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Del. Ken Plum: About Time for the ERA

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 proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) designed to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex has had a long and tortuous history. With the almost daily unfolding stories of abuse of women from lower pay, discrimination in employment, physical and mental abuse and other degradation, it has become obvious that it is about time for the ERA.

Alice Paul of the women’s suffragist movement is credited with writing the first draft of the ERA that was introduced in Congress in 1921. An amendment for submission to the states for ratification as required by Article V of the Constitution did not pass both houses of Congress until 1972 with a deadline of March 22, 1979 for the states to act. That deadline has been extended twice as the required 38 state ratification has never been met.

Currently 37 states have ratified the ERA although several states have sought under questionable legality to rescind their ratification. Both houses of the Virginia General Assembly have never ratified the ERA, but the State Senate has ratified it in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2016. The Senate resolutions were never reported from the House Privileges and Elections Committee nor were resolutions introduced by House members ever reported from committee. I have been a supporter of the ERA during my entire tenure in the House of Delegates and co-patron of resolutions to ratify it; I have never had an opportunity to vote on it because the conservative House Privileges and Elections Committee has never had enough favorable votes to report it to the floor.

I am hopeful that the Virginia legislature will step up to be the state to finally ratify the ERA. Even with a favorable vote there are certain to be court challenges to the ratification because of the missed deadlines and because of efforts by some states to rescind their earlier ratifications. Even with these challenges the Virginia General Assembly should take action. The outcome of the 2016 state elections with the increased number of women in the House of Delegates should be enough to nudge Virginia forward. The phenomenal increase in activity by women in various political organizations in Virginia will send a signal to candidates for the House of Delegates in 2019 that they need to support the ERA.

The arguments of the past that women would be drafted into the armed services if the amendment was ratified no longer seem legitimate with women already providing outstanding service in the military. The high-profile stories of women being harassed and abused in work and social situations provide support for the ERA being part of the Constitution.

Virginia’s declaration of rights drafted by George Mason became the model for the Bill of Rights of our federal Constitution. Just as Virginia led in the fight to enumerate our rights, the Virginia General Assembly can lead again albeit a little tardy by being the final state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. It’s about time!

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Del. Ken Plum: De-Gerrymandering Continued

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.

Sorry, but this is yet another column on the continuing effort to de-gerrymander House of Delegates districts in Virginia as directed by the federal courts. In this instance, it was the Republican Party who in the majority after the 2010 census drew district lines that were designed to keep them in the majority until the next census in 2020 when lines must be drawn again. They ran into trouble when to dilute the votes of African Americans who traditionally vote Democratic they packed them into eleven districts in the Richmond and Hampton Roads regions. A panel of federal judges found the practice violated the constitutional rights of the individuals involved and ordered the districts to be redrawn. The Governor called the General Assembly into special session last week to carry out the court’s directive. The legislature went home without success after one day of effort.

Why is the Republican majority failing to do as the court directed? The reason is quite simple. If it took an unconstitutional drawing of district lines to maintain their majority in the House of Delegates, an undoing of those lines would likely take away their majority. Is the court favoring Democrats in what they are doing? No, the court is protecting the constitutional rights of individuals. The court does not take into account partisan outcomes. You simply cannot deny equal representation in the legislature of a class of people without running afoul of their constitutional protections.

When the court found Virginia’s Congressional districts to be unconstitutional several years ago, the remedy of that situation was new districts that resulted in the election of an additional African American congressman from the state that up to that point had only one. Both happen also to be Democrats.

The court has denied an appeal from the Republicans of their directive to resolve the unconstitutional districts. If the General Assembly fails to carry out the court’s mandate, the court will redraw the districts themselves. Presumably there would be special elections held right away in the new districts.

In the meantime, House Democrats have proposed a redrawing of the legislative lines to make the districts constitutional which unsurprisingly could result in the election of as many as five new Democrats. The authors of the new maps insist that they did what needed to be done to follow the court’s directive and not what would give them more seats. The day of the special session was spent with the Republicans picking apart the proposed map in an attempt to show that it was too partisan.

