State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) has again proposed a bill to decriminalize marijuana for personal use in Virginia.
Ebbin, who has won the endorsement of the pro-pot group NORML, proposed a similar bill last year, but it failed in the conservative Virginia General Assembly.
The bill, SB 104, would reduce marijuana possession to a civil offense punishable only by fines, like a traffic ticket, rather than jail time. It would also reduce the criminal penalties for marijuana distribution and possession with the intent to distribute.
Would you like to see marijuana decriminalized in Virginia?
State Lawmaker: Add Lanes to I-66 — State Sen. Chap Petersen (D), who represents part of Fairfax County, doesn’t much care for Arlington’s efforts to dissuade VDOT from adding an extra lane to I-66. “When I was a little boy, we put a man on the moon. We can figure out how to put six lanes through Arlington County,” Petersen said in an interview. [WTOP]
Del. Levine Proposes Minimum Wage Increase — For his first piece of state legislation, freshman Del. Mark Levine (D) has proposed a bill that would allow localities in Virginia to raise the minimum wage up to $10. The maximum amount would then rise every year with the consumer price index. The likelihood of the bill passing is slim. [InsideNova]
Highway Project Giving Away Grant Money — Transurban, the private company behind the newly-revived I-395 HOT lanes project, is trying to endear itself to the communities along the I-395 corridor. For one, the company recently joined the Arlington Chamber of Commerce. It’s also giving away grants of $1,000 to $5,000 “to respond to the needs of local organizations and direct impact neighborhoods located within the I-395 corridor.” Applications for the Community Grant Program are currently being accepted. [395 Express Lanes]
AFCYRs to Host MLK Event — The Arlington-Falls Church Young Republicans will “celebrate and honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and recommit ourselves to living out Dr. King’s dream” at the group’s meeting on Monday. Speaking at the event will be Elroy Sailor, CEO of the J.C. Watts Companies and current senior advisor to Rand Paul’s presidential campaign. [Facebook]
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
Ebbin has proposed three bills to the General Assembly regarding same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights — bills very similar to the three that were rejected during last year’s legislative session. They were all defeated in their respective committees.
One bill would repeal the amendment to the Constitution of Virginia that defines valid or recognized marriages as “only a union between a man and a woman.” It also prohibits the creation or recognition of other legal relationship statuses — including partnerships and unions — that are assigned the same rights and benefits as marriages. This amendment was approved by voters during the November 2006 election, but declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2014.
Another Ebbin bill would repeal two pieces of state law that prohibit same-sex marriages and civil unions. The statute prohibiting marriage between individuals of the same sex and considering such marriages conducted in another state void was first enacted in 1975. The statute that does the same for civil unions was passed in 2004.
The final bill would amend the Virginia Human Rights Act by prohibiting public employers from discriminating against potential employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Furthermore, this bill would ensure pregnancy, childbirth/related medical conditions, marital status and status as a veteran are also included under the anti-discrimination section of the law. Race, color, religion, political affiliation, age, disability and national origin are already protected under this law.
These bill proposals were reintroduced to the state legislature approximately six months after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in all 50 states. Various Arlington officials spoke out after the ruling, supporting the decision.
Ebbin — who became the first openly gay state legislator elected in Virginia in 2003 — could not be reached for comment on his proposals. All three are currently in committee for consideration.
Virginia’s 2016 General Assembly legislative session is scheduled to last for 60 days, beginning on Jan. 13 and ending on March 12.
State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) has proposed a bill that would prevent the State Corporation Commission (SCC) from approving licenses for payday lending and motor vehicle title lending offices within 20 miles of a casino facility.
Payday lending offices give unsecured, small loans in the form of cash advances, and title lenders give secured loans for which the borrowers can use their car as collateral.
If passed, applicants looking to establish either kind of office would have to prove that their proposed location is not within 20 miles of a casino in any state. That 20 mile limit would start at a casino’s front door and be measured in a straight line.
