By Paul McFarlane/Editor/paul.mcfarlane@tidewaternews

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 1, 2008

WINDSOR—Four area members of the Virginia General Assembly said Friday that the just-concluded 2008 session was bleak because of a limited state budget.

The lawmakers, speaking at the Windsor Ruritan club, highlighted a series of relatively minor victories and spoke solemnly of bills that died in committee.

However, each agreed it was a partial victory that last year’s action to create the Hampton Roads Transportation Authority — and the much-maligned installation of abusive drivers’ fees — has been reversed.

The Richard J. Holland Post-Legislative Breakfast Forum was organized by the Isle of Wight-Smithfield-Windsor Chamber of Commerce and attended by about 60.

The Virginia Supreme Court ruled it is unconstitutional for the transportation authority to assess taxes and fees to raise money that would have funded transportation projects in the region.

On Thursday, Gov. Tim Kaine signed a bill &uot;to immediately repeal the abusive driver fees and provide refunds for citizens against whom the fees have been assessed,&uot; according to a press release issued by his office.

Del. William K. Barlow, D-Smithfield, had called the transportation bill &uot;an ugly child.&uot; On Friday, he backed off that comment slightly but said the bill &uot;had some pretty ugly&uot; items in it.

Sen. Fred Quayle, R-Suffolk, was blunt about the budget squeeze.

&uot;We’re in a period of recession,&uot; he said. &uot;You’re going to feel some (economic) pain in some localities.&uot;

Specifically, Quayle said, the state budget contains &uot;no funding at all for non-state agencies.&uot;

Sen. L Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, spoke of the complexities of the session and how &uot;there’s a lot of nonsense that goes on&uot; with bills and inside the halls of the Capitol. &uot;Some craziness goes on sometimes.&uot;

Del. Roslyn C. Tyler, D-Jarratt, spoke of issues facing the district’s residents, rather than specific bills debated during the session.

Tyler spoke of the proposed locations of the Navy’s Outlying Landing Field and the &uot;Route 460 project&uot; to improve conditions on that U.S. highway that connects Petersburg to Suffolk.

The OLF sites, Tyler said, are not supported by residents. She informed the audience she is taking a delegation to meet with U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, R-Va., to discuss the situation.

She said plans to use more than 30,000 acres for a site is &uot;a big shot in the pants of local governments&uot; in loss of property tax revenue.

She said, &uot;We know the Navy needs a landing field, and we respect that.&uot;

However, she said she favors a site at Fort Pickett in Blackstone &uot;that has been underused.&uot;

She categorized her upcoming meeting with Webb by saying, &uot;We can work with the governor, but we have to go higher.&uot;

She also said, &uot;If we can’t beat them, we’re going to give them a helluva fight.&uot;

Meanwhile, plans for the &uot;460 project,&uot; as she called it, need to include funding for interchanges to ensure economic growth in small towns situated along the highway.

She said when Interstate 95 was built to the west, businesses in smaller towns such as Jarratt and Stony Creek suffered or relocated, turning those towns into &uot;ghost towns.

&uot;The same thing could happen along the 460 corridor,&uot; she said.

Barlow spoke of the effort to limit or ban plastic shopping bags. He said this year’s bill was designed, at the least, to raise awareness of the concerns and to &uot;get it started&uot; in debates.

Quayle mentioned specifics regarding other bills that passed:

* Young drivers with a learner’s permit will be required to spend 45 hours of training time — at least 15 while driving at night — in order to apply for a driver’s license.

* One law extends the ability to &uot;freeze&uot; access to credit reports. &uot;Anybody can freeze access to credit reports,&uot; Quayle said. Previously, only the very old and very young had that ability.

* Mental health programs received $42 million of what Quayle called &uot;new money,&uot; a project spearheaded by Kaine in the wake of the deadly shootings at Virginia Tech.

* State ABC stores in smaller communities can open on Sundays. Previously, jurisdictions with 200,000 or more residents could open ABC stores on Sunday. That number was reduced to 100,000 residents.

Lucas also spoke of specific bills that passed, including limits placed on payday loans.

However, like other bills that get rewritten as a result of compromise among legislators, the pay loan restrictions &uot;were the best we could do,&uot; Lucas said.

Limits were placed on the amount a company could charge on the loan itself, on a fee imposed by such businesses and on interest charges, she said. In short, she said, a person borrowing $500 against a paycheck would have to pay back that $500 &uot;plus $280&uot; in charges and interest.

Describing the feeling of voting on bills that have been significantly altered, Lucas said, &uot;A lot of people held their noses and bit their tongues until blood ran down their throats&uot; when casting a vote.

Conversely, Tyler said she was proud of the work she put in to having the bridge on Delaware Road that crosses Route 58 west of Franklin named the Trooper Robert A. Hill Memorial Bridge. The late state trooper was killed in the line of duty near that location.

Tyler, who introduced the bill, said the discussions she had with other troopers about Hill were &uot;most touching.&uot;