Armed Prisoner at Large nearby INOVA Fairfax

Just finished watching Chief Ed Roesler of the Fairfax County Police Dept giving a live interview outside of INOVA Fairfax on the escaped prisoner situation.  The Chief did an excellent job answering all questions.

Apparently the suspect escaped from two armed guards at INOVA around 3 a.m.  He was being held by private guards (?), although he was under Federal detention.  He took a gun from one of the guards and got away.  A shot was fired but there are no other details.  He is currently at large.

I represent the neighborhoods around INOVA Fairfax, which have natural areas with tall trees and hidden stream beds.  Lots of hiding places.  There are schools nearby, but fortunately it’s Spring Break.  The police have already been “reverse 911″ calling neighbors to let them know about the situation.

Hospital workers at INOVA are reporting to work, as always, but staging at Falls Church High School.  Again, everyone is reacting very professionally.

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Can Anyone Beat Kentucky?

In the light and heat generated by our current political controversies, we often forget about what really matters this time of year:  college basketball.

Normally a March Madness tournament has several subplots.  This year there is only one:  can anyone beat Kentucky?

The Wildcats have two superstars down low (Cauley-Stein and Townes) and several more on the perimeter (the Harrison twins).  All of these guys will play in the NBA and will play for many, many years.  Coach Calipari keeps them playing at a consistently high level, which is not easy when you’re coaching 18 and 19 year olds.

(ed. note:  I’m not a fan of the “one and done” rule, which essentially requires one semester in school before a player goes pro.  Don’t see the point.  But that’s another post).

But college sports is about hope.  That’s what makes it so great.  Last night, Notre Dame came pretty close, up five with a couple minutes to go before the ‘Cats took care of business.  The three point line means that a hot shooting team is never out of it — and can pull an upset against a taller, more talented team.  On Wisconsin?

The early exit of the UVA Cavaliers was disappointing but not unexpected.  Tom Izzo and Michigan State are peaking at the right time, and Tony Bennett’s boys didn’t have a good offensive game over the last month of the season.  To win you must score.

Related side issue:  do we have to see Duke in yet another Final Four?

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“Surveillance Technology” Bill Faces Unexpected Threat

This session, a bipartisan group of lawmakers (organized by the ACLU) took a significant step towards personal freedom by passing SB 965, which put strict limits on the ability of state and local governments to collect personal information, when the data is of “unknown relevance” and not part of an actual investigation.

The legislation was initially motivated by the use of License Plate Readers, but eventually encompassed other modern “Orwellian” technologies which can vacuum up cell phone records, email records, Internet search records and other personal data – and use them at the government’s discretion.   All of this violates our fundamental right as citizens, which is to be left alone when we’re causing no trouble.

My bill passed the Senate unanimously (38-0) and received only 2-3 “no” votes in the House.  I believe the final vote on the conference report, which utilized the broad “surveillance technology” language, was unanimous.

Today, I learned that the Governor will be amending this bill to essentially destroy its purpose:  (i) by limiting it to License Plate Readers (which is merely the latest surveillance technology) and (ii) by allowing governments to keep this unauthorized data for sixty days, even where there is no possible reason for doing so.

The justification for this quasi-veto is that our bill might threaten the use of “body cameras,” which is not true since those images are obviously relevant to the officer’s interaction with a defined suspect.   It’s also told to me that certain counties (i.e. Arlington) hold the plate images for a year, so that sixty days is a “compromise” measure.

No, it’s not.  The whole purpose of constitutional government is that government only has those powers authorized by law.  Nobody has authorized “surveillance technology” used without a warrant and or investigatory purpose against ordinary and unsuspecting citizens.  Why should we have to show an injury?  Why should there be a compromise?

SB 965 was a major step forward for personal freedom and civil liberty.  It was supported by a truly novel alliance of supporters and led by civil liberty advocates.  This amendment leaves it in tatters — and does so based on arguments that were conclusively rejected by the legislative process just weeks ago.

I trust the Assembly will reject these amendments and keep this bill alive.  The citizens of Virginia deserve that much.

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Governor Signs Budget without Amendment

What a difference a year makes.  A year ago, the Virginia economy was struggling and the House/Senate were in a stalemate on the issue of Medicaid expansion.

This year, the Governor signed the Assembly’s amendments to the budget without a single correction or change.  This action was predicated on the reality that the R’s control both legislative bodies and there’s little chance that a material change to the budget (e.g. closing the coverage gap) would pass.

More notably, the budget did more and looked better because of a marginal, yet noticeable, upswing in the Virginia economy which added another $520M to our anticipated revenues, above the pessimistic 2014 projections.

Our 2015 budget now gives a 2% pay increase to state employees (long overdue), while setting aside additional funds for the Rainy Day Fund.  It eliminates the “reversion clearing account,” which annually sweeps away residual funds from local governments.  Finally, it prepays a portion of our VRS loan and spends $140M in one-time capital needs.  The idea for the last piece is to spend at least a portion of the surplus, without creating a new baseline for annual spending.

There is a small number of additional “General Fund” items, which includes a targeted compensation increase for State Police and an extra General District Court judge for Fairfax County (which means that we’ll add three new GDC judges this year, along with two new Circuit Court judges).

All in all, it’s a pretty good budget.  The fact that the Governor signed it without amendment will also significantly shorten our veto session on April 15, which is always appreciated.


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Following Up with “Save Sweet Briar”

It’s been eleven days since my letter to the Attorney General questioning the announced closure of Sweet Briar College.  In that time, there has been unprecedented interest in keeping the historic school open.

(ed. note:  My initial Facebook post on Sweetbriar got over 20,000 hits, which is a record for me, even exceeding the 2013 post seeking Bob McDonnell’s resignation.)

National publications such as the New York Times have written front page articles.  Alumnae have raised $3 million and hired their own lawyer.  Meanwhile, the Sweet Briar administration, which announced the closure without warning, makes bizarre comments such as the school needs a $250 million endowment to survive  — for a 530 student school with an existing campus.   (Decision first, reasons afterwards).

The latest issue is an apparent confrontation with local Amherst County, which apparently either issued or guaranteed debt on the school’s behalf.  According to my information, the County is asking hard questions of the administration and formally demanding that it not shred any records.

Time is ticking.  If only from the enormous interest generated by this story, there is sufficient basis to try and save the school.  In addition, the actions by the Board and President, in my frank opinion, do not comply with the school’s mission or their own duty to fulfill that mission.  Nor has anyone proved the type of extraordinary circumstances that would justify closing.

Immediate action is necessary.  Each day that goes by lessens the school’s chance of survival, especially when the current Board treats the closing as a fait accompli.

Under Virginia law, the Attorney General has a role to play in ensuring that a donor’s intent is respected, even if the gift is made to a private non-profit. This is a unique opportunity to use that authority, i.e. by challenging the shut-down in court on the grounds that it contravenes the original gift of the land

This AG needs to get involved, before it’s too late.

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