Mount Vernon Column: Coal Ash Bill Fails, Other Bills Move Forward

Mount Vernon Column: Coal Ash Bill Fails, Other Bills Move Forward


As we move towards the midpoint of the General Assembly Session called “Crossover,” we are required to finish work on all bills in our respective chambers. Things are picking up in Richmond.

First, I am on track to pass about a dozen bills out of the Senate and several bills were passed by the Senate. First, my legislation to raise Virginia’s threshold between misdemeanors and felonies from $200 to $500 was incorporated into a Republican senator’s bill and passed 26-14 with wide bipartisan support including the support of the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys.

There is interest in reforming Virginia’s tolling practices. My legislation and Sen. Adam Ebbin’s legislation to limit toll operators’ ability to sue people for tens of thousands of dollars over less than $100 of outstanding tolls was referred to Virginia’s Transportation Accountability Commission to be studied over the next few months. My bill to study revising our tolling practices to give credit to in-state residents was also referred to the same commission.

The Digital Divide is a major problem in the 36th District. Many children still do not have computers at home or adequate broadband. My legislation to require school systems using electronic textbooks to provide computers to every child passed out of subcommittee unanimously. A child ability to access their homework and learning tools at home should not be a function of that child’s family’s income.

My legislation to create Virginia standards for electronic authentication of digital documents was also referred to the Joint Commission on Technology for study. These kind of standards would allow Virginians to obtain official records electronically — birth certificates, driving records, land records, professional licenses, court records — that they could then use for legal purposes. It would save taxpayers millions of dollars.

I also introduced legislation to create a whistleblower rewards program for tax cheaters. President Bush created a highly effective federal program in 2006. Virginia collects $20 for every $1 we spend on tax compliance. My legislation was continued to 2017 so that the committee could study it over the year.

Finally, my legislation to require modern storage of coal ash waste died in a Senate Committee on a 7-7-1 vote. Dominion and Appalachian Power complained that the legislation would double their cost to clean up coal ash and went beyond requirements set by the Environmental Protection Agency. Although I received bipartisan support, many were still concerned that raising utility bills by one-percent to ensure we had clean water was too much to ask. This issue is far from being resolved and I will continue to work to protect Quantico Creek and the Potomac River.

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It is an honor to serve as your state senator.