- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 16, 2004

RICHMOND — The Virginia legislature yesterday approved Gov. Mark Warner’s requests to spend nearly $1.1 million to crack down on gangs and $1 million to fund a scholarship for black students who were denied an education in the late 1950s.

The $1.1 million would fund three new prosecutors who will focus on gang activity in Northern Virginia and create a strike force of a dozen state troopers and special agents to combat gangs statewide. The Senate unanimously approved the funding; the House passed the measure 96-2.

“This is a major problem in Northern Virginia,” said Sen. Janet D. Howell, Fairfax County Democrat. Last month, two violent gang-related incidents within a week in Fairfax County highlighted the problem.

“I’m very, very glad the state is stepping up on this,” Mrs. Howell said.

The votes were taken yesterday during a reconvened one-day session where lawmakers considered 43 budget amendments that Mr. Warner had proposed for the state’s two-year, $60 billion budget. The legislature approved 27 amendments and rejected 16.

The rejected amendments were for minor spending items and were mostly technical in nature.

Mr. Warner, who returned Tuesday from a trade mission to China, said he felt the state has “largely” accomplished his financial goals. He applauded the legislature’s approval of about $13.7 million of the $15 million in amendments he had proposed.

“I’m very pleased with the results,” the Democratic governor said. “It reinforced our commitment to public safety.”

Mr. Warner also said the scholarship fund helped to “rectify the wrongs” of the past.

Lawmakers initially provided $50,000 for the Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship Program and Fund in the state’s budget, but Mr. Warner amended the budget to increase the funding to $1 million.

Billionaire philanthropist John Kluge of Charlottesville last month pledged $1 million if the state would match it.

The fund would give scholarships to blacks who were denied an education from 1954 to 1964, when many school systems in Virginia closed their doors rather than abide by court-ordered integration.

Yesterday, the House voted 94-4 to increase state funding for the scholarship to $1 million. Delegates Mark L. Cole, Fredericksburg Republican; John S. “Jack” Reid, Henrico County Republican; R. Lee Ware, Powhatan Republican; and Lacey E. Putney, Bedford independent, voted against the measure.

The Senate unanimously approved the amendment.

Mr. Ware was the only legislator who spoke against the amendment.

“The House has expressed its regrets,” he said, noting it’s “not possible” for the House to go beyond regret.

He also said the scholarship fund could open the door to other groups seeking reparations for past harm.

“It is not possible for one generation to compensate for the past,” he said.

Others called the school closures “a blight on our past” and said the money was one small step to make things right.

“We cannot go back and undo history,” said Delegate Kenneth R. Melvin, a Portsmouth Democrat who is black. “But we can do something about it for those who have been harmed.”

The legislature also approved Mr. Warner’s amendmentto ensure that sales-tax revenue earmarked for transportation — about $70 million — will be put into the Transportation Trust Fund.

Other amendments approved yesterday included:

• Setting aside $1.25 million that would allow the state to match federal funding for firefighters and other emergency responders.

• Spending an additional $1.15 million for increased tourism promotion.

• Reversing the legislature’s decision to eliminate the Department of Minority Business Enterprises and restoring $1.3 million for supporting development of minority- and women-owned businesses.

The state’s new budget will go into effect July 1. The tax-reform plan that raises $1.38 billion by increasing the sales, cigarette and real-estate transaction taxes takes effect Sept. 1. The plan also includes tax cuts.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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