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Surovell: Redistricting needed to break partisan gridlock

Four Big Issues No One is Discussing This Election Cycle
Virginians go to the polls in three weeks and if you followed the news cycle, you would think that the next General Assembly Session is going to be all about Confederate Statutes, street gangs, and natural gas pipelines – none of which is accurate. Here are four big issues facing Virginia that have been missing in action this cycle.

Redistricting
Hyper-partisan legislative districts are at the root the partisan gridlock we see today. While the Senate Democratic Caucus drew Virginia’s Senate districts in 2010, Virginia’s congressional and legislative districts were otherwise drawn by Republicans majorities with the cooperation of Republican governor’s in 2000 and 2010. Democratic voters have been crammed into a small number of seats and Virginia’s Congressional and House of Delegates districts are way out of proportion to Virginia’s actual voting.

Virginia’s next Governor will participate in Virginia’s next redistricting process. Ralph Northam and I have repeatedly endorsed and voted for non-partisan redistricting which would go a long way towards voters picking their leaders instead of leaders picking their voters.
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Surovell: SCC should back efforts to bury power lines

As we enter hurricane season, I start to get questions about burying utility lines.  We are making limited progress in Virginia but efforts hit a setback last week.

In communities built since the mid-1980’s all utilities are underground.  In the older parts of Northern Virginia, such as where we live here in Eastern Fairfax and Prince William Counties, nearly all utilities are above ground. 

In June, 2012, Northern Virginia was rocked by a Derecho that stormed in from Chicago, killed 22 people and caused over $2.9 billion in damage. Our older infrastructure, coupled with our heavy older and established tree canopy caused major utility outages.  In the Derecho’s aftermath, I heard calls through my district for undergrounding of utility lines.  I even held a townhall focused exclusively on undergrounding power lines. 

In the 2014 General Assembly Session, the General Assembly passed legislation declaring power line undergrounding in the public interest and authorizing Dominion Power to spend no more than $200 million per year and recover up to $2 billion from ratepayers to underground electrical lines but required the effort to focus on lines that were particularly prone to outages.  Dominion’s methodology focuses on lines that have filed nine or more times in the last ten years.

Unfortunately, this program does not bury cable or phone lines due to problems with cost, coordination, and easements.   I am exploring methods communities could partner to achieve this, but it is a very difficult problem.  Also, none of this addresses undergrounding commercial utilities which is something that is only funded by localities is desperately need on Route 1, and I will write about that separately in the future.  (more…)

Let’s transform VRE from a commuter rail system into a run-trains-throughout-the-day transit system

Editors note: Potomac Local occasionally publishes opinion letters from our readers that address issues of broad community impact.

On September 7, a public meeting at the Manassas Park Community Center will highlight proposals to construct a new four-lane bypass around Manassas. 

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA), City of Manassas, and Prince William County are now proposing solutions for traffic congestion on Route 28 (see http://www.route28study.com).  All the choices appear to be based on what they’ve done in the past.

“Build more roads” has been the solution to Northern Virginia traffic congestion since the Shirley Highway (now Interstate-95) was built to the Occoquan River in 1949 and expanded to four lanes in 1952.

How’s that worked, so far?  Is traffic flowing smoothly.  Think traditional solutions will fix future problems too?

It is now 2017.  Is it smart to assume Northern Virginia will continue its pattern of sprawl development, based on cars, for another 65 years – so we should build even more roads?

Hmmm, let’s pretend it is 1910.  Should we assume that the horse-and-buggy business would boom for another 65 years and build more stables? (more…)

‘I was horrified to see the hands raised in opposition to adding gender identity and sexual orientation to the non-discrimination policy for students and employees’

From an email: 

I attended the June 21 PWCS School Board meeting looking for inspiration at a time of opportunity for our County to demonstrate its values. A vote against non-discrimination is a vote for discrimination. I was horrified to see the hands raised in opposition of adding gender identity and sexual orientation to the Non-Discrimination Policy for students and employees. 
I feel pity for the opposing members that history will record their objection to protecting vulnerable students and employees, and that their legacies will be tainted by a burning and panicked hatred of Chairman Sawyers, a leader who has shown courage and foresight amidst an onslaught of outrageous attacks. 
 
