Terry’s Priorities

Platform of Terry Modglin
Candidate for Virginia House of Delegates, District 49
In the 2013 Virginia General Election

Strengthening State Ethics Rules and Laws

Virginia needs to rework a number of practices to ensure that both in reality and in appearance, state leaders (including members of the General Assembly; the Governor and Lieutenant Governor and staffs, as well as other senior state officials in positions of trust in state government) avoid both the appearance and fact of accepting special treatment from those with whom they conduct the state’s business.  The loose observance of the state’s ethics laws has proved to be embarrassing at best – and appalling at worst.

Gifts to state employees and/or members of their families from those doing business with the state or subdivisions should be reported publicly unless their cumulative market value falls below a legally established limit of perhaps $25.00.  Gifts to officials and family members from one individual should be subject to a reasonable limit, for example, $200, and reported.  Campaign finance laws should also be changed to require that campaign expenses using other people’s and group’s contributions are narrowed to the most direct kind of campaign expenses.  Candidates should not be able to give other candidates funds.

Drawing Legislative District Boundaries

Too many legislative district boundaries for state and federal elective office give the appearance, if not the fact, of being drawn to protect incumbents or parties rather than to equalize representation.  In some cases, these districts verge on the ridiculous.  Virginia needs to establish an independent, permanent commission consisting of a mix of members of political parties and independent persons with experience in politics – with appointments going to persons who have not been actively involved in politics for at least five years.  Commission members should serve terms that create overlap to ensure continuity.  Appointments should be made only after public announcement of candidates, with a period of public review and comment.  Legislative districts should not be gerrymandered to guarantee re-election of incumbents or continued political party dominance.

Authorizing Initiatives, Referenda, and Similar Actions

Numerous states have already established the right of their citizens to propose legislation and present it for the electorate’s consideration.  These actions – frequently termed initiatives or referenda – represent democracy at its roots.  Virginia presently does not offer its citizens any opportunity to generate legislative direction, even if a substantial majority seek to do so.  .  Virginia should offer its citizens the opportunity to play a more direct democratic role in law and governance.  The state should form a commission to study the range of citizen-generated legislative actions in use today and hold public hearings on these concepts as well as conducting educational outreach.  The commission should have one or more fixed reporting dates and produce a final report on its work and research findings as well as its recommendations for legislative action to establish this citizens’ right.

Promoting Community Engagement

Democracy thrives on engaged and aware members of the community, state, and nation.  But to be engaged and aware, citizens need to know what is happening.  Thomas Jefferson observed that “Information is the currency of democracy.”  That currency is often in short supply today.  Too many people know too little about what governments are doing for them, to them, or in their names.  Too few engage in making the changes they want and need.  I pledge to inform constituents as often as possible and to meet at least annually with my constituents in each of the 17 precincts of this 49th Legislative District.  I will do my utmost to respond to each concern or idea raised by my constituents. 

Making Quality Education Available to All

Education is a key to the future both for children and adults.  Every child, regardless of race, background, socioeconomic status, or geographic location, deserves an exceptional education that will prepare him or her for higher education and maximize the potential of the workforce of tomorrow.  Children need to be equipped to develop their talents to the utmost and find careers that make the best use of their talents for both themselves and their communities.  We need to recognize that adults may need continuing education to update skills, equip themselves to deal with emerging technologies, and enable them to adapt to new career opportunities. 

We must invest in strategies to help children who are economically disadvantaged and assist children who are physically and/or mentally challenged.  Family financial needs sometimes cause young people to drop out of school to the detriment of their futures.  We need to find educationally sound ways to allow these young people to help their families learning for their futures.   These young people can be – and generally want to be — productive citizens.  Our investments in literacy, mathematics, history, and other key subject pay enormous dividends.  These investments need to include meeting needs of physically and intellectually challenged young people as well.  Lack of education costs everyone – not just the youth involved, not just his or her family, but each of us.  We can ill afford to waste our children’s talents or squander opportunities for them to succeed. 

Teachers who work to meet students’ needs while helping them maximize their potential, who not only teach but coach and mentor, and whose students exceed expectations should be rewarded, because their work not only enhances current performance but builds a brighter future for both youth and their communities.  These teachers inspire, inform, and encourage young people.  They build intellectual, emotional, and physical capacities and lay foundations for lifelong learning, which many experts see as the key to our future as a Commonwealth and a nation.

