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Opinion: Commentary: The Virginia Legislature Is Addressing Many Concerns
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Opinion: Commentary: The Virginia Legislature Is Addressing Many Concerns

In the fifth week of the Virginia General Assembly session, the Senate passed my legislation increasing the requirement for auto insurance minimum liability from $25,000 to $35,000 and minimum property damage covered from $20,000 to $40,000. These minimums have not been adjusted since 1975 when cars cost $4,400 on average and medical bills were much lower. The failure to raise these means that many injured people are not receiving fair compensation for their injuries or property damage.

The Senate passed a bill to repeal Virginia’s requirement that people produce a photo identification to vote. This was Virginia law prior to 2012. Upon enactment, after July 1, 2020, voters will need to show specified identification at the poll check-in, but if they do not have any of the proper forms of identification, they will still be allowed to vote after signing an affirmation of their identity, subject to violation of a felony for lying. This system worked fine for decades without any incidents of voter fraud. We should not assume that every person, like some of our seniors or the permanently disabled, has a government-issued, photo identification.

The Senate passed my legislation authorizing a new Public Defender’s Office for Prince William County, the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park. This is the first new public defender’s office established in Virginia since 2004. It will create at least 25 new attorney positions and ten support staff. Numerous studies have verified that permanent public defender’s offices produce better outcomes and will improve the quality of justice in Northern Virginia.

The Senate also approved my bill allowing what is called “community net metering.” Today, a business or consumer can only net the energy from a solar panel against their electric meter if the panel is connected to their personal meter. My legislation would allow a company to construct solar panels and allow consumers to purchase a share of the energy from the panels and net the energy generated from the panels to their personal bill even if it is not connected. This will enable consumers in older neighborhoods with heavy tree cover to power their homes with solar energy, an alternative to polluting, carbon-based fuels like coal that have traditionally powered our electricity. I am glad I have made some progress on this after trying for eight years.

My bill authorizing the State Corporation Commission to approve investments in 2700 megawatts of energy storage is also on track to pass. As we move to cleaner, more renewable energy production, we must have technologies to store energy so we can produce non-polluting electricity when solar panels cannot produce.

The Senate Finance Committee reported my legislation to grant driving privileges to undocumented immigrants. The District of Columbia, Maryland and the other 15 states that have taken this step have seen numerous positive benefits, including reduced accidents and hit-and-run incidents increased licensing revenues and increased collaboration with law enforcement. One in four residents of the 36th District were born outside of the United States and thousands will benefit here in our community.

The Senate Judiciary Committee continued my bill to 2021 to repeal the death penalty. I believe there are enough votes to move forward, but legislators wanted more time for consideration and with over 3,000 bills our dockets are overloaded.

The Senate Finance Committee sent to the Senate my bill to create a “Do Not Sell Firearms List” so people can voluntarily enroll if they have suicidal tendencies. This could be a useful tool for people who experience episodic depressive episodes or impulse control challenges.

“Crossover” will occur this week, the day that we must complete work on bills originating in our chamber and then move to bills from the other chamber. In the Senate, we will vote on predatory lending, carbon reduction targets, offshore wind investments, how to draw elected officials’ districts, gun bumpstocks, casino and sports betting, transportation funding and restructuring, minimum wage, marijuana decriminalization, public employee collective bargaining, wage theft, and criminal justice reform. It will be a very busy and hopefully productive week. Stay tuned.If you have any feedback, please email me at scott@scottsurovell.org.