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by Peter Rousselot — September 11, 2014 at 2:45 pm 592 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotLast week, a jury rendered its guilty verdict in the trial of former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen. The jury found the McDonnells guilty of multiple violations of federal criminal law relating to public corruption.

The jury answered decisively the question I raised in an Aug. 7 column: a crush does NOT excuse a crime.

Most legal experts and political observers agree that Virginia’s state criminal laws on public corruption are so full of holes that the McDonnells could not have been successfully prosecuted under those state laws. Far from discouraging corrupt conduct, Virginia’s porous state laws enable it.

Any tightening of Virginia’s criminal laws on public corruption must be done at the state level. Under Virginia’s Dillon Rule,” individual localities like Arlington cannot adopt ordinances that conflict with current state criminal law. But, that does not mean that Arlington has no room to act on its own.

For example, earlier this year the Arlington School Board adopted a new gifts policy. Under the School Board’s new policy:

Employees may accept gifts valued at a total of $100.00 or less during a school year from any one student, individual, family or organization, including PTAs and Booster organizations. In no instance shall an employee accept a gift given for services performed within the scope of the employee’s duties or given with the intent to influence an employee’s actions. Any single gift valued at more than $100.00, or gifts totaling more than $100.00 from one giver during the course of a year, must be returned to the giver.

I commend the School Board for the positive example it set by taking this action. As I have written previously, now it’s time for the County Board to step up to the plate.

The current County Board Ethics Policy is much too vague and weak. On the subject of gifts, for example, the current County Board policy simply urges its employees to “ensure that no favors, gifts, gratuities or benefits are received for actions taken.” This provision simply urges County employees not to violate the toothless provisions of current Virginia state criminal law.

The County Board can and should do much better.

To get started, the County Board should follow the lead of the School Board and adopt a gifts policy. Emulating the School Board, the County Board ought to adopt a $100 limit on gifts.

It’s time for the County Board to send a strong signal that it is committed to the highest ethical standards.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — September 4, 2014 at 2:00 pm 2,245 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotOn Aug. 27, ARLnow.com revealed that Arlington Public Schools (APS) has decided to give a new Macbook Air computer to every ninth-grader at Wakefield, Washington-Lee and Yorktown high schools.

Regardless of whether APS’ decision is right or wrong, the decision badly flunks any reasonable test of transparency.

Whether to undertake this initiative cries out for a thoughtful, careful process of advance consultation with parents and the public. The failure to have such a process precede the decision reflects remarkable tone deafness.

Here are just some of the reasons why the decision is wrong according to angry ARLnow commenters:

  • There is too large a mismatch between the way the current curriculum is structured and the ability to use a personal computer in the classroom effectively, so it is premature to introduce personal computers in the classroom until this mismatch is corrected;
  • Too many teachers cannot use effectively the technology tools they already have (Smartboards and TVs), so it is not realistic to believe those teachers will be able effectively to integrate the new personal computers into their classroom instruction;
  • Being prepared for the 21st century means learning how to budget one’s financial resources, and the message we’re sending kids by paying for them to have free Macs is that everyone can just have what’s very expensive and hip at everyone else’s expense;
  • Even if a requirement that all HS Freshmen have a Macbook Air is appropriate, that requirement should be imposed first on the parents, with financial assistance made available to every family that cannot afford to purchase one;
  • Given the capacity crisis APS faces, the money spent on purchasing these personal computers is better spent directly alleviating that crisis.

If you are part of APS’ management, and you believe that you have excellent answers to every one of the points noted above, and therefore that the public reaction to this decision is overblown, you are missing the point.

When you are using our taxpayer dollars to implement a decision like this one, you should be willing to stand up before the public, justify your decision, and engage with the public regarding its concerns.

APS management seems to be fixated on large-scale programs placing PCs in the hands of students. Remember the 1:1 initiative? More recently, at least one elementary school — Campbell — is planning to give iPads to all second graders — apparently without consulting parents or the public.

But, APS management hasn’t engaged with the Arlington community as to why APS thinks it can do better with these PC initiatives than Hoboken, N.J. Like many other school districts, Hoboken tried, but now has abandoned, its PC-for-every-student program.

