Special Olympics at SGCC

This past Sunday my son, Ben, and I volunteered at the Special Olympics Swim Meet at the Springfield Golf and Country Club.  The whole event was wonderful and I especially appreciated how it gave the Special Olympians the opportunity to swim competitively in relays and other events.  Ben and I had a fantastic time and you can be sure we will be volunteering again next year!Special Olympics Pic

LCAC Back to School Drive

Last week my staff and I dropped off backpacks and school supplies for the Lorton Community Action Center. Every year, before the school year starts, LCAC hosts a “Back to School” drive that collects backpacks and supplies to donate to students in need.  You can check out the backpack drive and other charity opportunities at: http://www.lortonaction.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=145&Itemid=152

West Springfield High School Renovation as Told by a Spartan

“I am a rising senior at West Springfield High School. I have a firsthand look of West Springfield and have been around the school before the renovation, and will have one year in school during the renovation. Being a resident of the area and having many siblings that have attended West Springfield, I have seen the school age, change, and become (in my opinion) more run down every year. A more detailed idea about the current state of the school would be that: in the school we have toilets that don’t always work or flush, moldy floor tiles that are rotting away, the air conditioning doesn’t always work or when it does it isn’t the desired temperature, many stairwells look rusted and have piles of garbage stuffed into the sides of the stair, a good amount of ceiling tiles had water damage on them from a leak in the pipes, many of the lockers were stuck closed and needed extra force to open them, the majority of the windows were stuck or needed a great force to wedge them open or close them, the turf field needed to be re-done because there was more turf than fake grass, and the overall structure and appearance of the school is lacking most times. That is why I am extremely excited that the school is in the process of being renovated.

WSHS will soon turn the tender age of 50 after being established in 1966. West Springfield was and will continue to be a diverse and happy community of individuals, but now it will actually have a real third floor (we always teased the freshmen that there was a secret pool on the third floor). The construction of the school will take approximately 3 years total ending in the year 2020. The planning begun a few years ago and was carefully planned out to the last detail, along with budgeting. The school wasn’t supposed to be renovated for a few more years but thanks to the help of our government officials, like Supervisor Pat Herrity and Dave Albo who brought the problem of our blighted school to light, our school board members who found the money to make it happen, and the taxpayers who are paying for it, the renovation process was moved forward, approved, and now is starting earlier than previously decided.

Renovations started by placing a trailer park outside of the school in the old practice field so the school could begin renovating and placement of a third floor onto the original structure. Due to the renovations, some sacrifices needed to be made. They had to remove a good number of trees that have been on the school’s land for a number of years, and there will be no parking lot for senior use next year. Sacrificing the trees, classrooms for trailers, and parking lot are all necessary actions that needed to be taken in order to give our school a proper makeover.

The main problems in the school that the renovations will be addressing are the fields, the structure of the building, the classrooms, the ceilings, floors, lockers, gyms, auditorium, parking lot, and an overall beautification of the school itself. An overview of what will happen to each aspect of the school is as follows. The field will get new turf, the score board will be replaced, there will be a new press box, they will build a third floor onto the school building and renovate the existing ones, expand the gyms, create equal sized lockers all around the school, install new floors and ceiling tiles, refurnish the classrooms, and, most importantly, they will install manual AC units and re-do the bathrooms (most of which are broken or are too unpleasant to go near). Pictures of the current state of WSHS are below.

Although it is great that the school is finally being renovated, and the protective coat of West Springfield filth will be lifted and replaced with a clean coat of paint, the spirit and great community of the school will always stay intact.”

Image

Virginia Thrasher, a West Springfield High School alumna, took home the first gold for the United States in the Women’s 10 Meter Air Rifle event! 

Thrasher Gold

How Road Repaving is Determined

I want to explain how all the roads in the state of Virginia are paved. There is a system in place that determines the roads, either primary or secondary, that need to be repaved. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) schedules roads to be repaved based on the condition of the roads and how heavy the daily traffic is on said road. For example, if a secondary road is classified as “Very Poor” it will have priority over a secondary road that is classified as “Poor” or “Fair”. The budget is mostly used for the primary roads every year because they are the roads drivers use the most every day. Only about 6-8% of secondary roads are able to be repaved with the remaining available funds.

Primary roads with higher daily traffic volumes, e.g. interstate and all roads beginning with a “1” (like 123) or a “2” (like 286, the Fairfax County Parkway), will always have priority over secondary roads (e.g. connector, residential, and neighborhood roads). It is a system of priorities that has a definite focus on helping as many people as possible within the boundaries of the budget.

