On Jan. 13, I take my oath of office as your state senator. I am planning on introducing approximately forty bills and about a dozen budget amendments in our 60-day session.
Predatory lending is a major problem in the U.S. 1 Corridor. Car title lenders have been abusing this loophole by charging rates over 200 percent by recharacterizing car title loans as separately regulated car title loans. To rein in car title lender bait and switch tactics, I am proposing to limit interest rates on consumer finance loans at 36 percent. I have also introduced legislation to prohibit car title lenders from using subsidiaries from using the open end credit loophole to also evade consumer protections.
High occupancy toll lanes or “HOT Lanes” have brought some much needed relief and predictability to commuters on I-495, I-95 and I-395 — but at a price. However, the collection of unpaid tolls through the courts has highlighted problems in the current system. I have introduced legislation to confirm a one-year statute of limitations on unpaid toll collections and to only allow a toll collector to collect stepped up fines after an actual conviction of a prior offense. This will prevent HOT lanes operators from suing commuters for over $2,000 for four offenses involving less than $20 of unpaid tolls, and provides some notice and fairness to the collection process.
I have also introduced legislation directing the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to study restructuring Virginia’s tolls to give some credit to in-state residents for the existing taxpayer investment in road projects. Other states, including Maryland, provide in-state residents discounts on toll roads. We should do the same.
I have also reintroduced a bill to restructure voting on the board that decides how transportation money is spent based on current population instead of 1930s congressional district boundaries.
I am carrying several bills to increase government transparency. The first, reverses the Supreme Court of Virginia’s opinion in my case versus Department of Corrections interpreting the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The court held that if one sentence in a government record is exempt from FOIA, the government can withhold an entire document. I called that the “poison pill” rule and my bill requires the government to redact information instead of withholding entire documents.
The court also held that a court reviewing FOIA response is required to give “great deference” to the government’s decision that information should not be disclosed. That decision runs completely against the purpose of FOIA which is to allow citizens to ensure their government is being run transparently.
I am also introducing legislation that would prohibit law enforcement from withholding police reports from families involving deaths or suicides as is the present practice. I have also introduced legislation prohibiting local governments from using executive session to discuss salary raises for elected officials as occurred last year here in Northern Virginia.
Thanks to Congressman Beyer’s amendment to federal transportation legislation, I have introduced legislation confirming that Virginia’s localities have the authority to regulate predatory towing. Also, I am carrying a bill to create a cause of action against corporations that fail to include mandatory language in consumer contracts and limit consumer’s remedies.
Plastic bags are the second largest pollutant in our area creeks. I will introduce legislation that would authorize localities in Northern Virginia to charge a $0.05 per bag tax on plastic bags.
Finally, I will introduce legislation requiring investor-owned utilities to remove and store coal ash in modern landfills. There is a 70-year-old leaking coal ash dump less than 1,000 yards from the Potomac River in Dumfries, Va. Similar legislation was passed in North Carolina’s Republican legislature last year.
You should be receiving my 2016 Constituent Survey in the mail this week. If you would like to save a stamp, you can fill it out online at www.scottsurovell.org/survey.
It will be a very busy year and I will write about a few more of my bills next week. Please continue to send me your input at email@example.com. It is an honor to serve as your state senator.