Email signup
Some geese float on the Occoquan River (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

A committee in the Virginia House of Delegates on Friday advanced to the House floor a bill that would require localities to conduct water studies prior to approving data centers.

The bill, introduced by Del. Josh Thomas, a freshman Democrat who represents western Prince William County in the 21st District, would encourage local governments undergo site assessment to examine the effect of data centers on water usage, carbon emissions and agricultural resources.

Groups in Northern Virginia have long called for water studies to be conducted at the sites of proposed data centers, which use large amounts of liquid to cool the thousands of computers found within.

Data centers’ impact on local water sources was most notably questioned prior to the recent approval of the PW Digital Gateway tech corridor when the Fairfax County Water Authority sent a letter to Prince William County officials in 2022 asking that one be performed. To the dismay of anti-data center activists and environmental advocates, the county never performed a comprehensive study of the potential impacts on water quality in the Occoquan Reservoir from the Digital Gateway.

“This vote is a wake-up call to the data center industry,” Thomas said in a statement. The citizens of the Commonwealth, especially those in western Prince William County, have demanded more transparency in the data center siting process, and this bill is a critical first step. HB338 will encourage localities to analyze the impact of data centers on the community before projects are approved – not after.”

He continued, “While these centers can be an important source of tax revenue for localities, we cannot allow unrestrained development to harm our communities. I’m pleased to see that the General Assembly is weighing in on the issue of data center development. My colleagues and I will continue to push this legislation all the way to the Governor’s desk.”

The House Counties, Cities, and Towns Committee on Friday sent the bill to the House floor for a vote. Should the House approve the legislation, the Virginia Senate and Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin must also sign off for it to become law.

Del. Ian Lovejoy, a Republican member of the committee who represents western Prince William, voted in favor of reporting the bill to the House floor.

“As co-patron of HB338 I was happy to see it move forward,” Lovejoy said in a text message. “As we await the outcome of the data center [study], any incremental gain in adding reasonable accountability to the data center siting process in a win.”

Democratic Sen. Danica Roem, a data center critic who also represents western Prince William and is a patron of the bill, also called the legislation a “win” and a step toward encouraging “local governments to complete work on application reviews prior to voting.”

Roem continued, “My hope is that this will lead our new Board of County Supervisors and staff to work collaboratively together to serve the best interests of Prince William County residents. This is the first step on the road to reform.”

Other Northern Virginia Democrats who are patrons of the bill championed its advancement to the House floor.

“The most important thing about sustainable development is to listen to our communities, and this bill makes progress in ensuring that big businesses listen to our communities as they develop technologies for the 21st century,” Democratic Del. Dan Helmer of Fairfax said in a news release from Thomas’ office. “We’re proud to be working with leaders at the local, state, and federal level to protect our climate and ensure our communities are heard.”

Del. Kannan Srinivasan, a Loudoun County Democrat, underscored the importance of evaluating the environmental impacts of data centers. “I am excited to support my fellow classmate as a Chief Co-Patron on his bill,” Srinivasan said in the news release.

This article was written by FFXnow’s news partner InsideNoVa.com and republished with permission. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.

0 Comments
Trees line Park Street near the Church Street intersection in Vienna (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Future developers in Vienna may have half as much time to cultivate tree shade on their properties.

The Virginia State Senate recently passed legislation that would enable Vienna to adopt 10-year tree canopy requirements in place of the current 20-year time frame, getting the town a step closer to accomplishing one of its top priorities for the past couple of years.

Senate Bill 316 from Sen. Saddam Azlan Salim (D-37) passed the Senate 28-12 on Jan. 25 and now awaits a vote in the House of Delegates, which could send it to Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

“The Town of Vienna has made this a priority in their legislative agenda for the past few years,” Salim’s office told FFXnow. “Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, [meaning] localities are required to get permission from the state legislature to do things.”

An identical bill filed in the House by Del. Holly Seibold (D-12) got rolled into a larger bill dealing with tree preservation. Read before the full House for the first time yesterday (Tuesday), House Bill 1100 would let all localities require developers to conserve trees, an authority currently only available to Northern Virginia.

