State Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-34th) conducted two town hall meetings on Jan. 29, one in Fairfax and the other at Town Hall in Vienna. At each of them, one of the first questions she was asked was about gun control and a questionnaire she had sent to her district. The questionnaire asked whether her constituents support the current law, which states that people who have a concealed weapon permit can purchase only one gun per month.
Devolites Davis polled the audience of about 50 people in Vienna, and only one man besides the questioner supported being able to make additional purchases. In Fairfax there were three supporters among approximately 100 in attendance.
Devolites Davis has opposed allowing the extra purchases and noted that 80 percent of her District supports stronger gun control measures. “I think I represent my District,” she said.
Before the question-and-answer period began, Devolites Davis explained what is happening in the state Senate this session. The $900 million surplus in the state budget is mostly spoken for, she told the crowd. “About two-thirds are obligated” she said. A portion must be placed in the state’s “Rainy Day Fund,” and another chunk must go to the Water Quality Fund.
Rising Medicaid costs, Devolites Davis said, are eating up a substantial amount of state money. “Medicaid is one of those great unfunded mandates from the federal government,” she said pointedly to her husband, U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11th), who was in attendance at the meeting. Davis did not reply.
A lot of the debate this year, Devolites Davis said, will focus on what to do with the remaining surplus funds. A general agreement is in place that the state should accelerate the phase-out of the sales tax on food, which was approved in last year’s budget.
OTHER PARTS of the surplus may be used for one-time transportation improvements and paying off debts incurred in past transportation projects. This brought Devolites Davis to the discussion of a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would create a firewall between the state’s general fund and the transportation fund. “This year’s great debate is going to be about the transportation trust fund,” she said.
In lean budget years, transportation funding, which typically comes from the gas tax and other fees paid by car owners, is sometimes used to balance the general fund budget.
A constitutional amendment has been proposed that would forbid that practice from occurring. However, Devolites Davis' Senate colleagues are also proposing an amendment that would forbid using general fund money for transportation projects. She disagrees with the Senate amendment, saying it removes flexibility from budgeting. “In my mind, why not use those for one-time transportation payments?” Devolites Davis said.
She also explained the bills she is sponsoring, which would overhaul the regulation of assisted-living facilities. Several audience members stood up to commend her on her efforts, along with those of Del. Vivian Watts (D-39th), in the area. Devolites Davis’ plan includes requiring more licensed administrators and increasing the budget for inspectors, among an array of other changes.
FINALLY, DEVOLITES DAVIS discussed her proposals to outlaw spyware and “phishing,” two practices used in computer fraud and identity theft. Both of these are ways of gathering information about computer users. The gathering of the information will not be illegal per se, Devolites Davis explained. “What we’re making illegal is the malicious intent,” she said.
Local transportation funding came up when a resident suggested that Northern Virginia does not get its fair share of transportation funding. While Devolites Davis agreed in principle, she pointed out that big ticket items like the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project and the I-95/I-495 Interchange (commonly called the “Mixing Bowl”) get about 85 percent of transportation funding for Fairfax County. “It’s tough to see it on this side of the county,” she said.
Gene Quinn came to speak about red light cameras. The law that permits the cameras is about to expire, and Devolites Davis has sponsored legislation to allow localities to continue to use them.
Quinn opposes the cameras and cited a study showing an increase in some kinds of traffic accidents. “They are causing accidents, and that’s all that counts,” he said.
Devolites Davis pointed out that the accidents that have increased are rear-ending accidents. “The person behind expects you to run the red light,” she said, adding that the cameras work to change behavior and create a safer environment. “I think it’s a very good program."
Eva Catlin asked about a bill, sponsored by Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D-31st). Senate Bill 456 would have specifically declared contraception to be legal in the state of Virginia. The bill went on to define “contraception” fairly broadly, including a provision that would have said that preventing a fertilized ovum from being implanted in the uterus is contraception.
This would mean that a so-called “morning after” pill, such as RU-486, would be defined as contraception not abortion. Devolites Davis offered an amendment that removed the specifics and simply defined contraception as something that prevents pregnancy.
Whipple, Devolites Davis said, must have had an agenda with this bill, and until she could decide what that agenda was, she would not support the bill. Devolites Davis stressed, however, that she does support contraception and that there has not been any bill that would have made contraception illegal.
Catlin also asked about House Bill 2921 which would make it illegal for homosexuals to adopt children in Virginia. Devolites Davis did not respond specifically or in concept, saying instead that she had not read the bill and so could not comment on it.
THREE RESIDENTS spoke about their problems with Dominion Virginia Power and the power company's program of trimming trees along the Washington & Old Dominion Trail. “Why can’t the delegation as a unit go to Dominion?” asked Jack Nelson, who lives along the trail.
Devolites Davis explained that the only legislators likely to be willing to invest time on the issue were those who represent areas along the trail, and many of them are already involved.
She did say that she would raise the issue at the Northern Virginia caucus meeting so that representatives from other districts would become aware of the issue.
Mike Cavin brought up the issue of campaign finance. Members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors must disclose financial contributions of over $99 made by people who have an issue, particularly a land-use decision, before the Board. Cavin said, however, that they are not obliged to disclose the amount.
A big difference exists between someone who contributed $100 and $10,000, he said.
Devolites Davis thought about a bill being sponsored by Sen. Patricia Ticer (D-30th), which would mandate more frequent campaign finance reports from supervisors during non-election years. Devolites Davis suggested that she may be able to add Cavin’s proposal as an amendment. “I think that people need to know where the dollars are coming from,” she said.