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Votes

Mims Sums Up

Driver safety, church property subject of state senator's legislation this year.

State Sen. William Mims (R-32) garnered some attention from the press during the recent Virginia General Assembly session. Bills he introduced ranged in topic from church property law to cell phone use by teenagers — all of it catching the attention of constituents.

Back in his law office in Leesburg, Mims reflected on this year's session and his goals for next year.

"In every session, you never get all of your legislative agenda approved," Mims said. "Many bills require a multi-year effort."

The legislation that got Mims the most attention this year fall into that long-term category: he'll be bringing bills back next year that proved too hot to make it this year.

ONE BILL that Mims introduced would have made it illegal for teenagers to drive and use cell phones, regardless of whether they were hands-free or not. A few years ago when Mims' own daughter started driving, he forbade her to use a phone in the car as a common sense measure.

Mims' bill (SB 784) came on the heels of a record-breaking year for teen driver deaths in the Washington, D.C., area. While the Senate approved it, the House of Delegates watered down the bill to make cell phone use by teenagers a secondary offense.

"I think the House of Delegates got it wrong," Mims said. He plans to revise the bill next year.

With teenagers of his own, Chairman Scott York (I-At Large) appreciated Mims' effort.

"When you're starting out learning how to drive, you shouldn't be in a situation where you can be distracted," York said.

DRIVER SAFETY was at the heart of another bill (SB 780) that would have postponed the end of the photo red program, which placed cameras at intersections to catch drivers running red lights.

While the bill passed the Senate, it did not pass the House of Delegates.

"It's unfortunate because the localities that use the photo red enforcement have been doing so for a decade," Mims said. "It has been proven to reduce severe collisions and to save lives."

As it stands, the photo red program will end on July 1. Opponents of the program cited privacy issues with the photographing of license plates.

"Safety was dealt a setback by the termination of this program," Mims said.

CHURCH PROPERTY law is probably not something many churchgoers consider while sitting in a pew on Sunday. They started thinking about it, however, when Mims introduced a bill (SB 1305) that allowed a congregation the right to vote on whether to belong to a different church, diocese or society — or be independent — upon the division of its church or society.

While state Sen. Russell Potts (R-27), who represents western Loudoun, often sees eye-to-eye with Mims, he did not support Mims' church property bill.

"I thought we had no business getting involved in the property rights issues with the churches," Potts said.

He recalled the response in Richmond when the bill came to the floor.

"It's one of the few times I've seen Methodists, Episcopalians, Catholics and Baptists agreeing," he said. "All the denominations lined up against it."

Mims defended the bill, which was defeated in the Senate, by calling church law "archaic" and desperately in need of updating — or it could be declared unconstitutional.

"Even opponents admit we really have to re-enact these laws," he said.

"I'm not forcing judges to get involved in church politics," he added. The bill, rather, would clarify to whom the deed of the church's land belongs — whether it's the congregation, the bishop or the denomination.

Mims plans to bring back the bill in a future session.

FOR LOUDOUN citizens, the word "proffer" is a part of the vocabulary. The system where developers trade cash, transportation and services improvements for permission to build higher-density neighborhoods is well-known around here.

The system was under attack, however, at the beginning of the General Assembly session, when two bills threatened to change how proffers are collected. Two House bills, sponsored by Delegates Terrie Suit (R-81) and Scott Lingamfelter (R-31) would have placed severe restrictions on how counties handle proffers.

The Suit bill would have prevented Loudoun from collecting proffers prior to issuing a building permit, while the Lingamfelter bill would have required the county to turn over proffers to the Virginia Department of Transportation if they went unused for five years.

Mims chaired a subcommittee specifically created to deal with the two bills, which were roundly criticized by Northern Virginia officials.

In the committee, the bills were significantly cut down in effect.

"They shouldn't even have been worked with to begin with," York said. "What they ended up at the end of the day was far better than what they started out with."

Talks were tense between the senators and representatives of the statewide and local builders' associations, Mims said.

"The local developers recognized that in Loudoun, we have a collaborative process," he said.

The bills passed, but with little effect one way or the other thanks to the subcommittee's work.

ANOTHER ISSUE close to many Loudouners' hearts is the struggle over the proposed 230-kilovolt transmission line to western Loudoun. Originally, the line was slated to go on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, essentially wiping out the last wooded vestige of the popular park. Citizens rallied in an impressive grassroots effort that got Dominion Virginia Power to agree to consider other routes.

Now, things have gotten complicated: once off the W&OD Trail, the line had to go somewhere, and a whole host of new "not in my backyard" chorus calls poured forth. The other question is the money: with so many clamoring for Dominion to put the line underground, who will pay for the additional cost to do so?

In tandem with Del. Joe May (R-32), Mims presented legislation to help answer those questions. Mims' bill (SB 783) requires the State Corporation Commission, which will decide the final location of the transmission line, to consider putting the line underground.

"I believe that's important because neither the SCC nor the utility was really focused on the fact that there will be a need to put power lines underground in non-urban centers," Mims said.

Both Mims' and May's legislation on the transmission line passed.