(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.
Arlington County plans to ask its state legislative delegation to sponsor a bill that would rename Jefferson Davis Highway, the Washington Post reports.
While the likelihood of such a bill passing is slim, County Board Chair Mary Hynes said the county has received “a flurry of letters from residents” asking that the Confederate leader’s name be removed from the highway, also known as Route 1.
(County Board Vice Chair Walter Tejada did not respond to an inquiry from ARLnow.com last month, asking whether a name change resolution for Jefferson Davis Highway was a possibility.)
In 2012, the county renamed the stretch of road formerly known as Old Jefferson Davis Highway “Long Bridge Drive.” This time around, talk of renaming the highway comes amid a national conversation about the Confederate flag and whether it’s more a symbol of southern heritage — or slavery and racism. Last week, South Carolina’s legislature voted to remove the flag from the grounds of the state capitol.
Do you think Jefferson Davis Highway should be renamed?
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(Updated at 4:00 p.m.) Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) has drafted a bill that would authorize the Arlington County Board to hire an independent auditor.
Such legislation, should it pass the Republican-controlled state legislature, would be a victory for County Board members Libby Garvey (D) and John Vihstadt (I), who have championed the hiring of an independent auditor as a way to bring more accountability to county government. Hope’s legislation would only authorize the hiring, it would not require the County Board to do so. It would also apply to other Virginia jurisdictions with a County Manager form of government.
Currently, the County Board does not have the authority to hire an independent auditor, since Virginia is a Dillon Rule state and the County Manager form of government doesn’t provide any provisions for such a hire.
County Manager Barbara Donnellan could hire an internal auditor — in fact, it appears that her staff is doing so — but Vihstadt has said that doesn’t provide the level of independence that he desires.
(Fairfax County, with its County Executive form of government, already has an independent auditor that reports to a Board of Supervisors committee. Virginia cities also have independent auditor hiring authority.)
Hope says he thinks his bill could get bipartisan support in the General Assembly.
“This is a good government bill,” he told ARLnow.com Thursday afternoon. “It makes government more transparent, more open. I can’t find fault with it.”
Hope has yet to introduce the bill and is still considering it. The deadline to introduce the legislation is Jan. 23. Garvey said she hopes the bill will be introduced.
“I’m pleased that he is considering putting it in, and I think it’s important that the Board has the power to hire an independent auditor if they so choose,” she said. Asked about the importance of the auditor reporting directly to the Board instead of the Manager, she said its a matter of “checks and balances.”
“If the auditor reports to the Manager, it’s not really very independent,” she said. “I just think that it’s simply a good government… it checks the staff and checks the Board and makes the public comfortable that there’s an independent eye keeping tabs on things.”
The bill addresses “the growing problem of notaries who practice law without a license” in immigrant communities. It does so by prohibiting notaries who are not attorneys or otherwise accredited from offering legal and immigration advice.
“In many Latin American countries ‘notario publicos’ (notary publics) provide legal advice, but U.S. notaries who are not also attorneys are not authorized to share this role,” explains a media advisory about the bill signing. “In Virginia, there have been cases of notaries fraudulently charging thousands of dollars for misleading advice.”
Two of the chief sponsors of the legislation, State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) and Del. Alfonso Lopez (D) are expected to join McAuliffe at the bill signing ceremony, to be held Wednesday, Aug. 27 at 2:00 p.m. at the new Arlington Mill Community Center (909 S. Dinwiddie Street).
Fallon, Baker Out; Omara, Schneider In for 48th — The list of contenders in the race to replace the retiring Del. Bob Brink (D-48) continues to change. Peter Fallon, mentioned as a possible candidate, says he will not run. Steve Baker, who threw his hat in the ring for a few hours, is no longer running. Young Democrats of America President Atima Omara, meanwhile, is running, as is Yorktown Civic Association President Andrew Schneider. At last count, there are six Democrats and no Republicans in the race.
Endorsements in 48th District Race — Candidates for the 48th District special electoin are starting to tout high-profile local endorsements. Del. Patrick Hope and former Va. lieutenant governor candidate Aneesh Chopra have endorsed Rip Sullivan. Arlington County Board Vice Chairman Mary Hynes, Treasurer Frank O’Leary and Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos have endorsed Paul Holland. In Arlington, a firehouse Democratic primary in the race will be held on Sunday.
