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Boy Scouts hosting annual Pinewood Derby in Woodbridge

This weekend, the Occoquan District Boy Scouts are hosting their District Pinewood Derby in Woodbridge on March 12.

The derby will take place from 8:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. at the Woodbridge Middle School gym at 2201 York Drive. Following the races with the Scout’s cars, awards will be given based on Scout rank, and overall speed.

Special awards will also be given for the ‘coolest car’ and the ‘builder fair’, based on how the car was built, and the inspiration behind it.

Scouts that are interested in participating in the Derby need to be registered in advance.

Manassas Symphony receiving award from councilman

Manassas City Councilman and longtime friend of the orchestra, Ken Elston, will present the American Prize in Orchestral Performance by a Community Orchestra to the Manassas Symphony at their concert on March 5, 2016. The concert will be held at Merchant Hall of the Hylton Performing Arts Center at 7:30 pm, and will feature music by British composers.

The American Prize is a series of non-profit national competitions in the performing arts providing cash awards, professional adjudication and regional, national and international recognition for the best recorded performances by ensembles and individuals each year in the United States at the professional, college/university, church, community and secondary school levels. The prize was first awarded in 2009, and is now awarded annually. The MSO was previously a semi-finalist for this same award in 2010, and a finalist in 2013.

Mr. Elston has, on several occasions, narrated children’s books set to music commissioned by the MSO for their annual family concerts held each December. His wife Molly has also served in this role. He was recently elected to the City Council, and is also the Director of the School of Theatre at George Mason University. Mr. Elston said, “I’ve greatly enjoyed working the MSO in past, as has my wife. The symphony plays a vital role in the community by providing the classical music component to the Hylton’s presentation of the arts. This award shows how well the orchestra performs that role.”

For two decades, the Manassas Symphony Orchestra has brought the excitement of live orchestral performances to the Manassas and Prince William County area for a unique, lively, and entertaining concert experience. The orchestra serves as the educational and performance medium for its all-volunteer community members.


Chamber of Commerce holds annual Business Awards

On the evening of February 25, the Prince William Chamber of Commerce honored the nominees and recipients of their annual Business Awards at the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas. Winners of the 2016 Agnes L. Colgan Community Service Awards, who each receive a $1,000 check to continue their work, were also announced along with the recipient of the inaugural Charles J. Colgan Visionary Award.

Nominees included businesses large and small from a variety of industries, showcasing the diverse organizations that blend to make the Prince William region a national leader for jobs creation and economic growth. Northern Virginia Community College was the Presenting Sponsor of the event. Bernie Niemeier, Publisher of Virginia Business was Master of Ceremonies.

Chamber President & CEO Debbie Jones congratulated all of the nominees and winners on their business excellence and work in the community. She went on to say, “The best part  of the awards ceremony is hearing about how the various winners are working together on strategic partnerships, helping one another to be successful and giving back. I’m proud to be a part of a business community that truly understands the value of collaboration.”

While the sizes and industries of the nearly 80 nominated businesses varied greatly, a commitment to giving back was a common thread. Each of the nominees regularly steps outside of their organization to make a difference in the community they serve, whether through the Chamber or one of hundreds of local not-for-profit organizations. 

This year the Chamber added a new legacy award to their Business Award categories. Named for recently-retired Virginia State Senator Charles Colgan and sponsored by Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian, PC, the Charles J. Colgan Visionary Award is meant to be awarded to an individual who has demonstrated extraordinary leadership, including but not limited to their own organization. Just like Senator Colgan who was a long-time member of the Chamber with Colgan Air and a Past Chairman of the Chamber’s Board of Directors. This individual should be known as an innovator, a great partner, a visionary and an advocate for his or her community and beyond. This year the award went to Rex Parr, the recently-retired long-time President of Didlake, Inc.

Additional sponsors of the event included: Whitlock Wealth Management; NOVEC-Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative; The Fauquier Bank and Prince William Today. Cardinal Bank sponsored the Agnes L. Colgan Community Service Awards. 