The bill specifies that any payday or title lender that opens before July 1, 2016, will not have its license revoked even if it’s within 20 miles of a casino, and any such lender that opens after that date will not have its license revoked if a casino later opens within 20 miles.
Though reports earlier this fall suggested a recently-recognized Pamunkey Indian tribe wanted to open one outside Richmond, there are no casinos in the Commonwealth.
The bill would effectively ban new payday and title lenders in Arlington County after the planned MGM National Harbor casino opens. That opening is currently set for the second half of 2016.
Ebbin — who represents parts of Arlington County, Alexandria and Fairfax County — could not be reached for comment.
The bill is currently in committee and must pass there before being considered by the Virginia General Assembly. It faces steep odds in the Republican-controlled, business-friendly state legislature. The 2016 legislative session begins in two weeks and is scheduled to last 60 days.
State Sen. Janet Howell (D), who represents parts of Arlington, has proposed a bill to exclude the name and address of registered sex offenders’ employers from the publicly available registry system.
The proposed bill would amend a section of the Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry Act that deals with sharing registry information via the internet.
Howell’s bill would remove employer information from the part of the online system that’s available to the public.
Convicted sex offenders often have difficulty getting a job after being listed on the sex offender registry. Removing employer information would eliminate at least one disincentive from hiring a sex offender who has already served their time.
This is not the first time in the last five years such a bill has been proposed to the state legislature. Two previous bills also attempted to stop publishing employer information on the public online system. In 2010, the bill passed in the state Senate but was tabled in a House committee. It had less success in 2012, tabled again in a House committee without Senate consideration.
Howell didn’t introduce either of those bills, and could not be reached for comment on this year’s proposal. However, fellow local legislator Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) was one of the House members who proposed the bill in 2012.
In addition to their employer’s name and address, an offender’s name, age, current address, photograph and a description of the offense they committed with the date they were convicted are available to the public via the online registry system, which is maintained by the State Police.
Virginia’s 2016 General Assembly legislative session is scheduled to last for 60 days, beginning on Jan. 13 and ending on March 12.
DoD Renews Leases on Crystal City Buildings — In a win for Arlington County’s beleaguered commercial real estate market, the GSA has renewed leases on two buildings with some 912,000 square feet of office space, in Crystal City, for the Department of Defense. [Washington Business Journal]
Church Decided to Sell After Hearing from Residents — While initially skeptical, a majority of the membership of the Arlington Presbyterian Church on Columbia Pike approved a plan to sell the church to an affordable housing developer after hearing the stories of working class residents who said they worked in Arlington but couldn’t afford to live there anymore. [Washington Post]
Fisette: Arlington Will Work to Improve Bike Rating — County Board member Jay Fisette says Arlington will work to improve its Bicycle Friendly Community rating. Arlington received a silver-level designation, but there are 29 U.S. communities that are either gold or platinum level. In order to achieve that, Arlington will need more bike lanes, bike programs for lower-income residents and bicycle-themed street events. [InsideNova]
Howell Introduces Courthouse Security Bill — State Sen. Janet Howell (D), whose sprawling district includes part of north Arlington, has introduced a bill intended to improve courthouse security. The bill would increase from $10 to $20 the maximum amount a local jurisdiction could charge a defendant convicted on traffic or criminal charges, to help fund security measures. [Richmond Sunlight]
Webb Responds to Criticism in Comments — Michael Webb, who hopes to run as a Republican against Rep. Don Beyer next year, has personally responded to criticism in the comments of the article about his campaign announcement. [ARLnow]
Flickr pool photo by TheBeltWalk
(Updated at 12:30 p.m.) Del. Patrick Hope (D) has introduced a bill to the Virginia General Assembly that would eliminate the 35 percent commission the state charges on all phone calls made by prison inmates.
The proposed bill — which is now in committee for consideration and must pass there before going before the full House of Delegates — would amend an existing bill by adding a sentence stating no state agency will receive such commission payments.
