The 1981 session of the Virginia General Assembly begins at noon Wednesday in Richmond.
To hear government officials in Northern Virginia tell it, they won't be asking much from the Virginia General Assembly -- just some "lil' ol' housekeepin' bills" and a few measures that would give local governments more control over their futures.
But that reasoning isn't likely to get far with other Virginia legislators, who will gather in Richmond Wednesday for the 163rd session of the General Assembly.
Anyone familiar with the tradition-bound Assembly -- and its fierce turf-protecting tendencies and traditional lack of sympathy for Northern Virginia's interest -- will tell you that the more ambitious requests for local control will have about as much chance of survival as a tray of Smithfield ham biscuits at a Richmond cocktail party.
"Members of the General Assembly really guard their authority very jealously," says Fairfax Supervisor Martha V. Pennino, who is joining her colleagues in asking the state to allow Fairfax to build its own roads. "It's that reluctance to give authority to people at the local level that has historically caused us all the problems."
What nettles Pennino and other Northern Virginia officials is the state's love affair iwth the Dillon rule. That common-law doctrine, in effect in Virginia and a number of other states, prohibits local governments from taking any action without specific state approval.
The rule is prompting Northern Virginia officials to seek, among other things, the power to hold general elections for school board members (now appointed by the supervisors, city council or county board); require smoke detectors in multiunit dwellings; provide protection for rental units and renters; and allow local governments to force the state to provide funds for state-mandated programs.
But Northern Virginia delegates have found little support for their ideas in the past, primarily because they haven't made the state-wide alliances needed to succeed with such proposals.
When the session opens, legilators will be hearing some familiar proposals from Northern Virginia.
The road-building request from Fairfax County amounts to the latest salvo in a continuing battle between the rapidly developing county, whose roads carry 22 percent of the state's traffic, and the state highway department, which grants Fairfax only 7 percent of its annual allocation for building secondary roads. Richmond observers say the measure probably will hit some big snags in the Assembly, where legilators are likely to bridle at having to foot the bill for maintaining new roads in Fairfax at a time when diminishing gas-tax revenues are making highway funds tight.
For their part, Fairfax supervisors say they've considered offering to maintain their own roads as well as build them, but add they they already are angry at the thought of county residents paying for construction of new roads when state tax revenues should be paring for them. Adding county maintenance funds on top of that, they say, would be inconceivable.
Alexandria officials say they are more hopeful this year about passage of a measure that would allow localities to require smoke detectors in multifamily dwellings, rooming houses and hotels built before the state building code went in to effect in 1974. Similar measures have been rejected in past years, after stiff opposition from the building industry and rural legislators.
Arlington County leaders say they aren't optimistic about the chances for a bill allowing county residents to elect school board members. That proposal has surfaced regularly on Arlington's wish list since the state banned an elected board in the mid-1950s after Arlington defied the state's "massive resistance" policy and voluntarily integrated its schools.
Better chances are foreseen for a bill that would allow localities to require dealers in precious metals to hold their purchases for 15 days to allow police to check for stolen goods. "It's got excellent prospects," says Mark Horowitz, assistant to the Arlington country manager. "It's hard (for legilators) to be for 'fences' (persons who sell stolen goods)."
In the midst of jockeying over their carefully crafted bills, local legislators will pause to lead a tour of state lawmakers to Northern Virginia. Area legilators hope the trip, which will come at the end of January, two weeks after the session opens, will eliminate some of the divisions between themselves and their downstate neighbors.