Transportation Issues


RICHMOND – Imagine the Northern Virginia road network as a system of extensions off a major highway, much like the human body's collection of arteries and capillaries stemming from larger highways of blood coming from the heart. Now imagine how devastating and far-reaching an effect a blood clot in one of the major arteries has on the smaller roads throughout the body.

Such is the daily dilemma of Northern Virginia residents, who are consistently faced with one or two options their commutes, all of which lead to nothing more than gridlock and frustration.

And it may just seem like an unaesthetic trend throughout Fairfax and Prince William Counties, but the rising grass levels in medians is likely the sign of a much larger, more pressing issue. Road maintenance and land development have been neglected for the last few years, and, as the Virginia General Assembly begins its 2007 session, it is apparent that transportation issues will be near the top of the agenda.

Sen. Toddy Puller (D – Mt. Vernon) and Del. David Bulova (D – Fairfax) both agree that it is imperative to address the strains on the transportation budget during this winter's session. Both see the wide range of detriments of a department whose trust fund has not been updated in more than two decades. According to Bulova, if the Virginia Department of Transportation continues to operate at its current budget without further supplements to its trust fund, it will run out of money by 2010.

In Puller's eyes, this legislative session is crucial in getting new funding for Northern Virginia's roads and public transit because it is an election year. After helping to pass a hefty transportation package in 2004 that was eventually defeated in the House of Delegates, Puller believes that delegates will finally be put on the spot to fix these pressing issues, or face a defeat at the polls.

"Many delegates have sworn to never, ever raise taxes, no matter how dire the circumstances," Puller said.

The last time taxes were raised, in 2004, when sales taxes were increased half a cent, "many people did not pay any more on taxes, and most people didn't even notice it," she said.
Puller, who is in her second term in the Senate after serving in the House from 1992-2000, believes that "most senators feel like if we pass something over there (to the House of Delegates), it will die." This is mainly because of the statewide funding, as opposed to local fundraising, that she believes is necessary to properly rehabilitate the transport system.

Along with senatorial pressure, Puller said many Fairfax- and Arlington-based companies are pressuring those who remain opposed to tax increases for road maintenance.

"If those companies can't get their employees to work," she said, "then they are going to leave."

Bulova, though, sees the transportation issues affecting more than just the Northern Virginia economy. He is concerned with the environmental impact of more cars sitting in traffic longer, and the impact of longer commutes on the quality of his constituent's lives.

"We need to have the ability to step up to the plate," Bulova said. "There is trepidation statewide to let us raise and keep money locally [for transportation issues]."

While he recognizes that road maintenance and construction is a problem across the state, Bulova contends that the statewide plans "don't fit Northern Virginia's needs." For example, Fairfax needs to build roads, complete the construction of unfinished roads, and completely revamp its public transport system, while Arlington is more concerned with accommodating mass transit and road maintenance.

Bulova commended the Northern Virginia Transit Authority's TransAction 2030 plan, which it approved last September.

"It was a great example of everyone sitting at a table and hashing out a good regional plan," he said.

The plan calls for "more than $16 billion in unmet transportation needs," according to an NVTA press release.

Bulova also supports a constitutional amendment recently introduced by Del. David Albo (R – Springfield) that would appropriate funds to necessary transportation projects and prohibits borrowing transportation funds for other purposes. This bill has been referred to the House Committee on Privileges and Elections.

But for all of the necessary repairs and maintenance on existing roads, there is still the blood clot analogy that paralyzes Northern Virginia towns. Bulova stressed that planning and development is directly tied to transportation funding, and that "the money will all go to waste if we don't fix land use planning." He aims to empower localities to refuse rezoning from state or county legislatures if it can prove that it will disrupt transportation.

There are a number of potential solutions to the Northern Virginia transportation crisis. But for Puller and Bulova, it all begins with convincing a majority of delegates who hold the keys to the necessary funds of the region's dire circumstances.

Newcomer to Assembly


RICHMOND – This year's General Assembly has welcomed many new members to the House and Senate, but one newcomer is already a regular with the Virginia legislative session.

