Tysons, VA

The Virginia General Assembly has been debating a range of legislation since convening for its 2021 session on Jan. 13.

Here are some notable bills introduced or co-sponsored by Fairfax County legislators that have passed either the House of Delegates or state Senate and are now awaiting approval by the other chamber:

HB 1842

Introduced by Del. Mark Keam (D-35th District), House Bill (HB) 1842 would give legal authority to owners of condominiums and other multi-dwelling units to ban smoking within their premises.

“As Virginians continue to shelter at home due to COVID, I hear from constituents who live in apartments or condos concerned that their neighbors who smoke are making things even worse for their physical and mental health,” Keam said in a press release.

The bill is currently being considered by the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology after passing the House of Delegates 72-27 on Jan. 19.

“My bill offers new tools for property owners to tackle this public health issue by requiring smoking residents to stop second-hand toxins from spreading on their premises and harming neighbors,” Keam said.

SB 1157

Senate Bill (SB) 1157 would move all local elections for city and town council and school board from May to November. The bill’s language would put the change in effect with elections held after Jan. 1, 2022.

The bill was introduced by Senator Lionell Spruill (D-5th District) and counts Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th District) among its patrons. It passed the Senate on Jan. 21 after Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax broke a 19-19 tie by voting in favor of the bill.

“It will create a more streamline, school safe, cost-saving, and inclusive election for all,” Spruill said on Twitter following the Senate vote.

HB 1909

Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34th District) is a chief co-patron of HB 1909, which permits any school board to deem any non-school zone property it owns or leases as a gun-free zone. The bill passed the House on Wednesday (Jan. 27) on a 55-44 vote and is now pending review by the Senate.

HB 1736

Del. Kaye Kory (D-38th District) is the chief co-patron of HB 1736, which would require local school boards to employ at least one full-time equivalent school nurse position at each elementary school, middle school, and high school.

The bill defines a school nurse as a registered nurse engaged in the specialized practice of nursing that protects and promotes student health, facilitates optimal development, and advances academic success.

The House passed the bill 68-31 with one abstaining vote on Jan. 25. It now awaits Senate review.

HB 1848

HB 1848 would protect individuals from discrimination on the basis of disability as an unlawful employment practice under the Virginia Human Rights Act. Del. Mark Sickles (D-43rd District) introduced the bill, and Del. Mark Levine (D-45th District) and Kathy Tran (D-42nd District) are among the chief co-patrons.

The bill passed the House unanimously on Jan. 22. It is now pending review from the Senate.

SB 1445

SB 1445 would permit any qualified and available health care provider in Virginia to volunteer to administer the COVID-19 vaccine.

Qualified health care providers would include any person who is licensed, registered or certified and in good standing with the Department of Health, retired health care providers who were in good standing within the last five years, and emergency medical services providers who are certified by the Department of Health.

The bill also extends to health professions students enrolled in an accredited program in Virginia, provided they are in good academic standing with their school and the school certifies that the student is properly trained in the administration of vaccines.

The bill passed the Senate 38-0 on Jan. 22. It now is pending review from the House.

Photo via Virginia General Assembly/Flickr

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COVID-19 vaccinations, the state budget, and the question of how to get students and teachers back in schools are among the many items on the agenda for Virginia lawmakers this year, as the General Assembly prepares to convene for a truncated 46-day session.

Del. Marcus Simon (D-53rd) and State Senate Majority Leader Sen. Richard Saslaw (D-35th) cited those issues among their top priorities for the upcoming legislative session during a virtual town hall hosted by the City of Falls Church on Wednesday (Jan. 6).

“We have to have a balanced budget. We have to prioritize K-12 education,” Simon said.

He added transportation infrastructure, criminal justice reform, voting accessibility, and the need to put Virginia on a path to “going carbon-free as soon as we can” to his laundry list of goals for the session, which starts on Wednesday (Jan. 13) and ends on Feb. 27.

Currently, Virginia is vaccinating healthcare providers and those in nursing care facilities, who comprise Phase 1A of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s priority groups.