Pictures from the 2016 Business Awards are available at facebook.com/pwchamber, and a full list of nominees and sponsors can be found under the “EVENTS” tab at www.pwchamber.org. Following are descriptions of each winner, as they were announced during the 2016 Prince William Chamber of Commerce Business Awards.


New budget emerges from Senate

This week, the seventh of this session of the Virginia General Assembly, both the Senate and House of Delegates are considering the state’s two-year budget. After each house passes a budget, a joint conference committee resolves the differences.
The Senate budget has good news and bad news.
Good  News
Revenues have increased more than expenses for the first time in seven years, offering opportunities to address unmet needs.  The Senate Budget makes significant investments in education including an additional $80 million for Fairfax County, $32 million for Prince William County and $22 million for Stafford County over last year’s appropriations including $16 million for a program called “Cost to Compete” which is supplemental funding for high-cost areas like Northern Virginia to pay teachers and support staff.  The plan also includes a two-percent salary increase for all elementary-secondary school teachers.  
The budget increases funds for our state colleges and universities by $223 million, increases student financial aid and limits tuition increases to three percent.  The Senate budget has about $1.4 billion in construction projects, including $350 million to modernize the Port of Virginia, construct college buildings and renovate state park facilities. 
It adds over 800 “waiver” slots due to the closure of Virginia’s training centers and an additional 400 new slots for adults with developmental disabilities so they can receive needed services. 
The Senate budget begins the closures of Virginia’s Juvenile Detention facilities, adds 11 new mental health positions in probation offices and provides $2.5 million for mental health pilot projects in our jails.  It also funds one new General District Court judge position in Prince William County and one Circuit Court spot in Stafford County.
The Senate budget includes my amendment to increase funds for court-appointed criminal attorney by $1.2 million, the first increase since the program’s inception. 
It also includes funds to keep down costs at Dulles Airport and to begin planning the widening Interstate 66. 
Bad News
A major disappointment to me is the omission of Governor Terry McAuliffe’s proposed Medicaid expansion, to provide health care to more low-income and disabled people.  Rejecting Medicaid and the available federal funding represent legislative malpractice, but the votes simply are not there to pass it.
Second, the budget fails to fund three desperately needed Fairfax County judgeship positions – Circuit, General District and Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.  Fewer judges means more delays in access to justice.
Unfortunately, the Senate budget also cuts capital improvements to Widewater State Park. This desperately needed project would create the only public access to the Potomac River in Stafford County.  
I am working hard to pass a budget that addresses our needs and to get my bills passed by the mid-March adjournment.  Please share your views and suggestions at scott@scottsurovell.org. 

Electronic textbook bill moves to House of Delegates

As we pass the mid-point of this General Assembly session, many bills are moving.

After a 30-minute debate, the Senate approved my bill prohibiting the use of electronic textbooks in public schools without a plan to provide school broadband and digital devices to every student required to use an electronic textbook.

Virginia’s constitution requires that every child receive a free textbook. On the floor, I argued that without home computers, electronic textbooks create a two-tiered education system for the haves and the have-nots. Senators Adam Ebbin and George Barker joined me in stressing that even Northern Virginia’s schools have significant low-income student populations who face disadvantages in the classroom without their own devices. The bill now moves to the House of Delegates.

Also, the Senate passed, 39 to 1 my legislation to reverse recent anti-sunshine Virginia Supreme Court rulings. Last year, the Court held that if one sentence of a government document is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the government can withhold an entire document instead of simply redacting the sentence. My legislation requires disclosure to the public of the text of the document that is not redacted.

Additionally, the Court held that government officials’ decisions to withhold documents are entitled to “great weight.” My legislation requires judges reviewing FOIA responses to look at government officials’ decisions in an unbiased manner. The House of Delegates passed identical legislation 99-0 and it will be on the Governor’s desk by the end of the week.

Around 100 people attended our town hall meetings this weekend in the Mount Vernon and Lee areas of Fairfax County. The number one concern raised was public school funding. Governor Terry McAuliffe’s proposed budget has $54 million in new funding for Prince William County and $15 million for Stafford County. The House and Senate budgets come out this weekend and will likely include additional funds.

