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Focus on Fairfax Newsletter of Delegate David Bulova
September 2009

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Where did the summer go?  It seems like only yesterday that the kids finished school and excitedly looked forward to camp and hanging out with friends.  This Tuesday, I waved as Josette got on the bus for Bonnie Brae, and Alex got on the bus as a brand new Robinson Ram.

I am pleased to announce that I will once again be hosting informal office hours at Main Street Bagel.  The first event will take place this Saturday, September 12th from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.  The format is casual and no appointment is needed.  I will also be holding office hours on October 10th and November 14th.

While the General Assembly is convened for only two months, there is still a lot that goes on during the rest of the year.  This year was no exception.  Below is a summary of just a few of the issues, big and small.  Scroll down until you find something that peaks your interest!  As always, please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

April - Weights and Measures.  How do you know that you are really getting a gallon of gasoline at the gas station?  Most people have never heard of them, but the inspectors at the Virginia Office of Product and Industry Standards (OPIS) are responsible for ensuring the accuracy of everything from gasoline dispensers to grocery store scales and scanners.  Unfortunately, OPIS is terribly understaffed.  This year, in a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to solve the problem, last-minute language was introduced into the budget to privatize these functions.  Similar attempts in other states have resulted in wide-spread problems and have usually been abandoned.  Fortunately, the Governor exercised his veto authority and the House of Delegates unanimously agreed with him.

May - Check Your Tax Returns!  Sometimes in-laws come in very handy.  When my mother-in-law received her Virginia income tax refund, she noticed a $50 discrepancy - without any explanation.  After further investigation, the Department of Taxation admitted to a glitch in the way their system was handling Virginia's tax credit for contributions to local and state candidates.  The glitch was fixed and my mother-in-law received her check for $50 - still without an explanation.  So if you claimed a credit for a contribution and got a mystery check from the Commonwealth, mystery solved!

June - 3rd Grade History SOLs.  June started off with a brief controversy over a Board of Education proposal to eliminate the 3rd Grade History and Social Sciences SOL.  The purpose was to reduce the number of tests.  However, selectively eliminating history and social sciences touched a nerve - even among those who admitted to disliking the SOLs.  While I am a believer in accountability, the SOLs come with a down-side.  If it isn't tested, a subject can easily be de-emphasized.  Understanding our history and the role that Virginia played in our nation's founding is essential to responsible citizenship.  Ultimately the Board of Education agreed.  However, while eliminating this requirement in a vacuum was not the best approach, after 10 years of experience with the SOLs, I also heard near unanimous support for the Board of Education to conduct a comprehensive review to ensure that the SOLs are balanced and reasonable.

July - Happy Birthday House of Delegates.  On July 30th, 390 years ago, the House of Delegates (then the House of Burgesses) first convened at Jamestown.  One of the first laws passed was a requirement that each household plant six mulberry trees each year for seven years - the purpose of which was to foster a Virginia silk industry.  The minutes also unceremoniously noted that one of the 22 burgesses died on the third day.  We've come a long way.

July - No Rest (Areas) for the Weary.  I received numerous letters and emails from constituents concerned about the decision to close rest areas along I-95 and I-81.  I strongly share the concern.  This past April, I was one of only a handful of people to testify against the closures at VDOT's public hearing in the City of Fairfax.  While closing our rest areas is not the solution, VDOT has been placed in an untenable financial situation and has been forced to lay off thousands of employees.  Many of us, including myself, have fought hard to finally address our transportation funding crisis.  As a side note, one of the potential solutions is to privatize our rest areas so that they become self- sustaining.  Maryland's rest areas are a good example.  Unfortunately, Congress has enacted a prohibition against further privatization because of lobbying from existing fast food restaurants and truck stops.  Congressman Wolf submitted legislation to give Virginia an exemption, but it was quickly defeated in committee. 

July - Identity Theft and the "Man from Ghana."  As many of you know, I've made the issue of identity theft a personal priority.  In July, I experienced first hand why this is so important when I received a call from a man claiming to be from Ghana who threatened to sell my personal information unless I gave him $30,000.  It was an enormously frustrating affair as I dealt with harassing phone calls and spent countless hours alerting credit bureaus.  However, thanks to two very astute members of the Attorney General's staff who worked with the FBI and Secret Service, the man was caught.  And yes, he was from Ghana.  Equally important is that the episode revealed a weakness in Virginia's extortion laws.  Fortunately, the man is facing federal charges.  But, you better believe that this will be the first bill I put in this year.

August - Special Session to Address Melendez-Diaz.  Here is a very abridged version of a very complicated issue.  Basically, the United States Supreme Court in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts held that a lab certificate cannot substitute for the chemist who actually performed the analysis.  As a result, the burden has now shifted to the Commonwealth to have a live witness at trial before a certificate can be admitted into evidence.  This causes a significant problem, especially in DUI and drug possession cases, since there are not enough scientists and lab technicians to testify in every court.  In response, the Governor called the General Assembly into special session to at least better manage the situation until a more comprehensive approach can be developed.  The solution has two components.  First, in order to provide more certainty for when a technician will need to appear in court, a Commonwealth's Attorney will send a copy of the certificate of analysis to the defense at least 28 days prior to trial.  The defense then has 14 days to object and demand that the technician appear in person.  If the defense does not object, the right to confront the witness at trial is waived.  Second, the new law allows for a reasonable continuance if the technician is not available.  The continuance is limited to ensure the right to a speedy trail - up to 90 days if a defendant is incarcerated and 180 days if a defendant is out on bond.

September - Strengthening Our Private Colleges and Universities.  Earlier this year I was appointed to serve on a special committee to look at ways to help private colleges and universities bring down costs so that more Virginia students can use them as an educational option.  We are still experiencing significant growth in the student population in Virginia.  The thought is that some of this pressure could be reduced by making private colleges more attractive and affordable.  Ideas being discussed include (1) increasing the amount of funding for Tuition Assistance Grants for students who want to attend a private college or university and (2) helping to reduce the cost of capital improvements.  Regarding the latter, Virginia could use targeted matching grants or help lower interest rates by guaranteeing loans.  While current budget constraints won't allow for any direct public expenditures (our public universities just took an 8% hit in the latest round of cuts), a loan guarantee program is worth considering.  Other states, including Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York, provide similar support.

September - Budget Woes Part II.  The Commonwealth is continuing to manage the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.  As you probably know, Governor Kaine released his plan to address a $1.35 billion shortfall in the FY 2010 budget.  This is on top of more than $2.8 billion already cut during the last General Assembly session.  While cuts are never easy, Virginia's fiscal conservatism has put us in a better position than most of our neighboring states.  Regrettably, the latest round of cuts couldn't be done without layoffs - 593 in total.  Further, a one-day furlough will be implemented for all executive branch employees.  The cuts do not include any reductions to public education, do not increase debt to fund capital expenses, and do not transfer any money from the Transportation Trust Fund.  More to come in future newsletters.  See the Governor's full budget reduction plan.

Thank you for your interest in the issues affecting the 37th District and our Commonwealth.  To talk about these issues and others in person, please stop by Main Street Bagel this Saturday between 9:00 and 11:00 a.m.!


David Bulova

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