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Briefs for the week of Monday, Feb. 3 This file contains the following briefs. You are welcome to pick and choose the items you want. Here's an index; I've tried to highlight local angles: ---------- House passes bill against college hazing [Attention NOVA] Sen. Mims gets OK for bills on DUIs and seat belts [Attention NOVA] Bill would protect tenants' privacy [Attention Bedford, NOVA] Bill would create rail development authority [Attention: Localities near I-81] Federal government will help pay for overtime in sniper case [Attention Hanover, Henrico, NOVA] 50,000 kids are now enrolled in state's health insurance plan [Attention NOVA] ---------- Capital News Service House passes bill defining college hazing [Attention NOVA] The House has passed a bill that university organizations across Virginia are closely watching. The bill defines hazing as recklessly or intentionally endangering the health or safety of a student for the purpose of initiation for membership in a club, organization, association, fraternity, sorority or student body. Hazing also means causing bodily injury, whether or not the injured student voluntarily participated in the activity. Delegate David B. Albo, R-Springfield, who sponsored bill, said that the commonwealth attorney in Charlottesville found there was no definition of hazing -- so laws against the practice were not enforceable. "What the bill does is that it establishes the definition of hazing," Albo said. Albo said that under current law, people involved in hazing -- no matter how minor -- must be expelled from school. His proposal would give school authorities other options. "You might have somebody that had a very small part that didn't do a whole lot" in hazing, Albo said. "Expelling him from school was too harsh of a punishment." The House last week unanimously passed Albo's bill, HB 1617, and sent it to the Senate. The Senate Courts of Justice is scheduled to consider the proposal this week [note: Feb. 5]. -- Sharon Ramos Sen. Mims gets OK for bills on DUIs and seat belts [Attention NOVA] State Senator Bill Mims, R-Loudoun, scored two victories last week in his efforts to make driving in Virginia safer. The Senate unanimously passed Mims' bill to increase penalties for driving under the influence. And the Senate Transportation Committee passed his bill to make the failure to wear a seat belt a primary offense. Mims' Senate Bill 1019 would: Establish a minimum $250 fine for a first-time DUI conviction. Increase the minimum fine for a second DUI conviction to $500. Establish a $1,000 minimum fine for a third DUI conviction. The bill also would prevent courts from suspending the mandatory fines. "With more than one-third of traffic fatalities due to alcohol, more is needed to persuade drivers that alcohol and driving do not mix," Mims said. "I hope that these increased fines will be effective deterrents, in concert with other penalties." This bill is part of Gov. Mark Warner's safe highways agenda. It has support from Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Washington Region Alcohol Program. Mims' SB 1325 would empower Virginia law enforcement officers to pull over drivers and ticket them for failure to wear a seat belt. Currently, motorists cannot be stopped just for a seat belt violation; they first must be pulled over for another offense. Maryland and North Carolina have such primary enforcement laws, and seat belt use there is much higher than in Virginia. "More than 100 traffic deaths and thousands of injuries would be avoided in Virginia each year if this bill becomes law," Mims said. Delegate Joe May, R-Loudoun, introduced identical legislation in the House. -- Karen Lewis Bill would protect tenants' privacy [Attention Bedford, NOVA] Delegate Kathy J. Byron, R-Lynchburg, has won House approval for her bill to amend state law relating to peeping. House Bill 1594 makes it unlawful for landlords to secretly peep into or through a window, door or other enclosure where their tenants live. Currently, it's unlawful for landlords to physically enter the tenants' living area. "Under current law, if you have a landlord who's on his property and he's peeping into an apartment that he's renting to somebody, it's not illegal," said Delegate David B. Albo, R-Springfield. Byron included a substitute to the bill saying the landlord or property owner would be responsible if he or she violated the privacy of the occupant or tenant. The House unanimously passed the bill last week. It is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee this week [note: Feb. 5]. Bill would create rail development authority [Attention: Localities near I-81] [Note: This is a BRIEF version of a longer story sent on Saturday. Be sure not to use both.] A rail transportation development authority may be the next thing coming down the tracks, as legislators look for affordable solutions to Virginia's transportation crisis. Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, has proposed a bill to create a five-member Rail Transportation Development Authority. It would finance rail system improvements by selling bonds; the bonds would be repaid from surcharges on freight transportation. Interstate truck traffic would be one of the target customers for upgraded rail lines parallel to the I-81 corridor. Long-distance haulers running "container" trucks would save time and money by using the rail lines instead of the highway, even after paying the surcharge. "We'll still need to widen 81 in the long run," Edwards said. But that could take 20 years and would be expensive, he estimated. "The rail could be upgraded in three to four years. In less than five years, a substantial amount of truck traffic could be diverted off I-81." Former state Sen. Wiley Mitchell, a Norfolk lawyer, testified in favor of the bill. "If you are faced with a lack of capacity problem on your highways, you can create additional capacity on the rail system at one third of the cost, in one third of the time and with far less environmental impact." The Senate Transportation Committee approved Edwards' bill, 13-1, last week. The measure now moves to its next stop: the Senate floor. -- Shirley Adams Federal government will help pay for overtime in sniper case [Attention Hanover, Henrico, NOVA] The federal government will reimburse Virginia for nearly 58 percent of the $2.1 million that state and local law enforcement spent in overtime costs during last fall's sniper investigation, Gov. Mark R. Warner said. "I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to Virginia's senior U.S. senator, John Warner, and all the members of the Virginia congressional delegation for working so hard to persuade the Department of Justice to help Virginia bear the cost of the sniper investigation," Warner said. "For three weeks, Virginia officers worked around the clock to protect the Commonwealth and put together evidence vital to this case." State and local law enforcement agencies in Virginia incurred more than $2.1 million in overtime costs during the investigation of the sniper attacks that killed 10 people and wounded three others during a three-week period last October. Under the grants announced last week, Virginia would receive more than $1.2 million in reimbursement from the U.S. Department of Justice. The following localities are eligible for reimbursement from the federal government: Virginia State Police, $25,912 of $44,946 in overtime. Fairfax County Police Department, $348,806 of $605,032. Fairfax County Sheriff's Department, $17,085 of $29,635. Fairfax City, $16,697 of $28,961. City of Falls Church, $5,839 of $10,127. City of Alexandria, $101,372 of $175,837. Arlington County, $124,361 of $215,714. Loudoun County, $18,339 of $31,809. Town of Herndon, $5,856 of $10,157. Town of Vienna, $1,564 of $2,712. Prince William County Police Department, $227,116 of $393,951. Prince William County Sheriff's Department, $9,560 of $16,582. City of Manassas, $13,301 of $23,071. Stafford County, $53,496 of $92,794. Fauquier County, $10,472 of $18,164. Hanover County, $40,019 of $69,416. City of Richmond, $98,203 of $170,341. Henrico County, $16,726 of $29,012. Chesterfield County, $16,799 of $29,138. Town of Ashland, $2,760 of $4,788. Spotsylvania County, $64,117 of $111,216. Virginia's share of approved overtime costs is part of $4.3 million that the federal government has agreed to pay to the jurisdictions affected by the sniper attacks last fall. Maryland will receive $985,210 of its $1.7 million overtime expenses, while the District of Columbia will receive $293,507 of its $509,112 overtime costs. 50,000 kids are now enrolled in state's health insurance plan [Attention NOVA] Enrollment in the Family Access to Medical Insurance Security (FAMIS) plan, which provides health care coverage to uninsured children, topped 50,000 children last week, Gov. Mark Warner said. The program provides comprehensive medical benefits, including doctor visits, hospital care, drugs, dental care and eye care. "This milestone is great news for Virginia's children and for families," Warner said. "We have made FAMIS and Medicaid -- Virginia's health insurance programs for children -- more family-friendly by removing red tape and administrative barriers. Since Labor Day alone, we have provided health care to an additional 18,000 children." Warner said he is particularly pleased that the program has made inroads into the Latino community in Northern Virginia. "More than half of the Latino children on FAMIS and Medicaid reside here in Northern Virginia," he said. Since taking office, Warner has asked that the FAMIS program be streamlined so more children can receive the health care they need. The improvements include creating a simpler application, allowing the Department of Social Services to process applications at the local level, providing one-on-one assistance and keeping the children in one family in one program.
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