|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
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Composite Index (LCI) using outdated figures.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
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
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
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.
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!