Hazmat Scare at TJ Middle School — There was a hazardous materials scare at Thomas Jefferson Middle School yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon. According to an Arlington fire department spokeswoman, the family of a former school employee who passed away brought a box of art supplies to the school as a donation. A school staff member sorting through the donation opened a bag, smelled a strong odor and began to feel sick. Arlington’s hazmat team arrived and determined that the bag contained a chemical used for gold plating. A cleanup crew was brought in to dispose of the chemical and the employee was transported to the hospital in stable condition.
STEM School Proposed — During a discussion about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, the Arlington School Board began talking about the possibility of opening a new STEM-focused middle school or high school. Such a facility could potentially compete with Fairfax County’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a magnet school attended by a number of Arlington students. [InsideNova]
New Va. Laws Take Effect — A number of new laws in Virginia took effect Tuesday. Among them: the abolition of a $64 tax on hybrid vehicles, a law requiring fewer Standards of Learning tests for grades 3-8, and a law that requires motorists to maintain more space between their vehicles and bicyclists. [Reston Now]
Flickr pool photo by Alex Erkiletian
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and the police department has issued a press release (after the jump) highlighting the need to pay attention while at the wheel, especially as more pedestrians and bicyclists hit the streets during the warmer weather months.
The press release also mentions impending state legislation that makes texting while driving a primary offense. Currently, a driver can only be charged for texting if pulled over for another violation — and the penalty is a piddly $20 fine for the first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses. The new legislation would allow police to pull over a motorist only for texting, and would significantly increase the penalty.
The bill originally called for fines of $500 and $250, but an amendment approved by the state Senate this week cuts that in half. The bill is now awaiting Gov. Bob McDonnell’s signature. If signed, the law will take effect July 1.
ACPD says it is prepared to enforce the texting law.
“Once the law is in effect we will incorporate it into our nationally recognized traffic and pedestrian safety programs,” said department spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. “In terms of training, all Arlington County Police officers receive annual in-service training regarding new laws and legislative changes. The proposed Virginia texting law will be included in that training.”
Wakefield Falls in State Semis — The Wakefield Warriors basketball team lost to John Marshall in the semifinal round of the state AAA tournament last night in Richmond. Wakefield fell 66-46, finishing the season with a 25-6 record. [Washington Post]
Lawmakers Name Biggest 2013 Achievement — Asked to name their biggest achievement in this past legislative session, the state lawmakers who represent Arlington cited an expansion of Medicaid, the new transportation funding plan, and affordable housing funding. [Sun Gazette]
Arlington Students Win at Science Fair — Two Arlington high school students won the “Best in Fair Grand Prize” at the Northern Virginia Regional Science and Engineering Fair over the weekend. They will now go on to compete at the International Science and Engineering Fair in May. [Arlington Public Schools]
Flickr pool photo by J.D. Moore
A law against “lewd and lascivious cohabitation” has been on the books in Virginia since the 19th century. Currently, § 18.2-345 of Virginia code specifies that “If any persons, not married to each other, lewdly and lasciviously associate and cohabit together… each of them shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor” — punishable by a fine up to $500.
A quick internet search reveals that talk of repealing the archaic law dates back to at least 1981, when the University of Virginia’s Cavalier Daily talked to a local prosecutor who attributed “the statute’s permanence… to the reluctance of members of the Legislature to stand up and ask for its repeal.” In 2005, USA Today noted that Virginia was one of seven states that still prohibited unmarried cohabitation.
The law rarely if ever results in arrests these days, although it was the subject of a 1973 Virginia Supreme Court case. According to USA Today, cohabitation laws usually only come up when they’re “cited by landlords as a reason for not renting to cohabiting couples or by government agencies refusing licenses.”
Ebbin, who represents Arlington and Alexandria, is hoping to take lewd and lascivious cohabitation off the books once and for all this year. Ebbin has introduced a bill, SB 969, that would eliminate unmarried cohabitation as a crime in Virginia.
The bill is expected to be heard by a state Senate committee Wednesday afternoon, according to the watchdog website Richmond Sunlight.
The Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has expressed support for Ebbin’s bill. Ebbin’s office has not responded to a request for comment.
