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Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (file photo by Jay Westcott)

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin vetoed 25 bills this week, of which nearly half were proposed or championed by Arlington lawmakers.

The new governor signed 700 bills sent to his desk during the 2022 General Assembly session, including some from Arlington lawmakers addressing mental health treatment, medical debt and virtual meetings.

Of those he vetoed, nine were proposed by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30), who represents part of the county, and four were filed by Arlington’s Del. Patrick Hope (D-47).

Some lawmakers and observers in state politics have interpreted the rebuffs of Ebbin’s bills as political tit-for-tat. Ebbin was at the center of some Youngkin appointments that were blocked earlier this year and Youngkin signed identical House bills in a half-dozen of those cases, the Washington Post reports.

In a statement, Ebbin said he is “stunned” by Youngkin’s decision to veto “meaningful, non-controversial” legislation.

“It is the polar opposite of what he campaigned on,” he said in an email to supporters and on Twitter. “These vetoes, from protecting living organ donors to enhancing consumers’ data privacy to reforming the [Virginia Employment Commission], are not in the best interest of Virginians.”

As for Hope’s vetoed bills, one that caused a splash was HB 669, which would have initiated a study to see if the Virginia Department of Health should regulate swimming pools and water recreational facilities.

Advocates of the legislation say unregulated pools can pose health risks and the bipartisan-supported legislation would have added safeguards for swimmers and coaches.

Youngkin said the goal is “commendable” but directed lawmakers to consolidate this proposed work with existing efforts, rather than create “duplicative work.”

Another that went up in smoke was HB 675, and its Senate equivalent, which would have eliminated health insurance premiums for tobacco users. He said these higher rates incentivize healthier habits and the legislation would require non-users to foot the bill for increased healthcare costs.

Hope rebutted that it would have expanded coverage and decreased premiums.

These vetoes come after Youngkin vetoed Hope’s bill earlier this year that would have allowed the Arlington County Board to hire an independent auditor for the Community Oversight Board, which reviews complaints of alleged police misconduct.

That duty remains with County Manager Mark Schwartz. Locally, it was viewed as a procedural bill giving the Board a similar level of authority enjoyed by other local governing bodies.

Another bill with Arlington ties, HB 802, would have allowed a local governing body to force landlords to address decaying conditions at their properties if they constituted a serious threat to life, health or safety of tenants.

Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D-45), who represents parts of Arlington, was a chief co-patron. The text was developed with the Arlington branch of the NAACP in the wake of the discovery of mold, rodents and other health concerns at the Serrano Apartments on Columbia Pike, says NAACP Housing Chair Kellen MacBeth.

He said he was “deeply disappointed” by the veto, calling it “a troubling sign of what the next four years will be like for low-income tenant rights at the state level.”

Still, Youngkin approved or amended a number of bills from Arlington lawmakers tackling their legislative priorities.

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Former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam answers reporters’ questions at Amazon announcement in Pentagon City in 2018 (file photo)

Proposed legislation from Del. Alfonso Lopez that would support local journalism has withered away without bipartisan support.

HB 1217 would have provided up to $5 million annually in income tax credits to eligible news outlets that employ local journalists and up to $10 million annually in income tax credits to businesses that advertise with these outlets.

The newspaper industry has seen a slow decline over the last two decades — as documented on CBS’s 60 Minutes this past Sunday.

The decay of local newspapers is driven in large part by a loss in advertising revenue as classifieds have moved to services like Craigslist and other ads have migrated online to Facebook, Google and other large platforms. In recent years, hedge funds and private equity firms have further squeezed local news by acquiring hundreds of newspapers and slashing costs — which has boosted profitability but led to additional layoffs.

In the past year, however, there’s been a push to enact federal policy to stop this trend, and the activity at the federal level has sparked state-level bills.

Lopez’s bill died this legislative session during a finance subcommittee meeting, with six Republicans voting against it and three Democrats voting for it. While the Arlington Democrat said the objections didn’t seem related to spending, he didn’t offer further theories about why it failed.

