enclosed map highlights where those changes would occur. The PRC zoning area subject to this zoning amendment proposal includes virtually all of Reston Town Center north of the toll road, and the Reston Heights — Westin Hotel — area of the Town Center station area south of the toll road.

The Reston Town Center area of the zoning code does not explicitly use the high/medium/low residential designation used in the suburban areas. Instead, the PRC land use map calls for them to be related to transit station area mixed-use. Nonetheless, the “high” density limit of 50 DU/A has been used as the upper limit in RTC. Moreover, the Reston plan that theoretically limits development generally identifies “target” residential goals for each of the districts and subdistricts within the Town Center.

Only one of these districts with an explicit “target” number of DUs proposes an overall density greater than the existing “high” density limit the Reston PRC. That’s the area immediately next to the Metro station on the north side, where the plan’s “target” residential density would lead to 88 DU/A, with 2,600 units as laid out as a target in the plan.

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by Del. Ken Plum — May 11, 2017 at 10:15 am 19 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Among the many institutions that seem to be under attack these days, the federal Department of Education and public schools are of great concern.

Public education predates the federal Department of Education, but the Department has played an important role in raising standards and expanding access for all children. Left to their own devices, state and local school boards would go in many different directions that may leave quality and access more to chance than legal requirements.

I am reminded regularly by my constituents of their support for quality public schools, but last week I was reminded also of the range of controversy surrounding public education. A postcard I received in the mail had a picture of a yellow school bus on it with a caption: “The humanist machine.”

The card was from a group called Deconstructing the Coliseum whose stated purpose is “to eliminate humanist political policies, eliminate the machine (the civil government school system) that produces humanist politicians.” The text of the card goes on to explain that “The civil government is using force and coercion to advance its version of truth (humanism), under the guise of ‘public education.’ Thus, civil government schools must be abolished.”

Although this group has a Virginia address, I do not think that it would have many supporters in our community. Their ultra-conservative views are likely to get the attention of some downstate legislators.

As concerning are the views that are being espoused by the current federal Secretary of Education. As I understand her plan, public schools would be replaced by charter schools. Charter schools are held up by some as a panacea to cure ills real and concocted about public schools, but their results have been very mixed in the places where they have been opened.

The main issue for the proponents seems to be control. Rather than having elected or appointed school boards set school policy, there are proposals that groups of parents would control the charter school curriculum, standards and requirements without further supervision. There is a real concern that charter schools could lead to renewed segregation of the schools along racial and class lines.

Even with all their critics and those who remember wistfully how schools were when they attended, today’s public schools do an excellent job. Open to all students, they bring out the best in our children. They attempt to prepare our children for an unknown future. The school boards struggle every year with meeting needs that are greater than the resources available to them.

Whatever the perceived needs are in educating our children, there are none so great that would require the getting rid of “government schools” or replacing them with charter schools.

We need to look at paying teachers more to attract the best and the brightest to teaching as a career; the current deficit of $4,000 under the national average that exists in Virginia is not defensible.

And we need, in this season of teacher appreciation, to thank the teachers for the exceptional work that they do.

by Del. Ken Plum — May 4, 2017 at 10:30 am 17 Comments

Last week I attended the retirement reception for the Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates. The Honorable William Howell of Stafford is retiring after 30 years in the House with 14 years as Speaker. His tenure is the second longest in the modern period

The Republican majority in the House wasted no time in picking his successor, who was known during the last session as the “Speaker designee.”

Speaker Howell was the 54th Speaker of the House; Edmund Pendleton was the first, serving for one year in 1776. The predecessor to the House of Delegates, the House of Burgesses, under the Royal Colony of Virginia, had speakers as well.

The role of the speaker is to allow for orderly debate by requiring all speaking to go through the speaker–hence the name. Under today’s rules, as in the past, members must be recognized by the speaker to request to speak or to ask a question and must receive permission to speak. No debate is allowed among members without going through the speaker. While it may sound cumbersome, it actually works to keep debate orderly and to prevent the chaos that could result from members shouting at each other directly.

The role of the Speaker has evolved over the years. Far from just directing debate, the speaker has tremendous other powers. For example, the speaker appoints the members of committees, assigns bills to committees and renders opinions on enforcing rules and parliamentary procedures.

