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Monday, February 6, 2017

State legislative action presented at Town Hall

Del. Kaye Kory and Sen. Dave Marsden speak at a Town Hall meeting on state legislation.
Actions at the federal level are grabbing the headlines but the Virginia General Assembly has been making important decisions with widespread implications for state residents.

State lawmakers representing the Annandale/Mason District area—Sen. Dave Marsden, Del. Kaye Kory, and Sen. Dick Saslaw—explained what’s going on at a well-attended Town Hall meeting Feb. 4 at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School.

Feb. 7 is “crossover” when the Senate and House of Delegates stop considering their own bills so they can address legislation passed in the other body. At this point, it’s become clear that most bills that have been introduced won’t be passed.

Here’s a review of key topics addressed at the Town Hall:

Guns

Despite numerous petitions and rallies for sensible gun laws, several bills to make it easier to carry a gun and get an online permit are under consideration. “We might be able to stop some of these efforts” if lawmakers hear from voters, said Del. Kaye Kory (D).

Gun advocates actually bring AK47s to the state Capitol on Gun Lobby Day, noted Sen. Dave Marsden (D).

Gun advocates are extremely active in Virginia and wield a lot of influence, Marsden noted. “Primaries are controlled by very few people.” Voters with the most extreme views in their party are most likely to turn out for primaries, so people with more moderate views often get defeated.

Healthcare

Attempts to repeal legislation enacted last year requiring clinics that perform abortions to meet the same regulations as hospitals have been tabled.

All of the bills addressing women’s reproductive health and other women’s health issues have been lumped together by Sen. Dave Albo (R). According to Kory, Albo said there is no chance that that bills will be passed so they won’t even be heard.

Regulations will be out shortly on a measure proposed by Marsden last year allowing patients with intractable epilepsy to have legal access to THC oil, a chemical derived from marijuana.

The current drugs on the market can make kids psychotic and violent, he said. THC is a safer remedy with fewer side effects — and “won’t get you high.”

A bill he introduced this year, which was passed by the Senate, would allow THC oils for patients with other diseases, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and glaucoma.

If Congress repeals the Affordable Care Act without passing a replacement, Virginia’s general fund would take a $200 million hit, said Sen. Dick Saslaw (D), who arrived toward the end of the town hall. “It’s not a perfect law. It can be made better. But an out-and-out repeal would be total chaos.”

Voting

A bill sponsored by Kory to let people vote absentee in person without having to identify an excuse for not being able to vote on Election Day died in committee. Another bill she sponsored, to extend the deadline for online voting registration if the computer system is down, also died.

Meanwhile, legislation by Republicans to make it harder to vote is advancing, including one bill that would limit the kind of photo IDs people need to bring to the polls.

Voter ID laws are designed to suppress voting by young people and minorities – people the Republicans expect to vote Democratic, Marsden noted.

Criminal justice 

A bill sponsored by Marsden and passed by the Senate eases the rules for juveniles in prison with lengthy sentences.  After the Supreme Court upheld laws requiring children sentenced to life in prison to be given some opportunity for eventual parole, Virginia agreed to allow juveniles to qualify for “geriatric release” at age 60.

Marsden’s bill would allow a 25-year review of anyone sentenced to life without parole as a juvenile. “Nobody is irredeemable,” he said. “We need to give people a chance. That’s what America is all about.”

A bill sponsored by Kory that was passed in the House would eliminate the current requirement that inmates in state prison with a light sentence must give up 10 percent of their earnings when they are released. That would apply to just 60 people, Kory said.

Kory predicted a bill in the house protecting the identify of police officers under investigation will pass. Currently it’s up to the local jurisdiction to determine when to release the names of police officers being investigated for the discharge of a firearm or use of force. The bill would require the names of such officers to be withheld if the officer is not charged with a crime.

Marsden said he supports “keeping the name private but only to a point.” Investigations should not drag on indefinitely, and officers should either be charged or not, he said. “There is a need for transparency.”

Short-term rentals

Several measures were introduced to regulate the use of private homes for short-term rentals, such as those arranged through Airbnb and similar companies, but none of them passed, Kory said.

Marsden supports regulation of short-term rentals but opposed a bill that would have required property owners to register with the county only if they rent out their home for 30 days or more.

Marsden said he would like to protect homeowners when their neighbors frequently rent their homes to large, noisy groups and would like short-term rentals to be taxed.

A bill that is likely to pass in the House, Kory said, would allow neighborhood associations and HOAs to amend their bylaws more easily to restrict home businesses, including short-term rentals.

According to Marsden, courts ruled that the commonwealth can’t do anything to restrict Airbnb because the company doesn’t have a physical presence in Virginia. As a result, the only options are to regulate short-term rentals at the homeowner level.

Immigration

Kory, who started the New American Caucus a few years ago, got a group together recently to work with the DMV to look at allowing legal immigrants, such as asylum seekers, to get driver’s licenses.

She called it “ridiculous and crazy and rather immoral,” to bar these people from driving legally, noting that some of them had risked their lives working for the U.S. military.

This issue has been under consideration for several years, but now that the work group wants to close the loopholes, Kory said, “the Republicans don’t want to talk about it.”

The House tabled efforts to allow young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to pay in-state tuition at Virginia colleges under President Obama’s executive order on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). In 2014, Virginia General Attorney Mark Herring ruled those youths qualify for in-state tuition.

Now that Trump wants to eliminate DACA, the Republicans in the General Assembly don’t want to deal with it, Kory said.

Funding

“It’s a difficult budget year with a $2 billion shortfall that has to be made up,” said Marsden. As a result, the big investments in education approved last year are under threat.

Marsden supports legislation to raise the starting salaries of state troopers from $40,000 to $46,000 and give other state employees a 3 percent raise. Many state employees have had to resort to federal food benefits because their pay is so low, he said.

Marsden supports changes in the tax code to recognize the transformation of Virginia from a manufacturing and agricultural-based economy to a service economy. The commonwealth could raise more revenue, he said, by taxing services and eliminating tax credits. He also wants to lower the income tax.

A member of the audience noted that Fairfax County schools face a deficit of $40 to $80 million and asked how Northern Virginia can get more state funding, noting residents here pay higher taxes.

Just 24 of the 100 house districts would be interested in changing the school formula, as they would be the ones that benefit, Marsden said, so efforts to change it aren’t likely to pass.

The formula for allocating state funds to localities is based on the income and cost of living in that area, and Northern Virginia is wealthier than the rest of the state, Kory noted. Most of the funding for the schools comes from the county, not the state.

Redistricting

The Senate passed several bills calling for redistricting but bills on that issue failed in the House.

According to Marsden, the Supreme Court has upheld gerrymandering but it can’t be done along racial lines. Projections for the 2020 Census indicate southeastern Virginia could lose a senator — due to population loss spurred by economic decline — and Northern Virginia could gain a Senate seat.

“It’s important to have a Democratic governor and attorney general when we get new census data,” Kory said. Unless there is a more partisan balance, more equitable redistricting won’t happen.

The U.S. Supreme has agreed to hear a case about whether Virginia’s state legislative map is racially biased.

Meanwhile, a group called OneVirginia2021 is pushing to end politically motivated gerrymandering and establish an impartial commission and redraw the state and congressional district maps after the 2020 Census in a way that is fair, independent, and transparent.

1 comment:

  1. Does it really matter, look around Mason, its stagnating. I have lost all confidence in our local, state and federal government. Never felt this way, it just seems that the Trump affect of chaos will impact our lives locally, and not in a good way. As for our local government, they are operating on an outdated mode of governing that simply doesn't work anymore.

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