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There Oughta Be a Law (or Maybe Not): 4 Offbeat Bills before the 2012 Virginia General Assembly

January 16, 2012

By Christine Stoddard
Capital News Service

Now that the Virginia General Assembly’s back in session, politicos and common citizens alike have bills galore to read and mull over — though some of that mulling may have more to do with serious confusion than serious introspection.

While many bills have arguably noble (or at least necessary) aims, others are simply odd. These offbeat bills warrant more than a little head scratching, either because their purposes are strangely vague or surprisingly creative.

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 a state 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.

Scratch your head over: 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 get Wallops Flight Facility from point A to point B is less decipherable, however.

Try following this logic: You die. You get cremated. You have your remains launched into space. Oh, wait, before you die (as long as you agreed to the aforementioned), you get a tax break. So let’s start all over: You get a tax break. You die. You get cremated. You have your remains launched into space. Sounds reasonable, right? Sure, trekkies must be over the moon on this one, but most of us would be happy with this process ending at the urn or headstone.

Inspired by Crank Yankers: HB 39 would increase the punishment “for causing a telephone or digital pager 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: 804-698-1085. (Is aiding and abetting a prank call a crime?)

Scratch your head over: 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?

Jokes aside, prank calls can be a problem – especially when they’re made to 911. Tata’s bill would clean up some of the language in that section of the bill as well. It says:

“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.”

A Class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by up to a $2,500 fine and a year in jail.

Out of the way! Playing through! HB 119 would allow the town of Urbanna to authorize the operation of golf carts on the highways in that Northern Neck community.

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 has teed up this bill: Delegate M. Keith Hodges, R-Urbanna.

Scratch your head over: 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 (but somehow, the commonwealth has survived; it’s a miracle). This bill would plug the hole with:

“‘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.

Scratch your head over: The title of the bill alone is good enough for a chuckle. 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.

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