Tuesday, March 27, 11 a.m.

Virginia Politics

Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 27, 2007; 11:00 AM

Monday was the last day for Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine to amend, sign or veto hundreds of bills passed by the General Assembly this year.

Post reporter Amy Gardner was online Tuesday, March 27 at 11 a.m. to take your questions about Kaine's changes to the state transportation plan, a proposed restaurant smoking ban, his veto of death penalty bills and the rest of his legislative decisions.

A transcript follows.


Amy Gardner: Good morning Virginia government wonks! It's a beautiful spring morning in Richmond, the blossoms are erupting along Monument Avenue, and I, for one, would like nothing better than to dive into state transportation policy, smoking bans and the capital punishment debate. So let's go!


Arlington, Va.: The story really didn't define terms.

The ban would affect "restaurants" but not "open spaces" or "most workspaces" and didn't mention bars.

Maryland is banning "bars and restaurants" Virginia may just ban "restaurants", what about bars and private clubs like Lodges and VFWs, etc.?

Where would you be allowed to smoke?


Amy Gardner: Hi there, and thanks for the question. In Virginia there is no such thing as a bar, legally speaking. To serve alcohol, an establishment must serve food -- and therefore all such establishments are considered restaurants. Kaine's proposal applies to all eating establishments, including the ones that we think of conversationally as bars.


Washington: Soooo what's the realistic chances of the Kaine smoking ban actually becoming law in Virginia?

Amy Gardner: I've heard it could go either way. The original bill that Kaine amended was not quite as sweeping. It would require restaurants that allow smoking to post signs stating so near their entrances. The bill's sponsor is House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith, who got it out of a very conservative House committee only by promising his fellow Republicans that he would oppose any attempts to strengthen the bill. So the question is: Does Morgan look the other way, vote against Kaine's amendments, but let other moderate Republicans partner with Dems to approve Kaine's amendments? Or is he obligated, because of his pledge to his caucus, to actually use his (considerable) clout as majority leader to force party discipline and kill the amendments? I'm inclined to think the latter, but I just don't know.


Amherst, Va.: Does it look like there will be a transportation deal done this year?

Amy Gardner: It does. Gov. Kaine has rolled out a package that, though not perfect in anyone's minds, has been reluctantly signed off on by all the key players: Republican leaders in the House, local officials who have to approve the regional taxes, and Democrats opposed to raiding the state's general fund. Obviously anything can happen. Tune in April 4, when the General Assembly returns to consider Kaine's vetoes and amendments.


King George, Va.: Specifically, which house or senate bill number for transportation is the Governor amending and do we have access to its actual wording?

Amy Gardner: It's House Bill 3202, sponsored by House Speaker William J. Howell. From the following link you can look at the bill's progress all the way since Jan. 19, when Howell introduced it.



McLean, Va.: What NOVA transportation projects will occur now that the package has passed?

Amy Gardner: This is a good question, and unfortunately only an incomplete answer exists. First off, a portion of the budget surplus this year will go toward several Northern Virginia projects, including expansion of Virginia Railway Express, adding HOT lanes on the Capital Beltway and widening Route 50 in Loudoun County. In the statewide package Kaine rolled out yesterday, the only certainties for Northern Virginia are $50 million for Metrorail and $20 million for the extension of Metro to Dulles International Airport. The big benefit for Northern Virginia will be $400 million in annual expenditures that a regional authority as well as the nine cities and counties will determine how to spend. But first six of those nine jurisdictions must pass a series of taxes and fees to create the funding stream that will juice the whole thing. If they don't, the whole thing goes away.


Arlington, Va.: What possible political damage, if any, does Kaine face for the vetoes on the death penalty measures?

Amy Gardner: I think it remains to be seen, obviously, as we go into an election year. But my hunch is that there really isn't a whole lot of political fallout for Kaine -- much as the Republicans who pushed these measures would like there to be. Kaine got pummeled in 2005 by his Republican opponent, Jerry Kilgore, on the death penalty issue. But the public wasn't moved. They were moved by Kaine's honesty about his personal opposition to the death penalty, which stems in part from his Catholic faith. Voters were also appeased by the governor's pledge to uphold the laws of the Commonwealth. And frankly, he has done that. He has allowed four executions to proceed since he took office last January. In the case of his vetoes, his rationale was that Virginia, which executes more prisoners than any other state except Texas, does not need to expand its death penalty statutes.


washingtonpost.com: HB 3202 Transportation funding


Winchester, Va.: Hi, Amy.

