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Ready for Richmond

Legislators peg bills for General Assembly session.

State Sen. William "Bill" Mims (R-33) and Del. Richard "Dick" Black (R-32) headed to the General Assembly session this week ready to generate support for the bills they drafted or helped draft.

The annual session, which is expected to last for 45 days, is the 12th for Mims and the fifth for Black. The two plan to develop legislation with Del. Thomas Davis Rust (R-86) to reopen the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office in Sterling potentially by July 1. Last year, Gov. Mark Warner (D) closed the office and 11 others in the state to help bolster the state's $1.5 billion budget shortfall.

"Sterling DMV is one of the busiest DMV offices in the state of Virginia," Black said, adding that Warner closed the DMV offices "to create a sense of panic." "He certainly did not need to do that because of the budget. I think he chose DMV because he could create the greatest hardship for the greatest number of people."

Black plans to push House Joint Resolution 551 to prevent the state from "raiding" the Transportation Trust Fund for the general fund and other spending, the latest raid including $15 million in license fees used to support the DMV and $317 million in sales taxes. In the past 10 years, the state took more than a billion dollars out of the fund, which is designated for transportation projects, Black said. "The only way you can guarantee money won't be taken out of a fund is by constitutional amendment," he said.

BLACK, WHO LIVES in Lowes Island and is a retired army colonel, plans to push for several other bills during the next session, including:

* House Bill 1519 to prevent localities from raising property taxes by more than 5 percent from the previous year, unless increases in population or a voter referendum dictates the need for a larger increase.

"The property tax cap will require local governments to be more judicious in how they spend money," Black said, adding that for the past three years, property taxes have had double digit increases.

"Housing prices have gone up, and local governments are using that as an excuse to hike property taxes. Yet family incomes are not going up ... as fast as the tax," Black said. "We have had out-of-control spending in Loudoun County, and this would certainly put a brake on that."

* House Bills 1423 and 1417 to limit auto safety inspections and emission tests to automobiles five years and older, now required of all automobiles.

* House Bill 1489 to impose mandatory reports of child abuse on the clergy, requiring priests, ministers and rabbis to report suspected child abuse to the Department of Social services unless the information is obtained during confession. Confessions are protected as privileged communications under state law.

* House Bill 1402 requiring parental consent for abortion for girls under the age of 18.

"This bill will save the lives of a 1,000 children every year," Black said.

Black, 58, was elected to office in 1998. Since then, he has enacted legislation to provide the framework for constructing the Route 28 freeway, helped defeat the half-cent transportation sales tax proposed for Northern Virginia and Tidewater, and defended traditional family values.

"I played a key role in passing the parental notification law that helps reduce abortions in Virginia. I enacted a law requiring Internet filtering in the public schools," Black said. "Generally, I play a fairly crucial role in the enactment of pro-family legislation in Virginia."

MIMS, A STERLING RESIDENT, has several bills he plans to introduce during the 2003 session that will be assigned numbers later this week. The bills include:

* A bill streamlining the state's administrative processes under the Administrative Process Act, the act that governs the formal processes for state regulatory agencies.

* A bill prohibiting government agencies from making social security numbers public. The bill proposes removing social security numbers from driver's licenses and increasing the penalties for identity theft.

"Thousands of Virginians have become the victim of identity theft in the past five years," Mims said.

* A bill extending the protections of the Whistle Blowers Protection Act to private sector employees who disclose the illegal conduct of employers. The act currently protects federal contractor employees.

"An employee can be fired for doing what is right and required by law," Mims said.

* A bill establishing a separate fair housing commission to address housing discrimination issues, which are currently handled by the Real Estate Board, licensing agency for Realtors.

"Discriminating against someone when they want to rent or buy a house based upon their race is wrong," Mims said. "No one can justify that conduct. It's important we have an individual agency that enforces and punishes such illegal activities."

Mims, who lives in Sterling and works at a law firm in Leesburg, was elected in 1991 to the House of Delegates and in 1998 to the Senate in a special election. The 45-year-old mentioned the passage of the Virginia Educational Savings Trust and teen driving reform as his major accomplishments during his terms.

"When I see a problem, such as a large increase in serious collisions by teenagers, I can propose a solution and get that solution through the process," Mims said. "If that particular solution protects lives and allows more teenagers to drive without getting in crashes, it's very satisfying."

Mims serves on four committees, including Courts of Justice, Transportation, Rehabilitation and Social Services, and Local Government. Mims expected to hear Tuesday if he was appointed to the Education and Health Committee. If so, he will be dropped from the Rehabilitation and Social Services or the Local Government committees.

Black's four committees are the Courts of Justice, Transportation, Privileges and Elections, and Education.