Morning Notes

FCPS Can Keep Enforcing Mask Mandate — An Arlington County judge ruled yesterday (Tuesday) that Fairfax County Public Schools and the six other districts engaged in a lawsuit against Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order can enforce their requirements until the legal challenge is resolved. The ruling came as the state Senate, led by Sen. Chap Petersen, approved a measure to let parents opt out of school mask mandates. [The Washington Post]

I-495 Pedestrian Bridge Under Construction — “Check out the progress on this bicycle and pedestrian bridge over I-495 and the connecting shared-use path in Tysons! This link from Tysons One Pl/Fashion Blvd to Old Meadow Rd and Provincial Dr is scheduled for completion this summer.” [VDOT Northern Virginia/Twitter]

Keam’s Roundabout Funding Bill Dies — A House of Delegates subcommittee voted to table legislation proposed by Del. Mark Keam, who represents Vienna and much of Tysons, that would’ve given more funding to sidewalk and roundabout projects. Virginia currently requires regional transportation funds to be prioritized based on congestion relief. [Sun Gazette]

Valentine’s Day Market Coming to Tysons — “Need a gift for your Valentine? @CelebrateFFX has you covered! Stop by the Loving Shop Local Market, this Saturday, Feb. 12 from 12-5 PM at The PARC for all of your Valentine’s Day essentials!” [Tysons Partnership/Twitter]

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Del. Mark Keam is preparing for a sixth term representing Virginia’s 35th House District, which includes Tysons and Vienna (courtesy Mark Keam)

The Virginia General Assembly is one week away from starting its 2022 legislative session, but Del. Mark Keam (D-35th District) still has a lot of questions.

To start with, it’s unclear exactly how the session will proceed as COVID-19 surges across the Commonwealth, which is now averaging more than 14,000 cases a day.

“It’s a huge question mark,” Keam, who represents Tysons and Vienna, said in a phone interview on Dec. 31. “I don’t think anybody knows how it’s going to be, because we don’t know what [the omicron variant is] going to look like or if there’s another variant coming up again, and after the holidays, if there’s a superspreader…We don’t know.”

Last year’s regular session saw the House of Delegates and state Senate take differing approaches, as the former met remotely and the latter gathered in person with social-distancing rules in place. It took until August for the full legislature to meet in person.

While public hearings on the next state budget were conducted virtually yesterday (Wednesday), the General Assembly appears set to convene in Richmond on Jan. 12 in person.

However, no expectations for masks, social distancing, vaccinations, testing, and other health protocols have been announced yet. Keam says many Republicans refused to wear masks at previous in-person meetings, raising concerns about the number of people that will be mingling in the state Capitol building next week.

“Bottom line is we need to be very, very careful,” Keam said. “I would hope — and I certainly would think the Republicans would agree — that public safety is of the utmost importance.”

General Assembly Prepares for Leadership Transition

The uncertainty of the pandemic further complicates a session that will see significant changes in leadership, with the Republican Party taking over both the executive branch and the House for the first time since 2013.

Now in his sixth term after winning reelection on Nov. 2, Keam is returning to familiar territory with Democrats as the minority party in the House, but he says incoming Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s lack of prior political experience and the slow pace of staff and cabinet appointments make it difficult to know what to expect this year. Read More

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Fortune Feimster (via ICM Partners)

The Weekly Planner is a roundup of interesting events coming up over the next week in the Tysons area.

We’ve searched the web for events of note in Tysons, Vienna, Merrifield, McLean, and Falls Church. Know of any we’ve missed? Tell us!

Monday, Jan. 3

  • 2022 Legislative Session Preview (Online) — 7:30-9 p.m. — Delegates Mark Keam and Ken Plum, who represent the 35th and 36th districts, respectively, discuss critical issues facing the Virginia General Assembly, which will convene for its new session on Jan. 12. Register in advance to get the Zoom link.

Tuesday, Jan. 4

  • Weird, Wonderful History for Kids (Online) — 4:30-5:15 p.m. — Learn strange and bizarre facts about the origins of comic books from the Dolley Madison Library staff. This teaching series for kids ages 6 through 12 relies on art, games, stories, and skill-building exercises. Registration is required.

Wednesday, Jan. 5

  • Bilingual Hindi/English Storytime (Online) — 10:30-11 a.m. — An event geared for kids ages 3 to 5 will feature songs, rhymes and stories in both Hindi and English. Registration required.