APS has failed to meet its burden to prove it is ready to implement such programs in an effective way.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — August 28, 2014 at 2:00 pm 302 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotAs I have done previously, today I’m profiling a nonprofit that offers valuable services to the Arlington community: Friends of Guest House.

Mission

The mission of Guest House is to provide female ex-offenders the structure, supervision, support and assistance they need to become self-sufficient and responsible members of the community. Guest House rebuilds female ex-offenders’ lives by providing them with the physical and emotional tools they need to begin a new life.

Guest House operates and delivers its services without regard to race, creed, color, religion, gender, age, national origin, physical or mental health, sexual orientation, or any characteristic protected by law.

Programs

Guest House provides comprehensive re-entry support to female ex-offenders in Northern Virginia, including Arlington. It delivers that support through three core programs: Residential, aftercare and non-residential outreach.

Spanning those three programs, Guest House provides case management; mental health and substance abuse counseling referrals; and directly or through other groups, assistance with issues such as:

  • health care
  • education
  • vocational training
  • employment
  • housing
  • emergency needs
  • child custody
  • referrals to other community services
  • generally, navigating the post-incarceration environment in constructive ways

Guest House works as part of the larger Northern Virginia social services network, referring its clients for special services and receiving client referrals as well. Formal partnerships with several groups have expanded the range of services that clients receive.

Success Rate

Guest House addresses the root causes that lead to the vicious cycle of incarceration. It provides clients with the most effective help so they do not re-offend. Its program focuses on core issues ranging from trauma and addiction to housing and employment. The success of Guest House’s program is demonstrated by these comparative statistics:

  • Without the re-entry support the Guest House program provides, 70 percent of non-violent ex-offenders nationwide re-offend within three years;
  • Among graduates of the Guest House program, only 7 percent re-offend.

How to Help

There are a number of different ways to get involved. These include:

  • Donate money;
  • Honor someone special;
  • Underwrite a specific project;
  • Volunteer
  • Host a benefit or friendraiser or feature a Guest House speaker
  • Fundraise with social media
  • Help clients find jobs and housing

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — August 21, 2014 at 1:10 pm 556 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter Rousselot

In two earlier columns, I urged Virginia’s political leaders to try to find bi-partisan common ground to improve access to healthcare for Virginia’s poor.  In the second of those columns, I explained that Republican leaders in many other states, even leaders who opposed the Affordable Care Act, have found ways to do this either by expanding Medicaid or by using a premium assistance model.

Regrettably, Virginia still seems gripped in partisan gridlock.

Virginia’s Democratic Governor, Terry McAuliffe, continues to insist that expanding Medicaid is the right solution. Virginia’s Republican leaders are just as adamant that expanding Medicaid is the wrong solution. Governor McAuliffe has asked his Secretary of Health to present a plan by September 1 under which the Governor would expand Medicaid without legislative approval. Virginia’s Republican leaders say that the Governor lacks the authority under the Virginia Constitution to proceed without legislative approval. If he tries to do it this way, the Republican leaders have promised to sue the Governor to block his plans.

For nine months, Governor McAullife and Virginia’s Democratic legislative leaders have made their proposal to expand Medicaid crystal clear, but they have failed to persuade Virginia’s Republican legislative leaders. These Republican leaders have just said no.

What is the Virginia Republican legislative leadership’s alternative to Medicaid expansion?

For some Republicans, that alternative may be the status quo.  The status quo shouldn’t be an option for Virginia — any more than it has been for many other states with Republican governors.

It is long past time for Virginia’s Republican legislative leaders to take a stand. If you don’t support Medicaid expansion, what do you support? Put your alternative out there for Virginians to compare side by side with Governor McAuliffe’s proposal.

How about supporting the Arkansas approach?

Arkansas did things a little differently than other states that expanded Medicaid. The Republican-dominated legislature wouldn’t pass a traditional expansion; instead, it mandated that federal money be used to pay premiums for private insurance plans through the state’s marketplace, an alternative proponents dubbed the “private option.” Other states have used federal money for premium support, but not to the extent Arkansas has.

