A bipartisan bill that will allow parents to opt their kids out of masking rules at schools has passed the Democrat-controlled Virginia State Senate, despite opposition from Arlington’s senators.
The bill would take effect on July 1. If it were also to pass the House of Delegates and be signed into law by the governor, it would essentially make the local school boards’ recent, tentative court victory over Gov. Glenn Younkin’s executive order on masks in schools moot.
The legislation took shape yesterday when Sen. Chap Petersen, a Fairfax County Democrat, proposed an amendment on the Senate floor to a Republican-proposed bill that continues a requirement from last year to keep schools open five days a week for in-person instruction. Chapman’s amendment effectively sunsets mask mandates in time for the next school year.
The amendment “permits a parental option in regard to wearing a mask on school property,” Petersen told ARLnow. “We need to return to normal for the benefit of our children, and this legislation helps us get there.”
The amendment received significant Democratic support on Tuesday, passing the Senate with 29 votes in favor, including ten Democrats, and only nine votes opposed. Among local legislators, Sen. Janet Howell (D-32) voted in favor of the amendment while Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31) and Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) voted against it.
All three voted against the final bill, which passed by a 21-17 vote today.
Youngkin declared victory after the vote today. It’s likely to pass the Republican-controlled house.
“Kids across the Commonwealth win with this bipartisan vote today,” Youngkin said in a statement. “Parents are now empowered to decide whether their children should wear a mask in schools. I promised that as governor, Virginia would move forward with an agenda that empowers parents on the upbringing, education, and care of their own children. I am proud to continue to deliver on that promise.”
“This vote also shows that school boards who are attacking their own students are stunningly detached from reality,” the statement continued. “It’s time to put kids first and get back to normal.”
Petersen told ARLnow’s sister site FFXnow that he proposed the amendment because he’s frustrated that no deadline had been set by Fairfax County Public Schools for lifting mask requirements or “shown scientific proof” that it has made difference in limiting Covid’s spread.
He agreed with Youngkin that masks should be optional in schools, but said decision needs to be made by the Virginia General Assembly as opposed to the governor.
That was the basis for the decision made by the Arlington Circuit Court last week to issue an injunction on banning mask mandates. In its lawsuit against the governor’s order, Arlington Public Schools cited a Virginia law passed during the pandemic that requires schools to take necessary, federally-recommended safety measures to combat the spread of the virus.
With the new bill overriding that clause, the court victory could be short-lived for APS and other Northern Virginia school districts that opposed the governor’s order. The bill’s implementation could even potentially be moved up after it reaches the governor’s desk, the Washington Post reported
When the bill gets to Youngkin’s desk, the aide said, the governor could add an emergency clause that would require the law to be implemented immediately. That would have to go back to the General Assembly for approval. Most bills with emergency clauses require 80 percent approval from the legislature, but a governor’s request for emergency needs only a simple majority vote. If that’s granted, the mask law could go into effect as soon as the end of February, the aide said.
Sen. Ebbin wrote to ARLnow in an email after the amendment passed that, while he isn’t opposed to lifting mask mandates soon, he wants the decision to be based on data.
Newly proposed redistricting maps would create a new Virginia House district in Arlington while potentially pitting long-time Senate incumbents against each other.
Last week, the Supreme Court of Virginia unveiled draft maps for the Virginia House of Delegates, the Virginia Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. The maps were drawn up by one Democrat and one Republican appointed by the court, after a non-partisan committee failed to complete the task earlier in the year.
The maps are based on 2020 census numbers and are not final. As mandated by federal and state law, districts are redrawn every decade based on new census data.
In the proposed maps, both the borders and numbering system of all the Virginia House districts are altered. The Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) has a tool that allows residents to see which House, Senate or Congressional district they’d be in if these maps were approved.
While the proposed maps have those who follow state politics considering the Commonwealth’s future political alignment, in Arlington the potential redistricting does not alter the Democratic stronghold.
