Happy Valentine's Day! Today is also Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day in Virginia. Two years ago, I was honored to carry House Joint Resolution 684, which designates February 14th as Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day to help bring attention to a condition that affects thousands of babies each year in Virginia alone. Many thanks to constituents Jeff and Lisa Greenfield, Billy and Beckie Reilly, and everyone with Tender Hearts for their dedication on this important issue.
Department of Justice Findings on Virginia's Services for the Disabled
While the Virginia Constitution requires our state budget to be technically balanced, that does not necessarily mean it is always structurally balanced. A prime example is how Virginia has under-funded services for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Virginia currently has over 3,000 individuals on the "urgent" waitlist for community services. And, while the proposed budget has funding to reduce that waitlist, it also cuts funding for many critical community support services. On February 10th, that neglect finally caught up with Virginia - which came in the form of a letter from the federal Department of Justice stating that we are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and that we do not meet minimum standards for care established by the Supreme Court in the 1999 Olmsteadcase. While I am always dismayed when Virginia doesn't step up to the plate on its own, I am glad that the DOJ finding is now pushing Virginia in the right direction.
That said, even the most noble of causes can have tragic results without proper planning and resources. One only needs to look at how deinstitutionalization of mental health facilities in the 1960s and 1970s resulted in an increase in homelessness and the incarceration of many people who really needed services instead. This time, we have an opportunity to get it right. Last year, Senator Barker and I helped convene a regional stakeholder group, including representatives from our Community Services Boards, to develop a plan for better coordinating services in Northern Virginia. While that plan was just a beginning, I am looking forward to working with our Secretary of Health and Human Services on the next steps of this process. Click here for a copy of the DOJ letter to the Governor.
Pickett Road Tank Farm Bills Advance
This week brought some good news regarding bills that Senator Petersen and I introduced to improve safety at the Pickett Road Tank Farm. My HB2103 and Senator Petersen's SB843 will require all above ground storage tanks at the facility to meet the same safety standards that are required for newer tanks. Many of the tanks at the facility do not yet have double bottoms or even release prevention barriers. As of this update, HB2103 passed the House unanimously and is now before the Senate, while SB843 passed both the Senate and the House and is headed to the Governor for his consideration.
My second initiative (HB1750) was in response to the tanker truck that flipped last August and spilled more than 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel near Frost and Woodson. On average, almost 400 trucks enter and leave the facility each day. My bill would have allowed the City and County to designate a safety corridor where tanker truck drivers would be subject to increased fines for speeding or running a red light. Unfortunately, we discovered that Virginia is pre-empted by federal USDOT regulations. However, after several meetings, I received written commitments from the National Tank Truck Carriers and the Virginia Trucking Association to meet with community leaders to discuss additional safety measures that can be implemented in our area.
Virginia Office of the Inspector General
For many years, Virginia has had an odd situation where several state agencies have inspectors general (Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, Corrections, Juvenile Justice, and Transportation), but there is no actual state-wide inspector general office. In what I think is an important step, the Governor's Commission on Reform and Restructuring recommended the elimination of separate offices and the establishment of a comprehensive office that can investigate complaints alleging fraud, waste, abuse, or corruption by all state agencies. A truly bi-partisan effort (with a Republican patron and a Democratic chief co-patron), HB2076 passed the House 96Y-2N and is now headed to the Senate.
Required Notice of Projects at State Universities
This past year, I was proud to facilitate the establishment of a George Mason University Fairfax Campus Advisory Council to help foster a more collaborative approach to decisions made by GMU that affect the surrounding community. This last week, the House passed legislation (HB 2408) that will significantly augment that process by requiring universities to provide the surrounding localities notice of capital projects involving new construction costing more than $100,000. The notice must be sent prior to the planning phase of the project and prior to preparation of construction and site plans. The purpose is to ensure that affected localities have adequate notice to provide meaningful comments. The bill passed the House with a comfortable margin and is heading over to the Senate.
Trucks on I-95
Sometimes, it is what we defeat, rather than what we pass, that is of more interest to our area. An example is HB1946, which would have opened the far left lane on the stretch of I-95 between Occoquan and Richmond to truck traffic. While I don't have any scientific analysis to back up my position, as a frequent traveler of that stretch of road I am grateful to have at least one lane dedicated to passenger vehicles. The bill passed out of the Transportation Committee, but was soundly defeated on the House floor on a vote of 39Y-60N.
Finally, congratulations to the entire cast and crew of Robinson Middle School's "Once Upon a Mattress." What a fantastic performance! Below is a picture of my son, Alex, who played the King. And I thought that the General Assembly had put a few years on me!
As always, please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or would like additional information on issues affecting our community.