The Vienna Town Council has been advocating for the ability to strengthen its tree canopy rules for developers since at least 2017, but the issue took on new urgency after a 2022 study found that the town had lost 13% of its tree canopy in the past decade.

The request to amend state law so the town could offer credits for the preservation of medium and large trees or require developers to cover at least 20% of a lot with tree canopy in 10 years, rather than 20, topped the council’s legislative agenda for the General Assembly’s 2024 session.

Right now, the 10-year canopy requirement is only an option for Williamsburg City and localities like Fairfax County that had adopted the provision before 1990, according to the Town of Vienna.

In the legislative agenda, the town council also called for the option to protect trees notable for their age, species, size “or other special significance”:

Given the vital role that trees play in the protecting our urban environments, and their contributions to the local look and feel of neighborhoods, decisions over tree policies should be determined at the local level, reflecting the wishes of the local residents. Trees canopy requirements or incentives should also be included in acceptable best management practices for storm water management.

While Salim’s bill only addresses the time frame for developers, the Vienna Town Council is poised to adopt other tree preservation standards that it already has the authority to implement.

The proposed ordinances would increase the minimum tree-canopy requirement from 20% to 25% lot coverage, require developers to preserve trees when possible to meet their requirements, create a tree planting fund and replace the town’s tree board with an appointed commission.

The ordinances were expected to get a vote on Feb. 26, but the town council agreed on Monday (Feb. 5) to defer advertising their intended adoption, partly to see what happens with the state legislation and partly to give members more time to comment on the final draft.

Councilmember Chuck Anderson, who proposed the deferral, admitted he needed more time to read the ordinances after a separate bill to allow a casino in Tysons “sucked all the oxygen out of the room.” Vienna publicly opposed the casino bill, which was officially postponed to 2025 by the Senate’s finance committee yesterday (Tuesday).

“Since this is so important to me personally, I really want to spend some time looking at the final draft and to make sure it’s basically as good as possible,” Anderson said of the tree ordinances. “…I’m not looking for major changes at all, but I would just like one more shot at looking at this carefully before we enact this.”

The council will now vote on publicizing its intent to adopt the ordinances at its Feb. 26 meeting. The council’s first meeting after the required 10-day waiting period will be on March 18.

Vienna Parks and Recreation Department Director Leslie Herman and Town Attorney Steven Briglia confirmed to FFXnow that the outcome of the state legislation won’t affect the council’s ability to adopt its tree canopy preservation ordinances.

“Should the bill pass, and Vienna is allowed to require a 10-year time frame for tree canopy requirements, the newly adopted Town code amendments to the ordinance will need to be amended by the Council to reflect that change,” Herman said.

0 Comments
The Virginia Senate’s finance committee voted to delay consideration of Senate Bill 675, which would make Fairfax County eligible for a casino, until 2025 (via Virginia Senate)

Consideration of legislation to make Fairfax County eligible for a casino has officially been put on hold until 2025.

The Virginia Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee voted 13-2 this morning (Tuesday) to continue Senate Bill 675 to next year, affirming a recommendation made last Thursday (Feb. 1) by its resources subcommittee.

The vote came after a failed effort by state Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-33) to more forcefully table the bill from Sen. Dave Marsden (D-35), who has advocated for a casino in Tysons specifically as a potential revenue boost for both Fairfax County and the state.

Urging her fellow committee members to pass the bill by indefinitely, Boysko says “hundreds and hundreds” of local community members had voiced opposition to a possible casino at a town hall she and other representatives of the Reston and McLean areas held on Saturday (Feb. 3).

The town hall drew over 400 people, according to Boysko’s office. The senator told FFXnow that she has also received “thousands and thousands of letters and emails and calls from constituents” opposed to a casino.

“We’ve heard [the opposition] all year long,” Boysko said at the committee meeting, recalling a doctor’s appointment she had last summer where the doctor told her that he didn’t want a casino in the area. “…I ask my colleagues to respect the will of the neighbors I have.”

In addition to emphasizing the opposition from area residents, Boysko and Sen. Barbara Favola (D-40) warned that Marsden’s bill sets a new precedent for determining where casinos can be built in Virginia.

