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Del. Ken Plum: Building on Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday Morning Notes

Silver Line extension to Dulles awaits test results — “The Silver Line extension project to Dulles International Airport is now waiting on test results that could determine whether it opens on time. Project director Charles Stark told the Dulles Corridor Advisory Committee… that three problems with concrete wall panels at five stations under construction had already been identified before news of a whistleblower lawsuit broke.” [WTOP]

A local kid’s message for President Trump — Disturbed by the murders of Buckley Kuhn Fricker and Scott Fricker late last year, 10-year-old Anya Moon pens a letter to President Donald Trump about gun violence. [CNN]

For Normandy — Five ensembles by current and former Herndon High School musicians will be featured in this family-friendly concert on Sunday. All proceeds will help the school’s band travel to Normandy to participate in the 75th anniversary of D-Day. [Herndon High School]

Registration for fall soccer is now open — The Great Falls-Reston Soccer Club is accepting application starting today for a variety of programs.  [Great Falls Reston Soccer Club]

Reston Pride Festival set for tomorrow — As pride month begins, the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston is hosting Reston’s first-ever Pride Festival on Sunday. The event includes 10 performances, remarks by local politicians, exhibits, food, and music. [Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston]

Photo by Ruth Sievers

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Roughly 800 South Lakes High School Students Participate in Walkout to End Gun Violence

(This story was updated at 12:45 p.m. with an official count of the participants).

Roughly 800 South Lakes High School students joined their peers from all over the country for a scheduled 17-minute National School Walkout to End Gun Violence at 10 a.m. today (March 14).

Chanting phrases like “Enough is enough,” “We want change,” and “No more silence, end gun violence,” students gathered in the school’s football stadium for the rally. SLHS student Dora Ahearn-wood repeated the names of the 17 victims in the Parkland shooting in a call-and-response pattern.

A moment of silence followed.

The impetus behind the rally was especially real following a lockdown at SLHS and two other Reston public schools on Friday. Local police determined a report about a student with a gun was false.

“The lockdown was a false alarm and everyone was safe. But we should not have to live in a place where we have to see our friends texting and calling their family, terrified for their lives. We should not have to go to school and experience a lockdown because the presence of an active-shooter on campus is a real possibility. We should not have to live in a country where teenagers can have access to weapons of war,” said SLHS student Sophia Liao.

Others like Zach Schonfeld encouraged students to join survivors of the Parkland shooting in the District for the March for Our Lives. Schonfeld also encouraged students to take their grievances to the ballot box by registering to vote, volunteering for a campaign, call Congressional representatives to push for gun control and raise their voices to declare “enough is enough.”

“Whatever you do, don’t sit out on the sidelines and merely add Parkland to the tragic list that has senselessly killed so many. Next time, it could be us,” he said.

Walkout participants were marked for “cutting class” during the walkout, which fell during the third period class, according to SLHS principal Kim Retzer.

“Like any other school day, our teachers will prepare various learning activities to engage students and we expect our students to participate in their learning process. Should students leave class, teachers will continue with their instruction to all students who remain in the classroom,” Retzer wrote in a statement.

Students at other area schools like Langston Hughes Middle School in Reston and Floris Elementary School in Herndon also participated in similar walkouts.

Footage by ABC News linked below mistakenly indicated SLHS students walked off of school grounds. The footage is not from SLHS.

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Students at South Lakes High School to Join National Walkout for Gun Control

Pushed by the mass shooting at Florida high school this year, students at South Lakes High School will stage a walkout on Wednesday at 10 a.m., joining more than 2,200 schools nationwide as part of the #Enough National School Walkout to End Gun Violence.

For organizers, the need for the walkout – the second at the high school following the Florida shooting – came to life on Friday when three Reston schools were under a lockdown after students reported they saw another student with a gun. Police determined the report was false.

Students like Sophia Liao, Zachary Schonfeld and Dora Ahearn-Wood said they want legislators to go beyond tweeting thoughts and prayers by passing legislation to prevent gun violence.

“We should feel safe in our schools, and not have to worry if we are next. Just last Friday, we got lucky. The lockdown was quickly found to be a false alarm through the diligent work of school administration and police. But we should not have to live in a place where we have to see our friends texting and calling their families, terrified for their lives. This is not normal, and it needs to change,” Liao said.

The walkout will be the second for South Lakes High School students. Last month, more than 200 students stepped out of class in the middle of the day to remember victims of the Parkland shooting.

On Wednesday, students plan to stand outside for 17 minutes to honor each victim of the shooting. The walkout will also include remarks and chants from student organizers, according to a release by the South Lakes Young Democrats club.

Although the club is organizing the walkout, organizers said participants are from varying political backgrounds and the walkout is a school-wide initiative. Students also plan to initiate a “call to action” by encouraging participants to vote, call their elected representatives and become involved in political discourse.

We might not all be experts on gun policy, but we do know that the current status quo is not working,” organizers said.

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Del. Ken Plum: Too Close for Comfort

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.