For more information on VDOT’s paving schedule click here: http://www.virginiadot.org/projects/northern_virginia/northern_virginia_paving_program.asp

To see the rating of your road, click here:  http://virginiaroads.org/Mapping/#PavementConditions

Richmond Times Dispatch Editorial: “Medicaid spending soars beyond projections – again”

In the General Assembly, there has been a long standing debate over whether Virginia should accept the “Obamacare” program where poor people who are of working age (19-64) should get free medical insurance via Medicaid.  The Federal Government is going to pay 90% of the bill.  Generally speaking, Democrats wanted to accept it and Republicans did not.  Democrats argued that it would be a nice thing to do and that the Federal Government is going to pay 90%.  Republicans, including me, (1) Pointed out that already all poor people who are 18 and under, 64 and older, disabled or pregnant already get Medicaid, (2) Agreed that it would be a nice thing to do, but (3) Argued that we cannot afford it.  We pointed out that if Virginia expanded Medicaid to include all poor people ages 19-64, just Virginia’s 10% share would cost $320 million per year.  And with Medicaid costs rising, in 10 years we would expect it to rise to $720 million/yr.

Here is an article to show you that our fears of rising Medicaid costs were not unfounded: http://www.richmond.com/opinion/our-opinion/article_bb21ce3b-5a13-5478-b9c4-016caf41cb17.html

 

The Battle of Sunken Road – Fredericksburg Campaign, December 1862

On my way back from Hanover Courthouse I came across the Fredericksburg National Battlefield Park, so I stopped to take a look, go to the Visitor Center and learn about the battle, and take a few pictures. The first picture is a view of a wall at the top of the hill.  This is the view that you would have had if you were a Union Soldier in December of 1862.  Imagine 1,000 Confederates on the other side of that wall, protected from your bullets, firing at you. For some reason the Union Generals decided to march their troops through an open field to the top of the hill, where the Confederate Army was waiting out of sight behind that stone wall.  In addition, the Confederates had a battery of guns on the hill behind their line.  The Union soldiers had approximately 8000 soldiers killed, wounded, or missing on this field alone.  If you want to see what it was like, check out the movie “Gods & Generals”.  It’s not a great movie, but it does depict the horrifying battle where Union troops bodies stacked up so high that other soldiers hid behind them.  It’s hard to imagine how anyone would be brave enough to follow the orders to march up that hill.

The second picture is from the vantage point of the Confederate soldier looking down the hill behind the wall.  In order to know what this battlefield would look like in 1862 you have to imagine that there were no trees and this was a field then that went all the way to the town of Fredericksburg, which sits on the Rappahannock River.

History has always interested me.  Sorry if this is boring, but I think it’s cool to live in Virginia where nearly everywhere you go, there is something to learn.

Virginia Receives Top Honors for SMART SCALE Transportation Prioritization Process

I am extremely happy to announce that Virginia has won the STAR award for the creation of our SMART SCALE process. For years I have been urging VDOT to use science over politics in deciding what roads to build and what streets to repave. As a result of me and my fellow Delegates’ and Senators’ efforts, all new roadway transportation projects are rated based on how they reduce congestion, and all repaving projects are analyzed for quality and the streets in the poorest condition are repaved first. These efforts have been recently recognized with the creation of the SMART SCALE, a transportation prioritization process that is changing the way Virginia chooses to spend its money on the community purely based off well researched facts and collected data. It was created solely to ensure that the best projects are being placed into action for the benefit of the community and for maximum quality of life and economic growth.

The State Transformation in Action Recognition, or STAR for short, award was given to this system because we are using the SMART SCALE to make sure that every dollar or purchase is utilized to the best of its abilities and for the overall development of Virginia and for the Virginia taxpayers. This program is so tremendously successful that it is recognized as the only one of its kind in the nation, and will hopefully inspire other states to partake in this process so to better the community as we have.

 

http://metrocosm.com/us-immigration-history-map.html

Delegate Dave Albo’s Comments on the U.S. Supreme Court Ruling in US v. McDonnell

First and foremost let me note: it has always been illegal to accept a gift in exchange for a government action. This has been Virginia law and Federal law for as long as anyone can remember.  Second, there is no doubt that what former Gov. McDonnell did when he and his Wife, while serving as Governor, accepted $177,000 of gifts from a “friend” named Johnnie Williams was improper, created an appearance of impropriety, is not condoned by any Virginia Delegate or Senator, and never should have been done.  And certainly the Prosecutors should have investigated it. This behavior was outrageous. But the question posed by the U.S. v. McDonnell case is: Was it illegal?

From the time the Governor was charged until present, I and a number of my colleagues have stated that since Johnnie Williams never received anything other than a meeting with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, acceptance of the gifts were not illegal.  And now, 100% of the U.S. Supreme Court agrees with our position.