Up until 1950 there had been 48 persons who had served as Speaker of the House for an average of 3.5 years each. Since 1950 there have been six speakers serving an average of eleven years each. One speaker during that period left office after two years because of a sex scandal. If he is not considered, the remaining speakers have served for an average of 13 years.

I served under the last five speakers. My observation on the office of the speaker is that it has become increasingly partisan. In 1950 Delegate E. Blackburn Moore of Frederick County who was a leading lieutenant in the Byrd Machine became speaker and served in that role for 18 years. He ruled with an iron fist. Many of the stories that are still told about abusing the role of speaker come from his era when he refused to put Republicans on committees that met. The House was referred to as “Blackie’s House,” borrowing the name of a popular restaurant of the time.

His successor was the Gentleman from Mathews, the Honorable John Warren Cooke, who was the first speaker under whom I served. He was a sharp contrast to Moore and treated all members alike regardless of political party. Since his service the office has been held by a series of nice individuals of both parties who have expanded the role to be in practice, if not name, the majority leader of the House.

With the change in individuals holding the role of speaker and with the potential change in the near future of the political party controlling the House, it is too bad that there cannot be a discussion of elevating the role of speaker to be the leader of the House and not the leader of the majority party. This kind of thing is not political nature for sure, but it would be the right thing to do and would change the outcomes of legislative sessions.

by RestonNow.com — May 3, 2017 at 11:15 am 3 Comments

Editor’s Note, May 4 at 12:55 p.m.: The date of this event has been corrected to Sunday, May 7 at 11 a.m.

This article was submitted to RestonNow by a member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Christian Church. Similar submissions can be sent to [email protected]

All are welcome at Martin Luther King, Jr. Christian Church’s (11400 N. Shore Dr.) celebration service this Sunday, May 7 at 11 a.m.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Christian Church began in February, 1982 by a band of Christians who wanted to have a worship center like the worship homes they had come from as they settled in Reston.

The first service was held in the Southgate Community Room in South Reston. The name of the church was chosen because of the turbulent times its founders had lived through during the Civil Rights movement and the lasting results brought about by Dr. King. (more…)

by Del. Ken Plum — April 27, 2017 at 10:15 am 3 Comments

Several weeks ago, at the invitation of their leader, I spoke to a group of Boy Scouts about government and the responsibilities of citizenship. Talking with me helped the Scouts meet one of their requirements for a merit badge.

One of the Scouts asked me about the most important legislation I had ever gotten passed. I told him about multiple issues on which I had worked, but I focused on one that I thought he might know little about but would show the range of issues with which legislators deal. I told him about my work to expand infant screening in the Commonwealth.

Prior to my election to office, I served on the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board. A member of that Board whose adult son was a resident at the Northern Virginia Training Center told me of the great hope there was in detecting health issues in infants at the time of their birth with blood screening. At the time Virginia had only three tests, one of which was PKU testing. I remembered our conversation after I was elected, and I got new tests added as scientists developed them.

Metabolic disorders that can be discovered from a pinprick of an infant’s heel can generate early and sometimes simple treatments that can lead to a healthy child and adult. Without treatment, numerous medical conditions can develop including severe developmental delays and chronic illnesses. Metabolic disorders affect the chemical processes in your body that must work together correctly for you to stay healthy.

I was honored to work on legislation that added most of the 30 tests that are done in Virginia on that same spot of blood from an infant to detect these disorders. Last week, I was reminded of the experience that I had working with Dr. Barry Wolf of the then-Medical College of Virginia, who had discovered that the disorder in which the body is unable to recycle the vitamin biotin can lead to developmental delays in children, hearing and vision loss, breathing problems, and problems with balance and movement. When discovered early such as through a screening test, the disorder can be treated with nutritional supplements that can result in a normal life for the person.

With Dr. Wolf’s research and my legislative proposal, in 1984 Virginia became the first state in this country to begin infant screening for biotinidase deficiency. Since that time, every state and many foreign countries have started the screening. The March of Dimes recognized us for that accomplishment.

The reminder of this story came from a local doctor in Reston who was a medical student at MCV at the time and knew of Dr. Wolf’s research and my bill. She wrote to us both, telling us of a teenage patient she had just met who at birth had been found to have the deficiency but, with treatment, was living a normal life. She wrote to both of us that “because of researchers like you and advocates like you… our world is made a little better for all, and lives are saved for some precious few. That’s something to be proud of.”