Sincerely,
 
Erika Bukva
Prince William County

P-Nats stadium ‘numbers concerning the overall cost of site work…keep changing’

An email from Roger Snyder, of Prince William County: 

“[Thursday] night the Woodbridge Potomac Communities Civic Association (WPCCA) hosted a “P-Nats Forum” at Potomac Shores. Seth Silber (P-Nats), Tom Sebastian (JBG) and Frank Principi (PWC) gave the same power point presentation made before the Chamber (twice) and the Committee of 100. The floor was then opened for questions with Principi controlling the q&a portion. JBG paid for a catered “reception” before the meeting that included gourmet appetizers, wine & beer. Several requests were made for audience support of the deal, including coming to the June 20 Board meeting to oppose the public referendum. Below are my observations and comments:

Observations

1. Once again, JBG failed to mention that it is leasing the land for the stadium charging a considerable fee. When this fact came up in response to a question, Sebastian told the audience that JBG had offered to sell the land, but PWC wasn’t interested. Previously, JBG had said the deal wouldn’t work with a land sale, that it “…had to be a lease”.

2. JBG’s power point slide (Copy attached) stated that JBG will “Provide land and conduct all site work (approximately $14 million net)”. This is a disingenuous statement at best. In fact, PWC/P-Nats will lease the land and PWC & the P-Nats will pay for most of the site work ($11 million) even though JBG will do the site work.
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‘It does not take a real estate expert to understand that a fire and rescue station located in a residential neighborhood lowers home values’

Based on the results of the response time analysis, I fully support the city’s effort to build a new fire and rescue station to serve the southern portion of the city and the airport.

Several months ago, when I received news that Lee Manor Park located at 9650 Shannon Lane, across the street from our house, was one of the proposed locations for a new fire and rescue station, my wife and I got concerned because location is parkland in a residential neighborhood adjacent to George C. Round Elementary School. On Thursday of last week, I was informed that the city was moving forward with the new fire and rescue station at Lee Manor Park. 

I spent a better part of my weekend canvassing my neighborhood (Lee Manor), as well as other neighborhoods nearby the location of the proposed fire and rescue station to receive public input from the neighborhoods impacted by the new fire and rescue station.  Every person I spoke to, including Delegate Jackson Miller, is strongly opposed to the idea of having a fire and rescue station in the location of Lee Manor Park next to George C. Round Elementary School. (more…)

Why is the Woodbridge voter registration office on the chopping block?

Several days ago, I was shocked to learn that the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has given notice to terminate its arrangement with the Prince William County Registrar at the Caton Hill DMV Office. I could not believe what I was hearing.

Voter participation is one of the most important things in any democracy but not all citizens are given equal access to that franchise- and we are learning that this week here in Woodbridge. Virginia has a long history in this area and none of it has been positive.

A few precincts in Woodbridge actually became nationally known because of four to five hour long lines in order to cast a vote in the 2012 election. Of course those also happened to be the precincts with the largest percentage of minority voters, and the precincts where President Obama was expected to be the strongest.

Now once again, Woodbridge voters are being targeted by Virginia in a way that could hamper attempts to turn our voters out. For the last decade the one refuge from potentially long lines on election day was the option to vote early at the DMV office in Woodbridge. In Virginia, early voters must state a reason in order to vote- but most residents in our area qualify for either expecting to leave Prince William County at any time on election day or having a combined work/commute schedule on election day that exceeds 11 hours.

As residents have learned of this option, turnout has increased at the Woodbridge DMV every year and turnout in our area continues to rise- especially for important off year elections. I support no excuse needed absentee voting to raise turnout even higher. But despite all of that somehow the Commissioner of DMV has decided that the Commonwealth will close our voter registration and early vote center at the Woodbridge DMV.