Lopez said he intends to keep applying pressure until this measure is adopted.

“I think we need local journalists to keep our constituents informed of what’s happening at the local level,” he tells ARLnow. “I’m going to bring this bill back every year until it becomes a law in the Commonwealth.”

The bill makes business sense because it would encourage ad revenue, which pays the salaries of local journalists, according to Lopez. It’s also good for democracy, he said, as areas without local coverage tend to have more government and small business corruption and see lower local election turnout.

Virginia Press Association Executive Director Betsy Edwards says it’s unfortunate the bill was killed.

“VPA supported this bill because it would have helped local newspapers through income tax credits,” she said. “While we did not work with Delegate Lopez in drafting this bill — we support what he was trying to do to help local news.”

Lopez modeled his bill on the federal Local Journalism Sustainability Act (LJSA), included in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which effectively died when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) withdrew his support.

The LJSA was the fruit of advocacy by the Rebuild Local News coalition, coordinated by Steve Waldman, the founder of Report for America, a nonprofit that places journalists in local newsrooms.

“It became clear to me that, in addition to improved business models and greater philanthropy, the crisis is so severe, and the threat to democracy so urgent, that we needed better public policy,” he tells ARLnow.

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Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin in Tysons (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 1:55 p.m.) Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s first veto could mean Arlington’s police oversight board cannot be led by an independent policing auditor.

Today (Tuesday), the Republican governor vetoed his first bill: HB 670, put forward by Arlington’s Del. Patrick Hope (D). It would have granted the Arlington County Board permission to appoint an independent auditor who would oversee the Community Oversight Board (COB), which is tasked with handling civilian complaints of misconduct by Arlington police officers.

Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow this morning that the Board wants to work with Youngkin to clarify the powers of the county’s police oversight board and the role of the auditor in hopes that he will rescind the veto.

The Arlington County Democratic Committee decried the veto as “play[ing] politics with a commonsense measure that passed the GOP controlled House.”

The policing auditor would have been a County Board-appointed position and the person filling the role would have answered directly to the Board. Most other top managerial positions report to the Board-appointed County Manager.

Should Youngkin’s veto remain in place, Cristol says the COB would still be led by an auditor, but this leader would instead answer to County Manager Mark Schwartz. That would mean a weaker auditor, she adds.

“It was really important that the independent policing auditor be just that, and not be under the chief law enforcement official of the county, which is the County Manager,” Cristol said.

Cristol says the Board wants to work with Youngkin because it seems — by his press release — that he misunderstands what the COB can and cannot do. She said the governor may have vetoed the bill based on a faulty understanding of the new body’s powers.

“Based on his press release, I think he made this action without full knowledge of what he was vetoing,” she said. “Specifically, he says, in referencing his vetoing of the bill, the Community Oversight Board would ‘make binding disciplinary determinations, including termination and involuntary restitution.’ Our ordinance didn’t empower the COB or the independent auditor to do that.”

Hope’s bill was merely an “administrative fix” to a bill passed last year, she said.

“Assuming this does stand, we are incredibly disappointed,” she said. “It’s not an expansion of [the] Community Oversight Board in the Commonwealth. It puts Arlington into parity with other jurisdictions in the Commonwealth.”

Del. Hope explains that his bill corrects for a shortcoming in the county charter that requires the County Board to get permission from the General Assembly to make any hire. He says Youngkin’s response is a new one.

“In my 13 years of service, I don’t ever recall seeing a Governor vetoing a local Charter bill,” he said. “To say that I’m disappointed the Governor would use his veto pen on a Charter bill to make a misguided political statement is an understatement.”

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Washington-Liberty High School students browse copies of “Beloved” and “Maus” (courtesy photo)

(Updated at 4:25 p.m.) This afternoon, a group of Washington-Liberty High School students are giving their peers more than 100 copies of two politically controversial books.

The books are “Beloved,” Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel following a Black family during the Reconstruction era, and “Maus,” Art Spiegelman’s award-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust and his father’s life during World War II. Both have explicit content that has some parents and politicians questioning their place in schools.