Lana Westfall here, with Senator Potts office.

What can you tell me about the re-regulation legislation. I'm not seeing anything regarding the Governor's amendments.

Amy Gardner: Hi Lana! Unfortunately I can't tell you anything ... yet. Gov. Kaine is expected to issue his amendments to the re-regulation bill at about noon today. He said on Ask the Governor on WTOP radio this morning that he has done a "significant" rewrite with more consumer protection and giving the State Corporation Commission more regulatory authority.


washingtonpost.com: Transit Projects That Might Advance (Post, March 26)


Glasgow, Scotland: It's about time Virginia dealt with smoking in restaurants. Hopefully it is a beginning of more comprehensive actions to eliminate the healt risk in public places.

Even Glasgow banned smoking in restaurants and pubs, and we all know how addictive they have been to tobacco.

Virginia needs to replace tobacco as an important agricultural and economic influence with more "green" industries.

Amy Gardner: Thanks!


Merrifield, Va.: I feel like today's paper was a welcome exception, but that generally The Post's coverage of Virginia is lacking, especially compared with the reporting on suburban Maryland. Are we going to start seeing more Virginia stories prominently played?

Amy Gardner: Well as a loyal member of the Virginia desk, I can't agree with your assessment...but I'm glad you enjoyed today's edition.


Arlington, Va.: You said above the original bill on smoking isn't quite as sweeping.

Isn't it just the opposite? The Griffith smoking bill actually eliminates mandatory non-smoking sections in restaurants thus making all restaurants completely smoking as long as the restaurant puts up a silly sign at the entrance saying smoking allowed here.

Seems like the Griffith "ban" does just the opposite.

Amy Gardner: Well when I say less sweeping I mean less sweeping in the direction of anti-smoking. It depends on your perspective, of course. I mean, Griffith said all along that he expected his bill to effectively ban smoking in restaurants by making it extremely difficult for restaurateurs to allow it. The idea is, if you make 'em post a sign near the entrance, it's going to scare off diners, so the restaurant owners are going to opt not to allow smoking. Griffith and the Republicans liked it because, they said, it allowed market forces, rather than state regulation, to determine the outcome.


Richmond, Va.: I noticed a number of Republican retirements in the General Assembly. Do you think this gives the Democrats an opportunity to pick up a good chunk of seats?

Amy Gardner: This is certainly the million-dollar question of this momentous election year that is underway. (And if anyone out there has some thought, please pipe in). I think it's fair to say that no one expects the House of Delegates, where Republicans control 58 of 100 seats, to go Democratic. So let's talk about the Senate. Truth is, the Senate has a greater chance of swinging more conservative than of going Democratic. Here's why: Currently 23-17 Republican, the Senate has been led by a core group of moderate Republicans who have been able to work across the aisle with Democrats as well as with two successive Democratic governors, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, to raise taxes, fund education and keep the more conservative wing of the Senate Republican caucus at bay. So, cut to today: Three moderate Republicans have announced they are retiring in the Senate (Russ Potts of Winchester, John Chichester, the powerful Senate Finance Committee chairman from Northumberland County, and Charlie Hawkins of Pittsylvania County). And the conventional wisdom is that conservative Republicans have a better chance of capturing all those seats than Democrats do.


Amy Gardner: To the Merrifield reader: Do you buy your Post in the District or in Virginia? That may be the reason you see more Maryland news. We zone our editions, so the Virginia news is displayed more prominently in the Virginia editions than in DC and MD.


Arlington, Va.: Has there been any polling done on how Virginians feel about smoking bans ? I don't smoke, supported Kaine, but am totally against banning smoking.

Amy Gardner: There has been some polling done by the American Heart Association and some other advocates who pushed for a very broad smoking ban in nearly all public spaces, work places as well as restaurants. I'm afraid I don't have the numbers handy but my recollection is that something above 70 percent of Virginians supported a total ban. The poll was conducted in November.


