Lobbyists Scramble in Richmond as Beyer Wins Predatory Towing Law

U.S. REP. DON BEYER held the first town hall of his first term in office at the James Lee Center in Falls Church Monday night. (Photo: News-Press)
U.S. REP. DON BEYER held the first town hall of his first term in office at the James Lee Center in Falls Church Monday night. (Photo: News-Press)

In his first public town hall meeting since taking office just over a year ago, held at Falls Church’s historic James Lee Community Center this Monday night, U.S. Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr. highlighted among his major achievements so far legislation that passed and was signed by the President last month to allow state and local jurisdictions to regulate the kind of “predatory towing” that has been a well-documented bane in Falls Church and the region.

It suddenly created a hot potato for Richmond legislators, who were confronted by lobbyists for the towing industry for the first time this session as the result of Beyer’s new law. While no bills were passed this time, it was only to allow for the legislators to get to meet these lobbyists for the first time and to hear their side of the story, State Del. Kaye Kory told the News-Press Wednesday.

Beyer cited his legislation as what his predecessor Jim Moran tried for years to get passed. Beyer said he accomplished it by attaching it as an amendment to the highway re-authorization bill that President Obama signed into law in December.

Introduced by Beyer and his Maryland colleague, U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the new law establishes that local jurisdictions, and not the federal government, will have the authority to curb predatory practices.

A flurry of bills were quickly crafted to be presented to the Virginia State Legislature last month, with principal ones by Del. Kory and State Sen. Scott Surovell of Alexandria. All the bills were defeated pending a series of meetings between concerned legislators and the towing industry lobbyists, two of whom Del. Kory identified as Matthew Benka, president of MDB Strategies and Craig Bieber, a public affairs consultant, both of Richmond.

“Northern Virginians are well aware of the financial pain and frustration a few predatory towing operators can cause,” Rep. Beyer said. “Now that our bill is law, local governments have new tools at their disposal to curb these practices and protect vulnerable consumers.”

Up to now, City of Falls Church officials have been able to do very little to curtail a practice that has continually plagued the City’s downtown areas, including the use of spotters who contact their towing company whenever someone wanders away from businesses where parking is strictly designated. At the Broaddale Shopping Center in the 300 block of W. Broad, citizens who stepped off that property to visit the City library next door reported often finding their cars towed after only a matter of minutes. Large public events like the annual Memorial Day Parade have usually led to dozens of such tows and officials have been unable to prevent it except to encourage adequate warning signs.

Sen. Surovell’s predatory towing bill in Richmond not only reaffirmed the state and local authority to regulate towing, but also banned the use of spotters. “Towing companies are increasingly using spotters – employees whose sole job is to call in tows and who initiate tows before unwary consumers even realize they are illegally parked,” he wrote on his online newsletter recently. “The bill also required written authorization from property owners for each tow and confirmed that predatory towing victims can sue towing companies for violations of local ordinances.”

“In 1994,” Beyer explained about the issue, “Congress inadvertently preempted the ability of state and local governments to regulate the towing industry. Since then, confusing restrictions and conflicting court rulings left local governments unable to fully protect consumers from predatory towing practices.”

Monday night, Rep. Beyer held forth on a wide array of issues that were presented to him by constituents ranging from funding for Alzheimer’s research to the solvency of Social Security, extending the earned income tax credit to benefit low income seniors, to guns, to guaranteeing living wages (as opposed to minimum wages), to human trafficking, to immigration, to the undue influence of money in politics, to the issue of Syrian refugees, to women’s pay and to the strangling influence of $1.1 trillion in student loans.

Beyer said it was his first face-to-face town hall, although he did one by phone that drew 19,000 people. He expressed pleasure holding the historic first town hall in Falls Church because “Falls Church is the formal center of the universe,” he quipped, noting that his family car business started here just 42 years ago and its patriarch, his father Don Sr., just celebrated his 92nd birthday.

He cited the three “big picture” goals of his first term in the U.S. Congress are to guide the economic transformation of Northern Virginia at a time when federal government spending has been pulling back, the economic empowerment of women, and to advance the government response to climate change.

Three bills he’s passed in his first year include one to extend government science prizes beyond NASA to include other scientifically-based agencies, to expand research into dyslexia, and to deter predatory towing.