The five localities currently eligible for a casino — Portsmouth, Danville, Bristol, Norfolk and Richmond — all requested that authority from the General Assembly, as has Petersburg, which is being considered as a replacement for Richmond after the voters in the state capital rejected a referendum twice.

Though they didn’t officially oppose the legislation, Fairfax County leaders have stressed that they didn’t ask for the county to be added to the list of eligible casino hosts and weren’t consulted about the proposed development.

SB 675 also deviates by laying out criteria that limits potential sites for a casino to somewhere in Tysons near a Silver Line Metro station outside the Capital Beltway. Comstock is reportedly eying the abandoned Exclusive Automotive Group lot at 8546 Leesburg Pike, according to Marsden.

“This would set a precedent that is very different from our current framework, and I don’t want to go down that path,” said Favola, who represents Arlington.

However, Marsden argued that a casino would bring in substantial new revenue at a time when offices are struggling and Metro needs more funding from Virginia, D.C. and Maryland to avoid potentially drastic budget cuts.

The envisioned casino development from Comstock would also include a conference center, hotel and concert venue, he noted.

“There’s no reason right now for people to come to Fairfax County,” Marsden said. “…We don’t get visitors, we don’t have tourism.” Read More

0 Comments
Books and ABC blocks on a classroom desk (via Element5 Digital on Unsplash)

Two Virginia lawmakers are proposing sweeping measures to improve the state’s provision of special education services as criticisms from parents and the federal government over Virginia’s compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act continue.

Sponsored by Del. Carrie Coyner, R-Chesterfield, and Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, the proposals would create a statewide system to oversee the development and use of individualized education programs (IEPs) for students with special needs, require more training for educators about how to provide inclusive special education instruction, set up eight regional “special education parent support centers” and provide additional specialists to divisions.

“It’s no secret we are failing our students with disabilities in Virginia,” said Coyner during a Jan. 30 hearing on the legislation.

Federal law requires states to provide all students with disabilities a “free appropriate public education.” Among the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is that schools must offer an IEP and that “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives,” according to a 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

“This bill ensures that there is monitoring of this civil rights law at the state level, and it’s very necessary,” said Kandise Lucas, a special education advocate, during a recent House Education subcommittee meeting.

Virginia has almost 181,000 students receiving special education services this school year, an increase of nearly 7,000 students from a year ago. But the state has struggled to meet the demands of students with disabilities.

Virginia has repeatedly been criticized by the federal government for problems with providing special education services. A June 2020 report by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs determined that Virginia “does not have the procedures and practices that are reasonably designed to enable the state to exercise general supervision over all educational programs for children with disabilities.”

The Virginia Department of Education disputed some of the findings, saying the federal office included “factual inaccuracies.”

However, in a Feb. 17, 2023 letter from OSEP, the office identified “significant new or continued areas of concerns” with how the state was complying with supervision, dispute resolution and confidentiality requirements in IDEA. In particular, it concluded Virginia “does not have procedures and practices that are reasonably designed to ensure a timely resolution process” for complaints and said at least five districts were not adhering to IDEA regulations.

Individual school divisions have also been faulted by federal officials. In November 2022, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights found Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia’s largest school district, had failed (link added by FFXnow) to provide thousands of students with disabilities the education they were entitled to receive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

State reviews have also echoed many federal criticisms. In 2020, the Joint Legislative and Audit Review Commission identified major shortcomings in the state’s provision of special education services, including low-quality IEPs, a lack of knowledge among educators about how to effectively support students with disabilities and shortfalls in the Virginia Department of Education’s oversight of local divisions.

Researchers who reviewed 90 randomly selected IEPs found about half lacked goals for academic progress or improved functioning, which are required by federal law. About 37% of parents believed the services outlined in their child’s IEP were only “somewhat” or “not at all appropriate.”

A third of the special education directors interviewed by JLARC said only half or fewer administrators and general education teachers in their division had the knowledge or skills necessary to support students with disabilities. However, researchers pointed out that state regulations only required “minimal” training in special education for administrators.