But the draft maps do take into account Arlington’s recent population growth, as 15% more people live in the county now compared to a decade ago.
The maps propose an entirely new House district that essentially encompasses Arlington’s Metro corridors, including Rosslyn, Courthouse, Clarendon, Virginia Square, Ballston, Crystal City and parts of Pentagon City.
Currently, those neighborhoods are either part of House District 49 (represented by Del. Alfonso Lopez), House District 48 (represented by Del. Rip Sullivan), or House District 47 (represented by Del. Patrick Hope).
None of these incumbents reside in the proposed newly-created House District 2, a VPAP analysis says, meaning there’s an empty seat that could be filled by a political newcomer.
“They redrew maps by shrinking the borders of the current districts,” said David Ramadan, professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and a former Virginia House delegate for Loudoun County. “Because [the law] requires them to have a close to equal population. That’s why there’s a new district.”
The population of Arlington’s Metro corridors, purposefully, have grown tremendously in size over the last decade. In fact, a census tract within Ballston now has the highest density of population in the entire D.C. area.
Local officials are already taking notice of this potential new district in Arlington, which would likely add another Democrat to the Virginia House of Delegates.
Looks like Arlington would have an open House of Delegates district with this map—HD 2 including Ballston, Courthouse, Lyon Park, Rosslyn, and Crystal City https://t.co/sUkoK7YZkt
— Barbara Kanninen (@BarbaraKanninen) December 9, 2021
Senate maps, meanwhile, do not propose a new district, but they could pit two long-standing local Democrat incumbents against each other in the next primary election.
Janet Howell, first elected in 1991, currently represents Senate District 32, which covers Dominion Hills, East Falls Church and Westover as well as parts of Fairfax County. The new maps would see those Arlington neighborhoods moved to District 40.
A big chunk of the current Senate District 31, which includes Rosslyn, Ballston, Cherrydale, Columbia Pike, Pentagon City, Aurora Highlands and Arlington Ridge, will also become part of District 40. District 31 has been represented by Barbara Favola for a decade.
(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) With a new Democratic majority, Arlington’s state Senators have doubled down on earlier efforts to pass gun control reform and make progress on other issues — like marijuana decriminalization — that made limited progress under a Republican majority.
Some of these proposals have already faced substantial pushback, particularly from a crowded gun rights rally on Monday that drew national headlines. Democrats notched a gun control victory today, however, with the state Senate narrowly passing a “red flag” gun law that allows guns to be taken away by those judged as dangerous to themselves or others.
Nestled among the high profile issues are other items of interest for Arlingtonians, like the ability to require labor agreements as part of the zoning approval process.
Sen. Barbara Favola
Among the bills introduced by Favola in the 2019-2020 legislative session are SB 116, which would say that defendants in a capital case who have a severe mental illness are not eligible for the death penalty, and SB 179, which adds gender, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation to the state’s hate crime definition. SB 116 was moved to the Judiciary committee and SB 179 was referred to the Finance and Appropriations committee.
Favola is one of the chief co-signers of SB 35, which authorizes localities to prohibit the possession or carrying of firearms, ammunition, or components thereof to government buildings, public parks, or any public right of way being used for an event. The bill was passed in the state Senate on Jan. 16.
Sen. Adam Ebbin
According to Henry Watkins, communications director for Ebbin, the bills he has proposed are:
SB 868 — Prohibits discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Also includes additional protections for veterans and pregnant persons.
SB 2 — Reduces penalty for possession of marijuana from a criminal offense to a civil penalty.
SB 852 — Institutes a tax on e-cigarettes at 39% of the wholesale price. Also raises the Virginia cigarette tax to $1.80 per pack and the tax on other tobacco products to 39% wholesale.
SB 11 — Imposes a five-cent fee on throw-away bags to reduce litter and waste.
