Newsletter

Morning Notes

Water Caffi Fields baseball diamond in Vienna (photo by Amy Woolsey)

New Laws Take Effect in Virginia — A host of new laws passed by the General Assembly take effect today, including the legalization of simple marijuana possession, the abolition of the death penalty, and a requirement that drivers change lanes when passing bicyclists. The fine for littering is now $500, up from $250, and it is now illegal to intentionally release a balloon outside. [Patch]

MPAartfest Returns In Person This Fall — The McLean Project of the Arts announced yesterday (Wednesday) that its annual, free art festival will officially be back in person at McLean Central Park from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 3. The event will feature a one-day juried fine art and craft show/sale, food vendors, and more. It will also stream online. [McLean Project for the Arts]

Jones Branch Connector Awarded — “The Jones Branch Connector, a joint effort by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and Fairfax County to build a new crossing over the Capital Beltway in Tysons, has been named the 2021 National Project of the Year by the American Society of Highway Engineers.” [VDOT]

1st Stage Finds Success with Return to Live Theater — Almost 1,000 people attended 1st Stage’s Celebration at The Boro on Sunday (June 27), according to an email sent to supporters yesterday. The event, which centered on a concert reading of the musical “A New Brain,” was the Tysons theater’s first in-person production since February 2020 and raised $87,000 for the venue. [1st Stage]

0 Comments
Fairfax County Government Center seal (via Machvee/Flickr)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is working its way toward letting public workers collectively bargain in the wake of a statewide change in 2020 to lift a decades-old restriction.

A board’s personnel committee met yesterday (Tuesday) to discuss a draft ordinance that would let Fairfax County workers make union contracts with the county government, giving them the power to negotiate pay and other benefits.

“I think we’re moving in a good direction,” Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said after sharing concerns that the proposed ordinance might exempt too many employees from collective bargaining.

While managers, supervisors, volunteers, and other workers are slated to be excluded under the draft ordinance, the board is looking at where temporary workers such as summer lifeguards and seasonal park workers as well as non-merit employees should fall.

The proposed ordinance would serve as the framework for what can and can’t be done through collective bargaining. Once approved, it would allow workers to vote to form a bargaining unit, and employees who don’t want to be involved wouldn’t have to pay dues but could still receive the benefits of the change, Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said.

The draft discussed Tuesday calls for collective bargaining agreements that would last three years or longer, with separate units for general government employees, police, and fire and emergency services. It also bans strikes and spells out numerous other issues.

The county’s ordinance would be separate from Fairfax County Public Schools, which has over 24,000 employees.

Gross, who chairs the personnel and reorganization committee that’s overseeing the development of the draft, said she expects the board will pass an ordinance, which could happen this year.

SEIU Virginia 512, a union that already includes over 2,000 members in Fairfax County from dues-paying maintenance workers and nurses to librarians and social workers, welcomed the board’s overall support.

But union president David Broder says the ordinance still falls short in several areas. Namely, he says it “artificially narrows” the scope of bargaining, excludes working conditions among the topics that can be negotiated, and could potentially leave thousands of workers out of the collective bargaining process.

“We’ve learned during the pandemic…that being able to bargain over working conditions is critical,” Broder said, noting the importance of safe and clean work sites, personal protective equipment availability, and scheduling.

Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk shared concerns about working conditions for public works and sanitation workers, expressing support for change.

Collective bargaining agreements could involve some 10,000 workers, Gross told Tysons Reporter, and the board is gathering more information on non-merit employees to help with its determinations.

“We have one opportunity to get this right, which is why we’re taking a little extra time to work on the ordinance,” Gross said.

In 1977, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled that public-sector collective bargaining agreements weren’t permitted and existing ones were invalid, noting the state legislature could change that.

The General Assembly and governor approved legislation last year that gave localities the authority to develop ordinances for recognizing labor unions and permitting collective bargaining. That measure took effect on May 1.

