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A ‘towing enforced’ sign in Clarendon (file photo)

Two anti-predatory towing bills from Arlington lawmakers have cleared the House of Delegates and will now head to the state Senate for discussion.

Seven years ago, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signed a bill preventing Northern Virginia jurisdictions from requiring real-time authorization of tows by the requesting business or parking lot during business hours.

The law overrode county regulations requiring this “second signature,” which was set to go into effect that summer.

Del. Alfonso Lopez (D) aims to reverse this with his Anti-Predatory Towing Act, HB 959, which cleared the House of Delegates on Monday in a bipartisan vote of 98-2.

If the Senate follows suit and Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) signs it into law, Arlington and its Northern Virginia neighbors would once more be able to require a second signature authorizing the tow, an authority other Virginia jurisdictions still enjoy.

The bill also lets localities require towing operators to take and keep photos or other evidence substantiating why the vehicle was removed, which Lopez says would curtail the practice of “spotting” that enables predatory “smash & grab” practices.

It also changes the penalty for certain trespass towing offenses in Northern Virginia from $150 per violation paid to a state literary fund to 10 times the total amount charged for removal, towing and storage — to be paid to the victim.

“Simply put, Northern Virginia will no longer be explicitly prevented in the Virginia Code from having the same towing ordinances that are normal practice in the rest of the Commonwealth,” Lopez said in a statement. “These bills are the result of extensive work with advocates and communities to address predatory towing practices, which continue to plague residents in Northern Virginia. And I’m proud that they both won such broad, bipartisan support.”

The House also passed Del. Adele McClure’s (D) accompanying bill, HB 1287, 93-5, with one abstention.

HB 1287 clarifies existing powers Arlington, Loudoun, Prince William and Fairfax counties and the city of Alexandria have regarding towing.

Those localities are already allowed to require towing companies to obtain a permit to tow to a storage or release location outside of the locality. Her bill makes it clear that the provision does not restrict those localities from requiring permits for towing within the boundaries of the locality, as well.

In a statement, McClure asserted that towing ordinances are “a local issue.”

We need to make sure that areas in Northern Virginia have the same authority as every other community to pass ordinances around permitting towers. This is a local issue that must be solved at the local level, but it requires action in the General Assembly to empower our localities. Arlington has already taken steps to enact this change once it becomes law, and I am proud to champion this bill to meet that need and respond to our local leaders. As these bills move to the Senate for consideration, I am proud to continue working with Delegate Lopez and Arlington County to achieve our mutual goal of curbing predatory towing.

This is not Lopez’s first crack at towing legislation.

He supported a bill in 2022, which failed, that would have given residents and localities more ability to protect themselves against alleged bad-actor towing companies. The bill responded to public scrutiny of Ballston-based Advanced Towing, which is often accused of predatory towing practices, though such accusations fizzled in court after the previous Virginia Attorney General sued the company.

Lopez and state Sen. Barbara Favola reprised the bill in 2023 but it also did not pass. That bill also would have resulted in heftier civil penalties for predatory towing than the current $150 fine.

Tackling predatory towing was a priority of the Arlington County Board in both the 2023 and 2024 legislative sessions.

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In February of this year, a hoax call about an armed suspect inside Yorktown High School holding hostages triggered a lockdown, evacuations and a massive police response.

That incident is now informing one of Arlington’s legislative priorities for the upcoming Virginia General Assembly session. The Arlington County Board and School Board are calling for a law that specifically names and criminalizes false calls to police, describing a life-threatening situation, with the intent to trigger a police response. It is widely known as “swatting” because of the SWAT teams it sometimes elicits.

Swatting is on the rise in Arlington County, according to Lt. Matt Martin of the Arlington County Police Department. There have been four instances in 2022 so far, up from two in 2021 and one incident per year from 2018 through 2020. (Martin says because there is no swatting category in crime statistics, these numbers were pulled manually based on case facts and may not be comprehensive.)

