Blogs

Legislative Town Hall Meeting

 

Saturday, February 13, 2016
10:00AM - 12:00PM

 

Sleepy Hollow Elementary School

3333 Sleepy Hollow Road
Falls Church, VA

(See map)

 

Please Join

 

Senator Dick Saslaw

Senator Dave Marsden

Delegate Kaye Kory

As we approach the midway mark (Crossover) of the General Assembly, there are long days filled with many sub-committee and committee meetings with even longer dockets. The Senate and House of Delegates must complete the work introduced in their respective chamber by February 16. Each will also complete its plan for the biennial budget by February 25. At that point, budget conferees will start the negotiations to produce its amended budget for adoption by the General Assembly.

Many initiatives come before the Senate Finance Committee, as they often have a financial impact. I am a small businessman and understand what it takes to make payroll. I am also concerned when we fail to address the gap between the minimum wage and a wage that enables working Virginians to sustain themselves. In its infinite wisdom, the Senate Finance Committee (10 Republicans and 5 Democrats) voted down a number of bills to incrementally raise the minimum wage from $7.25/hour. Hard working Virginians living paycheck to paycheck should NOT be forced to choose what bill to pay (water or electricity; food or medicine) on an ongoing basis. In the end, this is going to come back to bite us. Virginia is going to have to cover the cost of medical and social services, and that means taxpayers are subsidizing business models that rely on government assistance while complaining about tax rates.  

Another interesting twist in this same committee was the demise of SB326 (a bill I introduced) to reduce income tax rates on businesses. This bill was intended to be an incentive for further economic development in the Commonwealth. The Finance Committee is on a slippery slope as we continue to claw our way back from the Great Recession. Make no mistake about it, Sequestration has had a major impact on the health of Virginia’s economic engine.  Just keeping even with job losses is a win for all of us. The votes we take in these next couple of weeks are critical to this continued recovery.

 

Welcoming the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce to the General Assembly this week.

Once again, a bill often referred to as the “Tebow Bill” came before the Senate. I strongly oppose this measure for a number of reasons including the value sports has in our region, a region which does not seem to suffer from a shortage of qualified players. If you want your children to participate in public school sports, send them to public school. The parents made this decision for their children when they decided they didn’t want to be a part of the system. You have the opportunity and option to send your children to public school, so you are either in or out.

Additionally, Senator Vogel’s bill regarding changing the legal age of marriage to 18 was reported from Courts of Justice. It’s disconcerting that we have to have a bill to address this issue here in the Commonwealth. This is a legitimate interest to the state, and we owe it to our children to make sure they are living in a safe environment where they are never forced into uncomfortable situations.

Talking with the Virginia Mortgage Lenders Association about the current lending system.

Legislation to reform structured settlements passed the Senate 40-0 on Wednesday, righting an egregious wrong. Virginia will now be able to offer citizens wishing to sell their structured settlements greater protection by having them attend court hearings dealing with their settlements, and by requiring the hearings to take place in the seller’s jurisdiction. These new provisions ensure people know what is happening with their money and that the process no longer takes place behind closed doors.

In Education and Health on Thursday, the committee voted down legislation that would allow localities to start the school year before Labor Day. This bill has been proposed in past years, and reaches the same fate each time. There is no evidence to suggest starting school earlier has a positive impact on our children, and the bill would have a major detrimental impact on our economy. Right now the system we have is working. If and when evidence-based results arise that show moving up the start date would be beneficial we can look at this issue again.  I call your attention to the volume of Northern Virginia students in our state public colleges and universities.  That number is disproportionate to any other region/locality in the state. 

On the Senate floor, we held up our end of the bargain struck by the Governor with Republican legislators, and passed the bill (SB610) approving recognition of out-of-state concealed handgun permits. Additionally, Senator Howell's bill (SB49) and Senator Edwards' bill (SB715) were passed on the Senate floor Friday morning. Senator Howell's bill will prohibit those subject to a protective order from possessing a firearm, and Senator Edwards' bill will require the State Police to be available at gun shows to provide background checks at the seller’s request. The House versions of all three bills passed through the House Committee on Militia, Police, and Public Safety, and I look forward to their passage on the floor. Both pieces of legislation are a step in the right direction for Virginia and critical to public safety, especially for victims of domestic violence.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions at district35@senate.virginia.gov.

Last week, the General Assembly had its second snow day in 48 years. Any time lost is unfortunate, as we have a lot to accomplish in the little time we are given. This session, there are 2,635 total proposed bills. We have 936 in the Senate alone, and less than three weeks before crossover where they need to be ready to send to the House. Additionally, we have less than seven weeks left in session. There is not much leeway, so the loss of a day is going to make things more jam-packed than they already are.

