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Virginia Voter Registration Extended Until Friday

VoteVirginia residents who were shut out of voter registration on the deadline, Oct. 17, will have an extra few days to ensure they can participate in the Nov. 8 election.

Many people said they were shut out of registration on Oct. 17 when the online registration crashed.

That resulted in the New Virginia Majority Educational Fund filing suit against the Virginia Department of Elections on Tuesday.

A judge in the Virginia Eastern District Court in Alexandria issued an injunction Thursday.

The guidance from the Department of Elections is to accept all voter registration applications that are:

  • Received in-person during normal business hours (until 7 p.m. Thursday and between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Friday).
  • Received online by 11:59 p.m. on Friday Oct. 21.
  • Received through the mail with a valid postmark on or before Friday, Oct. 21.

To register in person in Reston, visit the North County Government Center, 1801 Cameron Glen Dr. When you do so, keep your receipt for proof of registration in case of a recount or voter irregularities.

The suit had been seeking to keep registration open through the weekend.

“I am pleased that the court has agreed with the request to extend Virginia’s voter registration period after unprecedented web traffic prevented many people from completing their registrations online before the original deadline,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a statement. “The Commonwealth will fully comply with the court’s order and extend our registration process online, in-person and through the mail.”

“The Virginia Department of Elections and the Virginia Information Technology Agency have been working overtime since Monday night to expand the capacity of the system that allows Virginians to register to vote online, and I am confident that the steps we have taken will provide an improved experience to people who use it.”

The Virginia American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called the crash “an avoidable crisis” and pressed the commonwealth to do better.

“The on-line registration system went ‘live’ with General Assembly approval in July 2013,” said a statement from the ACLU. “Nonetheless, in the ensuing three years, the Department has not received the funding for needed hardware and software upgrades nor has it developed the technical expertise needed to ensure that the online registration system is able to handle the predictable increase in usage in a presidential election year. …”

“The Commonwealth must do better, and the legislature needs to take action to ensure that the Department of Elections has the state funds it needs to operate, especially when in the not too far distant future when federal dollars are no longer available.”

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Nearby: VA Attorney General Talking Heroin’s Dangers in Herndon

The dangers of heroin use — a growing problem in Virginia and nationwide — are the topic of a talk by Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring Thursday at Herndon Middle School (901 Locust St, Herndon) at 6:30 p.m.

There will be a special free screening of “Heroin: The Hardest Hit,” a documentary that explores the heroin and prescription drug epidemic and its effects on Virginians.

Herring will be joined by Town of Herndon’s Vice Mayor Jennifer Baker and Chief of Police Maggie DeBoard.

Heroin overdose fatalities in Virginia have more than doubled from 100 deaths in 2011 to 239 deaths in 2014, while an additional 547 Virginians died from prescription drug overdose in 2014, the movie materials say.

Between 2011 and 2013, every region of the state experienced an increase in heroin overdose fatalities. More Virginians were killed in 2014 by heroin and prescription opioid drug overdose than car crashes.

“There is not one corner of the Commonwealth untouched by heroin’s influence and destruction,” Herring said.

In response to this growing public health and public safety problem, Herring has launched a plan to combat heroin and prescription opiate abuse by creating and implementing partnerships and creative solutions for a complex problem.

This film is one example of the preventive and educational measures the Herring’s office is pursuing to make all Virginians  — from teenagers to adults — more aware of the growing crisis involving heroin and prescription and the risks associated with dangerous drugs.

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Virginia Tax Holiday Applies to Clothes, School Supplies, Appliances and More

Office Depot Reston/File photoComing this weekend: Virginia’s sales tax holiday.

Virginia used to have several sales tax holidays, but legislation passed in the Commonwealth in 2015 has combined them into one weekend, Aug. 5 to 7 this year.

So, if you are in the market for school supplies, clothes, appliances or emergency preparedness items, you will save.

Here is what you need to know:

Consumers can purchase qualifying school supplies ($20 or less per item); clothing and footwear ($100 or less per item); hurricane and emergency preparedness products ($60 or less per item)l and Energy Star and WaterSense appliances ($2,500 or less per item) without paying sales tax.

Clothing and school supplies: Items such as backpacks, calculators, lunch boxes, disinfectant wipes and tissues are exempt. So are shoes, belts, bathing suits and diapers. See this extensive list from the Virginia Department of Taxation for what is and is not included.

Qualifying Energy Star™ Items: dishwashers, clothes washers, air conditioners, ceiling fans, light bulbs, dehumidifiers, and refrigerators are tax exempt. WaterSense items include bathroom sink faucets, faucet accessories such as aerators and shower heads, toilets, urinals, and landscape irrigation controllers. See this list of what is and is not included.