Republicans called the map hypocritical, and one of my Democratic colleagues, Delegate Steve Heretick, called it a “self-serving political power grab.” I draw two conclusions from the last several months: The court needs to take immediate remedial action to correct the constitutional problems with the current districts, and the General Assembly at its next legislative session must pass a constitutional amendment establishing a truly independent commission to do redistricting. The amendment would need to pass a second session of the General Assembly and a referendum of the people. Legislative bodies simply cannot rise above their own self-interests to do the job fairly.

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Del. Ken Plum: Back to School

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

Last week I had the opportunity to visit one of my grandsons’ school, and I was genuinely impressed. Parents were invited to come by last week to meet the teachers because his school started on August 15. It was one of the friendliest environments I have experienced–smiles everywhere, genuinely warm greetings for all, and an obvious feeling of caring for all children and parents and grandparents coming into the school. My grandson was clearly eager to get back to school and to see his teachers. He has some special needs that require additional understanding and assistance, and he is clearly getting it in his school setting.

The teachers and administrators wore the school’s special tee shirt and were giving high-fives all around. As one who taught in the classroom for several years, many old memories came back to me. I remember the need to always be “on” in the school day for students who needed help or attention. In most careers we can coast on a bad day and make up for it later; not so with teaching. You are always the center of attention and must be appropriately responsive to student needs whenever they occur. Students can learn as much about life from your body language and attitude as they can from the subject you are teaching them.

While teachers are assigned a grade level or a subject area, ultimately teachers are teaching children more than just content. I am convinced my son who teaches students in automotive technology is teaching as much about attitude, work habits, developing confidence and being a good citizen as he is about an automobile. Our daughter who teaches multiply challenged children at the elementary level is demonstrating for parents, the school, and the community the inherent value and potential for every student regardless of the challenges they might face. My wife who was a preschool teacher and director demonstrated how important it is that young children get off to a good start and is now teaching other teachers to do the same.

Increasingly school divisions are getting an exception to the “Kings Dominion Law” requiring that schools begin after Labor Day. Fairfax County Public Schools is one district now starting before Labor Day. I have always opposed the current law and have voted to repeal it many times. A bill carried over from the past session for further consideration would leave the decision of the starting date for schools up to the local school division based on the unique circumstances of the community.

The legislature can do much more to support the education of our children than dabble in the starting date for schools. Pay for Virginia teachers lags below the national average by about $4,000. Clearly, teachers do not stay in the profession for the money, but they should not have to suffer with low pay because they chose to educate our children. At least in the community, we can express appreciation and offer our thank you to our teachers for the important work they do!

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Del. Ken Plum: Old Dogs and New Tricks

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.

Regardless of the old adage, it is possible to teach old dogs new tricks. In fact, if old dogs are to survive in a modern world characterized by rapid change they must adopt many new tricks of survival and adaptation. Those who do not are headed to the scrap pile of history to serve as examples for those who follow.

As I have mentioned in this column many times, the forerunner of the Virginia General Assembly met first in 1619 making it the oldest continuous legislative body in this hemisphere. Sometimes our current General Assembly meets serious challenges as the leader in change for the good, but too often it acts as a barrier to change that was needed.

I was reminded of this in my recent attendance at the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). NCSL describes the states as the laboratories of democracy where different histories, culture, and geography define each of the 50 states with similar challenges for which various approaches to governance are tried. As I explained last week, we can learn a great deal from each other as we meet together. I will share several examples that I think make my point.

All states are struggling with making higher education more accessible, affordable and relevant. Most state higher education systems are based on models that date back centuries. Most agree that those models are not meeting the needs of the students of today. I attended a session at NCSL where the president of the University of Arizona spoke on the changes he has brought about at his school in increasing enrollment, raising the graduation rate, reducing student debt, and increasing research dollars all while decreasing the per student costs.

His story is a very impressive one that can be most easily explained by his setting aside the usual model of university organization and operation and the adoption of an enterprise model that combines good educational policies with successful business practices. We need to take a hard look at adopting some of these successful practices in Virginia.

The conference was in California that is suffering through historically high temperatures, a very serious drought and wildfires that are devouring thousands of acres. My cell phone was set to alert me of happenings back home in Virginia. I got regular alerts of heavy rains, lightning, flash flooding and road closures. It is obvious that the federal government is not going to provide leadership on climate change that is at the root of these issues, and the states must take on the responsibility.

