Morning Notes

Arlington Diocese Releases List of Accused Priests — “Virginia’s two Catholic dioceses on Wednesday released lists of clergy who officials say were deemed ‘credibly accused’ of sexually abusing youth… The Diocese of Arlington, which covers the northeastern corner of Virginia, released a list of 16 names.” [Washington Post, Diocese of Arlington]

ACPD Restaurant Initiative Deemed a Success — “Arlington County, Virginia, is trying to fight drunken driving, and its method may prove to be a model for the nation.” [WTOP]

Cristol Quoted in the New Yorker — “‘We have an agenda that is about equity and anti-racist goals, and I don’t think he can effectively lead on it,’ [Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol] said, referring to the governor. As for Fairfax, she said, she had thought, after the first allegation, that ‘there might be a way forward for him to recognize harm done’ and stay in office. After the second, it seemed clear to her that there was an indefensible pattern of behavior.” [The New Yorker]

Arlington Man Arrested for 2016 Rape — “Alexandria Police have arrested a man who they say abducted and raped a lifeguard in broad daylight from a pool on South Pickett Street in 2016.” [Fox 5]

Hope’s Assisted-Living Bill Passes — “The derecho that came through Arlington several years ago inspired me to bring this bill and work to make sure, at a minimum, prospective residents knew whether their assisted living facility had a generator in case of loss of power.” [InsideNova, Twitter]

Sheriff’s Office Helping With Scholarships — “The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office is helping the Virginia Sheriffs’ Institute raise college scholarship funds for Virginia residents majoring in criminal justice.” [Arlington County]

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Morning Notes

Longtime Election Director Retiring — “Linda Lindberg, who has served for 16 years as elections chief in Arlington, on Feb. 2 formally announced she would not seek re-appointment and would retire over the summer. The move had been expected, and Lindberg’s service drew praise from members of the Arlington Electoral Board.” [InsideNova]

Northam Signs HQ2 Bill — “Amid fallout over a racist photo, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has signed legislation which would carry out the state’s promise to Amazon for up to $750 million in incentives if it creates almost 38,000 jobs at its new Arlington County headquarters.” [Washington Post, Washington Business Journal]

Board Wants Project Labor Agreement for HQ2 — “[Arlington County Board member Katie] Cristol says that Northern Virginia is working on protecting labor during Amazon’s forthcoming development of Crystal City through what’s called a project labor agreement, which is a legal document that establishes the terms and conditions for employment on a construction project before it solicits bids.” [DCist]

Cycling Bill Advances in State Senate — A bill that would “classify cyclists as vulnerable road users deserving special protection under the law” has passed the Virginia State Senate. [Twitter, Virginia LIS]

Road Closures for 5K Race — “The annual Love the Run You’re With 5K will take place in the area of Pentagon City on Sunday, February 10, 2019. The Arlington County Police Department will implement [a number of] road closures to accommodate the race.” [Arlington County]

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Morning Notes

A Wall that Divided Arlington Still Stands — “The wall was erected in a section of Arlington County in the 1930s to separate black residents from white residents. And for decades, it did just that. It kept segregation intact by creating a physical barrier between an ‘us’ and a ‘them.'” [Washington Post]

Coming Soon: Happy Hour Advertising? — “A lawsuit filed against the state by a Northern Virginia restaurateur could be the motivation the General Assembly needs to change laws that restrict happy hour advertising.” [Virginia Mercury]

Demand for Free Pet Food Rises — The Animal Welfare League of Arlington says it has seen an increase in demand for its free pet food pantry during the government shutdown. [Twitter]

Resources for Furloughed Feds — Congressman Don Beyer’s (D-Va.) office has compiled a list of resources for those affected by the federal government shutdown. [Rep. Don Beyer]

Anti-NIMBY Legislation Proposed in Va. — “[Del. Jeff] Bourne and Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, are pursuing legislation in the General Assembly this year that would explicitly prohibit local governments from denying permits for housing developments because of the expected race or income levels of the residents.” [Virginia Mercury]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Gun Violence Prevention, Criminal Justice Reform Emerge as Focuses for Arlington Lawmakers

A new year brings a renewed focus on gun violence prevention, criminal justice reform and some local issues for Arlington’s state lawmakers.