Emergency and Hurricane Preparedness: Qualifying items include portable generators ($1,000 or less per item: gas-powered chainsaws ($350 or less per item); chainsaw accessories ($60 or less per item). Other items for $60 or less include batteries, smoke detectors, duct tape, bottled water and first aid kits. See a list of items.

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Virginia Senator Tim Kaine is Clinton’s VP Candidate

When Hillary Clinton selected Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate Thursday evening, it marked the first time since Woodrow Wilson that a Virginian is on the national ticket.

Virginia may be the mother of presidents — it’s had eight, more than any other state — just not in 100 years or so. And the last vice president from Virginia was John Tyler, who served for 30 days and then was vaulted to president upon the death of William Henry Harrison.

Kaine, 58, has represented Virginia in the U.S Senate since 2012. Prior to that he served as Virginia governor (2006-10) and Mayor of Richmond. He has a law degree from Harvard and spent a year as a Catholic missionary in Honduras (where he learned to speak fluent Spanish). He is also a former Democratic National Committee Chairman.

Kaine’s early legal career was spent in Richmond, representing clients in fair housing and racial discrimination cases. His attention to civil rights is one factor that makes him “a Reston kind of guy,” says Virginia Del. Ken Plum (D-Reston).

“Tim Kaine is a Reston kind of guy,” said Plum. “He made his mark early on in civil rights litigation. The kind of things our community stands for are the kind of things Tim Kaine stands for.”

Kaine and Clinton spoke together last week at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale.

Kaine has made many appearances in Reston in recent years. He sat next to Reston founder Bob Simon at Simon’s 100th birthday celebration in April of 2014. He praised Simon as a visionary in creating an integrated new town in a divided south.

“In 1964, when Reston opened, discrimination was rampant and legal,” Kaine said that day at Lake Anne Plaza. “It wasn’t until 1968 that the federal Fair Housing Act was passed. It wasn’t until 1971 that the Virginia General Assembly passed the South’s first fair housing law. Bob [Simon] was a real visionary.

“When we look at Virginia history since World War II, Bob should be one of the five or six individuals [we talk about]. Bob took a state that was facing backward and turned it facing forward.”

Kaine also spoke at Simon’s celebration of life last April.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va. 11th) called Clinton’s pick of Kaine “a wise choice.”

“The choice for Vice President should not be symbolic,” Connolly said in a statement. “It is about qualifications. It is a position of great responsibility. Secretary Clinton has made a wise choice in selecting my friend, our Senator, Tim Kaine as her running mate.

“Tim has served honorably as Mayor of Richmond, Lieutenant Governor, Governor and Senator for all Virginians,” Connolly said. “He’s a deliberate and thoughtful legislator, a serious and substantive policy wonk, and a bridge builder. If you are looking for moral authenticity in politics look no further than Tim Kaine. I think the world of him.”

Kaine has received some criticism from the more liberal wing of the Democratic party, who are concerned with Kaine’s positions on global trade deals and Wall Street regulation. He has been an advocate of free trade and has defended the North American Free Trade Agreement, which some citizens blame for the loss of manufacturing jobs to Mexico.

Kaine is married to Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton. While governor in 2008, Kaine backed a $22 million proposal in the Virginia General Assembly to make pre-kindergarten education more accessible to at-risk four-year-olds.

Kaine is Catholic, and has said while he is personally against abortion, he supports a woman’s right to choose. He has also said he is against the death penalty.

Kaine is one of 35 senators given an “F” rating by the NRA.

On the Senate Armed Services committee, Kaine has maintained that Congressional approval is necessary for the commitment of U.S. troops, particularly in response to the Civil War in Syria and strikes against ISIS.

“Tim Kaine is the genuine article,” said Plum. “He is right on the issues, sincere in his approach to leadership, and credible. He will be a sharp contrast to the other side of the ticket. I think that will strengthen the ticket.”

Said Virginia’s senior senator Mark Warner:

“I enthusiastically applaud Secretary Clinton’s choice. Without reservation, I can say there is no one of higher integrity and trustworthiness. … “He always finds reasons for hope and optimism in every situation, and he is centered by his faith and his family. Our country, and the Commonwealth of Virginia, will be very well-served by electing Tim Kaine as Vice President.”

Kaine and Clinton will make their first appearance together Saturday in Miami.

