Tysons Corner, VA

Along with other legislative items, Vienna is working to kill a statewide requirement to advertise in local newspapers.

Virginia code currently requires local Planning Commissions to publish notice of plan, ordinances and amendments in “some newspaper published or having general circulation in the locality” before those plans are approved.

The idea of the ordinance is to require localities to give the public time to see what’s planned and the opportunity to speak to their representatives about it, if necessary.

But Vienna staff argued that many localities no longer have local newspapers to advertise in and those that do are seeing it as an unnecessary cost.

“A lot of newspapers distribute their news online,” said Town Attorney Steven Briglia. “I think these provisions for legal advertising requirements, they’re expensive. Any time you have a hearing it has to be advertised by the clerk and it adds up… it becomes a question of: is that the best way to get the news out?  Newspaper associations fight it, it’s advertising money for them, and I don’t think it’s that the town is against newspapers, but we’re losing options.”

This isn’t the first time localities have tried to have the ordinance overturned, but the proposed amendments have been consistently defeated.

“We have the Sun-Gazette, we’re fortunate, but a lot of localities don’t have that,” Briglia said. “There’s a lot of newspapers going under, and [localities] are having to turn to regional papers where people aren’t going for local news.”

Other legislative items proposed in the docket include a push to get the town a voting seat on the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.

“We have a good relationship [with the NVTA] but we don’t have a single vote,” Briglia said. “The City of Falls Church has a vote, but a smaller population than many towns. I’m not sure we’re ready to throw tea into Boston Harbor over it yet.”

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An effort to prohibit Vienna Town Council members from taking private meetings with developers was brought to a screeching halt this week.

Town Attorney Steven Briglia said such an ordinance would likely violate a number of laws, from First Amendment rights protecting free speech, including that of developers, to the Citizens United case and Virginia’s Dillon Rule, which only allows localities to pass ordinances where granted clear authority from the General Assembly.

According to Briglia at a Vienna Town Council and Planning Commission work session on March 4:

“The question came up about a month ago about possibly limiting discussion with developers and passing an ordinance requiring any meetings by members of a public body be public. I started with that mandate to see if there was any authority that could restrict a local ordinance… To get right to the end, not only could I not find any authority in Virginia that would enable the town or any locality to pass an ordinance restricting individual contact by representatives of a developer with a member of the council, but… under Virginia law the general assembly says you can do what we say you can do and no more.”

Briglia also said the proposed ordinance could be seen as a violation of free speech.

“I think there would be First Amendment [issues] and I ran it by other attorneys and they had the same concerns I did,” said Briglia. “Citizens United was an expansion of basically corporate rights under First Amendment. Years ago, the Supreme Court said corporations are people for purposes of certain activity under government [so] corporations have the same rights as an individual.”

The effort had been spearheaded by Councilmembers Pasha Majdi and Howard Springsteen, two of the leading opponents to the controversial Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) developments last year. Majdi asked if the proposal could be pursued as a town policy and a resolution rather than codified law, but ultimately the Council agreed not move forward with any plans for limiting developer-council member discussions.

The discussion also opened old wounds about developer pressures on Town Council members, with Springsteen saying developers frequently used overbearing or even threatening tactics to try to intimidate the town into getting their way. But during a heated exchange, one Planning Commission member said the proposal was but another attempt to stall new development.

“This is another effort to make the MAC even more difficult,” said Planning Commission member Sarah Couchman. “I don’t think this is a widespread problem. It’s like electoral fraud. People hype it up. To use a policy of fear that Council members and Commissioners are going behind people’s backs and having meetings with developers is not right. I’m sorry you feel you need a policy to cite, but the fact of the matter is you can always say ‘I am not comfortable with this.'”

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(Updated 4 p.m.) — A same-sex “power couple” from McLean has helped to push through new legislation in Virginia that streamlines the surrogacy process.

When an out-of-state judge denied Jay Timmons and Rick Olson parental rights for their newly born son, Jacob, through surrogacy, they decided to do something about it.

The couple, who are both Republicans, lobbied GOP lawmakers in Richmond with the help of Timmons’ one-time boss, former Virginia Gov. George Allen. Their efforts helped a new surrogacy bill pass.

More on the bill from WUSA 9, above, and from the Washington Post.

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While local representatives were quick to call for Gov. Ralph Northam’s resignation over a blackface controversy, the public response has been slower to controversies involving Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring.

Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-10th District), who made headlines last year when she unseated Republican Barbara Comstock, expressed unequivocal support for Vanessa Tyson, who accused Fairfax of sexually assaulting her in 2004.

Congressional Reps. Don Beyer (D-8th District) and Gerry Connolly (D-11th District) have been silent so far on the accusations against Fairfax.

Other local representatives, like State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District), shared a neutral statement from VA Senate Democrats but have made no other public comment.

The National Organization for Women, however, did call for Fairfax’s resignation Wednesday.

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By all accounts, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) was speaking to a friendly crowd in Tysons at the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce last Thursday.

But within 24 hours, Northam would find himself at the center of national headlines in a scandal involving a racist photograph  on his medical school yearbook page, prompting calls to resign from many politicians, including Tysons-area representatives.

