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Front Royal seeks legal opinion on taxi rules

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL -- Town Council wants to hear from the state attorney general's office before considering stricter rules on taxis.

Most councilmen at a work session Monday agreed that the town should ask for an opinion on any proposed ordinance that would regulate taxi companies in Front Royal. Council and staff, along with representatives of companies operating in Front Royal, continue to discuss the matter.

Town Attorney Douglas Napier will submit a request to the attorney general's office seeking a legal opinion on the limitations Front Royal can enact on taxicab firms. Napier likely will ask the attorney general if Front Royal can prohibit taxi companies from allowing people registered with the state police as convicted sex offenders. Council and staff also have discussed the possibility of restricting anyone convicted of a violent felony from operating a cab.

Mayor Timothy Darr advised council that the matter before it Monday related only to whether or not the town should file a formal request for the opinion.

The state allows jurisdictions to pass ordinances that regulate taxi businesses. Whether Front Royal can take the power further and enact laws that affect a business remains uncertain.

Council would need to hold a public hearing on an ordinance that would regulate taxis.

Councilman Daryl Funk suggested the town seek the attorney general's opinion before members impede on a business.

"How broad a net can we cast?" Funk asked. "I think that's information we should have, again, before we go taking away anybody's job."

Council typically does not vote at work sessions but Darr can call for a consensus of the members on whether to instruct staff to take action.

In response to Darr's question, Napier said the draft of the ordinance mirrors regulations of other jurisdictions and those laws have posed no issues.

"Personally, I don't think it requires an attorney general's opinion," Darr said.

Councilmen Hollis Tharpe and Thomas Sayre did not support Funk's suggestion. Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker said he didn't care one way or the other and hinted that he would rather abstain from the vote. Parker asked if council could move forward with crafting the ordinance at the same time as the town seeks the legal opinion.

Funk added that the draft regulation also could allow the town to prohibit someone with "bad moral character" from driving a cab.

"Well, where is that line drawn?" Funk said.

Tharpe recalled that representatives with the cab companies have shown support for certain limitations on taxis, such as the prohibition against sex offenders.

"As far as I'm concerned, if a sex offender is driving one of our cabs to pick up one of our kids let them challenge us on this," Tharpe said.

Councilman Bret Hrbek has voiced opposition to the town crafting laws that would affect businesses. Hrbek said he would support the request for an attorney general opinion if for no other reason than to delay council from enacting an ordinance.

Hrbek pointed out that a cab driver registered as a sex offender likely would violate the law anyway by picking up and taking a child to a destination. Sex offenders are generally prohibited from being near children. Hrbek said such violation could send a sex offender back to jail.

"I'm very confident that would be the case," Napier said.

"That's a lot worse than losing your taxicab license," Funk added.

"So the law has already taken care of sex offenders," Hrbek said. "A taxicab [company] is silly to hire a sex offender."

Town Manager Steve Burke told council that representatives of taxicab companies who met recently with staff expressed support for a prohibition on sex offenders as drivers.

Councilman Eugene Tewalt asked how long it would take for the attorney general to return an opinion. The town waited at least a year on an opinion related to the trapping of cats, Darr noted.

Parker voiced skepticism.

"At the end of the day it's still just an opinion," Parker said. "It's not a judge's ruling. ... It's not going to save you from a lawsuit. It's not going to protect you in the event of a lawsuit."

A request for an opinion does not cost the town money, Hrbek noted.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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