I hope the Boy Scouts understood why I consider the work on infant screening to be among the most important I have done.

by RestonNow.com — April 24, 2017 at 10:15 am 32 Comments

This is an op/ed submitted by Terry Maynard, co-chair of the Reston 20/20 committee. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.

Our County Board of Supervisors, led by Chairman Sharon Bulova, is in the process of overbuilding and underserving residents in Reston and across the county. The result will be the eroding livability of Reston and other county areas facing urbanization.  

And this is being accomplished by a simple arithmetical trick: Overstating the amount of space new housing and office space require to accommodate residents and workers. Very simply, county planners continue to overstate the space needed for office workers as 300 gross square feet (GSF) per worker when studies globally over nearly a decade show it is now under 200 GSF/worker and could be headed to 150 GSF/worker.  

At the same time, as it started to plan for Tysons’ redevelopment nearly a decade ago, the County raised its planning assumption for the size of station area dwelling units (DUs) from 1,000 GSF/DU to 1,200 GSF/DU. Nonetheless, a County planning study for Tysons showed then (2007) that the average size of Tysons residents was 1,100 GSF, mostly in garden apartments before the recent advent of massive high-rise residential development there. Now, the average high-rise DU size is shrinking well below 1,000 GSF/DU, more than offsetting the few mid-rise and single-family attached DUs in station areas, as some recent Reston development proposals show:

  • JBG/Wiehle and partners plan for 1,300-1,500 residential units in 1.2 million GSF of development in two 5-story buildings, or 800-925 GSF/DU;
  • Golf Course Plaza proposes 413 DUs in a 392,600 GSF multi-family building or 950 GSF/DU, also in 5-story structures;
  • Faraday’s proposes redeveloping the area just south of Wiehle Station with up to 500 apartments in two buildings with about 487,000 GSF of residential space that will reach about 975 GSF/DU according to its plan submission.
  • Lerner Enterprises is planning a 457-“luxury apartment” complex called Excelsior Park with average unit size at about 1,050 GSF in 423,587 rentable square feet (RBA), which equates to 481,350 GSF.

That’s nearly 3,000 DUs, including luxury apartments, whose average GSF is about 925 GSF/DU — nowhere near the County’s assumed size of 1,200 GSF/DU — and suggesting the number of future residents and DUs in Reston’s station areas will be nearly one-third greater than planned under existing allowable densities. This is consistent with national data: A study of apartment sizes over the last decade shows that their average size has shrunk — not expanded — from 1,015 square feet to 934 square feet.  

The impact is straightforward: The resulting planned densities (total GSF of development divided by the square footage of the lot on which it sits) will allow half-again as many office workers and 28 percent more residential units than the County plan officially intends. Yet developers and the County are only planning to provide services — improved roads, schools and parks, and more — based on the lower count envisioned in the plan. The result will be reduced services and higher taxes.

So what does that mean for “real people?” Based on GSF information provided by FCDOT to the Supervisors serving as the Board Transportation Committee, the current Reston station area plan offers the potential for 76,280 added residents (at 2.0 residents/DU) and 29,059 added office worker jobs (at 300GSF/worker) in the next four decades.  

If instead of using the County’s faulty planning assumptions, we use real world experience, we can anticipate that the allowable development could result in an addition of 101,492 total residents in 50,746 DUs and 78,559 office workers, including retrofitted office buildings, market conditions permitting.  More specifically, it suggests an order of magnitude explosion in residents (11,720 in 2010 vs. 113,212 then) and more than twice as many office employees (69,941 in 2010 vs. 148,500 then) in Reston’s station areas. Overall, Reston can expect twice as many people living and working in the station areas as is anticipated by the Reston plan.

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by Del. Ken Plum — April 20, 2017 at 10:15 am 12 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Virginia has the distinction of having had the first mental health hospital in the country, although it was called an insane asylum, which more correctly described the work it did.

From colonial days to the present, the role of the state in providing treatment and services for those with mental illness has been widely debated, filled with different theories and approaches, and always critically underfunded. It took a massacre of students at Virginia Tech and a state senator’s son attacking his father with a butcher knife, then shooting himself, to bring a higher level of urgency and seriousness to the discussion. A commission has been meeting the past couple of years and will continue to meet for at least a couple more to develop recommendations on what the state should do.