For many years, I have been involved in various demonstrations and vigils to bring attention to the sobering facts about gun violence in our society. I have always been astonished at the number of people taking part in these events who have personal stories to tell about the way gun violence has affected their lives.

There are parents involved in working to end gun violence whose children were either killed or wounded in the massacre at Virginia Tech. Parents of children who were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School travel the country telling their stories and campaigning for commonsense gun safety laws. Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who survived being shot in the head, campaigns against gun violence even though her wounds slow her down. Ask your friends or neighbors if they know anyone whose life was changed because of gun violence — you may be surprised at the numbers who say yes.

My involvement in the movement to end gun violence grows out of my service as an elected official who believes that my actions need to reflect my belief that the government has a responsibility as stated in our founding documents to protect life and liberty. I am also greatly concerned with the individuals and organizations who continue to distort our history and the meaning of our Constitution to try to make the case that gun rights are absolute even though there are qualifiers on all our other rights in the Constitution. The appeal that the right to bear arms is a protection of all our other rights presents a frightening prospect for our future with the extremism that has become so commonplace.

Last week, an incident reminded me that any one of us could without any notice become more aware of the dangers of gun violence than we could ever imagine. One of our children was on the way to a meeting in an office building when it became necessary to turn around because the building was ringed with police cars. Had the meeting been an hour earlier, our child would have been among those evacuated because an active shooter was on the loose. Some of those removed from the building were the children in its day care center.

For unknown reasons, the shooter decided to shoot only himself and not harm others. It is uncomfortable to realize had the timing or his motivation been different how many others would have suffered the trauma of gun violence. Now his family and acquaintances bear the pain.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are nearly 43,000 suicides per year, and almost exactly half those occur with firearms. Public service announcements attempt to educate people who have depressed family members or friends to keep firearms out of their easy reach. There is no time to reconsider or to seek help on personal issues once the trigger has been pulled. From 1999 through 2014, the age-adjusted suicide rate in the United States increased 24 percent, from 10.5 to 13.0 per 100,000 population, with the pace of increase greater after 2006. Everytown for Gun Safety reports its research shows that on an average day, 93 Americans are killed with guns, with seven of those being children.

How much more uncomfortable do we need to become before the public insists that commonsense gun-safety laws are passed?

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Del. Ken Plum: Never Armed Enough!

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.

Much to my dismay last week, I received in the mail an envelope with the return address of the National Rifle Association of America headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia. I knew immediately it was not a letter admonishing me for regularly taking part in the vigil to end gun violence held in front of their office on the 14th of each month.

No, the colorful envelope had two dozen pictures of various rifles, handguns and what I call machine guns. I was urged to open the envelope to take part in the “exciting NRA sweepstakes.” With the usual disclaimer that I did not have to join the NRA in order to win, the flyer announced in a list with pictures that the first prize in the sweepstakes was “12 World-Class Firearms” including four pistols, four rifle/shotguns and four other firearms that looked like military weapons to me. Second prize was nine such guns, and third prize was seven super firearms!

If I did not choose to take the guns, I could substitute a “trophy bull elk hunt in New Mexico; a bison, bird and deer hunt in North Dakota; or a black bear hunt in Ontario.” If I entered the sweepstakes by Oct. 31, I would be “eligible for a chance to win a top-of-the-line LaRue Tactical Rifle and 7,200 rounds of ammo!”

Needless to say, I will not be entering the sweepstakes, although I was tempted to so that if I won I could have the guns melted down and turned into some peaceful art symbols.

As disturbing to me as the military-style weapons offered as prizes was the language in the letter telling me why I should not just enter the sweepstakes but why I should join the NRA. Not a single mention was made that I might be a hobbyist, I might like hunting, I might be a marksman, etc. The entire pitch was about the threat of the government taking away people’s guns.

“NRA needs you as a fighting, card-carrying member more than ever before. … That’s because the Second Amendment is the one freedom that gives you and me the power to protect every other freedom in our Bill of Rights. … And because of gun owners like you, NRA has beaten back hundreds of attacks on our rights, from gun licensing to gun rationing, taxes and surtaxes on guns and ammo, ammo bans, gun bans, bans on gun shows, and more.”

Despite the rhetoric in the mailer, the reality I see is drastically different than Mr. [Wayne] LaPierre described in his letter. The U.S. Congress is currently debating the “Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act of 2017” which, among other provisions, would allow the use of armor-piercing bullets and ease the importation of foreign-made assault rifles. One of its very frightening provisions would allow the use of silencers on guns. Proponents argue that gun users’ ears can be harmed by the sound. What about the practice in industry of having ear plugs or ear coverings? Imagine the slaughter a terrorist could do with a silenced gun!

For some it seems that we are never armed enough. I believe that opinion is more of a threat to our society than are common-sense gun safety measures.