In nearby Fairfax County, there were 11 such incidents in 2020 and 30 in 2021, a police spokesperson previously told our sister site, FFXnow. There were four such incidents in Alexandria this year.

“Swatting has been on law enforcement radar for 15 years,” says Martin. “The intent is to send officers to a call where someone’s life is at risk, which ups the ante, and ups our response.”

It started in the online gaming community, when people would call the police on their target in response to a slight or unpaid bet, Martin says. It has since become a nationwide problem, one where even identifying those behind the incidents can be tricky, says ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage.

“The person that calls in could realistically call in anywhere in the world, which leads to a challenge for identifying them,” she said.

In September, hoax calls triggered a police response at Washington-Liberty High School and several other schools across the state, including in Loudoun and Fauquier counties. W-L was previously evacuated in October 2021 after a false report of an active shooter.

A 19-year-old man from Vienna was sentenced last year for his roles in numerous swatting attacks that targeted journalists, the Old Dominion University in Norfolk and Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, which has a predominantly Black congregation.

Swatting not only applies to pranksters calling the police, but also to people who call others — schools, for instance — and describe a threat that prompts them to call 911. But Virginia law only criminalizes making a false report, which means people who spread false information but don’t make the call can’t be charged with a crime.

That is what police and elected officials would like to see changed.

“Any law that’s going to prohibit a behavior needs to define the behavior,” Martin said. “The detective who investigated [the Yorktown incident] came to me and said, ‘We looked at potential charges. Making an indirect call doesn’t violate Virginia law… It was that detective who recognized that gap in the law that started all of this.”

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Dinner hour at a Shirlington restaurant (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

D.C.’s new law that phases out tipped minimum wage could potentially have significant ramifications for Arlington, local restaurateurs say.

Voters in the District last week approved Initiative 82, a measure that essentially ends an employer’s reliance on tips from customers to ensure paying minimum wage to workers.

Currently, employers can pay tipped workers a minimum wage below that of non-tipped workers, contingent on tips making up the difference. Starting next year, however, D.C. employers — primarily restaurants — will no longer be able to do that and will have to pay a gradually increasing rate until 2027, when the minimum wage of tipped workers is set to match non-tipped employees.

As a result of Initiative 82 passing, a number of D.C. restaurants are expected to pass at least some of the cost on to diners by either raising menu prices or instituting a service charge on bills.

This has some local restaurateurs thinking about the impact across the river.

Mark Bucher is the owner of Medium Rare, the steakhouse with locations in D.C., Bethesda and Arlington. He believes that the potential for higher costs in the District is going to drive a lot of diners to Northern Virginia.

“I think this is Mardi Gras,” Bucher told ARLnow. “For Virginia restaurants, in Arlington especially, this is a gift that was given from a misunderstood initiative in D.C.”

He said that while it may take a couple of years, it will likely end up being noticeably less expensive to eat and drink in Arlington compared to the District.

“Where are you going to drink? Where are you going to go to happy hour?” he asked rhetorically. “You’re going to go to Virginia, where it’s more friendly and it’s more open and it’s less expensive.”

Beyond diners, Bucher said that this might also work to Arlington’s advantage in terms of where restaurateurs are looking to open their next business. He told ARLnow that he’s spoken to a few “national chefs” recently that have scrapped plans to come to D.C.

“All the young chefs, all the young mixologists, all the young restaurateurs that would normally come to D.C. are going to be looking in Virginia,” he said. “D.C. blew it, but it’s to Arlington’s advantage.”

Bucher does believe that the initiative was a good idea in concept, but it was voted under the “flawed premise” that restaurant workers don’t make minimum wage. As the law stands now, if an employee does not pull in the equivalent of minimum wage with tips, the employer is required to pay the difference.

Nick Freshman is a little less sure than Bucher that the new law is going to push diners, employees, and restaurateurs across the river. He owns The Freshman in Crystal City and Spider Kelly’s in Clarendon, and is part of a team that owns several District businesses.

He can foresee scenarios where Arlington becomes the recipient of lost District business, but that’s not for certain.