A final example of the need for the old dogs of state legislatures to step up and provide leadership is in juvenile justice reform. We must reduce the classroom to prison pipeline by intervening early with young people in need of services and assistance to keep kids out of prisons that increase rather than resolve their problems. It is less expensive and more humane. Virginia is doing a much better job in this area, but I was also impressed with what I heard is going on in Kentucky and California.

Old and new legislative leaders must learn new solutions!

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Friday Morning Notes

Serving the Walker Nature Center — The center has several open volunteer opportunities in July. Volunteers can sign up online. [Volunteer Reston]

The little mermaid — Tickets for the performance of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” are on sale ahead of the July performance. [Herndon Drama]

Stateside: New laws begin July 1 — New state laws going into effect on Sunday would create a program for abducted adults, prohibit lunch shaming and more. [NBC4]

Flickr pool photo by vantagehill

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Del. Ken Plum: Taking the Summer Off

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.

As a teacher for a few years I was often chided by friends as having a “cushy” job getting all summer off from work. Other teachers get the same reaction from those who know little about the profession and certainly have no experience being in the classroom. In many jobs if you are having an off day, not feeling well, or just need a break it is possible to let some of the requirements of work slide until the next day.

Not so with teaching: every day in the classroom you have to be on–ready to face eager students and the challenges and opportunities they present. I continue to be impressed by teachers who can be enthusiastic and understanding early in the morning through afternoon five days a week from fall through spring. That’s why that summer break is so important.

And furthermore, you need the summer to take that additional course or workshop for updating your credentials, work that second or third job to balance the family budget, or recharge your mental and emotional batteries. For anyone with a different opinion about the challenges teachers face, visit some classrooms or better still teach for a while or substitute. You will soon learn why teachers are among the people I most admire.

My current “job” of being a legislator may get the same reaction from some who are not aware that the regular session of a couple of months of time spent in the State Capitol is just part of the job. Members of the General Assembly are considered citizen legislators with other responsibilities and are paid as part-time workers. Actually, the position can take as much time as a legislator can devote to it and the voters are willing to tolerate. Having retired from my full-time job in 1996 I happily devote full time to my legislative duties. Every two years I have to reapply to voters to keep my job, and with a two-year term some time every other year is devoted to campaigning.

During every year there are study committees and commissions that meet when the legislature is not in session. This week I participated in a meeting of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) of which I am a member. We provide oversight to the operation of state government including financial and management audit, reviews of the performance of state agencies and conducting studies on topics as requested by the legislature. I also serve on the Joint Commission on Technology and Science (JCOTS) that has meetings in the interim to consider future legislation and emerging science and technology issues. There are many other groups that work between legislative sessions.

Having a break for the summer from going to work as a teacher, legislator or other worker does not mean you are not working. We all need some mini-vacation times of long weekends or a real vacation to recharge our mental batteries. We can do a better job as a result.

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Del. Ken Plum to Hold State of the Commonwealth Breakfast

State Del. Ken Plum will hold his annual “State of the Commonwealth” breakfast on Wednesday, June 27.

Plum will provide an update on the latest state news at Hidden Creek Country Club (1711 Clubhouse Road) from 8-9 a.m.

The event is also designed to fundraise for Plum’s campaign. Tickets are available online and range from $35 to $1,000.

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Del. Ken Plum: One More Time

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.

Reading another column about the failure of the Virginia General Assembly to expand Medicaid may be as painful for you to read as it is for me to write. I know I have been predicting for months that a biennial budget would be passed for the Commonwealth and that it would include an expansion of health care coverage for those who are not now eligible for Medicaid. Nervously I stand by that prediction. Even the Majority Leader of the Senate whose members have been holding up the budget in opposition to Medicaid expansion has been quoted in news accounts that a budget will be passed and that it will include Medicaid expansion. So, what is the problem? And as many constituents ask me, what is the hold up?

Historically, biennial budgets for the state have passed by near-unanimous numbers. Not everyone has agreed with every number or every provision of the budget; the document is always a bundle of compromises that satisfies as many people as possible when there are always strict limitations on resources. Ironically, the addition of an expanded Medicaid budget brings hundreds of million dollars to the budget and frees up hundreds of millions of dollars that can be used for education and other needs.

