Va. Gov. Northam: Trump’s bump stock ban a ‘good step’; says he may take exec action on guns

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s move to ban “bump stock” devices is a “good step in the right direction,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam told WTOP’s “Ask the Governor” program.

Calling last week’s massacre at a Florida high school a “horrific tragedy,” Northam, a Democrat, said he may consider taking executive action of his own in Virginia after several “common-sense” gun restrictions were defeated in the General Assembly last month.

“Anything that we can on the executive level, we will,” Northam said. “And we are having those discussions.”

Trump announced Tuesday he was tasking the Justice Department with putting in place new regulations that would ban bump-stock devices, which allow semi-automatic rifles to fire faster. Similar devices were used in last year’s Las Vegas mass shooting that killed 58 people.

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Democrats in Virginia introduced a score of gun-related legislation last month, all of which were quashed on the first day of the General Assembly.

“I will tell you, I don’t know how many more tragedies we have to witness, but people have about had enough, and I think you’re seeing some of that,” Northam said. And a lot of our young people are coming out and speaking out and that’s important. Our politicians and policymakers need to listen to people.”

Students across the country — including in the D.C. area — have pledged to walk out of class to press for action on gun control measures. Students from Northern Virginia held a “lie-in” at the White House Monday.

Northam added: “I think it’s time for us to take action. And as we say: Prayers and thoughts are nice for these families, but it doesn’t bring back their loved ones. It’s time to take action.”

Election security: ‘Our president needs to put his foot down’

Last week, U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russian nationals in a far-reaching probe of secret efforts — largely undertaken on social media — to sway the outcome of the 2016 election.

Northam called on Trump to denounce the Russian effort in stronger terms.

“This was very unfortunate that we had Russian meddling … Things start at the top, leadership-wise,” Northam said. “Our president needs to put his foot down and say: ‘This is unacceptable.’ We cannot have other countries meddling in our elections.”

Trump has said Mueller’s indictment vindicates him and his campaign, tweeting last weekend: “The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong — no collusion!”

Northam also addressed election challenges closer to home.

State election officials have said 147 Virginia voters in the Fredericksburg area were given the wrong ballots during last November’s election and ended up voting in the wrong House of Delegates races. One of those races — which decided control of the house — was decided by just 73 votes.

Documents obtained by WTOP have shown there was confusion months before the 2017 election about how district lines were drawn even among elections officials.

“The incident in Fredericksburg is unacceptable … We do want to make sure that every vote counts, and we may have made some changes,” Northam said.

Last month, Northam appointed a new elections commissioner who he said is making changes.

Northam said his administration is working with lawmakers to tweak a bill that would change the makeup of the state board of elections to make sure the governor retains the power to appoint the commissioner.

Monitoring I-66 tolls

Nearly three months since rush-hour tolling debuted on Interstate 66, Northam said his administration is monitoring toll amounts that, at times, have spiked to more than $46.

Virginia officials have said the average toll amount is $12.37 and that tolls generally are working as intended, because speeds are about 10 mph faster than in January of 2017.

A proposal in Virginia’s General Assembly calls for VDOT to retool the algorithm that sets the tolls, and another amendment would require VDOT to start tolling drivers going against rush-hour traffic in the future.

Reverse tolling “is an option on the table, but we have not made a commitment to that,” Northam said.

He added: “I would just look at it as making the system more efficient. It’s an idea that’s on the table. We need these roads, we need these toll policies to work for Virginians. We’ll continue to monitor them.”

A ‘wake-up call’ from Amazon

Northam said hammering out an agreement on dedicated funding for Metro is important not only to Northern Virginia’s economy but also the state’s economic well-being as a whole. And it could help entice Amazon to the area as the digital giant scouts locations for its much-vaunted second headquarters.

“We have companies like Amazon that are looking at coming into Northern Virginia,” he said. “I think we’re in a great position to welcome them here and certainly having an efficient Metro is very, very important.”

Northam called Amazon’s headquarters search “a wake-up call” for both stabilizing Metro’s finances and also improving workforce development.

“So whether Amazon comes to this area or not, we need to fix Metro; we need to make sure that we’re training individuals for 21st-century jobs. So I think the efforts that we put forward are good, whether Amazon is here or not. But we’re looking forward to having Amazon with us.”

Northam did not discuss specifics of any incentive package being offered to entice Amazon.

Last month, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced his state was willing to offer $3 billion in tax incentives and another $2 billion in transportation infrastructure improvements to lure the company to Maryland.

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