Overall, the report observed Virginia students with severe, less common or multiple disabilities graduated at a rate lower than those with more common disabilities. Additionally, it found a persistent shortage of special education teachers, with many school divisions relying on underprepared teachers to fill gaps. Read More

0 Comments
State Sen. Dave Marsden presents SB 675, which would make Fairfax County eligible for a casino, before a Senate resources subcommittee (via Virginia Senate)

(Updated at 11:30 a.m. on 2/2/2024) The push to allow a casino in Fairfax County has stalled — at least for 2024.

A Virginia Senate subcommittee voted this afternoon (Thursday) to “continue” Senate Bill 675 until next year so a more in-depth analysis of the potential casino can be conducted.

The postponement came despite apparent support for the proposal by Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-18), who chairs the Senate Finance & Appropriations resources subcommittee and quipped that she’s been called “the casino queen” during the meeting.

Sen. Dave Marsden (D-35), who patroned the bill that would make Fairfax County — specifically Tysons — eligible for a casino, previously told FFXnow that he was hopeful it would pass, noting that Lucas, who also chairs the overall finance committee, “likes [the] bill.”

However, some senators, led by Creigh Deeds (D-11), questioned whether the county had been sufficiently studied as a possible host locality. Tyler Williams, a subcommittee staffer, confirmed that the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission looked at Northern Virginia as part of a casino gaming study in 2019, but Fairfax County wasn’t being considered individually at the time.

The study estimated that a Northern Virginia casino would employ 3,200 workers and bring in an additional $155 million in tax revenue to the state, including about $100 million that Virginia residents are currently spending at out-of-state casinos, such as MGM National Harbor in Maryland.

“I would like to see some updated projections, because I would like to keep this bill alive,” Lucas said before the subcommitte voted.

Marsden first introduced legislation that would allow a casino along the Silver Line last year, but the bill was quickly withdrawn to allow for more research. Patch reported in September that the proposal would be revived during the 2024 General Assembly session, with developer Comstock targeting the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station area as a possible site.

However, after Reston Association and other community groups began to marshal opposition to the impending legislation, Marsden filed a bill on Jan. 17 with criteria that narrowed the potential locations to Tysons. The bill advanced to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee from a general laws committee on Jan. 24.

Marsden has argued that a casino could give Fairfax County a new source of tax revenue with the office market in flux, and he maintained at today’s meeting that the bill is intended to give the county the authority to make its own decision. If the bill eventually becomes law, a voter referendum would still be required to authorize a casino.

“I think it’s time to send this to the local government [to] make their own decisions about this. There’s plenty of local control here,” Marsden said.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors hasn’t adopted an official stance on the legislation, but members made their reservations clear in a legislative committee meeting last Friday (Jan. 26) and in a letter that Chairman Jeff McKay sent to General Assembly leaders.

In addition to questioning whether the county would actually reap the revenue benefits touted by casino proponents, the supervisors stressed that they hadn’t requested the authority for an establishment and hadn’t been consulted by Marsden or the prospective developers.

According to Marsden, Comstock’s vision includes a conference center, arts venue and hotel, along with a casino.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn told the resources subcommittee that he’s “a strong no” on the possibility of a Fairfax County casino. Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert and Herndon Town Councilmember Naila Alam also stated that they oppose SB 675.

“I’m very happy that the subcommittee members listened to the community and the people elected to represent them,” Alcorn said in a statement, thanking Colbert and Alam for joining him in testifying. “It is a big victory for everyone who cares about good government!”

Marsden says he’s “disappointed” by the outcome, while that the vote still keeps the bill alive until 2025.

“No one has any other ideas to give Fairfax County a brighter revenue future,” he told FFXnow.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay praised the resources subcommittee’s vote as “the right thing” to do, hopefully enabling the community to learn more about the proposed casino project.

The Senate finance committee will formally vote on whether to accept the subcommittee’s recommendation next Tuesday (Feb. 6).

“We only learned many of those details in dribbles as the bill was sorted out and after it was introduced, and we still do not have all of the information we need,” McKay told FFXnow. “The community deserves to know all the details of a major proposal like this, details such as what is actually included in the proposal, the proposed site, potential revenues, community impacts, traffic impacts, and more, before the General Assembly considers it.”