We also heard concerns about Potomac River oil spills and coal ash pollution, skyrocketing college tuition, protecting women’s reproductive rights and strengthening mental health services. People voiced support for driver’s licenses for undocumented Virginians and anger about voting restrictions.

This week, we will debate the state budget. To share your view, please email me at scott@scottsurovell.org.

It is an honor to serve as your state senator.

Free Children’s Day at the Weems-Botts Museum

Pirates on the Chesapeake Bay on March 12, 2016

Join Historic Dumfries for Children’s Day at the Weems-Botts Museum.

Make & take crafts!  Snacks! Lots of FUN!!! 

Pirates and privateers (thieves who had the blessings of their home countries) were major players in Chesapeake Bay history. For nearly 200 years, pirates roamed the Bay’s waters looking for prey and outfitting themselves to search for prizes in other parts of the world.

Learn about these men, the life they led, as the young Virginia colony flourished and commerce with Europe expanded. Pirate adventures helped shape the patterns of settlement on the Bay’s shores and the consequent use of its waters. To Blackbeard, the Davis trio and other pirates who frequented the Bay, we owe a colorful — yet barbaric — slice of Virginia history.

The Weems-Botts Museum is located at 3944 Cameron St, Dumfries, VA 22026.


New officers join Prince William K9 Unit

Four police officers have recently graduated from Basic K9 School, a course offered by the Prince William County Criminal Justice Academy in Nokesville.

The officers are from Prince William County, Arlington County, and Fairfax City Police Departments.

A 16-week-course of training had to be completed in all fields of police canine work in order for the officers to graduate. They completed classes in obedience, evidence recovery, suspect search, tracking, agility, criminal apprehension, and building search. Master Police Officer W.F. VanAntwerp taught the class to the trainees. He has been with the Prince William County Police Department since 1996 and has served with the K9 Unit since 2000.

The Prince William County Police Department hired Officer Shaun Barrett and Officer Katybeth Strobel in 2006. Before being selected to work in the K9 Unit, Strobel served as a detective in the Criminal Operations Division. Her four legged partner is named Abrams. Strobel is the first female K9 officer to work for PWC Police Department.

Prior to working in the K9 Unit, Barrett worked as a patrol officer. His four legged partner is named Kane.

Arlington Police Department hired Sergeant Bryan Morrison in 2002. Eleven years later in 2013, Sergeant Morrison was promoted to the rank of sergeant and assigned to the Patrol Section. He now works as the supervisor of the K9 Unit.

In 2003, the Fairfax City Police Department hired Officer Vann Sayasithsena. He served in the Operations Division as a patrol officer until he was selected for K9 handler in 2007. Sayasithsena’s first canine partner was Niko until his retirement in 2015. Valor now works as Sayasithsena’s canine partner in Niko’s place.


New exhibits coming to the Manassas Museum

March events at the Manassas Museum include two new exhibits, free book talks and more.

From March 4 – April 17, the Manassas Museum presents “Impressions”, the Osbourn High School art show.  Impressions features the paintings, mixed media works, sculpture, and drawings of Osbourn art students.  The exhibit offers students the opportunity to be guest curators, as they choose works to be displayed, create frames or mounts, and write descriptive labels for their works.

March 4 – April 17, the Manassas Museum will feature “To Be Sold,” a new exhibit.

Using the works of acclaimed nineteenth century artist Eyre Crow, this exhibit examines the story of enslaved African Americans sold into the largest forced migration in American history. This is an exhibition from the Library of Virginia with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

On March 6 at 1:30 p.m. enjoy a Free Book Talk: “Poems of the Manassas Battlefields” with Author Patrick Bizarro.  Bizzaro, winner of numerous national literary prizes, a Fulbright award, and teaching awards, started his teaching career at Northern Virginia Community College in Manassas. He has published 32 books of various kinds, including his twelfth book of poetry, Poems of the Manassas Battlefield, vol. 1 

 On March 12 at noon, visit Liberia Plantation for Basement to Attic Hard Hat Tours.