Controversy around “Beloved” is part of the origin story for a bill passed by the state Senate earlier this month, which would require teachers to label classroom materials that have sexually explicit content. “Maus,” meanwhile, rocketed into the national spotlight after a Tennessee school board voted last month to remove the book from its curriculum due to “inappropriate language” and an illustration of a nude woman.

In addition to labeling classroom materials that have sexually explicit content, the new law requires teachers to notify parents if they are going to teach the materials. It gives parents the right to opt their children out of these lessons and request alternative materials.

But some high school students in Arlington and Fairfax counties are calling the law “backdoor censorship” and organized the distribution in response. It began at 3:15 p.m. in Quincy Park, near W-L.

“Great thinkers and proud Virginians like Thomas Jefferson, Maggie Walker, James Madison, George Mason and Oliver Hill — men and women who understood the importance of education and the value of studying difficult and divisive ideas — are rolling over in their graves,” W-L freshman and giveaway organizer Aaron Zevin-Lopez said in a statement.

Zevin-Lopez tells ARLnow he teamed up with George Marshall High School student Matt Savage — who has been facilitating distributions in Northern Virginia schools this month — to host a book giveaway in Arlington.

“Kids at my school understood that the Governor was attempting to limit reading rights within schools, so we thought that handing out the books beforehand could be a great way to spread the message of resistance and making sure the youth understands our past, both good and bad,” Zevin-Lopez said.

The two students are leaders of the Virginia chapter of a Gen-Z political advocacy group called Voters of Tomorrow, which is providing financial support for the giveaway.

“When the government establishes laws to label literature in terms of a single factor like ‘sexually explicit’, regardless of that factor’s significance to the larger world of literary merit or meaning, it edges closer to censorship,” said Savage, president of Voters of Tomorrow Virginia. “It means we are labeling content for the sole purpose of suppressing it.”

The students say requiring teachers to define their lessons in terms of how much “sexually explicit” content it contains will dissuade them from using anything that may be considered “objectionable.” They add that the law will force teachers to draft two entire lesson plans for one class on the objection of just one parent.

The bill is similar to one passed in 2016, which became known as the “Beloved” bill because it was inspired by a mother’s attempt to have the novel removed from her son’s English class. It was vetoed, however, by Gov. Terry McAuliffe — and his veto narrowly avoided being overturned by the House of Delegates.

The question of parental involvement in education became a central theme of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s gubernatorial campaign after McAuliffe said during a debate, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

Passing the law was a campaign promise of and priority for Youngkin when he assumed office. The Republican governor unsuccessfully tried to pass other laws, including one rooting out curriculum based on critical race theory, and created a tip line for people to report teaching strategies they object to.

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Board Chair Katie Cristol during the Tuesday, Feb. 15 County Board meeting (via Arlington County)

(Updated 3:45 p.m. on 2/22/22) A typo in a recent public hearing notice has had some larger consequences for Arlington County.

The error — an incorrect date printed on posters around town — also sparked a County Board discussion yesterday (Tuesday) about finding more effective ways to communicate with residents about upcoming hearings and projects.

This is a recurring conversation for Board members, who have now critiqued the county engagement processes for being neither penetrative nor inclusive enough.

Currently, the county posts signs at and near near the sites of future land-use projects, per its zoning ordinances. It also prints advertisements in the Washington Times newspaper to meet state public notice laws.

The fliers posted this time around bore the wrong date: Feb. 19, or this Saturday, instead of Feb. 12, when the County Board actually met.

As a result, most of the hearing items impacted — including plans for a church moving to Ballston, a new daycare coming near Clarendon and a private school opening in a church near Crystal City — will be rescheduled for a meeting on Saturday, March 19.

A hearing for the Marbella Apartments, a forthcoming affordable housing project near Rosslyn, will be heard at a special meeting on Monday, Feb. 28 at 6:30 p.m. so that the project can meet an early March deadline to receive tax credits from Virginia Housing.