“There’s a lot of ‘potentially’ and there’s a lot of ‘possibly,'” he told ARLnow. “What has happened to the industry across the area, a little bit of a bomb is going off in terms of the disruption. And nobody really knows how to react to it from an operational standpoint.”

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ARLnow columnist (and immigration attorney) James Montana

Sometimes, it seems like half of the people commenting on our stories are lawyers.

There are the fights over the exact technical meaning of words, citations of state and federal law, and — on occasion — people actually self-identifying as lawyers. That’s not to mention the ability to comment on news stories throughout the day.

And apparently we’re not the only site with a comment section that seems pretty lawyerly.

Defector, the site started by former employees of Gawker, noted in its recent annual report that, no, all of its commenters are not lawyers.

“The fact that nearly half of churned subscribers were experiencing financial hardship served as a good reminder that our readership is not a monolith,” the report said. But surely there is a not insignificant cohort of attorneys in there.

There is a decent chance that significant portions of the ARLnow commentariat and overall readership are, in fact, lawyers, given how many folks in the legal profession seem to live in Arlington. In Lyon Village, for instance, you can hardly ride an e-scooter down a curving single-family home street without passing a half-dozen two-lawyer households.

So today, we’re going to try to (unscientifically) see just how esquire-y our readers actually are. Feel free to discuss it ad nauseum in the comments while billing by the hour.

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Morning Notes

Sunset along Columbia Pike near the Air Force Memorial (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

County Fair Starts Today — “The Arlington County Fair will take place from August 17 – 21 at Thomas Jefferson Community Center located at 3501 2nd Street S. The Arlington County Police Department will conduct the following road closure to accommodate the event: From approximately 8:00 a.m. on August 17 to 11:00 p.m. on August 21… 2nd Street S. closed between S. Jackson Street and S. Irving Street.” [ACPD]

Fewer Car Tax Notices — “Arlington County Board members as part of their annual budget process eliminated the $33-per-vehicle decal fee… About 20,000 vehicles will thus have nothing owed on them, and the treasurer’s office has decided not to send notices to them. An additional 30,000 county residents who own two or more vehicles under the same name will see their billing information consolidated into a single mailing in order to achieve ‘significant savings on paper and postage,’ Treasurer Carla de la Pava said in an Aug. 15 letter.” [Sun Gazette]

Senators Hail New Law — “U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) released the following statement after President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law: ‘We’re proud that this law will lower the price of prescription drugs, reduce the deficit, bring down energy bills and fight climate change… We will continue to look for ways to support the health and well-being of our communities, decrease inflation, and lower costs for Virginians.'” [Sen. Mark Warner]

Opera Making a Comeback? — “Supporters of Northern Virginia’s opera scene are hoping to reanimate the dormant Opera Guild of Northern Virginia, which through the years has raised funds and provided other support to opera organizations as well as promoting fellowships among those who appreciate the art form and introducing children to the unique and inclusive nature of opera.” [Sun Gazette]

It’s Wednesday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 81 and low of 65. Sunrise at 6:26 am and sunset at 8:02 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Patriotic banners and yard ornaments adorn homes along S. Oak Street (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Water Main Break in RosslynUpdated at 7:50 a.m. — “Emergency Water Main Repairs: Crew working on 8-inch main at [Fairfax Drive and N. Lynn Street]. Some 100 customers could be affected.” [Twitter]

New Va. Laws Taking Effect Today — “Several new laws become effective across Virginia on July 1. This includes legislation pertaining to health care, transportation, economic development and law enforcement.” [Arlington County, FFXnow, ARLnow]

Local Dems Set Up Roe Page — “The Arlington County Democratic Committee has created an online resource to provide information on abortion and the political implications of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling sending the matter back to states.” [Sun Gazette]

Local Brothers Write Birding Book — “Maxwell and Danté Julius stealthily slip through a dirt path that cuts a serpentine route through Arlington County’s Long Branch Park and Nature Center. They’re equipped with binoculars, cameras and a permeating curiosity about the native birds of their home county. Together, the high school brothers have created a ‘Guide to the Birds of Arlington, VA.’ But it’s much more.” [WUSA 9]