The county’s legislative delegation is gearing up to head back to Richmond next month, as the General Assembly kicks off a new session on Jan. 9.

That means that many of three state senators and four delegates representing the county have been busy crafting legislation for the 46-day “short session” of the state legislature, and they’ve readied dozens of bills for lawmakers to mull in the coming weeks.

Legislators of both parties expect that sparring over the budget will dominate the proceedings — Gov. Ralph Northam and Republicans are already at odds over how to spend an extra $1.2 billion in revenue generated by changes to the federal tax code. The looming state elections (where all 140 lawmakers will be on the ballot) will also provide a bit of a distraction, particularly as Republicans defend narrow, one-seat majorities in both the Senate and House of Delegates.

Yet a review of the General Assembly’s online database shows that Arlington’s delegation has a raft of smaller bills already written, including a variety of efforts lawmakers have tried before and even some new creations.

Some bills look designed to address some Arlington-specific issues, while others have much wider impacts.

For instance, state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) is introducing new legislation that would specifically give Arlington officials control over the “regulation and licensing” of all childcare facilities and providers in the county. The County Board currently has the ability to issue use permits to facilities of certain sizes, but has spent months now studying potential policy changes to make all childcare more accessible and affordable in the county.

Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd District) is also backing a bill that would give Northern Virginia localities, like Arlington, full power to set their own school calendars. The legislation seems to be similar to a bill Favola previously contemplated carrying that would end the infamous “King’s Dominion Rule” barring most school systems from starting class before Labor Day.

Favola expressed optimism that the Republican chair of the Senate’s Education and Health committee could agree to pass such a bill, ending Arlington’s long fight over the issue. Howell, the longest serving member of the county’s legislative delegation, also sits on that committee.

Notably, none of the county’s representatives in Richmond have put forward a bill to give Arlington the power to change the name of Jefferson Davis Highway, just yet. Lawmakers previously warned the Board that they’d be hesitant to back such an effort this year without more support from the business community, or perhaps Amazon’s intervention, given Route 1’s proximity to the tech giant’s future headquarters.

Instead, most of the lawmakers representing sections of Arlington have put a clear focus on one issue, perhaps above all others: gun control.

Republicans in Richmond have steadfastly refused to advance most firearms-related legislation over the years, but county lawmakers seem ready to renew many of their legislative pushes on the issue this year.

Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th District) is re-introducing a bill that would allow police or prosecutors secure a two-week ban on buying or owning a gun if they believe they present a “substantial risk of injury to himself or others.” A judge would ultimately get to decide if the ban stands, and if it should be extended for a period up to six months.

Sullivan has twice seen similar legislation left to die in committees: one bill failed in 2018, another in 2017.

Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th District) is also bringing back legislation to ban devices that increase the rate of fire of semi-automatic rifles, commonly known as “bump stocks.” Lawmakers across the country worked to ban the devices after one was used in the mass shooting at a Las Vegas concert last year; Ebbin’s bill on the subject died on a party-line vote in committee last session.

Howell is also re-upping legislation that would make it a felony for anyone to leave a “loaded, unsecured” firearm in the presence of anyone under the age of 18. It’s only a misdemeanor under current state law, and Howell’s effort to make the change died on a party line vote in committee earlier this year.

She’s also reintroducing a bill to make it a felony for anyone who is subject to a “permanent protective order” over fears that they may be violent to own a gun. Howell previously succeeded in establishing a misdemeanor penalty for the practice in 2016; her push to upgrade it a felony passed one committee last year before failing on a party-line vote in another.

Other bills backed by Arlington legislators would address inequities in the criminal justice system more broadly.

For example, Ebbin is trying once more to decriminalize the possession of marijuana, imposing fines on people who are caught with small quantities of the drug in lieu of jail time. He’s seen similar efforts fail, often on party-line votes, in the last four legislative sessions.

Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) is also backing what appears to be new legislation to require state corrections officials to produce an annual report on how many people are held in solitary confinement in Virginia prisons, and what steps workers take to address their mental health needs. Virginia has begun moving away from the practice, as it’s increasingly been criticized nationwide, but some reports indicate that the state still holds large numbers of inmates in solitary confinement at some of its most secure facilities.

Dels. Mark Levine (D-45th District) and Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) are the lone Arlington representatives that have yet to pre-file any of their own legislation ahead of the new session, but have signed on as cosponsors of many other bills. Those include everything from the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the formal legalization of same-sex marriage.

And, on a lighter note, both Ebbin and Hope have signed on to ceremonial resolutions commending the Washington Capitals on their long-awaited Stanley Cup victory.

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Morning Notes

DES Wants to Reunite Stuffed Bunny With Owner — The Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services is searching for the owner of a stuffed animal believed to have been accidentally thrown away during Taste of Arlington on Sunday. “Let us know if someone is missing a good friend,” DES tweeted. [Twitter]

APS to Keep German, Japanese Classes — “Superintendent Patrick Murphy on May 17 confirmed the decision to keep German I, II and III and Japanese I, II and III, which had been slated for elimination due to low enrollment. The turnaround came after students and parents complained.” [InsideNova]

Flanagan-Watson Get Promotion — “Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz has appointed Shannon Flanagan-Watson as deputy county manager, effective May 21, with oversight responsibility for Arlington Economic Development, Arlington Public Libraries, and a portion of the Department of Environmental Services, one of the County’s largest departments.” Flanagan-Watson has served as the county’s business ombudsman, working to help solve regulatory problems for Arlington businesses. [Arlington County]

Risk Warrant Bill Fails — A bill introduced by Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48) to create risk warrants — allowing law enforcement to confiscate the guns of troubled individuals if a court order is granted — failed in the Virginia legislature this session. [WVTF]

Patriots Win District Baseball Title — The Yorktown Patriots baseball team won the Liberty District high school tournament and title for the first time since 2012. [InsideNova]

Get Ready for Memorial Bridge Work — Major work to rehabilitate the aging Memorial Bridge is set to begin in September and will cause significant traffic impacts. The work “will require long-term lane closures and short-term detours, which will be disruptive to traffic and likely send vehicles to other Potomac River spans, tying those up more than usual, per the NPS. One of the sidewalks will also be closed ‘during much of the construction period.'” [Washington Business Journal]

Budget Limits May Limit New HS Amenities — “Those who descended on Saturday’s County Board meeting hoping to win support for more rather than fewer amenities in a potential fourth Arlington high school came away with no promises from board members. If anything, those elected officials who addressed the subject did so in an effort to – delicately – tamp down expectations.” [InsideNova]

Wrong-Way Crash in Pentagon City — A driver reportedly hopped a curb, drove the wrong way down Army Navy Drive and smashed into two vehicles in Pentagon City around noon yesterday. [Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Beyer Seeks To Appease Aircraft Noise Concerns With Amendments

Congressman Don Beyer (D-Va.) has added several amendments to the FAA Reauthorization Act (H.R. 4) intended to reduce aircraft noise in the region.

One of the amendments would provide for soundproofing “residential buildings located on residential properties that are subject to increased perceived noise levels as a result of the NextGen initiative of the Federal Aviation Administration.”

A press release promoting the amendment did not provide further detail as to how this soundproofing would be executed, though it did note the expansion of discretionary grants to fund “noise compatibility programs” and “noise mitigation projects” in addition to soundproofing.

One of the amendments would charge the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration with developing “a noise inquiry website… to receive, track, and analyze complaints on an ongoing basis from individuals in the National Capital Region.”

There is already information on the FAA’s website about how to report complaints, however the advice generally instructs residents to either contact the FAA ombudsman or to complain directly to the airport about the alleged noise problem.

A separate amendment proposes a monthly helicopter noise abatement working group, led by the FAA and with Department of Defense officials in attendance, to “collect, correlate, and identify trends” relating to regional helicopter noise.

Another amendment seeks to “review and revise helicopter flight paths, including those used by the Department of Defense and all military helicopters, identifying and issuing new official paths for the areas in which helicopters may be able to fly at higher altitudes.”