The Arkansas approach has been remarkably successful:

No state has made progress faster than Arkansas….[T]he percentage of the state’s population without insurance dropped nearly in half, down from 22.5 percent in 2013 to 12.4 percent today.

Personally, I strongly favor a straightforward expansion of Medicaid in Virginia — as advocated by Governor McAuliffe.

What I don’t understand is why Virginia’s Republican legislative leaders can’t tell us what they support instead.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — August 7, 2014 at 2:00 pm 1,248 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter Rousselot

When Ira Gershwin wrote those memorable lyrics to what became a jazz standard, he didn’t know his lyrics would play a central role in the criminal trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen. Anyone still remember “Bob’s for Jobs?”

Regardless of how the trial turns out, something is really wrong with what Maureen and Bob did. We just don’t know whether what they did was a crime under Virginia’s notoriously lax ethics and political corruption laws.

Most ARLnow.com readers know the basic facts of the Bob and Maureen story. An “enterprising” Virginia businessman provides:

  • a Rolex watch for the Governor,
  • a $15,000 gift for the Governor’s daughter’s wedding reception,
  • a $20,000 shopping spree in New York City for the Governor’s wife,
  • large loans to the Governor, concealing the nature of the transactions and the identity of the lender, and
  • much, much more.

The Governor and his wife provide the businessman with:

  • meetings with Virginia officials who could facilitate lucrative deals for the businessman,
  • personal appearances at trade events to promote the businessman’s products.

Maureen’s lawyers claim that none of what Maureen did was a crime because:

  • her family was in great financial difficulty,
  • her marriage to Bob was broken and she was lonely for male companionship,
  • she had a crush on the businessman, and
  • she accepted gifts from the businessman for these reasons — not because she was trading access and influence for his gifts.

Bob McDonell’s lawyers claim that none of what he did was a crime because he didn’t know what Maureen was doing, and McDonnell didn’t do anything for this businessman that he wouldn’t do for any businessman.

Say what?

The McDonnells’ trial is important because it reveals once again the risks of political corruption in Richmond. In 2012, The Center for Public Integrity gave Virginia a grade of “F” for the risks of political corruption, noting that Virginia ranked 47th out of 50 states. Regrettably, Bob and Maureen are part of a well-worn pattern. That pattern includes both Republicans and Democrats. How many more national embarrassments will Virginia’s legislators need to change the pattern?

And how would Ira and George Gershwin have reacted to Maureen’s “crush” defense in this trial?

They would be working on a musical featuring Maureen and Bob. But, the Gershwins would have to find a new name for their new musical. They already used “The Man I Love.”

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — July 31, 2014 at 2:30 pm 622 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotAt the County Board’s July 17 work session on Arlington’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), John Vihstadt, seconded by Libby Garvey, introduced a motion:

[A]ny contracts between Arlington County or an instrumentality of the County and a third party vendor or service provider for services of $1,000,000 or more related to or impacting a CIP project require a vote by the Arlington County Board at a regularly scheduled meeting.

Vihstadt said his motion was prompted by the County’s May 30 announcement that a contract already had been awarded to Parsons Transportation Group. That contract provides for a sweeping range of professional services to consult about streetcars. Parsons will advise the County in areas ranging from financial management and reporting, environmental, right of way acquisition, vehicle acquisition support, construction management oversight, and public outreach. For their initial work, Parsons will be paid $7 million to $8 million.

The “public outreach” portion of the Parsons contract allocates $650,000 of taxpayer dollars to a P.R. campaign to try to promote the streetcar.

Vihstadt stated that his motion included the phrase “related to or impacting a CIP project” because the CIP was the topic under consideration at the work session. He was concerned that a broader motion might have been ruled out of order.

Despite Vihstadt’s care in limiting his motion to CIP-related contracts, County staff found a different technicality upon which to base an objection. Staff says that although all contracts for professional services in excess of $50,000 performed as part of a capital improvement project do require Board approval, “professional services” are narrowly defined only to include certain professions.

Staff believes that the $7 million to $8 million package of professional services Parsons will be performing all lie outside the County’s narrow definition of “professional services”. Therefore, no Board approval is required for the Parsons contract.

