On Wednesday, Jan. 11, the 2017 Session of the General Assembly Session will gavel in for a 45-day “short” session. I am looking forward to a very busy six weeks and would like to update you on my plans for session. I am introducing nearly 40 bills, but here are a few highlights.
First, lagging state revenues continue to limit legislative initiatives and create funding priorities. The Virginia State Police is hemorrhaging Troopers due to lagging pay and a planned two percent raise for teachers and state employees was delayed after anticipated revenues fell short. They will be a priority this year.
My number one legislative priority will be prohibiting drivers from having mobile phones in their hands while driving. Between Jan. 1 and July 1 of 2016, traffic fatalities in the United States were up by 10 percent — for the first time in 50 years. Most experts attribute this to distracted driving. Anyone driving our roads only has to look at the vehicle next to them to realize this is a problem that requires attention.
Second, I am hoping to focus on Potomac River water quality. The City of Alexandria plans to continue to discharge raw sewage into the Potomac River for an additional 20-30 years. Del. Dave Albo and myself are carrying legislation requiring the city to stop discharging raw sewage within 10 years.
Also, in my research about ongoing pollution from coal ash, I discovered that Virginia currently imports about 600 cargo containers of coal ash from China into Virginia every year. I am introducing legislation requiring investor-owned utilities to recycle at least that much coal ash from dumps around Virginia every year so that we can start to clean up our coal ash dumps.
The Route 1 Corridor has a much higher incidence of pedestrian fatalities than any other road in Northern Virginia. I am introducing a “vulnerable user” bill which creates a lower criminality threshold and higher penalties for drivers who injure pedestrians and cyclists. Also, in an attempt to address the scourge of vehicles continuing to pass stopped vehicles on Sherwood Hall Lane, I am introducing legislation to make clear that bicycle lanes cannot be used by cars to pass other vehicles.
Once again, I am going to introduce legislation prohibiting school systems from requiring children to use electronic textbooks unless they provide them with portable computers. My bill passed the Senate last year and failed in a House Committee by one vote. Also, I am seeking to add computers to Virginia’s Start of School Sales Tax Exemption. On a $700 computer, this would be worth a $45 savings.
I am also introducing legislation to allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue licenses to all persons who file Virginia income tax returns and pass a driving test. In other states adopting these measures, there are fewer accidents and hit and run cases. Also, if more people file income tax returns, it could result in over $500 million in new revenue to Virginia.
Finally, I am introducing legislation to require predatory lenders who make their loans over the internet to be licensed in the Commonwealth. Many lenders from outside Virginia or even the United States are making 200 percent plus interest loans in Virginia.
As the session progresses, I welcome your feedback Please send me an email at email@example.com. Also, please come visit us in Richmond. It is an honor to serve as your state senator.