State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) described herself as a personal friend of Northam’s, but expressed support for the Virginia Black Legislative Caucus’ statement that Northam should step down.

Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th) shared the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus statement on Twitter and said he stood with the Virginia House Democrat’s call for Northam to resign.

Delegates Mark Keam (D-35th) and Marcus Simon (D-53rd) expressed similar condemnation for Northam.

State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd District) said on her Facebook page that she does not believe Northam is racist, but that if he is one of the people in the now-infamous photograph he would need to resign. Northam himself has wavered back and forth over whether he does or doesn’t appear in the photograph.

Congressional Reps. Don Beyer (D-8th District) and Gerry Connolly (D-11th District) shared a joint statement calling on Northam to resign, while Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-10th District) said she’s personally spoken with Northam and asked him to step down.

One of the few silent voices on the issue has been State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34th District).

Petersen has not shared any statements on Northam, though many on his Facebook page speculated his quoting of the Bible verse about those without sin casting the first stone was a thinly veiled reference. In an interview with WDVM, Petersen said he was baffled by the situation.

Photo via Facebook

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(Updated 2:35 p.m.) It’s been a month of meetings and votes for the state legislature, but it hasn’t brought much in the way of success for Tysons’ representatives in Richmond.

Most of the local legislative delegation’s high profile bills, like a plastic bag tax and new gun control legislation, were killed in committees.

Sen. Barbara Favola’s (D-31st District) bill prohibiting prospective employers from requiring employees disclose their wage or salary history, or attempting to obtain wage and salary histories, was defeated on Jan. 14 in the Commerce and Labor committee on a 4-10 vote.

Another bill from Favola authorized people licensed to practice medicine to provide care to patients inside Virginia via telemedicine services. The bill was incorporated on Jan. 24 into a separate bill, which cleared the Finance committee yesterday (Tuesday).

Sen. Chap Petersen’s (D-34th District) bill that would have imposed a five-cent per bag tax on plastic bags to support the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan was defeated in the Finance committee on a 5-11 vote.

But Petersen’s bill requiring public higher education institutions to gather public comments before raising tuition or imposing mandatory fees is doing well. The bill was unanimously approved in the Education and Health committee and incorporated five other bills before being referred to the Finance committee.

Petersen’s bill prohibiting any political candidates from soliciting or accepting contributions from public service corporations and a bill prohibiting individuals from making contributions over $10,000 to any state election were both killed in the Privileges and Elections committee.

Sen. Janet Howell’s (D-32nd District) bill authorizing evidence of prior statements that are inconsistent with later court testimony was passed by indefinitely — which almost always means it was killed — in the Courts of Justice committee on Jan. 23.

So far, three of Del. Mark Keam’s (D-35th District) bills of 15 drafted have passed the House and are awaiting Senate action. One would prohibit auto insurance companies from refusing to issue or renew a policy based on the foster care status of the policyholder or their family.

Little progress was made on gun control measures by local legislators.

Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th District) had introduced a bill allowing police or prosecutors to request a two-week ban on buying or owning a gun if they believe there is a “substantial risk of injury to himself or others.” The bill was passed by indefinitely by a Militia, Police and Public Safety subcommittee on a 4-2, party line vote.

Del. Marcus Simon (D-53rd District) had proposed a bill that would have made it a Class 5 felony to manufacture, import, tell, transfer or possess a firearm not detectable by devices like X-ray machines. This bill was also passed by indefinitely in the same subcommittee.

Photo via Town of Vienna

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(Updated at 4 p.m.) Happy hour at Chef Geoff’s in Tysons runs from 3-7 p.m., and if legislation passed yesterday (Wednesday) in the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate is signed by Gov. Ralph Northam, the specials during that happy hour may even become public knowledge.

As it is written, current legislation forbids Chef Geoff Tracy and other Virginia restaurateurs from advertising happy hours outside the restaurant. Two-for-one drink specials are illegal and happy hours are not allowed to occur after 9 p.m. Last year, Tracy filed a lawsuit against the state, saying the regulations were a violation of his free speech.

The two companion bills introduced in the Virginia House and Senate to loosen those restrictions passed on a 90-4 and a 40-0 vote. According to the new legislation, restaurant owners would be able to advertise the prices featured for alcoholic beverages and market happy hours “provided those techniques do not tend to induce over-consumption or consumption by minors.”

“From our perspective, the legislation would give us everything we’re asking for,” said Anastasia Boden, a lawyer with the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing Geoff in the case. “It would give restaurants the ability to advertise happy hours.”

Boden said she’s pleased by the legislation, but they want to make sure the bills become law before officially dropping their lawsuit. The arguments for the case have finished, and Boden says the firm is waiting to hear back from a decision for the judge.

“Nothing is certain in the legislature,” said Boden. “We’ve had an argument on the merits, now we’re waiting for a decision, so we just have to see what happens first. [If the legislation passes] at that point, there would be nothing left for us to pursue.”

Like Boden, Tracy says he’s happy with what he’s seen in the legislature.