State Legislators Hold Public Hearing — Arlington’s delegation to the Virginia General Assembly listened to nearly 50 speakers make the case for various legislative and funding priorities at a public hearing Friday night. Among the issues discussed were gun laws, mental health and disability funding, and Medicaid. [Twitter, Sun Gazette]
Rent Rises in Arlington — The average rent in Arlington in the third quarter of 2012 was $2,500.06, a 2.5 percent increase from a year prior. The average rent for single-family homes had the steepest increase — 4.4 percent — compared to apartments and townhouses. [Sun Gazette]
D.C. United Coach Regrets Living in N. Va. — Ben Olsen, the 35-year-old coach of the D.C. United soccer team, says he regrets living in Fairfax and Arlington before moving to his current home in the District. Olsen said in an interview that he was “kicking myself for wasting all those years living in Northern Virginia.” [DCist]
Va. ABC Stores Report Record Profits — Virginia ABC stores reported a record profit of $132.1 million in the last fiscal year. “There is something to say that people continue to drink in good times and in bad, but generally speaking as the economy improves, people have more disposable income to spend,” a Virginia ABC executive said. [CBS DC]
Flickr pool photo by Ddimick
Legislators Holding Public Meeting Tonight — Arlington County’s delegation to the Virginia General Assembly will hold their annual public legislative hearing tonight (Friday). The public is invited to address the delegation at the meeting, which starts at 6:00 p.m. at the Arlington County Board room on the third floor of 2100 Clarendon Blvd. The delegation includes three state Senators and four members of the House of Delegates. [Arlington County]
Changes to ART 42 Schedule — Minor schedule changes to the ART 42 bus route will take effect starting Monday, Jan. 7. The changes in scheduled arrival times are designed to “improve on-time performance.” [Arlington Transit]
Camel to Visit Arlington Church — A live camel will be visiting an Arlington church this weekend in celebration of Epiphany. Chewy the Camel is scheduled to show up at the Church of the Covenant (2666 Military Road) around 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 6, and the public is invited to the event. “Join everyone that morning at 10:45 a.m. for a celebration and parade, as well as the Spanish and English telling of the Wise Men’s visit, accompanied by goodies and crafts for children in Fellowship Hall,” the church said on its website. [Church of the Covenant]
Flickr pool photo by Ddimick
Va. to Consider Tougher Texting Laws — In January, state lawmakers will consider bills that would stiffen the penalties for texting while driving in Virginia. Currently, texting while driving is a secondary offense — you can only be charged with it if pulled over for another violation — and the penalty is a $20 fine for the first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses. Del. Scott Surovell (D-Mt. Vernon) wants drivers to be charged with reckless driving if they get in an accident while texting. [Lynchburg News & Advance, Daily Press, WTOP]
Road Closures for ‘Jingle Bell Run’ — Parts of S. Joyce Street and Army Navy Drive in Pentagon City will be closed from 7:00 to 11:00 a.m. Saturday morning for the Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis. Race attendees are encouraged to take Metro. [Arlington County Police]
Hynes Lauds Animal Welfare Efforts — Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes has issued a proclamation praising the Animal Welfare League of Arlington and The Humane Society of the United States “for working together to improve the treatment of animals, including farm animals in the food industry.” [Humane Society]
PG Lawmaker Called ‘Too Arlington’ — Prince George’s County Council member Eric Olson, a progressive Democrat and noted environmentalist, recently lost his bid to become chairman of the Council. One lawyer who represents developers in Prince George’s County said of Olson: “Some people think he is too ‘Arlington.'” [Washington Post]
Happy Fat Tuesday — It’s Fat Tuesday, the traditional day of feasting (or partying) before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. To celebrate the occasion, the annual Clarendon Mardi Gras parade will be held tonight, starting at 8:00 p.m. See our list of local Mardi Gras happenings for additional festivities around Arlington.
Three Arrested After Ballston Fight — Three suspects were arrested following a fight near the Ballston Metro station Monday evening. The fight broke out in the area of Fairfax Drive and N. Stuart Street. Fairfax Drive was partially blocked by police vehicles following the incident. Additional details were not immediately available.