Under the staff’s interpretation, a contract for $50,001 for architectural services performed as part of a capital improvement project does require a Board vote, but the Parsons $7 million to $8 million contract does not require a Board vote. Just for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the staff’s interpretation of the County’s current policy is correct.

The staff — and the County Board — are missing the main point.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Healthy government transparency requires broad public awareness and a Board vote prior to committing our tax dollars to large contracts.

The Arlington County Board should change its current policy, and adopt a new policy that requires that the County Board itself approve all contracts of $1 million or more regardless of subject matter.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — July 24, 2014 at 1:00 pm 1,727 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotPrior to approving its latest Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), a bare majority of the Arlington County Board (Fisette, Hynes, Tejada) voted to deny the public access to critical information. The information they suppressed relates to new transportation projects that are being denied funding or delayed as streetcar costs continue escalating sharply.

The vote to suppress this information comes at a time that this same majority has sanctioned a $650,000 public relations campaign at taxpayer expense to promote the streetcar.

Both actions represent desperate attempts to refloat a sinking ship.

The CIP approved by the Board on July 19 documents sharp increases in streetcar costs as a percentage of Arlington’s total capital budget.

Two years ago, in the FY 2013-2022 CIP, the Columbia Pike streetcar was projected to consume 8 percent of the total CIP and the Crystal City Streetcar 6 percent, for a CIP total of 14 percent devoted to the two streetcars combined. Today, both projects have jumped in cost, and total 19 percent of the FY 2015-2024 CIP for the two streetcars.

In other words, just two streetcar lines totaling only 7.4 miles, consume 19 percent of our total Arlington capital budget, or nearly one out of five of our proposed capital spending dollars over the next 10 years. 

In an effort to determine what new transportation projects might be sacrificed in this streetcar sinkhole, Board members Vihstadt and Garvey in June asked County staff the following question and received the following answer:

Q. If we do not build a streetcar, for what can the money planned for the streetcar be used?

A. Providing alternative projects that could be funded if the streetcar is not funded would require significant additional analysis that a majority of the Board could direct staff to undertake.

Faced with this response, Vihstadt, seconded by Garvey, made the following motion at the County Board’s July 17 CIP work session:

I move that the County Board direct the County Manager to develop and prioritize a list of all Arlington transportation projects over the next 10 years, including information as to budget amounts, funding sources and by fiscal year, that could be funded if we cease all Arlington streetcar spending now (save for legal requirements) and do not move forward with either the Columbia Pike or Route 1 Streetcar projects.

Fisette, Hynes, and Tejada voted against the motion, and the motion was defeated.

With more than half a billion dollars on the line, the County Board majority has denied Arlington voters and taxpayers critical information they need to make informed decisions.

Why are they afraid of providing this information?

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — July 17, 2014 at 3:00 pm 478 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotNancy Van Doren has announced that she plans to run in the special election for the seat on the Arlington School Board that will become vacant on Aug. 1 when Noah Simon resigns.

I support Nancy for the Democratic endorsement and for election in the special election to fill this seat.

Priorities

Among the priorities Nancy has promised to pursue as a School Board member are these:

Educational Excellence for All Students 

Academic success for each student is Nancy’s top priority. Students must leave high school prepared for higher education and success in our technology-driven global economy. Arlington Public Schools must consistently offer students the opportunity to reach their full potential, regardless of race, economic status, ethnicity, gender, language or disability.

The strategies Nancy will emphasize include:

  • Providing our highly-qualified teachers with the tools, training, and resources necessary to meet the needs of each student in their classroom.
  • Ensuring children develop strong reading skills by the start of fourth grade, when students begin reading for content.
  • Using proven approaches to close the achievement gap.
  • Providing all students with equal instruction time and the opportunity to study a second language, beginning in elementary school. FLES (Foreign Language in Elementary Schools) should be implemented in all schools.

 Making Room for All Students

  • Maximize the use of all existing space within our schools.
  • Creatively use space in and around the County to meet capacity needs. Consider renting vacant office space, using County facilities, increasing the use of the Career Center, increasing our partnership with area colleges, and using flexible scheduling and on-line classes, particularly at the high school level.
  • Build adequate, flexible classroom space through additions to schools or constructing new buildings, when and where necessary, within fiscal constraints.

