Delegate Mark Keam - Virginia's 35th House District

Vienna Connection reports on Keam-Petersen Town Hall

Petersen, Keam Host Vienna Town Hall Meeting

State legislators talk about 2011 General Assembly goals.

Donna Manz/The Connection Del. Mark Keam [D-35] and Sen. Chap Petersen [D-34] share the podium at their first joint Town Hall of the 2011 legislative session. The open meeting was hosted by American Legion Post 180. 
By Donna Manz, The Connection Monday, January 24, 2011 Sen. Chap Petersen [D- 34] and Del. Mark Keam [D-35] gave Vienna-area residents a peak into the 2011 General Assembly at their first joint Town Hall meeting, held on Saturday, Jan. 15, at American Legion Post 180 center. Of all the topics brought up, however, the one that drew the most attention was the presence of an individual who arrived carrying a gun. While most in the audience were unaware the man had been turned away at the outset, the discovery set off a wave of consternation and concern. From the gathering came audible gasps, drawing Bob Pearson to openly voice his shock. Pearson drew applause from the audience when he questioned the propriety and sensibility of bringing a gun to a political event, particularly since the country was still reeling from the shooting rampage in Tucson at a community political event. "He [the gun owner] showed disrespect to all of us by doing that," Pearson said. "Why would he do that?" PETERSEN AND KEAM each spoke on their priorities for the newly-opened legislative session and fielded questions — from immigration to homeowner protections to gun control — from the full house. The meeting adjoined after two hours but both Petersen and Keam stayed to talk individually with their constituents. Three numbers Petersen hoped the gathered would remember: The projected rate of economic growth for fiscal year 2011, 3.9 percent; amount borrowed from the Commonwealth's pension system, $660 million; the amount to be paid back into the pension system over time to match the actuarial statistics, $17 billion. "The number one issue we have to deal with now isn't sexy," said Petersen. "It's not going to make the cover of People magazine. It's the state employee pension system," he said. Noting the increasing bond indebtedness of the state, bequeathing debt to today's children, Petersen said he was "wary of us moving away from pay-as-you-go." Petersen and Keam share the conviction that state government needs to be more efficient and make better use of the state's natural resources. Petersen is introducing bills that are "green" in practice and bills that look out for the consumers, as well as improving the financial security of the state's residents. One Petersen bill would require new state government buildings over 5,000 square feet to conform to LEED-certified standards. Another provides for the use of fuel-indexing which tracks usage on state highways. Petersen proposes to allow private contractors to maintain state highways in return for small advertising compensation in signage, and to provide homeowner protection and foreclosure reform. "One of the things that concerns me is ‘drive-by' foreclosures," in which documents are fabricated, said Petersen. To keep track of who actually owns a mortgage loan, Petersen proposes that sellers of debt file a record of sale at the County level. Keam, who as a new delegate last year introduced about 15 bills, said that he learned that it really does take a while for ideas to stew in the minds of legislators. "That's why I see bills introduced and then re-introduced," he said. Legislators look over bills, think about changes to the bills. "Rather than expect things to be done overnight, I expect incremental changes." Keam said he looked hard to see the areas where he could make a difference, make the Commonwealth a better place to live." A LISTENER ASKED about disability fraud in the Commonwealth and the tools available to verify and track application. Keam and Petersen agreed that legislation could help the state do more in that regard. Two of Keam's top 2011 priorities are to try to find jobs for U.S. veterans within the state and to provide authority to local governments to establish income or worth as they provide tax relief to disabled and elderly homeowners, as voted on by Virginia voters in 2010. HJ 637 directs the Department of Veterans Services to study how state laws might be changed to allow equivalent military training to fulfill requirements for obtaining state licensing or certification required for civilian jobs. Prisoner re-entry into society, particularly that of juveniles, is another priority that Keam continues to focus on. "We need to provide the social and economic tools to make sure they don't go back to a life of crime," Keam said. Keam is also looking at ways to reduce redundancy in the state government and the number of advisory boards. "Big or small, government should be efficient and transparent," Keam said. He pointed to HB 2277 which would eliminate manually processing travel reimbursements to advisory board members by replacing that with electronic reimbursement. HB 1566 provides more transparency by requiring legislators' voting records to be made available by name on the General Assembly's website. Another resident asked if Virginia engaged in bidding wars with businesses proposing to come into the state. Keam answered no. Number one, we don't have the money, he said. And, secondly, Keam said, "we do it through tax credits." "You'll get credit for producing income in the state," he said. There are three ways to raise money, Keam explained. Raise taxes, spend less, or make the entire revenue base bigger. Keam does not propose doing the first, the second is harder to do. The third way is most palpable. "How do we grow the pot," he asked. A reporter from the area's Korean newspaper spoke on the concerns of his readership. Koreans in the community, he said, are concerned about the privatization of the ABC. Petersen said he is opposed to privatization of the ABC because liquor sales are a source of revenue for the state, and by controlling the alcohol industry, the state can control the location of the stores. Keam agreed that he did not want a proliferation of liquor stores but was amenable to looking at different plans that are being proposed. Vienna-Oakton realtor and community supporter George Creed questioned the legitimacy of the state's involvement in the alcohol business, saying it was an archaic system, and calling for Virginia to get out of it. Petersen suggested that, perhaps, a medium would be to allow a private contractor to manage the ABC, in effect leasing it to private contractors. The state would still have ultimate control. Said Keam, "give me a plan, step by step, that doesn't cost us money and doesn't put a liquor store on every corner." Immigration enforcement was questioned, as well. A resident asked about Virginia's application of the Department of Homeland Security's Section 287(g) which allows, in limited ways, trained local and state law enforcement personnel to enforce U.S. immigration laws. Keam's concern is the protection of individuals who do not look as if they are entitled to be here. Another resident asked what the state is doing to encourage biking and walking, especially in regard to children making their way to school. Keam and Petersen agreed that there is a need to make roadways more pedestrian and bike-friendly, and they applauded Vienna for the safety and ease of walking and biking around the town. VIRGINIA PUBLIC COLLEGES came under fire, as well, by a resident, for what he decried as their failure to graduate students within four years, costing the student and the family more money for the students' education. This speaker felt that raising taxes among Northern Virginia's more affluent families would help, but Petersen reminded him that revenue raised here does not necessarily benefit Northern Virginians. Whether Virginia would pass stricter gun control laws came up, and Keam and Petersen centered their positions on the responsibility of ownership and the laws permitting gun ownership, including background checks and the ease in which mentally-ill people can lay their hands on guns. The Second Amendment does not entitle people who pose a threat to themselves or others to bear arms but if the state permits an individual the right to own a gun, he is protected under the provision of the Second Amendment. PETERSEN AND KEAM plan on holding additional Town Hall meetings as the 45-day session progresses.  
News Update
Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Vimeo