Black legislators oppose I-95 tolls

Published 10:32 am Monday, January 14, 2013



RICHMOND – Opponents of tolls on Interstate 95 have a new ally: African American legislators.

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said it would fight proposals to levy tolls on the interstate – an idea Gov. Bob McDonnell has floated to finance repairs and construction costs. One suggestion has been to charge cars $4 and tractor-trailers $12.

“These tolls would kill small towns and business owners,” said Delegate Roslyn Tyler, D-Jarratt, who is sponsoring the bill that would prohibit state officials from imposing tolls on I-95 without the General Assembly’s approval.

Preventing tolls was among several priorities for the 2013 legislative session that the Black Caucus outlined at a news conference this week. The group is made up of 18 lawmakers and is headed by state Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton.

Another priority is passing a constitutional amendment to automatically restore the voting rights of nonviolent felons who have completed their prison sentences. That’s something McDonnell has called for, too.

Delegate Onzlee Ware, D-Roanoke, urged fellow lawmakers to adopt the proposal.

“I would leave the General Assembly tomorrow if we get that bill,” Ware told caucus members to a roar of laughter. “It’s not a black or white thing; it’s a people thing.”

As caucus leader, Locke said she has her sights set on overhauling Virginia’s 21-day rule in criminal cases. The rule states that no court can review any newly discovered evidence presented 21 days or more after the initial sentencing, and that only an appellate court can consider new evidence.

The rule received scrutiny recently because of the case of Jonathan Montgomery, who had been wrongfully convicted and served more than half of a seven-year sentence for a crime he did not commit.

Montgomery, who is from Florida, was convicted of sexual assault in Hampton in 2000 based on testimony from a woman who later admitted she lied. Last fall, McDonnell issued Montgomery a pardon, and he was released from prison.

Montgomery might have been released earlier, but Virginia’s 21-day rule prevented the circuit court from acting in the case. He had to wait until the Virginia Court of Appeals issued a writ of actual innocence.

“My modification would be if the person is found not guilty, it would go back to the circuit court that heard the case,” Locke said.