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have watched in opposition as the gun supporters passed exemption after exemption to the limitation until in 2012 they repealed the law, with Gov.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.
The best way I can describe the 2017 session of the General Assembly is to call it a mixed bag. Some good work was done for sure, but if not for the governor’s veto pen, it would have been marred by some backward legislation. Most disappointing are the missed opportunities that were not addressed in the 46-day short session.
Although budget matters are supposed to be dealt with only in the long, even-year session, there are budget adjustments that creep into the short session as well. The good news is that the Assembly passed amendments to the biennium budget to bring it back into balance from a $1.2 billion shortfall in revenue. There were reductions, but the governor proposed and the Assembly agreed to keeping 3 percent salary increases for state employees who have been without a raise for many years. Funds were provided for the state share of a 2 percent raise for teachers. Additional funds were provided to deal with the critical needs in mental health care.
Four bills were passed to deal with the opioid epidemic. They established needle exchange programs, increased access to the overdose drug naloxone, increased services to infants exposed to opioids in utero, and strengthened opioid prescription policies. Five million dollars was appropriated for permanent supportive housing for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless because of mental illness. A bill to require insurance companies to cover a 12-month supply of prescription birth control also passed.
Of the bills I opposed, most will be vetoed by the governor. Not only did a committee in the House defeat my bill to require universal background checks for gun purchases, but it passed several bills to make access to guns easier. The Republicans do not have the supermajority that is needed to overturn the governor’s veto of these bills. Likewise, the governor is expected to veto a bill that would prevent localities from becoming “sanctuary” zones. He has already vetoed a bill that would have denied funding to Planned Parenthood, and the House was not able to override his veto.
Despite public support for establishing an independent system to draw legislative boundary lines, my bill and several others with that goal were defeated in a House committee. Bills that passed the Senate on this issue were defeated in the same House committee. The public support for legislation that would prevent legislators from being able to pick their own voters was as strong as I have seen on an issue in recent years.
Beware that a new law passed that creates a fine of $100 for failing to drive on the right side of the road. The intent of this new law is to prevent slow drivers from driving in the left lane. Legislation that would have created a bill of rights for college student loan borrowers did not pass.
Bao Bao Passed Through Reston on Journey Home — The famed panda born at the National Zoo left D.C. for good Tuesday, heading off to live her life in China. She was transported by truck from Washington up the Dulles Toll Road to the airport, where she left on a FedEx 777. [Reston Patch]
SLHS Girls’ Basketball Team Falls in Playoffs — The South Lakes Seahawks girls’ hoops team was defeated Tuesday night in the first round of the 6A North Region championship, falling to T.C. Williams by a score of 51-43. [Alexandria News]
Qur’an Spiritual Retreat Slated for March — The Al-Madina Institute is readying to hold its annual conference, bringing leading scholars to examine both the external and internal dimensions of the Qur’an. The event will be held March 3-5 at the Hyatt Regency (1800 Presidents St.) in Reston. [Al-Madina Institute]
Bills Targeting Student Debt Fail in Richmond — A number of bills designed to help students refinance student loans or increase oversight of lenders have died in the General Assembly. One such bill, which would have created a “Borrower’s Bill of Rights,” was sponsored by Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) of Reston. It failed to advance out of a legislative committee. [Virginia Gazette]
Virginia Marks Washington’s Day — The holiday known as Presidents’ Day in many places around the United States is called George Washington’s Day here in Virginia. Fairfax County is home to Washington’s Mount Vernon, and it offers an explainer for why the name of today’s holiday is different here. [Fairfax County]
League of Women Voters to Host Documentary Screening — “GerryRIGGED: Turning Democracy on Its Head” will be shown at an event jointly hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area and OneVirginia2021: Virginians for Fair Redistricting. Two showings Thursday, at 4:30 and 7 p.m., will each be followed by a question-and-answer session. The event will be at the Fair City Mall in Fairfax. [League of Women Voters]
Local Fan’s Baseball “Free Agency” Subject of New Video — Andrew Volpe, of Reston, has made a short documentary film chronicling his father’s quest to find a new Major League Baseball team to follow. Michael Volpe’s journey in the 1990s was the subject of national news. [Fairfax County Times]
General Assembly Looks to Curtail Opioid Abuse — A number of bills that aim to fight opioid addiction have advanced to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s desk. Among them is a bill that would reduce the amount of pain pills health care professionals can prescribe, and one that would require all opioid prescriptions be handled electronically for monitoring purposes. [Roanoke Times]
Although the “short sessions” of the General Assembly held on the odd-numbered years are about two weeks less in length than the regular session in the even-numbered years because they do not consider a biennium budget, the fact is that the budget is adjusted at every session of the General Assembly.