Walk in the footsteps of presidents and generals from the Civil War and explore the oldest home in Manassas as it undergoes restoration.  Discover the most recent Civil War graffiti and see the rarely opened attic and basement.  For tickets, visit www.manassasmuseum.org or call 703-257-8453. 

On March 13 at 1:30 p.m. hear from author Lee Lawrence about his book “Dark Days in Our Beloved Country.”  Lawrence edited the Civil War Diary of Catherine Hopkins Broun that recounts her visits to battlefields, smuggling goods across the Potomac River from Maryland into Virginia, and travels to Washington. The diary also illuminates slavery in northern Virginia and includes dialogue between master and slaves that reveal the individual personalities of some of the slaves.

OWL Volunteer Fire Deparment reuniting families

For Occoquan-Woodbridge-Lorton Volunteer Fire Department, saving lives is just in a day’s work.  Sometimes those lives aren’t even human.  

While the engine crew from station 14 was retrieving dinner, they spotted a beautiful husky who was without his family.  “We saw him walking around the parking lot and we just walked up to him and he came right to us. He was very well behaved and friendly, so we knew he had a family,” said Firefighter Chris Weber.  Although wearing a collar and tag, the veterinarian listed was out of business. “We took him to Old Bridge Animal Hospital but he did not have a chip.” 

Animal control had been contacted, but Firefighter Weber put out a post to other department members in the hopes that the owner might be found.  Another member recognized the dog, whose family had posted his disappearance on Facebook.  Within the hour, dog and owners had been reunited.  “Kai” who is four years old had run off through an open gate in the back yard.

He had been gone for two hours and the family was thrilled to find him so quickly.  “Sometimes your best chance of finding help for a missing pet can be in your pocket on your smartphone,” said Valencia Lee, Kai’s owner.  To the OWL firefighters, Lee expressed gratitude. “Thank you for finding him and bringing him home! I don’t know what we would’ve done if no one had found him!”

Remember to chip and have current tags for your dog. If you find a lost pet, call Animal Control services at the Police non-emergency number at 703-792-6500.


The Painting Ladies upcoming summer gallery exhibitors

The Painter’s Journey from June 21 to July 29.

The Painting Ladies – Nancy Brittle, Janie Mosby, Chris Smith and Kathleen Willingham explore life in rural communities. Their works in oil, water and photography depict a sense of place through landscape, still life and figurative art. They believe in working together with unique voices and variety of media as complements to one another.                    

The four of us are and have been art teachers in Fauquier County Public Schools. We worked together, had workshops and classes with each other and decided that we should continue those efforts by spending time doing what we love to do and that is to paint. This has been going on for over fifteen years.  

We try to carve out time for each other and create opportunities to paint, give each other suggestions and impromptu critiques and sometimes go to workshops. We have made it an annual tradition to spend one entire week each summer painting in the Northern Neck where Kathleen has a home. We often plein air paint at each other’s homes or at a variety of locations in the area. We all feel that these interactions are valuable to our artistic growth and creative spirit and we enjoy being together.

We have had a number of group shows since 2006 and several have included another local artist. Janie and Chris are still teaching and will often enter juried shows in the area as well as displaying work with the Blue Ridge Region of the Va. Art Education Association. Since Kathleen and Nancy have retired they participate in juried shows, art events, belong to numerous art organizations and show in several galleries around the region and state.

We all live in Fauquier County.  Kathleen and Nancy are native to Fauquier and in fact went to elementary school together. Chris is from Maryland and has lived in Fauquier for over 30 years. Janie grew up in Lynchburg, VA. and has been in Fauquier County for over 40 years.  

The Center for the Arts of Greater Manassas/Prince William County sponsors theatrical productions for children and adults of all ages, teaches arts classes, promotes visual arts and provides community outreach programs for all ages.

