- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2001

RICHMOND Virginia's General Assembly, accustomed to turning down requests from Northern Virginia localities for new powers, may go further this year, taking away powers that localities already claim to have.

Alexandria is taking the brunt of it, with legislators wanting to invalidate the city "living wage" provision and the city's administrative ban on weapons in city buildings.

Delegate James K. "Jay" O'Brien Jr., Fairfax Republican, is one of three lawmakers targeting the living-wage ordinance, passed in June, which requires city contractors to pay workers wages that come to almost twice the federal minimum wage.

But even as the city council was passing it, critics said they didn't have the authority under Virginia law to do it, and Mr. O'Brien wants to underscore that point.

"The bill is an effort to remind Alexandria and, by extension, all local governments, they should come to the General Assembly for permission," he said. His bill would require that a locality come to the assembly first for permission before enacting such an ordinance, and it would invalidate any ordinance already passed namely Alexandria's.

Virginia and about half the states are Dillon Rule states, as opposed to home rule states. The Dillon Rule named for Judge John F. Dillon, who devised the concept in 1868 means that localities can exercise only powers that have been explicitly granted by the state.

Given that authority, legislators have made putting the brakes on Northern Virginia a yearly duty.

It doesn't help Alexandria and Arlington that they are dominated by Democrats while the rest of the state turns increasingly Republican and the General Assembly is now controlled by Republicans.

Still, Bernard Caton, Alexandria's lobbyist in Richmond, said city officials should be given latitude.

"We believe that these are issues that localities can best deal with. We know what the problems are, we've dealt with them," he said. Also, he said, the city ordinances are narrowly crafted to get at the specific problems city officials want to address.

Delegate Brian J. Moran, Alexandria Democrat, also defended the city's attempts. "It's about local government exercising their perceived authority to represent their constituents," he said.

Both Mr. Caton and Mr. Moran said the region faces problems other regions don't face. Mr. Caton said one critical difference is the high cost of living in Northern Virginia someone making minimum wage and living in Alexandria spends a huge portion of his paycheck on housing alone.

But others say the problems are simply urban versus rural.

"You always hear about these bills from Northern Virginia and what they try to project is Northern Virginia's needs are so unique," Sen. Martin E. Williams, Newport News Republican, said in a floor debate Friday. He said urban jurisdictions in his area manage without demanding extra tools.

He was responding in particular to a bill sponsored by Sen. Leslie L. Byrne, Fairfax Democrat, to allow Fairfax County to outlaw using kitchens, living rooms and other non-bedrooms for sleeping quarters. The Senate first passed then reconsidered and delayed the bill.

Probably the biggest issue of difference this year will be Northern Virginia lawmakers' quest to put a 1 percent sales tax to referendum, with the proceeds going to school and transportation projects.

But the most common contentions rise from local governments in the region trying to push the envelope on social issues.

Three years ago, the assembly rejected Arlington's move to extend benefits to unmarried homosexual and heterosexual domestic partners of county employees. Arlington's County Board enacted the policy anyway, but the courts ruled Arlington violated the Dillon Rule.

And then there's the issue of guns. Ever since the state eased the ability of residents to obtain permits to carry concealed weapons a move aimed in part at the reluctance of Northern Virginia judges, who were refusing to issue permits Fairfax County has sought to outlaw concealed weapons from county government buildings and recreation centers.

The county is trying yet again this year, but year after year the bills fail to pass or be signed into law.

Alexandria took a different route. Where Fairfax tried to outlaw weapons, Alexandria simply made an administrative rule that weapons weren't tolerated. Anyone found with one would be asked to leave.

Now a bill by Delegate Roger J. McClure, Fairfax Republican, would make the law apply equally to ordinances and administrative decisions, invalidating Alexandria's policy.

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