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Virginia isn’t ending its policy of automatically suspending driver’s licenses for people who owe courts money after criminal convictions, but lawmakers are making it easier to pay.

 

Legislation the General Assembly approved overwhelmingly this year would establish a standardized, statewide policy to allow deferred payment plans that would enable defendants to pay their fines and costs over time without losing the right to drive.

 

Details of the payment plans would depend on a defendant’s ability to pay, and the bill gives offenders an opportunity to explain their financial circumstances to the court.

 

The legislation also extends the grace period for paying before collections activity begins from 30 days to 90 days.

 

The legislation, hammered out in the legislative session’s final days, has been sent to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who in a January news conference called for scrapping the suspension policy altogether. Preventing people who owe money from getting to work and making money, McAuliffe said, “makes no sense.”

 

McAuliffe’s office said Friday that the bill is under review.

 

Del. G. Manoli Loupassi, R-Richmond, a criminal defense attorney who sponsored the main reform bill, said in a recent interview that the legislation he pushed will reduce the number of unlicensed drivers on the roads.

 

Having laws on the books that people “readily ignore,” he said, is “not good for the administration of justice.”

 

“It tends to fill up our jails with basically nonviolent people that are driving to get to work or driving to do daily chores,” Loupassi said.

 

House Bill 2386, which passed both chambers unanimously, would allow courts to require down payments of 20 percent when the fines and costs are $500 or less, and 10 percent when the amount owed is $500 or more.

 

Courts would have the flexibility to require a higher down payment for good cause, and defendants could choose to pay more than the amounts set out in the law.

 

Courts already have the authority to approve payment plans, but jurisdictions had wide discretion to adopt their own policies. The Supreme Court of Virginia recently issued a new rule to standardize how payment plans work across the state, and Loupassi said his bill codifies a process in state law.

 

Near the end of the session, the Senate insisted on delaying the bill’s effective date until 2018 and requiring another vote by the General Assembly next year. That provision was eliminated, which means the new law will take effect July 1 if McAuliffe signs it.

 

As of January, about 650,000 Virginians had suspended licenses due to unpaid court debts, according to McAuliffe’s office.

 

The state is battling a class action lawsuit that argues the suspension policy is an unconstitutional restriction on driving to “coerce payment of money owed to the courts.”

 

The nonprofit Legal Aid Justice Center filed the federal suit last summer on behalf of four people whose licenses were suspended. The U.S. Justice Department has filed a brief in the case that raises concerns about whether Virginia’s suspension policies unjustly punish the poor in addition to those who can afford to pay but choose not to do so.

Legal Aid attorney Angela Ciolfi said there are some positives among the reforms the General Assembly approved, but none “really grapple with the real problem facing people caught in the court debt trap.”

 

“Automatic suspension is a failed policy that should be repealed, and people should not be punished for failure to pay without a hearing on whether they had the means to pay,” Ciolfi said.

 

Several other bills that would have gone further toward ending driver’s license suspensions failed to clear General Assembly committees.

 

A separate bill approved by the assembly would allow driver’s license suspensions to apply concurrently, which Ciolfi said will “help people avoid the perpetual string of suspensions” that discourage many from trying to pay.

 

Loupassi characterized his bill as a step in the right direction on an issue on which he has been focused for years. McAuliffe, he said, deserves some credit for the movement this year.

 

“I heard crickets while I was working on it for the last two years,” said Loupassi, who has pushed in the past for a state study on the issue.

 

“The good thing is, when a governor does interject himself into a situation, it does tend to make it a more hot topic.”

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A Richmond legislator wants the General Assembly to tie use of state funds for a slavery heritage site in Richmond to a requirement that the city seek competitive bids for a baseball stadium and related development proposed by Mayor Dwight C. Jones in Shockoe Bottom.

 

Del. G. Manoli Loupassi, R-Richmond, asked House Appropriations Committee Chairman S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, on Tuesday to amend the pending state budget to enforce a state law requiring competitive procurement on local projects that receive state financial aid.

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A Richmond legislator is preparing legislation to equalize political representation on the Richmond Metropolitan Authority and rebrand the body as a regional transportation authority.

 

Del. G. Manoli Loupassi, R-Richmond, has circulated his proposal among other state legislators for the region, as well as elected and appointed officials in the three jurisdictions that are members of the RMA — Richmond and the counties of Chesterfield and Henrico.

 

Loupassi’s proposal would require approval by the governing body of each of the jurisdictions before the newly named Richmond Regional Transportation Authority could undertake any initiative, including the issuing or refinancing of bonds.

 

“The authority would have vast potential power, but only if all three elected bodies agree,” he said in an email message Thursday to local leaders and state legislators. “If any of the three does not want to do it, then it does not happen.”

 

In an interview Friday, Loupassi said: “This gives them the opportunity to work together, but it doesn’t make them do anything.”

 

The draft legislation represents Loupassi’s third attempt in as many years to give equal representation to all three jurisdictions on the RMA board of directors, which is dominated by Richmond representatives because of the city’s stake in toll expressways and other assets owned and operated by the authority.

 

Currently, Richmond has six members on the RMA board, while Chesterfield and Henrico each have two. The Commonwealth Transportation Board also appoints a representative to the board.

 

Loupassi, who represents portions of all three jurisdictions, proposes to give each jurisdiction three seats on the board, and one for the state transportation board. His proposal would allow each jurisdiction to appoint an elected official to the board as one of the three representatives.

 

An attempt to equalize representation while protecting city assets died in a Senate committee in February after Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, D-Richmond, objected. Some senators also said Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones withdrew his support for the legislation, but the mayor has denied it.