Those who spoke at the Saturday meeting will have their comments entered and don’t need to return, officials said.

“Unfortunately, [for] this error — which anyone can make an error like that — we didn’t have redundancy, which is something we’re going to address immediately,” County Manager Mark Schwartz said. “We’re going to be immediately improving our process to address this.”

Only one person reviewed the dates before the printed placards went out, he said. The newspaper advertisement, meanwhile, had the correct date, but County Board members mused about whether putting legal notices in the Washington Times, a conservative daily newspaper with a circulation around 50,000 in the D.C. area, is effective.

“This invites the question of not just ‘What went wrong here?’ but ‘What could go better in the future?'” Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey said. “Many have long decried our practice of advertising in the Washington Times, given its relatively low circulation in the county. While it meets the legal requirements, it doesn’t necessarily meet the spirit of broad notice.”

In Arlington, Board Chair Katie Cristol said, the challenge is that the county can choose broad circulation and additional expense with the Washington Post or low prices with the Washington Times.

She said she “would love” to advertise with an online news source, but state law mandates that such notices be placed in print publications.

“We have at least one of those where a lot of Arlingtonians get their news,” Cristol said. “We are constrained by state code from doing that — and some very effective lobbying from what I understand is the Virginia print industry, which is very interested in keeping that requirement the same.”

Virginia Press Association Executive Director Betsy Edwards says the current system “works very well for the majority of the citizens of the Commonwealth.”

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Adele McClure (courtesy photo)

(Updated 9:10 a.m. on 1/26/22) A second candidate for the new, metropolitan House of Delegates District 2 has emerged.

And Adele McClure, 32, says she was in the right place at the right time to even consider running. She was in the middle of moving apartments when the state Supreme Court accepted new district maps after a months-long redistricting process.

“The opportunity literally arose when I found out my old place was no longer in the district and the new place was,” said McClure, who is the Executive Director of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. “Isn’t that crazy? It felt like everything was aligning.”

If elected — and the election will likely be held in 2023 — McClure says she will increase funding for and expand affordable housing and homeownership opportunities, fully fund public schools, make healthcare more accessible and equitable, champion criminal justice reform and tackle climate change.

She said she will bring professional and personal experience to her role while, as a Black and Asian woman, representing marginalized perspectives in Arlington’s state delegation, which has been historically white. McClure has worked both in the legislative and executive branches of Virginia government and has lived experiences of the same issues she’s tackled professionally.

“I’ve been at the execute and implement stages, creating the legislation, getting it through and jumping it over to execution side to make sure that communities have the resources they need and connecting with folks to make sure the bill gets off the ground,” she said.

McClure says she experienced hunger and periodic homelessness growing up in the Alexandria portion of Fairfax County and attending the public schools there. In high school, she worked three jobs and took care of her niece and nephew while her brother was incarcerated. She was the first in her family to attend college, graduating in 2011 from the Virginia Commonwealth University.

“If you told me, as a little girl, I would be running to represent Arlington County, I would think it was so out of the realm of possibilities,” she said.

Since then, she has spent the last decade building up a resume of service in Arlington and in state politics.

After graduating from VCU, she moved to Arlington, where she lived until she decamped to Richmond to work under Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax as the policy director. (She resigned after he became the target of sexual assault allegations.)

She also ran the state Department of Housing & Community Development’s first eviction-prevention effort. Three years ago, McClure earned a spot in the law and policy category of the 2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 list and was elected to the Forbes Under 30 Global Board.

In Arlington, McClure has served on the county’s Action Plan for Ending Homelessness, the Board of Directors for the Alliance for Housing Solutions, the Community Services Board and on the CSB’s Substance Use Disorder committee, and the Continuum of Care homelessness outreach program.

She is involved in the Arlington County Democratic Committee, has volunteered during elections as an assistant precinct chief, and worked to establish the Dulles Justice Coalition, which provided interpreters and attorneys to travelers when former President Donald Trump’s travel ban went into effect.