The commission comes from charges paid by inmates and recipients of calls made from prison. It generates approximately $2.6 million a year, Hope said. Those funds go directly into the Virginia’s general fund.
“I’ve introduced a similar bill for the last four or five years, each time only to see it pass committee and die in appropriations due to lack of funding,” he said in an email. “So we agree on the policy but just not how to pay for it.”
Hope justified his support of this bill by explaining that inmates staying in touch with their families while incarcerated improves the situation for all parties involved.
“The added cost from this commission makes it very difficult for those incarcerated to stay connected with family,” he said. “Studies show the importance of maintaining frequent communication between the incarcerated and their family members, particularly related to recidivism rates, their own conduct in prison, and the overall well-being of families, especially those with young children.”
He has also testified in front of the Federal Communications Commission on this issue in the past. The agency recently acted to lower call costs and indicated support for eliminating commissions on those calls.
Phone service in state prisons in Virginia is provided by GTL, a Reston-based company that bills itself as the “corrections innovation leader.” According to the website prisonphonejustice.org, the rate for a 15 minute call from an inmate was as high as $6 in 2014. The website refers to the commission paid by GTL to the Commonwealth as a “kickback.”
For Hope, the issue is a humanitarian one.
“It is my continued belief that the correct policy in Virginia should be to make the costs of telephone communication between inmates and family as inexpensive as possible,” he said. “We want to encourage greater communication, and Virginia should not view this part of our prison system as a cost center to fund other parts of the budget.”
Virginia’s 2016 General Assembly legislative session is scheduled last for 60 days, beginning on Jan. 13 and ending on March 12.
The county’s 2016 legislative priorities will be sent to and considered by Arlington’s state legislative delegation.
It includes a series of legislative proposals compiled by Board members and county staff, outlining key issues the county would like local lawmakers to address in legislation.
This year’s legislative priorities include:
- Reauthorization of the 0.25% hotel tax, with revenue to be used for tourism promotion
- Ensuring the state continues long-term funding commitments to WMATA
- Lifting a prohibition on flashing lights on Metrobuses
- Renaming Jefferson Davis Highway
- Supporting nonpartisan redistricting
- Opposing any state mandates “requiring local law enforcement officers to evaluate the immigration status of individuals encountered during lawful stops or other routine police activities.”
- Supporting the policy that allows police departments to retain data from license plate readers to assist with investigations
- Allowing a summons to be issued after a camera catches a driver illegally passing a stopped school bus
- Allowing localities to impose a small tax on single-use bags, in order to encourage use of reusable bags
- Supporting full Medicaid expansion in Virginia under the Affordable Care Act
- Avoiding any additional unfunded mandates for localities
- Retaining all local taxing authority, including the business license (or BPOL) tax
In total, there are more than 50 priorities in the package, divided into eight categories.
Virginia’s 2016 General Assembly session will last for 60 days, beginning on Jan. 13 and ending on March 12.
Photo via Virginia General Assembly
Members of the County Board were at odds at its Tuesday night meeting over a resolution that would support the federal government’s efforts to address responsible use of antibiotics in health care and food production.
The primary goal of the resolution is to “establish a tiebreaker preference in County procurement policies for the purchase of meat and poultry that has been raised according to responsible antibiotic use policies.”
The resolution also calls for working with Arlington Public Schools on a similar antibiotic policy, which would — other things being equal — prefer the purchase of responsibly produced meats for school lunch programs.
“Although Arlington County has few meat and poultry food contracts and does not purchase large quantities of these products, the preference created today signals to the marketplace the County’s desire to join the national effort to drive changes in food production practices that will create healthier alternatives and support public health,” the county said in a press release.
Board member John Vihstadt, however, opposed a specific paragraph of the resolution that said:
“Supports legislative efforts to prevent the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in food production, such as S. 621, the Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act of 2015 and H.R. 1552, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2015…”
Vihstadt made a motion to strike the citations of specific federal legislation from the resolution, citing no Virginia senators nor members of Congress who are co-sponsors of either bill.