He and Saslaw said they hope Virginia can start vaccinating those in Phase 1B — such as firefighters, teachers, agriculture workers, and those 75 and older — by February.

Saslaw emphasized the importance of funding for K-12 and college education and tackling school reopening plans.

“A lot of kids are being hurt by virtual learning,” he said. “It just doesn’t work well.”

He also noted that increased expenditures for COVID-19 relief and transportation infrastructure, combined with decreased revenue from meals, sales, and gas taxes, have contributed to a potential budget deficit of $300 million to $400 million.

“The budget is the overriding thing,” Saslaw said.

As chair of the House Committee of Privileges and Elections, Simon said that he is looking to make permanent several voting laws that the General Assembly implemented last year on a temporary basis.

With COVID-19 keeping people confined to their homes and turning potentially crowded polling places into a public health risk, state legislators voted to permit ballot drop boxes, prepaid postage for mail absentee ballots, and other allowances, but those measures were only in place for 2020.

The General Assembly will need to adopt new legislation this year to continue those policies for future elections.

“Virginia has a history, unfortunately, of voter suppression, and I’m working very hard to change that,” Simon said.

Simon and Saslaw also indicated support for a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would eliminate voting restrictions for people who have been convicted of a felony.

Finally, Simon assured listeners that the redistricting process will be open to the public. During last year’s Nov. 3 general election, Virginians approved a referendum that shifted responsibility for drawing congressional and state legislative district lines from the General Assembly to a commission of legislators and citizens.

“The good news about it all is the transparency piece,” Simon said. “Every conversation about this — if you can bear it — you can tune in and follow it.”

Photo via Virginia General Assembly/Flickr

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Local elected officials from the county to the state level expressed horror and sadness at yesterday’s assault on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., as Congress worked to certify the results of the 2019 presidential and Congressional elections.

Thousands of supporters of President Donald Trump — some of them associated with right-wing extremist groups like the Proud Boys — broke into the Capitol, disrupting the certification process and forcing federal lawmakers to shelter in place as the building went into lockdown.

D.C. police reported last night that four people died in the chaos, and 52 people had been arrested, mostly in relation to violations of a curfew instituted by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.

While Fairfax County was not as directly affected as nearby Arlington County and the City of Alexandria, which were both put under a curfew, the county joined the emergency response by deploying officers with its police department’s civil disturbance unit and opening its emergency operations center to the Virginia State Police.

The Fairfax County Police Department also stepped up its presence in the county as officials monitored areas they suspected “may see increased activity,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said shortly before 6 p.m. yesterday.

McKay described the events in D.C. as “nothing short of a coup” and a “dark day for American democracy,” sentiments that Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik says she shares.

“I am appalled at the situation in our nation’s capital, and know that our region and country deserve better,” Palchik said in a Facebook post. “Thank you to the Fairfax teams stepping up to ensure safety across our community.”

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn urged residents to “stay home, stay safe and reach out to neighbors and friends who may be feeling frightened or isolated.”

Del. Marcus Simon (D-53rd), State Sen. Richard Saslaw (D-35th), and Falls Church City Mayor David Tarter commented on the riot in D.C. during a virtual town hall  hosted by the City of Falls Church. The meeting was intended to give community members a chance to learn about the upcoming Virginia General Assembly session.

Their thoughts, along with a statement from Del. Mark Keam (D-35th), can be found below: Read More

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Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay and other public officials in the Washington, D.C., region are advising local residents to avoid the District’s downtown area over the next few days in anticipation of potentially volatile protests.

Multiple pro-Trump groups, including the far-right extremist Proud Boys, are expected to hold demonstrations in D.C. tomorrow (Wednesday), when Congress is scheduled to certify the Electoral College’s vote cementing President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the Nov. 3 general election.

Here is the full statement from McKay’s office:

On Wednesday, January 6, demonstrators will be protesting in Washington DC and there are concerns over safety.

While the District will be doing all they can to keep demonstrations peaceful, my regional colleagues and I encourage our residents to stay safe and avoid the downtown area and not to engage with those seeking violence.