0 Comments
A woman wearing a college graduation cap (via MD Duran on Unsplash)

Legislation banning Virginia’s public colleges and universities from providing special treatment in admissions decisions to students related to alumni and donors is on track to head to Gov. Glenn Youngkin later this session.

On Tuesday, the Virginia House joined the Senate in passing the proposal on a unanimous vote. Both bills, which are identical, must now pass in the opposite chambers before they are sent to the governor for his approval.

Youngkin spokesman Christian Martinez has signaled the governor is likely to sign the measures.

“The governor will review any legislation that comes to his desk, but believes admission to Virginia’s universities and colleges should be based on merit,” he said.

The proposed ban comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ended affirmative action at higher education institutions nationwide in June. Since the court’s ruling that race-conscious admissions policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina were unconstitutional, schools in the commonwealth have begun changing their admissions policies.

A study by think tank Education Reform Now found “most beneficiaries of legacy preferences are white.” It also identified Virginia as one of five states where a majority of public colleges and universities offer admissions advantages to the children of alumni.

“All that House Bill 48 says is that in considering admissions to college and our public universities here in the commonwealth of Virginia, whether your parents went there or whether your parents are donors to the institution will play no role in deciding who is accepted to the college,” said Del. Dan Helmer, D-Fairfax, who is carrying the House bill, during a subcommittee meeting earlier this month.

Both Democrats and Republicans have supported the change.

“I think it’s absolutely discriminatory to grant special privileges to people based on what their parents did, what they gave, where they went to college,” said Del. Thomas Garrett, R-Goochland, at the same meeting.

Garrett said he’s supporting the proposal to “address discrimination and create a level playing field for all Virginians.”

Last week, the Senate version of the bill, patroned by Sen. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Richmond, also passed with unanimous support.

Education Reform Now says more than 100 colleges and universities have ended legacy admissions since 2015, but 787 still used the practice as of 2020.

Photo via MD Duran on Unsplash. This article was reported and written by the Virginia Mercury, and has been reprinted under a Creative Commons license.

0 Comments
A handgun with bullets (via Tom Def on Unsplash)

In an attempt to stem what Democratic lawmakers say is an epidemic of guns being stolen from vehicles, the Virginia Senate passed legislation Thursday that would create a $500 civil penalty for firearm owners who leave handguns on a car seat or other areas visible to passersby.

The legislation, one of the first gun control measures put to a full vote in either chamber this year, still needs to pass the House of Delegates and is likely at risk of being vetoed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin after the session ends. Still, the issue highlights the two parties’ diverging views on how to address gun crime, with Democrats trying to reduce the number of guns flowing onto the streets and Republicans calling for tougher enforcement of existing laws.

Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax, said the bill he’s sponsoring uses a “light touch” to try to limit the supply of guns available to people who shouldn’t have them.

“We cannot have our vehicles here in the commonwealth act as vending machines for firearms,” Marsden said.

If authorities spot a vehicle with a visible handgun inside, the bill would allow them to have the vehicle towed. The law would apply to any “unattended motor vehicle” left on a public highway or public property where neither the driver nor a passenger can see it.

To illustrate the extent of the problem they’re attempting to solve, Democratic lawmakers pointed to recent statistics presented by the Richmond Police Department showing a major uptick in the number of guns stolen from vehicles in Virginia’s capital. There were 225 such thefts in 2017, according to city police, and 637 in 2022.

All 19 Republicans in the Senate voted against the bill, with the chamber’s 21 Democrats voting to pass it.

Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg, said the fundamental problem is people breaking into cars to begin with, adding that thieves could steal money or anything else of value left in a car and use the proceeds to buy a gun.

“We have to stop it at the beginning,” Peake said. “And that is by stopping people who are breaking into cars.”

Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, argued the bill would have no impact because he’s doubtful many gun owners are so careless as to leave a handgun in plain sight for would-be thieves. The state should instead focus on different kinds of incentives for safe storage, Obenshain said, such as a bill passed in 2023 that created a $300 tax credit to help Virginians buy gun safes and lockboxes.

“We ought not be punishing victims of crimes,” Obenshain said.

Democratic senators said the law’s passage alone would send a message to Virginia gun owners to be more thoughtful about how they store firearms in vehicles.