Revenue projections that are made over a couple of years’ time frame almost always need to be adjusted. Revenues come over or under projections, necessitating corresponding changes to the budget. Recession-level declines like that in 2008 required severe budget reductions. The economic recovery has been slower than in the past, resulting in some tweaking being needed every year. The Commonwealth operates on a balanced budget with funds going into a rainy day fund when economic growth is strong, and the fund being used to smooth out declines from loss of revenue.
The House and Senate approved different versions of a revised budget for the next fiscal year without prolonged debate, which has been a part of these deliberations for many years. The governor presented a revised budget that brought the next year into balance and funded some high-priority items, upon which there was bipartisan agreement. Differences do remain that will be ironed out by a conference committee over the remaining weeks of the session.
Highlights of the budget include important new funding for mental health services. Although the needs in mental health have been recognized for a long time, it took advocates many years and the suicide of a senator’s son to finally get agreement on funding critically needed services. An important aspect of the new services will be to get mentally ill persons out of jails, where they have found themselves in recent years when they acted out and there was no other place for them to go.
State employees will finally be getting a raise after many years of waiting. The situation has become increasingly desperate with a high turnover rate. Teachers who are employed by local school boards will not be getting a direct appropriation for a raise from the state, but hopefully the modest increase to localities can be used in part to fund teacher pay raises that are likewise long overdue.
Although the action in the short session on the budget will get us through the next fiscal year, there are long-term structural issues that remain — particularly in funding education. While the division between state and local funding had historically been 60 to 40 percent, the actual division in recent years has been closer to 40 percent state and 60 percent local. The result has been that increasing costs have fallen on local property taxpayers.
Virginians like to brag about their low per capita state taxes at $2,275, 36th-lowest among the states. Sometimes overlooked is the fact that per capita local taxes in Virginia are $1,928, or 15th-highest among the states. We are going to balance the budget for the short run this session, but we need to do a lot more work about more fairly balancing the budget for the long term.
Police: Reston Woman Rammed Vehicle During Argument — Police in Herndon say 24-year-old Kimberling Serrano had her two kids in the car when she followed a man after an argument and intentionally struck his vehicle three times. [Herndon Police]
Students Honored for Musical Talents — Top Fairfax County vocal and instrumental students were recognized recently during the annual James A. Bland Music Competition, co-sponsored by the Reston Lions Club and Reston Community Center. Among the honorees was Lauren Spar from South Lakes High School. [Reston Connection]
Skydiver from Reston Hurt in Florida — Nikolay Likhachev suffered a head injury and a compound leg fracture after an accident near Daytona Beach. Likhachev had successfully completed more than 200 jumps, according to the incident report. [Daytona Beach News-Journal]
Redistricting Reform Rejected in Richmond — Bills that advocates hoped would stop gerrymandering in Virginia were voted down in committee Tuesday. One of the measures — a constitutional amendment stating that “no electoral district shall be drawn for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring any political party, incumbent legislator or member of Congress, or other individual or entity” — was sponsored by Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax), of Reston. [The News Leader]
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]
High Winds Cause Power Outages — Winds up to 60 mph have been striking the area, and a high-wind warning from the National Weather Service remains in effect until 6 p.m. tonight. More than 13,000 customers are reported without power this morning in Northern Virginia, including a handful in Reston. [Dominion Power]
‘Adopt a Hydrant’ Program Underway — Fairfax County Fire and Rescue is asking residents and business owners to maintain the areas around fire hydrants. Hydrants must be free of snow and ice in the winter, and free of weeds, leaves and shrubbery in warmer weather. [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue]
Teachers Likely to See More in Paychecks — The Virginia General Assembly is entering the final two weeks of its session, and it looks like teachers will get raises. The Senate budget plan provides raises for teachers, while the House would give schools more unrestricted money that could be used for raises. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has also proposed a 1.5 percent bonus for teachers and state workers. [WTOP]
Photo of sunrise over Reston this morning via Twitter user @JGS3584
Most people can remember the flowchart from high school civics class that graphically showed how a bill becomes a law.