County Looking for Tree Adopters — “Arlington is home to approximately 750,000 trees – or three for every resident – and the local government is asking the public’s help in supporting them. The county government’s Adopt-a-Tree program is designed to help trees make it through dry seasons.” [Sun Gazette]

New Contract for Arlington-Based Raytheon — “The U.S. Army announced Tuesday its effort for a next-generation, software-centric ground system is transitioning to another phase. The service awarded $36 million each to software company Palantir Technologies and defense firm Raytheon Technologies for work on the Tactical Intelligence Targeting Access Node, which is currently under development. TITAN is expected to help connect sensors with users in the field to support beyond-line-of-sight targeting.” [C4ISRNET]

Missing Middle Piques Interest in F.C. — “It has become a very contentious issue in Arlington, with scores of citizens showing up at public meetings to weigh in, as Clark reported. It is clear to us that, despite smokescreen issues like trees and other environmental factors, the zoning change is feared most for its perceived potentially negative impact on home values, as well as for the issue of population diversity. The Arlington board will have a work session on the subject with the county manager on July 12 and is set to take a vote in the fall. Falls Church leaders should play close attention.” [Falls Church News-Press]

It’s July — Humid and partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 90 and low of 74. Sunrise at 5:48 am and sunset at 8:39 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti at an NAACP and Black Lives Matter rally in June 2020 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares visited Arlington yesterday (Thursday) to launch a political fund aimed at unseating progressive prosecutors.

The reform-minded approach of “left-wing liberal prosecutors” has “directly resulted in higher crime in our communities and they must be stopped,” Miyares said in a statement that specifically called out Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano.

The goal of the Protecting Americans Action Fund, he said, is to “elect District Attorneys who will enforce the law and prosecute criminals, instead of this warped version of criminal justice, which is endangering Americans.”

Miyares did not name-drop Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, Descano’s Arlington counterpart, but coming to Arlington was enough to prompt her to mount a defense of her prosecutorial approach.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church fired back on Twitter with a volley of tweets.

Dehghani-Tafti was elected in 2019 on a pledge to reform the criminal justice system by reducing racial disparities in prosecution as well as recidivism and incarceration, while investigating wrongful convictions. Last year, there was an effort to recall her that accused Dehghani-Tafti of offering criminals lenient plea deals.

Miyares contends crime is up in places like Northern Virginia, under the leadership of Descano, Dehghani-Tafti and Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj. But Arlington’s top prosecutor says these jurisdictions “have the lowest crime rates of any large jurisdictions in Virginia and country.”

She reiterated the crime trends she touted earlier this year, including that her jurisdiction recorded no homicides in 2021 — down from three homicides in 2020 and two in 2019.

(Two reported deaths last year were in federal jurisdiction, including the police officer who was stabbed, shot and killed outside the Pentagon and the security contractor who died at the U.S. State Department’s National Foreign Affairs Training Center.)

“I’ve long resisted the claim that the drop in homicide is due solely to my policies. Instead, I’ve credited the work of our County Board, local delegation, police department, school board, defense bar, public defender, and community and faith groups in teaming up to prevent crime,” she said.

“And yet, the AG and other anti-reformers have no hesitation in cherry picking any individual incident or any uptick in any crime, however slight, to mislead the public and paint a false picture of our reform achievements,” she continued.

Some crimes were trending up during her election year, 2019, and continued upward during her first year of office. This includes an uptick in property crimes, driven largely by carjackings, according to 2020 crime data — the most recent available from Arlington County Police Department.

This uptick prompted more police patrols and coordinated regional response in 2021, which may explain why, according to preliminary ACPD data for last year, carjackings dropped from 16 in 2020 to eight, while car thefts dropped from 323 in 2020 to 306.

