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Votes

Column: 2013 General Assembly’s Mixed Record

Now that the 2013 session of the General Assembly’s work has been completed, except for the April 3 veto session, I will continue my report on several measures. I have already covered the transportation legislation and Medicaid.

I cast 2,000 votes in this session for our district.

Six bills that I authored or was chief co-patron for await the Governor’s signature, along with three budget amendments. Three of my bills were referred to study commissions.

Last year, we passed legislation that required voters to present some form of identification. This included a social security card, voter registration card, utility bill, bank statement or paycheck. The General Assembly this year approved a bill that deleted all of these and requires a voter to present photo ID. I opposed this bill.

Voter registrars do not mail out voter registration cards every year. Eleven percent of Americans do not have a picture or government-issued ID. Many elderly, blind, young and low-income voters do not have government-issued IDs. On the floor, I argued that someone could effectively be denied their right to vote if they lose their driver’s license or it is suspended and surrendered if they do not pay a traffic fine. The Department of Justice has blocked similar legislation in states like Virginia with a history of racial discrimination. This bill awaits the Governor’s action.

The Governor proposed several education bills. The Governor continued to press school reform legislation. I supported legislation creating A-F letter grades for every school in the state based on existing state and federal performance and improvement metrics. More information is a good thing and existing school rating systems require a graduate degree to understand. Easy-to-understand information will help generate parental interest and involvement.

The legislature also passed, without my support, the Governor’s proposal called Opportunity School Districts. If a school cannot improve after a period of time, the school is “assigned” to the “Opportunity School District” which is run by a “School Board” made up on political appointees tasked with turning the school around.

I opposed this because, first, it completely the destroys the nexus between taxpayers, parents and accountability. The local jurisdiction will send money to Richmond and have no control over what happens to it. Parents will have no school member to work with. The Constitution of Virginia does not recognize a school district like this. Also, this could be an end run around Virginia’s school boards and encourage more charter schools.

The legislature also expanded the tax credit available for corporations to send their tax dollars to foundations to fund scholarships for private schools. Private schools have a legitimate role, but the government should not fund them.

We funded a 2 percnt raise for teachers and about 1,000 new in-state student slots at state supported colleges, and funded about 400 new slots for intellectually and developmentally disabled adults to be cared for in community settings.

Efforts to allow jurisdictions to start school before Labor Day and allow home schooled children to play in public school sports also died in the Senate again. I supported Labor Day and voted against the sports bill.

The effort to lift Virginia’s uranium mining ban did not get out of committee after a huge push by Virginia Uranium. The Governor’s effort to change Virginia’s constitution and allow automatic restoration of voting rights for convicted felons died on the third day of session.

On Wednesday, April 3, the General Assembly will meet for the veto session where we will cast another 250 votes.

Help clean up our streams on April 6. I will host another cleanup of Little Hunting Creek on Saturday, April 6, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. as part of the Alice Ferguson Foundation Annual Potomac River Cleanup. Please sign up at scottsurovell.blogspot.com.

It is an honor to serve as your delegate.