According to the chart, a legislator gets an idea for a bill that is drafted, introduced into one house of the Legislature where it is heard by a committee, sent to the floor for a vote if approved, and sent on to the other house for the same routine. Generally, that is what happens in the best of circumstances, but reality is much more complicated.
I can best make my point about what really happens in too many cases by reviewing the erratic course of a couple of bills in this session of the Virginia General Assembly that will not become law.
There is an increasing realization that many legislatures — including the General Assembly in Virginia — are not as responsive to public opinion as would be expected from democratically elected bodies, because of the way that legislative boundaries are drawn. An intense campaign by an organization named OneVirginia2021 has made many people aware that under the current system of having the Legislature drawing its own district boundaries, legislators are picking their voters rather than voters picking their representatives.
By comparing voting histories with census numbers, district boundaries can be drawn that are safe for incumbent legislators. The likelihood of incumbents being defeated is so slight that they go unchallenged. I have been working on this issue throughout my political career and once again introduced legislation to establish an independent legislative redistricting commission. My bill was sent to the Privileges and Elections Committee, where it was assigned to a subcommittee. The subcommittee allowed me and others with similar bills to make presentations with comments from the public.
A survey of my district indicates that about 80 percent of my constituents support a nonpartisan approach to drawing district lines. Other legislators introduced bills to accomplish the same result. My bill and all the others were swept together in one motion and defeated by a vote of four to one. On this important issue, four legislators made the decision for the entire 140 members of the General Assembly.
This is not an unusual situation. My bill that would have required universal background checks for gun purchases had the support of the governor and 90 percent of my constituents. It was sent to the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee and then to a subcommittee of five legislators, four of whom have an A+ rating by the National Rifle Association. There was little surprise when my bill and all the other common-sense gun safety measures were defeated by a vote of four to one.
Under the Rules of the House, the Speaker of the House makes all committee assignments. Rather than a balance of points of views, the committee membership is stacked to reflect his position of the majority party. The Speaker also decides which committee will consider which bills. The rigged committee membership makes it easy to explain how a bill does not become a law in Virginia.
At that midpoint, referred to as “crossover,” the House of Delegates and the State Senate must have completed action on bills that were introduced in their own chamber and start to work on bills from the other chamber. In order for a bill to become law, it must pass both houses exactly alike before being sent to the governor for his signature.
Already, about half of the bills that were introduced will have been defeated. See how your favorite bill is faring by going to http://lis.virginia.gov/lis.htm.
If the bill you felt most important to pass has been defeated, there really is no hope that it can be revived unless there was a companion bill that survived the other house of the Legislature. For bills you really oppose that passed their house of introduction, it is time to get to work lobbying members of the other house. Keep in mind that all the work of the Assembly for this annual session will be finished by about Feb. 24.
Some generalizations that can be made about the session to date, subject to shifting winds in the next few weeks, follow. There is a commitment to giving state employees a raise especially for State Police where turnover has become excessive with the low rate of pay. Providing the state share of funding for teachers who are local employees remains in doubt except that additional funding to schools is likely in a small amount. Funding for expanded mental health services that the Governor and a legislative study group recommended is likely. The need in this area is very serious.