County/Schools Collaboration

  • The School and County Boards and their staffs must integrate their long-range planning efforts so that together they can accommodate and fund the County’s growth within its overall budget.
  • Coordinate County resources shared by all residents, young and old: land, facilities, transportation, social services, and recreation.

Additional priorities that Nancy plans to pursue are available at this link: http://www.nancyvandoren.org/#!page3/cee5

Community Service

Nancy Van Doren is an education advocate with 10 years of experience as a parent, volunteer, and leader in Arlington Public Schools. You can access extensive further details at this link: http://www.nancyvandoren.org/#!page2/cjg9

Personal and Family Background 

Nancy has lived for 10 years in Ashton Heights with her husband, Jack Zetkulic, who is an educator and international consultant. They have four children:  Patsy, and Katie, who attend Washington-Lee High School; Annie, who attends Jefferson Middle School; and Matthew, a recent W-L graduate headed to the University of Virginia.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — July 10, 2014 at 1:30 pm 546 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotOn July 7, Carla de la Pava was sworn in as Arlington County Treasurer immediately after the previous Treasurer, Frank O’Leary, resigned. She “plans to run in the special election, expected to be held Nov. 4, to fill out O’Leary’s term, which runs through December 2015.”

I support Carla for the Democratic nomination for Treasurer and for election in the special election to fill this position.

Carla has served as the Chief Deputy Treasurer of Arlington County for the last six years. During her service in this position, the Treasurer’s Office has established a record as one of the best in Virginia and the United States. Arlington’s tax delinquency rate stands at an all-time low of 0.41%.

According to outgoing Treasurer O’Leary:

Arlington is one of the few jurisdictions in Virginia that publishes its delinquency rate; O’Leary estimated most localities have rates 10 times that of the county.

Carla’s performance in collecting our taxes shines. At the same time, rapidly growing numbers of voters justifiably are concerned that their property tax bills — based on the tax rate set by the County Board – are the highest in Northern Virginia.

Carla also has an outstanding record of community service. She is actively involved with numerous community organizations, including Leadership Arlington (Class of 2010), the Arlington Civic Federation (Vice President) and Toast of Arlington. She is a member of the Arlington Committee of 100, Better Sports Club of Arlington, Vice President and Board member of the Arlington Soccer Association, Yorktown Patriots Football Boosters, and Organized Women Voters.

Carla graduated from Wesleyan University in 1981 with a degree in Economics. Her first job was in Corporate Banking in the Chicago and Atlanta offices of the Continental Bank of Illinois. In 1985, she earned an MBA from Harvard Business School. After obtaining her MBA, Carla went to work at The Price Company, which at the time owned and operated Price Club (now Costco). This experience inspired Carla to develop a lifelong interest in operations and management.

Carla is married to Mark Dola, a life-long Arlingtonian. Their three sons, Christopher, Michael and Peter Dola, attended Arlington Science Focus Elementary School, Williamsburg Middle School and Yorktown High School.

To learn more about Carla de la Pava, you can access her campaign website here: http://carlafortreasurer.com/

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — July 3, 2014 at 2:30 pm 1,318 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotArlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette sent the wrong message last month about highly popular ride sharing services like Uber:

In the end, Fisette said Arlington would participate in a state study into the Uber issue, but didn’t say what kind of perspective the county would bring to the table. “As a locality, we don’t really have a point of view except that we have to enforce the law,” he said.

As I have explained, Arlington lacks the authority unilaterally to change the law under which ride sharing services like Uber operate. Under Virginia’s “Dillon Rule”, changing the law has to be done at the state level. But, Arlington certainly could have a “point of view” — if it chose to have one. Arlington could bring its perspective to the table.

Arlington knows how to develop a point of view about issues over which it lacks authority to change the law. Look no further than the point of view the County Board (including Fisette) unanimously adopted four years ago on the subject of enforcement of federal law regarding undocumented immigrants.

