In Session: Briefs

In Session: Briefs

Gutter Politics

It doesn’t take much rain to trigger Alexandria’s 19th century sewage system to start dumping raw sewage into the Potomac River — about 0.03 inches, to be precise. City leaders have a long-term plan to fix the problem, but Del. Dave Albo (R-42) says it doesn’t work fast enough.

“Their plan is a joke,” said Albo. “It doesn’t fix the problem for 20 years.”

That’s why Albo is moving forward with a bill that would force the city to bring its outdated sewage system into compliance by 2027. He says the aim of the legislation is to make sure Alexandria comes into compliance with requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency as well as the Clean Water act and Virginia law. Although Richmond and Lynchburg also have outdated sewer systems, Albo’s bill targets the Potomac River Watershed.

“The people in Alexandria are all for the environment as long as it doesn’t inconvenience them,” he said. “So they are more than happy to dump raw sewage in somebody else’s neighborhood.”

State Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36) has a similar bill on the Senate side.

Knitting Together a Plan

Danielle Romanetti knows a thing or two about the perils of finding a balance between family life and her career. Six years ago, she opened a boutique yarn shop known as fibre space in Old Town Alexandria. That was during the global financial meltdown, so finding capital wasn’t easy. But that was only half the challenge.

“This took more time and there were more surprises and challenges than any previous job I had ever had,” said Romanetti. "So having the ability to plan when to start my family with my husband was really crucial to that.”

Last week, Romanetti opened up her retail store on King Street to Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who used the location to announce a new budget pilot program to help low-income women get contraceptives. The idea is to use federal money earmarked for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to purchase long-acting reversible contraception.

“Certain LARCs are more than 99 percent effective and are safe, cost-effective ways for us to tackle the issue of unintended pregnancies,” said Northam, a pediatric neurologist who is running for governor this year. "Other forms of contraception, including the pill, just don’t measure up.”

Northam says the Affordable Care Act was supposed to make these devices available to every woman, but many low-income women without health insurance fall into a loophole. Northam says he hopes Republicans in the General Assembly will include the pilot program in this year’s budget, especially since it doesn’t use any money from the state’s general fund.

Grand Larceny or Petty Theft?

Back in 1980, a new house cost about $70,000. And a gallon of gas cost $1.20. So the buying power of $200 went significantly farther than it does today.

That’s one of the reasons why state Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34) has been on a mission to change the threshold for grand larceny, which was set at $200 back in 1980. Every year, he comes to Richmond and offers some form of a bill that would increase limit of what it takes to prosecute shoplifters for grand larceny. He says $200 is way too low.

“That could be a pair of jeans these days. And you’re going to turn that conviction into a grand larceny, which is a felony,” said Petersen. "That means they lose the right to vote. They have to list it on their employment. They have to go to the state penitentiary.”

This year, Petersen is not alone. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe is including a change to the grand larceny threshold as part of a criminal justice package announced last week. Petersen says he hopes the governor’s support will finally create some momentum behind a cause he’s championed for years. Although he says he would like to see the threshold set at $1,000, his bill sets the new limit at $500.

“It’s a terrible, stupid law,” said Petersen. “It wasn’t a stupid law when it was enacted. But that was 1980, when $200 meant a lot more than it does today.”