Ryan McDougle, 34, a lawyer from Mechanicsville, is serving his first General Assembly session as a senator this year after switching from the House of Delegates.

McDougle, a Republican, served as a delegate from 2002 to 2005. He defeated Democrat Roger Cavendish Jan. 3 in a special race for the seat left vacant by the election of Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. Even though he has three years of experience in the legislature, serving in the Senate is different, McDougle said.

"If you walk down the hallway," McDougle said, "House Courts is still meeting, and they're probably going to still be meeting for another three, four hours. We debate issues [in the Senate], but it's more deliberative in the House."

Five of McDougle's seven House jurisdictions are included in his senate district, which comprises Caroline, Essex, Hanover, King William, King and Queen and Middlesex Counties, and part of Spotsylvania County. As a delegate, he didn't represent parts of his native Hanover County.

"There were people that I grew up with, lived across the street from, worked with, who were not in my House district, and so it was the opportunity to represent them," McDougle said. "My grandmother, my best friend in high school, all of them, literally a stone's throw from the lines of my district but not in the district. So being able to do that was a tremendous opportunity."

Being one of 40 members of the Senate, rather than one of 100 in the House, allows each senator to have a substantial impact, McDougle said.

"One of the things I've noticed is because you're one of a smaller number, more people try to get individual time with you to go over their bills and issues," he said. "The number of requests for individual meetings is substantially greater than anything we experienced last year."

Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, made the same move from the House to the Senate in 2001. Before leaving, Deeds spent 10 years in the House as the Chairman of the Democratic Caucus.

Deeds agrees with McDougle that the Senate decides on matters more quickly.

"The House is more partisan and more likely to debate longer on issues," he said in a phone interview.

Deeds said it took some time to adjust to the Senate after his tenure in the House.
"It's a different culture," he said. "Ryan is fortunate because he hasn't spent but a few years in the House, so he can make a better transition."

Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis(cq), R-Fairfax, was the most recent delegate to move to the Senate. She was elected in 2004 after serving in the House since 1998.

"It's been two years," Davis said in a phone interview. "I think I'm pretty broken-in now. But it took me at least a year to make the transition. I left a lot of friends in the House."

Davis said she missed the relationships she built with her fellow delegates.

"The collegiality is very different," she said. "In the House, several members will go out to dinner together after a long day of meeting. But since the Senate gets done quicker, people tend to go their separate ways."

Davis (cq), who sits next to McDougle on the floor, noticed his smooth adjustment.
"Ryan is adapting really well," she said. "He's smart and has picked up very quickly the rhythm of the Senate. He works well with the leadership without compromising his philosophies."

McDougle said he looked forward to spending more time working on long-range projects since the Senate terms are longer.

"There are some things, criminal justice issues, that aren't always so quick to address that I'd like to work on, " he said.

A strong advocate for the punishment and rehabilitation of criminals that commit crimes under the influence of drugs, McDougle said he wanted "to provide the tools and skills needed in order to not repeat those crimes."

"It's not a €˜or,' it's a €˜and;' punishment and improvement to make sure they're not coming back into the system," he said.

Deeds and Davis both said there was a greater responsibility in the Senate, but both have faith in the new senator.

"[McDougle] is going to do really well," Davis said.

Deeds agreed, saying "Ryan will be fine."



RICHMOND – Some of us may not know our neighbors as well as we would like, so we may make an effort to stop and have a quick conversation when we pass another dog walker or wave as a familiar face drives by while we're outside in the yard.

What about looking our neighbors up on the Internet, though?

Violent sex offenders are required to register on an online database operated by the Virginia State Police. Internet users can search the Web site for a list of those registered in their area, along with the offenders' addresses, photos and information about their convictions.

A recent search found that Franklin County is home to 35 registered sex offenders. A bill that is now in the House would prohibit those individuals from living within 1,000 feet of any primary, secondary or high school.

"Children should be able to enjoy their youth without having to worry about being violated," said Sen. Charles R. Hawkins, R-Chatham.

