Editor's Note: Area legislators are back in session having convened at the State House in Richmond on Wednesday. Local officials and their key issues are profiled in this issue.
Delegate Kris Amundson
Name: Delegate Kristen Amundson
Party Affiliation: Democrat-District 44
Contact information: Richmond-804-698-1044, Mount Vernon-703-619-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org
Legislative Assistant: Heath Bumgardner
Committees: Agriculture Chesapeake and Natural Resources; Counties Cities and Towns
Top bills and studies for 2002:
* Satellite public education facilities (HB755) authorizes school boards to enter into agreement with private business and industry for the establishment, installation, renovation, remodeling of construction of satellite classrooms for grades kindergarten though three, on a site owned by the business and industry and leased to the school board at no cost.
"This will save hundreds of dollars in construction and transportation costs," said Amundson.
* Workers Compensation, Infectious Disease presumption (HB757) creates a presumption that infectious diseases causing the death or disability of emergency workers who are exposed to blood or body fluids are occupational diseases for the purposes of workers' compensation.
* Education, funding for state Standards of Quality (HB758) provides that, notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Commonwealth shall fund at least 55 percent of the total actual costs of public education.
This bill is still working its way through the House and will be introduced in the upcoming session; it will be one of Amundson's top five issues.
* JLARC Independent boards & commission study (HJ125) directs the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to study the operations, practices and duties of the state's independent boards and commissions.
This is an ongoing study, and Amundson said, "There are many boards and commissions that no longer meet or aren't functioning and we've begun to eliminate them."
Top Concerns for 2003
* Truth in Budgeting —
If revenue growth starts to differ from forecast, than a reforecast will be required. Amundson will be co-sponsoring this with Del. Vincent Callahan (R-34).
"I am honored to carry one of the governor's [pieces of] legislation," said Amundson.
* School Construction Grant Act of 2003 —
The funding formula will be changed so that when Virginia issues $1billion in bonds for construction and renovation, Fairfax County will receive a certain $72 million to meet those needs.
"Every school district has construction needs. A quarter of the schools are operating at over 105 percent of capacity and 46 percent are over 30 years old," said Amundson. "It's good sense to do the construction now and pay for it over time, just like a mortgage. Fairfax County still maintains its AAA bonding status; interest rates are low and construction workers are looking for work."
* Workers Safety Bill —
This will require that needleless systems be available to protect healthcare workers against accidental needle sticks. "These systems are in use by some healthcare providers, just not all of them," said Amundson, who has begun to develop a special interest in worker's safety.
* Fair Share Bill —
It will ask that Fairfax County only pay 60 percent of costs instead of the current 72 percent. "We're taking a long and hard look at funding formulas for public schools," said Amundson, explaining that with the extra services Fairfax County provides, the amount they pay is closer to 80 percent. She feels that this will free up the responsibility of dealing with higher property taxes.
* Teen Court —
This bill was suggested by Megan Torres, a sophomore at Mount Vernon High School, who participated in, and won Amundson's 'There Ought to be a Law' contest. According to Amundson's office, Torres proposed that local communities begin adopting Teen Courts, a cost-effective alternative to juvenile courts that has had success in smaller communities. First-time offenders for minor offenses would be judged by a jury of their peers at local high school or at County Center, and would work out the sentence.
Senator Linda "Toddy" Puller
Name: Senator Linda "Toddy" Puller
Party Affiliation: Democrat-District 36
Elected: 1991 (Virginia House of Delegates), 1999 (Virginia Senateís 36th District)
Contact information: Richmond-804-698-7536, Mount Vernon-703-765-1150, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Legislative Assistant: Kate Morosoff
Committees: Joint Commission on Health Care; Disability Commission; Northern Virginia Community College Education Fund; Advisory board for the Education for Independence program; Healthy Families Advisory Board; Science, Energy and Environmental Resources Committee for the National Conference of State Legislators
Top bills and studies — 2002:
* Special Education Health Services Bill (SB 465) requires the Department of Medical Assistance Services to reimburse school divisions providing health-related services to special education students as participating providers in the Virginia Medicaid program for transportation services between the student's home, the school or other sites where health-related services are to be provided on those days when the special education student is scheduled to receive health-related services at the school or such other site.
Getting this bill passed was one of the major accomplishments for Puller in 2002; according to her office, she plans to work to accomplish more in this area in the next session.
* JLARC study on technical funding will study technical funding across the Commonwealth; interim report has been released.
* Work for Disabled various agencies are working toward providing more flexibility for disabled people to keep working and still keep their Social Security benefits.
Top concerns for 2003:
*VDOT Reform Bill—
This bill will require more accountability for any VDOT project over $100 million. Gov. Mark Warner asked Puller to champion this bill.
"We would have known about the Mixing Bowl run-over and might have been able to adjust the scale of the project," said Puller. "That project is taking nearly all the money from Northern Virginia." Puller cited the Woodrow Wilson replacement bridge as another example.