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Virginia Governor Moves to Create Metro Safety Oversight Commission

Wiehle Reston-East Metro/Credit: Mike HeffnerVirginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has signed an executive directive Wednesday instructing state transportation officials to facilitate the creation and staffing of a Metro Safety Commission.

The commission will have the authority to oversee compliance with safety directives at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Executive Directive 8 also instructs the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation to review all accident investigations related to the Metrorail system, to inspect public and nonpublic areas of the system, and to assess the state of repair for all trains, tracks and other infrastructure.

“Our administration has been a constant advocate for stronger safety protections for the commuters who use the Metrorail system each day, including more than 300,000 Virginians,” McAuliffe said in a statement. “We concur with the direction of the new leadership at WMATA and its work to ensure that safety is the central goal of the Metrorail system. By establishing the Metro Safety Commission and collaborating with our partners in Maryland and the District of Columbia, we are putting in place the necessary policies and oversight to ensure that safety continues to be the top priority.”

The measure comes in response to a series of safety issues on Metro, including smoke, fire, track issues and other problems that have led to delays and a 29-hour shutdown of the system this spring. Metro will have 15 “Safety Surges” — sectional shutdowns to complete repairs — beginning June 4. Silver Line riders from Wiehle-Reston East will be among the first to be affected by the rolling repairs.

The Safety Surges, part of the SafeTrack program announced earlier this month, will enable Metro to complete three years of repairs in one year.

Says the directive:

The Washington Metrorail system is part of the multimodal transportation network that supports the economic vitality of Northern Virginia.

Recent ridership numbers indicate that Metrorail carries over 300,000 riders daily from Virginia.

Per Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 659 and its successor 49 CFR 674, the Commonwealth is responsible for overseeing the safety performance of the Washington Metrorail system, jointly with the District of Columbia and the State of Maryland.

Through recent investigations and inspections it has become apparent that closer attention to the overall state of good repair of the Metrorail system is necessary to ensure that appropriate repairs are sufficiently completed and our system is safe.

The new executive leadership at WMATA along with its board of directors have accepted the need for a new more comprehensive, systematic approach to rectifying the deficiencies in WMATA Metrorail, which have manifested in service disruptions and poor performance of Metrorail infrastructure, and caused casualties and serious injuries to the passengers and employees
of the system.

On March 2, 2016, I signed a Memorandum of Agreement, along with the Mayor of the District of Columbia and the Governor of Maryland, to commit resources and staff, share information, and work together in a transparent fashion to develop strategies that will help to establish a new State Safety Oversight Agency that is fully compliant with enhanced federal
requirements.

The Commonwealth of Virginia and its jurisdictional partners – the District of Columbia and the State of Maryland – are aggressively focused on formulating and passing legislation to establish a legally and financially independent State Safety Oversight Agency (Metro Safety Commission) scaled and resourced to match the complexity of the Washington Metrorail system.

The Metro Safety Commission will have various enforcement tools to carry out the rail safety oversight mandate of the three jurisdictions and the ability to compel WMATA Metrorail to
take necessary steps to correct any perceived safety concerns.

Legislation will be introduced during the 2017 session of the Virginia General Assembly to establish the Metro Safety Commission which will be a part of an interstate compact.

See more on the Governor’s website.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA 11) who represents Reston, said announcement shows McAuliffe is taking “seriously the urgent recommendation by Secretary Foxx and the NTSB that the region stand up a new safety agency with robust oversight capabilities. “

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Governor Declares State of Emergency Ahead of VA Snowstorm

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency for Virginia because of the winter storm expected to slam the region tomorrow and Saturday.

McAuliffe declared the state of emergency around 8 a.m. Thursday to allow Virginia businesses, residents and officials to prepare for the impending snow, and urged them to prepare right away.

“Keeping Virginians safe in the event of severe weather is our top concern – that is why Virginia began preparing for severe winter weather yesterday by ordering more than 500 vehicles out to pretreat roads in Northern Virginia,” McAuliffe said in a press release. “All Virginians should take the threat of this storm seriously and take necessary precautions now to ensure they are prepared for travel disruptions and possible power outages during a cold weather period.”

A Blizzard Watch was issued by the National National Weather Service Wednesday, well in advance of the storm that could bring up to two feet of snow in Reston.

The Blizzard Watch begins Friday at noon and will be in effect until Sunday morning. The NWS says to expect 40 mph winds and below-freezing temperatures.

Virginia road crews were not as vigilant Wednesday night, when an inch or two fell in DC and Northern Virginia, snarling traffic on main roads for hours.

Virginia officials issued the following tips for staying safe during the storm (after the jump).