By not adopting an expanded program of Medicaid, Virginia has foregone about ten billion dollars of federal money that required no state match. The funds coming to Virginia would not add to the national debt because of the tax funding included in the Affordable Care Act to support the program.

But I have explained the economics of the program in many past columns. It is a good deal for the state and a wonderful expansion of health care to those who are most in need. What is the hold up? Many of you have already figured out that it is the politics of the issue. For many years it was opposition to anything that had to do with Obamacare.

The former President has gone on to another career, but there have been many unsuccessful attempts in the Congress to undo his legacy as it relates to health care. For those who were part of the opposition to the expansion for many years there may be a problem pivoting to supporting it even if there are thousands of constituents who would benefit in better health care from it. For an even more conservative constituent waiting in the wings to challenge the legislator in a primary there is an opportunity to accuse the incumbent of flip-flopping on the issue.

House of Delegates members had a “refreshing” meeting with their voters last November. Some of the strongest incumbent opponents to Medicaid expansion lost their seats. A majority of the newly elected House voted weeks ago to pass the budget with Medicaid expansion in it. A majority of senators support it and should be allowed to vote. Those who do not can explain their position to voters in the next election cycle leading up to the election in November 2019. I hope I do not have to explain this one more time.

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Del. Ken Plum: Recognizing the Natives of Virginia

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.

The Commonwealth of Virginia made a significant step last week in setting the record straight on the settlement of the land area now known as Virginia by dedicating a memorial to the earliest Virginians on the grounds of the State Capitol in Richmond. Too often discussions about the settlement of Virginia start with English settlers landing at Jamestown in 1607. While that event is most important, it should not over-shadow the fact that indigenous people lived in the region for 12,000 to 17,000 years before that depending on the archeologists with whom you speak.

How they got here is also discussion as to whether it was a northern route through what is now Alaska or east from Europe. Their population at the time the English arrived is estimated to be about 50,000. They had a system of governance built around 30 tribes in a confederation under the Powhatan paramount chiefdom. They had a system of agriculture, held religious beliefs built around nature, and were good stewards of the environment.

During two periods of history Virginia Indians were almost obliterated. The English settlers brought diseases against which the indigenous people were not immune and superior weapons that killed or drove off the Indians. In 1924 with the passage of the Racial Integrity Act in Virginia, Indians were no longer recognized. That law made you either white or if you had one drop or more of “colored” blood you were non-white. Current day Virginia Indians have great difficulty tracing their lineage because of this law that did not recognize their ancestors.

After a couple decades of study and advocacy the federal government on January 29, 2018 officially recognized seven Indian tribes along with an additional four tribes that had been recognized by the state. Only two of the tribes, the Pamunkey and Mattaponi, have retained reservation lands assigned by treaties made with the colonists.

Last week Governor Ralph Northam led the ceremony on the grounds of the State Capitol dedicating Mantle, the Virginia Indian Tribute monument. The name Mantle is taken from the deerskin decorated with beads and shells that Chief Powhatan wore around his shoulders. The monument is like a labyrinth viewed by the many Indians as a sacred symbol. It is shaped like a nautilus, a growing symbol of strength. The area is naturally landscaped with a meditation area and infinity pool. Learn more at indiantribute.virginia.gov/monument.

The General Assembly held a successful Reconvened Session last week in which the Governor’s vetoes were sustained. The Special Session in which the General Assembly continues to work on a budget for the next two years has not adjourned. A budget that includes a plan for Medicaid expansion for persons who cannot afford health care is likely to be completed in the next couple of weeks. Significant progress is being made on a very important step for all Virginians.

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Del. Ken Plum: The Other Branch of Government

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.

Legislators who were in Richmond on April 13 for the Special Session to complete work on the biennial budget interrupted their work on April 18 for the Constitutionally required Reconvened Session commonly referred to as the “veto session.” In 1980 the State Constitution was amended to provide that on the sixth Wednesday after the adjournment of a regular session the General Assembly is to reconvene “for the purpose of considering bills which may have been returned by the Governor with recommendations for their amendment and bills and items of appropriation bills which may have been returned by the Governor with his objections.” Prior to the establishment of a reconvened session, a Governor could veto bills without concern that the vetoes would be over-ridden.

