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Votes

Arlington Legislators Prep Bills

General Assembly session kicks off Jan. 10

Arlington delegates and senators are set to introduce a bevy of bills as the Virginia General Assembly legislative session kicks off on Jan. 10.

During the 45-day session, legislators are expected to vote on more than 3,400 bills, and will have to make difficult decisions on funding transportation improvements and how to divvy up a roughly billion dollar budget surplus.

All six state legislators who represent Arlington — two senators and four delegates — are Democrats. The Senators are Mary Margaret Whipple (D-31) and Patricia Ticer (D-30), and the four delegates are Al Eisenberg (D-47), Bob Brink (D-48), Adam Ebbin (D-49) and David Englin (D-45).

The Connection spoke to each of the legislators about the bills they will be introducing this year.

<ro>Mary Margaret Whipple, D-31

<lst>Senate of Virginia

Box 396

Richmond, Virginia 23218

Phone: 804-698-7531

Fax: 804-698-7651

www.senatorwhipple.org

district31@sov.state.va.us

District Address:

3556 N. Valley Street

Arlington, 22207

703-538-4097

<bt>Sen. Whipple will devote much of her attention this session to passing a bill that would require a portion of electric power in Virginia come from renewal sources such as solar, wind, hydro-power and bio mass products.

The goal is to increase the state’s investment in alternative energy and stimulate "green" energy development in the business sector, Whipple said.

If approved, the bill would mandate that between 2008 and 2020 the percentage of electric power coming from renewable sources increase by 1 percent per year. Twenty-two states already have created a similar renewable portfolio standard.

"We need to start to become self-sufficient in energy sources that are produced here in the U.S. and less dependent on foreign oil," Whipple said.

ANOTHER OF WHIPPLE’S top priorities will be to shepherd through a bill establishing a housing trust fund to bolster affordable housing stocks across the state.

Localities would be able to apply directly to the fund for housing grants and the fund would also match and supplement local programs.

"There are so many localities that have little in the way of resources for dealing with the housing problem," she said. "Having a state fund is an important step and part of the state’s responsibility."

Whipple has devised two possible ways to provide money for the trust, but is not sure yet which has a better chance of being approved. The first would devote 2 cents of every dollar on the existing recordation tax, which applies when one purchases or sells a home. The other option is to take 10 percent of the state’s year-end balance and dedicate it to the trust fund.

WHIPPLE IS SEEKING to secure a permanent source of funding for Metro through a quarter-cent hike in the sales tax in select Northern Virginia localities.

The tax would apply in five jurisdictions — Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax City, Fairfax County and Falls Church — and raise an additional $50 million for the rehabilitation and renovation of the Metro system. The funding is crucial to ensuring the reliability and efficiency of the system, Whipple said.

Metro is the only transit system in the country without dedicated funding, and U.S. Rep Tom Davis (R-Va.) has introduced legislation that would provide $1.5 billion if Virginia, Maryland and Washington can secure a consistent revenue stream.

"All this does is give the localities the authority to impose a sales tax on their own residents," Whipple said.

WHIPPLE PLANS TO INTRODUCE a resolution calling on public schools to emphasize nutrition and physical fitness in the curriculum and classroom. "We have a national epidemic in childhood obesity and their condition can be improved by both good nutrition and physical activity," she said.

<ro>Patricia Ticer, D-30

<lst>General Assembly Building

P.O. Box 396

Richmond, Virginia 23218

Phone: 804-698-7530

Fax: 804-698-7651

district30@sov.state.va.us

District Address:

City Hall - 301 King Street, Room 2007

Alexandria, VA 22314-3211

703-549-5770

<bt>Sen. Patricia Ticer (D-30) has a full slate of issues on her agenda this year, everything from preserving trees to maintaining air quality. One bill that might receive some pushback in Richmond is her effort to require developers to maintain a tree canopy in areas where construction efforts reduce the canopy.

"We’re being deforested at a rapid rate," said Ticer. "So every tree is of value."

She introduced a similar piece of legislation last year, but it failed after the development community opposed it. Yet with developers increasingly feeling the heat from Virginia’s growing transportation crisis, Ticer said that the bill might find more favor this year.

PROTECTING VICTIMS of domestic violence will be the focus of another bill the senator plans to fight for this session. One of her bills would allow victims to not use their address and phone numbers in official documents — many of which are available to the general public. Ticer said that by using post-office box numbers managed by the attorney general’s office.

"This is something that’s so easy," she said. "And it will really make a difference in the lives of people who are afraid of being stalked."