“We haven’t been briefed on this legislation, we have not seen the bills, and we haven’t — at least I have not — had any communication with our congressional delegation on these pieces of legislation,” he said at the meeting.
The motion to strike the citations failed, though Board member Libby Garvey also voted in favor of it.
“I don’t think we as a Board should be going on record supporting two specific pieces of federal regulation at this stage,” Vihstadt added. “There may be a time when we ought to do that, but I don’t think so at this stage.”
Board member Jay Fisette, who proposed the resolution, said the measures have been under consideration at least the past six months.
“We have done this before, and it’s not breaking new ground to identify a piece of legislation that this County, with its values, stands behind,” Fisette said.
The majority of the Board agreed, saying this would be an opportunity for Arlington to be bold and show local support for federal action before state legislators or other regional governments.
“This is about our health and our kids’ health,” Fisette added. “It’s making a statement and hoping to build and establish partnerships that allow the purchasing power of our government to help address a serious public health issue.”
The resolution passed, in its entirety, with a vote of 4-0-1. Vihstadt abstained.
“I would be supporting this for all the reasons Mr. Fisette and others have said,” he said before the vote, “were it not for the endorsement of two specific pieces of federal legislation.”
The State and Local Predatory Towing Enforcement Act introduced by congressmen Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) was added to an existing transportation bill as an amendment on Wednesday morning.
As it stands, federal law limits the ability of state and local governments to regulate the towing industry. The bill-turned-amendment would give them the ability to do so in an attempt to prevent predatory towing.
“State and local governments provide the best authority to regulate the towing industry and protect Virginians from unfair, predatory practices,” Rep. Beyer said in a press release. “We need more common-sense, consumer friendly solutions like this amendment to protect our constituents’ wallets.”
The predatory towing debate isn’t new to Arlington. The issue received national attention this past spring when ESPN sportscaster and WJLA alumna Britt McHenry was caught on camera losing her temper at an employee at Ballston-based Advanced Towing.
Shortly after the video of the incident was published online, Beyer’s bill was first introduced to the House.
In May, County Board Member Jay Fisette told ARLnow that under the legislation, he would support giving a towing veto to local businesses, requiring the owner’s approval before a vehicle is removed from their property.
The legislation Beyer’s bill would be amending, called the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act or STRR Act, is expected to pass in the House of Representatives by the end of the week, according to the Congressman’s office.
The bill is nearly 600 pages long and would authorize more than $300 billion for transportation across the country. Specific plans for the funds include improving infrastructure, highway safety programs and public transportation.
According to The Hill, Beyer’s and Hollen’s amendment is one of nearly 300 up for debate by the House before voting on the STRR Act.
Congressmen Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) today reintroduced The State and Local Predatory Towing Enforcement Act, a bill they say would solidify state and local governments’ ability to end predatory towing practices.
As federal law currently stands, state and local governments are prohibited from regulating local towing industries. Though a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision is considered to have given local governments the ability to regulate those industries, the reintroduced bill would codify it and reduce some legal uncertainties.
An identical bill was introduced by former Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), but died in the U.S. House of Representatives in February.
“Unfair and predatory towing practices take money out of our constituents’ wallets and strain their budgets,” said Rep. Beyer in a press release. “I am proud to join Rep. Van Hollen to provide our state and local governments with the authority they need to properly regulate this industry with common sense, consumer friendly towing protections.”
The predatory towing debate in Arlington has been revived as of late thanks to the national coverage of ESPN sportscaster Britt McHenry’s caught-on-camera rant against Ballston-based Advanced Towing. Despite the opportune timing, Beyer’s office says the high-profile incident did not have any impact on the congressman’s decision to introduce the bill.
Arlington County Board Member Jay Fisette has kept his eye on local predatory towing practices since 1999.
“Predatory towing is something I’ve thought about a lot,” Fisette says. “Next to cable, this has been the second-highest number of complaints [by residents].”
Fisette, who supports the bill, sees it as a way to help reinforce local governments’ ability to regulate predatory towing. “It’s always nice to have it in black and white where no one can challenge it,” he says.