Thursday, Jan. 6

  • Wesley Stace — 7:30 p.m at Jammin Java (227 Maple Ave. East) — Previously known as John Wesley Harding, this folk-pop singer-songwriter featured on the soundtrack of the movie “High Fidelity” is now performing under his given name. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. The show also features The Late Style Band.

Friday, Jan. 7

  • ‘Make Me Happy’ — 11 a.m.-6 p.m. at Falls Church Arts Gallery (700-B W. Broad St.) — Check out the works of three dozen artists, centered on works that make people smile. Free. Continues through Jan. 30.

Saturday, Jan. 8

  • MCC Winter Block Party — 1-5 p.m. at the McLean Community Center (1234 Ingleside Ave.) — Enjoy some outdoor and indoor activities, including ice skating and arts and crafts. There will be hot dogs, smores, and hot cocoa.

Sunday, Jan. 9

  • Fortune Feimster — 7 p.m. at Capital One Hall (7750 Capital One Tower Road) — Comedian Emily Fortune Feimster, who has appeared on shows from “The Mindy Project” to Comedy Central’s “This Is Not Happening,” comes to audiences live, following her 2020 Netflix special. Tickets start at $29.50.
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The Virginia State Capitol building in Richmond (via Doug Kerr/Flickr)

The Virginia General Assembly has wrapped up its first fully in-person session since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Convened on Aug. 2, the special session concluded on Tuesday (Aug. 10) after the House of Delegates and state Senate appointed eight new judges to the Virginia Court of Appeals and passed a plan to spend $3.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds.

The eight-day session marked the first time in 17 months that the State Capitol in Richmond hosted the entire legislature. While the Senate continued meeting in person throughout the pandemic, the House conducted most of its business remotely, with the exception of a one-day veto session in April 2020 and the initial days of a special session in August 2020.

“It was just really nice to see people again getting together,” Del. Mark Keam (D-35th) said by phone while driving back from Richmond on Tuesday.

The special session still required some adjustments in response to the continued threat of the coronavirus.

Plexiglas shields were erected around each legislator’s desk in both chambers, and Keam says all of the Democrats at least were fully vaccinated with masks donned throughout the session, though there was less consensus about the etiquette for greeting people.

“Some people shook hands. Some people just bumped their elbows,” Keam said. “…I can’t speak to what the Republicans are doing, but for the Democrats, we went out of our way to not only practice safe protocols, but also to show to the public that, you know, you’ve got to take this seriously still.”

For Keam, whose district includes Vienna and part of Tysons, highlights of the adopted American Rescue Plan Act budget bill include the $700 million to expand broadband with the goal of achieving universal access by 2024.

That kind of major investment would’ve taken much longer to put together without the federal funds, which were approved by Congress in March, Keam says, noting that while the need for broadband is most acute in Virginia’s rural areas, Fairfax County also has gaps in coverage.

“As a one-time expense, we’re finally able to catch up on the broadband infrastructure that we need,” he said.

As chair of House’s higher education subcommittee, Keam cited subsidizing financial aid for college students as another top priority. The General Assembly allocated $111 million to that, along with $250 million to upgrade ventilation systems in K-12 public schools.

Other ARPA funds were allocated to small business recovery, unemployment benefits, water and sewer infrastructure, and bonuses for some law enforcement officers. The bill also requires that the Department of Motor Vehicles resume walk-in services.

Keam and the rest of the recently formed Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus had hoped to see more money devoted to making government services — particularly the Virginia Employment Commission, which will receive more than $800 million — more accessible for people who are not fluent in English.

The budget includes $500,000 to help state agencies expand language access, according to a news release from the AAPI Caucus.

“Things like language [assistance] and other things that take more time to develop and hire more people, they didn’t think that we could use the money right away for that,” Keam said. “But that’s something that they want to work with us into the next year.” Read More

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The Town of Vienna is leading the way in Virginia with a newly conceived celebration of four amendments to the U.S. Constitution that enshrined the rights of people of color and women.

The town announced on Friday (March 12) that planning for the inaugural Liberty Amendments Month celebration is officially underway, and community organizations, businesses and individuals are encouraged to help shape the four weeks of festivities.

Liberty Amendments Month is the brainchild of Vienna Town Manager Mercury Payton, and the Vienna Town Council adopted a resolution on Dec. 7 to officially recognize the occasion. It has since been ratified by the Virginia General Assembly as well.

