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Hang That Shirt On The Wind Energy Drying Device, Will You, Honey?

RICHMOND--Never doubt that your elected representatives are trying to improve your life and our planet. Here in Virginia's capital in the waning hours of this year's legislative session, the forces of things good and green sought to make a basic change in the lives of millions: Free the people of northern Virginia to use wind energy drying devices.

Ah, finally, a movement for justice in our time.

For many northern Virginians who live in communities where homeowners associations are in charge, it has been against the rules to use wind energy drying devices, which violate the associations' sense of propriety.

But Sen. Toddy Puller (D-Fairfax) and Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax) insisted that the imperative to conserve energy and save money required HOAs to be more flexible about the devices--All right, already, what the heck is a wind energy drying device?

On the floor of the House of Delegates this week, members wanted to know--what are we talking about?

"It's a clothesline, basically," said Del. William Janis (R-Henrico.)

Ah. And clotheslines, efficient and inexpensive as they may be, are somehow considered gauche or declasse nowadays, leading many homeowners associations to ban them.

As fast as you can say "NoVa versus RoVa," the debate over clotheslines descended into a matter of class. "I live out in the country and we have clotheslines all over the place," said Del. Robert Orrock (R-Caroline). If clotheslines are now good for the Washington suburbs, then they should be good for all of Virginia, he said.

But Orrock said trouble would loom if the bill passed. What would the state government do then "when someone from northern Virginia comes and says 'this looks like a West Virginia subdivision." The chamber broke into a cascade of faux-shocked howls at the slur against Virginia's neighbors. Orrock quickly added: "If I preface that with 'God bless them,' does that make it ok?"

Sickles, a beleaguered liberal in a House where Republicans still rule, learned that the clothesline bill would require a two-thirds majority to pass because it applies only to one region of the state. This meant Sickles had to switch tactics:

"This is a bill about freedom!" he announced to his Republican colleagues, "The freedom to dry your clothes at your house, and a chance to be conservative and be green at the same time!"

Dryers are among the biggest users of electricity, Sickles noted.

Many Republicans weren't buying. "Wouldn't it be freedom to have certain people create rules and not have the state government come down on them?" asked Del. Jackson Miller (R-Manassas.)

The freedom to use clotheslines will have to come some other time, in some other place: The bill died by a 60-40 vote.

Democracy, or perhaps "majority-based governing system," at work.

By Marc Fisher |  February 27, 2009; 7:27 AM ET
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Too bad it failed, as clotheslines are often easier on the clothes, especially bedsheets, than dryers.

Posted by: wiredog | February 27, 2009 7:52 AM

I proposed a similar bill to my Senator, Mary Margaret Whipple, about requiring HOAs to allow people to install rooftop solar panels, similar to the federal law that requires HOAs to allow people to install small satellite dishes. She said that such a law would not be possible because there is a provision in the Virginia Constitution prohibits "impairing the obligation of contracts", (Article I, section 11).

I'm surprised this bill got so far with such a provision in the Constitution.

Posted by: perkinsms | February 27, 2009 8:42 AM

VA should also allow backyard stills in NOVA as long we dont produce more than the limit.

Come on the folks in Bath and Highland counties have had still for hundreds of years in their backyards.

And lets end sin taxes at all levels Marc. its not the govt's job to decide what constitutes sin.

Posted by: sheepherder | February 27, 2009 8:53 AM

Forget about clothes lines. Homeowners Associations themselves should be illegal. The "certain people to create certain rules" as Del. Miller puts it should be city, county and state goverments, elected by the people, not private organizations.

Posted by: SSMD1 | February 27, 2009 9:19 AM

I dry clothes in my apartment all the time. What's wrong with using a drying rack?

Posted by: alewis4 | February 27, 2009 9:32 AM

Sen. Whipple's argument about the Virginia Contracts Clause is interesting. I'm no expert on the niceties of Virginia law, but the identical provision of the US Constitution (Art. I, Sec. 10, cl. 1) is interpreted to mean you can't pass a law that substantially impairs a contract (meaning one that destroys all or almost all of a party's rights under the contract). I can't believe requiring HOAs to allow clotheslines would meet that test.

Posted by: stodge | March 2, 2009 3:46 PM

I live in a condo where the HOA bylaws forbid clotheslines. I love to be able to put one up during the summer so that I can dry my clothes outside. I can't speak to any legal/constitutional issues but in this age of going green, I think it's ridiculous to not avail ourselves to this method of drying clothes.

Posted by: LittleRed1 | March 4, 2009 4:39 PM

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