Virginia’s state-sponsored university and college system is among the strengths of the Commonwealth.  Standards for this system should be maintained or enhanced, and the system should continue to sustain strong teaching institutions. This major asset should continue to play a vital role in preparing Virginia’s young people for the jobs of the future in the Commonwealth even as it attracts students from other states and countries. Young people should not only be academically prepared for higher education, but they should also be able to afford it, which means that tuition levels must be kept in check and scholarship aid must continue or grow. 

Grade schools need to use a wider range of technologies to serve a diverse student population, to improve academic standards, and to provide affordable education while maintaining standards, accountability, and community connection.   New technologies can help make education more cost effective while preparing students for work in a world more dominated by technology. 

The value of good-quality pre-kindergarten education is well documented.  Every child deserves access to this introduction to learning.  If thoughtfully prepared and properly executed, these programs lay a lifelong foundation of skills and know-how.  Such programs must be grounded in tested, effective practices and strategies and must be taught by well-prepared instructors.    

The Common Core Standards for education have been developed with input by both public and private sector organizations.  They set standards for moving education forward while preserving key learning processes.  Twenty-three states are looking to these standards to inform their education activities.  Virginia should be among them.  Eighty percent of teachers in a major poll support these benchmarks.  The standards set baselines for the knowledge and skills our young people will need to be successful in tomorrow’s grade schools, higher education facilities, and the workforce they will be challenged to engage.

Programs that develop multiple pathways combining academic and work experience are an excellent educational strategy, especially for those who may not seek four-year college degrees.  Community colleges (providing terminal programs as well as links to higher education opportunities) can be extraordinary resources both for higher education of all sorts.  Providing academic credit for volunteer activities can offer excellent opportunities for young people to try out career paths and for older workers to test possible career changes.  Night and weekend classes as well as on-site classes sponsored by employers can help workers maintain and upgrade their skills or explore new skills. 

Parental involvement and support are keys to educational achievement especially for young people.  Schools and school systems need to develop 21st-century initiatives to increase parents’ connection with their children’s education, including videos, projects that involve parents (and other family members) and even neighborhoods, as well as electronic links.  Regular communication with parents using email, voicemail, and other up-to-date strategies (especially those that go directly to parents instead of getting lost in students’ backpacks) need to be a key part of the system.  Support can and should go beyond a recitation of grades or behaviors.  For example, there is nothing wrong with suggesting family-based activities that can link to classroom work. 

State-level assessment of Virginia’s schools is an important means to improve achievement statewide.  These assessments (“grading”) must be fair and relevant.  They must account equitably for various challenges facing the schools in question.  For example, fair recognition should be given to the achievements of students who do not currently speak English as their primary language and to progress by children with documented learning challenges. 

Public Safety

Public safety is a core responsibility of the Commonwealth and of local government as its agent.  It is necessary to recognize and engage other partners in addition to law enforcement, including state agencies that can contribute to public safety (such as state police, mental health professionals, drug abuse prevention experts, highway operations, and education).  

Experience has shown that comprehensive approaches using community policing, problem-solving, and community engagement, as well as involving multiple agencies of the government can dramatically reduce crime.  Similarly, when law enforcement and other community-focused agencies work with such private sector organizations as neighborhood associations, condominium and rental community associations, churches, and businesses can result in powerful partnerships to prevent and reduce crime and address community challenges that may be linked with crime. 

Youth development initiatives (programs to help young people build skills and explore their strengths) can both deter young people from crime and help them extricate themselves from troubling situations.  Positive, structured programs of this type should be available to the significant majority of youth in our communities.  These programs should develop youth leadership and provide skills training that each youth can excel in.    These programs also need to be grounded in the day-to-day environments and experiences of youth and engage youth in the program and its processes.  As your Delegate, I will recruit a youth advisory board to help inform me about interests of youth and about the issues and challenges facing them, as well as to help them develop positive leadership skills. 

The Commonwealth should, without infringing on citizen rights to have a firearm for self defense in the home, use a number of tools to limit the presence and use of firearms, particularly by criminals, those with a propensity to violence, and/or youth.  Such tools include a range of actions from regulation of all sales to longer prison sentences for using a gun in a crime to mandatory background checks on all purchasers of firearms, no matter where or how they purchased their weapons.  Virginia needs to ensure that it effectively collaborates with other states and with Federal authorities to halt such threats as interstate gangs, firearms smuggling, armed criminal gangs (including drug cartels and sales forces) and illegal firearms sales.

