Op-Ed: Redistricting in Virginia remains partisan

Loudoun Times-Mirror • May 9th, 2018

By Wendy Gooditis

A decade is a long time. Enough to cover five Olympic games, two presidential elections and 10 county fairs. That’s how long the new congressional and state house districts will last when the General Assembly redraws them following the 2020 census. Virginia’s leaders have taken steps to make sure the process is fair, but we must do more. We must enact clear prohibitions against gerrymandering: the practice of drawing political boundaries to favor one particular candidate or political party, or to minimize the voices of minority communities. In addition, we should consider other, fairer processes used by states around the country.

Delegate Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) introduced HB 1598 this year, a bill that requires districts to be compact, contiguous, and respectful of existing communities. I voted for HB 1598 because it is a step in the right direction. The bill does not, however, prohibit partisan gerrymandering. In fact, the House of Delegates missed an opportunity to enact just such a prohibition in April. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) suggested amendments to HB 1598 that would have stopped legislators from drawing lines “for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring any political party” or “to restrict or deny the ability of any racial or language minority to participate in the political process.” Sadly, these amendments were not approved by the House.

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Truman Braslaw
New Law Puts Focus on Suicide-Prevention Efforts in Virginia

AP • April 5th, 2018

By Scott Malone

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — As suicides have risen in Virginia - including a 29 percent increase among children in 2016 - Gov. Ralph Northam has signed legislation calling on state officials to report how they are addressing the problem.

House Bill 569, introduced by Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke, requires the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to report annually its progress and activities on suicide prevention. The report will go to the governor and General Assembly.

The bill is of special significance to Gooditis, who was elected in November to represent the 10th House District, which includes parts of Clarke, Frederick and Loudoun counties. During the first two weeks of her candidacy, Gooditis lost her brother to alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder.

"He had a number of suicide attempts. It was part of the reason I was running in the first place. I found him dead two weeks after I announced my candidacy," Gooditis said. "At that point, I don't think anyone would've penalized me for quitting. But I had met so many who needed help, I couldn't quit. I had to run and try to get the seat to try to speak for people who need someone to speak for them."

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Truman Braslaw
Bill Lets Out-of-State Youths Fish Without License

Winchester Star • March 14th, 2018

By Josh Janney

WINCHESTER — Out-of-state youths age 16 and younger will soon be able to fish in Virginia without a license,

House Bill 1151, sponsored by Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke County, passed the General Assembly this month. The legislation is designed to encourage anglers and their families to visit Virginia by loosening fishing license requirements for children. Tourism and outdoors experts say this will make the state more appealing as a destination for camping and fishing.

“The bill should be a boost to tourism,” Tom Guess, a legislative and policy leader for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), said in a news release. “It helps us recruit and retain anglers.”

Gooditis added: “This bill will make it so families don’t have to jump through awkward hoops to enjoy angling here in Virginia. We want families from across the region and the country to come and enjoy our the great natural beauty of the commonwealth. I was happy to work with my colleagues across the aisle to ensure we could get this bill passed.”

The legislation, pending Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature, will become law July 1.

Once in effect, out-of-state youths age 16 and younger will be allowed to fish without a fishing license when accompanied by a person possessing a valid license to fish in Virginia. Out-of-state youths also will be allowed to fish for trout without a license.

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Truman Braslaw
Gooditis' Anti-Suicide Reporting Bill Passes

Winchester Star • March 5th, 2018

By Josh Janney

WINCHESTER — A bill introduced by Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke County, to help prevent suicides has unanimously passed the state House and Senate.

The bill is now headed to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk for his signature. HB 569 requires the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) to report on its anti-suicide activities annually to the Virginia General Assembly and the governor. The report is due on Dec. 1 each year.

The department has the lead responsibility for the commonwealth’s Suicide Prevention Across the Lifespan Plan. The plan is a guide for the department and other state agencies as they try to find ways to reduce the risk of suicide around Virginia.

State code says the DBHDS is currently required to coordinate the activities of the state agencies pertaining to suicide prevention so it can develop and carry out a comprehensive suicide prevention plan. The plan would address public awareness, the promotion of health development, early identification, intervention and treatment and support to survivors.

Gooditis said the DBHDS not reporting its findings to the General Assembly annually is a problem because it keeps legislators and the governor in the dark about which measures work in regard to suicide prevention. Without this data, the governor and the elected representatives have less guidance in determining which initiatives need support and which programs should receive funding.

Gooditis’ bill makes these reports available to the state lawmakers.

