City council adopts 2017 legislative agenda

City council adopts 2017 legislative agenda

By Chris Teale (File photo)

Councilors approved the city’s legislative agenda for the 2017 Virginia General Assembly session Tuesday, but state legislators expressed reticence on the request to move the “Appomattox” statue.

Council voted unanimously in September to move the statue from the intersection of Prince and South Washington streets to the grounds of The Lyceum, a city museum at the intersection’s corner.

Any move requires approval from the Virginia General Assembly as it is classified as a war memorial, and Alexandria’s representatives in Richmond showed some reluctance to take up legislation requesting the move.

The city is represented by Delegates Mark Levine (D-45) and Charniele Herring (D-46), along with state Sens. Adam Ebbin (D-30), George Barker (D-39) and Dick Saslaw (D- 35). The general assembly’s 2017 legislative session begins January 11 in Richmond, and will sit until February 25.

At a work session to discuss the package, the representatives said requesting the move could create problems for them politically and legally.

The statue has stood since 1889, and is owned by the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The proposed change would move it about 20 feet away, to the southwest corner of the same intersection.

Virginia Code prohibits the removal of memorials or monuments related to any war involving the United States, including the Civil War, which the statue commemorates. It depicts a lone Confederate soldier looking south, and is a memorial to the city’s Confederate war dead.

Ebbin suggested that introducing legislation on the matter could diminish the individual effectiveness of the city’s representatives in Richmond to achieve other policy aims, something City Councilor Tim Lovain raised concerns about as well. Herring added that in her opinion, there is no legal basis in the code for the statue to be moved.

In response, City Councilor Paul Smedberg questioned whether legislation should be introduced at all, and whether it needs to be included. City Councilor Willie Bailey said discussions around “Appomattox” should be reframed to focus on public safety.

“We just throw the politics out the door and talk about the safety aspect,” he said. “[It] just seems like common sense to move it…You can’t walk out there with a child.”

Ebbin said presenting the request as a public safety matter would not be effective either, given the current mood in Richmond not to move any Civil War memorials. The initiative will remain in the city’s package, but it remains to be seen if legislation will be introduced in Richmond.

Elsewhere in the legislative package for 2017, representatives will be asked to oppose legislation requiring the city to alter its plan to address its four combined sewer outfalls, and support future efforts to ask for state funding to help with the enormous capital projects to address those outfalls.

Ebbin noted the introduction of legislation by state Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36), whose district lies just south of Alexandria, directing the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to identify the owner of any combined sewer outfall that discharges into the Potomac River and determine actions necessary to bring them into compliance with state and federal laws.

Also on the agenda is a proposal to introduce legislation preventing private water companies from making rate increases without specific authorization from the State Corporation Commission. To raise rates, water companies and other utility agencies must request SCC approval, and must return for approval for each rate hike.

But City Manager Mark Jinks said that earlier that day, a hearing examiner said the Virginia American Water Company should be allowed to raise rates without SCC approval, and that the SCC will make the final decision on whether that will be allowed.

“It seems pretty extraordinary that an agency would want to give away their power,” said City Councilor Tim Lovain. “Appeal to their pride.”

All legislators agreed to sign a letter expressing their opposition to the SCC allowing rate hikes, along with the city’s legislative director Bernie Caton. Ebbin said he would tentatively draft a bill.

The city also will ask Richmond to allocate sufficient funds to give a raise to state employees based in Northern Virginia. Currently, Alexandria supplements the salaries of state-supported staff based in the city, like members of the Virginia State Police and of state organizations because of the in- creased cost of living compared to other regions in the state.

Barker said an adjustment to state salaries for Northern Virginia is a long-term goal for a “multi-year commission” in Richmond that is studying various issues around employee compensation and other fiscal issues. Barker added that Virginia State Police salaries are already inadequate statewide and even more so in Northern Virginia, a place which officers often look to transfer out of.

“I’m happy to hear they’re looking at it, but the locality adjustment is the biggest piece,” said Vice Mayor Justin Wilson.

The city is also supporting a slew of other initiatives, including its annual push to expand Medicaid, a measure allowing the use of any photo identification validly issued to vote even if it has expired, the restoration of voting rights for felons and an increase in the state minimum wage, among others.

Later this month, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) is slated to submit his proposed amendments to the commonwealth’s fiscal 2017 to 2018 biennial budget, ahead of the new session.