In the weeks leading up to this year’s Virginia General Assembly session, many area legislators shared lengthy “to-do” lists that included details on some of the bills they intend to introduce.
Several subjects had a familiar ring. For what seems the umpteenth year in a row, there’s a lot of chatter about securing more dollars for Northern Virginia’s transportation network and giving K-12 education a much-needed boost. After years of drinking Richmond-flavored Kool-aid, we’re not optimistic on either front.
We also don’t expect any miracles on corralling sky-high tuition costs at Virginia’s public universities or — gasp — doing away with the antiquated “Kings Dominion” law that prohibits local school boards from starting their school year before Labor Day.
With the entire House of Delegates up for re-election this fall, much of this year’s 30-day session will likely be spent debating divisive social issues while paying lip-service to legislation that might make kids safer, businesses smarter and communities healthier.
Fortunately, we sense there’s a silver lining in this year’s General Assembly cloud. Beneath all the pre-session rhetoric about “keeping taxes low” and “ensuring reasonable regulatory policies,” we’ve heard a number of smaller, less glamorous ideas that might actually make a difference in the lives of many Fairfax families — without requiring billions of additional dollars.
One is implementing no-excuse absentee voting, which might have prevented hundreds of Virginians from having to wait in line for several hours last November to cast a vote. For most working people, hanging around a voting precinct for three or four hours isn’t an option. Instead of restricting one’s right to vote or making it more difficult, state officials should make voting in Virginia as convenient as possible. Allowing qualified voters to vote absentee without providing an excuse is a good — and long overdue — first step.
Another sensible piece of legislation proposes to make it tougher for Virginians who text and drive. Virginia. Del. Tom Rust (R-Herndon) and Sen. Janet Howell (D-McLean) are among those pushing to make texting while driving a primary offense, the same as reckless driving. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), nearly 80 percent of crashes involve some form of driver inattention within three seconds of the crash. If that figure is anywhere close to accurate, voting for tougher texting penalties is a no-brainer.
More efficiency in government is always a great goal, and Del. Scott Surovell (D-Alexandria) deserves credit for suggesting the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) should electronically transmit address changes to local voter registrars instead of requiring voters to request and file separate paperwork. We’re fairly certain Surovell’s idea could be put to good use in other areas as well, saving Virginia a good deal of time and money.
There have also been a number of thought-provoking proposals on a range of issues from bullying and mental health screening to daycare and traffic safety. Each proposal, if given its just due, could positively impact many Virginians.
The hope here is that state legislators spend the next month putting out fires, not starting them.