The Republican majority that has a history of supporting less government but obtrusive laws into people’s private lives defeated an anti-LGBT bill much like the one that passed in North Carolina. The bill they passed last year was vetoed by the governor. There are bound to be more restrictive laws on women’s reproductive decisions passed, but Gov. McAuliffe has pledged to veto such bills. The appetite to expand access to guns seems insatiable. Numerous bills to expand access to concealed weapons and the defeat of bills that promote gun safety continues unabated. My bill to expand criminal background checks for all gun purchases was defeated in sub-committee.
Redrawing legislative district boundaries after the next federal census is of increasing concern to citizens who want voters picking their representatives not legislators picking their voters with most elections consisting of uncontested incumbents. My bill to establish a nonpartisan redistricting commission was defeated. A bill to define the process as being non-political may sound good, but it is unlikely to have any effect without the process being taken over by a truly non-partisan group.
Bills that are common sense to me and to most of the constituents with whom I talk like banning the use of cellphones while driving continue to fail in the Legislature. Much more to come after the half.
If you have a position on an issue before the Legislature, email me at [email protected].
Each year, I survey constituents on issues of concern to them and on issues that are likely to be considered by the General Assembly. Your views are important to me. Please take a few minutes to respond to the survey that can be found at www.kenplum.com.
Legislatures are about the serious work of governance even though they are often the brunt of jokes and criticism. For every seemingly weird bill that is introduced, there is a legislator representing a segment of his or her constituency. Delegate Bob Marshall is one of the better known members of the House for the anti-LGBT, anti-abortion and anti-marriage equality bills he introduces. He was first elected in 1992 and reelected every two years since then. Clearly, he is representing the point of view of a significant enough segment of his constituents to remain in office. Likewise, I believe I am representing my constituents in voting against his bills.
The diversity of Virginia is reflected in the representatives that are sent to the Legislature. But the state is changing. Look at any of the maps that show by red and blue the outcome of statewide elections. The cities and suburbs are most often blue with a huge segment of the map being red to reflect the more conservative voters in the rural areas. Even this generalization is not always true as more of the state has turned blue in recent years. Party organization and discipline work to hold onto or gain power. The artificial forces of gerrymandering slow changes in partisan control of the legislature in spite of strong citizen interest in changing the gerrymandering or gerryrigging process of drawing district boundaries. My bill to establish a nonpartisan redistricting commission was defeated once again this session.
New people moving into a legislative district can change the political complexion of a district, leading voters to ask whether the incumbent continues to represent their points of view. Such shifts in population can lead to a rare electoral defeat of an incumbent or an early voluntary retirement of a member. While the legislative agenda of a given member may seem to be too extreme in whatever direction, that member is representing a constituency. For the Commonwealth to move in a desired direction it may be necessary to “throw the bums out,” or there may be the need to better inform and educate the general public. I make it a point to try and inform my constituents as much as possible on issues and on resources they can use to learn more themselves. As far out as some legislative proposals you hear about may seem to be, they are important to someone. The challenge for the Legislature is to determine the public good among the diverse opinions and to govern in a way that is open and inclusive to all. When the Legislature is captured by extremists, the outcome will not be the best for citizens.
This weekly column will not be able to report the outcome of all or even a fraction of the bills being considered in this session of the General Assembly. News media will help, but to keep up in a comprehensive way go often to this website. You will come to appreciate the diversity of the Legislature even more. I would be pleased to hear your views on any issues; write to me at [email protected].
Each year I survey constituents on issues of concern to them and on issues that are likely to be considered by the General Assembly. Your views are important to me. Please take a few minutes to respond to the survey that can be found at www.kenplum.com.
