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Focus on Fairfax
Feb. 16, 2018
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Thanks to everyone who came out to my Town Hall meeting with Senator Petersen last weekend.  We had a lot of great discussion.  For those who are interested, I have posted the presentation to my website.
Happy cross-over week!  This is the time in the session where each body (House and Senate) must complete work on its own bills so that they can be sent to the other body for consideration.  On Monday, we started at 10:00 a.m. and wrapped up at 7:17 p.m.  During that time we debated and voted on over 240 bills and resolutions.  On Tuesday we took final action on almost 170 bills.
The Art of Compromise
In an era when healthy give and take is often hard to find, I wanted to highlight a success story!  For many years, proponents of criminal justice reform have worked to raise the threshold for theft to become a felony in Virginia.  Virginia's threshold of $200 is the lowest in the nation and hasn't changed since 1980.  While not condoning theft of any kind, the punishment should fit the crime.  A felony (grand larceny in this case) is subject to potential prison time.  The person also loses the right to vote and will have the felony on their permanent record for background checks.  Even if we just kept up with inflation using the CPI, the threshold should be over $600.  Bills to increase the threshold have been introduced for numerous years and have failed.
This year the Governor worked with stakeholders on a compromise.  In return for increasing the threshold to $500 (HB1550), we would strengthen our victim restitution enforcement laws (HB484).  According to a study by the Virginia Crime Commission, victims in Virginia are owed over $230 million in unpaid restitution (that is just what is currently in arrears).  Neither side got everything they wanted, but overall I thought it was a sensible approach and voted yes on both.  HB1550 passed 92Y-2N while HB484 passed 79Y-20N.
Update on My Bills
I am pleased that two more of my bills have passed the Senate and are now on their way to the Governor.  HB439 authorizes a person licensed under the Real Estate Board to refer a client to translate real estate documents into other languages.  The purpose of the bill is to protect both the buyer and seller by making sure that the seller fully understands the documents he or she is about to sign.  This is a growing issue in areas like the 37th District, where according to 2011 U.S. Census data, 11% of individuals speak Spanish and 8% speak Korean as their primary languages at home.
HB923 provides additional specificity to the form that accompanies homeowner association (HOA) disclosure packets.  The current language is very general and does not really help the purchaser understand the importance of the documents that buyer is about to sign.  Under this bill, the form will highlight some of the important elements of an HOA declaration, including potential limitations on being able to rent a property, keeping pets, the types of vehicles that can be stored, the ability to operate a home business, and the fact that the developer may still control the HOA for a period of time.  Similar to HB439, the goal is transparency.  It benefits all parties to ensure that the buyer fully understands what he or she is signing before making a final decision.
Dominion Rate Freeze Legislation
This week we voted on the Dominion electricity rate freeze legislation (HB1558) that I previously expressed concerns about.  In 2015, rates were frozen in anticipation of mandatory greenhouse gas reductions under the federal Clean Power Plan.  That requirement never came to fruition, meaning that Dominion Energy over-earned from customers during that time period.  Under HB1558, some excess earnings would go back to ratepayers.  The remainder would be used to invest in renewable energy, grid modernization, and utility undergrounding projects.  This all sounds pretty good.  However, the devil is in the details.  One of the major concerns is the potential for "double-dipping."  This involves a utility keeping over-earnings that would normally go back to the customer and investing it in the base infrastructure.  However, the value of the infrastructure, along with a profit margin, is then passed back on to the customer.  While HB1558 provides that customer rates can't go up as a result of this process, it could mean that the utility wouldn't have to reduce rates that otherwise should have been lowered.  Staff from our State Corporation Commission (SCC) summed this up much better than I ever could in about one minute.  To my surprise, we were able to amend HB1558 on the House floor to address this issue.  I voted yes on the amendment.  However, there are other concerns and the fact that we are making amendments on the fly highlights why we need to be cautious with this kind of legislation.  I voted no on passage of the full measure as a signal that more work is needed to ensure that consumer interests are protected, while acknowledging that we must make progress on grid modernization, energy efficiency, and renewables.
This Sunday evening the Committee on Appropriations will release their amendments to the Governor's introduced budget.  Based on statements made by a southwestern Virginia Republican legislator, I am hopeful that this will be the year we move forward with Medicaid expansion.  There are many other items of great importance to our region in the budget, including funding for education and Metro.  I will be pouring through the details in anticipation of a vote next Thursday.
Have a great weekend and thank you for the opportunity to serve you in the House of Delegates!


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David Bulova
Delegate, 37th Virginia House District
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