The FAA’s official website also touches on military-related aircraft noise, noting that the agency “does not have the authority to regulate the operations of military aircraft.”

Back on January 16, Beyer held an aircraft noise community forum in Fairlington to discuss the issue with a few dozen attendees.

“It is frightening, it is often daily, and it is very disruptive to my life,” one woman said at the forum, adding that the noise upsets her pets and rattles her windows.

More from the press release:

Rep. Don Beyer today offered a series of amendments to H.R. 4, the FAA Reauthorization Act, designed to mitigate the effects of aircraft noise on communities in the National Capital Region.

“Hundreds of my constituents have expressed to me their frustrations with the slow pace of change prompted by their input to government authorities about aircraft noise,” said Rep. Beyer. “This problem isn’t getting better quickly enough. Northern Virginians have been patient, but there is more that can be done to reduce the toll taken by noisy aircraft on our community.”

He offered two amendments related to airplane noise which would expand discretionary grants which fund noise compatibility programs, noise mitigation projects, and soundproofing of houses in affected communities.

Additionally, Beyer will throw his full support behind an amendment to the same legislation offered by Rep. Barbara Comstock, which would block the expansion of flight slots in the region’s airports, increasing the quantity of flights and the resulting noise from aircraft.

Beyer also offered two amendments based on feedback from constituents presented during his Fairlington town hall on helicopter noise in January. One amendment would require the FAA to review helicopter flight paths, including Department of Defense and all other military helicopters, to find areas where they may fly at higher altitudes to reduce noise for communities below.

The other would require the FAA to set up a noise inquiry website using data from local airports, and to establish a helicopter noise abatement working group to look for ways to reduce helicopter noise in the region.

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Morning Notes

Dem Support for Country Club Bill Slips — A procedural vote in the Virginia House of Delegates to send the Arlington country club bill to the governor’s desk passed, but without a veto-proof margin. Some Democratic lawmakers who supported the bill the first time around voted no instead. If signed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D), the legislation would greatly lower the property taxes of Army Navy Country Club and Washington Golf and Country Club. [InsideNova]

Four Courts Four Miler Closures — The annual Four Courts Four Miler race will close roads parts of Wilson Blvd and Route 110 in Courthouse and Rosslyn this coming Saturday morning. [Arlington County]

Food Trucks Grumble About Festival Fees — “To participate in May’s Taste of Arlington festival… food trucks must pay a flat fee of between $400 and $500. Festival attendees purchase tickets worth $5 each that can be redeemed at food trucks for a few bites. When the gates close, event organizers reimburse the food truck between 25 and 75 cents per ticket… Would you sign this contract?” [Washington City Paper]

‘Women of Vision’ Awards — Nominations are now being accepted for the 2018 Arlington Women of Vision Awards. The nomination deadline is April 20. [Arlington County]

How to Do Business With Arlington — Arlington is hosting an event next week that will show small businesses “the nuances of successfully doing business with Arlington County.” Per the event website: “Experts will be speaking on topics such as obtaining opportunities to work with the County and understanding the procurement process.” [Arlington Economic Development]

Nearby: Alexandria Tops Tourism List — Alexandria is No. 1 on Money magazine’s “The 20 Best Places to Go in 2018” list, topping Anaheim, Calif., the home of Disneyland, among other destinations. Harper’s Ferry, W. Va. was ranked No. 2. [Washington Post]

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Morning Notes

Wakefield Advances to Championship — The Wakefield High School boys basketball team has advanced to the Virginia Class 5 championship after defeating Edison last night 82-66. The team will face Varina tomorrow at VCU. Meanwhile, Wakefield senior forward A’Mari Cooper has been named Northern Region Class 5 Player of the Year. [Washington Post, InsideNova]

Metro Starts Selling Merch — Despite its reliability issues and subsequent image problem, Metro has launched a new line of clothing and gifts, sold online and at a new gift store at Metro Center. The reaction to the merchandise has been mixed. [WMATA, NBC Washington]