Governor Terry McAuliffe set a record with nearly a hundred vetoes all of which were sustained by the General Assembly even if by the narrowest margin. Governor Ralph Northam has exercised his veto powers on eight measures that are highly unlikely to be challenged with the almost even distribution of partisan representation in both the House and Senate. A two-thirds vote is required to pass legislation without the Governor’s approval. In the case of Governor McAuliffe and now Governor Northam, vetoes by the other branch of government–the executive branch–have kept the General Assembly from enacting some of the more divisive laws on social issues proposed by extremely conservative legislators.

Two of the bills Governor Northam vetoed related to voter registration records that would unnecessarily burden the registration and voting process under guise of preventing fraud and abuse. Virginia has not had a problem with voting irregularities; the state’s problem has been to get more people to vote since Virginia has among the lowest levels of participation in the nation. Efforts to make it easier to vote such as “no excuse” absentee voting have been defeated in the General Assembly.

The Governor vetoed three bills that would limit the powers of local government when the local governments are in the best position to know what would best serve the people of a locality. One bill would have prohibited local governments from requiring contractors to pay more than minimum wage for work for the locality and another would interfere on local governments establishing property tax rates for country clubs. A bill that would prohibit “sanctuary cities” of which there are none in Virginia was also vetoed.

The Governor vetoed a bill that would have prohibited state participation in adopting regulations on carbon dioxide cap-and-trade programs thereby limiting Virginia’s ability to deal with climate change. He also vetoed a bill that would have allowed legislators to change legislative district lines between the federal census dates.

In considering bills passed by the legislature, all of which must be signed by the Governor to become law, the Governor can propose amendments. Of the dozens of amendments proposed by Governor Northam, most are technical corrections in language passed in the fast pace of the legislative session.

After the likely one-day Reconvened Session is adjourned, the General Assembly will return to the Special Session to complete the budget. I believe there will be good news to report on the budget very soon!

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Del. Ken Plum: Special Session Scheduled

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.

Celebration of the first day of spring had to be delayed last week with a record-breaking spring snow fall. The unusually wet snow that clung to the trees and filled the branches of evergreens with a holiday-like cover was spectacular even with the inconveniences it brought with it. The earliest spring flowers have a way of surviving late season cold snaps and some snow. When the spring flowers emerge, they will be as beautiful as they always are even if a bit delayed.

Spring is not the only thing that is late this year. Completion of the state budget continues to be delayed, although a date has now been set for a special session; the special session will be held in the State Capitol on April 11. The immediate outcome of that session is predictable. The House and Senate will replace the budget that has been sent down by Governor Ralph Northam with the budgets each passed at the end of the regular session, each will reject the budget of the other, and we will send both budgets to a conference committee to resolve the differences.

The big spring snow of last week melted in a week to let spring emerge. It is difficult to envision the thaw that will happen to let a budget be adopted. The major difference is the Senate leadership’s refusal to agree to any form of Medicaid expansion regardless of facts or reason that are presented.

Recently The Commonwealth Institute found that Medicaid expansion in Virginia “would improve the lives of more than 118,000 women in the Commonwealth who are uninsured …Expanding Medicaid would not only save the state millions of dollars, it could save an invaluable number of women’s lives.” That is on top of the mound of evidence that has been presented already for the economic and quality of life advantages of Medicaid expansion.

More than 600 members of faith communities from throughout the Commonwealth have been advocating for the House version of the budget as it contains Medicaid expansion. Last week three former Republican members of the House of Delegates who among them have 60 years of combined experience in the legislature–Tom Rust, Joe May and Harvey Morgan–endorsed the House budget in a newspaper column: “The House budget proposal meets any common definition of conservative budgeting.

It is a Republican-led fiscal plan that makes responsible use of public resources. It funds core services and creates conditions for the private sector and general population to succeed and thrive, while limiting the reach and power of government…This is prudent budgeting in action. It deserves the support of every Virginian, officeholder or not, who professes to favor a responsible philosophy of government.” (Richmond Times Dispatch, March 21, 2018) I too support the House budget and am doing all I can to get it passed! It is a bipartisan effort.

If you would like to join the advocacy effort for Medicaid expansion, I invite you to go to virginiainterfaithcenter.organd look at the suggestions for your involvement. Act now to ensure that the legislature considers your position by April 11. In the meantime, enjoy the emerging spring!

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Del. Ken Plum: The Rest of the Session

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.