For instance, Fisette says he’d like to give a towing veto to local businesses. “Have the property owner sign off on the tow before the tow company is allowed to remove the vehicle,” he says.
The end goal is to give drivers the confidence to park without fear of being towed at a moment’s notice.
“I try to create a community where people are able to park one time and go do five things,” Fisette says. “Walk to one store, walk to another, then go back to their car. I don’t want them moving five spaces down. It creates community, reduces congestion, and cuts down on pollution.”
Red Top Development Deal Struck — A potential deal to redevelop Red Top Cab’s property in Clarendon, which we first reported in September, is closer to becoming reality. The Shooshan Company has reportedly entered a purchase agreement with Red Top that would build three residential properties with 584 units on the 3.44 acre site. [Washington Business Journal]
Spring Yard Waste Collection — Arlington County’s spring yard waste collection is set to start Monday and run through April 24. For homeowners, the collection will take place the next business day after their trash collection. [Patch]
APS ‘Traveling Trolley’ Wins Award — Arlington Public Schools has won a national award for its Traveling Trolley summer reading program . The trolley helps close the student achievement gap, providing “an effective way for low income families to gain access to printed text by providing free transportation to their neighborhood branch of the Arlington Public Library,” according to APS. [Arlington Public Schools]
New Va. Breastfeeding Law — A new law signed by Va. Gov. Terry McAuliffe allows mothers to legally breastfeed in public, including in privately-owned buildings and businesses. The law will take effect July 1. [WUSA 9 – WARNING: AUTO-PLAY VIDEO]
APS Elementary Schools Get Top Marks — Ten of the top 11 public elementary schools in Virginia, as ranked by Niche.com, are in Arlington. “A high ranking indicates that the school is an exceptional academic institution with a diverse set of high-achieving students and faculty, and the students are very happy with their experiences,” the website said of its 2015 list. [Niche]
‘Blue Moon’ County Board Race — The upcoming Arlington County Board election will be the first in four decades in which two seats are open at the same time. That has led one political watcher to dub the race a “blue-moon” election. [InsideNova]
Fraber House Garage Moved — The detached garage near the historic Fraber House was moved closer to the home yesterday. The Fraber House was sold to a private homeowner after being designated historic by the county in 2013. The garage was not on the land that the county sold, but it allowed the homeowner to move it to the property. [Preservation Arlington]
Lopez Small Biz Legislation Passes — Del. Alfonso Lopez’s small business bill, HB 1901, has unanimously passed the House of Delegates. The legislation updates the definition of a small business in Virginia, which would in turn affect certain state purchasing contracts intended for small businesses. Currently, 95 percent of all businesses in Virginia meet the state’s definition of a small business: having 250 or fewer employees or annual revenue up to $10 million.
(Updated at 2:55 p.m.) In honor of World Autism Awareness Day, Rep. Jim Moran (D) spent the morning reading to first graders at Barcroft Elementary School and talking with them about autism.
After meeting with some students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), Moran read the first graders a story about everyone being different and how everyone’s differences should be celebrated. He explained that autism is another difference, just one that can’t be seen.
“Nobody is the same as everybody else, which is wonderful! Some children have different challenges,” Moran told the children. “Some children have autism. Autism is a challenge that affects the way our brains work. So some children have different ways their brain works.”
One of the students noted his brother has autism, to which Moran responded, “So he’s different and special and wonderful.”
Moran also talked to the students about the “AUTISM Educators Act,” a bill he is re-introducing to request funding for training educators how best to work with students with autism. Barcroft is one of the schools currently offering special services for students with autism, and training all staff members how to work with students with ASD. It is considered a model for other schools across the country.
“We’re going to try to teach other teachers around the country how to be as good of teachers as you have at Barcroft Elementary,” Moran told the students. “We’re going to use Barcroft Elementary as a model for other schools to learn from.”