  • Stay off the roads during the storm unless travel is absolutely necessary.
  • If travel is necessary, drive with caution and allow extra space around other vehicles.
  • Use extreme caution around slow-moving equipment being used to treat roads, such as snow plows.
  • Make sure your vehicle is ready for winter and is in safe driving condition. Keep an emergency kit in your car. Include items such as jumper cables, blankets, first aid kit, water, non-perishable food, cat litter or sand, shovel, flash light and batteries, ice scraper and cell phone charger.
  • Check on elderly or homebound neighbors, family, and friends to ensure they are ready for this storm and any possible inconveniences or interruptions that may result. Bring pets inside from the cold.
  • Be prepared to take care of yourself and your family for at least 72 hours, in case roads are blocked and/or there are power outages.
  • Have a battery-powered or hand-cranked radio and extra batteries for emergency information. Listen to local weather forecasts and instructions from local officials.
  • If you need help, information or resources during the storm, call 211. Those with hearing impairments can call 711 for the Virginia Relay Center and then call 1-800-230-6977. Out of state or videophone users may also dial 1-800-230-6977 for assistance.
  • Download the free Ready Virginia app at . Download the free VDOT 511 app for updates on road conditions.

Tim Regan contributed to this story.

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Virginia Governor Proposes a $1 Billion Boost for Public Schools

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe/file photoVirginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) was in Fairfax County on Wednesday to announce a proposed $1 billion investment in education, both at the K-12 and college levels.

The governor, speaking at Mark Twain Middle School in Alexandria, says his two-year budget proposal aims to prepare all students to succeed in the “new Virginia economy” by providing them with needed resources.

“I have heard from parents, students and teachers all over the commonwealth that we have been asking our schools to do more and more with less and less,” McAuliffe said. “But with thoughtful, bold ideas like the ones I am proposing, we will get back on the right track and ensure that we are laying the foundations for the New Virginia Economy.”

“This historic proposal represents the largest new investment in public education in over a decade, and the largest total investment in the history of the Commonwealth. I believe that if we want to have a world-class economy, we need a world-class education system, and this is where it starts.”

Some of the public education priorities funded in the biennial budget include:

  • New Teachers: Providing roughly 2,500 additional instructional positions – $139.1 million
  • Rebenchmarking: Fully funds the cost of rebenchmarking the Standards of Quality and additional updates – $429.8 million
  • At Risk Add-On: Provides flexible funding to divisions based on free lunch population to be used for drop-out prevention, parent engagement, English Language Learners, etc. – $50 million
  • Cost to Compete: Supports a cost of competing adjustment for school support positions in areas with a high cost of living – $41 million
  • Salary Increases: Provides a 2 pecernt salary increase for teachers, non-teacher instructional positions, and support positions consistent with state employee raises – $83.2 million
  •  Teacher Retirement: Increase general fund contribution to teacher retirement – $30 million

McAuliffe will present his full two-year budget to the Commonwealth Budget Committee on Thursday.

It is not yet known exactly how the commonwealth’s additional funds will directly impact Fairfax County Public Schools. However, FCPS has said it is facing about a $65 million budget gap for Fiscal Year 2017.

FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza will announce a proposed budget in January, which will be voted on by the board by May. A community Budget Task Force has looked at various changes, including larger class sizes and eliminating language immersion programs, as a means of narrowing the gap.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, which gives about half its annual budget to FCPS, said part of the deficit starts at the state level. Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova said last week the state’s contributions have not kept pace with rising enrollment and other mounting budget needs in public schools.

“The state has reduced its share [of funding all Virginia schools] by $1 billion,”Bulova said at the Supervisors’ Dec. 8 meeting. “Counties have tried to make up the difference. In Fairfax, we have increased about $200 million for schools.”

Grassroots group #IamFCPS said it was encouraged by McAuliffe’s pledge.

“Solving the Fairfax Country Public Schools budget crisis will require collaboration, tough decision-making, and long-term financial planning by state and local elected officials,” Suzanne Zurn of Reston, founder of #IamFCPS, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the Fairfax County delegation, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and the governor to ensure Fairfax County Public Schools receive the necessary funding to continue the legacy of excellence that has benefited the entire region.”

Photo: Terry McAuliffe/File photo

 

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New Laws Take Effect in Virginia Wednesday

Virginia State Capitol, RichmondStarting today, employers in Virginia cannot ask employees for social media passwords, women in the commonwealth can breastfeed anywhere they want and Virginia has two new state songs.

These are two of many new laws that go into effect in Virginia July 1.

Among the new laws:

Social media: Employers cannot ask employees or prospective employees for the username and passwords of social media accounts. Virginia is the 19th state to enact password protection legislation.