The personnel committee will meet again on July 20, and the board expects to have a public hearing in October.

Photo via Machvee/Flickr

0 Comments

If you’re passing a cyclist or group of riders in a vehicle, you’ll soon have to change lanes a lot more.

A new law going into effect July 1 will require drivers to switch lanes if they can’t maintain three feet of distance when passing cyclists.

The Fairfax County Police Department says this means motorists may have to cross double yellow lines, imploring people to “share the road.” Police told Tysons Reporter that they hope people will abide by the new legislation and help keep everyone safe on roadways.

“I think it’s going to be huge in the long run,” Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling President Bruce Wright said Monday while stopping during a bicycle ride on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail. He acknowledged that the change may require some education.

Wright says the new law means that vehicles will generally need to shift lanes, because lanes in the state are typically 11 or 12 feet wide.

“In effect, almost every lane in Virginia will require a motorist to safely pass,” he said.

The state law was adopted in February after General Assembly legislators removed a provision that would have allowed cyclists to treat stop signs like a yield sign.

Some states, including Delaware, allow the so-called “Idaho stop” for bicycle riders. Like Virginia, Washington, D.C., considered the stop-as-yield measure but also declined to adopt it.

The new law also ends a requirement for cyclists to file into a single lane when being passed.

Tensions between cyclists and drivers played out on the county police department’s Facebook post about the issue. Several people noted cyclists should obey traffic laws, too.

Wright says those online arguments between cyclists and drivers are similar to honking as well as dangerous behaviors on the road.

“There’s so much animosity, and it’s aggressive,” Wright said.

Some people on social media questioned whether double yellow lines should ever be crossed.

Current law already allows drivers to cross double yellow lines when passing others, including cyclists, skateboarders, and scooters. Another provision involves giving enough distance to mopeds, animal-drawn vehicles, and more when drivers pass them.

Pedestrian and bicycle safety is a persistent concern in Fairfax County, where seven pedestrians and two cyclists have died in car crashes so far this year. Whether these new laws help alleviate those issues remains to be seen.

0 Comments

Starting July 1, adults 21 and older in Virginia can legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana.

Ahead of that date, local police departments say they are preparing their officers, while advocates say the bill needs serious retooling to keep kids out of the juvenile justice system and help reverse the harm done to Black and brown communities after decades of unequal enforcement.

“We still have time to fix many of these things,” Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of the racial justice and cannabis advocacy group Marijuana Justice, said. “Between now and then, we have elections. We have to talk to people about how they’re going to take this legalization forward while centering equity. This is not over.”

The Virginia General Assembly passed a law earlier this month accelerating the legalization of weed from July 2024 to this coming summer. The law will be reenacted in 2024, when recreational, commercial sales are legalized.

Through June 30, the possession of less than one ounce of cannabis will remain “decriminalized” — that is, it is penalized with a fine, but the incident does not show up on a person’s criminal record.

The new law legalizing cannibis essentially permits those 21 and older to use marijuana inside their homes, and possibly in their backyards; grow up to four plants; and possess up to one ounce of cannabis. The plant must be in a manufacturer’s container for someone to drive with it in the car legally.

Giving cannabis to someone underage is considered a felony, while students younger than 21 who are found in possession of the plant on school grounds would be charged with a misdemeanor. A clause requires court-ordered drug treatment services for individuals 20 and under found with the plant.

People in jail for marijuana-related crimes will remain there, Virginia Mercury reports.

Here are the top areas of interest and concern for police officers, people in the criminal justice system and advocates.

Marijuana-related arrests 

Although marijuana-related arrests have been trending down recently, Falls Church City Police Chief Mary Gavin says that one potential consequence of marijuana legalization is more people driving while stoned.

“There are going to be obviously growing pains,” Gavin said. “My biggest concern, in terms of public safety, is the possible increase of driving under the influence.”

