Opinion: Commentary: From ERA to Redistricting

Opinion: Commentary: From ERA to Redistricting

The first three days of the General Assembly ended on Friday and it is proving to me a busy session.

On the first day of session, my legislation to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was debated in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee. ERA would prohibit the government from discriminating against all persons on the basis of sex. It does not apply to discrimination by private individuals (which is covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other laws).

The Commonwealth and the country have a long history of discrimination against women and although most forms of explicit discrimination have ended, there are still government actions taken that have disparate impacts on women and as we have seen from recent events, even the most basic political norms can be easily overturned. I believe this value needs to be reflected in our Constitution.

Last week’s hearing was one of the most well-attended committee meetings I have seen in the 10 years I have served. The resolution passed 8-6 with all Democrats and two Republican senators supporting the measure. It will be debated in the Senate this week. The House of Delegates has traditionally refused to hold a hearing on the bill. Hopefully, that will change this year.

We are also expected to take up redistricting reform this year. Virginia is required to redraw all of our political districts in 2021 after the national census occurs in 2020. The legislature draws all boundaries for congressional and legislative districts.

Historically, the majority caucuses of each chamber have drawn the districts and as computers have become more powerful, district lines have become more creative and contorted. The lines of the 36th Senate District make little sense to any of my constituents.

If the General Assembly is going to start the process of amending the Constitution of Virginia, then we must pass a constitutional amendment this session and then again in the 2020 session. In other words, this is our last chance to start that process before the next redistricting.

I believe that redistricting is one of the most fundamental problems in American politics and that the last people who should be drawing these lines are the members who will benefit. However, we must give a nonpartisan or bipartisan commission the correct criteria to use and the bills that the existing majority has supported so far have not used neutral criteria.

Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay asked me to introduce legislation that would give Fairfax County more powers to fine businesses that do not control their shopping carts. This a problem not just on U.S. 1 but also in the Springfield business community.

I am also carrying bills that would create consequences for local government entities that violate the Freedom of Information Act. Closed meeting requirements are routinely violated by local governments. Also, there are little to no consequences for destroying documents or emails to avoid producing them in response to a public records request. My legislation would create a fine structure.

Finally, we are working on legislation to fund improvements to I-81 including a tolling structure. This road is in dire need of widening, but the Governor has proposed to allow Virginia EZ-Pass holders to pay no tolls on I-81 in exchange for paying a $30 annual fee. Given that the 36th District contains people that have to pay $30 per day in tolls, that idea is a non-starter for me. Instead of tolls and this “toll pass,” I am working with other legislators to support a wholesale gas tax increase that would also help fund more projects cross the entire Commonwealth including here in the 36th District.

It is an honor to serve as your state senator. Please email me at scott@scottsurovell.org if you have any feedback.