“There are a lot of folks out there who can give a ton of background and lived experience with these policies,” she said. “I’m intentional about reaching out to those who will be closely impacted by the legislation.”

She’ll be going up against Nicole Merlene, a former candidate for State Senate and ARLnow columnist. Merlene has also made expanding affordable housing in her hometown of Arlington a top priority and has an extensive resume of local leadership.

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Today (Friday) marks the last day lawmakers can file legislation to be considered in the 2022 session.

Several of the bills Arlington County legislators introduced align with County Board priorities — from making permanent electronic participation in public meetings to increasing state funding for affordable housing and including race and ethnicity on driver’s licenses.

They’ve also introduced legislation to address issues that came up in the community last year.

After residents exposed poor living conditions at the Serrano Apartments to ARLnow, Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49) pre-filed a handful of bills aimed at strengthening tenant protections. Lopez also appears to have taken inspiration from the Advanced Towing saga with a bill that would make tow truck driver violations subject to the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.

Here’s a roundup of some other bills Arlington’s lawmakers put forward.

Policing

  • Independent policing auditor: This bill, House Bill 670, would allow Arlington County to appoint an independent policing auditor who will support the law enforcement Community Oversight Board that was created out of the Police Practices Group recommendations. Del. Patrick Hope (D-47) is chief patron of the bill.
  • Law-enforcement officers; conduct of investigation: HB 870, which Lopez introduced, would require an officer who was involved in a shooting to be interviewed within 24 hours of the incident.

Environmental issues

  • Beverage container deposit and redemption program: HB 826, introduced by Hope, would establish a beverage container deposit, refund and redemption program involving distributors, retailers and consumers. There would be an advisory committee, required reporting and civil and criminal penalties for violations.
  • Packaging Stewardship Program and Fund: The bill, HB 918, would allow the state Department of Environmental Quality to charge sellers in the commonwealth a fee for the amount of packaging their products use and if they’re easily recyclable. Those fees would be paid into a fund and used to reimburse participating localities for expenses related to recycling, invest in recycling infrastructure and education and pay the program’s administrative costs. Lopez introduced the bill.
  • Parking of vehicles; electric vehicle charging spots; civil penalties: Senate Bill 278 prohibits a person from parking non-electric vehicles in electric vehicle charging spots. It sets a civil penalty between $100 and $250 with the possibility the vehicle is towed or impounded. Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) introduced the bill.
  • Driving Decarbonization Program and Fund. This legislation, HB 351, would establish a program and a fund that would assist developers with non-utility costs associated with installation of electric vehicle charging stations. It was introduced by Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48).

Health

  • Insurance; paid family leave: SB 15, introduced by Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31), would establish paid family leave as a class of insurance that would pay for the income an employee loses after the birth of a child or because the employee is caring for a child or family member.
  • Hospitals; financial assistance for uninsured patient, payment plans: This bill, SB 201, requires hospitals to screen every uninsured patient, determine if they’re eligible for financial assistance under the hospital’s plan and create a payment plan. The bill also prohibits certain collection actions. Favola introduced the bill.

Rights

  • Constitutional amendment; marriage; fundamental right to marry, same-sex marriage prohibition: This constitutional amendment, SJ 5, would repeal the constitutional provision defining marriage as only a union between one man and one woman as well as the related provisions that are no longer valid as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2015. Ebbin introduced the amendment.
  • Absentee voting; verification by social security or driver’s license number: SB 273, introduced by Ebbin, would make optional the current absentee ballot witness signature requirement. It would give the voter the option to provide either the last four digits of their social security number or the voter’s valid Virginia driver’s license number instead.
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Serrano Apartments (via Google Maps)

Attorney General Jason Miyares won’t be axing a state investigation into potential housing discrimination against residents of the Serrano Apartments launched under his predecessor.

Early last week, the civil rights division of the Office of the Attorney General — led by former AG Mark Herring — began searching for evidence of discrimination against tenants based on their race, national origin and disability by local affordable housing developer AHC Inc., which owns the Columbia Pike affordable housing complex.