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Lake Fairfax Park soccer field

Lieutenant Governor in Reston Tonight — Ralph Northam, Virginia’s lieutenant governor and a Democratic candidate for governor in the 2017 election, will be a guest speaker tonight at a meeting of Herndon-Reston Indivisible. Other speakers will be Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax) and Del. Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax/Loudoun). The meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. at Sunset Hills Montessori School (11180 Ridge Heights Road). [Herndon-Reston Indivisible]

Bulova: ‘Painful Cuts’ in Proposed Federal Budget — The chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors says she is hopeful the local congressional delegation will address what she sees as a number of problems with the Trump administration’s budget proposal, unveiled last week. [Sharon Bulova/Facebook]

Arrests Made in Chantilly Gun Store Heist — Two 23-year-old men and a 19-year-old man have been arrested in connection with the theft of 35 guns from a Chantilly store earlier this month. The men are also charged in the theft of firearms from two shops in Fredericksburg. They each face up to 10 years in prison. [U.S. Department of Justice]

Digital Marketing Agency Opens New Office — Baltimore-based Jellyfish has opened a new office at RTC West (12120 Sunset Hills Road). The office will house more than 20 employees and serves as the development and technology hub for the agency. Five job openings are available. [Jellyfish]

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Del. Ken Plum: Virginia’s Reputation as Gun-Running State Continues

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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Tuesday Morning Notes

Lake Thoreau - Feb. 7, 2017

Coloring Book Tackles Topic of Divorce — Debbie MacDougall, of Reston, is currently going through a lengthy legal process related to her divorce. She has published “Divorce: The Comic Coloring Book” in the attempt to help others who may be going through a similar time in their lives. [Washington Post]

Schools Looking for Bus Drivers — Fairfax County Public Schools is seeking qualified applicants to drive the district’s buses. Starting pay is $18.82 an hour, with the potential to earn up to $31 an hour. A pair of job fairs are planned for next month. [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Automatic Concealed-Carry Bill Up for Vote — Legislation that would make domestic violence victims who have taken out protective orders automatically eligible to carry a concealed weapon is set for final approval in Richmond. Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a similar bill last year. [WTOP]

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Sen. Howell Bill Asks for Child Warning Label on Handguns

Janet Howell/Courtesy office of Janet HowellAs lawmakers across Virginia head to Richmond for next week’s start of the 2017 General Assembly session, one local representative is looking for a warning on handguns.

SB 893, being proposed by Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax), was officially filed for consideration Dec. 20. It would make it “unlawful for any licensed manufacturer, licensed importer or licensed dealer to sell, deliver or transfer any handgun to any person… unless the handgun is accompanied by a warning, in conspicuous and legible type in capital letters printed on a label affixed to the gun and on a separate sheet of paper included within the packaging enclosing the handgun, that handguns should be locked and kept away from children…”

The only exception in the bill is for firearms that are “accompanied by a locking mechanism,” though it also allows leeway for law enforcement and governmental agencies.

Howell and Del. Ken Plum (D-Reston) co-hosted their annual Town Hall with locals Dec. 19, in an effort to hear citizens’ thoughts on issues they and other Virginia lawmakers are proposing. Among the issues discussed at the forum were rights for same-sex couples and former felons, and punishment for marijuana offenses.

This year’s 30-day session is scheduled to begin Wednesday, Jan. 11.

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Sad Reminder: Fairfax County Offering Tips to Stay Safe in an Active Shooting

After two mass shootings in the last week, Fairfax County Government has embarked on a public awareness campaign on what to do if you are part of a mass shooting situation.

On Wednesday, 14 people were killed and many more injured when two shooters — a husband and wife —  opened fire in a county government building in San Bernardino, Calif. Last Friday, three people, including a police officer, were killed in a shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo.

San Bernardino was the 355th mass shooting this year, says The Washington Post.

“Just like in any other emergency situation, the best thing you can do is to be prepared with information on what to do next,” says Fairfax County materials.

“Whether it’s an incident like Wednesday’s shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., or you are in the checkout line at the mall or drafting an email in your cubicle — what would you do if you heard gun shots and realized an active shooter was nearby?”

FCPD says remember the words “Run/Hide/Fight” to get you through.

Run:

If there is an escape route, attempt to evacuate.
Leave your belongings behind.
Follow instructions of responding emergency personnel.

Hide:

Hide in an area out of the active shooter’s view.
Block entry to your hiding place and lock the doors.
Send a text message to 9-1-1 if you’re able, but ensure your safety first.

Fight:

As a last resort and only when life is in imminent danger.
Attempt to incapacitate the active shooter.
Act with physical aggression and throw items at the active shooter.

Police also say when calling 911, here is info to provide:

  • Location of the active shooter.
  • Number of shooters.
  • Physical description of shooters.
  • Number and type of weapons shooter has.
  • Number of potential victims at location.

When You Are in a Safe Place:

  • Remain calm and follow instructions.
  • Raise hands and spread fingers.
  • Keep hands visible at all times.
  • Avoid making quick movements toward officers such as attempting to hold on to them for safety.
  • Avoid pointing, screaming and/or yelling.

See more Run/Hide/Fight resources on Fairfax County Government’s website.

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