RICHMOND, FEB. 3 -- The Virginia House of Delegates gave preliminary approval today to a bill that would require officials to estimate the impact of all new state regulations on private property values, which opponents said could be used to undermine regulations designed to control development and protect the environment.
"It's an end run on the Chesapeake Bay regulations," said Del. Kenneth R. Plum (D-Reston). The regulations protect the water quality of the bay by controlling development in its watershed, which includes most of Northern Virginia.
The proposed regulation reopens a long-standing philosophical battle in Virginia over the rights of private property owners. Several skirmishes on that issue were fought in the last session of the General Assembly, including sparring over bills to overturn Fairfax County's downzoning and guarantee the development rights of property owners.
"The pendulum has swung away from the rights of the individual citizen as the regulatory process has become more and more omnipotent," said Del. Thomas M. Jackson Jr. (D-Wythe), sponsor of the bill debated today and chief backer of one of the bills introduced last year to guarantee development rights. "This is my attempt to swing the pendulum back to the individual, to give our citizens more input."
In other action today, the House resoundingly defeated a bill that would have waived for one year the so-called "standards of quality" regulations that control pupil-teacher ratios and place other state mandates on local schools. The measure was pushed as a potential way to save money in this lean budget year.
The House also gave preliminary approval to bills that would allow nurse practitioners to prescribe certain kinds of drugs under a doctor's supervision and permit Fairfax County to hold advisory referendums. Another bill that would give Northern Virginia about $20 million next year for transportation and education was approved by the House Finance Committee today.
The House Courts of Justice Committee killed a key measure on the agenda of antiabortion interests. On a 10 to 10 vote, the committee failed to advance a bill that would require parental notification before an abortion is performed on a minor.
Jackson's newest bill, which passed on a voice vote today and faces a formal vote in the full House on Monday, states that before issuing any new regulation, a state agency must have a written comparison of the regulation's impact on the public health, safety and welfare "versus the regulation's impact on the use and value of private property and the costs to the regulated person."
In other words, according to Plum, if a developer has to cut back on the size of a project because it is in the watershed of the Chesapeake Bay, the state would have to generate a report saying how much money the developer lost as a consequence. That report could then be used by the developer against the state in litigation, he said.
"It's dragging us back to the old 18th-century attitude Virginia had for many years that a man's property is his to do with what he sees, and to hell with everybody else, which means make the most profit despite the effects it might have," said Jean Packard, president of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club.
Packard said the regulation "has the potential for all sort of mischief," and might be used by landowners opposed to landfills, schools, roads and prisons near their property.
On a different front, the full House is expected to vote Monday on a bill that would increase the state's share of lottery proceeds by 5 percent and send that money to local governments for transportation and education. The measure would replace the money Northern Virginia lost when the state reneged on a promise last year to give local governments a bigger share of real estate filing fees, according to Del. Leslie Byrne (D-Fairfax).
The bill as originally proposed reduced the share of lottery revenue going for prizes by 5 percent, but was amended today after lottery proponents warned that reducing prizes could hurt ticket sales.
In response, House Finance Chairman C. Richard Cranwell (D-Vinton) won approval for an amendment that would raise the state's percentage of the profits.
The bill, which was to be debated in the House tonight, would increase the state's annual lottery take by $35 million to $40 million. That money would be sent to local governments based on a formula that would give Northern Virginia about the same amount of money as it would have received from the real estate filing fees -- about $20 million a year, or half the total.
The lottery money would be paid only during fiscal 1992, which starts in July, because the real estate filing fees already are scheduled to be turned over to local governments starting in fiscal 1993.
Northern Virginia governments, which had expected the filing fees and had based their budgets on them, were furious last year when the state backed out of the agreement because of its own budget shortfall.