First, I am pleased to announce that we now have a
Fairfax District office! You can find my Legislative
Assistant, Andrea Loewenwarter, at 9900 Main
Street, Plaza Suite 102, Fairfax Square in the City of
Fairfax. Office hours are from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00
p.m., Monday through Friday, or any time by
While most people celebrated Valentine?s Day on
February 14th, the General Assembly also celebrated
a milestone known as Cross-Over Day. This is the
day where each body (House and Senate) must
complete work on non-budget related bills and send
them over to the opposite body for consideration.
As a result, in the days leading to cross-over, it is
not uncommon for meetings to last well into the
evening. The entire process came to a crescendo
this Tuesday, as we voted on over 200 bills.
While many of these bills are technical, others have
significant impacts and were vigorously debated.
Some of these bills I supported, some of them I
didn?t. But in almost every instance there were very
legitimate perspectives on both sides. Below are just
a few highlights. Sorry for the length ? I?ve
highlighted the topics so that you can scan to the
most interesting bills.
Clean Smokestacks Act. HB1055, which was
defeated in committee last year, was unanimously
passed this year by the full House. This measure
reduces emissions of mercury, sulfur dioxide, and
nitrogen oxide from power plants in Virginia. The bill
goes above and beyond federal regulations by
accelerating compliance deadlines and limiting the
use of ?trading? to meet mercury reduction
requirements. The latter issue was a major sticking
point between those who wanted to allow trading
throughout the United States (that is, a plant in
Virginia could buy credits from a plant in California)
versus those who wanted to ban trading altogether.
HB1055 represented a compromise between the
power industry and several environmental groups.
Because almost identical legislation has passed in the
Senate, the measure is nearly assured approval.
Repeal of the Triggerman Rule. HB 782
repeals the ?triggerman rule.? This rule requires that
to be eligible for capital punishment, a person must
actually be the one who committed the murder.
Repeal of this rule was prompted by the sniper case,
where Lee Malvo pulled the trigger, but was under
the direction of John Mohammed. Ultimately, it was
a new State anti-terrorism provision that allowed for
the capital conviction of Mohammed. However, this
change makes it possible to seek a capital conviction
even when there are no terrorist-like circumstances.
Proponents argued that sometimes an individual will
coerce another into performing the crime knowing full
well the outcome and therefore should be prosecuted
accordingly. Opponents argued against expansion of
capital punishment or were concerned that it would
be too easy for the person committing the crime to
place blame on a lesser participant. Not an easy one.
Eminent Domain. Last summer, the Supreme
Court in Kelo v. New London decided that
government could take private property by eminent
domain for the purpose of increasing tax revenues.
It was no surprise then that the General Assembly
moved to limit eminent domain to its more historical
use (a move that I strongly support). Delegate
Terrie Suit worked with a number of affected parties
to arrive at HB94, which I thought was a pretty good
piece of legislation. However, that bill, after about
20 minutes of debate, was replaced on the House
floor by a vote of 45 to 51 with language limiting the
ability of government to use eminent domain beyond
what Virginia has traditionally done. Given that we
needed to pass a bill to deal with the issue, it moved
on to the Senate, but I think there will be a lot of
work to do to make this a better bill.
Traffic Abuser Fees. The idea behind abuser
fees is to increase revenue for transportation by
raising penalties for aggressive drivers, those
convicted of DWI, and other offenders. Abuser fees
are part of the House transportation plan (HB527)
and the Governor?s transportation plan. They are not
part of the Senate?s transportation plan. (Yes, there
are three State-wide plans and at least one regional
plan.) The big differences between the House
version and the Governor?s version are the dollar
amount of the fees and how many points it takes for
the fees to kick-in.
Self Defense/Deadly Force. Currently,
nothing in the Code of Virginia actually defines when
it is OK to use deadly force when someone breaks
into your home and threatens you with physical
harm. HB829, if approved by the Senate, will change
Hiring Illegal Immigrants. Two bills
strengthen penalties against employers that hire
illegal immigrants, but using two different
approaches. HB1048 increases criminal penalties for
employing illegal immigrants. HB1067 creates a new
provision that subjects those who hire illegal
immigrants to significant civil fees. The real benefit
of a civil action is that it shifts the burden of proof
and makes it easier to act against violators.
Transportation Bond Act. HB 1257 redirects
existing funding from the insurance license tax and
the recordation tax to a special fund for use in
Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. There was
little agreement on this bill except that it sets up a
mechanism to focus funding in these two regions. It
will now be up to the Senate whether additional
revenue will be added, or whether the idea of a
regional mechanism will be scraped.
Clean Fuel Vehicle Use of HOV Lanes. I?ve
received lots of different perspectives about whether
clean fuel vehicles should be able to continue to use
HOV lanes. Under current law, the use of HOV lanes
by clean fuel vehicles would sunset in July 2006. As
originally written HB1248 would have extended the
sunset provision until July 2007. However, an
interesting compromise occurred on the House floor.
Basically, after July 2006, the clean fuel plates will be
changed, and only those with the old plates will be
allowed to continue using HOV lanes on I-95/395.
The idea, as expressed by Delegate McQuigg of
Prince William, is to allow those who already invested
in these vehicles to continue to do so, but to draw
the line now so that HOV lanes don?t become
overwhelmed. It is also notable that the cost of a
clean fuel plate will go up by $25 annually to go
towards enhanced HOV enforcement.
Sexual Predators. Several bills strengthen
laws against sexual predators. HB846 strengthens
penalties against sexual predators, while HB984
allows electronic notification to residents when a
sexual predator has moved into an area. Both bills
contain several other provisions as well.
These are just a few of the issues that will now go
before the Senate. Of note, coming over from the
Senate to the House is a proposal to ban smoking in
bars, restaurants, and other indoor areas. This bill
(SB648) has been sent to the Committee on General
Laws where I serve. I would appreciate your
On the lighter side, efforts to designate the
Shenandoah salamander as the State amphibian
failed. An effort to have the song ?Oh Shenandoah?
designated as the interim State song passed the
Senate and has been sent over to the House. With
all due respect to our friends in the Valley, while a
beautiful song, it doesn?t really lend itself well to
group singing and contains references to the ?wide
If you got this far ? congratulations and thank you!
It is a pleasure to represent you in the General
Assembly. Please contact my office if I can be of
any assistance or if you have an opinion that you
would like to share.