SB 838 — Makes construction contractors liable for their subcontractors if the subcontractor does not pay their employees, and allows employees to sue employers for nonpayment of wages.
Ebbin has also proposed SB 839, which would allow localities to require project labor agreements and worker protections on high-density development projects that go through a special exception zoning process. While approving an incentive package for Amazon’s HQ2, Arlington County Board members lamented not being able to require such labor provisions.
Board member Katie Cristol lobbied for the bill in Richmond on Monday.
Testifying at the Capitol this am for @AdamEbbin’s bill to allow us to require labor protection agreements in site plans. Hugely important for making Arlington’s redevelopment more economically inclusive. Committee “passed by” for a week; hopeful prospects w/ amendments… pic.twitter.com/kWyNt1LREb
— Katie Cristol (@kcristol) January 20, 2020
Sen. Janet Howell
Like many other Democratic Senators from Northern Virginia, Howell introduced gun control legislation during the current session. SB 75 would make it a Class 3 misdemeanor to leave a loaded, unsecured firearm “in such a manner as to endanger the life or limb of any person under the age of 18.” The current law makes it illegal for under the age of 14.
Other bills introduced by Howell include SB 111, which allows people to vote absentee without needing to list a reason why they can’t vote in person. SB 111 was passed in the Senate on Monday.
Developer May Give Parking Lot to County — “Arlington County planners and the owner of the Crystal House apartments have struck a deal to turn one of the four proposed buildings in its 798-unit expansion over to the county for affordable housing and public parking. It’s a change that has brought some hope to owners and operators along Crystal City’s restaurant row of 23rd Street, who, for the last few weeks, have criticized [the development] because it could have reduced access to parking spaces.” [Washington Business Journal]
Tips for a Safe Thanksgiving — “While Arlington County Government offices, courts, libraries & facilities will be closed on Thursday and Friday, we want to remind you of all the great ways you can celebrate Thanksgiving week in Arlington. Whether you’re traveling or staying locally, these tips will help ensure you have an enjoyable — and safe — Thanksgiving holiday.” [Arlington County]
Dozen Arrested at DCA Protest — “On one of the busiest travel days of the year, American Airlines catering workers held sit-in protests at Reagan National Airport demanding higher pay and better access to healthcare. According to Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), 12 individuals were arrested and released on summons… the issue occurred when protesters entered the street and blocked traffic outside the B/C terminal.” [WUSA 9]
TSA Confiscates Loaded Gun at DCA — Updated at 8:20 a.m. — “A Fredericksburg, Virginia, resident was cited by police after Transportation Security Administration officers detected a 9 mm handgun loaded with seven bullets, including one in the chamber, in the man’s carry-on bag at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) on Monday, November 25.” [Transportation Security Administration]
Local Lawmakers Become Committee Chairs — “Two of the three state senators in Arlington’s legislative delegation will chair committees in the 2020 session, which opens Jan. 8. State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd) has been tapped to chair the Senate Committee on Finance, while Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st) will chair the Committee on Rehabilitation & Social Services.” [InsideNova]
Impact of a Casino in N. Va. — “With Virginia’s General Assembly expected to debate casinos and gambling in the upcoming legislative session, its research agency issued a report Monday examining fiscal impacts on the state — including what a casino in Northern Virginia might mean. According to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission study, a Northern Virginia casino would produce $595 million in gaming revenue annually.” [Washington Business Journal]
(Updated at 10:35 a.m.) Unusual Decorations in Former Startup Office — “The walls were covered in ‘hundreds’ of framed detective and noir movie posters, bills and actor headshots, McAfee said. There was food still in the office fridge, wedding photos on the desks, and a sign that read “Danny” in an office that is presumed to have belonged to Trustify founder Danny Boice.” [Washington Business Journal]