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Truman Braslaw
A League of their own: Northern Virginia women lean in to political paradigm shift

Loudoun Times-Mirror • March 2nd, 2018

By Elizabeth Stinnette

In Virginia, women make up a little more than half the population, at 50.8 percent as of July 2016. However, no woman has ever served as governor, lieutenant governor or U.S. senator. The state ranks 35th in the nation for the number of women serving in its congressional delegation.

"We are definitely still battling sexism," said Lindsey Davis Stover, a former Obama administration official who is running to take Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock's place in Congress this year. "As women, we have to step up and run for office."

While Stover and her fellow Democratic front-runner, State Sen. Jennifer Wexton, would replace another woman if they were to win, political statistics are starting to shift in favor of Virginia women.

This year in Virginia's House of Delegates, 28 women took office, a record number coming after anti-Donald Trump sentiment voted out a number of Republican men. In Loudoun County, three of its four state senators and five of its seven delegates are women...

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Truman Braslaw
Assembly Backs Bill Allowing Middleburg to (legally) Impose Business Tax

Loudoun Now • February 22, 2018

By Patrick Szabo

Two bills that would amend the Middleburg Town Charter to authorize the collection of its longstanding business personal property tax are moving through the General Assembly.

The town has been collecting the tax from businesses at a rate of $1 per $100 in assessed value for decades, but Town Administrator Martha Semmes said a problem was discovered late last year. Town Attorney Martin Crim realized that a section of the Virginia Code restricts towns from assessing the tax if it’s at a higher rate than the vehicle tax. Since Middleburg phased out its vehicle tax 20 years ago, the business tax was, by default, higher.

“He felt that we should not be assessing that business tangible personal property tax,” Semmes said.

To correct the problem, the town staff worked with then-delegate Randy Minchew and Sen. Jill Vogel (R-27) to draft bills that would allow the town to continue assessing the tax without reinstating the vehicle tax. Vogel introduced the Senate bill last month; newly elected Del. Wendy Gooditis (D-10) introduced the House bill.

The Virginia Senate passed Vogel’s bill by a 37-3 vote last month. The House also approved the measure, although it stripped an emergency clause designed to allow the change to take effect upon the governor’s signature. The House bill is under review by the Senate.

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Truman Braslaw
Bill Aimed at Establishing Greater Broadband Access Fails in House Subcommittee

Winchester Star • February 9th, 2018

By Onofrio Castiglio

WINCHESTER — A bill aimed at establishing greater access to broadband in the commonwealth, filed by Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke County, was defeated along partisan lines in a House subcommittee last week.

The bill, HJ 106, would have required the state Broadband Advisory Council to develop a ratings system for communities indicating which parts of the commonwealth would yield the highest returns (in terms of households granted broadband access) on investment in broadband expansion.

After being referred to the House Committee on Rules, the bill was passed by indefinitely in a 4-to-3 vote along party lines.

“It’s dead,” Gooditis said on Thursday.

Broadband refers to the wide bandwidth data transmission necessary for high speed internet. Increasingly, access to broadband is cited as a fundamental advantage, if not a necessity, for individuals competing for jobs, education and other resources in the modern economy. Densely populated metropolitan areas are typically well served with broadband by private telecommunications companies, while sparsely populated rural areas are often left out because of the cost telecom companies face offering access in those regions.

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Truman Braslaw
Loudoun Delegation Hits its Stride in Richmond

Loudoun Now • January 31, 2018

By Renss Greene

Loudoun’s legislators in the General Assembly this year include a lot of freshmen, but for the most part that hasn’t slowed them down filing bills.

The delegation is pushing bills in the Senate and a newly rebalanced House of Delegates ranging from local problems like tolls on the Dulles Greenway and rural broadband access to statewide issues like redistricting and net neutrality.

Every Democrat representing Loudoun in the House of Delegates got behind a bill that would require the three school systems that do not offer universal full-day kindergarten to adopt and implement a plan to phase it in. Loudoun, Virginia Beach, and Chesapeake are the three remaining school districts in the state that do not provide a full school day to every kindergartener.

Loudoun’s elementary schools have expanded their full-day kindergarten offerings each year. By this fall, assuming the School Board adopts the budget drafted by Superintendent Eric Williams, 93 percent of Loudoun kindergarteners will attend a full day. Williams has said reaching that 100 percent threshold will take additional money to build three-classroom additions at the four elementary schools that will still not have the program, which all sit in the fastest growing part of the county.

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Truman Braslaw