I’m absolutely appalled that this is even being discussed and without any notice or input from our community. As your next State Delegate, I pledge to introduce legislation that would force all state agencies to accommodate early voting when requested by the locality. This is a no brainer decision, and will save local taxpayer dollars. We can not allow thousands of voters to be silenced.

Here in the Route 1 corridor most of our residents work jobs and have long commutes- we need to make it easy for them to participate in voting, not harder. Just last year Alabama made national news for closing its opportunities for early voting in the areas with the most minority voters.

Please join me in raising our voices together now to ensure Virginia- and specifically those of us in southern Prince William County- does not follow that example. Virginia’s history may be voter suppression, but let’s make our future into being a state that encourages voter participation. If you agree I hope you will join my campaign by visiting my website.

jennifercarrollfoy.org

‘I am not convinced this is safe for our community or its water’

I believe that everyone should have clean drinking water.

So, I was deeply disturbed when I found out that homeowners surrounding Dominion Energy’s Possum Point power plant had found elevated levels of toxic chemicals in their wells. I was shocked to also find out that Dominion stores a byproduct of burning coal — toxic coal ash — in onsite man-made ponds with less protection beneath them than would be required for any household waste landfill.

I found out these facts when I attended one of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s hearings on the Possum Point plant a few weeks ago, and since then I’ve grown more concerned about our water. These holding ponds were built in 1988, haven’t been tested since, and wouldn’t meet current Environmental Protection Agency standards to prevent leaks if built today. (more…)

‘It is a sad day when we use words like bigot and white supremacists…because of differing political views’

If Harry Wiggins didn’t single handedly hand over the election to Jackson Miller, he certainly helped him along to victory.

Wiggins, the Chairman of Prince William’s Democratic Committee on Tuesday likened Miller — a long-serving Republican in the House of Delegates, past Manassas City Counselor, and a former police officer in Arlington and Prince William counties — to President Trump, and called both white supremacists.

Residents both black and white have denounced his statement.

“The official comment from the [Prince William County] Democratic Chair may have just solidified my undecided vote for Mr. Miller. The name-calling in national politics is bad enough. If Mr. Wiggins wishes to bring that style of politics to [Prince William County], I will vote against his candidate every time,” James Johnson, of Bristow posted to Facebook.

Wiggins’s comments plunge our community deeper into the political divide, escalating our county into what many see the new national political status quo of an angry, polarized nation full of discontent and hate. (more…)

‘Name the new elementary school the Betty D. Covington Elementary School’

From Tim Singstock, of Montclair:

The community has engaged in debate over naming the new elementary school under construction in the Potomac Shores Community. Prince William County is blessed to have two wonderful choices for the school naming: Betty Covington and John Harper.

I met Mr. Harper and his wife at the 2016 NAACP dinner in Quantico. As an Army veteran and son of a Vietnam Veteran, I honor Mr. Harper’s military and combat service. (more…)

Where’s the news about Virginia’s General Assembly?

Submitted by Kay Larrieu: 

I’m really frustrated about finding out what is happening in the Virginia General Assembly.  Surely, while it is in session, you could publish what’s going on, what’s up for a vote, how local delegates are voting?  

Why is it so difficult to come by this sort of news, and yet what’s more important than becoming engaged in civic affairs?

I don’t see the logic of omitting this sort of news unless one doesn’t want citizens to know what is going on.

Editor’s note: Potomac Local is limited by our current level of financial support on the type and amount of news we can cover (Advertising pays the bills, and we don’t charge a subscription fee at this time, so it’s a free content buffet). We publish stories from VCU Capital News Service from time to time provided the stories are about issues and legislators from our area. 

