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Richmond week's end report: water damaged cars, local taxes and more

Rosalind Helderman

As we prepare to begin the third full week of the annual legislative session, lawmakers in both the House and Senate are now considering and passing--or killing--lots of bills of substance. Dozens have already passed one chamber and will be considered by the other one after the session's midpoint, known as crossover.

You can get a sense of how all of the almost 2,500 bills filed this session are faring on the Virginia General Assembly's Legislative Information System. Here's a sampling of some of the more interesting bills that passed one chamber or the other this week.

House of Delegates (with contributions from House reporter Freddy Kunkle):
HB486: Duck hunters may soon rest easily in their blinds knowing that anti-hunters would have to think twice before trying to frame them for shooting animals over bait. That's because Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William) has successfully carried a bill through the House (97-0) that would make it a class 3 misdemeanor to attempt to put out bait in an area used by hunters in order to make it look as if a hunter had been illegally baiting his quarry.

Lingamfelter said he put the bill in after hearing from duck hunters who said there were people who were cleverly using just this tactic to keep hunters from blasting ducks on the Eastern Shore. It is illegal in Virginia to hunt over bait. "There are people who don't like hunting, and they hop in a rowboat and throw corn on the water, and then they announce in a very obnoxious voice, 'You're hunting over bait,'" Lingamfelter said in a telephone interview.

HB392: Waterlogged wheels became the unlikely topic of stirring debate in the House this past week as the House passed a bill that would make it easier to sell a car that sustained water damage.

Del. Matthew J. Lohr's bill would amend a law that makes it a crime to sell a used taxicab or water-damaged car to someone without reporting that the car had been used as a taxi or damaged by water. The bill would raise the monetary threshold of the water damages to $5,000 from the current $1,000, which Lohr said had been the level set in 1966. Adjusting for inflation, Lohr said that the threshold should be $6,700 today. But Lohr said a task force that investigated the issue instead suggested a compromise at $5,000.

But Del. Joseph D. Morrissey (D-Richmond) was incensed. Wouldn't the hard-working buyer of an $8,000 car want to know that it had been socked with $4,000 in damage - which would put it under the threshold for branding the title as water-damaged? The bill passed 73-25. A similar bill passed a senate committee but was sent back to committee from the floor because of questions.

HB393: This measure would require that abortion clinics be treated as surgery centers and face new state regulations. It's a yearly flashpoint between supporters and opponents of abortion rights. It passes the House annually--this year on 72-25 vote--and dies like clockwork in the senate's education and health committee.

The Senate has passed a series of measures that would empower local governments to raise various taxes to help close local budget shortfalls that be deepened by severe state budget cuts that will be made during this session. Under the state's Dillon rule, local governments cannot impose or raise a tax unless they are given the legal approval to do so by the state. For instance, SB280 would allow counties to impose a meals tax with a vote of their governing bodies, as opposed to a referendum as now required, and it would remove a 4 percent cap now imposed on the tax. SB342 would let counties impose the transient occupancy tax on people who rent out their homes for more than 30 days. Another would let James City County and Spotsylvania impose cigarette taxes--currently only Fairfax and Arlington are allowed.

It is not yet clear how such measures will be viewed in the tax-adverse House. None of the bills would raise taxes, but each could result in tax increases if local governments take advantage of new options.

SB9: This bill would make it a primary offense not to wear a seatbelt. That means police officers could pull cars over for the purpose of ticketing those not wearing seatbelts. Currently, it is a secondary offense not to wear a seatbelt, meaning a police officer can ticket for the offense but only if he has pulled the car over to investigate something else. This bill passes yearly in the senate and dies in the House. Indeed, a similar measure has already been killed this year in a House committee.

SB83: The bill would allow voters to cast absentee ballots without giving an explanation for why they cannot vote on Election Day. Another bill passed by the senate, SB139, would allow voters over 65 to vote absentee. These bills are generally killed in the House.

By Rosalind Helderman  |  January 31, 2010; 12:05 PM ET
Categories:  Fredrick Kunkle , General Assembly 2010 , House of Delegates , Rosalind Helderman , State Senate  
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