CRACKING DOWN on violations of air-quality violations will be another of Ticer’s major priorities this session by placing new restrictions on "opacity," one of the factors used to measure the quality of an air emission from permitted facilities such the Mirant Power Plant. Ticer plans to introduce legislation that would make monitored exceedences of permitted opacity limits violations under Virginia law. Currently, only exceedences that are observed during inspections were illegal. The effort to crack down on opacity violations is the latest in a series of efforts to go after Alexandria’s Mirant Potomac River Generating Station.

"Mirant has not been a good corporate citizen," said Ticer. "And their cavalier attitude toward the citizens is insupportable."

<ro>Bob Brink, D-48

<lst>General Assembly Building

Room Number: 712

P.O. Box 406

Richmond, Virginia 23218

Phone: 804-698-1048

Fax: 804-786-6310

www.bobbrink.org

delrbrink@house.state.va.us

District Address:

PO Box 7516

Arlington, 22207

703-531-1048

<bt>One of Brink's top priorities is passing a bill that would regulate political "robo calls," automated messages that flooded Arlingtonians' phone lines during November's election.

While residents can prevent being bothered by unsoliticited commercial calls by adding their names to the federal "do-not-call" list, there is currently no law limiting political messages.

"People have become so saturated with political robo-calls that they have become an intrustion on their lives," said Brink, citing the example of a woman with breast cancer in Connecticut who received more than 60 such calls leading up to the election.

Besides being a nuasance, the calls are now a "tool of dirty tricks" campaigns are using, Brink added. Brink is modeling his bill on a similar law in Indiana.

BOTH BRINK AND SEN. MARY MARGARET WHIPPLE intend to introduce a constitutional amendment allowing localities to exempt up to 20 percent of housing values from real estate taxes.

Virginia mandates a single tax rate for commercial and residential properties, so the strong real estate market of recent years has led to greater financial burdens for homeowners. A homestead exemption would make the tax rate more equitable, while ensuring local governments continue to have a healthy stream of revenue, Brink said.

"This will allow them to get their revenue from as broad a base as possible without jeopardizing local homeowners," he added.

Two separate sessions of the General Assembly would have to approve the bill, with an election in between, before the amendment goes to a voter referendum. Brink introduced a similar bill last year, but that have would have exempted the first $100,000 of a house’s value rather than set a certain percentage.

BRINK IS HOPING to establish an independent, non-partisan advisory commission that will produce a redistricting plan for the state once a decade.

The committee would have no legal authority to set boundaries, but would report its findings to the General Assembly. Brink believes this would result more equitable districts for General Assembly and congressional seats.

"Sometimes the Republicans win, sometimes the Democrats win. But the losers [of redistricting] are always the people," Brink said.

BRINK IS SEEKING to enact legislation to ensure absentee voting is both easier and more accessible for residents. He would like both pregnant women and those who are volunteering on election day to be able to vote absentee in advance.

<ro>Al Eisenberg, D-47

<lst>General Assembly Building

Room Number: 817

P.O. Box 406

Richmond, Virginia 23218

Phone: 804-698-1047

Fax: 804-786-6310

www.aleisenberg.com

delaeisenberg@house.state.va.us

District Address:

PO Box 969

Arlington, 22216

703-276-9414

<bt>Eisenberg’s top priority for the upcoming legislative session is increasing the state’s minimum wage, which has remained unchanged at $5.15 an hour since 1997. He will co-patron a bill with Del. Vincent Callahan (R-34) that would raise the minimum wage to $7.25.

The Democratic-controlled Congress is expected to pass a similar federal stature, but there is no gaurantee that President Bush will sign the bill into law.

It is nearly impossible for workers making minimium wage to raise families in Virginia, Eisenberg said.

"It is unconsciousable that people who work hard and play by the rules don't receive a decent wage for the work they do," Eisenberg said. "How many CEOs have gone without a raise since 1997?"

EISENBERG WILL PROPOSE a measure that would ensure law enforcement agencies videotape the interrogation of minors who have been arrested for violent offenses, to reduce the risks of innocent youth being convicted of crimes they didn't commit.

The use of electronic recordings of interrogations will reduce the possibility of false confessions, Eisenberg said. Additionally, it would catch officers who abuse youth, and protect them from false claims of abuse.

A recent study showed that 69 percent of the time juveniles falsely confess to crimes during interrogation, Eisenberg said.

"I want electronic recording, because the recording doesnt lie," Eisenberg said. "It shows what the interrogation looks like and sounds like, and then it will go to the court and go through process."

ANOTHER BILL EISENBERG will push would prohibit foster care parents from smoking in the presence of children in their care. "Why should we let these wards of the state be subjected to deadly second-hand smoke," Eisenberg said.

SEVERAL OF EISENBERG'S other bills deal with protecting victims of domestic violence. One would allow people who have been stalked or abused to have a P.O Box, rather than a street address, listed on the voter registration, so it is harder for someone to track them down.