In a September 2010 press release announcing its decision to direct the County Manager to look for ways in which to withdraw from enforcement of the federal “Secure Communities” program, the Board stated:

[T]he “Secure Communities Initiative will create divisions in our community and promote a culture of fear and distrust of law enforcement that threatens public safety and makes communities less safe,”

[...]

[I]t is not the role or the desire of the Arlington County Police Department to take on the responsibility of enforcing federal immigration laws. [The Board] reaffirmed its support for existing County policies and procedures that prohibit racial profiling and protect crime victims and witnesses.

The Board concluded by explicitly calling on the U.S. Congress to adopt comprehensive immigration reform.  Even though it ended in failure, I applaud Jay Fisette and the County Board for the stand they took in 2010. They sent the right message to large numbers of Arlington residents who felt threatened by the federal program in question.

Today, vast numbers of Arlington residents say that ride sharing services like Uber are wildly popular for many good reasons. Jay Fisette ought to be demonstrating the same degree of empathy for these residents that he demonstrated four years ago for undocumented immigrants.

This is the message Jay Fisette should send on ride sharing services like Uber:

I am enthusiastic about the many benefits to Arlington customers that ride sharing services like Uber offer. I am committed to doing everything I can to enable these services to thrive.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — June 26, 2014 at 1:00 pm 430 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotAs I have periodically, today I’m profiling a nonprofit that offers valuable services to the Arlington community: the Animal Welfare League of Arlington (AWLA).

AWLA provides animal adoption and community programs to the northern Virginia and D.C. metropolitan area, as well as animal rescue and control services within Arlington County. AWLA is committed to its mission to improve the lives of animals through sheltering, community services and humane education.

More than 3,000 companion animals benefit each year, with 92 percent of sheltered animals in 2013 either being adopted into loving homes, reunited with their owner, or transferred to one of many of AWLA’s network of rescue and rehabilitation partners.

Many of you already may be familiar with AWLA’s basic services, but AWLA also offers some innovative programs about which you may not be as familiar. These include baby ready pets, safekeeping (companions in crisis), and the veterinary assistance program.

Baby Ready Pets

Baby-Ready Pets is a free, two-hour workshop to help expectant families in northern Virginia prepare their home and their pets for the arrival of the new baby. This workshop:

  • Provides tips and strategies for making the home a safe and (relatively) stress-free experience for all, and
  • Has been endorsed by the ASPCA.

After the workshop, participants may call or email follow-up questions if they need additional support.

Safekeeping (Companions in Crisis)

If you are an Arlington County or Falls Church City resident, and you are experiencing a health or housing crisis (i.e. unexpected hospitalization, house fire), AWLA can shelter your pet on a short-term basis, through the Safekeeping program, giving you time to make other arrangements.

Pets are permitted to stay for up to two weeks, and there is no restriction on the number of times people can use the service. The pet’s owner is required to contact AWLA on a weekly basis during the safekeeping period to check on the wellbeing of their pet, and is permitted to visit their pet during the League’s regular visiting hours.

Veterinary Assistance Program

Through the Ross-Roberts Emergency Veterinary Assistance fund, the League makes small, no-interest loans to low-income pet owners who need emergency veterinary care for their pets but cannot afford the costs up-front. AWLA doesn’t cover expenses for basic pet care (shots, check-ups, teeth-cleaning) or chronic, life-long conditions (i.e. diabetes, heart condition, allergies). The owner agrees to pay back the loan in monthly installments and to have their pet spayed or neutered if it is not already.

Arlington is fortunate to have AWLA offering these services in our community. For more information about these programs, visit www.awla.org

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — June 19, 2014 at 2:30 pm 532 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotIn a January column, I urged Virginia state legislators to find bi-partisan common ground to expand Medicaid coverage. So far, they have failed to find it.

In that earlier column, I quoted with approval from a Virginian-Pilot editorial warning that the cost of resisting Medicaid expansion would be ruinous:

Virginia lawmakers can preserve the financial health of hospitals across the commonwealth, save state tax dollars, strengthen local and state economies, extend managed health-care to nearly 400,000 people, many of them working poor, and recoup nearly $10 billion in federal taxes paid by Virginians over the next five years.

