- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Lawmakers return to Annapolis and Richmond tomorrow to begin the 2008 sessions of the Maryland and Virginia General Assemblies. In Richmond, there is growing momentum for the repeal of so-called abusive driver fees passed last year by the majority-Republican legislature and signed into law by Gov. Tim Kaine. We agree with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling’s call for repealing these predatory fees, and would like to see Mr. Kaine work closely with General Assembly leaders to come up with an alternative non-tax-raising way to increase revenues to pay for needed transportation improvements — a priority for many of the Northern Virginia voters who voted to elect Mr. Kaine in 2005 and Jim Webb to the U.S. Senate in 2006. These voters also voted in November to return the Democrats to the majority in the state Senate. We’d also like to see Mr. Kaine and the General Assembly working together to enact some of the Virginia Crime Commission’s proposals for dealing with illegal immigration — yet another priority of Northern Virginians.

But, where was the governor on Monday — less than 48 hours before the General Assembly session began? He wasn’t in Richmond dealing with the serious issues facing the commonwealth. Instead, Mr. Kaine was at the Hot Tuna Bar & Grill Restaurant in Virginia Beach. The “pressing” issue? A statewide smoking ban.

Mr. Kaine, who last year tried to pass a statewide smoking ban, frames the issue around second-hand smoke. Of course, smoking is a terrible habit, but there’s a more important principle at stake here: private property rights. Restaurants and bars are privately owned businesses, and the question of whether to allow smoking in these establishments should be determined by the owners, not by government fiat.

Mr. Kaine and lawmakers have much to contend with this session, especially as voting blocs in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads make clear that one of their top priorities is transportation gridlock and the need to expand mass transit. Decisions on a smoking ban should be made by the marketplace, which, interesting enough, also has some solutions for Virginia’s traffic woes. Yet Mr. Kaine and his fellow politicians aren’t attending to such serious issues, which are their responsibility.

In Maryland, most of the tax-and-spending matters were dealt with during the November special session, but lawmakers still face a series of hot-button issues, including Gov. Martin O’Malley’s push to repeal the death penalty and legislation dealing with homosexual “marriage” and illegal aliens — including legislation that would provide in-state tuition to illegals. Republican lawmakers will push multiple bills barring illegals from obtaining driver’s licenses. One of these bills would implement federal REAL ID legislation; if the state fails to do so by mid-year, Marylanders would no longer be able to use their licenses to board airplanes or enter federal buildings. Mr. O’Malley’s legislative agenda is likely to include a push for tougher emissions standards and re-regulation of utility rates — moves that could drive business out of Maryland.

Both Virginia’s Mr. Kaine and Maryland’s Mr. O’Malley need to understand that private businesses and the marketplace can be essential partners when solving state woes.

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