Three Interesting Bills of the Week: Journalism Tax Credits, Negligent Fires and Cyclist Exemptions

The Virginia General Assembly convened for its 2023 session in Richmond Jan. 11, 2023. (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)

RICHMOND — Hundreds of bills are filed for General Assembly consideration each year. In this occasional series, the Virginia Mercury takes a look at a few of the proposals that might not otherwise make headlines during the whirlwind legislative session.

House Bill 2061: Tax credits for local journalism

This legislation, from Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, creates a nonrefundable income tax credit for eligible local newspaper publishers for compensation paid to local news journalists.

The bill comes at a time when local newspapers in Virginia are facing large staffing cuts and closures due to buyouts from hedge and private equity funds, technology and population shifts and lack of funding. Reports also show an average of more than two a week are shutting down nationwide.

In the first taxable year, credits would be equal to the lesser of 10% of the actual amounts paid in wages to local news journalists or $5,000. In subsequent years, the credit would be equal to the lesser of 5% wages paid or $2,500.

The legislation also creates a nonrefundable income tax credit for eligible small businesses with fewer than 50 employees for certain expenses incurred for advertising in a local newspaper or radio or television broadcast.

For the first taxable year, credits would be equal to the lesser of 80% of the actual amounts paid for qualified local media advertising expenses or $4,000. In subsequent years, they would equal the lesser of 50% of the amounts paid or incurred or $2,000.

House Bill 1390: Responsibility for costs of fighting negligent fires

HB 1390 by Del. Jason Ballard, R-Giles, would allow localities to collect the costs of firefighting from any person who negligently starts a fire or fails to keep it under control when it burns on any forestland, brushland, grassland or wasteland.

Under the bill, that person would be liable for expenses incurred by the local government and any volunteer fire company or emergency medical services agency to fight the fire.

The leading cause of wildfires in Virginia is people burning debris, like yard trimmings or leaves, according to the Virginia Department of Forestry.

Virginia has more than 24,000 fires per year, causing more than $8.3 million per week in property loss, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Current law only allows local governments to collect the costs of firefighting from a person when he or she intentionally starts a fire and fails to control it.

Senate Bill 1293: Stoplight and stop sign exemptions for cyclists

This bill, from Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, would allow local governments to pass an ordinance authorizing cyclists to treat a stoplight as a stop sign and a stop sign as a yield right-of-way sign as long as they take certain safety measures.

A cyclist would be able to proceed through a red light at an intersection provided they come to a complete stop, yield the right-of-way if necessary and determine it is safe to proceed.

When approaching a stop sign, a cyclist would also be able to turn through an intersection without stopping after slowing down to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if necessary, provided that no other vehicle presents an immediate hazard when turning.

The current law lists these actions as traffic infractions punishable by a fine of no more than $350.

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: [email protected] Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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