In Session

In Session

Undistracted Legislating

Although he hasn’t been reading them while driving, state Sen. George Barker (D-39) has been receiving a flood of emails about distracted driving. Increasingly, Virginia drivers are concerned that motorists are texting or receiving emails while behind the wheel. As a result, Barker has introduced legislation that would make it a primary offense. It’s already a second offense, meaning you can be ticketed for texting at the wheel only if pulled over for another violation.

“People repeatedly tell me about experiences they’ve had driving down the road and seeing somebody who appears to be texting and having to take evasive maneuvers to avoid being hit by them,” said Barker. “What the studies have shown is that the percentage of people who are texting while driving is increasing and that the impact upon accidents and fatalities is 23 times higher than someone who is not texting.”

The bill passed the Virginia Senate this week on a vote of 28 to 12. It will now head to the House of Delegates after crossover, which is scheduled for next week. Although nobody spoke against the effort on the Senate floor, Barker said that he has heard some opposition to the bill.

“Some individuals have concerns about allowing a police officer to pull over someone that they suspect is texting while driving,” he said. “Some people say they don’t want to give police that power because from their perspective they feel that the police officer cannot know for certain that’s what they are doing,” he said. “I don’t think it’s something that would be abused by the police.”

Barker said that other states that have adopted similar laws have not experienced an abuse of discretion by police officers.

Taxes and Death

In Richmond, as in life, you win some and you lose some. Such is the case with House Bill 1027, which Del. David Englin (D-45) introduced at the request of the Alexandria city government. The bill would have allowed two or more local governments that are constructing high-capacity transit systems to impose a local motor fuels tax at the rate of 2.1 percent of the wholesale price of fuels sold to retailers. The revenue would have gone to construct or operate high-capacity transit systems — but only if both of the local governments signed off on creating the new tax.

“The theory was that making it more difficult to impose the tax would make it more palatable to the anti-tax Republicans in the House,” said Englin. “As I predicted, it died a quick death.”

Englin said that he introduced the bill even though he was confident it was a dud because Northern Virginia badly needs transportation revenue. So this bill was yet another attempt to get new revenue for transportation, although the theory that it may have been more palatable if two or more jurisdictions had to sign on wasn’t quite on the mark. When the bill came before the House Finance Committee, members asked a few clarifying questions to underscore the intent of the bill was to raise taxes. Then they voted to pass it by indefinitely.

“The no-tax-pledge crowd doesn’t like to empower other people to raise taxes any more than they like to raise taxes themselves,” said Englin. “I was upfront with the city about the chances this would have, but you do these things because it’s important to keep the conversation going.”

Discrimination Discrimination

One by one, the more liberal parts of the city’s legislative agenda are going down in flames this session. Last week it was a provision that would prohibit discrimination against public employees based on sexual orientation. This week, it was a bill introduced by Del. Charniele Herring (D-46) to prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. During a submitted meeting this week, members voted to roll her bill into a separate measure based on age discrimination.

“Let’s not get too excited,” said Herring. “They passed the age discrimination part and took out the part about sexual orientation.”

Age discrimination, by the way, covers individuals over the age of 40.

“I guess it’s public record,” added Herring. “I’m 42.”