“We all can celebrate these amendments that ensure rights and liberties for each of us,” Payton said.

Patrons of the now-passed bill included Del. Mark Keam (D-Vienna) and state Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), who was one of Payton’s professors at Hampton University, Inside NOVA reports.

“I’m so proud that the Town of Vienna is leading the way in initiating this holiday and month-long commemoration of these fundamental rights that we all cherish,” Mayor Linda Colbert said. “I’m especially proud that Town Manager Mercury Payton came up with the idea and has worked hard to see it become a reality.”

In the wake of last summer’s racial justice protests, Payton conceived of Liberty Amendments Month as a celebration of the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Constitutional amendments, which abolished slavery, granted citizenship to anyone born or naturalized in the U.S., and extended voting rights to all citizens regardless of race and gender.

Liberty Amendments Month will begin on June 19 — also known as Juneteenth — with an educational event that will “offer a thoughtful reflection on the liberties assured by these four amendments to the U.S. Constitution,” according to the town.

Each of the next four weeks will be dedicated to one of the four liberty amendments with contests, lectures, classes, themed restaurant specials, walks, art exhibits, films, and performances.

The celebration will culminate on July 19 with a multicultural festival featuring food, drinks, crafts, and entertainment from around the world. The Vienna Town Council has designated that day as Liberty Amendments Day, replacing Columbus Day on its list of official holidays.

“There’s lots to celebrate here,” Councilmember Chuck Anderson said. “This is going to be a people’s event just as the Constitution is the people’s document.”

Groups interested in sponsoring, participating in, or hosting events can apply online by April 1.

The town is advising planners to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions and social-distancing guidelines, which could still be in place this summer.

Planning meetings will be held at 5 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month. Interested organizations can contact [email protected] for a Zoom link to the meetings or more details.

Photo via Town of Vienna

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Since he was first elected to represent Virginia’s 35th District in the House of Delegates, Del. Mark Keam (D-Vienna) has emerged as a steadfast advocate for environmental justice and reform.

That dedication to environmental policy was rewarded on Thursday (Feb. 4) when Keam’s House Bill 2118 passed the House and has now advanced to the State Senate for consideration. The bill seeks to create a grant program to fund electric vehicles.

The Virginia Electric Vehicle Grant Fund would allow schools and other qualified entities in Virginia to get state support for projects to replace vehicles that utilize fossil fuels with electric vehicles. A portion of the bill is aimed specifically at increasing the number and use of electric school buses in the state.

Keam said that his bill was inspired by his work with Mothers Out Front, a grassroots organization in Fairfax that focuses on renewable and clean energy. That work led Keam to review and focus on the toxins and greenhouse gas emissions that children are exposed to by school buses.

He brought a similar bill to the 2020 General Assembly, but it ultimately failed to pass the House, which Keam attributes to questions about Virginia’s ability to acquire funding for the project. Those questions, however, are seemingly being addressed at the federal level.

Keam credits the increase in support for his bill this year to President Joe Biden’s prioritization of efforts to address climate change and reduce carbon emissions in the transportation sector. The bill is designed to partner with the Biden administration’s plans, and it would be set up to solicit federal funding and the private sector.

“My goal is, we set up this fund, we set up some criteria around that — who should apply for what — and as soon as some funding comes in, then we’ll set up this whole program that hadn’t existed before,” Keam said. “I was very proud to get this bill passed.”

Keam’s environmental work and support extends beyond that one bill, though.

He is also the chief co-patron for HB 2074, which would establish an Interagency Environmental Justice Working Group and require state agencies to adopt environmental policies. The bill’s chief patron is Del. Shelly Simonds (D-Newport News).

Keam touts HB 2074 and HB 2221, a bill proposed by Del. Hayes, Jr. (D-Chesapeake), as significant legislation to promote environmental justice in Virginia going forward. HB 2221 requires applicants seeking environmental permits to conduct community outreach.

“With these bills passing this year, Virginia is now going to have not only a very robust environmental justice law and an advisory council, a working group, policy, statements and definitions, but now we’re also going to be requiring license holders and permit holders to come in to do reviews ahead of time,” Keam said. “And we’re also going to require local governments to start adopting some of this as well.”

Keam is also a chief co-patron for HB 1965 and HB 2042, which have passed the House and are being discussed in the Senate.