Breastfeeding: Women can breastfeed anywhere the mother is lawfully present. Virginia was one of only three states with no such protections, making it possible to kick a mom out of a public place for feeding her child.

Campus sex assault: There are several measures related to campus sex assault violence that will go into effect. They include requiring campus police departments to notify local prosecutors within 48 hours of starting any investigation into possible felony sexual assault and requiring university registrars to put a note on the transcripts of any student who is suspended, expelled or withdraws from school for reasons related to an offense involving sexual violence.

Medical marijuana: The law allows epilepsy patients who have a doctor’s note to use cannabis oil for treatment.

State song: Virginia will now have two official state songs. The official traditional song is “Our Great Virginia” and the official popular song is “Sweet Virginia Breeze.”

Police drones: The law requires law enforcement agencies to obtain a search warrant for use of unmanned aircraft systems.

Traffic: Drivers can cross double yellow lines in order to pass pedestrians and cyclists safely.

Hemp: Farmers can now grow industrial hemp as part of a university-managed research program.

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Antares Rocket Explodes on Virginia Launch Pad

A rocket that was scheduled to take off from the Virginia coast Tuesday night exploded on the launch pad, several news sources reported.

CNN reports that no one was injured in the unmanned rocket.

“There was failure on launch,” NASA spokesman Jay Bolden told CNN. “There was no indicated loss of life.”

The launch was set to carry some 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments to the International Space Station.

Orbital Science’s Antares rocket was originally scheduled to take off Monday at 6:45 p.m. from Wallops Island, Va., and its track would have been visible from Reston and other East Coast areas. Monday’s launch was delayed due to a boat in the area.

NASA officials are trying to determine the cause of the explosion.

NASA will be offering more info, including video and a news conference on its website.

Photo: NASA via YouTube

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Del. Ken Plum: What Is It About Virginia?

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThere really are not many native Virginians living in Northern Virginia.

The growth of the region has come primarily from people moving here from other states or countries. Survey downstate Virginians and you will find many not wanting to travel here much less move here. Most will cite traffic as their main objection, but clearly there are differences in lifestyle and perspectives across the regions of the Commonwealth.

 For those who move here and live here for a short time or even for decades, there are many questions about the state — its history, traditions, politics, and culture.

I often get questions directed to me as an elected official who is a native Virginian and student of her history. Periodically, I teach a course on Virginia history at the OSHER Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) of George Mason University at its Reston location at the United Christian Parish.

This week, I just started a new class that I have entitled “What is it about Virginia?” Once again most of the students are “come heres.” Even though as retirees they may have lived here for a long period of time, they still have questions about the state, its history, its impact nationally, and its people.

First there is the history. As Ronald Heinemann and his co-authors described it in their book Old Dominion, New Commonwealth: A History of Virginia 1607-2007 (University of Virginia Press, 2007):

“Four centuries of remarkable history. Site of the first permanent English settlement in the New World. Home of the first representative assembly in America. Landing place of the first Africans in the Chesapeake, whose heirs were among the first to be enslaved on the plantations of British North America. Birthplace of the great generation of founders, who led the Revolution and created a brilliant constitutional order, four of whom were among the first five presidents of the new republic. Mother of presidents. Mother of states. The state whose territory was the scene of much of the critical fighting of the Civil War…The Commonwealth of Virginia — the Old Dominion — was without peer in the first two-and-a-half centuries of American history.”

Then came the matter of being on the wrong side of the Civil War and the move “to a defensive, tradition-bound, inward-looking, and different version of American development (1820-1960) and back again to a progressively conservative society in the late twentieth century” to today when President Obama wins the state twice, all five statewide elected officials are Democrats, and the General Assembly is controlled by the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party.

The major themes that play throughout Virginia history — change and continuity, a conservative political order, race and slavery, economic development, social divisions, and geographic diversity help to make Virginia a fascinating topic for discussion. I hope my students will enjoy the class as much as I am sure that I will, and I hope someday to be able to talk with you about Virginia.

Ken Plum represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Reston Now.

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Del. Ken Plum: Medicaid Expansion Lite

Del. Ken Plum/File photoVirginia’s first governor, Patrick Henry, was elected to four one-year terms. Henry’s reputation as  a leader was well established before he became governor with his famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech made in St. John’s Church in Richmond before the Revolution.

Virginians honored his memory about a decade ago when the renovated Library of Virginia/Supreme Court building was named the Patrick Henry Building and became the office location for the governor  and his staff and cabinet secretaries.

