Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I hope that you will be able to join me for one of my Town Hall meetings this upcoming Saturday. These are a great opportunity for you to hear about what is going on in Richmond and for me to get your feedback. The first will be at Fairfax City Hall with Senator Chap Petersen from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. and the second will be at the Fairfax County Government Center with Senator Dave Marsden from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m.
We are now in our fourth week here in the General Assembly and our daily calendar continues to grow as bills wind their way through the committee system. So far, my bills to improve consistency and establish best practices for rules governing new HOAs (HB 423) and to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy when VDOT reviews local road projects (HB 1164) have passed out of committee. My bill to make it less complicated for our active duty military serving overseas to be exempted from jury duty (HB 1201) passed second reading in the House and is on its way to a final vote tomorrow.
My bill to help protect consumers from telephone bill "cramming" (HB 429) was unfortunately carried over until next year. Cramming is when a third party places a misleading or deceptive charge on your bill without authorization. The practice costs consumers hundreds of millions of dollars each year. My bill would require telephone companies to alert their customers whether or not they have a blocking mechanism to stop cramming. Most companies do, but people usually only find out after they have been the victim of fraud. I will definitely be back with this legislation next year.
Protecting Cost-to-Compete in Northern Virginia
While debate about transportation funding has received the lion's share of attention in the press, another serious issue facing Northern Virginia is the Governor's budget proposal to eliminate our "cost-to-compete" supplement for support personnel in our schools. This supplement recognizes that it is more expensive for school systems in Northern Virginia to hire and retain quality support staff such as librarians and technology staff. The proposed change would result in a loss of $23.6 million for Fairfax County and over $280,000 for the City of Fairfax in the next biennium. Given that we are already a "donor region," meaning that we get back much less than our taxpayers pay into state coffers, it should be no surprise that there is strong bi-partisan support in the Northern Virginia delegation to reverse this proposal. I am cautiously optimistic that we will be able to prevail.
Government Reorganization - Streamlining versus Transparency
The structure of our government can have a profound impact on the ability of citizens to be a part of the decision-making process. This year, the Governor has proposed a bill (HB 1291) to make significant modifications to the structure of our executive branch; including merging or eliminating several state agencies, boards, commissions, and task forces. While I generally support streamlining government, we also need to be exceedingly cautious when proposing to eliminate citizen advisory boards and commissions that provide, usually at a minimum cost, a way for citizen stakeholders to be an active part of our state government. Although the Virginia General Assembly is the oldest continuous democratically elected legislative body in the New World, we don't always make it easy for citizens to participate. To compensate, Virginia has established a wide variety of standing citizen boards and commissions. So while the proposed reorganization will save about $2 million each year, that needs to be weighed against the potential cost in reduced access and transparency.
The bill is currently under review by the General Laws Committee, of which I am a member. Boards and commissions currently slated for elimination or consolidation that may be of interest to residents in the 37th District include:
- Virginia Council on Human Resources
- Pesticide Control Board
- Small Business Advisory Board
- Virginia Public Broadcasting Board
- Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders Commission
- Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect
- Hemophilia Advisory Board
- Child Day-Care Council
- Litter Control and Recycling Advisory Board
- Board of Towing and Recovery Operations
In addition, several areas are proposed for deregulation, including certified interior designers and mold remediators and inspectors, just to name a few. I've heard from a number of constituents on these proposals and hope you will take the time to give me your feedback as well. If you would like to see the entire bill, please click here.
Finally, it is not too late to fill out my 2012 Constituent Survey. Make sure that your voice is heard on some of the issues that will come up before the General Assembly this year. Hope to see you this Saturday!