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Arlington 911 dispatcher at the county’s Emergency Communications Center (via Arlington County)

Arlington County is developing an alert system aimed at improving its emergency response to behavioral health crises.

The aim of the system, dubbed the Marcus Alert, is to keep people in crisis — due to a mental illness, substance use disorder or intellectual and developmental disabilities — from being arrested and booked in jail.

It comes from the Marcus-David Peters Act, which was signed into law in late 2020 and is named for Marcus-David Peters, a 24-year-old biology teacher who was killed by a police officer in 2018 while experiencing a mental health crisis.

Once operational, the system would transfer people who call 911 or 988 — a new national suicide and mental health crisis hotline — to a regional call center where staff determine whether to de-escalate the situation over the phone, dispatch a mobile crisis unit or send specially trained law enforcement.

Last summer, Arlington began developing its Marcus Alert plan, a draft of which needs to be submitted to the state by May 22. It’s asking residents to share their experiences with the county’s current behavioral health crisis response via an anonymous and voluntary survey open through mid-March.

Locals can also email the county to sign up to participate in focus groups, which will convene in early- to mid-March.

State law requires that the county’s final plan be implemented by July 1.

Arlington’s timeline for the Marcus Alert (via Arlington County)

“We are hopeful that with the Marcus Alert and increased community outreach and co-response, we will see a reduction in arrests of people with [serious mental illnesses],” Suzanne Somerville, the bureau director of residential and specialized clinical services for Arlington’s Department of Human Services, tells ARLnow. “The system is tremendously strained at this time and hospitalization for people that need it for psychiatric symptoms is not always easy to attain.”

DHS attributes the strain to COVID-19 and a lack of beds in state-run mental hospitals after the Commonwealth closed more than half of these hospitals to new admissions amid its own workforce crisis. This overwhelmed local hospitals and the Arlington County Police Department, and drove fatigued DHS clinicians and Arlington police officers to quit.

“Everyone is trying to do the right thing and get the client the services they need and deserve and we just don’t have the resources currently,” said Aubrey Graham, the behavioral health program manager for the Arlington County jail.

Bed shortages also impact court hearings, as many inmates with mental illnesses require competency restoration services to understand court proceedings and work with their defense attorney. Graham says inmates must go to Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services state hospitals, which limits beds even more.

Compared to other jurisdictions, Arlington sends proportionately more people to Western State Hospital for competency restoration, per data ARLnow requested from DBHDS. It also saw the greatest increase in admission rates between 2020 and 2021.

Competency restoration rates (courtesy of DBHDS)

Graham says she doesn’t know of any studies that explain why Arlington sees so many individuals with serious mental illnesses, but geography plays a role, as about 70% of people sent to state hospitals come from D.C., Maryland and other parts of Virginia. Only about 30% of those sent to state hospitals from Arlington are actually Arlington residents.

“Although there are a high number of competency evaluations requested in Arlington courts, the referrals are entirely appropriate, and most are deemed incompetent to stand trial,” Graham said.

That’s why police should not arrest them in the first place, says Chief Public Defender Brad Haywood, adding that people with mental illnesses are over-represented in the county jail, which is seeing a continued inmate deaths and may not have the resources to treat the needs of the mentally ill.

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Gavel (Flickr photo by Joe Gratz)

The philanthropic arm of the Arlington County Bar Association is looking to support local nonprofits with a connection to the legal community.

From now through the month of April, the Arlington County Bar Foundation is accepting grant applications from organizations promoting or improving the justice system in Arlington and the City of Falls Church. The foundation helps local charities through grant funding and personnel support, says Paul Ferguson, the Arlington Bar Foundation Grants Committee Chair.

Grants are largely funded by members of the legal community through tax-deductible donations to the Bar Foundation, said Ferguson, the elected Clerk of the Circuit Court in Arlington, a former County Board member, and a GMU law alum.

“The Arlington County Bar Foundation is a charitable board made up of mostly attorneys,” he said. “Grants are awarded to organizations that have a connection to the law [or] legal community. Sometimes the grants go to specific projects or initiatives but they also can be non-specific.”