“The ability to tell people the price of a pint will be a victory,” said Tracy. “I think it’s a big win. It’s great for Chef Geoff, it’s great for Virginia restauranteers, great for Virginia happy hour customers.”

But Tracy also noted that he’s frustrated the arguments over happy hours came to this point in the first place.

“It’s a strange process that we went through. I think it’s interesting that while fighting me and running me ragged all over the place to come up with 50,000 pages of documents while I’m running a restaurant that simultaneously the Virginia ABC was working on legislation to do what I proposed earlier,” he said.

“It’s a weird thing that went down in terms of the process,” Tracy continued. “It’s a big victory for us, but a big loss for Virginia taxpayers, because they footed the bill of this lawsuit while Virginia ABC basically didn’t believe what they were fighting about. It’s a bit of a weird thing, but I’m happy with the result.”

Photo via Facebook

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Morning Notes

Car Keys Stolen from Hotel Room — “8125 Gatehouse Road (Residence Inn), 01/22/2019, 10:36 a.m. A guest left their room unlocked and someone entered the room and took keys to a car belonging to the guest. When the guest went to look for their car, they noticed it was missing. The car is a black 2014 Honda Accord.” [FCPD]

Va. Minimum Wage Bill Defeated — “A local legislator’s efforts to give Virginia’s 133 cities and counties the power to set their own minimum wage has gone down, probably predictably, to defeat in Richmond.” [InsideNova]

Hedgehogs Now Legal in Fairfax County — “Despite strong opposition to hedgehogs as suitable pets, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved adding them to the list of commonly accepted pets, along with chinchillas and hermit crabs.” [Reston Now]

New Local Bank Launching in Tysons — “VisionBank aims to be Greater Washington’s next community bank — and it’s gathered a group of longtime bankers with plans to launch in Tysons later this year.” [Washington Business Journal]

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If you’ve been one of the local policy wonks closely following the new legislation put forward by your state representatives, next Saturday is your chance to have your voice heard.

A town hall meeting is scheduled for Jan. 26 from 9:30-11:30 a.m. to discuss the latest news out of Richmond. State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34th District) and Del. Mark Keam (D-35th District) are scheduled to host the meeting and share their insight into what to expect from this year’s General Assembly session.

The candidates will also be available to address questions and concerns from residents.

Keam recently made waves for taking an active role in the fight against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Virginia’s Legislative Information System says Petersen’s bill requiring governing boards of public institutions of higher learning to permit public comment on tuition increases was assigned to the higher education subcommittee earlier this week. Another major bill, imposing a new 5-cent per bag tax to support the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan, died earlier this week.

If you want to make things awkward at the meeting, bring up that Petersen opposed a two-term governorship that Keam had championed in the House of Delegates.

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Tysons isn’t just a major transportation junction, it’s also the convergence of several state legislative districts. As the 2019 legislative session nears its beginning on Jan. 9, several local state senators and delegates are bringing a variety of bills to Richmond.

In the state Senate, the Tysons area is represented by Sens. Barbara Favola (D-31st District), Janet Howell (D-32nd District), and Chap Petersen (D-34th District).

Favola is championing a bill that would prohibit prospective employers from requiring employees disclose their wage or salary history, or attempting to obtain wage and salary histories.

Howell is backing a bill that would allow evidence of a prior statement that is inconsistent with testimony at the hearing or trial to be admissible. The bill was proposed late last year and is awaiting a vote in the Courts of Justice Committee.

Another one of Howell’s bills would require assisted living facilities with six or more residents to have a temporary emergency electrical power source available on site.

Favola and Howell are both putting forward bills would allow localities to determine the opening day of school, a region-wide push to get around the “King’s Dominion Rule.” A similar bill was passed in the House last year but was left in the Senate’s Education and Health Committee. Fairfax and Loudoun counties already have waivers to start before Labor Day, but the new bill would grant a similar exception for Arlington.

Petersen has a bill that would charge a five-cent per bag tax on plastic bags for localities inside the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, to be used to support the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan.

Another bill would require the governing board of each public institution of higher education to permit public comment on the proposed increase at a meeting of that board.

Meanwhile, in the House of Delegates, Del. Mark Keam (D-35th District) is continuing to lead a push on two changes to the Virginia governorship. The first is a bill to make the governor and lieutenant governor a joint election. The bill was introduced in October 2018 and referred to the Committee on Privileges and Elections.

The second would remove Virginia’s stipulation that governors cannot run for reelection, allowing governors to run for two four-year terms. This had previously been proposed by Del. Mark Levine (D-45th District) but failed in earlier years.

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.”

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

Del. Marcus B. Simon (D-53rd District) has a bill that would make the manufacture, import, sale, transfer, or possession of undetectable firearms a class five felony. These are weapons designed to avoid detection devices, including X-ray machines, used at airports and other types of security screening. A similar bill is proposed by Howell, who previously succeeded in establishing a misdemeanor penalty for the practice in 2016, but failed two years ago.

Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34th District) is not listed as a chief patron of any 2019 legislation yet but has signed on as a co-patron for a bill trying to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

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