Founded in 1984 by a group of artists and art lovers, the Center for the Arts aims to enrich the quality of life in the Northern Virginia through arts performance and education. A theater, an art gallery and classrooms are located in the three-story, historic Candy Factory building in Historic Manassas, at 9419 Battle Street. The third floor provides additional space for weddings, corporate meetings and receptions, lectures, poetry readings, recitals and chamber concerts.

For more information, call 703-330-2787, visit www.center-for-the-arts.org, or Facebook.    

Manassas Art Guild displays in The Hall

Paintings from the Manassas Art Guild are on exhibit in The Hall at City Hall through March 11, 2016. Prices range from mixed media, acrylics, watercolors and quilling. The Manassas Art Guild is an organization that was set up to promote participation and appreciation of the visual arts.

Artists participating in this exhibit include: Maureen Guillot, Herald Grandstaff, Laura Lavarnway, Janet Hansen Martinet, Stephanie McGhee, Ann Null, Connie Ryman, and Marti Whitehead.

Exhibits in The Hall rotate on a monthly basis and include different forms of visual art. Visiting The Hall is free and open to the public from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and later evening meetings are held in the building. 

Manassas Symphony to perform ‘From the British Isles’

The Manassas Symphony, under the baton of Music Director James Villani celebrates the music of English composers with From the British Isles. The performance will be held in Merchant Hall of the Hylton Performing Arts Center on Saturday, March 5, 2016 at 7:30 pm. The concert includes music by Malcom Arnold and Frank Bridge, and it closes with Vaughan Williams’ rhapsodic Symphony No. 2 (A London Symphony).

The concert features MSO Principal Cellist Diana Chou who takes center stage for a performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto in e minor, Op. 85. Diana received her Bachelor of Music Education from Ithaca College and a Masters of Music in Orchestral Conducting from Houghton College. She is establishing a reputation in Northern Virginia as a dynamic performer, educator, and conductor.

During the school day, she teaches approximately 300 elementary students within the Fairfax County Public School system, and in the evenings maintains a private studio with students of all ages. She has coached various youth orchestras through the region, and is well known for her ability to engage students. During the summer Diana is the cello coach for Stallion Summer Strings camp at South County High School. She currently sits principal cello with the Manassas Symphony and Fairfax Chamber Players, and is the founding member of the Gemini Ensemble.

All seats for the Manassas Symphony Orchestra concerts in Merchant Hall of the Hylton Performing Arts Center (HPAC) are reserved and everyone needs a ticket.  Individual concert tickets are available at the Hylton Center Ticket Office open Tuesday-Saturday 10 am to 6 pm and Thursday 10 am to 8 pm and two hours before the performance begins.   Tickets may also be purchased through Tickets.com by calling 888-945-2468, or by visiting the HyltonCenter.org. Tickets are also available for sale at the Center for the Arts Box Office on George Mason University’s Fairfax Campus.  Individual concert tickets are priced as follows:

  • Adults $20
  • Senior Citizens 62+ $16
  • Educators w/ID only at Ticket Office   $16
  • Children/Students, Free – must obtain ticket at the Ticket Office

College Students must show ID to obtain free concert ticket.


Citizen Police Academy accepting applications

Do you wonder what it would be like to be a police officer? How do they make the decisions they make? What does a detective do? How are they trained?

The Citizen Police Academy gives citizens an overview of the Prince William County Police Department. Graduates of the course will have a better understanding of the operation of the Department, and a greater awareness and appreciation of the challenges and decisions faced by Prince William County police officers each day.

The 10-week program meets Tuesdays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., starting on April 5, 2016. Graduation will be on June 7, 2016. The program consists of classroom and hands-on instruction. Topics to be covered include virtually every aspect of police work, including Patrol Operations, Criminal Investigations, Tactical Operations, Crime Scene Management, Internal Affairs, and Special Operations. In addition, participants will be given the opportunity to ride a shift with a patrol officer and be familiarized with police equipment, including firearms.