We know the election is over, the votes have been cast, states have certified results, lawsuits have been dismissed, and a winner has been named.  It is time for our normal, democratic, peaceful transition of power and the will of the electorate to be honored. At this time of unprecedented distrust in the electoral process, despite every assurance otherwise, engagement will only inflame a volatile situation.

Photo via Sherry Xu on Unsplash

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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!

Wednesday (Jan. 6)

  • Wolf Trap Virtual Job Fair (Online) — 4-6 p.m. — Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts will hold a virtual job fair for people who might be interested in its open usher and maintenance positions for the 2021 performance season. Register for the webinar in advance with this link.
  • McLean Police District Town Hall (Online) — 5 p.m. — The McLean District Police Station will hold a virtual town hall to discuss the Fairfax County Police Department’s new data dashboard, which provides information on arrests, citations, and department policies. The meeting can be accessed through this Zoom link, and questions can be sent to [email protected]
  • General Assembly Town Hall (Online) — 7-8 p.m. — State Sen. Dick Saslaw and Del. Marcus Simon will give a preview of what to expect from the Virginia General Assembly’s upcoming 2021 session, which will convene on Jan. 13. Questions and comments can be submitted in advance through this link, and a link to the Zoom chat can be found on the City of Falls Church website.
  • Hunter Mill COVID-19 Town Hall (Online) — 7 p.m. — Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn is hosting a virtual town hall with Fairfax County Health Department Director Gloria Addo-Ayensu to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and local vaccine distribution plans. Questions should be sent in advance to [email protected] with “Jan 6. Town Hall” in the subject line. The meeting can be accessed through WebEx and will be streamed on YouTube.

Thursday (Jan. 7)

  • The New Yorker Discussion Group (Online) — 2-3 p.m. — The Mary Riley Styles Public Library hosts a talk about Joshua Rothman’s article “What If You Could Do It All Over?” from the December 2020 issue of The New Yorker. Contact Pete Sullivan at [email protected] for the Zoom invite or more information.
  • A Song and a Slice: Civic Duty — 8 p.m. at Jammin’ Java (227 Maple Ave. E) — The D.C.-native rock band Civic Duty will perform at Jammin’ Java in Vienna. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. with tickets costing $7 for general admission or $10 for the lobby. Customers are asked to adhere to social distancing protocols and wear masks when not consuming food or drinks.

Friday (Jan. 8)

  • Teen Game Night — 7-9 p.m. at the Old Firehouse (1440 Chain Bridge Rd.) — Teens can come to the Old Firehouse Center in McLean to play board and party games with chances to win prizes. Admission is $20 for McLean Community Center district residents and $25 for everyone else. MCC recommends pre-registering by contacting the OFC at 703-448-8336 or online.

Saturday (Jan. 9)

  • More to the Movement (Online) — 10 a.m. — Library of Congress American women’s history specialist Elizabeth A. Novara will give a presentation on women of color in the suffrage movement to the McLean area branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) for its January meeting. All are invited. Email AAUW McLean for the Zoom link.

Photo via Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts/Facebook

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Monday Morning Notes

Attorney General William Barr’s McLean House Swarmed by Pro-Trump Protestors — “Protesters carrying Trump flags picketed Attorney General William Barr’s home on Saturday because they believe he isn’t doing enough to bring former Vice President Joe Biden to justice.” [Newsweek]

Junior League of Northern Virginia Announces Virtual Enchanted Forest — “The Junior League of Northern Virginia invites you to join us at the 20th annual The Enchanted Forest! Our holiday-themed signature fundraiser will take place virtually Nov. 21, 2020…” [JLNV]

Tysons-based MicroStrategy Bets Big on Bitcoin — “In volatile markets, you can use cash as offense or defense. MicroStrategy Inc., which recently had half-a-billion dollars in cash sitting around, thinks it can do both.” [Wall Street Journal]

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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The Postal Distribution Center in Merrifield has been drawn into a national debate over the future of the United States Postal Service.