“Responsible gun owners ought to get in the habit of putting their gun in the glovebox,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax. “Put it in the glovebox every time they get out of their car. Just make it a habit.”

Photo via Tom Def on Unsplash. This article was reported and written by the Virginia Mercury, and has been reprinted under a Creative Commons license.

0 Comments
The Board of Supervisors legislative committee discusses the proposed Fairfax County casino bill at a meeting on Jan. 26 (via Fairfax County)

Updated at 10:40 a.m. on 2/1/2024The bill to make Fairfax County eligible for a casino has been assigned to the Virginia Senate Finance and Appropriations’ resources subcommittee, which is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. today (Thursday).

Earlier: Local opposition to the prospect of a casino in Fairfax County continues to escalate.

Though they stopped short of officially denouncing it, county supervisors expressed skepticism of the bill being debated in the Virginia State Senate and aired frustrations about not being consulted about the potential development at a legislative committee meeting on Friday (Jan. 26).

In a letter generally supported by his fellow board members, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay noted that the county, on principle, doesn’t usually oppose legislation that supports local authority, but this is one authority it didn’t request — unlike the cities currently eligible for a casino.

“I think what our focus needs to be on at this point in time is reminding folks we didn’t ask for this. This concept was derived in a vacuum,” McKay said at the committee meeting. “I saw the bill only after the General Assembly began their session, and we need to protect ourselves in the event this bill is approved by making sure that we put out there what our concerns are on this.”

Sent to House of Delegates Speaker Del. Don Scott and the Senate and House majority and minority leaders, the letter highlights a lack of engagement with county officials and the community by “stakeholders and the patron of this legislation.” Senate Bill 675 was filed by state Sen. Dave Marsden, who has confirmed that the developer Comstock proposed the casino, first in Reston and now in Tysons.

It also questions whether a casino would actually boost local commercial tax revenues as Marsden and other proponents have suggested.

Virginia taxes casino operators at a rate of 18 to 30%, depending on how much they make. That money goes into a Gaming Proceeds Fund run by the state treasury, which gives the equivalent of a 6-8% tax to each host locality. That means over 70% of the gaming tax revenue would go to the state, not Fairfax County, according to McKay.

“It’s a really bad financial deal,” McKay said, likening the revenue split to a school funding formula that county leaders argue shortchanges localities. “…We get hosed, we are the state’s ATM, and the financial model here at a minimum would have to improve dramatically before I would consider any referendum as a result of this bill.”

The four Virginia localities that have approved casinos — Portsmouth, Danville, Bristol and Norfolk — “were literally bankrupt” and in need of new revenue and an economic revitalization, McKay said. Petersburg, which might replace Richmond as a host city after the voters in the state capital rejected a casino referendum twice, has similarly struggled.

In contrast, Tysons continues “to thrive,” McKay’s letter says, despite the impact of the pandemic and remote work on offices. The area even has an emerging “entertainment district” in Capital One Center with a concert venue and hotel — facilities reportedly included in the casino development.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn shared a map of where a casino could be located in Tysons based on criteria in Senate Bill 675 (courtesy Hunter Mill District Office)

While more arts and convention space “is very much needed” in Tysons, the county’s lack of involvement in the casino talks and the revenue-sharing arrangement are concerns, said Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik, who represents most of Tysons.

Stressing that her office hasn’t seen any development plan, she praised the “balanced approach” of McKay’s letter, which doesn’t take a stance on Marsden’s bill but notes that “in its current form [it’s] likely to result in strong community opposition to a future referendum.” Read More

0 Comments
State Sen. Dave Marsden argue for his bill to make Fairfax County eligible for a casino before the state Senate’s subcommittee on gaming (via Senate of Virginia)

Updated at 6 p.m.The Senate General Laws and Technology Committee voted 10-4 with one abstention this afternoon to report Senate Bill 675 to the finance committee, which is next scheduled to meet on Tuesday, Jan. 30.

The committee will review the bill and could potentially kill it, but state Sen. Dave Marsden, who’s on the committee, says he’s confident it will pass.