There are a few slots still available for the upcoming session. To apply, simply complete the Citizen Police Academy Application Form, which is found on our website at www.pwcgov.org/police. From there, select “Volunteer Center,” then “Citizen Police Academy.”

Once the application is submitted, a background check is completed and letters are mailed to those who are selected approximately one month prior to the available session. Eligible applicants who do not get into the upcoming session in the spring will be placed on a waitlist for future sessions in order of receipt of their application.

For more information, please call the Criminal Justice Academy at 703-792-6599

Without bill, pressure builds to raise real estate taxes to fund transit

The fifth week of the General Assembly Session brought some long days and nights as we rushed to complete work on bills before our mid-session deadline called “Crossover.”

First the Senate passed legislation to plug a hole in the Northern Virginia 2.1% regional gas tax that is used to fund transit.  This legislation was the top priority for Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford Counties.  It now goes on to an uncertain future in the House of Delegates, but without the legislation, localities will be under even more pressure to raise real estate taxes if we expect to maintain the same level of transit service. 

Eleven of my bills have passed the full Senate with two more still waiting for final passage.  One bill involved improving the fairness of protective order proceedings and another ensured that Virginians can enforce subpoenae in civil and criminal cases in Virginia due to a recent Supreme Court of Virginia opinion. 

My legislation to help close the Digital Divide moved through committee this week.  Today’s children learn digitally and digital literacy is a key job skill in a modern workforce.  However, low income families often cannot afford devices or broadband connections. 

After I learned Fairfax County was using electronic textbooks and failing to provide computers for low income families to use them at home, I introduced legislation to require any school using electronic textbooks to provide a digital device to every student.  The legislation was vetted and approved by the Joint Commission on Technology and Science but was tabled in the House.  Last week, the Senate Education, Health and Welfare Committee passed the bill on a 14-1 vote. 

The proliferation of companies providing background checks for people has led to an increase in dissemination of inaccurate information.  This severely limits Virginians’ opportunities, especially in employment and housing.   My legislation to create a Virginia-based cause of action to remedy these situations and hold companies accountable for putting out inaccurate information passed the Senate.  

Several of my law firm clients and lawyers in Northern Virginia have told me that some orthopedic practices are refusing to see individuals who have suffered injuries in vehicle collisions – even if they have insurance.   My bill to require insurance companies to contractually prohibit doctors from refusing patients based on how they were injured was continued to 2017 so we can convene meetings between insurance companies, doctors, and other stakeholders to mediate a resolution. 

If you have any feedback, please send me a note at scott@scottsurovell.org.  It is an honor to serve as your state senator.

2016 Northern Virginia Housing Expo March 19 in Woodbridge

Anyone looking for an affordable place to live in Northern Virginia should plan to visit the 2016 Northern Virginia Housing Expo, hosted by Fairfax-based nonprofit AHOME Foundation in cooperation with the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA), Prince William, Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church, and the Town of Herndon.

Admission is free.

The area’s only regional housing expo showcases both homeownership and rental opportunities and resources throughout Northern Virginia. The event will be held from 10 am until 3 pm and will feature workshops, exhibits and free one-on-one credit counseling.

The sixth annual expo is designed to educate attendees about location options, being prepared for buying or renting, understanding and improving credit scores and improving their financial literacy and personal finance habits. Visit the event web site for the growing list of exhibitors and the schedule of the free workshops.

The expo, whose location rotates annually throughout Northern Virginia, is being held at Freedom High School in Woodbridge, Virginia, located at 15201 Neabsco Mills Road, between I-95 and Jefferson Davis Highway.

The event is produced by a collaborative effort of the aforementioned housing authorities along with representatives of the banking and mortgage industry, and is managed by Laura Nickle, president of Leesburg-based Communi-k, Inc. Past expos have been recognized with a prestigious award from the Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers (HAND) for “best government initiative.”

More information about the expo is available at www.NoVaHousingExpo.org; you can also follow the Northern Virginia Housing Expo on Facebook and Twitter to receive event updates.