In a letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, Congressman Gerald E. Connolly demanded access to mail facilities for himself and all Members of Congress to oversee operations. Connolly serves as the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations

“I write to reiterate my request for immediate access to the Postal Distribution Center in Merrifield, Virginia — as well as access for my Congressional colleagues to other postal facilities,” Connolly wrote. “Oversight of Postal Service operations is more important now than ever, particularly in light of the troubling findings of the Inspector General that actions taken by Postal Service officials slowed postal operations nationwide in the midst of a global pandemic and economic collapse.”

Connolly said in the letter that he requested access after the Inspector General reported slowed operations at the agency.

“This letter follows my October 2, 2020, request for a tour of the Merrifield Postal Distribution Center in my Congressional District, as well as my October 13 letter requesting your new legal analysis of the Hatch Act, which you baselessly claim prevents Members of Congress from visiting Postal Service facilities within 45 days of an election,” Connolly wrote.

The letter continues with a rebuttle to an argument fron DeJoy that the Hatch Act would prevent Connolly from inspecting the USPS facility. According to the letter:

The Committee on Oversight and Reform is the committee of jurisdiction for the Postal Service in the House of Representatives, and the Subcommittee on Government Operations has been charged with overseeing postal operations. As Chairman of the Subcommittee, I have a responsibility to oversee postal operations–which includes having access to postal facilities, managers, and employees–and this responsibility does not cease merely because an election is approaching. I did not seek access to the Merrifield facility in my capacity as a candidate for office, but rather to discharge my official duties as a Member of Congress and a Member of the Oversight Committee.

On October 20, 2020, you sent a letter citing new Postal Service guidance that you claim was approved by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Yet OSC–the principal enforcement agency of the Hatch Act–has made it clear that the Hatch Act does not prohibit federal employees from allowing Members of Congress to tour federal facilities for an official purpose. According to your own letter, the portions of your Hatch Act policies that you claim OSC did not object to did not include your policy of prohibiting Members of Congress from postal facilities.

A spokesperson for the USPS said that they were aware of the pending request from Connolly and planned to respond directly, though what answer they were planning to give was not clarified.

“We are aware of the Congressman’s most recent request and plan to respond again directly,” said Martha Johnson, senior public relations representative for USPS.

In an email to Tysons Reporter, Connolly said inspecting the USPS facility in Merrifield was about restoring public trust.

“The Postmaster General’s partisan and political actions have eroded trust and caused nationwide concern about the USPS,” Connolly said. “Congress has a responsibility and constitutional duty to provide oversight, and that includes seeing on the ground how operations are being affected by Mr. DeJoy’s reckless changes”

Image via Google Maps

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The Fairfax County Government Center will open for in-person absentee voting tomorrow, a week earlier than the county originally planned to start holding Saturday hours for early voting.

Early voting locations were scheduled to start opening on Saturdays on Oct. 17, but the Fairfax County Office of Elections announced on Tuesday (Oct. 6) that it will commence Saturday hours this week instead to accommodate record numbers of early voters, who have faced long lines and extended wait times.

“The short answer is due to the large number of requests from voters, from elected officials, and my electoral board all asked that we consider if it was possible to provide an extra day of voting,” Fairfax County Office of Elections director and general registrar Gary Scott said when asked about the change.

Voters can cast absentee ballots this Saturday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at the government center, which is currently the only place in Fairfax County open for early voting.

Additional relief from the crowds that have swarmed the government center since early voting began on Sept. 18 will arrive on Oct. 14, when 14 satellite voting locations open — almost twice the number of sites that the county provided in past years, according to Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay.

Satellite locations in the Tysons area include the McLean Governmental Center, Providence Community Center, Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library, and Thomas Jefferson Library.

Early voting hours at these locations are from 1-7 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays and 9-5 p.m. on Saturdays. All sites are closed on Sundays.

Public health anxieties and the Virginia General Assembly’s auspiciously timed approval of no-excuse absentee voting have contributed to high levels of early voting around Northern Virginia.

The Fairfax County Office of Elections reported on Thursday that voters have cast almost 62,500 vote-by-mail ballots so far, a 40 percent increase over the total from 2016, the last year with a presidential race on the ballot.