Sen. Howell Recovering from Medical Scare — “State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd) can thank an injured ankle for alerting her to the fact she needed life-saving heart surgery. Howell shattered her ankle in late July while hiking on some rocks on an island in Upstate New York’s Adirondack Mountains… Routine blood tests showed Howell had suffered a so-called “silent” heart attack that often strikes women.” [InsideNova]
ACFD Trains at Waterpark — “Members of our Water Rescue team were at Great Waves Waterpark today training with their counterparts from @AlexandriaVAFD. Members practiced their skills while getting more familiar with each team’s members & capabilities.” [Twitter]
Glass Recycling Drop-off Gripes — Since Arlington County announced that glass was to be thrown in the trash, rather than placed in the recycling cart, many residents have been opting for the second option: bringing glass bottles and jars to designated recycling drop-off centers. But the drop-off bins reportedly only allow you to insert one item at a time, which has led to frustration and mishaps. [Falls Church News-Press]
Local Senior Sails Solo to Bermuda — “Juan Perez didn’t let age affect his decision or performance when the sailor recently decided to return to his hobby of boat racing. The 85-year-old longtime Arlington resident and retired mechanical engineer purchased a sailboat – a 28-foot tartan – then sailed alone for one leg of the recent Bermuda One-Two race, from Newport, R.I., to St. George’s, Bermuda. He was the oldest competitor and had the smallest boat.” [InsideNova]
Arlington Loses Top Economic Development Official — “Christina Winn, one of the lead Arlington officials tasked with luring Amazon to the county, is taking over as Prince William County’s top economic development official.” [Washington Business Journal]
Marymount Prez Wants to Double Enrollment — “Irma Becerra hit the ground running the moment she took over the Marymount University presidency… her chief goal is as straightforward as it is ambitious: Double the school’s size in the next five years.” [Washington Business Journal]
18th Street Headache — “As they wrap up the demolition of the Clark St. bridge over 18th [Street S. in Crystal City], the eastbound side of 18th will be closed Thursday and Friday this week.” [Twitter]
Howell Gets Fall Challenger — “It’s an uphill battle, to be certain, but Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance president Arthur Purves will take on, as a Republican, seven-term incumbent state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd) in the Nov. 5 election. The district snakes from Howell’s home turf of Reston eastward into portions of Arlington.” [InsideNova]
Arlington Treasurer Leads State Association — “Arlington County Treasurer Carla de la Pava was sworn in as the President of the Treasurers’ Association of Virginia (TAV) at the association’s annual conference in Arlington.” [Press Release]
Boeing’s Space HQ Moving Out of Arlington — “Boeing will move its space headquarters from Arlington, Va., to the Florida Space Coast as it pursues a number of rocket and spacecraft programs, including one that would launch astronauts from U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttle retired in 2011.” [Washington Post]
Townhomes Proposed for Crystal House Property — “The proposed expansion of the Crystal House apartment complex is getting a little larger, with 21 townhomes now part of plans at the Crystal City property… The company has already filed for permission to add 798 units across four new buildings on the 29.8-acre site.” [Washington Business Journal]
Nearby: Design of Potomac Yard Metro Revealed — “The city of Alexandria, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and Potomac Yard Constructors, the private joint venture picked to build the station, have submitted a design for an upcoming evaluation by the city’s Board of Architectural Review. The station design calls for a stone base, a metal canopy and metal louvers, a glass curtain wall and exo-skeleton system, a standing seam metal roof and roof skylight panels. There will be bathrooms on the eastern side, between a set of elevators and an electrical room.” [Washington Business Journal]
Photo courtesy Celia Slater
Candidates running for the Virginia State Senate this year have raised hundreds of thousands along the campaign trail — but not from Arlington’s Advanced Towing.
None of the four candidates running for Richmond accepted money from the controversial towing company, according to the most recent campaign finance filings detailing fundraising between January 1 and March 31 as shared by the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP).
Incumbent candidate Barbara Favola was recently criticized by challenger Nicole Merlene for allegedly helping to loosen state towing regulations after accepting combined contributions of $7,250 over previous years from Advanced Towing, with an additional $2,500 coming from company owner John O’Neill.
