- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2000

RICHMOND Senators and delegates finished negotiating the details of the state's six-year transportation funding program Thursday, finishing Virginia's two-year, $48 billion budget.

Both houses had passed versions of the budget and transportation plan, and designated conferees to hammer out the differences. The Northern Virginians on the conferences all said the region comes out well.

The final plan, details of which will be released Friday, doesn't include any new long-term source of money for transportation projects something the governor and House had sought but it does have more money than the Senate wanted, it extends for six years, and maintains some of the administration's flexibility in spending on major projects.

Delegate Vincent F. Callahan Jr., Fairfax Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said lawmakers kept all of the major projects for Northern Virginia in the package.

Lawmakers said the transportation package surpasses $2.5 billion over six years more than the original $2.4 billion target.

"I think it's fine for Northern Virginia. I' • very pleased," said John H. "Jack" Rust Jr., Fairfax Republican and a transportation conferee.

The administration also expressed satisfaction with the transportation plan.

"There's enough victory to go around," said Mark A. Miner, the governor's spokesman.

Delegate James H. Dillard II, Fairfax Republican and another of the budget conferees, said the overall budget continues to support local projects. Among them: funding for Wolf Trap, the performing arts venue; more than $2 million requested by Gunston Hall, George Mason's home in Fairfax County, to expand; and $750,000 to stop erosion at Mason Neck park near Gunston Hall.

Mr. Callahan said it also has money to begin planning for expansions to George Mason University's Arlington campus and Northern Virginia Community College's Loudoun campus.

Prisoners on Virginia's death row won't get any relief from the General Assembly this year, after senators turned back an attempt to grant them new opportunities to prove their innocence for up to a year after their conviction.

Instead of raising that to one year, a majority of senators opted for raising it to 45 days. When that passed the bill's sponsor, James F. Almand, Arlington Democrat, had the bill be sent back to committee.

Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, Virginia Beach Republican, said Virginia either has, or is tied for having, the shortest period for a convict to submit evidence of his innocence in capital cases. The law allows actual evidence of innocence to be submitted within 21 days of the judge entering the order for the death penalty.

Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, Richmond Democrat, asked the Senate to approve a one-year period for appeals, calling the 45-day period useless.

"It's not even a crumb. It's not even a seat at the table of justice," Mr. Marsh said. "In the 45 days' time, it is not even possible to determine that a mistake has been made."

But Mr. Stolle, a lawyer and former police officer, fought against going to a year. He pointed to testimony before the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, of which he is chairman, where the attorney general's office and Robert F. Horan, Fairfax County commonwealth's attorney, "begged us not to do this."

Mr. Horan had told the committee the change would virtually guarantee adding years to every capital punishment case.

The Senate rejected raising the limit to a year by a 23-15 vote. But it then agreed to Mr. Almand's request the bill be sent back to committee.

By doing that the bill can be considered again next year. If the 45-day version had passed this year, lawmakers probably would have waited several years to see if the extra 24 days made a difference, and would have turned back any attempt to extend the review period next year.

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