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Del. Ken Plum: A Tale of Two Houses

This 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 General Assembly had not been in session for more than two weeks until the differences between the House of Delegates and the State Senate became obvious. The Founding Fathers who conceived the structure of government built-in safeguards and checks and balances to ensure that a runaway government would be less possible. Two houses in the legislature were part of that scheme.

The lower house would be elected by a popular vote, but in the federal model the so-called “upper house” was first elected by state legislatures before the popular vote was instituted. Another major difference in Virginia is that in the House of Delegates, 100 members were given two-year terms and smaller districts. The 40-member Senate was given four-year terms and districts two-and-a-half the size of delegate districts.

The result is that in some parts of the state there are election contests where the delegate and the senator reflect different values and positions on issues. That is not the case in my district where Sen. Janet Howell and I have taken the same position on every issue I can remember. These structural differences bring about different results as is being dramatically shown in the current General Assembly session.

In alternate election cycles, as is the case this year, senators and delegates all run for office. In light of the last election for House seats, I approached this legislative session with the hope that there might be more flexibility in the House leadership that might result in the consideration of bills that had been summarily defeated in past sessions. My hopes have already been dashed.

Even this early the session has demonstrated the differences that the two-house legislature presents. Certainly, there has been strong public support for Virginia being the 38th and final state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. The Senate passed a resolution for ratification, but was defeated in a subcommittee in the House.

This major struggle between the two houses is the same for establishing an impartial and nonpartisan system for legislative redistricting. The Senate has passed a bill to establish such a process while House leadership is expressing opposition. Since the legislation is a constitutional amendment, it is important that a resolution is passed this year and next to go to a popular referendum in 2020 in time for redistricting after the 2020 census results are known.

Sometimes differences between the two houses can be resolved in a conference committee if both houses pass bills on the same subject. If differences are not resolved, the bill dies. Legislation must be passed in identical form from both houses to be sent to the governor for signature. If the governor disagrees with the bill sent to him, he can send down amendments or veto the legislation. It takes a two-thirds vote of the legislature to override a veto.

Legislating with a two-house body can be cumbersome and difficult. Sometimes it seems to be easier to say how bills are defeated rather than how they pass. In either case, voters can be assured that the two-house legislature ensures full consideration of issues.

File photo

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Del. Jennifer Boysko’s State Senate Win Opens Up 86th District Seat

The Virginia House of Delegates has an opening for a seat that represents Herndon.

Del. Jennifer Boysko, a Democrat currently representing the 86th District, won the special election yesterday (Jan. 8) to take over the 33rd District seat in the State Senate vacated by Jennifer Wexton when she became a Congresswoman.

Boysko won with just under 70 percent of the vote, while her opponent, Republican Joe May, received about 30 percent. With Boysko moving to the State Senate, voters will get choose who will fill her district seat, which includes Herndon.

Several Democratic candidates announced they will vie for the seat, including:

The Democratic candidates will vie for the spot at the primary on Saturday (Jan. 12).

Herndon residents who are registered voters in the 86th District can vote between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. at Dranesville Elementary School (1515 Powells Tavern Place).

File photo

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Reston Lawmakers to Focus on Gun Violence, Criminal Justice Reform

Reston lawmakers are gearing up to tackle gun violence and criminal justice reform ahead of the General Assembly kicking off a new session on Wednesday (Jan. 9).

The delegate and state senator representing Reston have been crafting legislation for the 46-day “short session” of the state legislature.

A review of the General Assembly’s online database gives a glimpse into what they plan to address.

Del. Ken Plum (D-36th District) plans to introduce legislation for universal background checks for gun purchases, according to a press release from Plum’s office.

That bill is a part of a package of legislation that is meant to prevent gun violence and improve safety, which Gov. Ralph Northam recently announced.

Plum, who will be the bill’s chief patron in the Virginia House of Delegates, said the bill “will close a significant loophole in Virginia law and require background checks on all firearm sales including private or online sales.”

Additionally, Plum said in the press release that he agrees with Northam’s assertion that “this legislative package of reasonable gun violence reforms appropriately balances Second Amendment Rights with public safety.”

Meanwhile, state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd District) has prefiled several bills as a chief patron that address criminal justice. Howell wants to change the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony for any person who leaves a loaded and unsecured gun in a place that could endanger a minor.

In a separate move, she wants to allow evidence of prior statements that are inconsistent with testimony at a hearing or trial for a criminal case admissible.

Howell outlines three main criteria:

  1. If the testifying witness faces cross-examination
  2. If the prior statement was made under an oath at a trial, hearing or the proceeding
  3. If it narrates or explains the witness’s knowledge of the event

Howell also is trying to allow the local school board of a school division located in Planning District 8 — which includes Fairfax County — to set the school calendar and determine the opening day of the school year.

She also wants to require licensed assisted living facilities with six or more residents to have a temporary emergency electrical power source available on site in case of an interruption of the electric power supply. The temporary power supply must be enough to power necessary medical equipment and refrigerators, along with heating, cooling, lighting and at least one elevator.

Currently, assisted living facilities are not required to maintain a power source on site.

File photo

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Morning Notes - Winter

Monthly ‘Beer Run’ is Tonight — Lake Anne Brew House (11424 Washington Plaza W., at Lake Anne) will be the meeting point for anyone looking to combine some exercise with some cold ones this evening. The event, scheduled for 6:30 p.m., involves doing laps around the lake, followed by imbibing in the taproom. [Lake Anne Brew House/Facebook]

Metro Inviting Feedback on Budget, Service — The public is being asked to share its thoughts on Metro’s FY2018 budget proposal, fare adjustments and service changes. Comments can be made by filling out an online survey, providing feedback to staff in person or attending an open house Monday at Metro Headquarters. (Don’t forget, Virginia’s WMATA board members will be in Reston tonight to discuss these matters as well.) [WMATA]

Virginia Senate Votes on Knives for Kids — The difference between suburban and rural Virginia played out on the state Senate floor Tuesday, as legislators debated a bill that would make it legal to provide children with switchblades, Bowie knives and other such implements. Rural senators argued about the practicalities of having such a tool when hunting, while at least one Northern Virginia senator is reported to have been “aghast.” [Washington Post]

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Howell Will Seek Re-Election to Virginia Senate

Janet HowellVirginia State Senator Janet Howell (D-Reston) says she will run for a seventh term in 2015.

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

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