- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2007

RICHMOND — Parents would have more say in how their seriously ill children are medically treated and whether their daughters would be required to receive a vaccine against a virus that causes cervical cancer under legislation passed by a hurried House of Delegates yesterday.

House members spent about 15 seconds on each of the more than 20 bills up for final consideration. Each had been debated before yesterday.

The House and Senate began marathon sessions yesterday racing to meet a deadline of midnight today for final passage of bills each chamber originated. The lackadaisical pace of the session’s first two weeks showed with 1,457 bills or resolutions pending yesterday morning before the House and 674 pending in the Senate.

Tomorrow is the first day each chamber can consider the other’s legislation. It also is the deadline for the House and Senate to take final floor votes on their respective versions of midterm amendments for the second year of the state’s biennial budget.

A bill to require all girls entering the sixth grade to receive a vaccine for the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer passed the House on an 80-17 vote after it was changed over the weekend. The bill was amended to give parents the right to review information about the vaccine and exempt their daughters if they wish. Exemptions already exist for parents who object for religious or medical reasons.

The Senate unanimously passed a similar bill Friday without the parental opt-out provision.

About 99 percent of the cases of cervical cancer, which kills 10 women a day nationwide, are linked to the human papillomavirus, or HPV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The federal government approved a vaccine in June and suggested it be given to girls at age 11 or 12 before they become sexually active. The vaccine is given in a series of three shots over six months at a cost of $360.

Merck & Co. Inc., maker of the Gardasil vaccine, has funded lobbying efforts in at least 18 states where lawmakers are considering whether to mandate the vaccine.

The House bill’s sponsor, Delegate Phillip A. Hamilton, Newport News Republican, has received $10,000 from the pharmaceutical company in the past decade. He is chairman of the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee, the gatekeeper for bills about public health. The Senate sponsor, Sen. Janet D. Howell, Fairfax County Democrat, has received $4,100 from the drug maker since 1998.

“Abraham’s Law,” named after a sick teen who won a court battle to treat his cancer with alternative medicine, passed the House on an 87-9 vote. A similar bill passed the Senate on Friday.

The bill is named for Starchild Abraham Cherrix, the 16-year-old who fought in the summer to forgo chemotherapy to treat his Hodgkin’s disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system that is considered treatable in the early stages.

The bill would allow parents to refuse a certain medical treatment for a child and not face charges of neglect on four conditions: that the parents and child make the decision jointly; the child is sufficiently mature to have an opinion on his or her treatment; the family has considered other treatment options; and the parents believe in good faith that the decision is in the child’s best interest.

• Photo red bill

Motorists would have an additional fraction of a second to clear intersections monitored by automated cameras under changes made yesterday to a bill that would allow localities statewide to use photo systems to catch people who run traffic lights.

The House also approved an amendment that would make the images the systems record at intersections off-limits as evidence in lawsuits arising from traffic accidents.

The amendments put the bill on a crowded docket for a final House vote today.

• Smoking ban

The Senate voted 23-16 yesterday to pass a sweeping public smoking ban and send it to the House of Delegates, where similar legislation has died in subcommittee.

Sen. J. Brandon Bell II’s attempt to reduce Virginians’ exposure to secondhand smoke is shaping up like a repeat of last year’s battle, when the Senate passed the measure only to see it stubbed out by the other chamber.

The House has passed legislation by Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, of Salem, requiring restaurants that allow smoking to post a “Smoking Permitted” sign at the entrance. Those establishments no longer would be required to offer a nonsmoking section.

• Utility deregulation

A Senate committee last night unanimously endorsed legislation that would pull the plug on the state’s experiment with electric utility deregulation.

Meanwhile, the House gave preliminary approval to a similar but competing version of the bill.

But the House version contains some provisions that the state’s dominant power company — Dominion Resources — dislikes, and the two bills likely are headed to a conference committee for differences to be worked out.

The legislature voted in 1999 to deregulate utilities.

Legislation in the House and Senate arose this year after competition failed to develop.

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