‘My number one legislative priority will be prohibiting drivers from having mobile phones in their hands while driving’

On Wednesday, January 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 January 1 and July 1 of 2016, traffic fatalities in the United States were up by 10% – 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. (more…)

‘If you believe that our testing culture has gotten out of control and that we need to meet the basic needs of movement and play for young children then please…attend the Pep Rally’

Submitted:

I am writing to tell you about an exciting event happening at the [Prince William County] School Board meeting on January 27, 2017, at 7:00 p.m. My name is Barbara Larrimore and I have three young children; two of which are attending Lake Ridge Elementary School. Through watching and volunteering at the school, hours of research, and calling other counties and highly ranked schools in the state of Virginia, that PWC is not allowing best practices for our youngest citizens. 

American Academy of Pediatrics states that children need 60 minutes of physical activity a day.  Half of our children’s waking hours are spent at school so they should be getting 30 minutes of physical activity a day (recess or P.E.).  On most days, out of the 6.5 hours, they spend in school, my children will only get 15 minutes of physical activity. This is a staggeringly low number for my exuberant five and eight-year-old.
 
Please, if you believe that our testing culture has gotten out of control and that we need to meet the basic needs of movement and play for young children then please…attend the Pep Rally for more recess on January 27, 2017, at 7:00 p.m. at the school board meeting!  Feel free to share this with your family and friends. 

‘…I have never felt so harassed when I go shopping like I have in PWC’

Submitted: 

“I have been a resident of eastern [Prince William County] since 2008 and I’ve seen the county undergo many changes. What has become concerning to me is the panhandling situation. I come from NYC and have spent time in DC and I have never felt so harassed when I go shopping like I have in PWC. In the last month every time I visited Walmart, Target, Big Lots, 7-11, Hobby Lobby, etc I have been approach[ed] at MY Vehicle with a panhandle asking for money. It’s as if they are just waiting and don’t even give you a chance to exit your vehicle. I want to know what are the laws in the county on panhandling? Are other residents feeling harassed too? What are officials doing to stop this? Are they even aware of this problem? …Thank you in advance for addressing my concern.”

From Prince William County spokesman Jason Grant: 

“…the County’s panhandling ordinances were repealed for legal reasons. Attached is a handout that the County Attorney’s Office provided on the issue.”

‘How would a loving dad react if he saw a grown man follow his nine-year-old daughter into a bathroom’

We got this statement from Delegate Bob Marshall about his new bathroom bill HB 1612 which he says  will “protect privacy in facilities normally separated by sex” in government-owned or rented buildings.

Agree with him or disagree with him? Leave it in the comments. 

How would a loving dad react if he saw a grown man follow his nine-year-old daughter into a bathroom at a state park?  Would parents want their 14-year-old daughters on the school swim team taking showers with 17-year-old biological males in a public school locker room?  Would women feel safe stopping at an Interstate rest stop knowing biological males could use the women’s bathroom?

Because identifying as transgender is about how an individual perceives themselves how can a biological female third party possibly distinguish between a transgender individual who means no harm and a male predator using the ladies room who does intend harm?

It is because of situations like this that more than six hundred parents and students in Prince William County and many more in Fairfax County attended meetings to oppose changes in school policies which would have allowed biological males to use the bathrooms, dressing rooms, locker rooms, and showers set aside for females, and vice-versa.  

In response to that outpouring of concern for the safety and privacy of our children, I have introduced HB 1612 to preserve current law to prevent schools and government entities from changing policies that protect privacy in facilities normally separated by sex.

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Reader: Schools should wait for Supreme Court, Virginia Supreme Court to rule on LGBT matter

Submitted: 

OP-ED EXCLUSIVELY FOR POTOMACLOCAL.com
School Board Should Wait For The Courts
By Carrie Beliles, resident of Triangle, VA
Thursday, September 15, 2016
Word count: 638

Next week, the Prince William School Board will vote on a major policy proposal to add “gender identity” to the school’s non-discrimination policy. Enacting this new policy could allow transgender faculty and students to choose the bathroom, locker room, showers and athletic team participation of their preferred choice, regardless of current biological anatomy.

My family moved to Prince William County because it is a welcoming and compassionate place for all people. I enjoy that multiple cultures and people with diverse belief backgrounds all live together in relative harmony. While I believe we should protect transgender students from harassment and discrimination, this policy proposal could have far-reaching ramifications.

