As Northern Virginia's 29-member delegation starts work in Richmond, its members will join in the legislative fray over such statewide concerns as federal budget cuts, Metro funding, housing, health, drunken driving and education.
But the senators and delegates also will have their briefcases stuffed with proposals affecting only their particular jurisdiction--everything from requests for an elected school board and increased penalties for selling obscene books to proposals that would preserve more agricultural land in the area.
"The issues that are pervasive are taxes and the fairness of the tax system," said Alexandria's Republican senator, Wiley F. Mitchell. "And this year is really going to be no different."
A "first priority" on the legislative package adopted by the City Council is a reorganization of the current property tax structure. Mitchell has regularly introduced legislation on this issue, and council members this year have asked the General Assembly to consider specific tax proposals --such as providing property tax credits to residents over age 65 and other tax proposals to ease the burden on homeowners with fixed incomes, a problem the city identified in its annual report.
The city's second legislative priority addresses the sales tax on food, which, Mitchell said, "Alexandrians, like other Northern Virginians, consider to be particularly unfair." Del. Bernard S. Cohen, a Democrat, said Alexandrians have flooded his mailbox with their concern over the food tax, and he plans to work for its removal. The Alexandria city government opposes the tax as well, but wants the legislature to find some alternative to replace the 1 percent of food tax revenues that local governments receive. Alexandria expects to get about $2.9 million in revenues from the tax this year.
Other legislation requested by city officials includes: stronger gun control laws; state regulation of cooperative conversions and mandatory relocation payments to persons displaced by condominium or cooperative conversions; designation of a surcharge to be paid by all telephone users to cover the expense of the 911 emergency phone service; and a stricter smoke detector law.
The Alexandria City Council, a longtime supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, also emphasized in its legislative package the importance of ratifying the ERA. The third member of the Alexandria delegation, freshman Democrat Marian A. Van Landingham, is known for her strong pro-ERA background and said she plans to work hard to get the issue out of committee and onto the floor for a vote.
Arlington's state senator and three delegates, all incumbent Democrats, will take to Richmond such Arlington-generated proposals as requests for an elected school board and some changes in the structure of the county government.
Del. Mary A. Marshall said she will reintroduce a bill permitting elected school boards, but neither she nor her colleagues is optimistic of its passage. The County Board made the school board issue its first priority on its legislative shopping list, but the school board uncharacteristically took no stand on the matter.
On the matter of county government structure, a split County Board asked the Arlington delegation to introduce bills establishing biennial elections and single-member districts for board members. No such changes will be proposed, however, Sen. Edward M. Holland summed up for his colleagues, "because public response has been pretty flat."
The delegation is expected to propose bills giving the County Board the right to appoint the county attorney, however, and to exercise more influence in the county manager's appointment of department heads, said Del. Warren G. Stambaugh.
Any measure affecting the county government structure must win the approval of both the legislature and county voters before it can be implemented.
Del. James F. Almand said he would seek approval of a County Board request allowing Arlington to enter a "cooperative agreement" with the Fairfax County Housing Authority to ensure that housing projects already planned in Arlington will have financing available at a reasonable rate. Arlington's independently run housing corporation has been able to provide some low-cost housing, but lacks the power to issue bonds to finance construction of major projects.
Fairfax County officials are seeking legislative help this year in grappling with the continuing growing pains of one of the state's most rapidly developing commercial and residential counties.
In an attempt to keep commercial development from gobbling up all of the county's countryside settings, the Board of Supervisors has asked the General Assembly to broaden laws preserving agricultural and forest land.
Under current law, agricultural and forestry districts can be established only in chunks of at least 500 acres. County officials are asking that they be allowed to set aside smaller patches of land.
The board also has proposed legislation increasing penalties for selling obscene books and materials.
"The Fairfax County Police have determined that the profits from the sale of this merchandise are so great that this existing fine has no significant deterrent value," the board said in its request for the new laws.
The maximum fine for selling obscene books or materials is $1,000. The Board of Supervisors didn't provide recommendations for specific fines, however.
Another change suggested by the supervisors would liberalize state wiretapping laws to allow police to intercept calls involving illegal gambling or fencing operations. Existing state law allows wiretaps only in cases of suspected extortion, bribery or any felony drug violation.
Republican Del. James H. Dillard said he will submit legislation loosening the wiretap law even more to allow use of wiretaps in marijuana cases. "Marijuana slipped out through the cracks," said Dillard. "We would be reinserting one of the crimes where wiretap evidence can be gained."
The Fairfax County School Board wants the General Assembly to consider a proposal that could take school systems out of the local battles for placing handicapped students in residential schools. The school board is suggesting that the State Welfare Department be responsible for assigning handicapped students to residential facilities and picking up all costs for the residential placement. At present, both the Welfare Department and the school board must approve the placements, with the school board paying a large share of the costs.
The school board also has proposed a new exemption for governing bodies under the Freedom of Information Act. The proposal would require the board to record minutes of meetings only when a majority of the board--in its case, six members--is present. Under existing law, the board must take official minutes when three or more members attend a meeting.
"This requirement is a burden in systems with large boards which operate with numerous study groups and committees," the board said in its explanation of the proposal.
Loudoun County officials have zeroed in on the importance of a comprehensive tax study of the real property tax and the taxing powers of local governments as issues of particular interest to the county.
In addition, the Board of Supervisors has called for an exemption to the child labor law for 16- and 17-year-olds so they can be active in volunteer fire departments; implementation of a collection charge for delinquent taxes; and giving the county permission to control the use of certain animal traps.
Loudoun's Democratic Sen. Charles L. Waddell, who also serves parts of Fairfax County, Vienna, Reston and Herndon, said he's also concerned about the reapportionment issue.
"Loudoun has been treated very shabbily in the reapportionment process on the House side," said Waddell. He said he plans to reintroduce a bill he originally proposed in 1978 that would take the reapportionment process out of the hands of the General Assembly and give it to an independent commission.
Prince William County
"Things are beginning to brew here locally. After the election, people have gotten a second wind," said Prince William Del. Floyd C. Bagley, a Democrat.
What's brewing in Prince William are legislative ideas ranging from a tax on tobacco to a change in city status to a grass-cutting ordinance.
In its legislative position statement, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors has asked the county's legislative delegation to sponsor or support requests for: a tobacco tax as a source of additional revenue for the county; power for the county to charge for the placement and use of some street lights in the county; issuance of handicapped motor vehicle decals for temporarily disabled persons; and the power to compel property owners to cut grass and weeds that may serve as a "breeding ground for insects and vermin to the detriment of the public health."
In addition, Sen. Charles J. Colgan, a Democrat, and other local delegates have been asked by some Manassas Park residents to introduce legislation changing their city status back to a town. "I feel that first either the City Council should pass such a resolution or 51 percent of the voters should sign a petition to that effect," said Colgan.