In the meantime, some hopeful progress is being made. After the Virginia Tech shootings, state appropriations for mental health programs were increased dramatically, only to be reduced again after the onset of the recession. Funding for programs for those with mental illness has been slowly increasing again but still does not come close to the levels requested by professionals in the field. Additional funding was provided in the most recent General Assembly session to allow for transitional housing. Statewide, there has been more clarification of the role of the Community Services Boards for the treatment of mental illness.

The practice of “streeting” persons, by putting them back on the street when there was no treatment option available to them, has largely been stopped. Emergency and temporary custody orders can be issued to ensure that those needing emergency care will receive it. Crisis treatment centers are being opened around the state.

We are blessed in Fairfax County that local government has for decades been offering mental health treatment and services well beyond that provided in most parts of the state. The most recent example is the Diversion First program, which just issued its first annual report. The program came about from the recognition that more than a quarter of the inmates in local jails have mental illness. They came into contact with law enforcement because of a behavior that needed treatment, not incarceration.

Sheriff Stacey Kincaid, the Fairfax County Police Department and the Community Services Board cooperatively put together a program that offers alternatives to incarceration for people with mental illness or developmental disabilities who come into contact with the criminal justice system for low-level offenses. As stated in their annual report, the goal is to intercede whenever possible to provide assessment, treatment or needed support in an appropriate setting for those who struggle with mental illness, developmental delays or substance abuse, instead of jail being the default solution. In its first year of work, the program diverted 375 persons from jail into treatment programs. Both money and lives are saved with the shift of emphasis.

More about this important new service made possible by Fairfax County government officials working together is available at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/DiversionFirst.

by Del. Ken Plum — April 13, 2017 at 10:15 am 15 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Nearly two hours of the eight-and-a-half-hour reconvened session of the House of Delegates of the General Assembly were taken up last week by speeches from retiring members and acknowledgement speeches by others about their service and achievement.

The length of the tribute time was driven in large part by the fact that eight members, all of whom are Republicans, are retiring. Heading the list is the Speaker of the House, followed by a senior member who chairs the important Courts Committee. For some, like the Speaker, the longevity of service was a key factor. Others cited family and financial concerns. Another one or two may re-appear running for another office. Legislative service that is considered part-time with a low level of remuneration but takes full-time commitment always has some turnover, but the number this year is significant.

Another factor that may have influenced some decisions is the sense of changing political winds in the Commonwealth. Never in my years of service have I gotten as many phone calls, postcards and emails as I have this year. Traditional groups have gotten re-energized, and many new groups have formed. Activism is in the air.

For me, it has been reassuring. As a progressive, I feel less like I am speaking into the wind and more like there is a force of people behind me. For years I worked on the redistricting issue almost alone and now thousands of people are contacting their legislators asking that they support redistricting reform. The public has become keenly aware of the adverse impact that gerrymandering has had on the Legislature.

The signs of change were evident in the reconvened session last week. While the House of Delegates did not respond favorably to my plea that we approve an amendment by the Governor to expand Medicaid, there was discussion by majority party leaders in the House and Senate that a new group is going to be looking at how medical services can be expanded to the poorest in our state. I continue to be amazed at the argument that leaving $40 billion on the table in federal dollars could somehow be considered “fiscally responsible.”

The majority party may have felt somewhat humbled by the fact that the Legislature upheld 40 vetoes of bills by the Governor, extending the record of his administration to 111 with none being over-ridden. Of course, a two-thirds vote is required, but in the House only a couple of deflections by Democrats would have made an over-ride possible. The vetoes by Gov. Terry McAuliffe have kept Virginia out of the news with crazy legislation that has passed in other states.

Certainly there is also an eye to November, with 77 Democrats lining up to challenge 49 Republican incumbents. As that number is reduced by primaries and conventions, it leaves hotly contested races that could dramatically change who is in charge in the House, and/or the attitude of those left in charge. Democrats have challengers to incumbents in the 17 districts held by Republicans that were won by Hillary Clinton. For those who continue to ask what they can do, there is a clear sense emerging that much can be done this year to put Virginia on a more progressive track.

by Del. Ken Plum — April 6, 2017 at 10:15 am 23 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

When Thomas Jefferson finished what he considered one of the most significant deeds of his lifetime in writing the Declaration of Independence in the summer of 1776, he returned home to Virginia and set about turning the ideals of the Declaration into steps that could lead to the formation of the first democratic republic.

Among his proposals was that a system of grammar schools be established throughout the state to be topped off by a grand university. He lived to see the University of Virginia become a reality, but his plan for a universal form of education for the masses did not come about in the Commonwealth until 1870 with a Reconstruction-era system of public schools.

