The 2017 Virginia General Assembly convenes today at noon in Richmond, but 11th-hour elections had some legislators up late last night.
Two Virginia Senate seats were up for vote in a special election Tuesday, along with one House seat. Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) of Reston had a close eye on the races in her chamber, as a Democratic sweep would have put her in position to take the reins of the Finance Committee.
In the 9th District, representing the Richmond area, Democratic candidate Jennifer McClellan took an easy victory over a third-party opponent. But in the 22nd District, representing the Lynchburg area, Republican Mark Peake won by a large margin over Democratic candidate Ryant Washington. Both seats had been vacated by former state senators who were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
The results keep the Republicans in a 21-19 advantage in the Senate. A 20-20 split would have effectively given control to the Democratic Party, as the lieutenant governor, Democrat Ralph Northam, has tiebreaker control.
“It is disappointing but not at all surprising that the Republican won in an overwhelmingly Republican district,” Howell told Reston Now when asked for comment on the 22nd District result. “Sadly, we lost an opportunity to bring our Democratic values to the state Senate.”
Howell says she is concerned about cuts to education, services for the disabled, drug treatment programs and more that may come as the state faces a $1.5 billion budget shortfall that must be made up during the 46-day session.
“I will continue to fight for funding our Northern Virginia priorities in the Finance Committee,” she said.
[On Monday], we all lost a great visionary, Reston lost its founder, and I lost a dear friend. Robert E. Simon died peacefully at his home in Reston at age 101.
Bob changed the way we view community in America when he created the Reston community over 50 years ago. Risking his fortune, he purchased land in then rural countryside of Virginia. He then proceeded to develop a community unlike any other in our country.
Reston was to be open and welcoming to all, regardless of race or economic status. In an era of Jim Crow and still segregated schools, that was unheard of. His community was to be “planned” and mix housing, businesses, and vast acres of untouched land around village centers where people could mingle and support small local shops. Respect for nature was central to his plan.
It was to be anti-suburbia, suburbia.
Not surprisingly, Reston and Robert E. Simon were way ahead of their time. The venture hit bad economic times and he was forced out. For almost two decades he left his community. But we continued to grow.
I met Bob at Reston’s 20th Anniversary. I was president of the Reston Community Association and we threw a big celebration with a parade, festival on Lake Anne and cultural events. Bob and I really hit it off and he was so happy to be back for a short while. I clearly remember riding in a convertible with him in the parade and dancing the Charleston with him on Lake Anne.
Soon after he asked me if I thought it would be alright for him to move back to Reston. He wasn’t sure it would be appropriate! I told him we needed him and we as a community were beginning to drift, losing sight of his goals.
Soon he was back here helping us all define what Reston needed. Bob was full of ideas. His biggest concern was providing for children and having Reston guide them to bright futures. He became deeply involved in planning Town Center, preserving Lake Anne, and guiding Reston Association.
He was constantly involved, constantly pursuing his goals, and constantly nagging us in a kind but persistent way to do better.
And, when he came back, he met Cheryl whom he loved and married over ten years ago. Cheryl Terio-Simon made it possible for him to continue to pursue his dreams.
I am so glad he lived to see Reston’s 50th Birthday. He was so proud. He also delighted in the children who would come to meet him. He never turned down a child’s request.
For the past two decades I have been part of a small social club that meets monthly for dinner and serious discussions. Bob was part of that group. He rarely missed a meeting and asked thought provoking questions.
On my deck in mid-August, he was himself — totally engaged and thinking of the future, especially the future of Reston. The only hint that he was not totally well was that he had only one martini, not his customary two.
Robert E. Simon taught us how to live, to achieve, and to dream.
The signature filing deadline for the election was March 9. No Republican challenger has filed to oppose Howell in the Nov. 3 general election.
Howell has represented Virginia’s 32nd District in Richmond since 1992.
Howell said in an email to constitutes that over the last few months, she considered not running as the climate for Northern Virginia Democrats can be a struggle in the Republican-led General Assembly.
“Things are rough and often ugly in Richmond,” she wrote. “We progressives are in a constant struggle with the overwhelmingly far right House of Delegates. Developing friendships or even working relationships across party and regional lines seems to be getting harder and harder. ”
“Yet, I can’t quit now!,” said Howell. “I really love fighting for our values. We can’t stop working for a Virginia that cares for all its people and treats everyone fairly. I want to be on the front lines of this struggle. It may not be for everyone, but there is no better place for me than the Senate of Virginia.”