Or they can continue the reckless political theater destined to grow more costly with every passing year, a play that will cause a financial crisis at hospitals all across Virginia.

After spending six months, and engaging in thousands of hours of bitter partisan conflict, we now have arrived at the ruinous situation about which the Virginian-Pilot warned. Every Republican in the Virginia legislature voted last week against Medicaid expansion.

Most Republican legislative leaders who fought expansion argued it was the wrong policy solution. That surely CANNOT be because opposition to Medicaid expansion is some kind of core Republican Party value. Republican Governors in eight states (Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Ohio) have either signed or supported legislation expanding Medicaid. Republican Governors in two other states (Indiana and Pennsylvania) have led alternative efforts to provide healthcare for the poor.

In Pennsylvania, a Republican Governor has made a health care reform proposal that would improve access to Medicaid for hundreds of thousands of residents through a premium assistance model. Up to 520,000 eligible low-income residents would receive federal subsidies to purchase private coverage through Pennsylvania’s federally run insurance exchange. Federal Medicaid expansion funds would be used to help eligible residents purchase commercial insurance.

Republicans in these other states have demonstrated greater leadership than Virginia Republicans in successfully addressing an enormous public policy problem. By carefully studying the Republican solutions in these other states, Virginia Republican legislative leaders should be able to find the right solution for Virginia.

While a few Virginia Republican legislators have expressed interest in providing a better healthcare solution for Virginia’s poor, most Republican and some Democratic legislators still seem focused on “reckless political theatre”.

Our failure to act may be better than some of the proposed solutions, but it surely is not better than the status quo.

If Republicans and Democrats in eight other states could act under Republican governors, then Virginia should be able to act under a Democratic Governor.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — June 12, 2014 at 1:30 pm 1,105 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotARLnow.com reported last week that the Virginia Deptartment of Motor Vehicles (DMV) ordered Uber and Lyft to stop doing business. The DMV claims these companies’ operations violate current Virginia law. The Arlington Police Department says it plans to help DMV enforce its orders.

Uber and Lyft immediately responded saying they would continue to do business because their operations do NOT violate current Virginia law.

It would be foolish to try to resolve this dispute by spending months or years in court arguing whether Uber and Lyft have the right to do business under current Virginia law. For the reasons I explained in my May 29 column, current Virginia law is hopelessly out of date. Our law needs to be changed regardless of whether it currently authorizes Uber and Lyft to do business. My earlier column outlined the kinds of changes needed.

Those changes require action by the Virginia legislature. That action ought to be undertaken on a bi-partisan basis. Although individual legislators and officials in the executive branch ought to be starting now to develop this new legislation, it is unrealistic to expect a final new law to be passed and signed until the 2015 legislative session. Colorado has just enacted a new law on this subject. That law can guide Virginia’s efforts.

Did the DMV do the right thing by ordering Uber and Lyft to cease operations entirely until Virginia revises its laws?

NO!

Despite what VA DMV says, it is far from clear that current Virginia law prohibits Uber and Lyft from doing business entirely. It is clear that they are offering services that many customers find incredibly popular and valuable. A brief review of the comments posted to last week’s ARLnow.com story illustrates this.

For example, with over 80 up votes, Kyle Weathers says “this is laughable. You are basically killing jobs. Not to mention the fact that Uber delivers a FAR SUPERIOR service than any cab I have ever taken in Virginia.” With over 40 up votes, Paula Ledbetter Graves reports “I’ve used Uber X many times and have always had a great experience.”

Instead of issuing cease and desist orders, the DMV should be bending over backwards to:

  • help draft new laws that will enable Uber, Lyft, and traditional cab companies to operate on a  level playing field that regulates only things like safety, insurance and background checks, and
  • encourage Uber and Lyft to continue to do business in the meantime, while assuring that consumers have sufficient protections.

Since current law is ambiguous, the DMV should foster these innovative new businesses, not put unnecessary roadblocks in their path.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — May 29, 2014 at 1:00 pm 1,477 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotThis month, ARLnow.com posted two stories about fee-based rides in Arlington.