“The ultimate goal of this inquiry is to determine whether unlawful discrimination is taking place, and if so, to eliminate those discriminatory practices and ensure that non-discriminatory housing opportunities are available to all,” two attorneys with the OAG’s Office of Civil Rights division said in a letter to the local branch of the NAACP requesting any information the group may have.

A few days after the letter was sent, the future of the investigation was thrown into jeopardy when Miyares fired at least one of the letter’s co-authors, Helen Hardiman, after taking office last weekend, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

His dismissal of 30 staff — including 17 attorneys, the Richmond newspaper reports — generated a buzz over how his office will treat civil rights violations in Virginia.

Despite these changes, the inquiry into the Serrano apartments is set to go forward, Miyares spokeswoman Victoria LaCivita said.

“The inquiry into the housing conditions will absolutely still happen and any wrongdoing found will be pursued to the fullest extent of the law,” LaCivita tells ARLnow. “We’ve brought in a team full of bright and dedicated lawyers who are looking forward to examining every case with a fresh perspective and working with the OAG staff.”

The inquiry, which the local branch of the NAACP publicized on Wednesday, comes nine months after residents and advocates told ARLnow about the poor living conditions at the Serrano (5535 Columbia Pike). They described rodent infestations and mold as well as deferred maintenance and disrespectful treatment by management.

In response, AHC says it has made a number of changes under the eye of the Arlington County Board, undertaking repairs, installing new leadership, adding communication channels and establishing a claims process for damaged belongings. The saga has inspired a handful of bills going before the Virginia House of Delegates and now, the OAG’s investigation.

Tenant advocates say they’re encouraged the Serrano saga reached the state level at all.

“It set a precedent,” longtime advocate Janeth Valenzuela tells ARLnow. “We want this to continue and I hope that Miyares will see this not as a political thing we are doing.”

The investigation will explore if AHC imposed discriminatory terms on residents or made discriminatory statements based on race and national origin or refused reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities, wrote Hardiman and fellow attorney Palmer Heenan.

Susan Cunningham, the interim CEO of AHC, responded to the inquiry in the following statement to ARLnow.

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Arlington officially has a new Virginia House of Delegates district that has local Democrats talking about who will run for the seat. One hat has already been tossed into the ring as of today.

The Supreme Court of Virginia last week unanimously accepted new district maps for Virginia’s House of Delegates, the state Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. For Arlington’s Richmond representation, the maps created an entirely new House District 2 encompassing Arlington’s Metro corridors, and redrew boundaries for the state Senate.

Last fall, a newly-created bipartisan group, the Virginia Redistricting Commission, began the decennial process of redrawing district maps. When the group couldn’t agree on new maps, the courts appointed two “special masters” to draw the final maps.

The maps take effect in the next general election to be held for each office, says the Virginia Public Access Project, which would be this year for U.S. Congress, 2023 for state Senate and this year or 2023 for the House of Delegates.

The new maps divide Arlington into House Districts 1, 2 and 3, which are mostly contained within county lines, save for part of District 3, which extends into part of the City of Alexandria.

House District 2 includes Rosslyn, Courthouse, Clarendon, Virginia Square, Ballston, Crystal City and parts of Pentagon City. Those neighborhoods currently are 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).

Sullivan, a McLean resident, has been redrawn out of Arlington and into the new District 6, which encompasses McLean and Great Falls.

Hope and Lopez also reside outside House District 2, according to a VPAP analysis, and some local Democrats are already thinking about who will represent the district, located within a populous, heavily Democratic part of Arlington.

Former State Senate candidate Nicole Merlene officially threw her hat into the ring this morning (Monday).

“After decades of underrepresentation in the Virginia General Assembly, Arlington’s metro corridor now has the opportunity to have a voice,” Merlene, who also previously wrote an ARLnow opinion column, said in her campaign announcement.