Last December, the Governor proposed his biennial budget plan of more than $100 billion over the next two fiscal years. Economic development is at the forefront of the budget and the way to ensure a strong economy comes from building a strong base – by putting funds into education and workforce development. The Governor’s budget strongly supports funding for both education and workforce development, and includes a 2% raise for state employees. Focusing on these two important priorities will guarantee continued growth in the Commonwealth and ensure Virginia can compete in a global economy. 
 
There are three hot topic issues I'd like to highlight to you this week. The first is guns. The lack of common sense gun safety and responsible gun ownership being advocated this session borders on embarrassing. Just last night, the Governor reached a compromise with Republican leaders that would repeal the ban on certain out of state concealed handgun permits in exchange for a softening of Republican stances on proposed gun safety legislation. The compromise represents an important step in protecting victims of domestic violence by stripping their offenders of their gun rights. 
 
Ethics reform is another issue of interest. With former Governor McDonnell’s trial reaching the Supreme Court, there is continued debate on what qualifies as a gift and what needs to be reported. The 100-page document passed in 2015 to remedy confusion surrounding gifts seems to only be causing more problems. 
 
Finally, cybersecurity is an issue of increasing importance. As our day to day lives become ever more intertwined with the internet and its associated infrastructure, we continue to become more and more vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Cybersecurity is a bipartisan issue that will be looked at more closely throughout session, along with proposals for increased funding and public awareness. We must also ensure that our education and workforce development systems graduate and train skilled workers who can competently protect our citizens and online infrastructure in the decades to come. 
 
As always, I welcome your questions and comments at district35@senate.virginia.gov

The National Weather Service (NWS) and emergency agencies continue to monitor a severe winter storm slated to impact the D.C. metro area this Friday and into the weekend. NWS has already issued a blizzard watch for our area effective Friday, January 22 at noon. I urge you to take any necessary precautions now and have included important information below that you may need.

Please stay safe during the storm. If my office can be of assistance to you during or after the storm please contact us at district35@senate.virginia.gov.

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Emergency & Non-Emergency

If you are having an emergency, please call 911.

The Fairfax County Non-Emergency number is 703-691-2131; VA TTY NUMBER IS 711. 

Shelter Locations: Call 2-1-1 for shelter locations

Road Conditions: Call 5-1-1 for road conditions

Power Outages

Dominion Virginia Power outages and downed wires: 1-866-DOM-HELP (1-866-366-4357)

NOVEC (Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative) outages and downed wires: 1-888-335-0500 or 703-335-0500

Pepco outages: 1-877-737-2662; downed wires: 202-872-343

Gas

If you smell gas, or if you have an emergency involving natural gas, leave the area immediately, and call 911 and Washington Gas at 703-750-1400 or 1-800-752-7520

Downed Trees

Public roads: Virginia Department of Transportation: 1-800-FOR-ROAD (1-800-367-7623)

Parks: Fairfax County Park Authority: 703-324-8594

Public Areas: Fairfax County Urban Forestry: 703-324-1770

Private property: Removal is the property owner's responsibility. Be aware of the risk of chain saw injury during tree removal. Use a chain saw safely to clear debris. If a tree has hit your home, call your property insurance company before starting the removal process.

Sewer

Sanitary sewer flooding: 703-323-1211; If you have damp walls or floors, contact a water removal or restoration company

Sewer Breaks or Back-ups: 703-323-1211 or 703-250-2003

Septic System

Health Department: 703-246-2201

Insurance

The Virginia state Bureau of Insurance offers free consumer guides entitled, "What to Do After an Insured Commercial Property Loss"', and "What to Do After an Insured Homeowners Loss". These guides are available at www.scc.virginia.gov/boi. The Bureau of Insurance has staff specifically trained to handle disaster insurance questions and problems. Phone: 804-371-9185 or 804-371-9185 or 9691. The toll-free number is 1-877-310-6560.

Please join Senator Saslaw for a legislative town hall meeting in the City of Falls Church.

 

Legislative Town Hall Meeting

 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

 

Falls Church Community Center

223 Little Falls Street

Falls Church, VA 22046

On January 13, the General Assembly will convene. Front and center will be the work of putting together the biennial budget. Governor McAuliffe has proposed a plan that is fiscally responsible and lays the foundation for a new Virginia economy. In 2014, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership noted that “Virginia has all the right assets to continue our economic leadership throughout the 21st century.” With vision and bipartisan cooperation, our economic assets can lay the foundation for economic prosperity.