This gender identity policy is being debated in Courts all across the nation, and is even on its way to the Virginia Supreme Court. In August, a federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked President Obama’s guidance directive on the use of bathrooms by transgender students, (State of Texas et al v. United States of America). Also in August, the U.S. Supreme Court halted a lawsuit by a student in Gloucester County, Virginia, effectively ruling that the County did not have to open up their bathrooms, locker rooms and showers to opposite gender students (G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board). Earlier this year, 51 families in Illinois (the district in which I graduated High School, Palatine High School) filed suit against two federal agencies and Township High School District 211 on this issue, as well (Students and Parents for Privacy, et al v. United States Departments of Education and Justice, Township High School District 211, and Cook County, Illinois).On Monday, the Virginia Supreme Court decided to take up a challenge to Fairfax County’s “gender identity” policy change (Andrea Lafferty, et al, v. School Board of Fairfax County). This is the very same policy being voted and considered by the School Board on September 21 in Prince William.

Moving forward with this policy now in Prince William could open up the County to frivolous lawsuits and protracted litigation that drain taxpayer resources that could be allocated to classrooms across the county. While the constitutionality of this policy change is debated in the courts, Prince William School Board Chairman Ryan Sawyers should put this on hold until the Supreme Court and the Virginia Supreme Court have ruled on this matter.

In law school, I was taught the importance of judicial precedence in how the law is administered; which means that previous rulings have significant sway on future rulings. Judicial precedent provides a blueprint for how a law should be implemented and interpreted. Precedent will be created by the US Supreme Court and Virginia Supreme Court very soon. The Prince William School Board should align itself with judicial precedent as the way forward on this issue.

If the School Board believes some action is necessary in the here and now, they should do three things: 1) evaluate the track-record of transgender welfare and determine if a problem exists; 2) take their time to debate implementation logistics and unintended consequences of this policy change; and 3) wait for the Supreme Court and Virginia Supreme Court to rule on this matter.

The Prince William County Public Schools have conducted numerous forums and outreach events regarding discrimination and school bullying, and the issue of discrimination toward transgender students and staff has not be cited as a problem at this time. This is good news.

To summarize, in order to protect our County from unnecessary lawsuits and to avoid the embarrassing possibility of a policy reversal, School Board Chairman Sawyers should push this vote to a later date allowing higher judicial precedent to pave a smoother way for our community.

Prince William Black Pastors: Revised schools discrimination policy ‘would threaten the privacy rights of our students’

The following letter to Prince William County School Board Chairman Ryan Sawyers was sent to use in an emailed titled “PWC BLACK PASTORS OPPOSE SCHOOL BOARD “GENDERIDENTITY” REVISION”

Dear Chairman Sawyers and School Board Members,

We are writing to express our concern and objection to Revision of Policy 060, “Nondiscrimination And Commitment To Equity”, because of its expected implementation regarding the use of private facilities by transgender students in Prince William County schools. 

This revision would update the school system’s non-discrimination policy to include “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to the group of protected classes, along with race, color, religion, national origin, and gender. Adding “gender identity” to this non-discrimination clause would allow transgender students and staff to choose the bathroom, locker room, showers and athletic team participation of their preferred choice, regardless of biological anatomy.

While you may consider this potential change as ensuring diversity within our schools, the reality is this potential policy change would threaten the privacy rights of our students. No female or male student nor teacher should be forced to use a bathroom, locker room or shower area with someone of the opposite gender simply because that individual no longer identifies with or ignores their biological anatomy.

Our concern is also that we do not recall there being a lengthy and thorough discussion of how the county plans to safely enforce such a policy change. There has been no regulatory analysis on how this policy would be implemented. There has been no discussion or meetings on making sure that sexual misconduct does not occur or that sexual predators do not take advantage of this policy change.

