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Plum, Part of ‘Loyal Minority,’ Presses On In Virginia House

Sen. Janet Howell and Del. Ken Plum talk to citizens at Reston Community Center

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.

“The opposition comes from the rural parts of state,” said Plum. “Those areas oriented to Tea Party-type folks. The success of Medicaid expansion is going to rely on the governor’s ability to strike a deal. There is going to have to be a trade-off. I am not clear how that is going to happen, but I am hopeful.”

One citizen suggested that McAuliffe should use executive order on the Medicaid issues.”

“Albert Einstein said said the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and expecting a different result,” he said. “The demographics of the legislature is such that any bills Democrats put in are not gonna get passed. Now we have a Democratic governor. He should use executive order. I think he can use it on Medicaid expansion. A judge might say no, but at least we tried.”

* Gun laws. Plum has introduced legislation again to close the gun show loophole (in which gun buyers are able to bypass a background check).

“Each year, thousands of gun buyers who cannot get through checks,” said Plum. “We [check] about 40 percent. What would happen if we did 100 percent? We will go in there and make our effort again.”

* Mental Health. Both Plum and Howell are passionate about expanding mental health services in Virginia.  Plum points out that $50 million was added to the commonwealth’s budget in the wake of the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech. Soon after, though, $42 million was cut. Still, McDonnell has pledged nearly that amount in his outgoing budget, say Plum.

The recent shooting of Virginia state senator Creigh Deeds by his son, who was in a mental health crisis and committed suicide at the scene, has brought to light again the need for services here.

“The Deeds matter will bring attention,” said Plum. “We have got to get serious and stay serious. It’s not easy. We have got people who need treatment.”

* Same-sex marriage. Both Plum and Howell are backing bills to repeal the 2006 Virginia Constitutional Amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. A citizen asked Howell for her definition of marriage.

“I believe marriage is a religious concept,” said Howell. “The state should be involved in legitimizing relationships between people. Any religion can define it as they want and encrouage members to follow doctrines. But from the point of view of government, was should not be prohibiting relationships. I think the people of Virginia may be ready. Many people who voted [for the amendment] in 2006 regret it, I think. I opposed this in the first place and I still oppose it.”

To search for all legislation proposed for the 2014 General Assembly Session, visit the Virginia Legislative Information website.

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Guns, Gifts, Gay Marriage Bills In Store for 2014 Virginia General Assembly

Virginia State Capitol, RichmondSeveral hot-button issues will be on the docket when the Virginia General Assembly convenes next week for the 2014 session in Richmond.

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 98Outlawing 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 21Guns 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 8Decreasing 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.

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