Virginia boasts a record $550 million surplus, rising personal income levels, and one of the lower unemployment rates in the nation at 4.2 percent. In fact, localities in the 35th Senate district such as Falls Church City (3.0 percent), Alexandria City (3.2 percent), and Fairfax County (3.3 percent) boast some of the lowest unemployment rates anywhere. Congress delayed sequestration for two more years and even passed a five-year transportation plan. By all accounts the region and the state are on economic cruise control. But a look ahead shows that Northern Virginia and the Commonwealth are staring at an economic crossroads.

Through good times and bad, booms and busts, there remains a constant: long-term economic prosperity stems from investing in public education, growing the skills and talent base, and positioning for the jobs of the future. As a businessman and as a husband of a long-time public educator, I’ve seen first-hand the importance of supporting K-12 and higher education and sustaining a business-friendly climate in Virginia. And while our Commonwealth has plenty to be proud of on these fronts we also face stark realities. Nearly 5,000 K-12 positions have been lost in the state over the last seven years. Public education is funded at the same level it was nearly a decade ago. More than 175,000 middle-skill job vacancies sit unfilled. CNBC’s annual scorecard on economic climate, which ranked Virginia 1st as recently as 2009, now ranks Virginia 12th. And the threat of sequestration and additional uncertainty at the federal level will loom large again sooner than we think. Virginia must act now to plot its own economic destiny and lay a foundation for the new Virginia economy.

First and foremost is public education. Governor McAuliffe has proposed more than $1 billion in new investment for K-12 and higher education to ensure Virginia graduates are ready to compete in a global economy. This investment includes money for 2,500 new K-12 teachers, pay raises for teachers, and significant funding to ensure K-12 standards of quality stay relevant and current.

At the higher education level, I am particularly enthusiastic about an innovative $25 million proposal to help Virginia’s Community College System generate an additional 50,000 STEM-H workforce credentials annually. These new credentials will expand the middle class and help local businesses fill jobs that require less than a bachelor’s degree but more than a high school diploma. College completion must also remain an attainable goal for Virginia’s families. $48 million in new financial aid will help thousands of at-risk students earn degrees – degrees that will pay decades of dividends to Virginia’s economy.

The Governor has also introduced a forward-looking bond package that infuses sorely needed capital into research, technology, and engineering infrastructure at Virginia’s colleges and universities. These improvements will help grow a talent pipeline that attracts and retains businesses in high-tech, high-growth industries to Northern Virginia.

Throughout my many years of public service I’ve worked to bring about real results for Northern Virginia. Real results provide individuals the opportunity to earn a degree or credential from a high-quality school, the opportunity to get ahead and earn a living, the opportunity to settle down and raise a family. The proposals on the table during the upcoming General Assembly Session for investing in public education and sustaining a business-friendly climate will bring real results to the Commonwealth for years to come. I invite you to join me in growing the new Virginia economy.

It’s official, the holiday season is upon us and the countdown to the General Assembly has begun. Recently, I spent the day with newly elected senators who will be sworn in come January. Eight very bright, eager and most likely exhausted men and women will take their seat in the Senate Chamber.

Having just come through the election season in a holding pattern as far as power distribution goes, a new chapter will begin to unfold. Both Caucuses have elected their leaders. I am grateful for the opportunity to represent the citizens of the 35th Senate District and am appreciative of the support and confidence of my fellow Democrats to serve as their Leader in the Senate.

While there are clear differences in the new Senate culture, we will be looking to find common ground on the issues that matter most to Virginians. Growing and diversifying the economy and improving infrastructure remain top priorities. And of course, preparing the next generation for the workforce of tomorrow means that we must make appropriate investments in both K-12 and Higher Ed.

A few weeks ago, Senate finance staff provided an insight into all components of the general fund. To begin with, our revenues are beginning to tick up. While we hear about surplus funds, those are mostly earmarked for replacing transfers from budget items (for example the rainy day fund). Weathering the effects of sequestration in the Commonwealth is a daily challenge. Virginia is one of the highest recipients of federal contracting. In the absence of replacing revenues with new jobs, we are seeing a limited recovery. Governor McAuliffe has just returned from another trade mission overseas. There are promising results from that trip.

One of the biggest attractions for luring new business to the Commonwealth is a strong education system for the colleges and universities it feeds into. Northern Virginia offers a world class K-12 school system. Funding for all the extras (above the Standards of Quality) that make it competitive is the key to its top rank. Our localities heavily supplement these costs. State funding is appropriated based on the local composite index – that is the value of taxable real estate and individual income. Because individual income is not taxed by the localities, wealthier localities often land on the short side of the state appropriation for the SOQ funding.

Funding for higher education has remained flat for years with increasing enrollments in our state funded colleges and universities. A skilled workforce is another magnet for businesses to locate in Virginia. Keeping Higher Ed affordable and accessible is essential. Additionally, there is a pent up demand for operational facilities. I expect a bond package to come out of the General Assembly to meet these growing demands.