On March 26, Senator Janet Howell and I will meet with constituents at the Reston Community Center at Lake Anne from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. to discuss the outcome of the 2018 General Assembly session. No pre-registration is required. Come with your questions and suggestions or just come to listen to the discussion. While the biggest issue of passing a budget will not be resolved by that time, we will give you the insights we have going into the Special Session scheduled for April 11.

There were areas of slow but positive movement coming out of the regular session. The threshold limit for felony larceny was raised from $200 to $500. The lower amount was catching an unreasonably large number of young people in felony crimes for fairly minor offenses. The change was supported by all the faith and human rights communities with most favoring an even higher threshold amount of $1,000 to $1,500. The newer amount will mean fewer young people, particularly minorities, will face prison time for offenses that in most other states are considered lesser crimes.

Progress was made on reducing “the classroom to prison pipeline” whereby children with misbehaviors were sent into the judicial system for actions that are best handled in the schools as acts of juvenile misbehavior and not crimes. The number of suspensions that schools are permitted to make has been limited. Where such programs have been instituted with appropriate level of resources, the instances of misbehaviors go down and fewer children are incarcerated. Appropriate early intervention is a good investment to save money and to save futures of the young people involved.

It took Virginia until 1952 to ratify the amendment granting women the right to vote although by 1922 the amendment had sufficient states to approve it. The Equal Rights Amendment has yet to receive ratification by a sufficient number of states to add it to the Constitution, and once again the Virginia General Assembly refused to ratify it. A bill to exempt feminine products from the sales tax was defeated, but a bill to ensure that women prisoners were provided such products did pass.

Dozens of gun safety bills were defeated with minimal consideration as were bills to allow guns in places of worship. A bill to approve a “Stop Gun Violence” license plate for motor vehicles passed, and these plates will be available from the Division of Motor Vehicles later this year.

Numerous “dog and cat” regulatory bills were introduced as they are each year. A bill to outlaw tethering of dogs was defeated by legislators from the rural areas of the state.

An effort to outlaw the use of handheld devices while driving was unsuccessful because of a concern on the part of some delegates that such a law would simply provide police officers with an additional opportunity to profile drivers and to pull them over. I continue to support limitations on the use of handheld phones while driving.

And there were many more lesser bills. Check out the entire list at lis.virginia.gov or at pilotonline.com.

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Del. Ken Plum: Until Another Day

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.

The Virginia Constitution provides that in the even-numbered years the General Assembly is to meet in session for 60 days and in the odd-numbered years for 45 days. Either may be extended by half the number of days with a two-thirds vote by the membership. The reason for the longer session in even-numbered years was the additional responsibility of passing a biennial budget. Yet on Saturday, March 10, the General Assembly adjourned sine die (meaning with no appointed date for resumption) without having passed a budget for the next biennium!

The budget under which the Commonwealth is currently operating does not expire until June 30, 2018. The Governor is empowered to call a special session of the legislature, and he has indicated his expectation in the near future to call such a special session whose business would be limited to passage of a budget. Members of the House and Senate understood that would be the procedure to be followed when they voted to adjourn the regular session.

There is good news in all this procedural action to bring the legislature to an end for the year. The budgets of the two houses could not be reconciled by the constitutional deadline because of one great and meaningful difference: extending Medicaid to many more persons of limited income. The really good news is that Medicaid expansion is being discussed in a positive context, and I am certain it is going to take place in Virginia within the year.

A total of about 2500 bills and resolutions have been considered during the last 60 days. Of those, fewer than a thousand will make their way to the Governor for his signature. When duplicate bills are counted once, the total production of the General Assembly will be close to 500 new laws. While that small number may seem like limited production for such great effort, some of the bills introduced are really not good ideas. It is just as important that the legislature defeat bad bills as it is for the legislature to pass good bills.

This session was noteworthy for its lack of bills limiting women’s reproductive rights and bills that would discriminate against persons for their sexual orientation or identity. Much of that change can be attributed to the defeat of one incumbent delegate who specialized in such bills but also to the great number of defeats of incumbent legislators who voted for them.

There were 70 bills introduced relating to ending gun violence, and all were defeated in a six-person subcommittee. Recent public outrage over gun violence is likely to change that dynamic in the future. Good news for Metro was the passage of a bill to put Virginia’s contribution to the system on sound financial footing with a dedicated source of funding from the Commonwealth. Maryland and the District of Columbia are expected to take similar action.

