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Votes

Hugo Shares His Priorities

Transportation, immigration top Hugo's agenda.

Del. Tim Hugo (R-40) has got a lot on his mind. His wife Paula is due to give birth to their fourth child on Feb. 1, and he's busy with the General Assembly, hoping to help hammer out some kind of legislation to ease Northern Virginia's transportation troubles.

So how does Hugo juggle it all? "I'm sleeping with a cell phone by my head," he said Monday, Jan. 22 from Richmond.

During his waking hours, Hugo is concentrating his energies on the things most important to his constituents — transportation, education and illegal immigration. On Monday, he was fresh from a meeting on transportation with the speaker of the House of Delegates.

"We're incredibly optimistic that we're going to find a resolution to our traffic woes," said Hugo. The latest development is that the delegates have taken pieces of various legislators' bills and "thrown them in a pot," in hopes that they'll mesh together into something on which both the House and Senate can agree.

"I think we can reach a compromise," said Hugo. "We've got to have it, this session."

Absent in the past couple years, he said, was dialogue between the two sides of the General Assembly. Now, though, he's one of five to 10 mid-level to senior delegates and senators who have breakfast together once a week to discuss the issues.

"It's very useful," said Hugo. "There's been a rift between the House and Senate, but I think it's healing. And it's good for Virginia and great for Northern Virginia; compromise isn't a bad word."

Obviously, he said, "The issue of transportation transcends all others [during this session]. There's a tremendous focus on it; we're working on it night and day."

However, Hugo is also promoting bills of importance to his district. One of them, scheduled to be in committee this Tuesday, Jan. 30, deals with Virginia college admissions. It mandates that 75 percent of students admitted to colleges in Virginia must be Virginians.

"What's happening is that some colleges are letting in 30-40 percent out-of-state students — way too many for public schools," Hugo said. "And this hurts Northern Virginia students the most because we have some of the most talented students, but not enough college slots for them."

As Virginia continues to grow, said Hugo, "We either need to add new colleges or let them grow and let more Virginia students in. I'm just determined to get more Virginia students into schools such as UVA, Virginia Tech, William and Mary and James Madison."

He said he was astonished to learn Monday from Robinson Secondary School's PTSA President Pat Wirth that, in 2005-06, the majority of Robinson graduates had to go out of state for college. And that, said Hugo, is wrong.

ON ANOTHER FRONT, Hugo said he and Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-34) are both working on similar bills to protect vote integrity. Her bill already made it out of the Senate, and he expects his to make it out of the House next week.

Both legislators are proposing an optical-scan system that would "read" paper votes. "Voting machines crash, and there's got to be a paper trail," said Hugo. "And this would be cheaper in cost."

He said the new system would be implemented when current touch-screen voting machines wear out. They'd be replaced by optical scans to provide a paper-verified ballot.

"I was chairman of a subcommittee looking at voting processes, and this was the conclusion," said Hugo. "When a hard drive crashes in a close election, people are bitter, and we want to make sure every vote counts. It's incumbent upon us to make sure that people feel comfortable with the system."

Hugo said the proposal is supported by Republican conservatives and liberal Democrats alike. "Even the Clifton Democratic Women's Club is in favor of it," he said.

Since energy-transmission lines are also huge topics of discussion now, he said the legislators are looking at net metering. "We encourage people to put photoelectric cells on their rooftops," he said. "And when they're not using that energy themselves, it can be sold back to Dominion Virginia Power and NOVEC, etc., throughout the state."

Doing so would lessen the need for these transmission lines that are "causing a great deal of controversy and tearing up a lot of the Virginia countryside," said Hugo. "It would generate electricity and provide conservation."

He is also the co-sponsor or patron of a number of bills on illegal immigration. "Business serves as a magnet for it, so these bills would penalize businesses who knowingly hire illegal immigrants," he said. "It would increase the fines and penalties dramatically."

One of these bills would also allow both county and state police to enforce federal immigration laws. "We've tried to get an agreement with Homeland Security so that, if the police find some illegal aliens, they could turn them over to Homeland Security," said Hugo.

"We're just making sure the tax dollars of Virginia citizens and legal aliens aren't going to support illegal aliens," he said. "We are hurting legal immigrants and citizens who, otherwise, would get those dollars."

Hugo said this issue is something that, two years ago, no one talked about here as a problem. But when he distributed 16,000 pieces of literature throughout his district, two weeks ago, to survey topics of importance to his constituents, there it was.

In a separate section asking residents to comment on what concerns them the most, they wrote "transportation" and "illegal immigration."

"I knew illegal immigration was hot, but the intensity of interest surprised me," said Hugo. "This was one of only two issues that stood out."

Lastly, Hugo also has a bill that would allow hybrid vehicles to continue using High-Occupancy Vehicle lanes one more year. "It maximizes the efficiency of the HOV corridor and helps to protect the environment," he said. "It goes to committee Wednesday [Jan. 31] and should pass."

Before dashing off to vote on another piece of legislation, Hugo paused to reflect on his role in the General Assembly and give thanks for being a part of it.

"It remains an honor for me to be here," he said. "This is a critical time for Virginia, and I'm glad I can help play a role in hopefully helping to start solving Virginia's transportation problems."