The Virginia General Assembly has been debating a range of legislation since convening for its 2021 session on Jan. 13.
Here are some notable bills introduced or co-sponsored by Fairfax County legislators that have passed either the House of Delegates or state Senate and are now awaiting approval by the other chamber:
Introduced by Del. Mark Keam (D-35th District), House Bill (HB) 1842 would give legal authority to owners of condominiums and other multi-dwelling units to ban smoking within their premises.
“As Virginians continue to shelter at home due to COVID, I hear from constituents who live in apartments or condos concerned that their neighbors who smoke are making things even worse for their physical and mental health,” Keam said in a press release.
The bill is currently being considered by the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology after passing the House of Delegates 72-27 on Jan. 19.
“My bill offers new tools for property owners to tackle this public health issue by requiring smoking residents to stop second-hand toxins from spreading on their premises and harming neighbors,” Keam said.
Senate Bill (SB) 1157 would move all local elections for city and town council and school board from May to November. The bill’s language would put the change in effect with elections held after Jan. 1, 2022.
The bill was introduced by Senator Lionell Spruill (D-5th District) and counts Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th District) among its patrons. It passed the Senate on Jan. 21 after Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax broke a 19-19 tie by voting in favor of the bill.
“It will create a more streamline, school safe, cost-saving, and inclusive election for all,” Spruill said on Twitter following the Senate vote.
Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34th District) is a chief co-patron of HB 1909, which permits any school board to deem any non-school zone property it owns or leases as a gun-free zone. The bill passed the House on Wednesday (Jan. 27) on a 55-44 vote and is now pending review by the Senate.
Del. Kaye Kory (D-38th District) is the chief co-patron of HB 1736, which would require local school boards to employ at least one full-time equivalent school nurse position at each elementary school, middle school, and high school.
The bill defines a school nurse as a registered nurse engaged in the specialized practice of nursing that protects and promotes student health, facilitates optimal development, and advances academic success.
The House passed the bill 68-31 with one abstaining vote on Jan. 25. It now awaits Senate review.
HB 1848 would protect individuals from discrimination on the basis of disability as an unlawful employment practice under the Virginia Human Rights Act. Del. Mark Sickles (D-43rd District) introduced the bill, and Del. Mark Levine (D-45th District) and Kathy Tran (D-42nd District) are among the chief co-patrons.
The bill passed the House unanimously on Jan. 22. It is now pending review from the Senate.
SB 1445 would permit any qualified and available health care provider in Virginia to volunteer to administer the COVID-19 vaccine.
Qualified health care providers would include any person who is licensed, registered or certified and in good standing with the Department of Health, retired health care providers who were in good standing within the last five years, and emergency medical services providers who are certified by the Department of Health.
The bill also extends to health professions students enrolled in an accredited program in Virginia, provided they are in good academic standing with their school and the school certifies that the student is properly trained in the administration of vaccines.
The bill passed the Senate 38-0 on Jan. 22. It now is pending review from the House.
Photo via Virginia General Assembly/Flickr
As the Town of Vienna puts together its legislative agenda for the upcoming session in Richmond, the proposed policies are a mix of addressing the new crises and trying to make progress on old issues.
One of the largest pieces of new policy proposed is eliminating penalties for late payments for those who lost their income during the pandemic.
According to the legislative agenda, the town is requesting:
Waiver of penalties and interest; refunds; taxpayers suffering job loss or business closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Waives penalties and interest for six months for taxpayers who suffered a job loss, business closure, or reduction in business operations because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The waivers apply to sales and use taxes and all local taxes that were due during a period in which the job loss, closure, or reduction in operations occurred and income taxes for such taxpayers for taxable year 2019. For a taxpayer who made penalty and interest payments prior to the effective date of the act, the Department of Taxation or his locality shall refund such payments to the taxpayer.
Other proposals raised during the discussion included a proposal from Councilmember Nisha Patel to put some of the school reopening planning in the hands of local government rather than solely for the school board.
Proposed legislation that would incorporate a system of checks and balances in Virginia so that school closings are not only determined by the school board. Local government should have a say in school closures during emergencies so that the power not only resides into the teachers union and school board.
The change would force school board to engage with local governments when making decisions about major school closures.
“As many of you all will remember, when the local schools were closed it was done on short notice without any notice to the Town of Vienna or other local governments,” said Town Attorney Steve Briglia. “Councilmember Patel has suggested that when there’s such a major school closing, that it’s not just closed by the school board… The fact that there was no notice or public discussion was of concern.”
One of the returning issues has been a push from localities to try to overturn a requirement for local governments to publish notices in newspapers rather than on their own websites or other sources. The proposed change has been fought by the Virginia Press Association, but Briglia said every time the Town of Vienna needs to run a notice it costs around $500, and they sometimes have to run twice.
A tax reduction for small distilleries across the country is about to expire on Dec. 31 — potentially leaving local businesses like the Falls Church Distillers uncertain of the future.
Earlier this year, Michael Paluzzi, the owner of the Falls Church Distillers, attended a conference and petitioned members of Congress to pass a bill that would freeze taxes on hard liquor at $2.70 per gallon rather than allowing them to rise to $13.50 per gallon.
The bill garnered 16o Republican cosponsors and 166 Democratic cosponsors, but ultimately did not inspire a legislative change.
Paluzzi said he is disappointed that his efforts with the American Craft Spirits Association didn’t get more support from Virginia politicians.
“We just don’t seem to muster their support for whatever reason,” he said. “The logic escapes me.”
As the looming tax increase approaches in three weeks, Paluzzi said he is preparing to downgrade his dreams of expansion and will focus on fostering his current market in the Virginia, D.C. and Maryland areas, instead of expanding to new states.
For now, many small distillery owners are just trying to stay afloat, Paluzzi said, adding that they will not be able to hire new employees or expand their markets like many planned.
Though he keeps up with newsletters and peers, Paluzzi said he isn’t in contact with people on Capitol Hill.
“Not hearing anything is always a scary thing,” he said.
Photo via Falls Church Distillers/Facebook
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.”
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.'”
(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.
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.
I believe Dr. Vanessa Tyson.
— Rep. Jennifer Wexton (@RepWexton) February 6, 2019
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 facts here are still being determined. Every individual deserves the opportunity to be heard, and we respect anyone who comes forward to share their story."
— VA Senate Democrats (@VASenateDems) February 5, 2019
The National Organization for Women, however, did call for Fairfax’s resignation Wednesday.
Photo via Facebook
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.
(1 of 2) Gov. & First Lady Northam are personal friends. I know my friend and his good record of public service to VA. I also know VA history and that the picture in question is offensive and hurtful. https://t.co/sBO3oCwCzu
— Barbara Favola (@BarbaraFavola) February 2, 2019
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.
Back in Richmond to continue the people’s work in the Virginia legislature.
Here’s my latest but consistent position on the Governor:
“Everybody deserves forgiveness,” he said. “But nobody deserves to be governor.”https://t.co/4VKABjyjC9
— Mark L. Keam (@MarkKeam) February 4, 2019
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.
The Governor needs to resign. We’ve spoken twice since this story broke, and I encouraged him to resign because it's what's best for Virginia.
This is a difficult time for our Commonwealth, but I know we can move forward & start healing under the leadership of @LGJustinFairfax.
— Rep. Jennifer Wexton (@RepWexton) February 2, 2019
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
(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
(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