20th Street & Pennsylvania Ave., NW: Amy:

Where did this anti-smoking ordnance come from? My wife and I had 65-70 people over to the house in Herndon on St. Patrick's Day and the primary topics of conversation were:

1. Will Michigan State beat North Carolina? (No they didn't)

2. What can we do to get more money for transportation in NOVA?

3. Who's overachieving kids will win the lottery for coveted UVA and W&M admissions and why can't we get more kids in there?

Absolutely no one was discussing smoking in bars and/or restaurants. Interestingly there was very little immigration discussion either.

Why can't we get our primary needs (Nos. 2 and 3 above) addressed?

Amy Gardner: Well, first of all, I could've told you Michigan State had no chance, although we Heels got nothin' to crow about now.

Some other observations:

Smoking in restaurants is way less of an issue for those of us who live in Northern Virginia because the market has taken care of the issue. Restaurants generally don't allow smoking, because they know patrons don't want it. But walk into any restaurant in Richmond or Roanoke, and it's a different story. Folks who don't want smoking are frustrated and they're asking their lawmakers to do something about it. I mean look at who sponsored the legislation: Morgan Griffith, the House majority leader, a Republican from Salem, near Roanoke. He was responding to constituents.

Re: immigration. Perhaps not an issue where you are. But I attended a town meeting in Springfield Saturday at which at least 300 people crowded into a government center to complain about housing overcrowding in their declining neighborhoods.


Fairfax, Va.: Your answer to McLean, Va. did not mention a long-overdue widening of Route I-66 through Arlington in both directions.

Is this a topic that the governor and The Post do not see as the poster child for sincere commitment to combat gridlock in Northern Virginia?

As you evaluate priorities, where do you believe a full widening of I-66 ranks for No. Va.?

Amy Gardner: Aaah, Interstate 66. Bane of my existence, and that of thousands of others. (Disclosure: You're chatting with an Arlington resident here). Regional transportation leaders, such as Bob Chase of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, desperately want 66 widened. But Arlington County doesn't want it widened. And without Arlington's blessing, it won't happen. County leaders want money poured into transit, not more lanes. So don't hold your breath.


Annandale, Va.: I am assuming Kaine signed the Dominion power bill, is that correct?

Amy Gardner: We haven't seen his substitute yet. It's due out at noon (and you'll be able to find a story in tomorrow's paper about it.) On WTOP this morning, Kaine said he's put out a comprehensive substitute that protects consumers, encourages environmental conservation and gives the State Corporation Commission more regulatory oversight.


Hamilton, Va.: Hi Amy, what about powerlines? Is the Governor going to do anything about this issue? Is he going to require that they be buried??

Amy Gardner: Most of the legislation that would have encouraged power lines to go underground, or at the very least mandated studies of the issue, died in the legislature this year. So there isn't anything on Tim Kaine's desk to act on. Certainly during the session he could have sent down his own bill, but he didn't.


Arlington, Va.: Though the three Senate seats where prominent Republicans are retiring are not particularly competitive, there are four seats (if I recall correctly) which Warner, Kaine, and Webb all took which are currently controlled by Republicans. If I've heard correctly, these are the seats that Democrats will target. What are the chances that Dems win enough between these four seats and the three open races? Will the threat of a more conservative Senate, due to the retirement of moderate Republicans help?

Amy Gardner: I'm going to guess that the four Republican Senate seats you are referring to are:

Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, Jay O'Brien and Ken Cuccinelli, all of Fairfax County; and Nick Rerras of Norfolk.

And yes, Democrats have a chance at each of these seats. But the odds of running the table are not great, and that's what the Dems would have to do -- win all four -- to take over.


Re: Lane Widening: I live in Arlington, Va., and I-66 will never be widened. You are talking about digging up my backyard and destroying the bike path where I walk my dog. Not to mention house values in the area would be incredibly, and negatively, affected.

Amy Gardner: Thanks for your comments. This is one reason why the Arlington Board has taken the position it has. The residents feel the same way.


Amy Gardner: Alright, folks. Thanks for the great questions and comments. See you next time and enjoy this magnificent day.


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