Earlier: A bill that could allow a casino in Fairfax County will get a full state Senate committee hearing today (Wednesday) after just barely advancing out of a subcommittee yesterday.

The subcommittee on gaming was evenly split on state Sen. Dave Marsden’s proposal to make the county the sixth locality in Virginia eligible to host a casino, joining Bristol, Portsmouth, Danville, Norfolk and — for now — Richmond.

As promised, Marsden (D-35) put forward a substitute bill yesterday that narrowed the potential sites for the future casino down to Tysons, excluding Reston in response to lobbying by local residents and civic organizations like Reston Association.

Senate Bill 675 now states that the casino should be within two miles of a “regional enclosed mall” that’s at least 1.5 million square feet in size, a change from the initial version filed last week that said the site should be in two miles of a “major shopping destination.”

Other criteria were unchanged, including that it must be a quarter-mile from a Metro Silver Line station, part of a mixed-use development and outside of the Capital Beltway (I-495).

Though an exact location isn’t mentioned in the legislation, Marsden confirmed to FFXnow last week that developer Comstock is targeting the former Aston Martin and Bentley dealership near the Spring Hill Metro station for an entertainment complex with a casino, concert venue and conference center.

Before the subcommittee, which was chaired by Sen. Jeremy McPike (D-29), Marsden made the case that revenue from the casino could help “resurrect Fairfax County’s economy” from a stagnant office market that has squeezed the commercial tax base.

Tysons in particular is seeing a 20% office vacancy rate, and foot traffic to office buildings is just 70% of pre-pandemic levels, according to a market study that the Tysons Community Alliance released last summer. Marsden noted that placing a casino on the Silver Line would make it accessible to visitors in D.C. and Maryland as well as to the west in Loudoun County.

“It’s actually closer than MGM [National Harbor],” Marsden said. “It would be easy for people to come, and we’re also not just envisioning a casino here. What we’re talking about is a conference center that does not exist in Fairfax County. We’re also talking about a hotel and concert venue.” Read More

0 Comments
A woman in a job interview (via Tim Gouw on Unsplash)

Amid a docket of new policy proposals, a Virginia Senate panel heard a familiar one Monday when Sen. Jennifer Boysko again presented legislation to require employers to list a wage or salary range in all job postings and prohibit them from asking prospective employees for a salary history.

“This is the eighth time I have introduced this legislation,” Boysko told the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee before vowing to keep reintroducing the measure until it reaches the governor’s desk.

Boysko has pitched Senate Bill 370 as a way to help remedy gender pay gaps by deterring employers from relying on prior salaries to craft future compensation. The idea is that because women in Virginia as a group still make less than men, basing salary offers on past wages could perpetuate those disparities.

“Salary history is often a reflection of past discrimination,” Emily Yen, a lobbyist for the Virginia Education Association, told lawmakers.

Last April, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in Virginia, the median usual weekly earnings of women who worked full-time were 80% of what their male counterparts received. Full-time workers were considered people who usually worked 35 or more hours per week at their sole or principal job.

Women’s labor advocates have also argued requiring employers to disclose wage or salary ranges provides needed transparency that can dampen inequalities by putting male and female applicants on more equal footing in compensation negotiations.

“When employers negotiate without giving salary range information to job applicants, applicants are more likely to rely on their past pay as a negotiation reference point, which perpetuates existing pay gaps,” wrote the National Women’s Law Center in a brief.

Boysko’s legislation would not prohibit prospective employees from “voluntarily disclosing wage or salary history, including for the purpose of negotiating wages or salary after an initial offer of employment.”

Employers who violated the new rules would be subject to civil penalties of between $1,000 and $4,000, depending on their history of violations, as well as potential damages.

The Senate committee passed Boysko’s legislation on a 9-6 party-line vote after concerns from Republicans about whether the bill offered employers a right to appeal any violation determinations by the state Commissioner of Labor and Industry.

“If you’re having a penalty, you should be able to appeal it to a court,” said Senate Minority Leader Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover.

The bill was amended in committee to outline an appeals process. It now heads to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee for review.

Photo via Tim Gouw on Unsplash. This article was reported and written by the Virginia Mercury, and has been reprinted under a Creative Commons license.

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list