Del.-elect Dave Marsden (D-41) knows that transportation is key in this year's General Assembly session. But he has some of his own ideas as well.
"Transportation is the largest issue for all of us," said Marsden, who will travel down to Richmond for the six-week session, which begins Jan. 11. He is a new face in the 41st District seat, having succeeded Jim Dillard who retired after 32 years in the House of Delegates.
Individual concerns come second to the transportation issue, said Marsden, but at the top of his own list of desired legislation are youth justice and anti-gang laws.
"In dealing with youth gangs, it's all a matter of hitting it from all angles," he said, describing one bill he is working on as enforcement from a positive angle. Although it sounds like a negative method of enforcement, said Marsden — looking into whether a child convicted of a youth gang offense and that child's family are illegal immigrants —such a law would give children a legitimate reason to stay out of a gang.
"If someone comes up to you and asks you to be in a gang, what do you say?" he said. "'No, I don't like you?' 'Gangs are bad?'… What we're doing here is giving them an excuse: 'No, sorry, I can't put my family at risk.'"
MARSDEN IS working on is a bill to allow juvenile probation staff to share gang-related intelligence with the police, he said. He also has submitted an appropriation amendment to increase the amount of money Virginia gives to local detention homes around the state. In his work at the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice from 2000 to 2002, Marsden devised a program whereby juveniles serving youth sentences can receive treatment closer to home. Juvenile detention centers all have a number of empty beds, he said, and surveys show that children do better in treatment when they are close to home. Since the state already pays about 40 percent of the cost of empty beds at local centers, then it makes sense take children out of totally state-funded centers and send them to the local centers where they can receive close-to-home care, he said.
This budget bill will cost $1.9 million the first year and $3.2 million the second, said Marsden. "Every local jurisdiction in Virginia will benefit, whether it owns or leases a detention home," he said. "As the state share goes up, the local share goes down."
Marsden is also looking to make legislation so that incarcerated parents have incentives to pay child support on time. When a child support-paying parent goes to prison, he or she goes on voluntary unemployment and so child support payments back up during the prison stay. The other parent receives state aid in the meantime. This legislation would not affect the amount of money going to the parents who receive child support, he said, but would reduce the amount the incarcerated parent has to pay back to the state if he or she makes payments faithfully.
Marsden said his path to success as a Democrat in a mostly Republican assembly will be to use his individual strengths in juvenile justice and running a state agency and listen to others. The delegate, who ran on a campaign of bipartisanship, also said he will continue as a moderate Democrat. He is already working with neighbor Del. Dave Albo (R-42) on a few youth gang bills.
The General Assembly is all about relationships, said Marsden, and he forged many during his two and a half years in Richmond.
"That comes pretty second nature," he said. "Once you get down to it, you have to put a lot of the campaigning behind you, and seek people with common interests."
If he had one "dream bill," Marsden would guarantee Fairfax County an appropriate share of education funding.
"[I would hope] that everybody would suddenly realize that despite the fact that it may reduce funding for some places, we need to be equitable, and Fairfax County needs to be treated like everybody else," he said. One legislation he has no interest in supporting, he said, is changing the definition of marriage in Virginia.
"That appears to many people to be mean-spirited and unnecessary," he said.