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Thursday, January 31, 2013
For years now the Roanoke Tea Party has waged a fruitless and embarrassing battle. The goal: persuade Roanoke County to drop its $1,200 a year membership in the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives , also known as Local Governments for Sustainability .
The tea partyers believe ICLEI is part of a United Nations Agenda 21 scheme to control local land-use planning in America. This has elicited much eye-rolling from a majority of the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors, who’ve pretty much given the bum’s rush to the tea party. Foiled at every turn, they’ve now taken their cause to the friendlier ears of state lawmakers in Richmond.
The tea party is proudly supporting HB 2223 , a bill sponsored by Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge County . It would prohibit Roanoke County from paying dues to ICLEI, which would end its membership. Cline says that specific consequence was not his precise intention. He’s seeking to bar every political subdivision in Virginia from membership in ICLEI and some other groups.
Those localities also include Roanoke, Arlington County, Richmond, Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Alexandria and Winchester. The bill will be considered by the House Rules Committee this afternoon.
I predicted such legislation in this column back on Oct. 21. Tuesday, I read Cline’s two-sentence bill to Hollins District Supervisor Richard Flora, a Republican. He sounded incredulous.
“It’s pure hogwash,” Flora said. “To tell them ‘you can’t belong to an organization that’s concerned about the environment?’ Or ‘you should stop planning for the future of your community?’
“Just when you think the Virginia General Assembly has reached its maximum level of incompetence, you get fooled,” Flora added. “I think it’s pretty idiotic legislation.”
Cline told me he introduced the measure at the request of some constituents, not the Roanoke Tea Party. But it’s one of a handful of proposed laws they’re promoting on their website. I emailed President Chip Tarbutton about this Tuesday but he didn’t get back to me.
The bill doesn’t mention ICLEI, but “the intent is to focus it toward any organization that is explicitly working to implement the provisions of [United Nations) Agenda 21,” Cline told me. ICLEI is one, he noted.
“So you don’t think it’s crackpot legislation?” I asked.
“It’s definitely a concern when you have international organizations that promote limitations on property rights and restrictions on zoning authority at the local level,” Cline replied.
The thing is, everything about ICLEI is voluntary. Localities can take or leave its ideas — some are good ones. Roanoke County’s chief benefit from membership is energy-auditing software. It’s helped save tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars via conservation in the county and in Roanoke.
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” Supervisor Charlotte Moore, an independent who represents Cave Spring on the board, said about the bill. She and Flora and Board Chairman Mike Altizer, R-Vinton, comprise the board majority that’s thwarted the tea party’s anti-ICLEI efforts.
Virginia is merely the latest state to embark on such folly. Last year Alabama enacted similar legislation and Arizona almost did — the Arizona Chamber of Commerce killed it late in the game.
New Hampshire, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia have considered similar bills. Another is pending in Michigan, Cline said. Most are based on model legislation promoted by some intellectual wizards at the John Birch Society .
The county’s ICLEI membership “has nothing to do with taking away property rights,” Moore said. “We have to be conscious of clean air and water for the next generation. I’m just totally mind-boggled by this.”
I also emailed the bill’s text to Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill, the current (national) president of the Government Finance Officers Association . I wanted to know if he would have to end his affiliation with that association if the bill passed.
Probably not, Morrill responded, even though the GFOA has issued a “best practice” statement on sustainability that refers to International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives principles.
But some language in the measure gave him pause. It would bar Virginia and all its localities from spending money with, or receiving any money from, “those governmental, nongovernmental, and intergovernmental organizations as defined in Agenda 21.”
“I understand that the United States is a signatory to Agenda 21,” Morrill noted. “If HB 2223 is enacted, could one make the case that the Commonwealth and all localities be required to reject all federal assistance?”
If that ever happened, the tea partyers would be dancing in the streets, singing hallelujahs.
Until the next big flood, anyway.
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