General Assembly Passes Car Seat Bill — “Today, the Virginia General Assembly passed House Bill 708… which would change the commonwealth’s law to require that child safety seats remain rear facing until the age of two, or the child reaches the minimum weight limit for a forward-facing child restraint device as prescribed by the manufacturer of the device. The bill is now on its way to Governor Northam’s office for his signature. If signed, the new law would become effective July 1, 2019.” [AAA Mid-Atlantic]

More Restaurants Considering Ballston Quarter — Fresh off the announcement that Ted’s Bulletin was coming to Ballston Quarter, the owners of trendy D.C. spots Himitsu and Gravitas are said to be considering opening up eateries at the mall. Also in the works: a donut shop, an arepas stand, an oyster bar, and a barbecue joint. [Washington Business Journal]

Nicecream Expanding to D.C. — Liquid nitrogen-powered ice cream shop Nicecream Factory, which first opened in Clarendon, has since expanded to Alexandria and is now planning to open two D.C. locations, in Adams Morgan and Shaw. [Washington Business Journal]

Nearby: Gun Reform Discussion — Fred Guttenberg, father of one of the Parkland, Florida high school shooting victims, will speak at an event called “A Conversation About Gun Safety And The Safety Of American Schools” at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria tonight. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) is hosting the event, which will discuss “actions we can take to ensure no other parent has to experience this kind of trauma.” [Eventbrite]

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Morning Notes

Golf Course Tax Bill Passes — A bill that would provide a massive tax break to two Arlington country clubs has passed the Virginia General Assembly. The bill, if signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam (D), would cost Arlington $1.5 million or more in tax revenue. [Washington Post]

Military Couple Fights Wife’s Deportation — The wife of a retired Army special forces veteran was to face deportation in an Arlington-based immigration court next week, but the Dept. of Homeland Security is now offering to drop the proceedings. Prior to the reversal, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) called said via social media: “Military families should not be targeted like this. It’s unconscionable.” [Military Times, Twitter]

Cherry Blossom Bloom Prediction — The National Park Service expects peak bloom for the Tidal Basin cherry blossoms to take place March 17-20. [PoPville]

Beyer’s GOP Challenger — “The Republican challenger to U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D) used a Feb. 28 meeting of the Arlington County Republican Committee to introduce himself to the county’s GOP rank-and-file. ‘I look forward to the campaign,’ said Thomas Oh… an Army veteran and currently a contractor in Falls Church.” [InsideNova]

Marymount Joins New Conference — Marymount University in Arlington and five other schools have formed the new Atlantic East Conference within NCAA Division III. [Marymount University, Twitter]

County Seeking Budget Feedback — Arlington County is seeking feedback on its proposed budget. The online survey asks residents to weigh in on various priorities, including county employee raises, economic development, Metro funding, school funding, infrastructure investment and affordable housing. [SurveyMonkey]

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Beyer Co-Sponsors ‘Assault Weapons Ban of 2018’

Congressman Don Beyer (D-Va.) co-sponsored a bill this week that would prohibit the sale, transfer, production, and importation of assault weapons.

The Assault Weapons Ban of 2018, H.R. 5087, was introduced by Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) on Monday (February 26). The bill comes as pressure mounts nationwide following the Parkland, Fla., school shooting which sparked renewed efforts to pass gun control legislation.

“We need the Assault Weapons Ban because we have to get weapons of war out of America’s communities,” Beyer said in a press release. “It is too late to stop the shootings in Parkland, Newtown, Aurora, and so many others which were carried out with an AR-15 style rifle, but we must act to prevent future such massacres.

“Congress should listen to the young people in Florida and across the country and pass this lifesaving measure immediately,” he added.

The ban would specifically prohibit the sale, transfer, production, and importation of the following:

  • Semi-automatic rifles and handguns with a military-style feature that can accept a detachable magazine
  • Semi-automatic rifles and handguns with a fixed magazine that can hold more than 10 rounds
  • Semi-automatic shotguns with a military-style features
  • Any ammunition feeding device that can hold more than 10 rounds
  • 205 specifically-named and listed firearms

More from the press release:

When an assault weapon or a high-capacity magazine is used in a shooting, the number of victims who are killed increases by 63 percent. There have been almost 8,300 incidents of gun violence so far in 2018. More than 2,200 Americans have lost their lives. More than 500 children have been killed or injured.

