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General Assembly

During emergencies, most Virginians take the services of the State Police for granted. They shouldn’t. Policing is always a tough, dangerous and emotionally draining job. Add long hours, relatively low pay and all the anti-police rhetoric out there, and an already hard job has become even harder. Which is why experienced troopers are leaving the force and fewer and fewer qualified young people are willing to take their places.

Virginia’s long-neglected transportation system is chronically short of money. The $2 billion state surplus – or at least part of it – would go a long way to fixing some of the worst traffic hotspots. That, and returning at least some of the $2 billion to taxpayers, should be elected officials’ top two priorities.

Virginia is anticipating a half-billion-dollar budget surplus by the end of this month. A surplus happens when all the items in the state budget have been funded and there’s still money left over. There’s no reason why that extra half-billion dollar budget surplus should be spent on anything other than transportation.

Virginia taxpayers are being charged $250,000 for a farcical "independent" investigation into the state watchdog's investigation into misconduct by the Virginia Parole Board, which released murderers and rapists without providing notification to victims and prosecutors as state law requires.

The University of Mary Washington has decided to leave its tuition costs unchanged for the third year in a row. This is good news for students in an age when a college degree often comes with decades of student loan debt.

Why were Virginia Dept. of Health officials who supposedly were specifically trained for a possible respiratory pandemic so unprepared for this worst-in-a-century one? Did political decisions play a part, or was the training insufficient? 

State legislators expressly excluded public servants who work for the commonwealth from their new public collective bargaining law for political subdivisions. They don’t want to have to deal with never-ending negotiations and demands for more money and benefits from state employees. And that should be an object lesson to all local jurisdictions that are considering taking lawmakers up on their offer.

A bill requiring social service agencies in Virginia to actively include extended family members and longstanding family friends in any foster care arrangements they are considering was passed unanimously by the General Assembly this session and sent to Gov. Ralph Northam. He should sign this long overdue foster care reform without delay.

The novel coronavirus has created a whole slew of new problems that nobody anticipated, much less planned for, leaving even public officials in a state of confusion about how best to keep Virginians safe without causing unnecessary collateral damage. But so far, the question of how far the governor’s authority goes to quarantine individuals who are not sick and have not infected anybody else remains unanswered.

On Feb. 26, the General Assembly gave its final approval to a compromise bill that automatically seals records of nine misdemeanor charges if the offender has not been charged with any other crimes for seven years. Most of the offenses fall in the category of “youthful indiscretion,” such as underage possession of alcohol or marijuana, disorderly conduct. trespassing and simple larceny.

Will Virginians' chances of getting into an accident with a marijuana- or alcohol-impaired driver increase when these intoxicating substances will be as easy to get as a slurpee? Nobody knows. What we do know is that the Virginia legislature has just launched a statewide DUI experiment, and all drivers in Virginia are the guinea pigs.

Instead of just talking about the lack of affordable housing in Virginia, the General Assembly is finally doing something about it. Earlier this month, lawmakers in Richmond passed a bill that would give developers who build affordable units a matching state tax credit for projects that also qualify for a low-income housing federal tax credit

With the General Assembly’s passage of the Consumer Data Protection Act (SB 1392), Virginia has become just the second state in the nation besides California to address the ongoing problem of businesses and other organizations selling customers’ personal information without their knowledge or consent.

A large number of low-income Virginians are facing their retirement years with insufficient savings, which will put a heavy burden on Medicaid and other social services. Virginia Saves would not only be beneficial for individual workers, it could save the commonwealth $11.8 billion over 15 years, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Just as many quarantined students in Virginia were making tentative plans to go back to in-person school, the General Assembly passed legislation that would let them skip a day of instruction so they could participate in “civic events”—which presumably includes such activities as attending a political rally or protest march, lobbying lawmakers, or campaigning for a candidate.

Inserting a consensus proposal (a regional transportation authority) to deal with a long-standing and intractable problem (lack of adequate transportation funding in Fredericksburg) into the legislative maw and grinding it into a “solution” that nobody wants or needs is Richmond-style sausage-making at its worst.

The Fredericksburg region’s overburdened transportation system will soon be overwhelmed by traffic generated by residential and commercial projects already in the development pipeline. A regional transportation authority would help build projects that have little chance of getting built otherwise.

State lawmakers have an opportunity to reform the cash bail system, which clearly discriminates against lower-income individuals and is responsible for thousands of unnecessary incarcerations in the commonwealth.

Last year, the legislature changed the laws so that counties can charge their own taxes on cigarettes above what the state gets. If King George levied a 20-cents-per-pack tax, it is estimated that it could reap $3 million for the county, “the type of revenue that the dump brings in,” said Supervisor Jeff Stonehill, referencing K.G.’s huge and highly profitable landfill that takes in trash from all over.

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