ADDITIONALLY, EISENBERG would like to require all public four-year colleges and universities in Virginia to adopt a policy that provides for assisting students who suffer from depression or other suicidal tendancies. The state director of community colleges has already promised Eisenberg he will establish guidelines to ensure students recive treatment from mental health professionals.

<ro>Adam Ebbin, D-49

<lst>General Assembly Building

Room Number: 708

P.O. Box 406

Richmond, Virginia 23218

Phone: 804-698-1049

Fax: 804-786-6310

www.adamebbin.com

delaebbin@house.state.va.us

District Address:

PO Box 41870

Arlington, 22204

703-549-8253

<bt>Several of Del. Adam Ebbin’s top bills this legislative session deal with protecting the environment. He is proposing the creation of a state commission to study how best to alter state practices and procurement to help mitigate the effects of global warming.

"Climate change is a global issue but it will effect people in their everyday lives if we don’t start taking responsibility for not destroying environment," he said.

Making changes in state policies will have a significant impact because the government is a major employer in Virginia and can serve as a model for the private sector, Ebbin added.

Ebbin believes a bi-partisan commission would be able to build legislative consensus among General Assembly members to promote energy efficiency and lower emisions.

ADDITIONALLY, EBBIN has submitted a bill requiring all new state buildings to meet stringent "green" and energy efficient standards. If approved, the law would be phased in over a period of three years.

Besides using less energy, Ebbin said, "green" buildings provide better ventilation and help prevent people from getting sick.

Over the long-term having energy efficient buildings will save the state a significant amount of money.

"It is smart financially for state buildings to be as energy efficient as possible, and there’s the added benefits that people who work there are more productive," Ebbin added.

ANOTHER BILL OF EBBIN’S would create a new crime category for the offense of human trafficking. Thirteen other states have adopted similar laws for those who coerce people into labor or sexual servitude.

Many of the victims of human trafficking are immigrants who are unwilling and forced into jobs such as domestic servants, Ebbin said. "It’s hard to believe modern-day slavery exists, but it does."

The bill also calls for greater training for law enforcement officials so they can detect and end such practices.

EBBIN IS ALSO SEEKING to codify the state’s policy prohibiting discrimination in state hiring. Right now the governor has the legal right to change in what categories the state can prevents discrimination in its hiring.

"It is so important and fundamental that we don’t discriminate in hiring of state employees that it needs to be in the code of Virginia," Ebbin said.

<ro>David Englin, D-45

<lst>General Assembly Building

P.O. Box 406

Richmond, Virginia 23218

Phone: 804-698-1045

Fax: 804-786-6310

DelDEnglin@house.state.va.us

District Address:

City Hall, 301 King Street, Box 65

Alexandria, VA 22314

703-549-3203

<bt>Del. David Englin, D-45, will be returning to Richmond for his second General Assembly session after being elected in 2005. He plans to re-introduce some legislation that was stalled last year while striking new ground in other areas. His most controversial bill of the session may be his effort to allow local jurisdictions to set different tax rates for commercial property and residential property — a goal that many local officials say could allow jurisdictions to reduce the burden on residential property owners.

"I’m a local control kind of guy," said Englin. "I think these kinds of local issues should be decided locally."

Several business organizations, such as the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, have already come out against the measure. But Englin said that he thinks having separate tax rates for residential property and commercial property is the right thing to do.

"This would give local governments more options," he said.

ELECTION FILINGS will be the subject of another piece of legislation that Englin plans to file this session. The proposed language of the bill will require any Political Action Committee that makes indirect contributions to a local candidate shortly before an election to report the contribution and details of the committee’s organization to the electoral board within 24 hours.

"If a PAC makes an indirect contribution to a candidate in the last 10 days before the election, it is possible that the election will be over before the public knows who was actually responsible for the contribution," wrote Alexandria City Manager Jim Hartmann in support of the measure.

PROTECTING RENTERS who find themselves in the midst of a condo conversion is the aim of another measure Englin plans to patron this year. His bill would be restricted to residents, who are elderly or disabled, who could pass their purchasing rights to a certified nonprofit housing agency. Englin offered a similar measure last year, but it died when the Housing Subcommittee sent HB 393 to the Virginia Housing Commission.

Now, as a result of the commission's findings, Englin has modified the bill with a narrower definition of what kind of third-party can receive the purchasing rights. In the new version of the bill, which has been cleared by the Virginia Division of Legislative Services, housing nonprofit organizations must receive special certification before receiving purchasing rights from participating tenets.

"It's a measure of protection that would prevent some fly-by-night agency from sweeping in the buying the property," said Englin. "It's certainly a better bill than it was last year."

<1b>—Alexandria reporter Michael Pope contributed to this article.