The genius of Mr. Jefferson was the recognition that government by the people in a republic could be successful only to the degree that people were educated and that education could make them informed participants in the election of their representatives. Education is as important today, if not more so, as it was in the formation of the union. I am reminded of that fact daily.

The experiences of my early days as a classroom teacher remind me that there is a sharp difference between being schooled and being educated. The emphasis in recent times on the acquisition of facts with Standards of Learning and standardized testing fall short of the educated citizen that we need in today’s world. What facts could I have transmitted to my students that would stay with them to guide them through the rough waters of governance today? A few of course, but more important are the skills they may have learned by being social scientists, historians, and political scientists in my classroom and using the skills of those disciplines to understand and react to the world we face today.

Popular in the mid-1960s, when I was in the classroom, was the discovery approach to teaching the social studies made famous by Amherst College. There were few lectures in the classroom about what happened in history. Rather the students were taught to collect information, weigh evidence, identify points of view, question sources, draw conclusions and “discover” what went on in historic periods of history and why.

Those skills are more important today than ever. The ability to separate among news stories the fake news, alt-news, satire, points of view and evidence is increasingly vital. Hopefully there will come a time when more of those who make the news will be acting in an ethical and responsible manner, motivated to serve with the good of the whole in mind rather than simply personal gain.

With the increasing speed and number of sources of mass communications, skills of the social scientist are more important than ever. Thomas Jefferson was right — schools are critically important to democracy. Even more important is that the students coming out of school have the skills necessary to be functioning members of society that will preserve and strengthen our democratic republic.

by Del. Ken Plum — March 30, 2017 at 10:15 am 20 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

While a governor is the chief executive of a state responsible for seeing that the laws are carried out, the governor plays a crucial role in the legislative process with the requirement that all passed bills must be signed before they become law or not signed and vetoed to keep such bills from becoming law. There is no better example of the significance of the governor’s power to veto laws than in Virginia.

Next week, on Wednesday, April 5, which is the required sixth Wednesday after the adjournment of the regular session of the General Assembly, the Constitution requires a reconvened or commonly called “veto session” to consider only vetoes or amendments made by the governor to bills that had been passed in both houses of the General Assembly earlier in the regular session. The requirement for the reconvened session was added to the Constitution in 1981 because without it, the governor was able to veto bills after legislators went home without any opportunity for them to override the veto.

With the fast pace of nearly a thousand bills being passed in a session of 45 to 60 days, the reconvened session provides an opportunity for the governor to send down amendments that are found to be needed that might clarify or correct language in bills.

Most importantly, a governor can play a role in the legislative process by vetoing some really bad bills that may have narrowly passed the legislature but are not in the best interest of the state. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has used his veto pen very effectively in vetoing bills that respond to special interests but do not serve the public good of the Commonwealth. By the end of the reconvened session next week he will have set a record of vetoing more than 90 bills without legislators being able to get a two-thirds vote in both houses for the bills to become law without his signature. I am especially pleased that he has never vetoed a bill that I had not already voted against in the regular session.

As in previous years, he has vetoed bills that would legalize discrimination against LGBT citizens. He has regularly vetoed bills similar to HB2 in North Carolina, which has brought such bad publicity to that state for upholding discrimination and that resulted in the state losing businesses and major sports events. Without Gov. McAuliffe’s courageous veto, Virginia would be in the same category of discrimination as North Carolina.

Gov. McAuliffe has once again vetoed a bill that would deny public funding to Planned Parenthood, which provides critically important health services to women over an ideological dispute as to who should make reproductive health decisions for women. He is again vetoing a series of bills that would make guns and switch-blades more accessible to persons in emergency shelters including children. He vetoed a bill that would have expanded eligibility for concealed handgun permits.

What a difference Gov. Terry McAuliffe has made with his veto pen in keeping some really bad bills from becoming law.

by Del. Ken Plum — March 23, 2017 at 10:15 am 74 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Explanation of the recently announced American Health Care Act usually starts with an expressed need to clean up the mess that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — or Obamacare — had made.

Most all agreed that the massive transformation the program of health care had brought about could use some tweaking and refinement, but clearly a seven-year campaign against the Affordable Care Act left a blurred view of what the program did for consumers. If the ACA had created a mess, the recently proposed replacement of it will certainly create an even messier and unfair situation.