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Morning Notes

Major Orange and Silver Line Issues — Orange and Silver line Metro service has been restored but significant delays remain from an earlier disabled train at the Ballston station. [Washington Post, Twitter, Twitter]

Legislature Considering Expanding I-66 Tolls — Del. Tim Hugo (R), the state lawmaker who proposed a bill that would slash Arlington’s tax revenue from country clubs, is now also proposing legislation that would require I-66 to be tolled in both directions. “If you live in Arlington, D.C. or Maryland, and you are going to Tysons Corner or west, you pay no toll in the morning and you get a free ride home,” Hugo said. “We will even it out by getting some people in Arlington to pick up the freight.” [Washington Post]

County Board Members Lobby Against Country Club Bill — Both Libby Garvey (D) and John Vihstadt (I) were in Richmond yesterday to lobby against HB 1204, the bill that would provide a “windfall tax cut” for Arlington’s two country clubs. [Twitter]

Vegas Bunnies Arrive in Arlington — “Six furry, floppy-eared cottontails dubbed the ‘Las Vegas bunnies’ have arrived at an animal rescue center in Arlington after many others were poisoned in Nevada.” [Washington Post]

Arlington School Board Bill Passes — A state bill that would ensure that Arlington County has the legal standing to have an elected School Board, after questions arose about the School Board’s legality, has passed the state legislature and is now heading to Gov. Ralph Northam (D) for his signature. [InsideNova]

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State Bill Would Provide Big Tax Breaks to Arlington Country Clubs

A state bill targeted at helping country clubs in Arlington would cost the county more than $2 million in tax revenue, an internal county report says.

HB 1204, patroned by Fairfax and Prince William County Del. Tim Hugo (R), passed the House of Delegates last week by a vote of 65-33-1. The bill would “reserve to the Commonwealth the power to classify golf courses as land dedicated to open space for assessment and tax purposes,” according to an internal Arlington County fact sheet.

More from the bill’s summary:

Requires the assessing official in any county that experienced at least a 14% increase in population from 2010 to 2016 to specially and separately assess real property that is devoted to open space and contains at least five acres based on the actual physical use of the property, if requested to do so by the owner. The measure is effective for taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2018.

The bill only would apply to Arlington and Loudoun counties, we’re told, and it would primarily affect the tax assessments of two entities: Army Navy Country Club and Washington Golf and Country Club, both in Arlington.

The country clubs are currently suing the county, challenging their respective assessments. Arlington assesses each based in part on their potential value as developable land, meaning that the assessments — and yearly tax bills — are much higher than if the clubs were assessed only on the basis of their current use.

Army Navy Country Club, near Pentagon City, was assessed at $149 million this year, and paid $1.5 million in taxes last year, according to county records. Washington Golf and Country Club, located along N. Glebe Road near Marymount University, is assessed at $79 million and paid about $839,000 in taxes last year.

The internal county report says that the country clubs are both currently assessed as “large acreage parcels,” valued at about $12 per square foot. By comparison, some residential property near WGCC is assessed at nearly $100 per square foot. Should the legislation pass, the assessed value of the clubs is expected to drop to around $0.50 per square foot, costing the county nearly $2.4 million.

“This is a bad bill for Arlington County government and for Arlington County property owners,” said County Board Chair Katie Cristol, adding that it would set a “damaging precedent.”

The Virginia Municipal League is opposing Hugo’s bill, which is currently being considered by the state Senate. In an email, the organization urged localities to take action.

“Notwithstanding the arguments posed by the bill’s proponents, the measure shatters existing state policy,” the email said. “If approved, nothing will prevent future General Assemblies from giving away local tax dollars and disregarding land use and tax policy decisions that belong to local governments. And, for the record, HB 1204 does not obligate the Commonwealth to reimburse local governments for the resulting lost revenues.”

The state Senate’s Finance Committee is expected to discuss the legislation at a hearing Tuesday morning.