To state our position succinctly, in order to have a “bribery” / “denial of honest services” conviction, one person has to give something of value (the bribe) and the government official has to give something of value (an “official act”).  Johnnie Williams never received anything of value.  The Governor set him up with a meeting.  While the U.S. Attorney General and the trial Court Judge said that setting a meeting qualifies as an “official act” / something of value, this cannot be the standard – otherwise nearly every routine duty a public official does every day activity is a felony.

To gain some perspective, here is the jury instruction that the U.S. Attorney convinced the Trial Judge to give.  The Judge instructed the jury that if they found that the Governor received the gifts (which totaled $177,000 in value), and if they found that he gave Williams an “official act” in exchange, then the Governor would be guilty of violation of the “bribery” / “honest services” law.  I italicized some key elements to draw your attention to them:

In other words, official actions may include acts that a public official customarily performs, even if those actions are not described in any law, rule, or job description.  And a public official need not have actual or final authority over the end result sought by a bribe-payer so long as the alleged bribe-payer reasonably believes that the public official had influence, power or authority over a means to the end sought by the bribe-payer.  In addition, official action can include actions taken in furtherance of longer-term goals, and an official action is no less official because it is one in a series of steps to exercise influence or achieve an end.

So the U.S. Attorney and the Trial Judge believed that an “official act” can be: (1) an act that is not in any law, rule or job description, (2)  an act to acquire something that a public official does not have the authority in the end to deliver, (3) an act that the public official does not even know the bribe payer is seeking, and (4) an act that is just one step in a series of steps to eventually obtain what the bribe payer wants. This standard makes nearly everything a government official does every day a felony.

Under this standard, if it is illegal to set up a meeting for $177,000 then it is illegal to do it for $17.77.  Picture this: I, in my capacity as a Delegate, go to a Rotary Club breakfast and eat $17.77 in eggs, pancakes and coffee. During that meeting a Rotary member says, “Delegate Albo, my license was suspended because of lack of insurance, and I know I have insurance.” I respond, “I know what is going on.  The DMV and the insurance company are not communicating.  Let me set you up with a meeting with DMV to fix it.”  SLAM! Under this jury instruction, I would have just committed a Felony.  I would have accepted a gift and I set up a meeting, even though (1) I had no idea that the “bribe payer” was seeking to bribe me, (2) there is “law, rule or job description” that I cannot set up meetings for people, and (3) I have no ability to work the DMV computers or tell the DMV to not suspend his license.

Here are a few other examples of the ludicrous effects of the jury instruction.  A Delegate goes to the Fairfax INOVA Hospital Gala fundraiser, and receives $90 of food and listens to a band.  6 months later, INOVA asks him to vote for a budget amendment to fund cancer research.  If he votes for it – SLAM, a Felony.  A Delegate’s wife goes to dinner with her friends.  Her friend says, “I will pick up the tab, you can get it next ‘girls night out.’”  Unbeknownst to the wife or the Delegate, the friend’s husband works at a company who has a state contract.  If the friend pays – SLAM, a Felony.

This is the reason that every single Supreme Court Justice ruled that the jury instruction was unconstitutional. They held that, “An official act … must involve a formal exercise of governmental power and must also be something specific and focused.” Chief Justice Roberts wrote:  “There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that.  But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns.  It is instead with the broader legal implications of the governments’ boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute. A more limited interpretation of the term ‘official act’ leaves ample room for prosecuting corruption…”

Some have asked if the General Assembly will repeal the gift ban laws we put in place after the Governor was indicted.  I highly doubt that.  As I stated earlier, none of us think that what McDonnell did was proper.  We did many things to put controls on gifts, but the most important point is that we added to the ALREADY existing law which stipulates that no public official can take a gift in exchange for an official government action. We did this by barring ALL gifts received by a public official or his/her family member from anyone other than a personal friend or family member > $100.  We made exceptions for some things that should not be considered gifts, such as:

  • Food or beverages consumed while attending an event at which the filer is performing official duties related to his public service
  • Food and beverages received at or registration or attendance fees waived for any event at which the filer is a featured speaker, presenter, or lecturer
  • Unsolicited awards of appreciation or recognition in the form of a plaque, trophy, wall memento, or similar item that is given in recognition of public, civic, charitable, or professional service
  • Travel paid for or provided by the government of the United States, any of its territories, or any state or any political subdivision of such state
  • Travel provided to facilitate attendance by a legislator at a regular or special session of the General Assembly, a meeting of a legislative committee or commission, or a national conference where attendance is approved by the House or Senate Committee on Rules. 

For the full text of the gift ban laws go to: http://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title30/chapter13/section30-100/