The April finance reports indicate that the incumbent did not accept contributions from Advanced Towing or O’Neill during this fundraising period.
All of Arlington’s candidates are scheduled to release another set of campaign finance reports on June 3.
Residents will head to the polls on June 11 to cast their vote in the primaries. Because all Senate candidates announced so far are Democrats, the primary vote will likely choose the winner of the November 5 general election as well.
Read below for more details about each candidate’s most recent campaign finances.
Sen. Adam Ebbin
Ebbin has worked in Richmond for the past 15 years — the last seven as a state senator and eight years before that as a state delegate. He told ARLnow that this year his biggest wins in the capitol include legislation on green energy programs and helping colleges offer technical and dual-enrollment options.
Ebbin is running for re-election unopposed in the Democratic primary and currently faces no challengers from any other party.
He started with $101,534 in campaign funds on January 1, according to VPAP’s campaign finance reports. After fundraising $26,190 and spending $12,522, Ebbin reportedly ended the first quarter with $115,201 in funds for the campaign trail.
Ebbin’s campaign accepted 70 contributions during the reported funding period, with the majority of them (37 donors) giving the campaign $100 or less.
His top donation came from Political Action Committee (PAC) Win Virginia ($5,000), which announced this year it was training and funding Democratic candidates to flip the statehouse blue.
Arlington’s representatives in the Virginia State Senate worked on legislation addressing issues like healthcare, green energy, and teacher’s pay this year.
Three Democrats represent the county in the state Senate — Janet Howell, Barbara Favola, and Adam Ebbin. All of the senators are running for re-election this year.
Virginia’s 2019 legislative session lasted from January 9 to February 24. Here’s what each state Senator said were their biggest legislative accomplishments during that time. (We asked the same of Arlington’s House of Delegates delegation earlier this week.)
Sen. Adam Ebbin
Ebbin has served in the state senate for seven years, following eight years in the House of Delegates. He currently faces no Democratic challengers to his campaign for re-election.
The senator told ARLnow through a spokesman Wednesday he was “pleased to make progress” on legislation about “renewable energy, criminal justice reform, as well as career and technical education” during this year’s session:
SB1779 will permit localities to establish renewable energy net-metering programs. Net-metering can help counties, cities, and towns grow their local economy. Municipalities will save taxpayers’ money through developing and using green energy, generating savings that can be invested in local priorities such as schools, public safety, and infrastructure. […]
SB1612, which I have worked on for several years with Senator Bill Stanley (R-Franklin) would have ended the suspension of driver’s licenses for court costs and fees. Though this bill died in the House, Governor Northam introduced a budget amendment to reinstate 627,000 Virginians licenses during our one-day veto session on April 3rd. Unwarranted license suspension disproportionately impacts economically-disadvantaged Virginians without making our communities safer.[…]
I was also able to pass SB1575, which allows college professors to teach dual-enrollment career and technical education courses without additional licensure. This will make it easier for school divisions to offer para-professional career preparation in cybersecurity, EMT and pharmaceutical technician certification. High school students will no longer have to travel to off-campus sites to earn credit towards education in specialized fields.
A new year brings a renewed focus on gun violence prevention, criminal justice reform and some local issues for Arlington’s state lawmakers.
The county’s legislative delegation is gearing up to head back to Richmond next month, as the General Assembly kicks off a new session on Jan. 9.
That means that many of three state senators and four delegates representing the county have been busy crafting legislation for the 46-day “short session” of the state legislature, and they’ve readied dozens of bills for lawmakers to mull in the coming weeks.
Legislators of both parties expect that sparring over the budget will dominate the proceedings — Gov. Ralph Northam and Republicans are already at odds over how to spend an extra $1.2 billion in revenue generated by changes to the federal tax code. The looming state elections (where all 140 lawmakers will be on the ballot) will also provide a bit of a distraction, particularly as Republicans defend narrow, one-seat majorities in both the Senate and House of Delegates.