Howell used the word “outrage” often in her message.
“I am often motivated by outrage,” she said. “I am outraged that a state as wealthy as Virginia is near the bottom in funding programs that help persons in need. I am outraged that we have not expanded Medicaid to provide healthcare for about 400,000 mostly working, adult neighbors. We’ve paid for it! I am outraged that Virginia seriously lags other states in what we are doing to protect our environment and forestall climate change. I am outraged that women’s reproductive rights are constantly being whittled away. And, I am outraged that despite loud breast beating about the importance of education, we do very little to fund it.”
Howell’s interested in the senate the last few years have been preventing domestic violence; mental health coverage; GLBT issues; education; the state retirement system; transportation, particularly Metro’s Silver Line; voting district; and the state budget.
“Working with Governor McAuliffe, encouraging job growth and economic development will be my top priority,” she said. “Equally important will be investing in our people. I will put education at all levels from birth through graduate school first. We will put programs to assist those in need high on our list. Virginia must not continue near the bottom of states on indicators of human services. We will do this in a fiscally responsible way, but we will do it!”
Janet Howell/file photo
“Gun safety measures were defeated in close, almost party line, votes,” Howell said about last week in the current Virginia General Assembly in an email to constituents.
“Sadly, we continue to go backwards on reasonable gun safety measures. Closing the gun show loophole was defeated. My bill prohibiting the possession of firearms by those charged with family violence failed. Also defeated was reinstating the ‘one gun a month’ limit on gun purchases.”
“When in effect, that limitation had effectively stopped Virginia from being the gun running capital of the East Coast. A bill to allow guns on school property passed through committee. Another bill to let concealed weapons permit holders purchase lifetime permits also passed through committee. It is still possible that some of the reckless bills may be defeated during the legislative process. It is not possible that the reasonable gun safety bills (that are supported by almost 90 percent of voters) will pass.”
Howell was the chief patron on SB 909, which prohibits a person who is subject to a protective order from possessing a firearm. Under currently laws, such person is only prohibited from purchasing or transporting a firearm and such conduct is punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor.
The bill was defeated 10-4 in the Courts of Justice Committee on Jan. 26.
Said Howell: “During the debate on the gun bills we consistently heard testimony from the NRA and Citizens Defense League on one side and, on the other side, State Police, local police, Commonwealth Attorneys, police benevolent societies, victims groups, Chiefs of Police, and — poignantly — family members of victims of gun violence. Needless to say, the NRA and CDL always prevailed.” (more…)
State Sen. Janet Howell (D-Reston), calls the state’s budget outlook “bleak” while praising Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s proposed budget, which closes the projected shortfall through a series of tax changes and spending cuts.
However, Howell and other area Democrats say the budget doesn’t go far enough in improving the state’s K-12 education system.
“Fortunately, the Governor’s budget closes the budget gap. His budget is balanced,” Howell said in a newsletter to her constituents. “What we do not have, however, is any real ability to make investments in public education, higher education, human services, or workforce development.
“Direct aid to public education has been spared additional state cuts,” she continued. “However, unless we have a sudden, unexpected upswing in our economy, we will have to jettison a proposed and deserved salary increase. For context, in terms of per pupil general funds for public education, by FY 2016 we will be just back to FY 2008 levels on a statewide basis.”
Over the summer, McAuliffe announced Virginia was projected to have a $2.4 billion budget shortfall over the next two years. Much of that deficit, Howell said at a recent Arlington Democrats meeting, can be traced back to cuts from the federal budget sequestration and the layoffs at government contractors it prompted.
Additional revenue growth has since reduced the deficit, and cuts to the state prison system and elsewhere have saved millions. Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) says the closing of tax loopholes for some corporations — most notably coal producers — are necessary to even preserve the current level of education funding.
“There are a lot of companies in Virginia that don’t pay any taxes,” Hope told ARLnow.com. “We’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars that Virginia gives out every year to companies for job creation, and research is coming out that that’s not happening today. We need to take a hard look at what those tax credits are, and if they’re not doing what the intended purposes are, we need to pull it back.”
Hope said a state yacht tax credit should also be stripped — “I can’t look my voters in the eye if I vote for a budget” that includes that tax credit, he said — but said that the budget should become more ambitious in terms of education spending. Funding K-12 education millions of dollars less than before the recession, without accounting for inflation, isn’t enough, he said.
