Arlington County Board members on Dec. 12 opted to back off proposed verbiage in their 2021 legislative-priorities package that apparently left a bad taste in the mouths of local law enforcement.
Board members voted to change wording of a proposal that asks the General Assembly to grant Arlington power to expand the use of speed cameras across the community.
In the original draft of the proposal, the one-paragraph policy statement said that giving localities more authority in automated traffic enforcement “has the potential to improve safety, reduce unnecessary interactions between residents and police and further advance equitable outcomes by reducing or eliminating raced-based disparities in speed enforcement.”
It was that last part that apparently raised hackles, particularly since there has been no evidence presented that Arlington police make traffic-ticket decisions on the basis of race.
“The language made it seem we thought there were definitely problems on traffic enforcement – I don’t believe there are,” said County Board Chairman Libby Garvey. “I don’t want the language to make it sound like we were concerned about that.”
Garvey, perhaps tacitly acknowledging that local police agencies across the region are feeling increasingly irritable toward elected officials running area jurisdictions, asked that the language be changed to “reducing or eliminating the possibility of raced-based disparities in speed enforcement.”
Board members OK’d the revision on a 5-0 vote, while also supporting the broader concept of using electronic devices to cut down on the need for police to issue citations themselves.
“We want to reduce the amount of times that potential conflicts can turn into something that is unintended,” said County Board member Christian Dorsey.
In a measure recently enacted by the legislature but not yet implemented by Arlington officials, localities have the power to install “automatic traffic enforcement” (for speeding 10 mph above the posted limit in school zones and work zones). Arlington’s request of the legislature is to broaden that authority community-wide.
The broader measure was proposed by the Transportation Commission, which suggested not only speed enforcement, but also enforcement of stop-sign running, be done by electronic means.
(Virginia localities already have the power to set up cameras to catch red-light runners, but are limited by state law to using them at just a few intersections.)
Board members approved the legislative wish list at their Dec. 12 meeting. The package will be forwarded to the seven members of the county’s General Assembly delegation.
The General Assembly is set to open its 2021 session in early January for what ordinarily would be a 46-day session. But Republican leaders have vowed to use procedural means to limit the session to 30 days, saying the lengthy special session earlier this year provided ample opportunity for pressing legislation to be addressed, negating the need for a longer winter session.
If Republicans can force the Democratic majority to stick to the 30-day timetable, it may make it difficult to process the thousands of bills patroned by legislators each year, which would further the likelihood that ancillary pieces of legislation would be left behind.
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