On Saturday, January 4, the Northern Virginia Delegation to the General Assembly convened its annual, non-partisan public hearing at the Fairfax Government Center. Most Northern Virginia elected representatives attended for at least part of this session, which ran for about five hours.
More than 70 speakers pressed the delegation to increase funding for education and human services, decriminalize marijuana, protect our waterways by prohibiting trash dumping – especially plastic bags – revamp and expand our mental health services system, ease voter restriction laws, and invest in early education. Fewer than five speakers said their primary reason for speaking was to advocate for program cuts, spending reductions or tax cuts. Most speakers seemed to see state government as a positive, and in many cases critical, contributor to their quality of life and most had a desire and expectation for the state to improve and extend its service delivery.
Most speakers offered reasoned arguments for the value of the programs they advocated. Many provided data that addressed Virginia’s resource priorities and program performance. For example, did you know that Virginia ranks 47th in the nation on per capita spending for disabled citizens? Or, did you know that between 2008 and 2012 Virginia’s funding for higher education declined by 10 percent, putting the state in the bottom half among all states in commitment to preserving funding levels. Virginia consistently ranks in the top 25 percent among states in per capita wealth and income and even higher in its relative standard of living. The Commonwealth depends on an educated workforce to serve the needs of high tech industry and defense and civilian Federal government support. Something is wrong with this picture!
I thank the speakers willing to put a personal face on important issues. When confronted with the tangible impacts of government action or inaction, most of us tend to respond compassionately and responsibly. One mother from Fairfax was particularly passionate. I asked if I could quote her testimony, which follows:
“Until Newtown, I was not aware of the state of our gun laws. I simply assumed that reasonable laws were in place. When I found out that we do not have universal background checks and that the one-gun-a-month law was repealed, I was shocked. But even more shocking was that bills to fix this were introduced in the General Assembly and failed. … I am not going to raise my boys in a state where we don’t verify if someone is a criminal before we sell them a firearm or a state where civilians can own a firearm so powerful that its bullet can travel over two miles and kill Brandon Mackey at a 4th of July celebration. My family is not going to live in a state that is fighting to win the race to the bottom. It is your [the Delegation] duty to represent all of your constituents and to balance public safety and civil rights. Right now there is no balance. I ask you to stand up for sane gun laws, to implement universal background checks, keep guns off campus and reinstate one gun a month.”
Another mother discussed the status of her daughter, now 20 years old and receiving special education services from Fairfax County Public Schools. The mother references a “waiver” that is required by the state to provide on-going support services as an adult:
“I want to talk about my daughter Lydia. Lydia has been on the ID Waiver waiting list for over 11 years. We planned early. We assumed by getting her on the waiting list in elementary school, she would have the waiver by the time she graduates from her vocational program. Lydia is five months from graduation and we are no closer to a waiver. I guess we didn’t plan early enough for Virginia…Lydia wants to be prepared when she exits (FCPS)… My fear is that she will graduate without a waiver and end up with no choice but to sit home all day. We can’t afford private placement. Without a waiver she will lose ground on all the skills that our county and state have invested in for 20 years. Lydia and 7,900 other people waiting for waivers deserve better from Virginia. Please remember Lydia. We planned, we waited, we’ve prepared but we are careening towards disaster. Lydia graduates on June 17. Help.”
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at DelKKory@house.virginia.gov.