HB 1965 would direct the state Air Pollution Control Board to institute a program for low-emissions and zero-emissions motor vehicles with a model year of 2025 and later. HB 2042 would allow localities to exceed general requirements for tree replacement and other conservation ordinances. Read More

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At a digital town hall yesterday, Del. Mark Keam (D-35th) discussed potential issues for delaying the fast-approaching Town of Vienna election.

Gov. Ralph Northam issued a statement several days ago asking the General Assembly to postpone the upcoming May 5 election to November so people can avoid all non-essential outings to ease the COVID-19 pandemic.

Northam suggested that local elections be moved to Nov. 3, but Vienna Mayor Laurie DiRocco issued a letter in response saying she would prefer June 23.

“The ability for local elections to get attention during the presidential-election cycle will be extremely challenging and expensive for candidates who usually have limited resources and budgets,” she wrote.

While Keam said he agrees the election should get pushed — and encourages all of his delegates to follow CDC guidelines and social distancing order — he also said that there are reasons elections usually occur during a certain time of year.

Given the uncertainty and confusion about the coronavirus pandemic, Keam said there is currently “absolutely no consensus” on when the elections should be held. 

The issue with holding the election on June 23, according to Keam, is that the federal elections are set to be held around that time as well — which is out of the control of smaller districts.

“You can’t have two different ballots being issued on the same day,” he said.  

If the election were to even be held a few days after June 23, like the 25 or 26 for example, this wouldn’t work either, Keam said, because the polling machines need to be locked up for 30 days in accordance with state law. This gives election staffers time to recount votes if necessary, clear the machines and inspect the machines to ensure “integrity in the voting process.”

Keam also brought up the recent Wisconsin elections, which were held earlier this month. Despite expert suggestions to stay home, many voters chose not to fill out absentee ballots and instead headed to the polls in person.

“We’ll know in about two weeks how many of those people went out to vote last Tuesday ended up with COVID. We hope very few, but there is a chance the epidemic might spike in Wisconson because the election was held against the wishes of some government officials,” Keam said. “We don’t want that happening in Virginia.”

Next Wednesday (April 22), the General Assembly will consider Northam’s request to move the local elections across Virginia to Nov. 3.

Image via Facebook Live

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Del. Mark Keam (D-35hth) and several other Virginia lawmakers are looking to honor the late Clarene Vickery, who founded the Parkwood School in Vienna.

After founding the school in 1956, Vickery served as its director and owner for more than 60 years. Vickery also helped create the Virginia Association of Early Childhood Education and the Providence Baptist Church in Tysons.

For her 100th birthday, several public officials recognized her achievements with a formal resolution during the 2018 session of the Virginia General Assembly.

Vickery died last year at the age of 101.

Now Keam, along with Del. Ken Plum (D-36th), State Sen. J. Chapman Petersen (D-34th), Del. Vivian Watts (D-39th), have a formal resolution for the 2020 General Assembly session to celebrate her life.

“Clarene Vickery impacted her community in meaningful ways outside of education,” the resolutions says, noting she was the president of the Ayr Hill Garden Club in Vienna, grand marshall of the 2006 Vienna Halloween Parade and an active member of the Vienna Baptist Church for 65 years.

Both houses of the Virginia General Assembly have agreed to the resolution, which is expected to be presented to Vickery’s family.

Photo via Mark Keam/Facebook

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Del. Mark Keam (D-35th) has introduced a House bill that would let the Town of Vienna require developers to meet tree requirements 10 years sooner than other jurisdictions.

His proposal, which was filed last Monday (Jan. 6), comes months after Wawa received backlash from residents for chopping down trees it wasn’t supposed to in the Town of Vienna.

Vienna officials are currently working on a plan to prevent anything similar from happening again.

The bill would allow:

the Town of Vienna, by ordinance, to require that a subdivision or development provide for the preservation or replacement of trees on the development site such that the minimum tree canopy 10 years after development is projected to meet specified coverage criteria.”

Currently, the criteria apply to coverage 20 years after development.

The measure has been referred to the Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns.

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Locals will have a chance to learn about Virginia policy at an upcoming town hall with politicians next weekend.

State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34th) and Del. Mark Keam (D-35th) are hosting the event to talk about the upcoming 2020 General Assembly session.

The General Assembly convenes next Wednesday (Jan. 8).

The town hall is set to take place at Vienna Town Hall (127 Center Street S.) next Saturday (Jan. 11) from 9:30-11:30 a.m.

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