All licensed or non-licensed firearm dealers should conduct a national instant criminal background check prior to any firearm sales or transfers, including the sales or transfers of any firearm at a gun show.  Appropriate penalties should apply for violations.

A person should be held civilly liable for injury to a person or property of another or for unlawful death resulting from the use of a firearm in the commission of a crime, if it can be shown by clear evidence that the firearm came into possession of the offender because of the failure of the gun owner to effectively secure the firearm from theft or unauthorized possession.

Virginia residents should not be able to buy ammunition online nor should it be lawful for Virginia-based firearms dealers to sell online.  Ammunition ordered over the Internet should be delivered in a face-to-face transaction with a firearms dealer.  The purchaser should go through a background check prior to acquiring the ammunition.

The circumstances in which firearms may be owned and held vary greatly from one local Virginia jurisdiction to another.  The governing body of any county or chartered city should have the authority to adopt local ordinances regulating the sale of firearms and ammunition in their localities.

It should be unlawful to carry firearms into a local public meeting, except for law enforcement officers and/or qualified, registered armed security personnel whose duty it is to protect participants at the meeting as determined by the local government. Open carrying at these meetings by private citizens is intended to and simply intimidates the public, wastes law enforcement resources, and increases the risk of injury and death due to the accidental or intentional use of firearms.

Virginia needs to enact so-called “dram shop” laws, which establish at least partial liability for bars, restaurants, and other places that serve alcohol to customers who come into the establishment drunk or are served so much alcohol that they become drunk.  These businesses should be held liable for their role(s) in death, injury, or property damage caused by the person who leaves the premises and drives drunk when the driver’s condition was or should have been obviously hazardous to the drunk driver and any drivers or pedestrians in his or her way.

Transportation

Transportation, especially in Virginia’s urban areas, has become a morass of congestion, pollution, and frustration.  There is no question that transportation snarls affect commuters, businesses that rely on highways and city streets to meet customer needs, and even the safety of children going to and from school – not just occasionally but on a daily basis.  Increased financial support for mass transit alternatives, including study of and progress as merited on Metrorail service between East Falls Church and Pentagon City with potential stations at the Seven Corners Area and Skyline, will boost the economic future of the Arlington-Seven Corners Area and reduce congestion.  But addressing transportation issues also means upgrading major highways and improving traffic circulation on various local and regional secondary roads, as well as enhancing bus transportation throughout the region.  In high-traffic areas, there is considerable work to be done in improving pedestrian safety.

The proposed streetcar in Arlington along Columbia Pike may bring some tourists, but it will not necessarily help commuters.   It has great potential for further snarling traffic along Columbia Pike (already a commuter choke point), increasing pollution, and disrupting efficient bus routes.  A streetcar line also cannot shift easily when demographics change.  Technology is presenting us quickly with new ways of moving people.  Looking at other ways, especially but not limited to Metrorail service, in the South Arlington-Skyline Seven Corners area, is a smarter long-term investment.

The newly granted authority for Northern Virginia to allocate its transportation dollars is a good step.  This legislative authority will enable the region to develop coordinated strategies to reduce congestion, upgrade commuter facilities, and improve the design and safety of our roadways.

Arlington has one of the best bicycle path systems in the region and use rates that are among the highest in the metropolitan area – possibly in the nation.  Improvements for bicycle traffic along the main traffic corridors in Arlington and Fairfax Counties should be a priority, as well, especially in linking bike riders to existing trails.

Early-age licensing of drivers is associated with higher rates of fatal car crashes.  Increasing the qualifications for learners’ permits from 15 years and 6 months to 16 years can help reduce injury and fatal crashes among this group. 

Statistical evidence shows that reducing the number of teens allowed in a car driven by a  teen reduces the odds of fatal incidents.  The number of non-family passengers under the age of 21 in a car driven by a teen should be restricted to one person.  Young people who are driving on restricted licenses should not be permitted to have any non-family passengers under 21 in their vehicles. 