“There’s no reason why spending shouldn’t go in the opposite direction,” he said. “We are out of the recession now, it’s time to fill those holes back up.”
Although some form of a balanced budget is expected to pass — which may include cuts to education, according to Hope, if the Republican-controlled General Assembly balks at the loophole cuts — Howell said the realities of the budget situation don’t figure to change anytime soon, especially after the sequester’s cuts to federal defense spending.
“Growth has halted or declined in the good-paying ($77k+/year) jobs in the ‘business and professional services’ categories. Instead, we are seeing more growth in lower-paying jobs, such as health, leisure and hospitality ($45k/year on average),” Howell wrote. “Unfortunately, no one believes this situation is a temporary one.”
This is a chance for Restonians to tell their state representatives what issues matter to them prior to the 2015 Virginia General Assembly session. The 45-day session begins Jan. 14 in Richmond.
Plum is a co-sponsor on several bills this session. Among them:
HB 1288 and 1289 Same-sex marriages; civil unions. Repeals the statutory prohibitions on same-sex marriages and civil unions or other arrangements between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges and obligations of marriage. The bill does not affect the prohibition on these relationships contained in Article I, Section 15-A of the Constitution of Virginia.
HB 1343 Campus police departments; sexual assault reporting. Requires that mutual aid agreements between campus police force and law-enforcement agencies contain provisions requiring either the campus police force or an agency with which it has established a mutual aid agreement to notify the local attorney for the Commonwealth of any investigation involving felony criminal sexual assault occurring on property owned or controlled by the institution of higher education within 48 hours of beginning such investigation.
HJ 493, SJ 214 Constitutional amendment (first resolution); marriage. Proposes the repeal of the constitutional amendment dealing with marriage that was approved by referendum at the November 2006 election.
Howell is the chief patron on several bills. Among them:
SB 677 Elections; absentee voting; no-excuse, in-person. Allows qualified voters to vote absentee in person without providing an excuse for not being able to vote in person on election day. The bill retains the statutory list of specific reasons allowing a voter to cast an absentee ballot by mail.
SB 679 Adoption; person other than spouse of birth or adoptive parent may adopt child. Provides that a person other than the spouse of a parent may adopt a child if the child has only one parent, the adoption would not terminate the parental rights of the parent, and the parent joins in the petition for the purpose of indicating his consent.
SB 734 Higher education; reporting of sexual assault; penalty. Requires any administrator or professor employed by a public institution of higher education who through the course of his employment obtains information alleging that a criminal sexual assault has occurred to report within 24 hours such information to law enforcement. The bill provides that a person in violation of the reporting requirement is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
SJ 213 Constitutional amendment (first resolution); marriage. Proposes the repeal of the constitutional amendment dealing with marriage that was approved by referendum at the November 2006 election.
Del. Ken Plum knows what he is in for every General Assembly session.
Plum, a Democrat who has represented Reston in the Virginia House of Delegates since 1982, introduces legislation annually on topics he feels strongly about, including gun control, expanding Medicaid and repealing Virginia’s Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage.
Every year, his bills generally gain no traction in the Republican-led Virginia house. But he will keep trying.
“We know who is going to be in control in the house,” he said at a Town Hall meeting at Reston Community Center on Thursday. “Unfortunately, I am part of the the loyal minority.
Plum and Sen. Janet Howell (D-Reston) held their annual pre-session public meeting to talk about the 2014 General Assembly session, which begins Wednesday, and hear from residents about which issues are important to them. Both legislators are optimistic that some of their proposed legislation may go farther this year under Democratic governor-elect Terry McAullife.
Two special elections will be held later this month to fill vacant state Senate seats. Should Democrats win, the Senate will be evenly divided. At stake seats of Lt. Gov.-elect Ralph Northam in the (D-Virginia Beach) on Tuesday and Attorney General-elect Mark Herring in the (D-Loudoun County) on Jan. 21. The present Senate lineup is 20 Republicans, 18 Democrats, and the two vacancies.
Some of the top topics at the Reston meeting:
* Ethics. Current governor Bob McDonnell (R) is leaving office under the cloud of an ethics scandal for receiving excessive gifts. Howell has been asked to chair a committee dealing with ethics. Plum will also serve on an ethics committee.
“We have to beef it up in Virginia,” she said. It is not sufficient. We have found out the hard way you just can’t trust people.”
* Medicaid Expansion. McAuliffe is in favor of expanding Medicaid coverage to 400,000 Virginians who need it. Most Republicans remain opposed.
