Local Commentary

Senator Whipple’s Richmond Report

Those of you who follow the actions of the Virginia General Assembly know that progress is often slow and incremental in nature.

An example would be the ban on smoking in public places that has not yet passed.  The Governor has issued an executive order to ban smoking in state buildings; many restaurants and malls have banned smoking voluntarily; and the various bills in the 2008 Session, including the bill I patroned to ban smoking in most public places along with bills to ban smoking in restaurants and bars passed the Senate, only to be killed in a House subcommittee. So there is progress, albeit slow.

Some bills are presented for a number of years before they pass. Another bill of mine that failed in the House this year is one that would allow self-insured localities to offer health insurance to members of an employee’s household who are not related by birth or marriage. Virginia was one of the last in the nation to allow private companies to offer this benefit, and clearly it will take more time to get this bill through; at least it was heard by the full committee.

Fortunately there are some successes to offset the disappointments.

This year I was patron of a bill providing more protections to common interest communities. These are condominium associations or homeowners association that are governed by a board of directors and that often employ professional management companies to carry out the day-to-day management activities.  The bill was occasioned by a widely-publicized embezzlement of funds from some homeowners’ associations in Northern Virginia. To their credit, the management companies came to the Virginia Housing Commission and asked that their industry be better regulated. The bill sets up an independent board at the state level; requires insurance and bonding of management companies, and provides a complaint mechanism.

Another bill that passed easily was one to require reporting of infectious diseases that occur in assisted living facilities or childcare centers. This bill was in response to a serious norovirus outbreak at an area assisted living facility that became known to public health officials only when the EMS crews noted how many patients they were taking to the hospital from one address. Early reporting is very helpful in preventing the spread of such diseases.

Several bills I carried that affect the voting process were approved. One exempts localities that acquired electronic voting machines prior to July 1, 2007 from the prohibition on wireless communications; another allows the electronic transmission of absentee ballots to citizens overseas; a third allows localities to purchase electronic pollbooks.

Other legislation of mine made requested changes in the Falls Church City Charter; extended the surcharge on the transient occupancy tax in Arlington; and allows Fairfax County to contributed to nonprofit organizations that want to clean up and beautify their neighborhoods.

Each legislator has similar experiences: successes that move Virginia forward even as other objectives remain elusive.