Virginia’s Legislative Process is pretty easy for citizens to understand and follow, due to some constitutionally mandated practices. Each bill can be about only one topic, legislators are limited to a certain number of bills per year, and the legislative session is of limited duration. Virginia’s legislative session is about to start, and the Delegates and Senators have “pre-filed” many bills for the 2009 session.
The excellent website Richmond Sunlight takes the publicly available data and makes it more accessible to readers. You can subscribe to an RSS feed for a bill, vote for or against it, and leave comments. Here are some bills for the 2009 session that I found interesting:
HB 1604: This bill authorizes borrowing $12M for a parking garage near the state capitol. See the proposed location here:
View Larger Map
I don’t know much about the price of parking in that area. If parking is scarce enough that the VA government is considering borrowing money to build a garage, couldn’t a private company build it and make a profit?
HB 1615: This bill prohibits using wireless devices to send, receive or read text messages while operating a vehicle. This includes motor vehicles as well as other kinds of vehicles like bicycles. While I don’t have an objection to the bill’s intent, it does seem troublesome that the bill prohibits “receiv[ing]” text messages, because most wireless devices will do that without any operator action. Do I get a ticket if my blackberry gets an email while I’m driving?
HB 1659: Similar to HB 1615, this one would prohibit all non-emergency use of wireless devices while driving (even a bike), even while using hands-free devices. I don’t support this bill.
SB 874: Similar to HB 1615, this bill more accurately defines what an emergency call is, allows hands-free devices, and excludes turning phones on or off and initiating or terminating a call. It also only applies to operators of motor vehicles as opposed to people riding bikes or other kinds of vehicles.
HB 1627: This bill reduces the minimum insurance trolley operators need to carry. Commenter RacerX points out an interesting link between the bill’s introducer, Del. Mark Cole (R-Fredricksburg) and a certain “Trolley Tours of Fredricksburg”, who donated $750 to his election campaign. Normally an operator of such a vehicle that carries more than 16 passengers would be $5 million, so this is a pretty good break. “Trolleys” are apparently vehicles that are powered by gasoline, electricity or diesel, operate on tracks or on the road, and are “designed in the style of a traditional street car or a cable car”, so it’s all cosmetic.
HB 1648: This bill requires Virginia government agencies to consider what impact plans or projects might have on Virginia Byways, which are historically, culturally or scenically significant roads.
HB 1661: This bill converts Virginia’s “cents per gallon” tax on gasoline and diesel fuel into a percentage tax. That way, as the price of fuel rises, the tax collected will rise with it rather than staying the same. I like this bill, but it probably has no chance because it (a) is introduced by a Democrat, (b) has something to do with taxes, and (c) has something to do with gasoline. The Republican-dominated house will likely send this one to a subcommittee so it can die.
HB 1698: This bill requires people who are selling scrap copper and other nonferrous metals like catalytic converters (which contain platinum) to provide documentation that they actually own the scrap metal being sold. This is probably in reaction to recent high metal prices which made it profitable to steal catalytic converters from cars and copper piping from homes in order to sell for scrap. It’s also in my opinion this years “silly bill”. It doesn’t really beat last year’s silly bill, which was Del. Spruill’s “Truck Nuts” bill.
HB 1694: This bill allows certain counties to control commercial vehicle parking. It also eliminates phrases intended to limit a law to a certain county without naming the county, such as “counties with population greater than 500,000”, which could only be Fairfax and Prince William.
On to the Senate:
SB 803: This bill prohibits dirt bikes on the highways. Don’t know what Sen. Miller (D-Norfolk) has against dirt bikes.
SB 863: This bill establishes a commission (the “TransDominion Express Commission”) to study building, improving and operating a rail corridor from Bristol through Roanoke and Lynchburg, and then splitting to go to DC through Charlottesville or to Richmond.
SB 864: This bill establishes a “Rail Transportation Development Authority”, similar to SB 863 and introduced by the same Sen. Edwards (D-Roanoke).
I encourage Virginia residents to visit “Richmond Sunlight” and to contact their legislators about any of these bills you feel strongly about.