The bill would establish a five-year pilot program to provide the special training for teachers and school staff. There would also be a focus on recruitment and retention of trained personnel and implementation of a program for parental support and involvement.
“I actually think this bill is going to become law. This is one that I think is going to make an enormous difference in the classrooms around the country that have children on the autistic spectrum,” Moran told ARLnow.com. “This is going to be groundbreaking legislation. I know it’s going to be bipartisan, I already have Republican sponsors. So I think we’re going to get it passed in the House, and I’m confident we’ll get it passed in the Senate as well. It’s going to become law all because the parents in the Arlington school system worked with the superintendent and the principals and the teachers and the teacher aides to make it happen in a way that other school systems can learn from.”
Moran is requesting up to $5 million for the pilot program and could ask for more once the program expands around the nation. We’re told the funds will come from existing teacher development accounts.
(Updated at 5:05 p.m.) What started with polite applause ended with jeers and shouts, as Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) hosted a panel discussion on gun violence at Washington-Lee High School Monday night.
Hundreds turned out at the school’s auditorium for the discussion, with gun supporters — wearing “Guns Save Lives” stickers — outnumbering gun control advocates about 3:2, based on the volume of completing applause points.
Among the panelists on stage with Moran were:
- David Chapman, a retired ATF Special Agent and advisor to Mayors Against Illegal Guns
- Josh Horwitz, Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
- Earl Cook, Alexandria Police Chief
- Jonathan Lowy, of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence
- Karen Marangi, of Mayors Against Illegal Guns
While expressing general support for the Second Amendment right to own firearms, Moran and the panelists made the case for additional gun control measures, including universal background checks, an renewed assault weapons ban, magazine capacity limits and mandated reporting of stolen guns. Possible changes to the treatment of those with mental illness were also discussed.
“We hope those of you in the room will really help us to move this, so we can make our communities safer,” Marangi said of some of the gun control legislation that has been proposed in Congress.
Many in the audience, however, were there to voice another opinion. After a generally polite reception for a opening statements by the panelists, the question and answer session brought a different tone.
A majority of speakers spoke strongly in support of gun rights and against additional gun laws, and some expressed fear that the government’s ultimate goal in gun legislation is to gradually ban gun ownership. Moran and the panel’s response to the audience statements and questions often drew boos and shouts.
“Congressman, I know you’re pro-choice, but why aren’t you pro-choice when it comes to self-defense for women?” said one speaker to loud applause. “Why don’t you guys listen to the young rape victims in Colorado when they said that if they had a gun it would have prevented their attacker.”
Other gun supporters called for the elimination of “gun-free zones,” particularly around schools.
“As you can see, there are a lot of people here who are legitimate, law-abiding gun owners,” said a man who asked fellow gun owners to stand, before voicing support for allowing teachers to carry guns. “We would be more than happy to defend innocent lives should a psycho… come into an area to commit an act of violence.”
“I would be opposed to teachers carrying guns in the classroom, and I would not want my children in a classroom where their teacher was carrying a gun,” Moran said in response, to applause from gun control advocates in the audience.
“I know this community well enough to know that the people standing up in this auditorium are not representative of the majority of the residents, ” he continued, to more applause as well as some jeers.
Moran and the panelists drew the most jeers when they brought up “assault weapons.”
“What does that even mean?” some audience members shouted, about the term. Some speakers — those who stood in line to speak — made the case that the term assault weapon is often used to refer to a gun that might look menacing but isn’t significantly different, functionality-wise, from a standard semiautomatic handgun.
“I don’t agree that there’s a need for individuals to have military-style assault weapons,” Moran retorted. “I don’t believe that we need guns that can hold in excess of ten bullets.”
Adding to the urgency of passing gun control laws, Moran said, is a projection that gun deaths will exceed traffic fatalities by 2015. That expected milestone is partially due to rising gun deaths, but mostly due to advances in car safety that started in the 1970s — safety improvements, he said, that came about after being mandated by law.
Speaking to reporters after the forum, Moran said he expected a negative response from the crowd.