Franklin County Sheriff Quint Overton said his department has not had problems with sex offenders or complaints from residents regarding sex offenders in several years.

"We monitor these people pretty closely and keep an eye on what is going on though," he said.

Another proposed bill that is awaiting approval in the Senate Finance Committee would require all those who commit sex offenses after July 1, 2006 to register on the Web site; currently only violent sex offenders are required to register.

The bill includes other measures that make the punishments for some sex crimes more stringent. It is accompanied by multiple other bills in both the Senate and the House that are aiming to revamp legislation regarding sex crimes. For example, a bill that is currently under consideration in the House would allow anyone to request electronic notification from the State Police each time a new sex offender registers or reregisters.

The main Senate bill would require a mandatory minimum prison term of 25 years for certain sexual offenses against a child under 13 years old. Following imprisonment, those offenders would be required to undergo at least a three year probationary period that includes electronic GPS (Global Positioning System) monitoring.

Some proposed legislation would change the presumption of ineligibility for bail to the first time an individual is charged with certain grave sexual offenses, rather than the second charge, as the law stands right now.

Hawkins said that legislators want to send a message that says, "If you violate our laws and violate our citizens, you will pay with incarceration."

Helmet Law


RICHMOND – The House voted 57-42 against a bill sponsored by Goochland Del. Bill Janis that would have given motorcyclists over the age of 21 the choice of whether to wear a helmet.

Del. Paula Miller, D- Norfolk, who voted against the bill in the Militia, Police and Public
Safety committee last week and again on the floor, said many riders provided convincing testimony about helmet safety.

"Del. [Frank] Hargrove held up his helmet and said, €˜I never ride without my friend.' I thought it was a powerful statement," Miller said. Hargrove, a Hanover Republican, is a longtime rider.

Janis, a Republican, said he introduced the bill – the latest in five years that was defeated on the House floor – because riders should have the choice of whether to wear a helmet.
"It's a good policy," Janis said. "I think it's going to come back."

He said that he thought most riders would still choose to wear a helmet, but that an individual, not the government, should be able to decide.

"No one is arguing that a helmet makes you safer," Janis said. Helmets can actually reduce peripheral vision and impair hearing, he said.

Janis said many riders were experienced enough to judge the safety and conditions of roads. The risk level of riding without a helmet on Skyline Drive is very different from riding in the rain on I-95 without a helmet, he said.

Miller said the current law regulating helmets was a common-sense measure that would save lives by preventing spinal and head injuries.

Janis stressed that the number of motorcyclists registered in Virginia is small, and that the state would not have to pay more money in liability insurance if riders did not wear helmets.

There are 139,000 registered motorcyclists in Virginia, according to Jim Cannon, director of the Virginia Coalition of Motorcycles.

Penny Adams, the legislative officer for Virginia Freedom Riders, also addressed concerns that insurance rates would rise. In Pennsylvania, where a helmet law was repealed, insurance rates have risen. She said that increases in automobile accidents and in the cost of living have had more of an impact on insurance rates than the helmet law repeal.

"The bottom line is I should have a choice," Adams said. "I don't think it's the government's role to keep us safe.

"Adults are the riders. They are the most knowledgeable on the subject."

When asked if the partial repeal of the helmet law would be more likely to pass next year,
Cannon said that "anything that moves us across the field" would be positive. But he noted that helmet requirements would still leave "a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths."

If another attempt to repeal the helmet law is presented next year, Miller said she would vote the same way.

"It may be a question of choice, but it's also a public safety issue," she said. "It cuts both ways."

New College of Virginia


RICHMOND – The dream of the New College of Virginia is edging closer to reality now that a bill to support the program has passed two key General Assembly committees.

The bill was approved last week by the House Education Committee and Appropriations
Committee. If the bill passes the full House and Senate, the school would be based in the
Martinsville-Henry County area and allow students to finish a four-year degree after completing two years at a community college.