* School Construction Grant Act of 2003—
This funding formula will be changed so that when Virginia issues $1 billion in bonds for construction and renovation, Fairfax County will receive a certain $72 million to meet those needs.
Puller is sponsoring this bill in the Senate, while Delegate Kris Amundson is sponsoring it in the House.
* Disabled and Aging —
This will require affordable housing to be accessible for disabled and aging. Puller said that there are some incentives now for home and community developers to make them more accessible, but that they need more.
* Banning of hand-held cell phones.
* Approval of budget —
"The biggest concern this session is the budget. This will be one of the hardest sessions I've ever been in because of the decisions we have to make," said Puller, adding that it will be even harder because it is a short session.
"Mental health advocates are terrified of losing money for their services. We will try to take care of as much as we can. There are other programs, such as Healthy Families, I don't want to see cut either," said Puller.
Marian Van Landingham
Name: Delegate Marian Van Landingham
Party Affiliation: Democrat, 45th District
Years of Service: Elected 1981—present
Contact: Capitol Phone: 804-698-1045
District Office Phone: 703-549-2511
Committee Assignments: Appropriations
Governor Mark Warner’s budget outlines many cuts totaling $2 billion. “He has said that funding for basic education is not going to be cut,” said Delegate Marian Van Landingham (D-45). “However, the categorical grants for at-risk students are vulnerable. Last year we fought back a move to put all of that money into a block grant but I think it is going to come up again this year. That would force localities to decide which of these important programs is more important than the others and make the cuts at the local level. Alexandria would be hurt by this because our school system gets little money from the formula and more from the categorical grants.”
Van Landingham is still recovering from surgery and will begin chemotherapy next week. “I am feeling well,” she said. “I get tired but am ready for the session.”
She will introduce very few bills this year and will concentrate on her work on the Appropriations Committee. “I am introducing legislation that would preserve the funding that we have been able to get for our English as a Second Language programs over the years,” Van Landingham said. “I have always just added it in during the budget discussions but I am hoping to get this legislation passed to at least protect that funding at its current level, fully realizing that it doesn’t come close to meeting the needs of our ESL population.” Current funding pays for two ESL teachers per one thousand students.
WILL THERE BE any increase in the regional gas tax to fund transit or any increase in the state’s tax on cigarettes to fund either education or mental health programs? “Again, I just don’t see it,” Van Landingham said. “We are going to have to make some very hard decisions about the role of government. There are those who say we do too much but aren’t really willing to tell us what exactly we should stop providing. At the same time, they want to keep cutting taxes. I’m not really sure that many of these folks really understand what government does.
“The governor did a pretty good job of making cuts and I really don’t see us making any substantial changes,” Van Landingham said. “We will move some small pots of money around a bit but they will be very small pots because that’s all we have. In the end analysis, we will pretty much end up with the governor’s proposed budget.”
Senator Patsy Ticer
Name: Senator Patricia S. “Patsy” Ticer
Affiliation: Democrat, 30th District
Years of Service: Elected 1995—present
Contact: Capitol Phone: 804-698-7530
District Office Phone: 703-549-5770
Committee Assignments: Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources, Local Government and Rehabilitation and Social Services
Senator Patricia "Patsy" Ticer (D-30) is only introducing eight new bills this year, whereas, in 2002, she introduced 30. “There’s just no money to fund many of the initiatives that I have carried in the past so there just is very little point,” she said. “I am trying to focus on those little things that have some hope of passing.”
One of those is a bill that would include foster parents as victims under the victims rights and assistance act. “This would allow foster parents to legally be considered as victims,” she said. “This would mean that they could submit victim impact statements, be allowed to remain in the courtroom during trials and just generally be treated as victims.
“This is the right thing to do because when a child is killed like Katelynn Frazier, her foster parents were certainly affected,” she said.
Ticer will also carry a bill that the Department of Motor Vehicles would like to see passed. “It would make using a false name or address to obtain a driver’s license a class six felony instead of a class two misdemeanor,” she said. “The penalties are much greater for the felony and might make some people stop and think before using someone’s else’s name and address in order to obtain an official driver’s license. This has national security implications as well, of course,” she said.
Ticer is also carrying a bill for a constituent who was video taped in her own apartment without her knowledge or consent. “This is just a terrible crime and we want to see those who engage in such activities listed as sex offenders,” she said. “The way the bill has been drafted, it says that the criminal would be listed on the sex offender registry after the third offense but I think it should happen after the first.”
TICER HAS SOME hope that there will be a small increase in the state’s cigarette tax. “I think it could happen,” she said. “I think that there will be some discussion with the tobacco industry and they will be willing to accept a small increase that really won’t amount to much and this may pass,” she said. “I would not support designating these funds because what happens if we have better financial times and don’t need this money for mental health or education, for example? I would rather see it left undesignated.”
Hate crimes legislation, which has failed for the past several years, is, once again on Ticer’s list. “I have carried this bill for a number of years and am carrying it again,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do but I don’t have much hope that it will pass.”
Carla Branch contributed to this story.