According to data provided to Tysons Reporter by the police departments, cannabis arrests appear to be trending down slightly in both Fairfax County and Falls Church City. A chart supplied by Fairfax County Police Department shows arrest rates peaking in 2018 before dropping off dramatically in 2020.

The Falls Church City Police Department reported a similar pattern. It made 61 and 63 arrests in 2018 and 2019, respectively, followed by 17 arrests in 2020 and none so far this year.

Herndon Police Department spokesperson Lisa Herndon said the town had about 125 marijuana-related arrests from Jan. 1, 2018 to Dec. 13, 2020.

Gavin attributed the recent drop-off in arrests to a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and a policy change introduced by Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano, who ceased prosecuting simple marijuana possession cases against adults when he took office on Jan. 2, 2020.

Descano told Tysons Reporter that he stopped prosecuting marijuana cases because it would be the right approach for community safety and racial equity. His office estimates that more than 1,000 cases have since been dismissed.

“While the opposition to this decision was intense at the time — so much so that we planned to create a bail fund in case our attorneys were held in contempt of court and jailed — I am pleased that other jurisdictions followed suit and marijuana has now been legalized across the Commonwealth,” Descano said. Read More

0 Comments

Morning Notes

Virginia Becomes First Southern State to Abolish the Death Penalty — Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation yesterday (Wednesday) that made Virginia the 23rd state to eliminate the death penalty. The move reflected a “dramatic shift” for a state that has recorded the second-most executions in the U.S. Del. Mark Keam (D-Vienna) celebrated the new law as “one of the most consequential votes” he’s cast in his 12 General Assembly sessions. [Associated Press]

Inova Mass COVID-19 Vaccination Site to Open Next Week — The mass vaccination facility that Inova Health Systems is setting up in Alexandria will open next Monday (March 29), Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says. The site has the capacity to vaccinate about 12,000 people per day and “will be particularly helpful to those in South County.” [Chairman Jeff McKay]

Judge Sets Hearing for Park Police Shooting of McLean Resident — U.S. District Court Judge Claude M. Hilton has scheduled a status hearing for April 23 to determine whether the two Park Police officers charged in the 2017 fatal shooting of Bijan Ghaisar “can be criminally prosecuted by the state of Virginia…or whether they fall under amnesty for federal officers from state criminal laws.” [The Washington Post]

Virginia Senator Discusses Experience with COVID-19 — “During a Senate health committee hearing earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine made a surprising admission: Long after contracting COVID-19, the Virginia Democrat is still experiencing strange symptoms. Kaine revealed last May that he and his wife had tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies following an onset of symptoms in March.” [U.S. News]

Falls Church Native Develops Website to Help Navigate Vaccine Registration — 20-year-old Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology graduate Eric Lin worked with a classmate at Harvard University to design a website called COVID Vaccines Info Guide that “would act as a one-stop-shop that provides comprehensive information for all 50 states.” [Falls Church News-Press]

McLean Resident Opposes Proposed Comprehensive Plan Changes — A Dominion Woods resident argues that Fairfax County’s proposals for revitalizing downtown McLean would overburden schools and create longer commutes by inviting an influx of new residents with “little upside” for existing residents. He says residential construction should be capped at 960 units over the next 10 years, high rises should be prohibited on properties next to Franklin Sherman Elementary School, and additional traffic studies should be conducted. [Connection Newspapers]

0 Comments

Tuesday Morning Notes

Fairfax County Public Library Introduces Text Service — “Beginning today [Mar. 1], you can text your #Fairfax library questions to 571-556-5025 and receive answers in real time 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Monday thru Friday. If it’s not during those real-time hours, send a text & a ticket will be automatically generated. We’ll respond when available.” [Fairfax County Public Library/Twitter]

New Police Reform Laws Take Effect — Several police reform laws passed during the Virginia General Assembly’s special session last year took effect yesterday, including a ban on no-knock search warrants, new statewide training standards related to racial bias and deescalation, and a “Marcus Alert” system that limits the role of law enforcement in responding to behavioral health issues. [@GovernorVA/Twitter]