Yet a review of the General Assembly’s online database shows that Arlington’s delegation has a raft of smaller bills already written, including a variety of efforts lawmakers have tried before and even some new creations.
Some bills look designed to address some Arlington-specific issues, while others have much wider impacts.
For instance, state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) is introducing new legislation that would specifically give Arlington officials control over the “regulation and licensing” of all childcare facilities and providers in the county. The County Board currently has the ability to issue use permits to facilities of certain sizes, but has spent months now studying potential policy changes to make all childcare more accessible and affordable in the county.
Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd District) is also backing a bill that would give Northern Virginia localities, like Arlington, full power to set their own school calendars. The legislation seems to be similar to a bill Favola previously contemplated carrying that would end the infamous “King’s Dominion Rule” barring most school systems from starting class before Labor Day.
Favola expressed optimism that the Republican chair of the Senate’s Education and Health committee could agree to pass such a bill, ending Arlington’s long fight over the issue. Howell, the longest serving member of the county’s legislative delegation, also sits on that committee.
Notably, none of the county’s representatives in Richmond have put forward a bill to give Arlington the power to change the name of Jefferson Davis Highway, just yet. Lawmakers previously warned the Board that they’d be hesitant to back such an effort this year without more support from the business community, or perhaps Amazon’s intervention, given Route 1’s proximity to the tech giant’s future headquarters.
Instead, most of the lawmakers representing sections of Arlington have put a clear focus on one issue, perhaps above all others: gun control.
Republicans in Richmond have steadfastly refused to advance most firearms-related legislation over the years, but county lawmakers seem ready to renew many of their legislative pushes on the issue this year.
Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th District) is re-introducing a bill that would allow police or prosecutors secure a two-week ban on buying or owning a gun if they believe they present a “substantial risk of injury to himself or others.” A judge would ultimately get to decide if the ban stands, and if it should be extended for a period up to six months.
Sullivan has twice seen similar legislation left to die in committees: one bill failed in 2018, another in 2017.
Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th District) is also bringing back legislation to ban devices that increase the rate of fire of semi-automatic rifles, commonly known as “bump stocks.” Lawmakers across the country worked to ban the devices after one was used in the mass shooting at a Las Vegas concert last year; Ebbin’s bill on the subject died on a party-line vote in committee last session.
Howell is also re-upping legislation that would make it a felony for anyone to leave a “loaded, unsecured” firearm in the presence of anyone under the age of 18. It’s only a misdemeanor under current state law, and Howell’s effort to make the change died on a party line vote in committee earlier this year.
She’s also reintroducing a bill to make it a felony for anyone who is subject to a “permanent protective order” over fears that they may be violent to own a gun. Howell previously succeeded in establishing a misdemeanor penalty for the practice in 2016; her push to upgrade it a felony passed one committee last year before failing on a party-line vote in another.
Other bills backed by Arlington legislators would address inequities in the criminal justice system more broadly.
For example, Ebbin is trying once more to decriminalize the possession of marijuana, imposing fines on people who are caught with small quantities of the drug in lieu of jail time. He’s seen similar efforts fail, often on party-line votes, in the last four legislative sessions.
Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) is also backing what appears to be new legislation to require state corrections officials to produce an annual report on how many people are held in solitary confinement in Virginia prisons, and what steps workers take to address their mental health needs. Virginia has begun moving away from the practice, as it’s increasingly been criticized nationwide, but some reports indicate that the state still holds large numbers of inmates in solitary confinement at some of its most secure facilities.
Dels. Mark Levine (D-45th District) and Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) are the lone Arlington representatives that have yet to pre-file any of their own legislation ahead of the new session, but have signed on as cosponsors of many other bills. Those include everything from the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the formal legalization of same-sex marriage.