The initial financial support for New College came from a $50 million challenge grant from the Harvest Foundation, which urged the state to create a four-year baccalaureate college in Martinsville-Henry County area. A recent report by the State Council for Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) also offered support for a program in this region.

"It is an exciting venture and one that can make a difference in the lives of so many people in the Southside region if it becomes a reality," said Dr. Leanna Blevins, who has been working with the New College Planning Commission since 2004.

According the SCHEV report published last year at the request of the General Assembly,
66 percent of students graduate from high school in the Southside, compared with 78 percent of students statewide. The SCHEV studies surveyed Southside students and found a strong interest in attending a local college.

The SCHEV report defines the Southside as the cities of Martinsville, Danville and South Boston, as well as Henry, Pittsylvania, Franklin and Patrick Counties.

The purpose of the New College Institute is not just to increase educational opportunity,

"There is an economic development component as well," said Del. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham, the chief co-patron of the House bill.

The SCHEV report and Hurt both emphasized the need to boost the struggling Southside economy since the tobacco, textile and furniture industries have crumbled, leaving many local residents without jobs. This initiative would create jobs in the area and "diversify the region's economy by engaging the resources of other institutions of higher education," according to the text of the bill.

Hurt said if the bill were to pass, it would not create a four-year university.

"This is much more along the lines of a higher education center," he said. "It draws on existing institutions. It is about collaboration with existing institutions."

There is the potential for it to become an independent university or a branch campus of another public college someday, Blevins said.

"Initially, New College would offer the third and fourth years of a baccalaureate program," Blevins said.

Blevins said the bill does not include specific plans for how to decide what New College may become in the future.

In about 2012, Blevins said, the New College board would likely reevaluate if that model is still adequate, or if the school needs to provide a full four-year program. If that were the case, it would probably become a branch campus of another state school.

Illegal Immigrants


RICHMOND – Hanover Del. Frank Hargrove is skeptical about the future of his bill that would bar illegal immigrants from state public colleges and universities.

The bill, HB 262, won a 67-33 vote in the House, but it faces an uncertain future now in the Senate, where similar legislation was killed last year.

"The composition of the Senate hasn't significantly changed," said Hargrove, a Republican. "It would not surprise me to see the Senate kill it again. I think it would be wrong if they did."

Opponents of the bill say it would unfairly punish children of illegal immigrants and limit career advancement opportunities for immigrants. Some also believe it is bad for Virginia businesses that rely on immigrants for labor.

Hargrove defended his bill, saying priority in admission to the commonwealth's public colleges and universities should go to Virginians.

"Our public colleges and universities are created to serve Virginia citizens and other legal residents of this country," he said.

Del. Chris Peace, R-Hanover, co-sponsored the bill, which he described as "common sense."

"If we're already dealing with space issues for Virginians, then we certainly should not be letting people who are here illegally be admitted to our colleges and universities when the sons and daughters of Virginians are having a hard time getting in as well," he said.

Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, a lobbyist for the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations, said the coalition opposed the bill because, among other reasons, it was bad for the economy, it encouraged immigrants to join gangs and it sent a "strong message against inclusion."

"A bill that denies opportunity is a bad bill," she said. "It (HB 262) denies opportunity to a whole set of children who came here with their parents. It punishes children for the decisions their parents made."

Hargrove acknowledged the bill's negative impact on some children of illegal immigrants.

"It's sad, but you can't go picking and choosing," he said. "I grant you that there are some unfortunate circumstances, but I'm not going to willingly water down my legislation. I know it's going to affect some people who are relatively innocent."

Del. Kristen Amundson, D-Fairfax, voted against the bill. She said she heard strong opposition of the bill from the northern Virginia business community.

"It's bad for public education, and it's bad for business," she said.

Gov. Tim Kaine has said he would not sign the bill unless it is amended. His proposed changes include a provision that would allow college admission for immigrants age 18 and older who are in the process of becoming legal residents.

Amundson said she would likely support the bill with Kaine's proposed changes.
Hargrove said he might consider supporting Kaine's changes, but he would have to see them spelled out first.

