- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2007

RICHMOND — Memo to lead foot: Ease off the gas pedal starting Sunday or risk paying new fees that the state will use to help pay for major road projects.

Scores of new state laws take effect next month, but few will affect everyday life as much as those that deal with the state”s roads, the way we drive on them and how we pay for them.

There are crackdowns on sexual offenders that ban them from school grounds and notify nursing homes and assisted-living facilities when one moves in nearby. Children 14 and younger will need parental consent to visit tanning salons. Politicians seeking national office can no longer use Virginia to raise unlimited campaign contributions.

Governments will have a much tougher time using eminent domain to confiscate private property for anything other than a public purpose, a response to a 2005 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the taking of a home in Connecticut and turning it over to private developers.

Removing electronic tracking collars from dogs can result in a year spent in jail, and concert promoters who promise famous bands but deliver nobodies can be fined $15,000.

There are a few tax cuts. Among them are sales-tax holidays for hurricane-preparedness items; real-estate tax breaks for the elderly and disabled; an income-tax deduction for organ donors; and changes in the minimum income-taxfiling threshold that remove 140,000 low-income Virginians from the tax rolls.

One new law that directs Virginia public colleges to devise policies to help students, faculty and staff identify and aid suicidal students would seem a response to the Virginia Tech massacre.

But the bill by Delegate Albert C. Eisenberg, Arlington Democrat, was signed into law 11 days before student Seung-hui Cho fatally shot 32 persons and then himself April 16.

New laws that affect Virginia motorists will be the most widely and frequently felt — largely in higher fees, fines and taxes.

Statewide, the transportation-funding law passed this year generates about $525 million annually and authorizes up to $3 billion in long-term borrowing. It also dedicates cash from existing taxes to roads, rails and transit.

The remainder comes from such additional fees as a $10 increase in vehicle registration and fees that target egregious or persistent bad Virginia driving.

Driving on a suspended or revoked license will result in three annual payments of $250 each, reckless driving will cost a motorist three yearly payments of $350 and driving under the influence will be $750 a year for three years.

The first annual payment goes to the court upon conviction, and the motor vehicles department collects the final two as prerequisites to vehicle registration renewals.

“Roads cost money, and there”s no road fairy,” said Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax County Republican, who devised making the worst drivers pay more for new roads.

Lesser violations, if committed often enough, also can trigger a fee. Drivers with eight points on their records face a $100 fee; each point more is an additional $75. Speeding up to 9 mph over the limit equals three points, exceeding the limit 10 mph or more is worth four, and all speeding points stay on a driver”s record for five years.

Additional fees, fines and taxes are expected to be created within the year for Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia to finance new road projects exclusively in those areas.

Other new laws will also affect everyday motoring in Virginia.

Drivers 17 and younger can be ticketed for talking on a cell phone while driving. Lawmakers for years rejected the bill but passed it this year after an increase in teen traffic crashes were attributed to distracted driving.

Smoking within 20 feet of a gasoline pump is now a misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $500. If the fumes ignite, the smoker faces a $2,500 fine, a year in jail or both.

The age for children required to ride in child-restraint devices increases from 5 to 8, except with a doctor”s note. Infants up to a year old must be secured in rear-facing child restraints and must be in a back seat unless the vehicle”s front passenger air bags are disabled.

Localities statewide will have the option of using “photo red” camera systems at intersections to catch red-light runners, though it will be months before any devices are operational. Several localities tested the system, but legislators rejected it for years until it passed in February.



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