The event is made possible by a variety of sponsorships, including funding from platinum sponsors Capital One, the Prince William County Office of Housing and Community Development and the Virginia Housing Development Authority, as well as gold sponsor Northern Virginia Association of Realtors®, and silver sponsor George Mason Mortgage.

Plant NoVa Natives Recognizes Kim Hosen and the Prince William Conservation Alliance

The Plant NoVA Natives Campaign presented Kim Hosen, Executive Director of the Prince William Conservation Alliance, with its first ever “Plant NoVA Natives Champion Award” in recognition of her work to preserve and improve environmental quality in the county.

Hosen and the PWCA have used plants native to the region to transform the landscape surrounding the Stone House Nature Center into the Merrimac Farm Conservation Landscape Garden.

Their work has created a diverse habitat for birds, butterflies, moths, turtles, amphibians, and more. Here creatures great and small can find nesting sites, food and water, and places to rest and hide among a wealth of Virginia’s native plants.

The garden serves as an example for residents who are interested in creating landscapes with plants that are adapted to the local ecosystem.

In addition to their work at Merrimac Farm, PWCA coordinated a number of volunteer organizations to plant natives at K9 Gunner Memorial Dog Park in Lake Ridge.

The PWCA also identifies and pursues conservation opportunities throughout the county. The Plant NoVA Natives Campaign is a local social marketing campaign created to educate the public about the importance of implementing native plants into our local landscapes.

Learn more at www.plantnovanatives.org

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 Senator 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’s 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.   
Over 600 constituents have completed my 2016 Survey.  Please complete it online at www.scottsurovell.org and email me at scott@scottsurovell.org if you have any feedback.
It is an honor to serve as your state senator.

Despite gun deal, legislation still incomplete

The third week of the General Assembly saw a major agreement emerge on firearm violence issues, and action on several of my bills.

Bills Moving Through

Three of my bills passed the full Senate this week.  My resolution ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) passed on a bipartisan 21-19 vote.  ERA remains five states short of ratification.  The Senate also passed my bill to give consumers a remedy when consumer finance companies fail to include language protecting consumers in their agreements, and prohibiting local governments from requiring homeowners or condo association approval before granting a permit or license.

As trains, buses, bicycles and walking become more popular, many states have enacted “vulnerable user” laws – making it easier to convict vehicle drivers of a serious traffic offense when collisions occur with vulnerable users who are seriously injured.  My legislation will be studied this summer. 

My legislation to require the State Board of Education to redesign 11th Grade English examinations for English language learners passed subcommittee.  This will result in a fairer tests for students.  This will also result in a more accurate accreditation analysis for schools with large language learner populations such as many schools in the Route 1 Corridor.

Firearm Deal

On Friday, Governor McAuliffe announced an agreement with conservative legislators about firearms.  Last month, Attorney General Mark Herring announced that he was revoking agreements to recognize out of state concealed weapon permits (CWP) in Virginia due to other state laws lacking the same protections we use in Virginia.  The National Rifle Association reached out and offered to support prohibiting firearm possession by individuals subject to protective orders and requiring State Police presence at all gun shows to conduct voluntary background checks for firearms sellers without federal firearms licenses. 

In return, the Governor agreed to sign legislation providing universal reciprocity for weapon permits between Virginia and other states.  While the agreement provides that reciprocity will not apply to Virginians whose permits have been revoked in Virginia, it is still incomplete.  If enacted, a Virginians who cannot obtain a permit in Virginia after a conviction for stalking, drunk driving, or inpatient mental health or substance abuse treatment will be able to obtain a Utah permit and legally carry a concealed gun, switchblade, machete, nun chuck, or throwing stars it in Virginia.

While I would like to see reciprocity for Virginia permit holders, our Virginians’ firearms safety rules should be up to the Virginia legislature and not delegated to the legislatures of states like Utah, Idaho or Alaska.  The agreement is not acceptable to me and I will not support the compromise without tighter firearm violence protections. 

This week will be busy – I have over a dozen bills up this week.  Please complete my constituent survey at www.scottsurovell.org and email me at scott@scottsurovell.org if you have any feedback.