Fairfax County Seeks Input on Active Transportation Plan — “The ActiveFairfax Transportation Plan will establish a vision and a roadmap for implementation of safe, convenient, and enjoyable streets, sidewalks, bike facilities, and trails in Fairfax County. “Community input is critical to the success of this planning effort,” said Chris Wells, the Active Transportation Program Manager at FCDOT.” [Fairfax County Department of Transportation]

McLean High School Kicks Off Football Season With a Win — “The McLean Highlanders opened their high-school football season with a 28-14 victory over the visiting Mount Vernon Majors on Feb. 27. McLean fell behind 7-0 on a long touchdown pass, then rallied.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

0 Comments

Using a mobile phone while driving will officially be illegal in Virginia starting on Jan. 1.

Current state law prohibits reading a phone and texting while driving and holding a phone while driving through a work zone, but the Virginia General Assembly adopted legislation barring the use of handheld phones while driving a moving vehicle on state highways in March.

While the law was technically enacted on July 1, its effective date was delayed until the new year so that the public could be educated about its provisions and law enforcement agencies could get training on how to enforce it.

Violations of the new law will be punishable by a fine of $125 for the first offense and $250 fine for any subsequent offenses.

There are a few exceptions to the ban on using a phone while driving, including:

  • Emergency vehicle operators who are performing their official duties, including law enforcement and fire and medical responses
  • Drivers who are lawfully parked or stopped
  • Someone using their phone to report an emergency
  • The use of an amateur or citizens’ band radio
  • Department of Transportation vehicle operators who are performing traffic incident management services

Virginia’s public information campaign on the new law is being led by Drive Smart Virginia, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting traffic safety.

According to Drive Smart Virginia, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles reported that 15% of all fatal crashes in 2018 were related to distracted driving. Fairfax County has the second-most distracted driving fatalities in the state, surpassed only by Prince William County, and the most injuries that result from distraction-related crashes.

The distracted driving ban is perhaps the most significant legal change coming to Virginia on New Year’s Day, but it is not the only new law that will take effect on Jan. 1.

Here are some other measures to be aware of when the new year arrives:

  • HB 264: requires in-person training for concealed handgun permits, removing online or electronic courses as an option for demonstrating competence
  • HB 1211: enables undocumented immigrants to apply for new driver privilege cards so they can legally drive
  • HB 66: prohibits health insurance companies from charging more than $50 per 30-day supply for prescription insulin
  • HB 789: sets a 36% annual rate cap on the interest and fees charged for a short-term loan, which can now go up to $2,500
  • SB 172: protects people who receive emergency services from an out-of-network healthcare provider from unexpected medical costs
  • HB 1407: prohibits employers from misclassifying employees as independent contractors
  • HB 742: gives localities the authority to regulate the takeoff and landing of unmanned aircraft on public property

Photo via Alexandre Boucher on Unsplash

0 Comments

El Tio Tex-Mex Grill has been ordered by a federal court to properly compensate workers at all its restaurants, including its locations in McLean (1433 Center Street) and Falls Church (7630 Lee Highway).

Federal investigators found that Mejia Corporation, the company that operates El Tio, had violated labor laws by not paying minimum wage and overtime to tipped employees, particularly bussers and food runners, the U.S. Department of Labor reported yesterday (Wednesday).

A consent judgment filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia requires El Tio to pay $848,006 in back wages and liquidated damages to 209 employees for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets rules for minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor in the U.S.

“This employer failed to pay workers the wages they had legally earned, and then attempted to conceal that violation,” DOL Wage and Hour Baltimore District Director Nicholas Fiorello said.

Investigators in the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division determined that El Tio did not pay wages to tipped employees when they worked more than 80 hours in a pay period, forcing them to depend entirely on tips for those hours.