Henry would have been proud when one of the former reading rooms converted to a public meeting room was the scene last week of a press conference by Gov. Terry McAuliffe announcing his plan to expand Medicaid to the extent that he could within the constraints of the law.

Henry in his day railed against oppression and taxation without representation. McAuliffe spoke on behalf of Virginians who are paying billions of dollars in taxation while the legislature is refusing to act on a plan that would bring that money back to the Commonwealth to provide health insurance to the poorest working people.

I went to the Governor’s press conference last week as a way to demonstrate my support for the actions he is taking to expand Medicaid. Because of legal constraints, his plan is modest. It extends coverage to about 25,000 persons who do not have health insurance including 20,000 Virginians with serious mental illnesses.

The number eligible for health insurance under the federal programs is 400,000, but to reach that number requires an act of the legislature. In the meantime, the Governor has instituted a program to aggressively enroll eligible persons in the federal insurance marketplace.

“While the plan that I am announcing today will do a lot of good for a lot of people, it does not solve the larger problem of providing health insurance coverage to low-income Virginians,” the Governor said. “The General Assembly has made it perfectly clear that they unequivocally are the ones that have the power to expand and close the coverage gap. With that power also comes responsibility.”

The General Assembly is scheduled to go back into special session on Sept. 18 to discuss Medicaid expansion. Neither the Republican leadership that controls the House or the Senate’s Republican majority has indicated a willingness to approve any kind of expansion of health benefits. Rather, they continue to follow the direction of the Koch Brothers-financed Americans for Prosperity and their Tea Party constituents to refuse to accept anything related to what they call Obamacare.

The insanity of refusing to take $5 million a day of Virginia taxpayer monies while thousands go without insurance coverage defies a reasonable explanation.

As Governor McAuliffe clearly stated, it is up to the legislature. I bet Patrick Henry would have been even more forceful; we have taxation of Virginians to support health insurance programs in other states but not ourselves!

To learn more about the Affordable Care Act, sign up for a webinar at Innovate Virginia.

Ken Plum represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Reston Now.

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Deal Lets Uber, Lyft Ride in Virginia Again

Uber X driver in Rosslyn/ARLnow.comfile photoRidesharing services Uber and Lyft can legally operate in Virginia again, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced on Wednesday.

McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring said the commonwealth has reached an agreement with the new transportation companies with stipulations that will allow them to operate in Virginia. The companies had been operating in spite of  a June cease-and-desist order after complaints from taxi companies.

McAuliffe said in a statement that having smartphone-driven ride companies is necessary for Virginia’s economy.

“In order for Virginia to remain economically competitive, it is important that we welcome innovative companies like Uber and Lyft and provide them with the resources they need to safely and effectively operate in the Commonwealth,” he said.  “Technology — specifically related to smart phones — continues to advance at a rapid pace, and I am pleased that we were able to work together to find a swift solution that will provide Virginia’s workers, students, and families with more transportation options.”

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles issued the cease-and-desist order to the companies on June 5 for doing business in Virginia without an operating permit. Uber and Lyft have continued to operate in the state, which has led to protests from taxi drivers and a lawsuit from taxi companies.

To welcome Metro’s Silver Line to Reston two weeks ago, Uber offered two free rides to users in this area.

McAuliffe’s office says it will study how best to permanently allow Uber and Lyft to operate in Virginia without disrupting competitive balance with taxi companies or scarificing rider safety. The study is expected to conclude by the 2015 legislative session, McAuliffe’s office said.

Going forward, Uber and Lyft must adhere to conditions set by the Commonwealth.  In order to keep their transportation broker’s licenses and temporary operating authority, the companies must comply or the Department of Motor Vehicles can revoke the temporary operating authority.

The conditions:

