The County Board approved its legislative agenda Wednesday, Dec. 15 for the coming short session of the state General Assembly in January, focusing on transportation and county revenues as its highest priorities.
With the help of delegates Adam Ebbin (D-49), Bob Brink (D-48) and Albert Eisenberg (D-47), the board compiled its wish list in its Dec. 7 work session.
Focusing on transportation, the county looks to double the Northern Virginia Gas Sales tax from two to four percent. The measure, board member Chris Zimmerman said, aims to reduce the funding crisis that has plagued Northern Virginia’s metro lines.
Taxes also made the list when it comes to generating revenue to promote tourism in the county. Among the proposals the county plans to push is one that would remove the sunset clause on the local five percent occupancy tax for hotels. That tax generated an estimated $765,000 last year alone, according to county statistics, but it expires in Jan. 2005 unless it is renewed in the Assembly. County manager Ron Carlee said he expects some resistance from the hotel industry.
The county also plans to push for the authority under state law to charge residents applying for encroachments on public property, fixtures on private property that use or effect public land, and for the cost of a real estate title search, a charge the county already levies.
SUPPORT FOR STATE reimbursement of car tax revenue also made the list. The state promised $950 million, according to Carlee, to make up for the lost revenue it created but payment fell short this year by $270 million.
A law permitting Northern Virginian jurisdictions to install automatic cameras at intersections to photograph drivers that run red lights also needs the county’s support to pass.
The county’s traffic worries also play a part in a bill aimed at restricting overnight parking on public streets from cars that come from registered outside Arlington. That proposal would also allow the county to withhold residential zone parking permits to drivers that fail to pay parking tickets.
EDUCATION REFORM for immigrant students drew some discussion during the work session. Ebbin and board member Walter Tejada voiced support during the work session for immigrant students awaiting the results of asylum or citizenship applications, saying legislation should be passed to ensure they can still attend schools and pay in-state tuition fees.
Tejada pointed to the case of Brian Marroquin, a student from Guatemala who was kept from attending college because his status was still being decided by the federal government, as an example of why the measure should be passed. Marroquin could not afford the out-of-state tuition to attend college.
“There are many more Brian Marroquin’s out there, people who may not be able to show you a piece of paper but who are legal in this country,” Tejada said.
Ebbin was skeptical the proposal would pass.
Tejada added, “There is no question that this year we will have a House that is anti-immigrant.”
SUPPORT FOR SAME-SEX unions is on the county’s agenda in the face of a push by Republicans in other corners of the state to ban it and place further restrictions on gay couples. The agenda calls for the repeal of the state’s Reaffirmation of Marriage Act passed this year that banned same-sex marriage.
Board member Jay Fisette said the best possible hope for the coming session could be to limit the state’s restrictions on same-sex couples only to marriage, and to block efforts that would expand restrictions, such as preventing gay couples from acknowledging their partners in wills and other contracts.
AS FOR what the county believes it should monitor or oppose, the agenda says the county will be mindful of initiatives that would limit the ways municipalities fund transportation costs. The county expects a bill to limit payment options only to the purchase of municipal bonds.
Limitations on local living wages and on the county’s zoning authority also made the list. On taxes, it warned against changes to the telecommunication tax rates until they can be shaped to be “revenue neutral to localities," meaning that they wouldn’t cost the county anything.
It also suggested that the county voice opposition to any proposed cap on real estate tax assessments or tax rates. Taking another controversial stance, the county’s agenda also urges the state to impose a moratorium on the death penalty.
EBBIN SAID he is sponsoring a bill in the short session, which will last only until Feb. 27, to make voting easier in Virginia. In light of the long lines and hours of waiting that voters faced during the Nov. presidential election, Ebbin said he will submit a bill that will lift restrictions on absentee voting. If passed, the law would allow voters to cast an absentee ballot without any reason other than their own personal preference to do so.
“It needs to be easier to participate in the democratic process,” he said.
TURNING TO GUN CONTROL, Ebbin said he will put forth a bill that would prevent convicted stalkers from owning guns.
Ebbin proposed similar legislation during the 2003-2004 session, but it was defeated. He has since rewritten the proposal, and said he is optimistic about its outcome. Federal laws regarding stalkers already prohibit them from carrying guns, but the state needs to enact a similar law for the sake of adequate enforcement, he said.
“Because it’s a federal law, I might have to call the ATF if I’m being stalked by someone with a gun,” he said.
Among other legislation Ebbin plans to put to the assembly is a bill that will allow hunting on Sundays and another that will provide telephone calling cards for prison inmates trying to phone home.
“Collect calls from prisons are a profit center for the department of corrections but they cost an inmate’s family hundreds of dollars,” Ebbin said.
BRINK IS SPONSORING a bill that would require faxes in Virginia to be accompanied with contact information to reduce “spam faxes,” advertisements and scams sent over fax lines. Brink is also reintroducing a bill that would establish offices of the inspector general in cabinet level agencies to offer more government oversight.