To reduce the number of incidents of driving through red lights and to increase safety in light-controlled intersections, Virginia should increase the number of red light cameras in these intersections.  However, the light and camera timing should allow adequate time for drivers to pass through intersections on yellow lights.  Revenues from camera-detected violations should be placed in a trust-style fund for traffic safety rather than in local jurisdictions’ general revenue streams.

The new statute that makes texting while driving a primary rather than secondary offense will significantly reduce vehicular crashes and fatalities in Virginia by keeping drivers’ attention on safety in traffic.  It should be vigorously enforced.

Impaired driving – whether because of alcohol or medication or use of illicit drugs – needs to be treated by law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and the courts as the serious threat to public safety that it is.  Virginia needs to develop a “dram shop” law, which holds bars and restaurants (and other places that serve alcohol) to a degree of liability if the facility allows a drunk person to drive off.  Other states have these and many mandate intensive server training to help prevent deaths – the drunk driver’s death or those of others.

Older drivers (65 and over) experience fatal crashes at a rate second only to that of teen drivers.  In the interest of both older drivers and the general public, Virginia should move to a system that requires more frequent checks of the visual acuity and reaction times of older drivers.

Employment

Building a 21st century economy requires recognition of the changes that have taken place and continue to do so throughout the Old Dominion (and indeed the nation).  Shifts in sector growth and in industries phasing out, the emergence of sustainable “green jobs” in a number of categories, increased reliance on computer skills beyond “typewriting electronically,” – these are just some of the skills and capacities that Virginia must help its citizens gain or improve in order to enhance their ability to provide to the 21st century economy.  Connecting schools, business sectors, and state and local agencies that can address the shifting face of today’s economy is critical to ensuring Virginia’s continued economic vitality. 

Wage levels are another challenge that Virginia must face.  In urban and suburban areas, there is no question that the current minimum wage is too low, especially if the wage earner has a family.  It is arguable that the current minimum wage is too low in many less-populated areas as well.  A ten-dollar per hour minimum wage should be the base requirement, with exceptions for temporary, agricultural and teen employment.

One interesting option – job sharing – could provides more employment opportunity for younger workers while enabling senior workers to reduce their work hours but still pass along their legacies of skills and expertise to younger generations.

Virginia (like many other states) needs to develop ways to increase emphasis on job training both on and off the job.  Unemployment should be addressed by increasing emphasis on on-the-job training and encouragement of entrepreneurship rather than long stints on unemployment compensation.  A system of flexible assistance could be less expensive, especially because compensation would be adjusted downward as work-related earnings increase.

Health Care

Medicaid expansion will help Virginia’s citizens and health care systems as the expanded primary and preventive care will help eliminate waste brought about by emergency room visits and the availability of better funding will deliver better quality health care to Virginians who otherwise cannot afford it.

As hospitals struggle financially and aging patients need greater hospital and long-term care,   it is imperative that residency programs are expanded in order to train more doctors as well as bolster assistance for current practitioners to alleviate the pressure on hospitals.  It is also worthwhile to consider new types of positions for long-term care, if it is possible to do so at reasonable cost and with effective supervision.

With the increased availability of health insurance and the increasing numbers of aging population, the need for more primary care practitioners must be addressed as soon as possible if quality health care is to be maintained, let alone improved.  This includes, of course, training of nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other health professionals to meet demand and limit costs.

Health care systems should reward quality of care, not merely quantity.  The current fee-for-service system incentivizes unnecessary (or overly costly) tests and procedures.  A system in which health care providers are compensated based on results and on prevention-focused medical care, as well as sound patient education, offers one way to support effective, preventive care.  This strategy will reduce costs faced by chronically ill patients, reduce emergency room visits, and make health care in Virginia more cost-effective.

The Commonwealth of Virginia has the opportunity to take advantage of federal funding guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act, which will help expand coverage and provide access to better health care. Opting out of such funding would be a disservice to Virginians.

Protecting the Lives of the Unborn

Life is a precious gift.  Protecting the lives of unborn children honors that gift.  Women who become pregnant need better opportunities to ensure that children they cannot or choose not to raise to adulthood are placed in loving homes that can give these children bright and caring futures. 

Virginia can show leadership in protecting unborn children by developing and strengthening counseling and placement networks; helping pregnant women with counseling, medical care, and assurance of good placements for their children with couples able to provide loving, supportive care, to name just a few initiatives.  Terry Modglin is recommended to voters by the Virginia Society for Human Life Political Action Committee.