Finally, this policy revision would force many students to compromise their deeply-held beliefs about privacy, modesty and sexuality. This policy revision would place children in the uncomfortable position of compromising their beliefs or face disciplinary action for having those beliefs.

Our churches are politically diverse congregations in Eastern Prince William County, and represent Democrats, Republicans and Independents. It would be wrong for the Prince William County School Board to ignore the will of its people by making this change while so many citizen concerns exists within our community.

We believe that every person is created in the image of God and deserving of respect and compassion. We unequivocally denounce all violence and bullying against LGBTQ people, but this revision will result in the discrimination against the majority of our children. To deny basic privacy to our students is the suppression of their rights. Like you, we want to make sure our children can learn absent a hostile environment, such as bullying. For that reason, as parents and pastors, we are grateful for your anti-bullying policies as they stand because they promote decency and order.

The Prince William County Public Schools have conducted numerous forums and outreach events regarding discrimination and school bullying, and the issue of discrimination toward transgender students and staff has never been a problem. For years, Prince William County Public Schools have protected and accommodated transgender students and staff in a respectful, private and genuine manner, therefore no revision is needed. The changes you are considering will place the ideology of a few powerful politicians above the right to privacy for the overwhelming majority of our families. 

Therefore, we humbly request that you not pursue such a policy change.

Sincerely,

Bishop Lyle Dukes, Harvest Life Changes Church, Woodbridge

Bishop Derek Grier, Grace Church Dumfries                                            

Pastor Eric Kellum, Zion Church Woodbridge                                          

Pastor Kurt Wallace, Freedom Fellowship Church, Dale City

Pastor Stephen Oni, Christ Apostolic Church, Joy Vineyard, Woodbridge  

Pastor Sharon Fernandez, Spirit of the Living Christ Ministry, Woodbridge 

Bishop John H. Reid, III, Victory Family Outreach Ministry, Woodbridge   

Pastor Madlin Edmonds, New Creatures-in-Christ Community Church, Woodbridge

Pastor Victor Stanley, Calvary Baptist Church, Woodbridge                                 

Pastor Al Stith, Word of Life Church, International, Woodbridge

Reader opposes Verizon Wireless monopole near Dale City

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors will decide on Sept. 20, 2016 to allow Verizon Wireless to erect a 144-foot monopole for telecommunications at Prince of Peace United Methodist Church, located at 6299 Token Foreset Drive near Dale City. 

The Prince William County Planning Commission and staff say the pole is a good idea. 

A reader who submitted the letter below says monopoles are outdated. 

Dear Editor:

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors should turn down the request to construct a monopole at 6299 Token Forest Dr. Manassas, Virginia at their September 20, 2016 meeting. Here’s why:

• Wireless technology is rapidly evolving and will continue to evolve. Globally, we’re on pace to deploy fully enabled wireless devices that will have far greater mobile computing power than is available today. The question is, should we embrace the past with big ugly “legacy” towers or does Prince William County bring the “future into the present”? There is new technology available thanks to 5G capability (Economist Magazine 2-16-16). This means technology that is smaller, has a less visible antenna, and has better speed and connectivity.

• We should be more aggressive about embracing the future instead of being stuck with a 144-foot ugly pole that reduces property values for our residents. Residents living near the proposed monopole each paid additional lot premiums. These premiums exceed a combined total of $100,000 for a number of the residents living near the proposed site. They could suffer a significant economic loss.

• Prince William County can utilize this as one more opportunity to establish itself as the innovation center in Northern Virginia.

• Embracing the future opens up limitless opportunities & economic development potential for the county.

We invite the Board of Supervisors to join us by defeating this proposal and rapidly moving Prince William County into the future.

Daniel A. Varroney
Manassas, Virginia

Lovejoy: A strong city needs a strong manufacturing base

Importance of Manufacturing To Local Economy

Watching both party’s conventions on television this week as both a City Councilman and concerned Republican, I couldn’t help but reflect on just how lucky we are to live in such a great country. I’m so very proud to play a small role in our representative democracy as a member of the Manassas City Council. We have such a great city.