  • Extensive background checks of drivers, with immediate disqualifiers including convictions for any felony, fraud, sexual offenses, or violent crimes, or registration as a sex offender.
  • A review of driving history, with disqualification for drivers convicted of three or more moving violations in the last three years, DUI, underage drinking, refusal to submit to a breathalyzer, hit and run, or eluding law-enforcement, or a revocation of a driver’s license.
  • Zero tolerance for the use of drugs or alcohol by any drivers, and a suspension pending investigation of any driver accused of violating the zero tolerance policy.
  • Only employing drivers who are properly licensed and over 21, and vehicles that carry a maximum of seven passengers and are properly registered and inspected for safety and emissions, where applicable.
  • Rigorous insurance requirements, including requiring drivers to maintain automobile liability insurance, maintaining on behalf of all drivers an additional $1,000,000 of coverage from the moment a driver accepts a trip request until the passenger leaves the vehicle, and liability insurance for drivers who are logged onto the companies’ software but not providing services.
  • Maintaining documentation for each driver of his or her background check, sex offender registry check, driving record, proof of insurance, valid driver’s license, Social Security number, vehicle registration, and proof of vehicle safety inspection. Documentation must be available to DMV on demand to investigate any complaints, and must be available for periodic audits to ensure compliance.
  • Paying any previously assessed civil penalties for non-compliance and dropping any appeals, which both companies have already done.
  • Features to help customers identify their driver and vehicle, including from the outside of the vehicle.
  • Drivers notifying the companies of any change in their license status, vehicle registration, insurance, or any arrest for a crime that would disqualify them from being a driver.
  • Rate transparency and documentation.
  • Companies advising drivers of their need to comply with applicable tax laws.
  • Only accepting rides booked through the companies’ mobile device apps, not street hails.
  • Companies maintaining a Virginia transportation broker’s license.

Uber and Lyft authorities said they are looking forward to resuming a relationship with Virginia.

“Thanks to the leadership of Governor McAuliffe and Attorney General Herring for putting consumers first and embracing innovation, choice and opportunity,” said Justin Kintz, Uber’s public policy representative.

File photo of UberX car

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Virginia School Shopping Tax Holiday Returns This Weekend

Spiderman backpack/Courtesy of TargetFairfax County Public Schools students still have a month until they return to the classroom, but the time to get ready may be this weekend.

Virginia will hold its annual back-to-school sales tax holiday Friday, Aug.1 through Sunday, Aug. 3.

During the three-day event, most school and office supplies that cost $20 or less each, as well as clothing items and pairs of shoes priced at $100 or less, will be exempt from Virginia’s 5.3 percent state and local sales tax.  You will save even more in Fairfax County, where the sales tax is 6 percent. 

Here is what is on the list of tax-exempt items:  pens, pencils, loose leaf ruled notebook paper, scissors, binders, backpacks, construction paper, sneakers, hats, shirts, dresses, jeans, bathing suits, lunch boxes, diapers, T-shirts, choir outfits and uniforms. For a more complete list, visit the Virginia Department of Taxation’s website.

There is no requirement that the purchases be made for school purpose.  All retailers who sell the exempt items are required to participate. Online purchases of qualifying items are also tax-exempt during the sales tax holiday.

“This is an event that benefits both consumers and businesses in Virginia,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a statement.  “Many families will be sending more than one child off to school soon, and this gives them an opportunity to save money on purchases that are necessary to get them ready for class.”

Photo of backpack courtesy of Target

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Del. Ken Plum: Billion-Dollar Giveaway

Del. Ken Plum/File photoBy the time you are reading this column, Virginia will have reached the milestone by having refused to accept a billion dollars of monies paid by Virginia taxpayers to close the coverage gap for 400,000 working poor Virginians who cannot afford health insurance. A $1,000,000,000 is a lot of money!

We got to this point by the Republican majority in the General Assembly refusing to pass a plan for Medicaid expansion that would bring more than $5 million dollars a day to the state, produce as many as 30,000 new jobs in the health care industry, insure as many as 400,000 of the working poor, and enhance the quality of life for Virginia’s workforce and their families.

What is the alternative proposed by the Republicans? Speaker of the House Howell was quoted last month as saying that House Republicans propose to help the uninsured through “free clinics and community health centers and through expanded hospital services.” Hospital representatives are saying that they need the Medicaid money in order to expand services. One hospital in the state has closed, and others report financial stress. The free clinic serving this region is reported to be in economic difficulties.

Last week, Stan Brock’s Remote Area Medical (RAM) set up its mobile clinic in Wise County, VA, as it has been doing one weekend a year for more than a decade. More than 1,000 people who do not have medical insurance or access to regular medical services show up and stand in line for hours to be seen by one or several of the more than a hundred medical care professionals who volunteer each year to run this free clinic. Brock, who achieved fame for his television series Wild Kingdom, has described health care needs and services in the Appalachian region that includes Southwest Virginia as being like that of a third-world country.

The General Assembly majority has been able to stymie efforts by the Governor to get a plan for Medicaid expansion approved. While the legislature is still in special session, it is not expected to meet again until Sept. 22. There is little optimism that there will be a change of heart on the part of Republicans as the national organization Americans for Prosperity threaten a primary challenge to anyone who breaks rank. Two senior Republican committee chairs were defeated in primaries in the last election cycle by Tea Party Republicans as was House Majority Leader Congressman Eric Cantor defeated this year. Unfortunately, the desire to keep one’s legislative seat seems stronger than the moral call to do the right thing and provide health care to people who need it.