As of Oct. 7, Fairfax has gotten about 18,000 in-person voters, with about 1,300 people showing up per day, according to Scott.

City of Falls Church director of elections David Bjerke told WUSA9 that the city has seen 100 to 200 voters coming in-person every day, and 5,337 people — 50% of the city’s voters — had either cast or applied for a mail ballot as of Oct. 6.

In-person early voting ends on Oct. 31, and the last day to request an absentee ballot by mail is Oct. 23. Absentee ballots must be hand-delivered to a polling location or postmarked by Election Day on Nov. 3, with Nov. 6 as the deadline for the Office of Elections to receive mailed ballots.

Scott warned voters against requesting a ballot by mail and then trying to vote in-person.

“Having requested a ballot by mail will slow down their process when they go in and try to vote in person,” Scott said. “They’re certainly welcome to do it. They just need to understand that it will take longer for them, once they check in, to actually vote than it would be to return the ballot, either by mail or putting it in one of our drop boxes.”

Staff Photo by Jay Westcott

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If you’ve been to absentee in-person voting and the lines have seemed particularly long, you’re not alone.

Fairfax voters have been lining up at 12000 Government Center Parkway to cast their ballots early and avoid election day crowds, only to find themselves in long lines with other early voters turning up in record numbers.

Some said the numbers seemed to swell yesterday after the debate, but Public Information Officer Brian Worthy said the numbers have been pretty consistent.

“At least to me, it doesn’t seem like the lines are any longer, and I’ve been here at the Government Center for every day of early voting since it began,” Worthy said.

Worthy said COVID-19 precautions have made wait times longer than usual.

“Since the start of early voting on Friday, Sept. 18, we have had two polling places open in the Government Center, and… we’re limiting the number of people in at any one time for the safety of both voters and poll workers,” Worthy said. “Similarly, we’re keep the line outside because it’s safer for voters to wait there rather than inside the building. As result of COVID, voting is taking longer.”

A county employee at the location said despite the long lines, it was a fraction of what the line was like on previous days.

Two voters, Karen and James Shaver, said they watched the debate the previous night. They described it as “loud” but said it didn’t sway their vote.

In addition to the long lines, voters have endured harassment and attempts to keep people out of the building from supporters of President Donald Trump.

Worthy said the lines should be alleviated by plans to open up satellite facilities for voting later this month.

“We’re opening additional early voting sites on Oct. 14,” Worthy said. “We’ll have 14 additional locations open that day (including the Government Center) with a total of 15 starting on Saturday, Oct. 17.”

Voting facilities in the Tysons area include:

  • McLean Governmental Center (1437 Balls Hill Road)
  • Providence Community Center (3001 Vaden Drive)
  • Tysons Pimmit Library (7584 Leesburg Pike)
  • Thomas Jefferson Library (7415 Arlington Blvd.)

Jay Westcott contributed to this story

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An upcoming protest in Merrifield is part of nationwide mobilization at post offices across the U.S.

From Alaska to Florida, 602 volunteer-led protests are set to take place at 11 a.m. local time tomorrow (Saturday) to demand Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s resignation and “save the post office from Donald Trump.”

The protests are in response to DeJoy’s cost-cutting measures for the financially-rocky United States Postal Service, which critiques said could delay the expected surge of mail ballots for the November election.

After facing a backlash, DeJoy said he will pause the changes until after the election. President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly slammed mail-in ballots, said he opposes more funding for the USPS because of mail-in voting.

The protest at the Merrifield post office (8409 Lee Hwy) will be wheelchair accessible, according to the event description. Protests will also take place in Reston and Arlington.

The nationwide mobilization is backed by several unions and organizations, including MoveOn, Service Employees International Union, the NAACP, the Working Families Party, The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, American Federation of Teachers, Indivisible and Vets for the People.

Organizers are asking participants to wear face coverings, remain 6 feet apart from each other, bring hand sanitizer and keep the protests peaceful and nonviolent.

“Individual hosts are responsible for compliance with their own local laws and event requirements (including orders limiting the sizes of events),” the event description said.

Image via Google Maps

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