Opinion: Commentary: Legislature Is Moving Bills, Addressing Problems

Opinion: Commentary: Legislature Is Moving Bills, Addressing Problems

As the General Assembly begins its fourth week in session this year, vaccine deployment for Covid-19 has started to accelerate and we are discussing how to jump-start in-person schooling. Virginia’s Secretary of Education believes all school personnel will be vaccinated by March 1 and a bill is pending to require in-person elementary-secondary school options no later than July 1. Depending on how discussions go, the General Assembly might pass a mandate to require in-person learning sooner.

My Bills Are Advancing

Due to the pandemic, all Senators were limited to introducing a maximum of 12 bills. At this point, the Senate has approved three of my bills and the other nine are working their way through the legislature.

The federal government allows immigrant children who have been abused, abandoned or neglected to claim “Special Immigrant Juvenile Status” (SIJS) after state courts have made certain findings through an immigrant’s 21st birthday. In 2019, I passed legislation restoring the authority of Virginia’s courts to make such findings, but the courts lose jurisdiction on a child’s 18th birthday. My bill harmonizes Virginia and federal rules to allow countless young adults between the ages of 18 and 21 to claim SIJS status going forward.

Virginia last raised minimum vehicle insurance policy limits in 1975. Today, Virginia has one of the lowest minimum auto policies in America. This means hundreds of Virginians receive $25,000 settlements when their medical bills and lost wages can total hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. My bill raises Virginia’s minimum policy to $50,000 and passed the Senate on a 27-11 vote.

This week, the Senate will debate my legislation to abolish capital punishment. My chief cosponsor is Republican Senator William Stanley and I hope to garner additional bipartisan support on the final vote.

Undergrounding Utilities

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors and Town of Dumfries have committed to fund underground utilities on all 14 miles of U.S. 1 between the Occoquan River and Quantico. The next step is to bury utilities on U.S. 1 between the Kings Crossing and Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County as part of the $800 million U.S. 1 Bus Rapid Transit Project. Dominion Energy, Verizon and Cox have estimated that it will cost $84 million.

The Virginia Department of Transportation has committed $15 million towards the cost and Verizon has agreed to cover the $40 million cost of burying their wires if the County constructs a slightly expanded duct bank to include space for Verizon conduit. The remaining $59 million is unfunded.

In 2019, I passed legislation allowing a $1.00 per month county tax on electric meters to fund undergrounded utilities on U.S. 1 so that undergrounding utilities would not compete with County taxpayer funds for schools or other local priorities. The concept is supported by the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations and the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce and is cosponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin and Delegates Paul Krizek, Mark Sickles and Kathy Tran. I am working with Chairman Jeff McKay and Supervisors Dan Storck and Rodney Lusk on clarifications that Fairfax County has requested which the Senate will likely approve this week.

Del. Paul Krizek has introduced a budget amendment to fund a County request for part of the balance, but the state does not have any existing funding programs for local, non-residential, utility undergrounding projects. Special programs for one of the wealthiest counties in America is often a difficult sell in Richmond but we are fighting for a contribution.

Finally, it is difficult for Virginians to “expunge” or erase certain convictions from their records. These records can make finding jobs and enjoying a full life nearly impossible, even after years of not committing any offenses. The Senate will vote this week on my bill to completely modernize Virginia’s expungement system. Governor Northam put $25 million in his budget to fund computer infrastructure to facilitate major changes, including the ability to seal convictions after periods of good behavior.

Please complete my constituent survey at http://www.scottsurovell.org/survey.

If you have any difficulty securing a vaccine, have questions about legislation or would like to schedule an appointment with me in my “zoom room,” please contact me at scott@scottsurovell.org.