The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors top legislative requests — to expand the use of photo-speed monitoring devices, require minimum building standards for farm buildings used by the public and issue civil penalties in lieu of criminal penalties for violations of local ordinances — will likely be carried by area elected officials in the upcoming General Assembly session.
The board met with legislators virtually Monday to present its legislative priorities.
Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle and Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville said they would support legislation around specific parts or all of the county’s priorities.
Del. Chris Runion, R-Rockingham also attended and spoke at the virtual meeting. Staff members for Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania; Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath; and Del. Matt Fariss, R-Campbell spoke on behalf of their legislators.
Hudson said Monday was one of the first milestones in the bill drafting process — the deadline for requesting bill drafts from the Division of Legislative Services that count as pre-filed.
“Basically, we are instructed to get requests to DLS at this time, so they have a sense of the range of topics they’ve been asked to cover and that those are the drafts they will turn back to us by the end of December,” she said.
She said the system is set up this way so that each delegate can typically only carry around two bills that don’t meet this deadline, as to not inundate the legislative drafters with requests right before the session starts.
“But I think of this as sort of a checkpoint where there’s a relatively low bar for keeping a bill moving, and then we can use the coming weeks to continue talking about what it should look like,” Hudson said.
She said she had pre-filed text for the request to expand the authority around photo speed monitoring devices and would also submit text around the request for minimum building standards for farm buildings if someone from the county sent it to her.
Albemarle wants legislation that would allow localities the option to adopt an ordinance to enforce its ordinances by a schedule of civil penalties instead of criminal punishment, with the intention of decriminalizing some violations.
“My initiative behind proposing this was to try to move more toward civil penalties as a mechanism of changing behavior while still leaving available the option of criminal charges for those individuals who are so recalcitrant that they will not otherwise change their behavior,” Supervisor Donna Price said.
Hudson said she would be happy to initiate a draft request for it and then discuss it more with the county next month, and Bell said he would for violations that were not related to zoning.
When it came to the priority to expand the authority to use photo speed monitoring devices, which can currently be used in school crossing zones and highway work zones, legislators said they wanted to meet with county police for more information.
“I’m reading what is drafted; it is not exactly what is being described by some of the speakers as what they’re looking for, so I think it would be helpful probably to go to the source and talk to APD,” Bell said.
On segments of certain state secondary roads and rural roads where speeding has been identified as a problem, supervisors want to be able to use photo speed monitoring devices.
According to data published by the Virginia Highway Safety Office, the percentage of crashes in Albemarle related to speed have increased over the last five years from about 13.9% in 2016 to about 17.5% in 2020.
County Attorney Greg Kamptner said the enabling authority would be implemented by an ordinance, would apply to roads with speed limits 35 miles per hour or greater and would apply only to segments of these roads where signage was posted. Roads would be selected by the governing body based on speeding, crash and fatality data.
“One of the original concerns that brought this initiative to the forefront was the safety concerns of the county’s many very narrow roads where it would be unsafe for both the driver and the law enforcement officers to pull over a speeding vehicle,” Kamptner said.
For the priority of requiring minimum building standards for farm buildings used by the public, Kamptner said that was due to public safety.
“Historically farm buildings and structures were not regularly hosting hundreds of people as they are now at farm wineries, breweries, limited distilleries and other agricultural operations,” he said. “To protect public safety in the event of a fire or other emergency, the farm buildings and structures that are open to the public should be subject to minimum safety standards.”
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said the requirements are to get people safely out in emergencies, not to protect the structure.
“I think it’s fair to say that we all have concerns about … how these activities move forward and no one wants to have an incident or there’s a tragedy, there’s no doubt about that,” Runion said. “For me, I think I need to think through this a little bit more.”