The stories and comments highlighted a controversy featuring charges and counter-charges among:

* traditional taxicab companies like Arlington Red Top Cab;
* newer providers like Uber and Lyft; they offer apps allowing smart phone-equipped riders to schedule rides from drivers who use their own personal vehicles to provide those rides, and bill the rider’s credit card;
* customers of both kinds of providers, and
* drivers for both kinds of providers.

Fortunately or unfortunately for the partisans on various sides of this controversy, Arlington right now cannot adopt the ideal framework to address this situation. Under the so-called Dillon Rule, Arlington needs explicit authorization under Virginia law to develop a comprehensive solution.

Arlington currently is saddled with a hopelessly outdated Virginia regulatory framework which specifies only how Arlington should regulate traditional taxicab companies. This existing framework needs a radical overhaul. Current Virginia law also does not give Arlington the comprehensive authority needed to regulate the newer providers.

What Arlington can do now is develop suggested principles and minimum standards that it would like the authority to use to regulate all providers of fee-based rides.

To the maximum extent possible, this new framework should eliminate:

  • caps on the numbers of individuals, companies, or vehicles that could provide the services;
  • maximum or minimum fees that could be charged, and
  • other purely economic regulations and barriers to entry or exit.

However, the new regulatory framework should set minimum standards and requirements in areas such as:

  • safety;
  • liability insurance;
  • background checks, and
  • full disclosure of terms and conditions of service, preferably on a new website that would enable fair, side-by-side comparisons, among all providers.

D.C.’s recent experience with these issues offers a cautionary tale. The D.C. City Council, instead of taking the approach I recommend above, ended up granting its traditional taxicab companies a monopoly on one part of the business, while giving Uber a monopoly on a different part of the business. Two monopolies are not better than one.

Arlington County should develop a blueprint for a new 21st century approach to these issues. That blueprint should give the highest priority to customer service and value. Then, Arlington should ask our legislative delegation to take our blueprint to Richmond, and seek bi-partisan support for the new state laws Arlington needs to implement that blueprint.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — May 22, 2014 at 1:00 pm 523 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter Rousselot

Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently announced the appointments of five new members to the state Board of Health. He directed the Board to review controversial regulations it adopted to regulate all Virginia women’s health clinics at which first trimester abortions are performed.

Gov. McAuliffe made the right decision.

Background

In 2011, Virginia passed a new law authorizing the Board of Health to adopt stricter regulations for these women’s health clinics. The regulations require the clinics to comply with construction standards used for inpatient hospitals. They force the clinics to have hallways that are of specific widths, provide locker rooms for staff members, new ventilation systems and larger parking lots.

Recognizing that the regulations would cost millions to implement, the Board initially grandfathered existing women’s health clinics from their applicability. The Board’s initial decision was wise when you consider that the new law and regulations do not cover other outpatient facilities, such as those performing oral or plastic surgery, even though the latter facilities engage in medical procedures of comparable risk.

After the Board’s initial decision, the Board came under intense pressure from then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to reverse it. Cuccinelli wrote to Board members, telling them that they had exceeded their authority, and warning them that if they persisted in their decision to grandfather existing clinics, he would not defend them in any subsequent lawsuits. He also warned them that they might be personally liable in any such suits.

Faced with these pressures, the Board reversed itself, and proclaimed that existing clinics would be subject to its new regulations. If the Board sticks to this course, most or all existing clinics are likely to shut down. Five have already closed. When clinics close, women are also denied access to other services, such as testing for sexually transmitted infections and cancer screenings, or they are forced to travel longer distances to get these services.

Cuccinelli’s goal from the beginning was to shut down as many of these clinics as possible.

What’s Next?

The Board could simply vote to re-affirm that no existing clinics are grandfathered. In that case, the clinics and their patients are no worse off than now. The Board could vote to go back to its original decision to grandfather existing clinics. Those who believe the Board lacks power to do that could challenge the Board in court. If such a challenge succeeds, the clinics and their patients again are no worse off than now. But, if such a challenge fails, then the clinics and their patients will be much better off than they are now.

Gov. McAuliffe deserves credit for standing up for women’s health and reproductive choice in Virginia.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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