Awards typically range between $250 and $2,000, although the foundation has given out larger amounts in years past.

Traditionally, Ferguson says, the highest-dollar grant recipient is Legal Services of Northern Virginia, which provides legal advice and services to the region’s neediest populations, including veterans, human-trafficking victims and people with disabilities.

Other past recipients used the funding to tackle domestic violence and homelessness, including SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now) of Northern Virginia and Doorways, or to help formerly incarcerated individuals re-enter society, such as Offender Aid & Restoration and Arm & Arm.

Many recent award-winners work with Northern Virginia’s immigrant population: Ayuda, the Borromeo Legal Project, the immigrant advocacy program at Legal Aid Justice Center and immigration attorney James Montana, who used the money to cover citizenship costs for his pro-bono clients.

Grant applications — which can request up to $5,000 — are due by Friday, April 29. They must be no longer than one page and include the following information:

  • Name of the organization, name of the person submitting the grant and a primary address, phone number and email
  • Purpose of the organization and how it serves Arlington and/or Falls Church
  • Connection to the legal community and/or how the project promotes and improves justice system
  • Amount requested
  • Specific project and/or what grant funds will be used for
  • Tax ID # and IRS Tax Status

Those who are interested in applying are asked to email Ferguson.

Applicants will be notified of the foundation’s decision by the end of May with grant payments available in July.

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The final vote in the Virginia State Senate for S.B. 739 (photo courtesy of screenshot/Virginia General Assembly)

A bipartisan bill that will allow parents to opt their kids out of masking rules at schools has passed the Democrat-controlled Virginia State Senate, despite opposition from Arlington’s senators.

The bill would take effect on July 1. If it were also to pass the House of Delegates and be signed into law by the governor, it would essentially make the local school boards’ recent, tentative court victory over Gov. Glenn Younkin’s executive order on masks in schools moot.

The legislation took shape yesterday when Sen. Chap Petersen, a Fairfax County Democrat, proposed an amendment on the Senate floor to a Republican-proposed bill that continues a requirement from last year to keep schools open five days a week for in-person instruction. Chapman’s amendment effectively sunsets mask mandates in time for the next school year.

The amendment “permits a parental option in regard to wearing a mask on school property,” Petersen told ARLnow. “We need to return to normal for the benefit of our children, and this legislation helps us get there.”

The amendment received significant Democratic support on Tuesday, passing the Senate with 29 votes in favor, including ten Democrats, and only nine votes opposed. Among local legislators, Sen. Janet Howell (D-32) voted in favor of the amendment while Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31) and Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) voted against it.

All three voted against the final bill, which passed by a 21-17 vote today.

Youngkin declared victory after the vote today. It’s likely to pass the Republican-controlled house.

“Kids across the Commonwealth win with this bipartisan vote today,” Youngkin said in a statement. “Parents are now empowered to decide whether their children should wear a mask in schools. I promised that as governor, Virginia would move forward with an agenda that empowers parents on the upbringing, education, and care of their own children. I am proud to continue to deliver on that promise.”

“This vote also shows that school boards who are attacking their own students are stunningly detached from reality,” the statement continued. “It’s time to put kids first and get back to normal.”

Petersen told ARLnow’s sister site FFXnow that he proposed the amendment because he’s frustrated that no deadline had been set by Fairfax County Public Schools for lifting mask requirements or “shown scientific proof” that it has made difference in limiting Covid’s spread.

He agreed with Youngkin that masks should be optional in schools, but said decision needs to be made by the Virginia General Assembly as opposed to the governor.

That was the basis for the decision made by the Arlington Circuit Court last week to issue an injunction on banning mask mandates. In its lawsuit against the governor’s order, Arlington Public Schools cited a Virginia law passed during the pandemic that requires schools to take necessary, federally-recommended safety measures to combat the spread of the virus.

