There Oughta Be a Law! (Or Maybe Not)

Four offbeat bills before the 2012 Virginia General Assembly

Christine Stoddard

Virginia State Capitol

The Virginia State Capitol building

Now that the Virginia General Assembly is back in session, politicos and common citizens alike have bills galore to read and mull over. While many bills have arguably noble (or at least necessary) aims, others are simply odd—and those are the ones most worth readimg. Here are four quirky bills to track this session, if only to have funny fodder for cocktail conversation.

An out-of-this-world idea: HB 19 would provide “individual income tax deduction for certain purchases from space flight entities.”

Intent: Anyone who enters a prepaid contract with a “commercial space flight entity” (any private outer space technology company) to have his cremated remains launched in “earth or lunar orbit” (outer space) would get up to $8,000 in tax deductions. Deductions may not surpass $2,500 in a given tax year between 2013 and 2021.

The rocket man–er, the bill’s sponsor: Delegate Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City

The real thrust behind this bill is the desire to make the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority on the Eastern Shore a more prominent U.S. spaceport. How backers of the bill believe shooting ashes into space will getting Wallops Flight Facility from point A to point B is less decipherable, however.

Inspired by “Crank Yankers”: HB 39 would impose stiffer penalties for “causing telephone to ring with intent to annoy.”

Intent: Under current state law, making prank phone calls is a Class 3 misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $500. This bill would raise the offense to a Class 2 misdemeanor, which can draw a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

Sponsor: Delegate Robert Tata, R-Virginia Beach. Here’s his phone number: 804-698-xxxx. (We don’t want to aid and abet any prank calls.)

While it’s true that some ringtones are just plain obnoxious, how can you prove that someone’s trying to annoy you? What if he’s just annoying by nature? What if he actually likes that horrible, horrible song. Yet prank calls can be a serious problem, especially when they’re made to 911:

“Any person who, with or without intent to converse, but with intent to annoy, harass, hinder or delay emergency personnel in the performance of their duties as such, causes a telephone to ring, which is owned or leased for the purpose of receiving emergency calls by a public or private entity providing fire, police or emergency medical service, and any person who knowingly permits the use of a telephone under his control for such a purpose is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor…” punishable by up to a $2,500 fine and a year in jail.

Out of the way! Playing through! HB 119 would “authorize the operation of golf carts” on the highways of the Town of Urbanna.

Intent: Under current law, only localities that have police departments can let golf carts use the public roadways. A few towns without police forces are exempt from that provision. This bill would add Urbanna to the list of small towns that can let golf carts putter down the highway.

The sponsor who’s teed up this bill: Delegate M. Keith Hodges, R-Urbanna

Even in a town with a population of fewer than 500, this does not seem like a wise idea—especially during the annual Oyster Festival, where as many as 75,000 tourists flock to attend a famous oyster shucking contest and other oyster-themed activities.

Another unalienable right, surfer dude: HB 1119 would allow Virginians “to engage in the recreational activity of wake surfing.”

Intent: Existing state law does not define wake surfing. Though the Commonwealth has somehow survived this oversight, HB 1119 would plug the hole with a legal definition and protection:

“‘Wake surfing’ means a competitive or recreational water sport in which a person on a wakeboard, surfboard, or similar style board rides in or on the wake of a motorboat. The motorboat shall not have as a means of propulsion an outboard motor, inboard/outboard motor, or water jet.”

The legislation goes on to say that nothing in the law “shall prohibit a motorboat from towing a person with a rope less than 50 feet in length or from engaging in wake surfing.”

Sponsor and Big Kahuna: Delegate Thomas Wright, R-Victoria.

The bill’s intent is fairly straightforward: You may participate in the water sport of wake surfing without legal penalty. Well, that’s a relief for Virginia Beach and Smith Mountain Lake! Next someone will introduce a bill that says we’re allowed to snorkle and build sand castles, too.

Follow the above four bills, and many more, online via Virginia’s Legislative Information System.

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