Delegate Mark Keam - Virginia's 35th House District

Delegate-Elect Keam quoted in Sun Gazette

In a preview of the upcoming legislative session, Delegate-Elect Keam discusses his priorities:

With Budget Woes Still Looming, Local Legislators Craft Measures for 2010

by BRIAN TROMPETER, Staff Writer

(Created: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 7:21 AM EST)

Northern Virginia legislators are bracing for a horrible budget predicament when the General Assembly convenes on Jan. 13, but they still plan to submit bills on health, voting, legislative ethics, transportation and job creation.

State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd) will introduce legislation that would require insurance companies to provide services to people with autism. Increasing child-autism rates have intensified pressures on families, and given that many states already provide such services, it is time Virginia did so, Howell said.

For the fourth straight year, Howell will put forth a bill that would allow state residents to vote via absentee ballot without first providing an excuse. More than 300,000 people vote absentee, and the requirements should be loosened, she said.

Howell also, at the request of a teacher in Herndon, will introduce a bill that would require back-seat vehicle passengers ages 18 and younger to wear seat belts.

"We think we could save lives with this," she said.

Virginia's budget woes mean that legislators should put aside partisan bickering and solve problems, Howell said.

"I think things are so dire that we're really going to try to work across party and regional lines to do what's best for Virginia," she said. "I don't think the public will tolerate political game-playing, and they shouldn't."

State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34th) will focus during the General Assembly session on three topics: energy, transportation and ethics.

One of Petersen's energy bills would encourage utility companies to invest in energy-saving devices.

"We've allowed [the utilities] to be compensated based on the number of kilowatt hours that they sell or are used," Petersen said. "That's not good for the environment. They have no reason to incentivize you to be smarter in your choices."

Another Petersen bill would require that new state buildings be constructed to meet at least Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) "silver" standards.

Petersen's bill previously passed in the Senate, but died in the House of Delegates. Meeting the LEED standards would cost only 1 to 3 percent more, and that cost would be amortized over the life of the buildings, he said.

On the transportation front, Petersen would submit legislation to change the state-funding formula so that it reflected the extra-heavy amount of traffic handled by Northern Virginia's roads.

Petersen also will proffer legislation requiring that legislators post their conflict-of-interest statements online. Another of Petersen's bills would limit "supersized" campaign donations to $20,000 per donor, per candidate, in each election cycle.

"I think donors ought to be able to say to candidates, ‘I've maxed out. Leave me alone,'" Petersen said. "Also, too much money begins to corrupt the [political] process."

Democrats still control a narrow majority in the state Senate, where seats won't be up for election until 2011. But the landslide victory of the Republican statewide ticket on Nov. 3 also buoyed Republican fortunes in the House of Delegates.

Republicans, and independents who caucus with the GOP, now total 61 in the 100-member lower house, up from 55.

Del.-elect Mark Keam (D-35th) acknowledged he will have an uphill fight, and promised to work with new Dels. Barbara Comstock (R-34th) and Jim LeMunyon (R-67th), who represent neighboring districts.

"As a freshman in a minority party, with no committee assignments right now, I don't know how effective I can be right off the bat," Keam said. "I've put together a broad range of bills. We must protect our public-education programs, must create jobs and protect our entrepreneurial activities."

Keam will propose bills similar to Petersen's energy-efficiency and transportation-funding legislation. Keam also will introduce legislation to ensure Fairfax County Public Schools receives its fair share of state funding

Job creation is another of Keam's priorities. The delegate said he would support legislation to offer tax incentives to businesses that hire new employees.

Another version of the bill, which still is being crafted, would reward employers for creating jobs that promote energy-efficiency or help protect the environment.

Keam will fill the seat formerly held by Democrat Stephen Shannon, who lost a bid for state attorney general this fall.

Comstock and Del. James Scott (D-53rd) did not return requests for comment before the Sun Gazette's deadline.

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