An editorial in the University of Virginia's student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, with the headline "Overreaching from Richmond" said, "Without touching on the larger issue of illegal immigration, decisions about whom to admit to colleges should belong to the institutions themselves and not to politicians."

In response to this editorial quote, Hargrove said: "I think that's a lot of b.s. They come down here wanting money. Where does the money come from? It comes from the citizens. You bet your life we've got something to say about it. We set all kinds of rules for our colleges and universities. This is just another one."

Amundson and Gastanaga both said they fully expected the Senate to kill the bill.
Even if the bill is killed, Hargrove said, the issue won't be dead.

"If I live to come back here next year, I'd do it again," he said. "Sometimes you have to do this type of legislation that creates a lot of public interest several times before it gets through."

Safety Corridors


RICHMOND – A bill proposed by Del. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham, would raise the minimum fine for excessive speeding in highway safety corridors.

The bill, HB 2763, is currently under review by the House Committee for Courts of Justice after referral from the House Committee on Transportation. A minimum fine of
$500 would be assessed for anyone convicted of driving 20 or more miles per hour above the speed limit in highway safety corridors.

The General Assembly passed a bill in 2003 establishing the corridors, which can be found along three different stretches of two of Virginia's major North/South highways. A 15-mile stretch of Interstate 81 between mile markers 127 and 142 was designated a safety corridor in 2004, and two stretches of Interstate 95, one through Richmond and one through Prince William County, became safety corridors in early 2005.

Criteria for developing a highway safety corridor was established after the Virginia Department of Transportation assessed the crash rates and fatalities of 1,100 miles of interstate highway. Public hearings must be held at least 30 days prior to a corridor's establishment. The criteria required include the vehicle crash rate of the designated area, the types and amount of traffic on the road, and the quality of lighting, the frequencies of speeding violations and the topography of the area.

"Safety corridors on I-95 and I-81 were found to be areas with a lot of crashes, and crashes that caused injuries," said Jeffrey Caldwell, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation. "After going through the analyses and identifying any concerns raised during the public involvement period, we established these corridors to really concentrate our education efforts and enforcement with the Virginia State Police in making a tangible difference in the accidents in these areas."

Although current legislation increases the fines for traffic violations committed within the safety corridors, the fines associated with all traffic infractions that are not criminal offenses in highway safety corridors can be no more than $500. If House Bill 2763 is passed, the mandatory minimum fee for driving more than 20 miles per hour over the speed limit will be raised to $500, which will not be eligible for suspension.

According to VDOT, 946 people died and 76,023 were injured during crashes on Virginia highways in 2005. Since highway safety corridors were first enacted in 2004, VDOT has collected data surveying the frequencies of property damage, crashes and fatalities in the corridors, and there have been decreases in the annual totals of fatalities and injuries along the stretches of these designated areas.

"Since the highway safety corridors have been implemented, we have seen a significant reduction in those numbers of crashes," Caldwell said. "We've seen that the awareness of those highway safety corridors causes drivers to change their driving behaviors."

According to Stephen Read, analysis programs manager in the mobility management division of VDOT, the number of crashes throughout the I-95 safety corridors decreased in 2005 by 13 percent. Data for 2006 is still being analyzed.

There are talks of adding more safety corridors to the three that already exist.

Specific traffic violation fines will be determined by whether Hurt is able to push his bill through the House before the crossover period, when the Senate and House can only consider the other chamber's bills.

"We're using these three corridors as programs to see how it goes and monitor the processes," Caldwell said. "There are ongoing efforts still to identify other areas where this tool could be implemented to improve highway safety. That's something we're still investigating."

Although members of the Virginia State Police Department cannot speak about pending legislation, VSPD spokesperson Corinne Gellar said a VSPD motor squad enforces laws in the corridors by targeting traffic on certain days and times.

"Usually police will patrol during high volume traffic time or even sporadically throughout the day to remind the public that enforcement will be stepped up in the area to slow people down," Gellar said.

