When Del. Mark Keam (D-35th) began his first term in 2009, most people wished him luck and warned he wouldn’t get anything done: the Democrat drew No. 100 among the state’s house representatives, making him the most junior member of a body controlled by Republicans.
While he did struggle in certain areas — particularly in the house budget committee, on which he was the only Democrat and "couldn’t get a motion seconded" — Keam, the first Korean-American and first Asian-born immigrant to be sworn into the Virginia General Assembly, succeeded in others. One of his largest victories was the House Joint Resolution 64, co-sponsored , which made make delegates’ voting records more accessible on the General Assembly’s website. .
Now, after winning a second term in office for a district redrawn to include Tysons Corner, Keam says the experience has prepared him to take on the transportation issues surrounding the development of the future urban center, which many say will become one of the state’s largest economic engines.
His other priorities for this year’s session, which begins Jan. 11 in Richmond, include veterans issues and also those that help small businesses.
With Tysons Corner now a large part of his district, Keam says his first goal is to earn a spot on the assembly’s Transportation Committee, a role that would not only give him a greater chance at pushing through bills to help the Vienna-Oakton area but also address larger transportation problems — for one, a lack of long-term, sustainable revenue sources to fund projects.
He said Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) campaigned two years ago on finding such sources, but other than serving more bonds already in place, the governor has come up short, Keam said.
"I’m hoping we can find some more reasonable solutions," Keam said.
Committee assignments are given by the House Majority Leader in the first week of the year’s session.
Locally, Keam is putting his focus on three issues: the state’s funding formula for local roads, construction’s impact on the secondary roads in his district’s municipalities and pending road projects.
He plans to file a bill that would direct more funding to roads with higher usage, both in the Vienna-Oakton area and across the state. It will propose adjusting the formula based on a 20 percent rule: If a town or a city has a usage per mile of 20 percent higher than state average, the state would pay 20 percent higher in maintenance costs.
He filed a similar bill two years ago, he said, but it didn’t move beyond the House.
"Our roads are beat up more often than in the rest of the state," Keam said. "This is extra funding [to compensate for that]."
He also plans to file a bill that would create a new funding formula that considers how secondary roads that see more overweight trucks are more damaged than car-heavy roads.
He also hopes to have a hand in directing some of the state’s budget to projects included in the Tysons Comprehensive Plan’s Table 7, which details about $1.6 billion in unfunded road and transportation costs.
Keam would like to secure funding to get at least two of those projects started this year, he said.
Keam also plans to file a bill that would align Virginia standards for small businesses with federal standards set by the Small Business Administration.
The state defines a small business as having 250 employees or less, or generating $10 million or less in annual revenue. At the federal level, size standards differ between industries.
"I’m told by a lot of people it would be more helpful for small-business owners to have one standard to comply with as opposed to state and federal standards," said Keam, who was formerly employed by the SBA. "The benefit there is that if the feds want to change it at some point then our laws automatically capture that as well."
Keam has pushed through several bills for veterans in the past, including one last year that required the Commissioner of Health to allow military training to count toward the requirements for certification as an Emergency Medical Technician in Virginia.
The recent end of the war in Iraq has made his goal to help veterans even more urgent, he said.
"They’re all coming back, and the unemployment rate for troops is still very much higher than the national numbers," Keam said.
He said he’d like to see a state-level tax break for businesses that hire military veterans, similar to the federal-level credit recently signed by President Barack Obama.
Keam says he’s exploring whether exempting military service members’ retirement pay from taxes, a practice in place in several states like New York and Pennsylvania, would make sense in Virginia.
Keam is also looking into smaller adjustments, like extending the amount of time military veterans have to renew their Virginia licenses from 90 to 180 days. It would particularly benefit those troops who are overseas for months at a time and can’t get back to take care of stateside business, he said.
Keam has his eyes on several more local issues, including
- A bill that would allow counties the discretion to keep polling places until 8 p.m., one hour later than current regulations allow
- Tightening state licensing practices and regulations
Keam says he wants businesses to have the appropriate licensing, citing examples such as martial arts studios that are required to carry child care licenses, and forensic and computer science businesses must carry private investigator licenses.
"It’s like putting a square peg in a circle hole: Even though their practice doesn’t fit in that category, it's the only license their practice can have. The state laws and regulations are sometimes mismatched."
Keam will be posting updates about his work during the session on his website. He'll also hold a town hall meeting with Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34) at 9 a.m. Jan. 21 at , 330 Center Street N. Coffee and light refreshments will be provided.