Former Senator Charles J. Colgan passed away earlier this month. He retired just a year ago as the longest-serving State Senator in Virginia history. He was the last remaining World War II veteran serving in the Commonwealth’s Senate. He truly earned a place among the “greatest generation.”
Chuck, as he preferred to be called by his peers, was orphaned by age 5, raised by his grandparents, and served in the Army Air Corps. Aviation was an important part of his life; he founded Colgan Airways, flying out of Manassas with service to 53 cities. His wife of 52 years preceded him in death. Surviving him are his eight children and their spouses, his second wife, 24 grandchildren, and 22 great-grandchildren.
Beyond his personal and business life, Senator Colgan’s public life was unparalleled. He served on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors before being elected to the Virginia Senate for the 40-year tenure he completed. His awards and recognitions are numerous — the most recent being the naming of the Charles J. Colgan Sr. High School in Prince William County. All this history of the man does not capture the essence of what made him so highly regarded. He ran and was elected as a Democrat all his life even as he voted consistently pro-life on issues of abortion. He stayed in office while Republicans won most of the elective positions in his area. In the Senate, he was known for his willingness to work across party lines on issues he thought were important. He was an avid supporter of public education and was greatly influential in supporting funding for George Mason University, including its Prince William campus, and funding for new buildings for the Manassas and Woodbridge campuses of Northern Virginia Community College.
He was a much-loved and towering figure for his philosophy of life that he often expressed in folksy terms. He was known to advise that one should always be worth more than you are being paid. A smile, he would say, is like a business card; it only works if you give it away. He was always cheery regardless of the tough issues he faced. These statements of his philosophy were included in the program for his celebration of life as “Colgan’s Top Ten.” He understood that the best way to defeat your enemy is to make him your friend. The qualities that made him so richly admired by his family, neighbors and legislative colleagues inspired 800 people to come to his retirement party and many hundreds to come to his Mass of Christian Burial. That kind of attendance proved he embodied his belief that when you are getting ahead in life, make sure you reach out and give someone a hand up. Live your life, he would say, in such a way that if someone speaks ill of you, no one will believe them.
I believe Chuck Colgan is a true role model for leadership, for he believed that one should always ask yourself, “Am I doing the right thing?”
Each year, I survey constituents on issues of concern to them and on issues that are likely to be considered by the General Assembly. Your views are important to me. Please take a few minutes to respond to the survey that can be found at www.kenplum.com.
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.
Route 7 Getting Upgrades to Connect Communities — The widening of Route 7 will also include new trails and a tunnel that will connect Tysons Corner to Reston. The plans apply to a seven-mile stretch from the Dulles Toll Road to Route 193, and work is expected to be completed by 2025. [Greater Greater Washington]
Two Area Schools Get New Principals — Fairfax County Public Schools welcomed five new principals this week. Among the schools to receive them are Herndon High School and Herndon Elementary. Herndon High welcomes Elizabeth Noto and Herndon Elementary welcomes Teresa Fennessy. [FCPS News]
Track Work Will Disrupt Weekend Metro Service — Repairs to Metro tracks will mean disrupted Silver Line service this weekend, including some routes being replaced by shuttle buses. In addition, WMATA says Metro will shut down and buses will replace the Orange, Blue and Silver Line routes in downtown D.C. the weekend of Feb. 4-5. [WMATA News]
County’s Legislative Delegation to Hold Public Hearing — Fairfax County’s delegation to Virginia’s General Assembly will hold a hearing for public comment Saturday at 9 a.m. at the County Government Center (12000 Government Center Pkwy.). Speakers who wish give opinions on issues the General Assembly is likely to consider in its upcoming session can register in advance. [Fairfax County]
Virginia Macy’s Stores on the Chopping Block — After disappointing holiday sales, Macy’s announced this week that it will close more than 60 stores nationwide. On the list of closures are the stores in Alexandria and Lynchburg. In addition, the Tysons Corner store’s building has been sold, but Macy’s said it plans to keep the location open by leasing it back. [CNBC]
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.