Finally, Some Good Law

Hat’s off to Chap Petersen, who wrote and passed the new Homeowners’ Bill of Rights. Effective July 1, 2015, this common-sense addition to the law gives homeowners clearly stated protections against HOA boards of directors who have run amuck, assuming powers over homeowners they don’t have, and denying those homeowners access and transparency they’re entitled to. Most importantly, it specifies a way for a homeowner to ask for judicial review when their rights are violated.

This is a great piece of legislation. It solves a real problem that a lot of Virginians have had to face, and will face in the future. Beyond that, it’s uplifting to see a Virginia state legislator actually draft and pass a law that has something to do with a practical issue, and do so in a way that’s going to help a lot of people protect their interests. Watching our General Assembly, particularly the current majority, one could end up thinking the only bills that get any attention are the kind that deal with things like high-capacity magazines and fetal personhood. When your HOA board is refusing to show you the records that document how hundreds of thousands of dollars in special assessments were spent, how many rounds you can have in your pistol at one time just doesn’t seem more important to most of us.

Great work, Chap. Thanks!

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Chap Petersen Asks About Sweet Briar

Sweet Briar College, a women’s liberal arts college located in Virginia, is closing at the end of this semester. Sen. Chap Petersen has sent a letter to AG Mark Herring, asking some pointed, but perfectly reasonable, questions. Mostly, they are about money. The college has an endowment of about $88,000,000. Donors were still giving after the college decided to close (but, apparently, before the public knew it). There are also students to consider, some of whom will be seniors next year. Where do they go? Which college will have its name on their diplomas?

Here’s Chap’s letter:

Dear Attorney General Herring:

I am writing at the request of alumnae of Sweet Briar College to obtain your opinion of state law as it pertains to the recently announced closing of the College.

As I understand, the College has a ninety four million dollar endowment and has been soliciting and collecting donations right up until a few weeks before the announced closing. I also understand that it owns a 3,200 acre campus with fixed assets, which is specially designated for the maintenance of a women’s college. Finally, I understand that the founder’s (and original land donor’s) intent is for the purposes of establishing a women’s college, and that it is an accredited institution operating a four-year program with approx. 525 full-time students.

With that factual predicate, I pose the following questions for your response:

1. What are the rights of the donors who made gifts to the institution in the past year, i.e. after the plans for closing had apparently been decided but not disclosed? Do they have a right to seek a refund if the school continues with its plan for closing?

2. What is the obligation of the school to its existing students, particularly those students who are within a year of achieving their degree?

3. What will happen to the property if it is no longer operating as a women’s college? Does it not revert to the donating party?

4. What is the role of the Board of Visitors in this process? Does the Board have a fiduciary duty to protect the interests of donors and students, as well as the mission of the College?

Thank you again for considering these questions and providing an answer which I can share with those interested parties.

Sincerely,

JCP

As a member of the legislature, Chap is entitled to ask for the AG’s opinion, so Mark’s office is certain to reply. But, Chap didn’t ask (nor should he have), why the college is closing, nor if a women-only college fits our modern notions of equality. Sweet Briar is a private school, not a state school. The legislature will have little to no role in the administration of Sweet Briar’s assets. Chap’s questions are wise ones to ask, nonetheless, as they permit a persuasive authority to go on the record quickly, before those assets are liquidated and distributed.

The questions of why the school is closing, and the place of single-sex colleges in today’s Virginia, are intertwined. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Few students are choosing to attend rural schools where options for internships and work experiences are limited, and even fewer want to attend a women’s college.

It’s true that women’s colleges are on the decline. But, alas for Sweet Briar, so has its own ranking among them. Other women’s schools, such as Mount Holyoke and Smith, continue to thrive (and continue to outrank Sweet Briar). As to the place of women’s colleges, Petula Dvorak makes a good case in an article in the Washington Post.

I went to a school that had previously been all male (Amherst). Mine was the first class to include women as freshman. I’m glad we did, but that doesn’t mean every single-gender college should go co-ed. With Dvorak’s thinking in mind, it seems a shame to be losing this one.

The War on Women Words Continues

Making this a News Brief because, really, does anyone still care? Did anyone ever? If you do, Del. Barbara Comstock has weighed in with a letter of her own, responding to Sen. Chap Petersen’s letter, which followed Elizabeth Miller’s letter, which deconstructed Mike Turner’s letter, with everyone saying someone else was playing games with legislation.

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Let FirewallNOVA clear this up for you: Comstock is running for Congress as a Republican at a time when Republicans are trying to court more of the women’s vote. She tried to put through some half-baked legislation that would make her look friendly to women, and the Democrats stopped her.

That is all.

UPDATE: Petersen Also Calls Out Turner Mistake

Following last week’s exchange in the press between former Loudoun County Democratic Committee chair Mike Turner and former Democratic nominee for the house of delegates, Liz Miller, state senator Chap Petersen weighs in with a letter of his own. Petersen also corrects Turner, who neglected to look up what a senate committee was actually voting on before condemning the vote.

 

Petersen succinctly confirms that the house vote sent a vanity, do-nothing bill to the senate, where it was properly voted down. The house Democratic minority had its hand forced when the Republican majority passed an in-name-only “anti-trafficking” bill (literally, that’s all it did, was change the name of an existing law). That set a trap for the house Democrats, since no one wants it on their record that they, in any way, voted against an anti-trafficking measure (even one that does nothing whatsoever except, maybe, give its patron a campaign point in her bid to replace Frank Wolf). The house Dems didn’t fall into that trap, and the whole bit of political fakery would have failed, except that Turner fell for it himself, just in a bigger way.

Anyone who ever wonders if there is an up side to having a bicameral legislature can look at this for an example. A grand-stand play–made purely for political gain–that was forced on one party in one half of the legislature got shut down, as it should have, in the other half. As Petersen puts it, “That’s not party politics. It’s just how this business works.”

HOA Fining Power Defeated

NoVa state senator Chap Petersen has shepherded HB791 to passage, but without the odious provisions that would have allowed HOAs to impose fines on residents. Petersen was part of the conference committee that reconciled the House and Senate versions of this bill, with the fining power being the point of greatest contention.

Continue reading “HOA Fining Power Defeated”