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Column: Progress on U.S. 1 Funding, Redistricting Surprise

Legislation has started to move through the legislation as the hard work of legislating began during the second week of session.

First, we made some progress securing state funding for the next study required to widen U.S. 1. We hope to have this locked in by the end of session, but I am very optimistic and we are setting up meetings with Fairfax County to confirm the process.

At the beginning of the week, I presented my legislation that would allow Virginians to vote to repeal Virginia’s 2006 constitutional amendment prohibiting any recognition of same-sex relationships. In committee, I argued that marriage is about loving, committed couples who want to make lifelong commitments to each other in good times and bad. I also feel that that denying couples that chance at the happiness that comes with being married just because they are gay is hateful and unfair.

Since the Marshall-Newman Amendment was passed in 2006, public opinion has changed significantly. My legislation would not have ordered churches to do anything. Also, the Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of gay marriage this spring. If the legislature does not act this year, we cannot deal with our constitution until the election of 2015. My legislation died in subcommittee.

For the second year in a row, I filed legislation to allow online address changes for voter registration. At subcommittee, numerous registrars from around Virginia testified that address changes were their number one problem and that online registration would increase convenience, list accuracy, reduce provisional ballots, minimize errors, and save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars — yes, hundreds of thousands of dollars. It would also be more secure given that online changes would require triple verification whereas paper has no real verification. My legislation passed subcommittee 5-1. Then, it died in committee on a party-line unrecorded voice vote.

I also introduced three new bills this week. The State Corporation Commission (SCC) regulates utilities, insurance, finance, securities, and railroads. It is Virginia’s consumer watchdog. Last year, the Supreme Court of Virginia found that the Freedom of Information Act does not apply to the SCC. I filed legislation to reverse that decision. In 1913, Justice Louis Brandeis wrote “sunshine is said to be the best of disinfectants.” I agree.

Next, on our seven-mile stretch of U.S 1, we now have 11 car title lenders, pay day lenders, check cashers, and precious metal dealers (some have dual purposes). The Board of Supervisors currently has the authority to limit the number of pawn shops in Fairfax County, but not other businesses. I introduced legislation to give our board the same authority over predatory lenders, check cashers, and “We Buy Gold!” shops.

I also introduced legislation to require community colleges to address mental health. In 2011, the Virginia College Mental Health Study found that the number one problem in Virginia is a lack of mental health coordination at community colleges. The classroom environment brings professors and students into close contact and environments where students with problems can be identified. However, Virginia’s non-residential community colleges do not have a mental health referral system in place. My legislation would change that.

Finally, on Inauguration Day, the Republicans in the Virginia Senate passed a surprise new Senate redistricting plan 20-19 redrawing every Senate seat in Virginia after one senator, a 79-year-old civil rights warrior, was in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the President’s Inauguration, and was not present to vote. It is not clear where this bill is headed, but it changes the Senate representation for about 75 people of the people in Lee and Mount Vernon. It was a dirty trick.

I have several bills up for votes and committee hearings this week. I have introduced 15 bills, three constitutional amendments, one study resolution, six budget amendments, and I am chief co-patron of four bills I helped author. You can view my legislative agenda is on my website.

I have also received over 200 responses to my online constituent survey. Please make sure you give me your feedback at www.scottsurovell.org/survey.

It is an honor to serve you in Richmond.