A major victory for environmentalists was the passage of the Governor’s bill to expand the use of renewables in electricity generation, modernization of the electrical grid, and expansion of energy conservation. More to come on the work of the session in future columns

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Del. Ken Plum: General Assembly Off to Lumbering Start

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.

The General Assembly convened for its annual session on Wednesday. Hopes that the historic election results of November brought forth have dimmed somewhat as the drawing of lots to settle the results of the final district race gave the Republicans a one-member advantage to control the House of Delegates. Many wonderful people have been at work on the terms for a power-sharing agreement. 

Now the incentives for such reform have diminished with the acceptance of a disputed ballot that led to the Democrats losing a seat that would have made for a partisan tie in the House and much more likelihood of a power-sharing arrangement. There is likely to be some reform of the process but not a change of one-party dominance that has thwarted efforts to deal with some major issues.

I continue to be impressed with the make-up of the House of Delegates as the new members are reflective of the people of Virginia. For the first time in our history women will make up half the membership of the Democratic caucus. The new members bring wonderful backgrounds, expertise, and life experiences that will bring a greater sense of reality to legislative debates. We will make progress on more issues for sure but maybe not as great as I led people to believe when election results were announced.

One of my greatest concerns is that the thousands of men and women who chose to take part in the electoral process for the first time in ways other than just voting not become disillusioned with the process and retreat from it. Make no mistake about it: the outcomes of the legislative and state-wide races in Virginia in 2017 were historic. Voter turnout in these races was greater than in any other year with the same seats to be filled. The solid Republican majority of 66 to 34 was reduced to 51 to 49. Senior members of the majority with more than adequate monies to finance their races lost to a public uprising. All involved in this process can rightfully be proud. All that activity has been focused on campaigning; now we must turn to governing. 

I hope that all those who campaigned so hard for candidates will identify one or perhaps several issues upon which they can focus their attention and with the same techniques of phoning, social media, door knocking, rallying and more can help persuade members of the legislature to vote responsibly on the issues. Just as we sold voters on candidates, we need to sell legislators on important issues. Such campaigns can make a difference in the outcome of legislation.

Political parties on both sides will be eager to take credit for the outcomes of elections in which they participated. Without a doubt, the success of elections this cycle came from the women and men who volunteered–sometimes in organized groups or acting as individuals–that made the difference. Political parties can learn from these people. Please do stay involved, for your participation can make such an important difference as the General Assembly lumbers along.

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Chamber’s Legislative Scorecard Released — The Northern Virginia Chamber Partnership annually grades local members of the Virginia General Assembly on their support of legislation that positively affects business, economic development, workforce development and related issues. Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax) and Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax), who represent Reston, both scored in the middle of the pack. [Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce]

Extreme Drunkenness Caused Crash That Killed Herndon Man — The driver in a July wrong-way head-on crash on U.S. 50 in Annapolis, which killed herself and a 34-year-old Herndon man, had a blood-alcohol content of .34. That’s more than four times the legal limit in Maryland. [WTOP]

Dominion Sending Workers to Help After Irma — Dominion Energy has mobilized more than 700 employees and contractors to respond to electric restoration efforts in after Hurricane Irma devastated Florida and left millions without power. [Dominion Energy]

N.C. Real Estate Company Opening Reston Office — Commercial realtors The Morgan Cos. will move into 11955 Freedom Drive, Suite 11000 at Reston Town Center. It will be their third office, following ones in Charlotte and Fort Lauderdale. [Virginia Business]

SLHS Seahawks 3-0 on Season — The South Lakes High School Seahawks football team stayed undefeated last week with a 49-7 win over Oakton. Statistical leaders included QB Devin Miles (6-6, 154 yards, 2 TDs), RB Spencer Alston (109 yards rushing, 121 yards receiving, 4 TDs), RB Albert Mensah (60 yards rushing, 1 TD) and DL Spencer Coppage (sack, interception, forced fumble). Reserve QB Will Shapiro also threw a touchdown pass, connecting with WR Kazim Khan. SLHS will play its first home game of the season Friday night against Dominion. [South Lakes Athletics]

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