Transportation Plan


The Senate Finance Committee voted 9-6 to pass a transportation plan that calls for a 5 percent increase on gas tax.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., R-Clarke, killed the Republican transportation compromise, something many top lawmakers are not happy about.

Senate Majority Leader Walter A. Stosch, R-Goochland, was among the six legislators to vote against the plan, which would implement a 5 percent increase per dollar on gasoline and allow local taxes in traffic-congested areas such as Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to be raised in order to fund other transportation projects.

Stosch was not available for comment, but his spokesman, Scott Leake said the
senator was clearly disappointed in the outcome.

"He worked for months on the compromise that could be successful," Leake said, "so consequently it is a disappointment."

The plan must survive the Virginia Senate, before which Leake hopes there will be another chance to resurrect the compromise, he said.

"What we've seen is the further into the legislative session you go, sometimes it becomes more apparent what can and can't succeed," Leake said. "There's a hope that those who voted against the compromise plan and for the more comprehensive plan might come to recognize that this is not realistic."

The major difference in the plans, in addition to the tax increase, is the dependency upon the general fund, which provides funding to public education, safety, and health care.

Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-Gloucester, the sponsor of the House-Senate compromise, warned that the House of Delegates would kill any plan that called for gas tax increase. The compromise avoided a statewide tax increase by calling for $250 million a year from the general fund, whereas the Senate plan would only use about $66 million.

"This is a rough time to talk about raising prices at the pump," Leake said. "People are extremely sensitive about it."

Red Lights


Local governments would be allowed to use cameras to catch drivers that run red lights under a bill sponsored by Sen. John Watkins, R-Goochland.

The bill, SB871, has already passed in the Senate and will be sent to the House of Delegates for voting there.

If it passes the House, localities would be able to install cameras at some traffic signals to take pictures of the license plates of cars that go through red lights so that a ticket can be issued through the mail.

"People don't understand, whenever you have an accident [in an intersection] you tie up the traffic in both directions," Watkins said.

A fine for $50 would be sent in the mail to the registered owner of an offending vehicle, but no points would be added to the owner's license because it would not be a criminal charge.

Goochland Sheriff Jim Agnew could only think of four intersections with traffic signals in Goochland, but said he likes the idea of the cameras.

"Anything we can do to make things safer I think most law enforcement officers are for it," Agnew said.

Even though a picture of a license plate is not enough for criminal charges, the fine should be "enough to deter," he said.

The bill passed in the Senate on Jan. 29 with a 30 – 10 vote. Opponents of the bill say that it would impose on people's privacy, Watkins said.

Another objection is the possibility of abusing the system by turning it into a money making machine.

"I think they [the localities] are very happy to collect those fines," said Sen. Frank Ruff, R – Halifax, who voted against the bill.

When asked about the possibility of abuse, Watkins said, "Absolutely not. [The bill] is very specific; it says very clearly there is to be no association between number of tickets given and income."

Ruff said having it would be more efficient to have officers patrol against redlight runners. The courts could impose the highest fine and make an example of those caught, acting as a deterrent, he said.

"Word can get around," Ruff said. "I think people's behaviors can be changed this way."

Localities would pay for the installation and maintenance of the cameras themselves, without help from the state.

Before starting or expanding the monitoring system, localities are required to alert the public through an awareness program.

"I just hope that it passes [the House] because it will go a long way to reduce congestion and help prevent accidents," Watkins said.



RICHMOND – The Internet, long considered an anonymous safe haven for sexual predators, may be harder for them to exploit if a bill sponsored by Del. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham, passes through the Virginia General Assembly.

The bill, HB 2749, would require sexual offenders convicted in Virginia to register their e-mail addresses and instant messenger screen names with a local law enforcement agency, which would then forward the information to the Virginia State Police. Changes to e-mail addresses or other Internet communication names by a sex offender must be reported to a parole officer or the State Police within 30 minutes, by the bill's provisions.

The House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved the bill Friday, 23- 0, and reported it to the House floor, where it must be passed before Feb. 6, the final day the House can consider its own legislation. A similar measure was unanimously approved by a Senate committee last week.