Some of the top topics: Abortion, gay marriage and guns.
Sen. Janet Howell, (D-Reston) who has represented the 32nd District since 1992, has co-sponsored Senate Joint Resolution (SJ) 5, which proposes the repeal on the Virginia constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
There are three other bills that seek to do the same thing: SJ 1, HJ 3 and HJ 11.
The constitutional amendment was approved in a 2006 referendum.
State government watchers say it is unlikely the resolutions will gain much traction because the General Assembly must vote twice over a two-year calendar on proposed changes to the Constitution. That way, voters get a first say on the Assembly’s action – if they don’t like the change they can vote supporters out, explains the Daily Press.
The usual pattern is for the Assembly to vote for the first time on a Constitutional amendment the second year after an election; followed by a second vote in the first year after the next election. If a proposed amendment gets its two election-separated General Assembly votes of approval, it then goes to voters as a ballot question. Then the voters must approve before the amendment becomes part of the Constitution.
Other legislation to watch:
HB 98 — Outlawing abortion based on sex selection. This bill, introduced by conservative Republican Robert Marshall of Prince William County, says that a person who performs an abortion with knowledge that the abortion is sought solely and exclusively on account of the sex of the unborn child is guilty of a Class 4 felony. The bill also requires that the information that must be provided to a woman seeking an abortion prior to obtaining her informed written consent to the procedure include a statement that the physician would be committing a criminal offense if he performs an abortion solely on account of the sex of the unborn child. Marshall is also the sponsor of HB 20, which says no insurance plan of the Commonwealth or a locality shall provide contraceptive coverage.
HB 21 — Guns at school. Also introduced by Marshall, this bill would require every school board in the Commonwealth to designate at least one qualified person for every school in the district who may carry a concealed handgun on school property. The bill requires all designated persons, including certain school division employees, certain school volunteers who carry valid concealed handgun permits, and certain retired law-enforcement officers, to be certified and trained by the Virginia Center for School Safety or the National Rifle Association in the storage, use, and handling of a concealed handgun.
HB 8 — Decreasing fees for gun permits. Decreases the local law-enforcement background investigation fee from $35 to $10, which includes any amount assessed by the FBI for providing criminal history record information. The total amount assessed for processing an application for a permit is thereby decreased from $50 to $25.
HB 204 — Limits on gifts. This bill would limit the amount of gifts local and state legislators could accept and would require all to report gifts in a centralized database. This bill, sponsored by Rob Krupicka (D-45th), was created in the wake of the scandal clouding outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell, who allegedly accepted more than $150,000 in wedding catering, clothing, and other items from Star Scientific founder Jonnie Williams.
Howell is also sponsoring a bill that would allow registered voters to vote absentee without having to state a reason and another bill that would create a find to aid victims of sexual and domestic violence. She is co-sponsoring a bill that would make the children who have lived in Virginia and attended school here for at least three years eligible for in-state college tuition, regardless of immigration status or parents’ immigration status.
On the House side, Ken Plum (D-Reston), the longest-serving Virginia house member (32 years), is co-sponsor of the absentee voting bill. He is also a co-patron of HB4, which would repeal the $64 hybrid vehicle tax that went into effect on July 1, 2013.
Howell and Plum will hold their annual pre-session public hearing on Thursday, Jan. 2 at 7:30 p.m. at Reston Community Center Hunters Woods.
Is there something you would like addressed in the Virginia General Assembly this year? Your local Virginia General Assembly members want to know.
There are several opportunities to speak with Del, Ken Plum (D-Reston) and Sen. Janet Howell (D-Reston) before they head to Richmond for the 2014 legislative session, which begins in Jan. 8.
Howell and Plum are hosting a public meeting in Thursday, Jan. 2, 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. at the Reston Community Center at Hunters Woods, 2310 Colts Neck Road, Reston.
Additionally, the entire Fairfax County General Assembly delegation will be at at hearing for public comment on Saturday, Jan. 4, at 9 a.m. at the Fairfax County Government Center. The public is invited to attend and comment.
The Reston meeting will be a very casual format, but organizers of the countywide meeting ask that you register in advance if you want to speak. To sign up contact the Office of the Clerk to the Board of Supervisors at 703-324-3151, TTY 711, by noon on Friday, Jan. 3. Speakers also may sign up at the hearing.
Photo of Sen. Janet Howell courtesy of office of Janet Howell