Arlington Man Killed in Loudoun County — An Arlington man was killed when a deer came crashing through the windshield of the SUV he was riding in Saturday night. The freak accident happened on Route 9 in Loudoun County around 7:30 p.m. Police say a Toyota Prius first hit the deer, launching it in the air. The deer came down on the SUV, killing 26-year-old Rodolfo Ruiz Villatoro of Arlington. [MyFoxDC]
Legislators Accept Trips and Gifts — Among the corporate gifts and travel accepted by local state lawmakers last year: a $8,796 trip to France (Del. David Englin) and $400 circus tickets (Del. Patrick Hope). [Sun Gazette]
General Assembly Votes to Lift Gun Purchase Limit — The Virginia General Assembly has voted to lift the state’s limit of one gun purchase per month. The limit, which has been in place since 1993, was intended to reduce gun trafficking and gun-related crimes. Sen. Janet Howell (D), who represents part of Arlington, said lifting the limit could turn Virginia into a “gun-runners’ paradise.” [Washington Post]
Arlington’s Triple-AAA Rating Reaffirmed — Arlington has once again received a top AAA rating from each of the three major bond rating agencies. “With these ratings, the County will be able to continue making critical capital investments at the lowest possible cost to residents and businesses,” said County Manager Barbara Donnellan. [Arlington County]
Library Launches New Web Site — Arlington’s library system revealed a newly-designed web site over the weekend. The new library site includes “fresher-looking pages… richer graphics… catalog browsing that might remind you of strolling the shelves… a friendlier study room reservation system… [and] a customized events calendar with more options to find what you want.” [Arlington Public Library]
New Leadership for BRAVO — The nonprofit Buyers and Renters Arlington Voice (BRAVO) has appointed a new Executive Director. Dennis Jaffe, a longtime community activist, says he’s looking forward to advocating for the rights and needs of tenants in Arlington County. “I have a personal mission… and that is to increase tenants’ connectedness to each other and to the Arlington community,” Jaffe said in a statement. Tenants make up about 57 percent of the Arlington County population, according to BRAVO.
Feel like picking up a little pot with your booze purchase? Delegate David Englin (D) has introduced a bill to examine if that should become a possibility.
As first reported by the Sun Gazette, Del. Englin has called for a study to analyze whether Virginia ABC stores should sell marijuana. Englin wants a report on the potential revenue the state could gain by such sales.
He points out that the sale and use of distilled spirits, at one time considered controversial substances, has been kept in check by the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Part of the legislation reads: “As society changes, products that were deemed illegal at one time are made legal and even sold by stores that are operated by government agencies in the attempt to control the sale of the products.”
The sales of distilled spirits have generated millions of dollars that go toward Virginia’s government programs. Englin says the same might be possible with the sale of marijuana. He adds that other states are also looking into the controlled sale of the drug.
If approved, the subcommittee devised to perform the study would meet up to six times before November 30, and could not spend more than $15,040 on the study, without special approval for additional funding. Findings would be submitted by the first day of the 2013 Regular Session of the General Assembly.
Englin has also proposed a resolution to request that Virginia’s governor petition the Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II narcotic, the same as prescription pain medications like oxycodone. Currenty, pot is classified as a Schedule I narcotic, on the same level as heroin and LSD. Englin’s resolution notes that the governors of Rhode Island and Washington state have filed similar petitions with the DEA in recent months.
While the 31st District state Senate campaign started out on a surprisingly positive note, mailers paid for by the Democratic Party of Virginia and authorized by Favola have now gone negative. The mailers contain sentences like: “Caren Merrick will stand with extremists against a woman’s right to choose” and “Tea Party Republican Caren Merrick doesn’t share our values.”
At least two such mailers have been sent to 31st District residents in as many weeks. Two earlier Democratic mailers focused more on Favola’s positives — including support for education and Arlington’s low unemployment rate — although both also made reference to her commitment “to protect a woman’s right to choose.”
Previously held by the now-retired Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, the 31st District became a lot less Democratic after this year’s redistricting process (44.4 percent of the redrawn district voted for Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, compared to 34.7 percent of the old district). Favola is apparently betting on abortion being the issue that convinces complacent Democrats, used to easy state Senate victories, to go to the polls.
Merrick’s campaign, meanwhile, has remained overwhelmingly positive — focused on issues like jobs, the economy and Merrick’s business background — much to the surprise (and, in some cases, delight) of local Democratic operatives. In debates and in her campaign literature, Merrick largely avoids social issues like abortion and gay marriage.
Last week, the Merrick campaign issued a statement decrying “mudslinging” from Favola.
“The Merrick campaign believes Ms. Favola, is using false, negative campaign tactics to hide her 14 year record on the Arlington County Board where she has ignored the wishes and concerns of local civic associations, increased spending 70%, increased her own pay by 59%, and filed a 2 million dollar lawsuit halting critical transportation solutions and naming government workers personally liable,” the campaign said.