This December 17, Governor McAuliffe will deliver his proposed biennial budget. The Governor will attempt to direct more revenue into public education as well as our colleges and universities. Of course, the cost of health and human services continues to rise and more people are attempting to enroll in Medicaid. While it is no state secret there is strong Republican opposition to expanding Medicaid, we are leaving millions of Virginia tax dollars on the proverbial federal table. Oddly enough, rural hospitals are operating in the red to provide charity care for Virginians in need of healthcare. Virginia is one of the top ten richest states per capita. And yet, we are delivering healthcare to thousands through the same method you see in third world countries – through annual events with volunteers providing services often in the stables on fair grounds.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to serve our district. I hope to see you in Richmond during the assembly and will let you know when we will be hosting our local town halls. Feel free to contact my office for arranging tours as well as reserving meeting rooms for your group trips to the Capital.
I would like to extend season’s greetings to you all. Best wishes for a healthy and prosperous New Year.

This is it! Tomorrow, November 3, we can send a message, and keep moving Virginia forward. We can elect leaders that want to continue to pursue Governor McAuliffe’s pro-business, progressive agenda, and reject those that choose to use their power to bring the Washington style of gridlock politics to Richmond.

These elections matter, and that’s why you have received multiple messages from me. Healthcare, pre-k funding, common sense gun control, and so much more is on the line. If you have not already done so, please VOTE and make sure your friends and families go to the polls as well.

The polls open at 6 am, and close at 7 pm. You can find information about your polling place here. And do not forget that you need to bring an ID with you.

Thank you so much for your continued support. It is my privilege and honor to serve our community in the General Assembly.

 

Funding for Public Education

An issue that constantly plagues our Commonwealth is funding for public education. Last month the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission released a report showing that Virginia’s schools have fewer resources and higher needs than at any other time in recent history. Our classrooms are larger, the teacher retention is a challenge and the curriculum is out of date.

In 2014 localities fronted 56% of school spending, or $3.6 billion beyond their requirement. This is especially an issue in those areas that lack the resources to make up the shortfall. The reason for this lack in funding is because of the state’s watered down funding formula that was put in place at the beginning of the recession. All of this culminates with Virginia’s local governments paying more for public education than 39 other states.
Currently, school districts have to make choices between cutting funds for instruction, teacher support services and/or buildings. We are one of the wealthiest regions in this nation. Thankfully, this wealth has provided our students with a world class education that keeps us globally competitive. Make no mistake about it, when it comes to businesses coming to Virginia, an educated work force often seals the deal.

At the state level, we are spending significantly less on students today than in 2005, which is problematic because our students have more needs now than in prior years. Sadly, the poverty rate has increased by 45% and the number of students with limited English proficiency has increased by 69%. It is an unrealistic expectation our schools will remain competitive if we do not act prudently. Investing in our children’s education is essential when it comes to diversifying and growing Virginia’s economy. This is a message I have shared many times and will continue to fight for as we form the biennial budget in the 2016 session of the General Assembly.

Elections

In addition to electing our local officials, this Nov. 3 we have the opportunity to elect all 140 members of Virginia’s General Assembly. We have the choice between supporting candidates who believe in Governor McAuliffe’s vision of a prosperous and diversified Virginia economy, and those who only wish to stand in the way of progress. Whether it is bringing needed funding for our infrastructure or fighting to maintain Virginia’s pro-business climate, I have continuously fought to make our district the best possible.

Sadly there has been a downward trend with voter turnout for these off year elections. In 1991 voter turnout for legislative-only elections was 49%, however, 2011 voter turnout was down to 29%. We need you to vote. This year’s election determines not only the makeup of the General Assembly in Richmond, but also city council, board of supervisors, school boards and lots of other local positions that have an impact on our daily lives.
Absentee voting has already started and there is still time to register to vote if you have not done so yet. More information can be found on the various websites.

It is my pleasure to serve as your State Senator, and I look forward to the opportunity to once again represent Senate District 35 in Richmond.

As I am sure you have heard by now, Governor McAuliffe has declared Virginia in a state of emergency because of the inclement weather that our Commonwealth is currently experiencing. Beginning this evening and possibly running through early next week, the National Weather Service is predicting heavy rainfall, high winds, and flooding.

This extreme weather could combine with Hurricane Joaquin, which is presently developing north of the Bahamas. There is the potential for the two systems to create a superstorm similar to the one we experienced in 2012 with Superstorm Sandy. Although this is not expected to happen, the situation is being monitored closely by both the National Weather Service and the Fairfax County’s Office of Emergency Management.

You can follow the Fairfax County Emergency Management webpage for up to date information. Additionally, you can visit my webpage for other important websites and phone numbers in case of emergency.

As always, please stay safe and look after one another.


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