In the waning days of the current General Assembly session, transportation is uppermost in Del. Chuck Caputo's (D-67th) mind — as is the case with the rest of the Northern Virginia delegation.
TROUBLE IS, a viable solution — like most motorists here — is stuck in what could well be unending gridlock.
"We're trying to get a transportation solution out of this session, so that's my primary goal," said Caputo by phone from Richmond. "We're now at a conference point; both houses have rejected each other's bills."
Hopefully, he said, the conferees will be able to work out "something palatable to everyone. It would be terrible to return home without a solution."
However, Caputo has had some success this session. About five of his bills passed, either on their own or within others' bills, as well as three administrative measures he proposed.
He's also delighted by the recent passage of Sen. Jay O'Brien's (R-39th) bill prohibiting cell-phone use by drivers under age 19. Caputo's bill on this matter was tabled because O'Brien's had similar wording, so Caputo became a co-patron of O'Brien's bill.
"It would be a secondary offense," he explained. "Police would have to stop them for something else first, like reckless driving. And if the cell phone played into it, they could be ticketed and receive up to a $50 fine. And this law would be put into the learner's booklets so teen-agers would know about it up front."
O'Brien's bill was passed by the Senate and was then presented last Thursday, Feb. 15, to the Transportation Committee, which voted 19-3 to report it to the full House of Delegates. Noting that it seemed to have a good chance of passage this week, Caputo said he was extremely happy about it going to the House.
"It's been proven — and AAA records show — that the No. 1 distraction of teen-age drivers is the cell phone," he said. "And over the last two or three years in Virginia, there's been an accident three times a week due to cell-phone usage in a car. So we have an opportunity to protect our kids because this bill will cut down the risk to our teen-agers when driving."
ANOTHER ONE of Caputo's bills was rolled into a bill by Del. Vince Callahan (R-34th) concerning a community college transfer grant. It would provide a scholarship in the form of tuition assistance to community college students having 3.0 grade-point averages, demonstrating financial need and planning to get their associates degree and transfer to a four-year college.
"Then your tuition would stay the same as if you were still in community college, and the state would make up the difference," said Caputo. "This bill passed the House and is currently in the Senate."
Caputo also introduced three bills that "the state said it would be able to do administratively, without legislation." One has to do with teen driving permits. Currently, teen-agers receive 90-day driver's permits, and then they and their parents must appear before a judge to obtain their provisional licenses.
"But with the heavy court docket in Northern Virginia, it's hard to get a court date, and then the 90 days are over," said Caputo. "So I recommended increasing it to 120 days, and the DMV said it might go so far as 180 days."
He also proposed legislation to expand the shoulder hours by one hour on I-66 east and west, between I-495 and Route 50, for the morning and evening rushes. This also proved do-able.
"VDOT said it would start the wheels in motion for this," said Caputo. "It requires some coordination with the federal highway people, but VDOT said 'no problem.'"
The Democrat from Oak Hill also put forth a resolution to have the community college system work with the state Office of Commonwealth Preparedness to develop a curriculum for emergency preparedness within the community colleges.
That way, explained Caputo, "The 23 community colleges would tell people how to prepare for any emergency or natural disaster." Any citizen could take the course and, said Caputo, perhaps an associates degree program could be developed from it." He said work is already underway and steps are being taken to implement his idea.
HE ALSO proposed a bill that came from a constituent who's a doctor. "He wanted the ability to expunge any record of a disciplinary report that proves unfounded or not valid — anything that would reflect badly on the doctor," said Caputo. "My bill was rolled into another delegate's bill, passed the House and went to the Senate.
Another of his bills dealt with illegal immigrants. "If an illegal immigrant committed a felony, he'd be denied bail so he couldn't get back on the streets and leave the area," said Caputo. "The ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] data base would be checked."
"Virginia can't control the nation's borders, but we can keep offenders off the streets," he continued. "This bill has passed the House, 92-5, and is awaiting Senate action. And it's supported by the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations, which is also trying to do its part."
Caputo also scored a victory with his Personal Property Tax Relief Act, also known as HB 1880, suggested to him by some Chantilly constituents. As things stand now, he said, "If a couple puts their possessions in a living trust for their survivors — and a car is in it — because it's part of the trust, the car doesn't qualify for tax relief. But with this bill, if it's not used for business, it will be eligible for tax relief."
He said this bill would help citizens not only in his own district, but throughout Virginia. He presented it last Wednesday, Feb. 14, to the Senate Finance Committee — which approved it unanimously and sent it to the full Senate. The next day, the Senate passed it 35-0, which means it'll go to the governor to be signed into law.
So Caputo has had some successes during this legislative session and, overall, he said, "This is a tremendous experience. I feel really honored to represent the citizens of the 67th District, and I look forward to continuing."