El Tio also paid kitchen staff standard rates instead of overtime when they worked more than 40 hours in a week. Federal investigators say that the restaurant chain falsified payroll records to suggest it had paid overtime.

The violations encompassed all four of the El Tio restaurants that Mejia Corp. currently runs, all of them in Northern Virginia. Fairfax County has three El Tio venues, with a Great Falls location (9835 Georgetown Pike) in addition to the ones in McLean and Falls Church. The original El Tio is in Gainesville.

A fifth El Tio in downtown Washington, D.C., was also included in the investigation and court judgment, but that location permanently closed its doors in November 2019.

This is the second time in three years that El Tio has come under federal investigation. Mejia Corp. agreed to pay $40,000 in 2019 to settle an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit that alleged at least three male servers at the Gainesville El Tio had been subjected to harassment and discrimination on the basis of sex.

On top of requiring the employer to pay back wages and damages, the judgment issued by the Baltimore-based U.S. District Court in the labor case prohibits El Tio from violating any FLSA provisions in the future.

“Other employers in this industry should use the resolution of this case as an opportunity to review their own pay practices to ensure they comply with the law and avoid such violations,” Fiorello said. “Workers who face similar circumstances or anyone with questions should call us to speak confidentially with a trained hour and wage professional.”

The DOL Wage and Hour Division has a toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243), and more information on the division’s work can be found at www.dol.gov/whd.

Photo via Google Maps

0 Comments

In short, yes. To apply for a Class M driver’s license (motorcycle license), all individuals must take a motorcycle safety course that has been approved by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), before passing a motorcycle driving test at the DMV.

You must also pay a fee to receive the license. In Texas, it is $25 for a new license, $33 for a renewal, or $16 for an endorsement. This endorsement is an alternative to getting a specific motorcycle license and allows drivers who already have licenses to add a specific motorcycle tag onto that driver’s license.

Rules for Minors

All minors must carry a motorcycle permit until they turn 18 and are then able to apply for a motorcycle license. This permit is similar to the learner’s permit for driving a car in that all permit-holders must demonstrate their competence by driving a certain number of hours with a licensed adult before getting their license.

In Texas, you could apply for a permit from the age of 15, but are only able to drive a motorcycle with no more than a 250 cubic centimeter piston displacement. This restriction is removed when the permit holder turns 16. To apply for a permit, all minors must:

  1. Present a Motorcycle Safety Course (MSB-8 or MSB-8R) completion certificate
  2. Present
    1. A Class C Provisional license, or
    2. A Driver Education form (DE-964) verifying 32 classroom hours, or a completion certificate, or
    3. A Class C learner license and a DE-964 showing completion of a 32 hour driver education course
  3. Present a signed high-school Verification of Enrollment and Attendance (VOE) form
  4. Be accompanied by a Parent, who must provide an authorization signature
  5. Pass the mandatory skills exam

Can You Register a Motorcycle Without a License?

Technically, you do not need a motorcycle to register a motorcycle, but you do need motorcycle insurance. Since most insurance companies require a license to get coverage, it could be more difficult to register your motorcycle without a license. Though there are insurance companies that might sell you coverage without a license, they would most likely charge a higher premium.

Penalties for Driving a Motorcycle Without a License

Driving a motorcycle without a license could result in penalties such as a fine or even jail time. Penalties increase with each repeated offense, so avoiding a small license fee initially could wind up costing you hundreds or even thousands of dollars down the line. It is not realistic to assume that you would never get pulled over, even if you have a history of safe and reasonable driving, so it is better to get the license just in case.

Do You Need a Motorcycle License to Drive Mopeds or Scooters?

This answer typically depends on the size of the moped or scooter. If your moped or scooter has an engine that is over 50 cubic centimeters (cc), most states require you to have a motorcycle license or a driver’s license with a motorcycle endorsement. Scooters usually require registration and a motorcycle license, as these vehicles often have engines that are 150cc or smaller. However, mopeds with engine sizes smaller than 50cc do not require a motorcycle license or registration.