A large part of what makes our city great is our strong and forward-thinking manufacturing sector. Manufacturing is woven into the very fabric of our local economy: Its importance goes far beyond what happens behind the factory gates.

The jobs that Micron, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, and Aurora Flight Sciences serve an important role, offering economic opportunity to literally thousands of hard-working, high-skilled, Manassas-area residents. These jobs create upward mobility that broadens and strengthens the middle-class to the benefit of the entire economy and fosters American technology and innovation leadership.

As a member of Council, it is my job to create the best environment for business and economic stability that I can. To achieve economic stability, diversity in the economy is critical.

Although manufacturing is certainly affected by broader economic events, the sector’s internal diversity—supplying consumer goods as well as industrial goods, serving both domestic and external markets— gives it great resiliency, which in turn makes it a critical element to our economic success.

We need to support these companies and others like them and not take their presence here for granted. Other parts of Virginia are not as lucky as we are here in Manassas. More than 130,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in the Commonwealth since 2001.

As the nation turns its focus towards the November election, let’s remember to send a message to our lawmakers in Washington that our manufacturers need not just citizen support, but their support as well. A strong city needs a strong manufacturing base, and a strong nation needs the same. The strength or weakness of American manufacturing carries implications for the entire economy, our national security, and the well-being of all Americans.

Equality Prince William wants LGBT Pride Month

 
Potomac Local was copied in this email to Prince William County Coles District Supervisor Marty Nohe: 
Prince William County Supervisor Nohe:
 
What do the President of the United States, the Honorable Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Cities of Alexandria and Fairfax, the Town of Herndon, and the Counties of Arlington and Fairfax all have in common?  All have declared June 2016 to be LGBT Pride Month.  These declarations were also made in 2014 (https://governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/proclamations/proclamation/lgbt-pride-month/) and 2015 (https://governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/proclamations/proclamation/lesbian-gay-bisexual-and-transgender-pride-month/).
 
This is a conversation that our Equality Prince William President started two years ago and one he has been trying to continue, most recently with a request more than 5 weeks ago for an appointment with you.  He has recently spoke with Kelsey Clark who assured me that she had made you aware of this request.
 
Equality Prince William has more than 300 members on our Facebook page and those individuals are members, friends, relatives, allies, and supporters of the Prince William LGBT community.  They reside in all 7 Magisterial Districts of Prince William County as well as the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park.
 
June is already half gone, but given the tragedy in Orlando, Florida recently and the outpouring of support for the LGBT Community worldwide as a result, I can’t stress enough what the gesture of the Prince William Board of Supervisors declaring June to be Pride Month for this year and in the years to come would mean for your constituents.
 
Thank you for your consideration and have a great evening.  Jim O’Connor (Equality Prince William President) and I are willing to meet with you in person to discuss this.
 
David Dooley, Vice President
Equality Prince William
P.O. Box 6983
Woodbridge, VA   22195 

Bills on predatory lending, transportation, environment in works

On January 13, 2016, I take my oath of office as your state senator.  I am planning on introducing approximately 40 bills and about a dozen budget amendments in our 60-day session. 

Predatory Lending
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% by recharacterizing car title loans as separately regulated car title loans.   To reign in car title lender bait and switch tactics, I am proposing to limit interest rates on consumer finance loans at 36%.  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.

Transportation
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 re-introduced a bill to restructure voting on the Board that decides how transportation money is spent based on current population instead of 1930’s congressional district boundaries. 

Sunshine
I am carry 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.

Consumer Protection
Thanks to Congressman Beyer’s amendment to federal transportation legislation, I have introduced legislation confirming that Virginia’s localities have the authority 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.

Environmental Protection
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 seventy-year old leaking coal ash dump less than 1,000 yards from the Potomac River in Dumfries, Virginia.  Similar legislation was passed in North Carolina’s Republican legislature last year.

Constituent Survey
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 atwww.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 atscott@scottsurovell.org.  It is an honor to serve as your State Senator.

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