Virginians in particular will suffer a double hit on health care, especially for those most in need. The General Assembly would not approve an expansion of Medicaid that would have brought health care to as many as 400,000 uninsured most in need in the Commonwealth and would have expanded the health care network with the $4 billion that would have flowed into the state. While the new program would eliminate Medicaid expansion in 2020, persons would have been able to get health care in the interim rather than to go without or have to seek help at free clinics or one-time-a-year Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinics. States that have expanded Medicaid would continue to get full coverage for persons already enrolled but would get a lesser amount for new enrollees beginning in 2020. That provision alone would add to the $4 billion loss already incurred in Virginia.

There are 327,000 Virginians who gained coverage under the ACA as it expanded access to affordable health care. The proposed replacement to the ACA would do away with federal health insurance subsidies that helped people afford their monthly premiums and lowered out-of-pocket expenses. Subsidies would be replaced with tax credits. Currently insurers can charge older customers up to three times what they charge younger customers; under the new plan that would increase to five times.

Although some would never acknowledge it, there are features of the despised Obamacare program that were maintained. Insurers would still be banned from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions. Dependents would still be able to stay on parents’ insurance plans through age 26. Caps on annual or lifetime coverage would still be banned.

Clearly fewer people will have access to affordable care under the AHCA. Virtually every developed country in the world with the exception of the USA has decided that access to health care is a basic human right. What is the biggest objection to the program enacted under President Obama? It included targeted taxes on investment income and wages for the very high income individuals and couples. The new AHCA eliminates many of the taxes. The wealthiest 400 households including the billionaires in the new administration would get an average tax cut of $7 million per year while taxes for many low-income working families would increase. Eliminating the two taxes on very high-income households would cost the federal government $275 billion over 10 years.

Most Virginians will lose under the replacement proposed for the ACA. Only the very rich will gain. Maybe that is what the debate is really about!

by Del. Ken Plum — March 16, 2017 at 10:15 am 46 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

A headline in The New York Times in December 1992 proclaimed that “Virginia Aims to Shed Image as a ‘Handgun Supermarket.”’ The Commonwealth got that reputation when a Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms study found that one of every four guns used in a crime whose origins could be determined had been bought in Virginia stores. In Washington, D.C., one in three traceable guns had been bought in Virginia.

Gov. L. Douglas Wilder was quoted in the news story as saying that “Virginia is the No. 1 source for handguns on the East Coast, and we must stop the trafficking or become known as the ‘Grim Reaper State.'” The United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia at the time was reported as saying that, “No other East Coast state has gun laws as lax as Virginia’s laws — not South Carolina, not Georgia, not Florida. Nobody. This has to stop!”

I was in the House of Delegates and supported Gov. Wilder in getting a one-gun-a-month purchasing limitation law passed in 1993. I have been in the House in the period since then and have watched in opposition as the gun supporters passed exemption after exemption to the limitation until in 2012 they repealed the law, with Gov. Robert McDonnell signing the bill to repeal it.

Last week, an Associated Press headline brought back the theme from 1992: “NYC cops thwart gun ring that exploited looser Virginia laws.” Twenty-four people, including 22 from Virginia, were charged in a 627-count indictment for trafficking guns bought in Virginia and sold in New York.

The traffickers were caught on wiretaps. One was quoted by New York authorities as saying, “There’s no limit to how many guns I can go buy from the store. I can go get 20 guns from the store tomorrow. I can do that Monday through Friday. They might start looking at me, but in Virginia, our laws are so little, I can give guns away.”

As we work to build the image of the state to attract business and industry and to break free from an Old South reputation, events like last week bring back references of Virginia being the gun-running capital of the East Coast. The repeal of the one-gun-a-month law is but one example of a series of bills that have been introduced to weaken Virginia’s gun safety laws. There were other bills that nipped away at the few gun safety laws that remain. Fortunately in the last three years and again this year, we have had Gov. Terry McAuliffe to veto these bills.

The influence of the gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association and the Virginia Citizens Defense League, is enormous. With few exceptions, the members of the majority party fall in line to support or defeat bills as directed by the gun lobby. My background check bill supported by about three-fourths of voters and the governor cannot get past a subcommittee, where it is continually defeated on a straight party-line vote, four to one. Too bad we have not learned from history!

To better appreciate the debate that goes on about gun laws in Virginia, watch the gun bill debate video.

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