 

Loupassi said he met with Jones on Wednesday and subsequently revised the new proposal to ensure that the newly equalized board could not delay the ultimate reversion of the Downtown Expressway and a portion of the Powhite Parkway to Richmond unless the city agreed.

 

David M. Hicks, the mayor’s senior policy adviser, said Friday, “Obviously, the city welcomes any idea regarding transportation. I believe Delegate Loupassi’s concept is well-received.”

 

The draft legislation has been circulated among members of the Richmond City Council and the Henrico and Chesterfield boards of supervisors.

 

“I’ve just begun to have conversations with our board, but the initial reaction has been positive,” said Henrico County Manager John A. Vithoulkas, who liked the requirement for unanimity among the jurisdictions.

 

“It is very straightforward — either you’re all in or you’re out,” Vithoulkas said.

 

Chesterfield Board Chairwoman Dorothy Jaeckle said her board members support the proposal. “It really is a mechanism for the region to work together,” she said.

 

Richmond City Council President Charles R. Samuels called the proposal “an important first step we should discuss,” although he wants the council to have a stronger role in recommending candidates for the new authority’s board.

 

“In the city, we could only say yes or no to the mayor’s choice,” Samuels said.

 

The legislation also appears to have support from key members of the region’s General Assembly delegation, some of whom want a regional transportation authority in place to carry out major initiatives in the metropolitan area if funding ultimately is made available to pay for them.

 

“It’s way past time,” said Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico. “We can’t wait for the localities to be willing to do it. They seem to know only one word — no.”

 

The Richmond region is not eligible for revenue that the state levied for regional projects in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia as part of a $6 billion transportation funding bill that became law July 1, but some legislators want a regional authority in place to potentially take advantage of future state funding.

 

“We’re not there yet,” Loupassi said. “Right now, we’re just creating a framework, a framework for cooperation.”

 

Del. John M. O’Bannon III, R-Henrico, opposed including the region in the transportation funding bill, but he supports Loupassi’s attempt to recast the role of the RMA as a regional transportation authority.

 

“I don’t have any objection to teeing up the RMA as the entity to do it,” O’Bannon said. “I think getting the RMA straight would be a good first step.”

 

The failure of the legislation last winter deepened divisions among the localities, particularly between Richmond and Chesterfield, which has made equal representation on the RMA a political priority because its residents pay most of the tolls on the expressway system.

 

The RMA board has taken steps to carry out portions of the failed compromise, such as transferring control of four parking decks the authority has operated in Richmond to the city. The RMA and city also are working on a proposal to return the land under The Diamond — now owned by the authority and leased to the Richmond Flying Squirrels — to the city in anticipation of a new stadium.

 

But the RMA is not the only entity that could take the lead in regional transportation issues.

 

The Richmond Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is proposing changes in the way it operates in order to tackle major transportation policy decisions in nine jurisdictions in the regional planning district.

 

The MPO already is designated by the state and federal governments to plan transportation policies in the Richmond region, but it lacks the ability to issue bonds or operate transportation facilities, as the RMA can do.

 

The scope of the proposed new authority is limited to the three largest localities in the region, but legislators say others could join in the future.

 

“Quite frankly, I would like to see it bigger, but I’m a firm believer you get the basic plan and later you can build on it,” said Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan.

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RICHMOND – A Republican legislator and a former Democratic Party of Virginia official have called on Mayor Dwight C. Jones to involve the public in the decision about where to build a new minor league baseball stadium in Richmond.

 

“It serves no useful purpose for the people to be the last to know what their elected mayor truly has in mind,” Del. G. Manoli Loupassi, a Richmond Republican, and Paul Goldman, an ex-state Democratic chairman, wrote in a letter to Jones dated today. “The competing interests are fundamental, the consequences of the wrong choice profound.”

 

The Times-Dispatch reported this month that Jones is preparing to propose private development of a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom after he made a presentation in a private meeting with a small group of business leaders. Jones was accompanied at the closed-door session by Chief Administrative Officer Byron C. Marshall, the city’s financial consultant and an architectural firm that provided renderings of what the stadium would look like as part of a mixed-use development in the Bottom.

 

The presentation included financial comparisons by Davenport & Co. of a stadium as part of a larger economic development project in either the Bottom or on North Boulevard, next to The Diamond, where the Richmond Flying Squirrels currently play in the Class AA Eastern League.

 

The mayor has said little publicly about a news stadium beyond offering that he has not made a final decision about the Shockoe Bottom proposal.

 

“Asking citizens for their opinion only after the choice has been made de facto in private risks unnecessary division,” Loupassi and Goldman wrote in today’s letter. “We need unity. The public’s right to know and fully participate are long overdue.”

 

Opponents of a stadium in the Bottom have cited its potential to desecrate a place of great suffering by African slaves, while advocates have said the project could provide ways to better memorialize the history of the slave trade there.

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RICHMOND, Va. – Proposals to lighten up on child prostitutes and people who are forced into prostitution received a cool reception Tuesday from the Virginia State Crime Commission.

 

The commission took no formal action on the measures, which were held over from the 2013 General Assembly for possible consideration in the next session after further study.

 

Members lauded the intent of the proposals but expressed some practical concerns. For example, Del. Manoli Loupassi said a bill to decriminalize child prostitution would make it more difficult to arrest and prosecute the child’s pimp. Police often need the cooperation of prostitutes to bring charges against sex traffickers.

 

“You have to have a way to get the bad guy,” said Loupassi, R-Richmond.

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