With the new bill overriding that clause, the court victory could be short-lived for APS and other Northern Virginia school districts that opposed the governor’s order. The bill’s implementation could even potentially be moved up after it reaches the governor’s desk, the Washington Post reported

When the bill gets to Youngkin’s desk, the aide said, the governor could add an emergency clause that would require the law to be implemented immediately. That would have to go back to the General Assembly for approval. Most bills with emergency clauses require 80 percent approval from the legislature, but a governor’s request for emergency needs only a simple majority vote. If that’s granted, the mask law could go into effect as soon as the end of February, the aide said.

Sen. Ebbin wrote to ARLnow in an email after the amendment passed that, while he isn’t opposed to lifting mask mandates soon, he wants the decision to be based on data.

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Advanced Towing truck (file photo)

A proposed bill, inspired by the former Virginia Attorney General’s lawsuit and case against Advanced Towing, would allow residents and localities better ability to protect themselves against bad acting towing companies.

“The Virginia code as it relates to towing is a mess. It’s all over the place,” says Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49), who introduced the bill last week (Jan. 18). “My hope is to improve the towing statute and get more relief for customers harmed by the towing industry.”

Basically, HB 1218 amends the law to allow individuals and localities to pursue alleged illegal towing practices under the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. As the law currently stands, the violations are solely enforceable and civil penalties can only be sought by the AG’s office.

What’s more, the law currently allows for a maximum fine for each violation of only $150, which is how Advanced Towing ended up with only a $750 fine for five violations.

By moving portions of the code to be enforced under the Virginia Consumer Protection Act, it would allow for fines to be at least $500 or $1,000 per violation.

Additionally, it makes the code enforceable across the entire Commonwealth as opposed to limiting enforcement to only tows that happen in Planning District 8, which covers Northern Virginia.

Lopez, who represents a large swath of South Arlington, says he hears from constituents “regularly” about alleged predatory towing practices taking place in Arlington and across the region.

“This clarifies [the code], makes it cleaner, much more readable,” says Lopez. “There would be meaningful civil penalties that are not limited to Northern Virginia. More importantly, there could finally be individual enforcement rather than solely enforcement through the AG’s office.”

This isn’t the first time in recent years that lawmakers have attempted to help residents when it comes to towing ordinances.

This is a similar situation to the bill that Lopez introduced last year and eventually became law that allows localities to have greater say over the granting of liquor licenses.

In October, then-Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring took Arlington-based Advanced Towing to trial over alleged “predatory,” illegal, and unsafe towing practices.

A month later, a decision was handed down that lent merit to some of the AG’s office claims against Advanced Towing but not all of them. The court denied a request for a permanent injunction while issuing a fine of $750.

Advanced Towing owner John O’Neill told ARLnow in December that the decision “vindicated” his company and called the AG’s case “blackmail” and a “witch hunt.”

However, the case still has at least one more hearing since the court didn’t rule on the payment of attorney’s fees with both sides believing they are owed additional money. That hearing is currently set for March 25.

But with a new attorney general now in charge, it’s possible that the case will not be pursued any further.

O’Neill claimed to ARLnow late last year that he had spoken with the newly elected AG Jason Miyares about the case, who allegedly told the towing company owner the case was “overbearing” and would not be sought.

O’Neill’s attorney Chap Petersen (a Virginia state senator, himself) told ARLnow in an email last week that he has no intention of conceding his attorney fees since he believes the case was over-charged by the AG.

But he doesn’t believe a new AG “changes the dynamics of our case, as Judge Newman had already ruled.”

ARLnow has reached out to AG Miyares’s office multiple times to see if there’s still intent to pursue the case, if an office representative will be at the March hearing, and to confirm O’Neill’s alleged conversation with Miyares, but have yet to hear back as of publication.

Lopez tells ARLnow he thought the trial was going to have a different outcome, but is holding out hope the current AG’s office continues the case.

“I hope Attorney General Miyares would care enough about addressing this issue and take an active role in empowering individuals to use the Virginia Consumer Protection Act,” he says.

Lopez expects his bill to be referred to committee soon and is hopeful it can get bipartisan support.

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