Existing Medicaid covers medical care for poor people who are children, over the age of 65, disabled, or pregnant. The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) sought to expand access to Medicaid to all poor people between the ages of 19 and 64. The Federal Government picked up 100 percent of the bill for the first four years, but after that, the states were responsible for paying 10 percent. Virginia’s 10 percent share ALONE would have cost $350,000,000 a year, and with health care inflation, would have cost $700,000,000 in 10 years. Therefore, Virginia decided not to expand Medicaid because we knew it was financially unsustainable. As you can see from this Modern Healthcare article, we were right. Click here to read about the financial mess Massachusetts is in: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20170927/NEWS/170929900
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South County Little League had a great Opening Day last weekend! It was an honor to throw out the first pitch one last time.
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!
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.
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/
Rita, Ben, and I spent Mother’s Day visiting Rita’s mother’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery. Dorothy Von Essen was a 1st Lieutenant in the US Army, and served as nurse in World War II combat zones in Italy, France, and Africa. I can’t imagine a better way to spend Mother’s Day than celebrating such an amazing woman, and I hope you all were able to celebrate the wonderful mothers in your lives!
The Weather Channel is reporting that Fairfax County, Virginia (including Springfield, Fairfax Station, Lorton, West Springfield, and Mason Neck) will be under a winter advisory storm warning this coming weekend, starting Friday January 22 at 12:00 PM until Sunday January 24 at 6:00 AM.
During that time we will be under a blizzard watch in our area. It is essential to be prepared for the predicted storm to avoid any potential dangers or hazards that you or your family may come across.
Here are some helpful links to ensure that you and your family are prepared and stay safe in this coming blizzard!
To Track a Snow Plow:
National Weather Service:
If you need to report any Emergencies, Outages or Traffic Issues, here are some contact information that can be handy.
Dominion Virginia Power- (800) 367-7623
NOVEC- (800) 367-7623
Washington Gas- (800) 367-7623
For up-to-date Road conditions:
Go to www.511virginia.org or
To Report any traffic issues:
Call (800) 367-7623
Other Helpful Sites:
Last month, VDOT hosted a seminar on snow removal in Virginia. Here are some highlights:
VDOT (NOVA) is responsible for 17,737 lane miles in Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties. About half of those miles are highways or high-volume routes, and half are neighborhood streets. During winter weather, crews work will work on both concurrently. Last winter’s budget for northern Virginia was $52 million and $128.5 million was spent. This year’s budget is $70.7 million.
In 2016, snow removal crews will pre-treat 850 lane miles:
- 350 lane miles on interstates: These areas will be pre-treated with liquid magnesium chloride. This includes bridges and ramps that are prone to freezing. (e.g. Springfield interchange and Capital Beltway at Route 1)
- 500 lane miles on major roads: Roads such as Fairfax County Parkway, routes 1, 7, 28, 29, and 50 will be pre-treated with salt brine. Salt brine prevents ice from bonding to the road surface, reduces the need for salt to melt ice, and can lower snow removal time and costs.
Once again, you can track your snowplow online! When snowfall accumulates 2+ inches, you can get on vdotplows.org to monitor the status of plowing. All you need to do is enter your address and a color-coded snow map pops up and shows whether plowing is underway, completed or not yet started in your neighborhood. The site is refreshed every 5 minutes so the information you view will be very accurate.
This year there are more than 3,500 trucks and plows available. All are equipped with automatic vehicle locator (AVL) equipment (so you can track your snow plow). Some trucks are also outfitted with specialized equipment to address specific issues:
- Speed-activated anti-icing equipment: ensures that the right amount of materials is dispersed on the road
- Jet-powered snow melter: clears the snow that blocks spaces in park-n-ride lots.
- High-pressure flush trucks: (7 trucks) clears the snow and ice that builds up around the bollards that separate I-495 Express Lanes and regular lanes.
- Front loaders with 20-foot blades: (2 trucks) will be used to plow interstate highways during severe snow storms.
In addition to updating snow removal equipment, VDOT has also expanded its monitor program. 150 VDOT employees will be assigned on-road duty to monitor road conditions and snowplow progress. Each employee is assigned an ipad and iphone to ensure uniformity and prompt communication.
Resources for residents and drivers:
- See the status of snow plowing in your neighborhoods: vdotplows.org
- Follow VDOT Northern Virginia on Twitter: @vadotnova
- Report safety concerns: 1-800-367-7623
- Overview of Northern Virginia snow removal
West Springfield High School looks the same as it did when I went there in the late 70s. Air Conditioning is the only thing that has been added. It is in such poor shape that some bathrooms don’t work, a ceiling caved in and had to repaired, and most classrooms are unable to handle the needs of modern technology for science and computer labs.
About six years ago, with the help of local parents, a group of elected officials who are WSHS graduates (myself, Supervisor Pat Herrity, Clerk of Court John Frey, and others) began a project of promoting the renovation of WSHS to the Fairfax County School Board. Four years ago, we successfully got the architectural and engineering money. The plans are all complete, and now that the bond passed on Election Day, construction can begin!
A County cannot borrow money without authority from its voters. Fairfax County only borrows up to 3% of its budget so that it can maintain its AAA bond rating (the best bond rating that is awarded). Both construction costs and interest rates are at historical lows, so building WSHS now is less expensive than waiting to do the project in the future. In short, now is the best time to get it done!
Thanks to you, and your votes on Election Day – WEST SPRINGFIELD WILL FINALLY BE RENOVATED!
 So that your taxes are not increased to fund bond projects, Fairfax County keeps its debt at very low levels. Furthermore, since interest rates and construction costs are at historical lows, it is actually less expensive to borrow money and construct now, rather than wait and build later when costs are higher. (Note: Under the County’s budget program, to assure a AAA bond rating, the County’s net long-term debt can not to exceed 3% of the total market value of taxable real and personal property in the County. The County also provides that annual debt service be kept below 10% of annual combined General Fund spending, and that bond sales shall not exceed an average principal amount of $275 million per year, or $1.375 billion over 5 years).