If elected, she said she will “help expand middle class housing, require mental health parity in our healthcare system, expand childcare capacity and increase school funding, expand criminal justice reform to eradicate the disproportionate incarceration of Black people, and include environmental sustainability in all legislation.”

A former progressive Democrat candidate for the state house, Matt Rogers, told ARLnow he’s mulling a bid as well.

“Of course I’m considering it,” said Rogers, who was stopped short of running against Hope in last summer’s Democratic primary due to a paperwork snafu.

Chanda Choun, who lost his bid for a seat on the County Board during the June primary to County Board Member Takis Karantonis said he’s not considering this seat right now.

“My current plan is to go on active military duty this spring and deploy to the Middle East for an Army Reserve mission,” he said.

An oft-discussed potential pick for state legislature, County Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol, was not available to comment. She is poised to become the next County Board Chair during the Board’s first meeting of 2022, rescheduled from today to tomorrow (Tuesday) due to snow.

With redistricting complete, the Arlington County Republican Committee says it intends to put forward qualified House candidates.

“We were delighted to see Republican candidates in each of Arlington’s House of Delegates districts in 2021, and we encourage former candidates and would-be candidates to get involved in their community and consider running for office,” said GOP Communications Director Matthew Hurtt.

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Del. Alfonso Lopez in 2019 (file photo)

A half-dozen bills are set to hit the floor of the Virginia House of Delegates in January that were inspired by the poor conditions at the Serrano Apartments and other Virginia affordable housing properties.

After residents exposed poor living conditions at the Columbia Pike apartment complex, Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49) tells ARLnow he began drafting bills to strengthen tenant rights and improve living conditions in affordable housing properties across the Commonwealth.

“I believe no one should have to go through what the folks at the Serrano went through,” said Lopez, whose district includes the Serrano, owned by affordable housing developer AHC Inc., as well a dozen other properties owned by AHC and other local developers.

Since residents and advocates came forward in an ARLnow article published in May, AHC has committed to making changes under the eye of the Arlington County Board, undertaking repairs, installing new leadership, adding communication channels and establishing a claims process for damaged belongings.

Lopez is proposing the following bills to protect tenants with livability grievances against their landlords:

  1. Include “bare minimum livable standards” in the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code
  2. Extend the period of time eligible for rent reimbursement for condemned properties
  3. Strengthen the prohibition against retaliatory evictions by landlords
  4. Institute a “warranty of habitability” clause that tenants can enforce against landlords whose properties don’t meet living basic standards

These are also four changes that former ARLnow opinion columnist Nicole Merlene called for after the conditions at the Serrano garnered widespread attention.

“I’m appreciative that Del. Lopez has been working with local stakeholders to ensure that tenants living in aging buildings will have enhanced rights moving forward,” Merlene, who co-chairs Arlington’s Tenant-Landlord Commission, tells ARLnow.

Lopez has pre-filed these and two bills unrelated to the Serrano. After they’re drafted by attorneys with the Virginia Division of Legislative Services, he’ll introduce them to the House of Delegates during the upcoming two-month General Assembly session, which begins in mid-January.

The first bill would make it easier and cheaper for residents to substantiate in court that their dwelling is unlivable. With “bare minimum” livable standards only found in the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, tenants must hire professional experts to testify on their behalf, Lopez says.

“If these basic standards were in the code, a county inspector would be able to file an abatement order and write a letter of attestation for use in court,” he said.

Advocates say the current court process, with the lawyers and experts required, dissuades tenants from asserting themselves.

The second would entitle residents to three months of rent if their residence is condemned and they have to vacate, since Lopez says the conditions wouldn’t have worsened “overnight.” Currently, tenants are only entitled to one month’s rent and their security deposit.

The third bill would protect tenants from being evicted six months after they bring problems to their property management or sue. Lopez said states with similar laws presume eviction is retaliatory if it happens within a six-month period.

“The reason that’s helpful is so that tenants aren’t scared to bring forward issues,” Merlene said.

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Newly proposed House of Delegates District 2 (via Supreme Court of Virginia)

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.

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.

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