At its meeting Saturday, two County Board members supported advertising a higher property tax rate, based on the risk of lost tax revenue from the bill. A majority of the Board, however, voted against raising the rate.

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Ebbin’s Absentee Voting Measures Fail to Pass, Sent to Committee for 2019

Several absentee voting measures have been sent to the House of Delegates’ Privileges and Elections study committee for review in 2019, meaning the legislation is effectively dead for 2018.

The bills, introduced by state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), included a measure which would have allowed for senior citizens to vote with an absentee ballot up to and including the day of an election. Another, SB602, would have allowed for “no-excuse” absentee ballot voting beginning 21 days prior to an election, meaning that anyone could have voted with an absentee ballot without needing a qualifying reason for not being able to wait in line at the polls.

“We want to make it easier for people to vote and participate in democracy rather than harder,” said Ebbin. “In Arlington in particular, there are a lot of busy people who work a lot of unpredictable hours. Right now, working late is not a valid excuse for absentee voting.”

“It should be easier to vote, and we don’t want anyone to be disenfranchised.”

Though the bills will not have a chance to be passed until after the 2018 midterm elections, Ebbin told ARLnow.com that it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to wait, saying it “can be a good thing” as the bill will “get a more full hearing and more education and more consideration and more chance to educate legislators on these issues.”

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Favola Says Anti-Lunch Shaming Bill Likely to Pass

(Updated at 4:50 p.m.) A bill prohibiting school officials from stigmatizing students who can’t afford school meals or pay off their debts is likely to pass the Virginia General Assembly, said bill sponsor state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31).

The SB 840 bill, which has already passed through the Virginia Senate, will ban school board employees from identifying students who owe a meal debt by, for example, requiring students to wear bracelets or hand stamps.

The bill also prohibits school board members from making students do chores or work to pay for meal debts. It also states that any communication about a meal debt must be written in a letter to the student’s parents to bring home.

“We want students to have as positive an experience as possible while they’re in school,” Favola said. “It doesn’t send the right message to children if they’re at all identified for being different because of an income inequality.”

Favola represents Virginia’s 31st District, which includes Arlington and Fairfax County.

A Virginia social justice group, Social Action Linking Together (SALT), approached Favola to sponsor the bill. After other constituents voiced similar concerns about the treatment of students with meal debts, Favola introduced the bill to the Senate.

One Arlington parent told John Horejsi, a SALT coordinator, that their child’s elementary school puts orange stickers on students’ shirts when they owe a lunch debt. The parent discussed the matter with ARLnow.com but did not wish to identify the school or speak on the record.

An Arlington Public Schools spokesman said that practice is not in place at public schools in Arlington.

“To our knowledge, this hasn’t happened in APS in a number of years,” said Frank Bellavia, via email. “Currently, staff only speak with parents directly about a student’s unpaid lunch account. Our Food Services staff is working now on a formal policy for School Board approval that will permanently address this.”

The state bill is highly likely to pass, Favola said, because a companion bill unanimously passed in the House. The bill is now being reviewed by the Committee on Education.

A similar piece of legislation was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives last May, and a similar bill also passed in New Mexico last April.

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Lopez Touts Changes to Bill That Would Have Raised Towing Fees in N. Va.

(Updated at 6 p.m.) A new bill is raising the statewide cap on towing charges to $150 but won’t require Northern Virginia localities to raise their towing rates as was initially proposed, according to Delegate Alfonso Lopez (D-49).

HB800 initially required towing rate increases to $150 for standard-size vehicles, $250 for medium-size vehicles, and $500 for large vehicles, but only in Northern Virginia.

Lopez says he reached an agreement with the Republican patron of the bill, Del. David Yancey (R-94), to amend it to remove the large towing fee hike. It will instead raise the cap to $150 statewide, while also letting Northern Virginia localities set their own towing rates by removing a requirement — currently in law — that the rate be set at $135, according to Lopez’s office.

“Rather than dramatically increasing the amount that tow truck companies can charge unsuspecting Virginians, we should be working to address the practice of predatory towing in Northern Virginia,” the delegate’s office said in a press release.

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