- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2003

RICHMOND (AP) The House of Delegates yesterday approved legislation that would create a new form of marriage that requires premarital counseling and makes it harder to get a divorce.
Without debate, the House voted 62-36 to pass Delegate Robert F. McDonnell's "covenant marriage" bill. The measure now goes to the Senate.
Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, has not taken a position on the legislation.
The bill would require couples who apply for marriage licenses to choose between a standard marriage or a covenant marriage. Those choosing a covenant marriage would undergo eight hours of counseling before the wedding and would sign an oath affirming that marriage is a lifelong commitment.
The couple also would have to get eight hours of counseling before divorcing. The legislation would double to two years the time the husband and wife would have to be separated before getting a no-fault divorce.
This is the fourth time Mr. McDonnell, Virginia Beach Republican, has offered a covenant-marriage bill. He has promoted the measure as a way to strengthen marriages and perhaps reduce the divorce rate.
Opponents of the bill have argued that it devalues traditional marriages, and that wedded bliss cannot be created through legislation.
Only three other states Louisiana, Arizona and Arkansas offer covenant marriages.

Legislation that would exempt the estates of millionaires from being taxed after they die cleared the Senate yesterday with enough votes to override a likely veto by Mr. Warner.
The bill to repeal the estate tax effective in 2005 won final Senate passage on a 31-8 vote one day after the House approved it on a veto-proof vote of 69-29.
Under the legislation, Virginia's tax on estates valued at $1 million or more would be exempted from taxation.
The vote found the General Assembly's dominant Republicans solidly behind their centerpiece legislation for this election-year legislative session, with a few Democrats supporting them.
Opponents accused the GOP of continuing to eliminate unpopular taxes with no regard for the fiscal consequences and said repealing the tax on fewer than 2,000 of the wealthiest Virginians sends the signal, as one legislator put it, "we'll tax you, except if you have a rich daddy."
The House bill now comes before the Senate for action, and the Senate bill heads to the House.

The House of Delegates yesterday killed a measure that would have allowed Virginia's governor to seek two back-to-back terms.
The resolution aimed at ending Virginia's unique one-term limit for governors died when a motion to rescue it from a committee where it had been sent Monday fell two votes short, 49-51. The measure was the first step toward a voter referendum to amend the state constitution to allow the change.
The bill was sent to the Privileges and Elections Committee after opponents objected that the governor should relinquish his substantial appointive powers before being given the chance to serve eight consecutive years in office.
Mr. Warner, who had supported the bill, had no immediate comment. The legislation would not have applied to Mr. Warner but to his successor.

The Senate passed bills yesterday to require parents' consent for underage girls to have abortions and to ban the killing of a partially delivered fetus.
The House passed similar bills Saturday. All four votes in the two chambers were by wide enough margins to override potential vetoes by Mr. Warner, who has expressed concerns about the measures.
The Senate voted 27-11 to pass Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle's bill requiring parental consent, not just notification, before a girl 17 or younger can get an abortion. Virginia has required parental notification since 1997.
Mr. Stolle, Virginia Beach Republican, said consent would promote parental involvement more effectively than notification.
"We need to encourage families to be families, and this bill does that," Mr. Stolle said.
Sen. Leslie Byrne, Fairfax County Democrat, argued that the bill is intrusive and that it could force some young women to carry a pregnancy to term against their will.
"Families function well in Virginia," she said. "They don't need our help. We don't need to impose our values on families."
The Senate also voted 27-12 to pass Sen. Stephen D. Newman's bill making it a felony to partially deliver and then kill a fetus. The measure is similar to one Mr. Warner vetoed last year banning a rarely used late-term procedure that abortion opponents call "partial-birth abortion."
The legislation was rewritten this year to more specifically define when a birth has occurred. Mr. Newman said the bill is a ban on infanticide.

In the House, a bill authorizing a specialty license plate with the pro-life message "Choose Life" passed 57-37.
A portion of the revenue from plate sales would be sent to local governments, which would distribute it to private, nonprofit agencies that promote adoption. The bill prohibits any of the money from going to agencies that promote abortion.

Two competing proposals passed in the Senate yesterday that attempt to loosen the state's 21-day rule for convicted criminals introducing new evidence to prove their innocence.
One bill seeking to expand the types of evidence that can be introduced beyond the current exception for DNA evidence emerged on a 20-20 vote with Democratic Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine breaking the tie.
The other bill, which would extend the 21-day limit for presenting new evidence to 90 days, passed unanimously with no debate.

The House passed legislation yesterday that would give people licensed to carry concealed weapons the right to bring them into certain restaurants that serve alcohol.
The bill passed on a 51-48 bipartisan vote after gaining tentative approval Monday on a nearly identical vote.
The legislation, submitted by Delegate Lee Ware, Powhatan Republican, would make it legal to bring a concealed weapon into any restaurant where sales of alcohol do not exceed more than 30 percent of total sales. This would allow concealed guns in many family restaurants, but not in most bars or other restaurants that do a bustling bar business at night.

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