The last time the general assembly prepared a budget, disputes over a major tax increase kept legislators in Richmond for weeks beyond the scheduled end of the session. Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-34), who voted for that 2004 budget, doesn't foresee such a problem this time around. "I don't think we're going to have a real challenge on the budget this year," she said. "We have money this year."
Devolites Davis plans to introduce nearly 40 bills this session. "A lot of them have to do with election law," she said.
Some of her bills deal with the computerized voting machines which are prevalent in Fairfax County. She would prohibit polling places from using a wireless connection to record the votes, noting the relative ease with which someone could sit in the parking lot and hack into the system.
She is also requiring that the machines have a print out so that voters can more easily ensure that their votes were properly recorded. "You've got that paper ballot there," she said. Her bills will also ensure that a percentage of the voting precincts audit the machines to make sure that the paper record matches the electronic record.
Devolites Davis has also introduced a bill which will mandate additional financial disclosures from members of Boards of Supervisors. Currently, Board members must disclose campaign contributions in excess of $100 during the past 12 months prior to voting on a rezoning.
She would extend that provision to force supervisors to make disclosures before voting on amendments to the comprehensive plan. "I just think that's something you need to do if you are on the Board of Supervisors," she said.
Often, she said, members of the board will say that they must grant rezonings if they comply with the Comprehensive Plan. This additional disclosure, she said, will come at a more important juncture. "The big decision is really the plan amendment."
TRANSPORTATION IS expected to be a major issue during the assembly session, and Devolites Davis is supporting several initiatives. She does not expect to see an increase in the gas or sales tax. However, she, along with some other Northern Virginia legislators, are developing bills to generate additional highway funding in the region, and keep it here, she said.
The package includes a set of fee increases and increases on some traffic violations. This money would then be given to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. The authority was established to administer the half-cent sales tax increase that voters rejected in 2003. Since then, they have developed some long range plans to improve traffic congestion in the region. While they have the authority to implement the plan, they currently lack funding.
The money would generate a predictable revenue stream of about $400 million annually, Devolites Davis said. Since it is a regular funding stream, the authority would be able to leverage the funds to sell bonds, Devolites Davis said. "It's money that would be collected in Northern Virginia that would stay in Northern Virginia."
Other revenue streams could come from an additional tax on rental cars, tolls on the interstates at the North Carolina border and perhaps an increase to the recordation tax.
She has also sponsored a bill which would continue to allow hybrid vehicles to use carpool lanes. The policy is set to expire on June 30, and her bill would extend the exemption for another two years. Coupled with the exemption, she would increase the fines on those who drive in carpool lanes without the minimum number of occupants.
She also plans to re-introduce legislation to permit localities to use red-light cameras. The permission to use the cameras ended last year, after the bill to allow their continued use died in the House of Delegates. She expects a similar fate this year. "I have low expectations in the house," she said.
Noting how frequently gangs are using machetes in the commission of crimes; Devolites Davis has a bill which will equate machetes to guns, if used during the commission of a crime. Using a machete while committing a crime will carry a three year penalty for a first offense, in addition to any penalty associated with the crime. "I think we've got to take some steps with people being frightened by gang violence," she said.