Delegate Mark Keam - Virginia's 35th House District

Vienna Connection Interviews Delegate Keam about this Session

Keam Calls for ‘Part 2' Of Transportation Bill

Assessing the General Assembly session at mid-point.

By Lizi Arbogast

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The General Assembly is about halfway through its 2011 session, and the dust is starting to clear on which bills may become laws and which ones will end up in the dustbin.

The House of Delegates has made quite a bit of headway, especially in the areas of higher education and transportation. Last Friday, the House passed the transportation plan proposed by Gov. Bob McDonnell — one of many bills that could have a big impact on Northern Virginia.

Tuesday is "crossover day" in the assembly: If a bill hasn't cleared the House or Senate by then, it is dead for the session.

With that as a backdrop, Connection Newspapers visited with Del. Mark Keam (D-35). Here is his assessment of the session to this point.

Q: What would you consider the main accomplishments so far?

A: Aside from my own legislative accomplishments, I also feel like there's a really strong sense of cooperation that I've felt this year, unlike what I've been told this place is — it's not as partisan as I expected it to be. I mean, obviously, there'll be wedge issues where Republicans and Democrats will fight over partisan issues, but by and large, most issues we've dealt with have been very cooperative. If it's a good idea, it'll pass; if it's a bad idea, it's not going to happen.

Given the financial situation of the Commonwealth and the budget restraints, there aren't any really crazy things that have happened yet, so I guess I feel good about the fact that we're all working toward common-sense solutions.

Q: What would you say is your single most important contribution so far?

A: I've introduced about 16 bills total, of which I think I'm going to have six passed under my name. I've been told that is a pretty decent number, especially in the minority party. I had a bill that passed to provide health care to military veterans, which I was really excited about. That was my favorite bill this year, and I had the governor's endorsement as well as the American Legion and the Hospital Association supporting me on that.

I carried a bill for the governor on his government reform commission idea. I had a bill that dealt with juvenile re-entry issues, which also was something coming from the governor's counsel on prison re-entry, which I served on. That was an idea that came from there.

My point is that after last year's experience and coming down here and learning how this place works, I've figured out that it takes a lot of effort to work in between the sessions; it's not just a matter of showing up and hoping things get done, but you really have to work it. So I've spent some time working on it, asking for some support from Republicans, working with other organizations, and as a result of that, I've gotten a lot of bills passed, so I'm pretty happy about that part.

Q: What do you think has been the most disappointing part of the session?

A: My biggest disappointment — maybe it's not disappointment as much as I wish we had a more robust conversation about the transportation plan. The House passed its version Friday, and the Senate will pass its version [soon]. There aren't major differences between the two versions, but the sad thing was that the governor's plan only included a one-time debt and a one-time taking of the surplus money from the general fund. There was no conversation whatsoever about the continuing streams of revenue. …

In Northern Virginia and Fairfax County, we really need a steady source of revenue beyond a one-time shot in the arm. All of the other conversations were whether there were gas taxes or other types of taxing authorities in Northern Virginia. None of those provisions passed, and so I guess from that perspective — I mean, it's a great first step, and I commend the governor for coming up with a transportation plan, but it really is only the first step.

I really wish that this year we were able to deal with the second part of it, which would be the continuing source of funding. I wouldn't say it's a frustration or disappointment as much as it's a half of a loaf — so I wish we had the second half of the loaf as well.

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