It is an honor to serve as your state senator.  

Bach to Rock Music school ribbon cutting

In order to commemorate the grand opening of Bach to Rock Music School in Bristow, we have scheduled a ribbon cutting ceremony on February 1.

The ribbon cutting will begin at 11:30 a.m. at Bach to Rock Bristow located on 9070 Devlin Road, Suite 100, in Bristow.

Representatives of the Prince William Chamber of Commerce will be on hand to assist with the ribbon cutting.

After the official cutting of the ribbon, there will be a social time with refreshments.

Bach to Rock Bristow is America’s Music School- offering private lessons, studio recording, camps, and birthdays.

Metro extension, guns issues on Surovell’s docket

Last week, the 2016 General Assembly gaveled into action and I became your State Senator for Virginia’s 36thDistrict.

New Committees
The Rules Committee assigned me to three committees. (1)  The Local Government Committee considers legislation addressing land use, zoning and local government.  (2) The Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee has jurisdiction over the safety net programs, prisons, alcoholic beverage regulation and childcare.  (3) The General Laws and Technology Committee examines bills affecting homeowners associations, gambling, professional occupation regulation, procurement and the Freedom of Information Act.  Each of these has jurisdiction over issues  critical to the quality of life in our area.

Blue Line Extension and Multimodal Transportation
Interstate 95 is one of the most congested commuter corridors in the United States. In light of the congestion and the need for more high-quality development and employment, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors endorsed the concept of studying the extension of Metro’s Blue Line from Springfield through Lorton, Woodbridge and Potomac Mills to Quantico.  I have introduced legislation to direct the Department of Rail and Public Transit to conduct a multimodal study for this and U.S. 1 south of the Occoquan so we can plan for the next 25 years. 

As our highways become more clogged and as bike lanes and pedestrian facilities are incorporated into our infrastructure, it is important to encourage drivers to respect other users.  Many states have enacted “vulnerable rider” laws to create heightened penalties for drivers who seriously injure pedestrians, cyclists, wheelchair users and others while distracted.  I have introduced a bill to create a Class 1 misdemeanor for injuring a vulnerable user while distracted. 

Homeowners’  Rights
Over the last two years, I have helped to push back on the growing power of homeowners’ and condominium owners’ associations (HOA’s). Some Northern Virginia localities improperly require property owners to show HOA approval before they issue a building permits.  I have introduced legislation to make clear this is prohibited. 

Helping Our Hispanic Community
In August, 2014, I hosted a Hispanic Town Hall in Hybla Valley.  The number one issue raised was difficulty in obtaining a driver’s license or government identification.  Therefore, I have introduced legislation to allow people to obtain a temporary license if they can establish that they have been living in Virginia for one year and have either filed a Virginia tax return or been claimed as a dependent on another Virginian’s tax return.  Fifteen other states, including Maryland and the District of Columbia, have passed similar legislation. 

At the request of Prince William County Public Schools, I have introduced a bill to require Virginia schools to use a recognized English language proficiency assessment exam for children with limited English proficiency, as an alternative to the 11th grade Standards of Learning English reading exam.  This is a fairer way to measure student achievement and will ensure that test scores in high schools with large ESOL populations are not affected by recently-arrived students. 

Firearm Violence Prevention
During my discussions with the State Police about concealed weapon permit (CWP) proposals, we became aware that CWP’s are automatically revoked for felony convictions, protective orders and other criminal offenses.  However, for people who have received inpatient mental health and/or inpatient drug treatment after their CWP was issued, permits are not automatically revoked.  I have introduced a bill to require automatic revocation.

Second, I have put in a bill to prohibit mentally ill people who are prohibited from possessing a firearm from also possessing ammunition.  Today, mentally ill people can have as many bullets as they want – just no guns.

Third, I have re-introduced my 2014 legislation prohibiting individuals on the Terrorist Watch List from obtaining a CWP or purchasing a firearm.  In 2014, the House of Delegates leadership would not give the bill a hearing.

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.

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. 

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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