"I come from an area where I don't think there's a great deal of awareness about what kids are doing online, and I think it's probably like that across the Commonwealth," Hurt said. "People really need to know about sexual predators, and many recognize that this is a terrifying danger."

Hurt's bill is part of a broader campaign by Virginia Attorney General Robert McDonnell to crack down on sexual predation in Virginia. His "Safe Kids Initiative," launched during the 2006 General Assembly session, aims to drastically reform the way Virginia monitors, incarcerates and treats sexual predators that prey on children, according to his Web site.

"This bill will have a significant effect on making children safer," Hurt said. "Obviously we want to enhance the penalties for the people who do this. I'm convinced that you can't fix these folks. You've got to punish them and get them off the streets for as long as you can. That's the only solution."

During the 2006 legislation session, Hurt sponsored House Bill 1014, which prohibited Web sites from charging people to view child pornography over the Internet. Hurt was a member of McDonnell's Youth Internet Safety Task Force, which visited the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Va., and watched a demonstration by a State Police officer, who posed as a teenager in a chat room.

"It was remarkable how quickly the officer had people, who identified themselves as grown men, requesting his age, gender, location and a photograph," Hurt said. "That was bone-chilling to me."

Hurt said the bill would allow the State Police to monitor, in cooperation with Internet service providers, the behavior of convicted sexual offenders on the Internet. Predators found to be on certain Web sites would be kicked off and reported to the State Police for a sex offender registry violation.

Sex offenders are required to re-register with the police every 90 days.

"I think everybody would agree that Internet is a fantastic," Hurt said. "But there's so much anonymity, so many dark places, and so many ways for these people to get right into your home. If you've got children who are talking innocently to people online, you can see how something very terrible can happen."

Besides increasing efforts to track sexual offenders, HB 2749 comprehensively rewrites the laws regarding the possession and production of child pornography.

Sentences for violating this part of the bill carry prison terms between one and 40 years, with mandatory minimum imprisonment ranging from five years to 25 years, depending on the violation and whether it was a repeat offense.

The bill defines child pornography as sexually explicit visual material with a person less than 18 years old, and further clarifies that a person who is depicted, in a sexually explicit way, to be less than 18 years of age, is presumed to be less than 18.

Seven other delegates, including Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, and David Albo, RFairfax, are listed as co-patrons and supporters for the bill.

But some people, like University of Richmond computer science professor Douglas Szajda, believe that from a technological standpoint, the law is ineffective.

"There's an assumption here that e-mail addresses or IM addresses are difficult to get, or that it's easy to say an e-mail address belongs to a particular person," said Szajda, an expert on computer security. "That can be very hard to do."

"You can send e-mail to anyone and from anyone. So effectively this bill is using e-mail as an authenticator and that's always a bad idea."

While the bill may not effectively limit sexual predation on the internet, Szajda said it provides prosecutors in Virginia a tool to further punish sex offenders who don't register e-mail or instant messenger addresses.

Hurt acknowledged that some sex offenders will evade the law by failing to properly register e-mail addresses and instant messenger screen names.

"The bottom line is, if they get caught, then they can be guilty of probation violations," Hurt said. "And that will put them back in jail before they hurt somebody again. There will be those that get around it, but that's not something we can control."

As for solutions to the problem, legal precedent exists for barring certain people, like computers hackers, from using computers and the Internet. But even these restrictions may not be effective.

"Even if you could put something around predators' houses that prevented them from accessing the Internet, how do you prevent them from accessing it at someone else's house or a library, for instance?" said Szajda, who has two younger children. "I'm not sure of any technological solution to that problem."

Although Internet filtering programs block access to certain Web sites, they cannot prevent children from browsing social networking sites like The best solution, Szajda said, involves actively monitoring a child's internet use, which he acknowledged was not always what parents want to hear.

"This particular attempt at making the Internet safer is not really going to prevent a whole lot of folks from doing bad things if they want to," he said. "You don't have to be technologically sophisticated to get temporary e-mail addresses or IM addresses, or to get a bunch of them."