- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2004

RICHMOND (AP) — A House committee yesterday endorsed a $6 million tax break for tobacco giant Philip Morris.

The Finance Committee voted 15-5 to send Sen. Walter A. Stosch’s bill to the House floor.

The measure provides a tax credit for tobacco companies that manufacture cigarettes in Virginia to be exported.

Mr. Stosch, Henrico County Republican, said the bill is necessary to compete with North Carolina, which already offers a similar tax credit. Supporters of the bill said it will preserve Virginia jobs.

Delegate Mitchell Van Yahres, Charlottesville Democrat, spoke against the bill, saying he was worried that Virginia and North Carolina would get into a “bidding war” for tobacco jobs.

He also said it conflicts with his philosophy of trying to reduce smoking.

Delegate Franklin P. Hall, Richmond Democrat, said this was not a health issue.

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After spirited debate, the Senate passed legislation yesterday to relax the academic qualifications required of parents who teach their children at home.

However, Gov. Mark Warner “strongly opposes” the bill, spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said, and the 25-15 vote was two shy of the two-thirds majority required to override a veto.

The bill, sponsored by Delegate Rob B. Bell III, Albemarle County Republican, would allow parents with a high school diploma to home-school their children. The law now requires them to have at least a bachelor’s degree.

Parents now can get around the mandate by invoking a religious exemption. Exceptions also are made for parents who enroll their children in state-approved correspondence courses or get the local school superintendent to certify that their math and language arts curricula meet or exceed the public school Standards of Learning.

Opponents of the legislation said it is a step in the wrong direction because the state has a compelling interest in making sure children receive a quality education.

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A Senate panel advanced legislation yesterday that would require people infected with HIV to disclose this information before engaging in sexual intercourse.

The legislation passed the Senate Courts of Justice Committee by a 12-1 vote with two abstentions and now heads to the Senate Finance Committee. It previously passed the House unanimously.

Under current Virginia law, it is a felony to intentionally infect someone with HIV. But, a bill, sponsored by Delegate Kathy J. Byron, Campbell County Republican, would make it a crime if a person with HIV does not first tell his or her sexual partner about the infection.

The offense would be punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine up to $2,500.

However, Steven Benjamin, special counsel to the Senate panel, said the bill could adversely affect people getting tested for the disease.

“If he knows that if he acquires the knowledge his activity is a crime, it could discourage him from going out and attaining the knowledge,” he said.

AIDS advocates in the field said this is a real danger.

“A lot of people living with this disease, they’re doing all they can to hold on to self-esteem and who they are,” said Ramona Smith, an education coordinator for the Tidewater AIDS Community Task Force in Norfolk.

Miss Smith, who tested positive for HIV in 1999, said she encourages people with the disease to disclose their HIV status before having sex. But making it a requirement, she said, could open the door to mandating disclosure in work settings, as well.

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