- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2004

Opening day at the Virginia General Assembly last week got a bit rowdy. Within an hour of convening, the lawmakers were arguing over judicial appointments and whether to televise their legislative sessions.

Two amendments to rules were shot down by the Republican majority in the House one would have added a layer of scrutiny to judicial appointments and the other would have allowed televising of House sessions.

A House amendment to have judicial appointments approved by all members after the crime commission makes a recommendation failed largely along party lines, by a vote of 68-31.

Delegate J. Chapman Petersen, Fairfax Democrat, proposed televising House sessions, noting that 43 states, most localities and, most recently, the Virginia Senate have opted to bring their meetings into living rooms.

“Taxpayers should have an opportunity to watch us at work,” he said.

But the delegates said the addition of television cameras would make the sessions drag on and would have the politicians grandstanding to the audience at home.

They also said there is enough access to the sessions.

“Do you really want someone like me to get even more exposure?” asked Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Manassas Republican, who is a self-proclaimed long-winded speaker.

A similar movement has failed twice before, and the amendment was rejected Wednesday, by a vote of 67-33. As the debate wore on, several delegates started checking e-mail on laptops, passing notes and leaving their seats to take phone calls.

New lawmakers were sworn in Wednesday.

New to the Virginia House are Republicans William H. Fralin Jr., Roanoke; Jeffrey M. Frederick, Woodbridge; and Edward T. Scott, Culpeper; and Democrats Adam P. Ebbin, Alexandria; Albert C. Eisenberg, Arlington; Mamye E. BaCote, Newport News; Stephen C. Shannon, Vienna; Algie T. Howell Jr., Norfolk; Lynwood W. Lewis Jr., Accomac; Mark D. Sickles, Alexandria; Onzlee Ware, Roanoke; and Jeion A. Ward, Hampton.

New to the Senate are Brandon J. Bell II, Roanoke Republican; Jeannemarie Devolites, Fairfax Republican; Mark D. Obenshain, Harrisonburg Republican; and Mamie C. Locke, Hampton Democrat.

Raising money

Virginia gubernatorial hopefuls Timothy M. Kaine and Jerry W. Kilgore have collected more than $1 million each in their campaign treasuries.

Mr. Kaine, the Democratic lieutenant governor, had slightly more than $1 million as of Dec. 31. Mr. Kilgore, the Republican attorney general, lists about $1.5 million, according to reports filed Thursday with the state Board of Elections.

Neither contender has been officially nominated by his party. But both have been aggressively raising money since assuming their state offices two years ago. The election is November 2005.

In total, the political action committee Virginians for Jerry Kilgore brought in nearly $2.5 million through Dec. 31. Mr. Kaine’s two PACs have raised more than $2.2 million.

In the 2001 governor’s race, Democrat Mark Warner and Republican Mark L. Earley spent more than $31.5 million combined.

Campaign trip

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski took her bid for re-election Friday to the Eastern Shore the home turf of her leading rival.

The Maryland Democrat, who is seeking a fourth term in the Senate, kicked off her campaign in Cambridge. She is being challenged by Republican state Sen. E.J. Pipkin from Queen Anne’s County.

Sentenced

A former member of the Bowie City Council was sentenced Friday to 18 months in prison for attacking his estranged wife and two sons and threatening them with a pellet gun.

Michael B. Bannister entered an Alford plea Dec. 3 in which he did not admit guilt but acknowledged prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him.

Prince George’s County Circuit Judge Maureen Lamasney gave Bannister two concurrent 10-year sentences for two counts of second-degree assault, but suspended all but 18 months. He will get credit for 290 days he has served.

Bannister was arrested in April and resigned from the Bowie council earlier this month.

Tuition troubles

William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, told lawmakers Thursday that another large tuition increase is likely for the state’s colleges.

Addressing senators for the first time since tuition went up 20 percent in the summer, Mr. Kirwan said colleges had tried to absorb a 14 percent funding reduction without passing it on to students. The 20 percent tuition increase this school year $1,000 for many students made up 37 percent of the system’s shortfall, he said.

He said tuition would have to increase by at least an additional 10 percent on average in the fall. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has said he’ll hold higher-education funding steady for the next school year, and Mr. Kirwan said that will leave the system unable to pay for cost increases such as operating new buildings.

On Thursday, members of the Budget and Taxation Committee focused on their concerns about skyrocketing costs, even as they acknowledged that the increases were prompted by state cuts.

Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, Howard County Democrat, asked whether university officials had plans to address the system’s status as the sixth-most-expensive in the country.

Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George’s Democrat and the committee chairman, asked whether it was appropriate for the system’s regents, an appointed board, to have approved a 20 percent tuition increase that was akin to a tax increase for many families.

And Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus of Somerset County, the Republican leader, asked why the system hadn’t reduced the pay of top administrators in its effort to cut costs.

“The public out there doesn’t feel the system is efficient. The bottom line is, you can do better,” Mr. Stoltzfus said. “There’s little sympathy out there, and a lot of that has to do with the salary structure” for top officials.

Roadwork woes

Virginia’s top transportation official calls time lags in finishing highway projects “unacceptable.”

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported last week that Virginia Transportation Commissioner Philip Shucet is leaning on the state’s nine district administrators, the officials responsible for road construction.

The Virginia Department of Transportation reported that it finished only 22 of 76 projects on time in the second quarter of the 2004 fiscal year. That’s 29 percent.

Officials said the agency’s goal is to complete 40 percent of its construction work by the scheduled date.

Mr. Shucet said he also met with highway contractors to ask them to commit to improving VDOT’s on-time performance by which he means finishing work on a project’s original contract-completion date, with no exceptions.

Election do-over

Residents of one Bedford County, Va., election district won’t have elected representatives on the Board of Supervisors and School Board until November.

A three-judge panel Wednesday voided the November election results, in which Steve Arrington defeated incumbent Supervisor Tony Ware and School Board member Betty Earle edged out challenger Carolyn Dixon in the Big Island district.

The ruling means a special election will be held in November for the two seats. In the meantime, both boards have 45 days to appoint interim members.

The judges agreed with a lawsuit filed by Mr. Ware and Miss Dixon that says a clerical error by the Bedford County registrar affected the outcome of the elections. The error caused dozens of voters from another district to improperly cast ballots in the two races.

The two elections were the closest races in Bedford County last year. Mr. Arrington defeated Mr. Ware, a 24-year incumbent, by 12 votes. Miss Earle, who has served eight years on the School Board, won by an eight-vote margin.

What’s in a word?

A discrepancy between the published title of a bill to ban smoking and the bill itself forced the Talbot County, Md., Council to reschedule a public hearing on the smoking ban.

The title, as used in the county’s public advertising, said the bill provides for penalties for knowing and repeated violations to include suspension of liquor license.

But the bill itself did not include the words “knowing and repeated,” county officials said.

Although council members described the discrepancy as minor, the council on Tuesday rescheduled the public hearing and an amendment dropping the words “knowing and repeated” from the title was introduced.

The council may vote on the measure Feb. 3 after hearing from the public, a council spokesman said.

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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