Contact an Attorney

If you have any questions about the complex rules and regulations of getting a motorcycle or registering your bike, contact an experienced accident lawyer at Felix Gonzalez Law Firm for assistance today.

0 Comments

FBI statistics indicate that every 22 seconds in the U.S., a violent crime is reported. While violent crimes are certainly sensationalized in the media and popular culture, property crimes are far more prevalent, with one reported about every 3 seconds in the U.S.

In fact, property crimes are actually ten times more prevalent than violent crimes. An average of ten million property crimes are reported each year, whereas around one million violent crimes are reported annually. Here are the most common property and violent crimes in America, in order.

Larceny/Theft

Depending on the state, theft, or larceny, is by far the most common crime in the United States, accounting for almost 60 percent of all reported crimes. Larceny/theft is a nonviolent crime, as it does not require the use of force. Theft is typically classified as a misdemeanor due to its nonviolent nature, partially explaining its prevalence as it does not usually come with jail time.

Burglary

Burglary is the second most common crime in the United States, with burglary reports totaling over two million burglaries every year. Burglary is also a nonviolent property crime and accounts for around 18 percent of all reported crimes in the United States.

Grand Theft Auto (GTA)

Grand Theft Auto comes in at number three on the most prevalent American crimes, annually accounting for around 10 percent of all crimes in the United States. Depending on the state, GTA may be classified under a variety of different terms, from motor vehicle theft to first-degree theft. With over a million cars reported stolen every year, there appears to be a steady demand on the black market for stolen cars in America.

Aggravated Assault

The first violent crime to crack the top five, aggravated assault is the fourth most common American crime and accounts for around seven percent of all reported crimes. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR), aggravated assault is defined as “an unlawful attack by one person upon another for the purpose of inflicting severe or aggravated bodily injury.” Aggravated assault can, but does not necessitate, the use of a weapon or firearm, and aggravated assault of any variety occurs around 800,000 times each year.

Robbery

The fifth most prevalent crime in the United States is robbery, another violent crime. Robbery is different from simple theft/larceny in that it is theft directly performed on another person. Robbery also necessitates the use of force or coercion, and in many instances, violence is necessary. A robbery can range from a mugging in a dark alley to an elaborate bank heist. Any form of robbery accounts for around three percent of all reported crimes, with about 500,000 robberies committed each year.

Other Types of Prevalent Crime

While the top five most common crimes may be surprising, other well-known crimes such as homicide, DUI, weapons and drugs are also prevalent in the United States, although they are far less plentiful than many people assume. However, simply because these crimes may not crack the top five most common American crimes, they still have devastating effects on the victims and overall community.

Drugs, in particular, have been especially destructive, as possession and trafficking are not only considered crimes, but a new report from the Bureau of Justice (BJS) indicates that drug abuse and addiction were found to be at the root of 21 percent of all crimes. The BJS report also found that 40 percent of all prisoners incarcerated for property crimes and 14 percent of all prisoners incarcerated for violent crimes stated they committed their most serious offense for drug-related reasons.

With over 473,000 Americans currently in prison for seeking drugs, and around one million arrests made each year for drug use and possession, it is clear that the current systems in place to address drug crime and rehabilitation need to be reevaluated.

Punishments for the crimes mentioned above vary depending on a variety of different factors, and every crime is examined and assessed on a unique basis. “If you or someone you know has been accused of committing criminal activity, the first thing you should do is consult an attorney who is knowledgeable about the laws in your area” says attorney Omeed Berenjian of BK Law Group. While the punishments for these crimes may vary, the prevalence of these crimes indicates it does not always do enough to dissuade people from breaking the law.

Ultimately, many Americans’ fears about the most common crimes are misplaced, as they are far more likely to get carjacked or stolen from than murdered or abducted. However, it is important to remember to stay vigilant and keep your doors locked, as you never know who is out there.

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list