And, on a lighter note, both Ebbin and Hope have signed on to ceremonial resolutions commending the Washington Capitals on their long-awaited Stanley Cup victory.
Porter Drama Centers Around Arlington — The resignation of White House aide Rob Porter, which has been a national headline this week, has a number of Arlington connections. Porter reportedly has an apartment here, which he shared with a girlfriend before starting to date White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, and the protective order Porter’s second wife filed against him was to keep him away from her Arlington residence. [Daily Mail, New York Times]
Arlington Kid’s Star Continues to Rise — Nine-year-old Iain Armitage stars as the title character in the CBS comedy Young Sheldon and also was featured HBO’s Golden Globe-winning Big Little Lies. That’s in addition to film roles Armitage, an Arlington native whose family owns a house in Ashton Heights, is getting as he continues to build his Hollywood career. Just 3.5 years ago, Armitage was best known for his viral reviews of Signature Theatre shows. [Toronto Star]
Flyover This Morning — There will be a military flyover around 11:30 this morning for a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. [Twitter]
Local Lawmakers’ Bills Defeated in Richmond — A number of bills introduced by Democratic lawmakers that represent parts of Arlington have, predictably, failed to gain traction in the GOP-controlled state legislature. Among the current batch of bills being defeated in committee: a bill to force the release of presidential candidate tax returns (Sen. Janet Howell), create an state-level Office of Immigrant Assistance (Sen. Adam Ebbin) and expand the list of IDs accepted for voting (Del. Rip Sullivan).
Photo via @NCPCgov / Twitter
(Updated at 9:55 a.m.) Arlington’s representatives will push hard in the Virginia General Assembly on Metro funding, the authority to rename Jefferson Davis Highway and absentee voting, among other issues.
At a work session Thursday, Arlington County Board members discussed their legislative agenda — bills they would like to see passed and issues they would like to see emphasized — for the 2018 session with local Delegates and state Senators.
The General Assembly will convene in Richmond on January 10 and sit through March 10, with Gov.-Elect Ralph Northam (D) to be inaugurated on January 13.
High on Board members’ list of priorities is securing a dedicated funding source for Metro, and ensuring that state funding allows it to keep up with its rebuilding needs.
Outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has committed to adding a dedicated funding source in his budget proposal later this month, and local representatives said they must do more to show their colleagues from outside Northern Virginia how valuable Metro is to the whole Commonwealth’s economy.
“A lot of work has been done to show this is not just a Northern Virginia giveaway, that this gives a lot of money and benefits to the rest of the commonwealth,” said County Board member Christian Dorsey.
Later, Dorsey noted that a study by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission made a “conservative estimate” that Metro brings in $600 million to state coffers every year through income and sales taxes.
All agreed on a plan to bring legislators into Northern Virginia and have them take a tour of the region’s various transit options, as well as experience rush-hour traffic congestion, something that state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) said has been effective in the past.
State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31) urged cooperation between business and governmental groups in lobbying Richmond.
“We really need a united voice on this,” Favola said. “We can’t afford to have the Northern Virginia Chamber in opposition to a strategy you may like.”
Favola said she will file a bill to give localities the power to rename their primary highways, of which Jefferson Davis Highway is one in Arlington.
The question of whether to change the name of Jefferson Davis Highway has swirled for several years, and Board chair Jay Fisette said the county is “exploring all options” on renaming.
Del. Mark Levine (D-45) disagreed with Favola, and said that in his opinion localities already have the right to rename primary highways. Fisette emphasized that no stone shall be left unturned.
“At this point, we believe we have multiple options, we’re just going to work them sequentially to do that,” he said.
The question of renaming Jefferson Davis Highway remains controversial. At the Board’s public hearing on its legislative agenda on Tuesday, local resident Bernard Berne derided a name-change as a “bad idea” that will stoke racial tensions and create division.
“It divides the community, and these historical things are part of our heritage. You don’t mess with it,” he said.