It was standing room only at the McLean Community Center Saturday morning, when state Dels. Vincent Callahan and James Scott were joined by state Sen. Janet Howell to take questions and comments from their constituents, who came prepared to give more than one earful to their elected representatives.
“I have to say, this is the best turnout we’ve had in years,” Callahan said to the crowded room.
“It’s very useful to have these meetings because we find out things we didn’t know before,” Howell said.
The topics mentioned most often ranged from retirement benefits for teachers to teenage drivers to environmental concerns, with residents from Great Falls and McLean voicing not only their concerns but also their gratitude to their representatives for their hard work.
“What does Virginia intend to do to comply with the 2007 ozone regulations?” asked Laduska Adriance.
“We’d be socked with lots of extra penalties if we don’t comply. We are doing something about it,” Callahan said, mentioning the mandated emissions testing for cars.
“We’re not there yet, and I’m not sure, with the current rate of implementation, that we’ll get there in time,” Scott said. “I have participated in promoting telecommuting, because it’s one place where we can reduce the demand on transportation and help the environment at the same time.”
Adriance asked if planting more trees might be part of the proposed plans.
“Part of our plan is to help reduce air pollution, and in McLean we’re fortunate to have a tree planting committee that’s run by a resident,” Scott said.
“You might be surprised to know there are more trees in Virginia now than there were 200 years ago,” Callahan added.
SHARON HENDERSON AND Ivy Main from New Era for Virginia, a grassroots political organization working for voter reform, asked the officials about the possibility of looking into getting voting machines that create paper trails for future elections.
“We’re asking you to put together a system to best generate a paper trail, and also asking you to increase the number of machines for the number of people in each precinct,” Henderson said.
“We understand you are supporting many of the reforms we support, and we thank you for that,” Main said to Callahan. “A paper trail needs to be looked into.”
“We’ve been hearing these complaints for years, but we’ve been unable to get any bills out of committee,” said Howell.
Former teacher Barbara Jureidini pointed out that teachers have a maximum of $75 per month put into their pension for health-care premium benefits, whereas state retirees in the same system are eligible for up to $120 per month, after working in their professions for 35 years. “We got this benefit in the late 1990s to be used to pay for health insurance or Medicare B, but the cost of insurance has gone up since then, and the cost of Medicare B has gone up to something like $77 and change,” she said. “I think it’s time our benefit should be increased to at least the same as a state retiree to put us on equal footing and to compensate for the increase in costs.”
She said that at the time the legislation went into effect, it was done to replace the money brought in by the car tax. “I think the General Assembly should start paying for this (benefit), not the localities,” she said. “The only way the localities get money is through real estate tax.”
“Localities get money through appropriations,” Callahan said. “They haven’t lost a dime on the car tax.”
He also said the rate will most likely never increase past the level at which it currently stands.
A matter of “great concern” over the past few months was the increase in deaths among teenage drivers. Olivia Janey asked the panel what could be done. “There is a movement for home-schooling drivers’ education,” she said. “There has to be a way for a teenager to be supervised by an adult while driving.”
She suggested integrating an “adult-supervised training period; that way both the teenagers and the adults will learn something.” She said that it’s equally important for teenagers to learn to stop in addition to learning how to go forward, adding that she used this technique with her children, who were surprised to see how much of a forward thrust is felt stopping quickly at even 15 miles per hour.