The billion-dollar give-away is money paid by Virginians under the Affordable Care Act that goes to Washington and is not returned because of the legislature’s refusal to act. Write to your friends, family, and colleagues and encourage them to contact their legislators to support legislation that will keep $5 million a day that will add up to another billion dollars by early next year in the state for the benefit of Virginians.

Ken Plum represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates 

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New Voter ID Rule, Other Laws in Effect in Virginia Today

Virginia State Flag/File graphicIt’s July 1. That means many new Virginia laws go into effect today, including a new voter ID law.

The new law requires Virginia voters to show an acceptable form of photo identification before being able to cast their votes in any upcoming elections.

Acceptable forms include a Virginia driver’s license; a U.S. passport or any other photo ID issued by the U.S., Virginia or one of its political subdivisions; a student ID issued by any institute of higher learning in Virginia; or any employee ID card.

Under the new law, introduced by Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), Virginia residents who do not already possess one of the accepted forms of photo identification will be provided a photo ID card by their local registrar. They can obtain a photo ID card free of charge. Implementing the new ID process will cost the state $166,000 in startup costs as well as $13,000 in annual costs, state officials said.

However, residents who apply for these free cards will not have to prove their identity in order to get one. At the local level, details on the process are still being finalized, says Cameron Quinn, general registrar for Fairfax County.

Quinn told the Fairfax Times only about three percent of Fairfax County’s 700,000 registered voters, or about 21,000 people, would need to obtain one of the free cards in order to be able to vote.

Some of the other new Virginia laws going to into effect on July 1:

Hybrid car tax — The unpopular $64 annual license tax on hybrid vehicles is no more. The tax was implemented as part of a major transportation funding overhaul passed last year. The state will provide for refunds of the tax paid for registration years beginning on or after July 1.

School ratings — Implementation of the state’s A-F system to rate schools was pushed to Oct. 1, 2016. Legislation passed this year also says the Virginia Board of Education should decide whether to assign a single letter grade to each school or a series of letter grades based on multiple factors, such as the standards of accreditation, alternative assessment, student mobility and per-pupil funding.

SOL reform — Fewer Standards of Learning tests will be administered to students in grades three to eight as a result of legislation passed this year.

Sunday hunting — A landowner and his immediate family or a person with written permission from the landowner may now hunt or kill any wild bird or wild animal, including any nuisance species, on the landowner’s property on Sunday. Hunting within 200 yards of a house of worship is prohibited, as is the use of dogs to hunt deer or bear on Sundays.

Mental health The rules have changed for holding people involuntarily for mental health evaluations. Lawmakers increased the duration of emergency custody orders from six to eight hours and required the state to find a bed for further temporary detention at one of its mental hospitals. The state then would have an additional four hours to locate a bed at a hospital closer to the person’s home. The bill was introduced by state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), who was attacked by his son in November. Austin C. “Gus” Deeds, 24, killed himself after repeatedly stabbing his father, 13 hours after being released from an expired emergency custody order.

Ethics — The law sets a cumulative $250 limit on the amount of certain gifts elected officials can accept. It requires disclosure of gifts given to spouses and immediate family members and increases transparency of financial disclosure forms by putting them online. It also lowers the threshold for reporting of stock holdings and investments on financial disclosure forms from $10,000 to $5,000.

Mopeds — Moped and scooter drivers in Virginia do not need to be licensed, but will be required to carry government-issued photo identification. Drivers and passengers will also be required to wear a helmet, as well as a face shield or safety glasses or goggles. Mopeds and scooters operated in Virginia also need to be titled and registered. Titles cost $10, and the annual registration fee is $20.25.

Bicycle safety — Bicyclists will have more room between them and passing cars under a law that requires motorists to give 3-foot clearance to cyclists. Previously, the law required 2 feet of clearance by passing vehicles.

Fox penning Virginia is phasing out pens in which dogs chase captive foxes. The legislation passed allows Virginia’s more than 30 pens to keep operating for up to 40 years, but bans new pens.

Pet owners protection — Pet shop or licensed pet dealers will be required to provide breeder information for dogs or cats for sale and to reimburse consumers for some medical costs related to dogs or cats certified by a veterinarian as unfit for purchase. Previous law only required dealers to refund the purchase price or exchange the unfit pet for one of equivalent value.

Illegal images — It is now a Class 1 misdemeanor to disseminate or sell an unauthorized nude or sexually explicit image of another person with the intent to harass, coerce or intimidate the person depicted.

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