In less than a month, Virginia Del. Scott Surovell (D-44) will be working 12-14 hour days in the 2013 Virginia General Assembly session, and sleeping in the Richmond basement of a friend. Surovell, an attorney by day, will present 15 bills this session, and a number of constitutional and budget amendments.
"The funnest part down there is when you're on the floor and it's time for you to get up and not just cast a vote, but to get up and speak and fight it out on behalf of your constituents. That's the part of the job I like the most," Surovell, who was elected in 2009, told Patch. "It's not easy to get 99 other people to stand with you on an issue, especially when 68 are from another political party. It's a real challenge, but the bigger the mountain, the more it makes me want to climb it. It's been that way for me my entire life."
What's Surovell's biggest challenge?
"I've never served during a cycle where there's really any money to spend. One of the best ways to get your legislation killed is to introduce a bill that has any fiscal impact. In the last three sessions since I was elected, if your bill had a fiscal impact, it was basically dead on arrival," said Surovell. "In terms of the so-called surplus that we've had over the last 12 months - I think it was about $320 million, all of it is pre-committed except for $40 million, which is basically equal to about $400,000 per delegate seat. So, it's not a big amount of money at all."
The threat of sequestration and the country falling over the fiscal cliff looms in Richmond. "If the cliff and sequestration actually hit, it will cost Virginia about 60,000 jobs and about $300 million in tax revenue per biennium, which is basically equal to our so-called surplus," said Surovell. "So, there's a lot of uncertainty about our revenue projection because of that. There's also a lot of grant monies from the federal government that's passed down to the local governments and into our budget, and if that ends up disappearing it could create some significant consequences."
No texting while driving
Surovell will introduce a bill that would make it illegal to use a personal handheld device for any purpose other than making a voice call. "I had a client who was killed when a guy who ran into him at full speed without braking with 2,000 feet of straight empty pavement," he said. "I see, as I drive every day to work on the beltway, dozens of people staring at their phones. It's clearly an emerging, growing problem."
The conversation in Richmond will include a ban on hand-held cell phone use while driving. "If you do allow people to make phone calls, it is difficult for an officer to tell if that person is dialing to make a call, or sending a text message or an email, browsing the Internet or playing 'Angry Birds'."
Surovell's proposed legislation also includes:
- A bill that would make the State Corporation Commission subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
- A bill that would restructure the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which prioritizes transportation projects within the state and decides where to spend money.
- A bill that would make it illegal for a person or company to make available information about a criminal charge that has been expunged.
- A bill to prohibit Virginia school systems from using electronic textbook programs unless every child in the system has access to a computer and broadband Internet access in their home.
- A bill that would require community colleges to have a plan in place for students who exhibit mental health problems, and to have a person on campus to refer students to the Community Services Board for therapy.
- A budget amendment that would fully fund the Route 1 Alternative analysis study - $2 million
- A possible amendment to repeal Virginia's gay marriage ban.
Surovell expects another tough session. "I've been there three years now and I've had to vote on a lot of stuff that's had me scratching my head. My very first session, I think we voted on over 20 bills liberalizing gun laws. I think I had to vote on trans-vaginal ultrasounds five or six times last session. I had to vote a number of times on bills limiting a woman's access to contraception," he said.
"It's my hope that, if anything, we can talk about repealing some of the horrible things we did last year. I hope we can focus on stuff that can help improve Virginia's economy and improve jobs. Requiring doctors to vaginally wand women and enabling adoption agencies to discriminate against gays doesn't do anything to create more jobs in Virginia, except for maybe ultrasound technicians, I guess."