transparency and accountability
As your local newspaper reporter for the Gainesville Times and Prince William Times from 2006 to 2015, I relied on the Freedom of the Press to do my job. When I ran for office in 2017, I promised you I would bring a reporter’s eye to Richmond because, as we say in journalism, sunshine is the best disinfectant. I fulfilled my campaign promise to introduce legislation increasing government accountability and transparency and pledge to make our local and state governments more accessible, accountable and transparent.
Through the first half of 2019, I hosted or participated in 20 local town hall meetings in the greater Prince William County area since January 2018, including events in each of the four communities I represent: Manassas, Manassas Park, Gainesville and Haymarket. Being present and available in the community is the same work ethic I showed for more than nine years as your local reporter. As your local elected official, I remain accessible and accountable to you.
On many nights during the 2019 session, I posted two-minute videos recapping my day in Richmond so my constituents would know what I was doing on their behalf. I take my commitment to open government seriously and will continue to do so on behalf of the people of the Thirteenth District.
Create a Publicly Searchable Cold Case Database
In 2018, I introduced HB 938 to create a publicly searchable cold-case database to involve the public in assisting law enforcement officials with solving homicide, missing person, and unidentified person cases. As more cases are entered into the system, more people in every area—law enforcement, victim advocacy and the general public—can become a part of the conversation that will resolve cases. Manassas remains home to the only unsolved murder of a state trooper in Virginia history, now more than 40 years old. Since the bill advanced out of committee in 2018, I have worked across the aisle to secure funding for the legislation and I am ready to pass it into law in 2020.
Strengthen the Freedom of Information Act
There’s no reason why Maryland’s government should be more open and accessible than Virginia’s government, yet that’s exactly where we find ourselves. I authored HB 940 (2018) HB 2507 (2019) to establish a state-level Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) ombudsman through the Office of the Attorney General. The Ombudsman would be a dedicated, independent, neutral position to streamline and mediate FOIA requests, and ensure that they are being addressed effectively and more efficiently between FOIA requestors and state agencies. I’ll bring this legislation back in 2020 so we can create this important position to help everyday citizens navigate the complex and confusing world of state agencies and public information.
I also filed HB 1603 (2018) to eliminate fees for the first two hours it takes an agency or governing body to fulfill a FOIA request. In many cases, these fees are designed to limit the public’s access to information, not strengthen it. I’ll continue working to make FOIA more accessible to the public and stand up to unnecessary exemptions that harm open government.
Protecting the Freedom of the Press
In 2018 (HB 1309) and 2019 (HB 2250), I introduced legislation to establish a Shield Law to prevent reporters from being jailed for protecting a confidential source. I also signed on as the chief co-patron of a bill introduced by another reporter-turned-delegate, Chris Hurst, D-12th, to prevent school officials from censoring student journalists. I’ll continue advocating for a free and open press so aspiring journalists and professional reporters alike can hold government officials accountable and report vetted facts to the public.
Increase Citizen Review
House Bill 2375, one of my three bills that passed during the 2019 session, increases transparency in local government by requiring governing bodies to hold a public hearing before fast-tracking a zoning ordinance change through a planning commission. They will also have to advertise that public hearing in the print edition of a newspaper and on the governing body's website so it is in the public record at least two weeks ahead of the vote.
When budget amendments arrived late this year in Richmond, I voted against cutting the amount of public review time from 48 hours to 24 hours before the General Assembly voted on them and adjourned. The rule change passed anyway, so I logged into Facebook that night and early the next morning and read page after page of the budget amendments live on camera so the public would know what we were voting on that Sunday.
I will keep fighting for citizens to have more access to information and continue my work to increase government transparency so you know exactly what your elected officials are doing with your time and your dime.
Prevent Child Welfare Fraud
One of my other government accountability bills that was signed into law is HB 2339 (2019), which allows the Department of Social Services to work with the Department of Taxation to modify existing child support orders and prevent child welfare fraud. I had to wage an epic fight for this bill on the floor of the House of Delegates and prevailed as a freshman member of the minority party because I learned the rules and procedures and built a reputation as a bipartisan consensus seeker who always works in good faith.
The relationships I built across the aisle during my time in office so far allowed this bill to pass out of the House of Delegates and Senate. I’m committed to maintaining those relationships so I can make a good law even better in 2020 by allowing the Department of Social Services to notify Virginians that they are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and other benefits.
Enact Real Campaign Finance Reform
Not only have I refused to accept any money from for-profit corporations, their PACs, their trade associations and their lobbyists, I introduced HB 562 (2018) to ban public service corporations from donating to elected officials because the regulated should not be to have undue influence over their regulators.
Through my advocacy to reform our campaign finance system and eliminate conflicts of interest, I’ve led by example both on the campaign trail and in the General Assembly through my actions.
I pledged not to take any money from Dominion Energy before the Activate Virginia pledge even existed in 2017. I continue to rely on people power to fund my campaigns and on my constituents to help me craft our legislation, not on corporations.