Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News from Greater Falls Church




Each autumn, Fairfax County adopts a legislative package of requests to the Virginia General Assembly for possible action in the winter session in Richmond.

And each year, our requests result in mixed success. Some new laws get adopted, others fail, and some others, like the HB 3202 transportation funding legislation, pass and then are struck down by the Virginia Supreme Court as unconstitutional. Legislation in Richmond truly seems to be the proverbial sausage: you see the ingredients going into the mix, but somewhere in the churning, what comes out may not be a pretty sight!

For the 2009 Session, Fairfax County is seeking legislation that will:

1) allow the county to keep the money from fines ($25 civil penalty) for seat belt violations. In most cases, the Virginia Code permits localities to keep fines from violations of local ordinances that are based on state motor vehicle laws. However, except for the city of Lynchburg, all the fines collected for violations of state seat belt laws must be paid to the state treasury, which then credits it to the state Literary Fund. State law needs to be amended to permit local governments to adopt local ordinances for the seat belt offense and recover the fines.

2) make the ban on use of wireless communication devices while operating a motor vehicle by drivers under the age of 18 a primary offense. In 2007, 52 people lost their lives on Fairfax County roadways, and the number of victims under 21 was 11 fatalities, or 21 percent. The use of a cellular phone while operating a motor vehicle causes a physical distraction and also creates a cognitive reaction, reducing reaction time for drivers. Inexperienced young drivers need to pay attention to the road; the 2007 legislation addressing cellular use by those with provisional driver’s licenses was a step in the right direction, but it is a secondary offense, not the primary offense designation requested by Fairfax County.

3) support additional state and regional transportation funding for highway, transit, bicycle, and pedestrian improvements. At the same time, Fairfax County opposes any legislation that would transfer secondary road construction and maintenance responsibilities to counties (known as devolution). Road construction and maintenance has been a state function since about 1932. A previous, and unsuccessful, legislative attempt would have forced counties to take over the roads, and we would have been eligible to buy VDOT’s used equipment and hire their retired employees. What a deal!

Two other perennial county initiatives in the legislative package would 1) permit the county to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and 2) allow the county to prohibit dangerous weapons in any county facility or property owned or leased by the county (subject to certain conditions). Both initiatives usually are killed in committee the first day, and some Board members have suggested that the effort be abandoned. However, both initiatives have merit and would offer needed protections to Fairfax County residents, and a majority of the Board of Supervisors supported the entire legislative package. The General Assembly session in Richmond begins on January 14.