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Focus on Fairfax
March 2010
Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Last Sunday marked the end of the 2010 General Assembly with the adoption of the new biennial budget.  I've had to take some pretty tough votes over the last five years, but this was one of the toughest.  For those of you not familiar with the budget process, once the House and Senate have passed their respective budgets, a conference committee of 12 legislators is formed to negotiate the final budget.  The conference report, which is the final budget, is then voted up or down with no amendments.  As a result, each of us has to choose whether the "good" parts of the budget outweigh the "bad."


The Budget


While this budget is not ideal, the General Assembly had to address a revenue shortfall of over $4 billion.  It is our constitutional responsibility.  So with many reservations, I voted with a majority of my colleagues (34Y-6N in the Senate and the 73Y-23N in the House) to pass the budget.


For me, several items were potential deal-breakers - especially when it came to education.  As noted in previous newsletters there was a proposal to "freeze" the Local Composite Index (LCI) using outdated figures.  The LCI is the way that Virginia distributes most K-12 education funding.  This would have cost Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax over $61 million.  Another issue was to make sure that Northern Virginia was not stripped of our "cost-to-compete" funding.  This is extra funding provided to our region for teacher salaries in recognition of our higher cost-of-living.  Early iterations of the budget would have eliminated at least part of this funding.  Fortunately, our Northern Virginia delegation was able to successfully fight these proposed changes.  While funding for education was cut, it could have been much worse.


Thanks to the insistence of the Virginia Senate, the final budget also made some key changes that mitigated cuts to Medicaid and maintained current eligibility levels for FAMIS.  FAMIS is Virginia's program that helps families provide health insurance to their children.  The adopted budget also restored some funding for homelessness prevention programs and saved the Commission for the Arts from being eliminated (as proposed in the original House version of the budget).


Of great concern to me is that the Northern Virginia Regional Commission was cut 68%.  This organization is responsible for fostering cooperation among Northern Virginia local governments.  At a time when regional planning is even more important, I believe that such a cut is simply short-sighted.  We also made significant changes to the Virginia Retirement System.  That, combined with no salary increase for state employees who have not had an increase in the last two years, will make it harder for Virginia and localities to compete for the best and brightest employees.  The list goes on. 


A Busy Final Week


While the final week was focused on the budget, many other important items continued to be debated on the House floor.  Most of these did not warrant front page news - but are representative of the issues facing our Commonwealth.  The following are a few examples of bills that passed.  HB513 allows a motor vehicle to be administratively impounded for a repeat offense of driving without an operator's license.  HB737 requires Virginia state agencies to participate in the federal E-Verify program to ensure that employees are eligible to work legally in the United States.  And, SB248 attempts to make the legal process fairer for indigent defendants in capital cases by giving them better access to expert witnesses.  I supported each of these bills.


In the category of "I didn't know you could do that," we also passed legislation (SB96) to make it a crime for someone who has been pulled over by a law enforcement officer to then flee on foot.  Currently, it is a Class 2 misdemeanor to elude an officer by not pulling a vehicle over.  But the Code of Virginia doesn't prohibit someone from running once the vehicle is stopped.  I voted for the measure.


Despite the budget challenge, this was a personally productive session.  Seven of my bills passed the General Assembly.  Five of these have been described in previous newsletters.  Two final bills that passed relate to protecting personal information in an age where identity theft is all too easy and frequent.


Protecting Scholastic Records


I am a strong believer in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and am even a member of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.  However, I am equally passionate that sensitive personal information shouldn't be open for public inspection.  This year, I was alerted by George Mason University about a dangerous oversight in our laws regarding scholastic records.  Currently, the scholastic records of a student are protected from a FOIA request.  However, the scholastic records of applicants for admission are not protected.  Not only are these records open to FOIA during the admissions process, but if the person isn't accepted, these records are open in perpetuity.  My HB211 fixed this problem.  The General Assembly deemed the issue important enough to make the bill "emergency legislation," meaning that it goes into affect immediately upon signature by the Governor rather than waiting until July 1st. 


Strengthening Virginia's Extortion Law


My HB210 addresses an actual internet scheme where a perpetrator threatens to sell stolen personal identifying information such as a Social Security Number or credit card number unless the victim pays a large sum of money.  Unfortunately, these ploys have proliferated with the growth of on-line technology and the widespread availability of personal information.  After making inquiries to the Virginia Office of the Attorney General, I was alerted that our existing extortion statute did not anticipate these types of schemes and that prosecution would be "problematic" or "unpredictable."  Working with the Office of the Attorney General I submitted a bill to ensure that Virginia's extortion statute covers "a threat to sell, distribute, or release sensitive identifying information." 


Identity theft can devastate a family and costs our nation billions of dollars each year.  It is bad enough that so many Virginia families fall victim to identity theft.  It is even worse to think that someone could get away with this crime because our laws are out of date.  This bill now awaits signature by the Governor.


Snow Storm Follow-Up and Likely Special Sessions


With the beautiful weather it is easy to forget that only a month ago we were waist deep in snow.  Again, I want to thank everyone for their comments and suggestions.  The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and VDOT held a "snow summit" this past Tuesday to discuss what went right and what went wrong.  I also coordinated a letter on behalf of my Northern Virginia colleagues to the Virginia Secretary of Transportation.  I have posted the letter on my web page if you are interested. 


While the regular session is now over, we go back to Richmond for the Veto Session on April 21st.  In addition, Governor McDonnell has indicated that he may call two special sessions on the topics of higher education and transportation.  Until then, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or if I can be of assistance!

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David Bulova
Delegate, 37th Virginia House District
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