- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2007

RICHMOND — All girls entering the sixth grade would be vaccinated for the human papillomavirus a move that doctors say could help wipe out cervical cancer under legislation that cleared a legislative committee yesterday Tues.

“This is a very exciting time for us, and for our daughters and for our granddaughters, because we have the opportunity now to eliminate cervical cancer in our lifetime,” said Delegate Jeion A. Antonia Ward, Hampton Democrat and a sponsor of the bill, which passed a the House health committee 18-2.

Cervical cancer kills about 10 women daily nationwide, and about 99 percent of all cases are linked to HPV, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine in June and suggested it be given to females ages 9 to 26. The CDC advised that girls be vaccinated before they become sexually active, since because HPV is contracted by sexual or even skin-to-skin contact.

The HPV vaccine, Gardasil, is given in a series of three shots over a six-month period and protects against types of HPV that cause cervical cancer and sexually transmitted diseases including genital warts.

The CDC says 80 percent of women will acquire HPV by age 50, and a third of those cases will develop into cervical cancer. The American Cancer Society estimated that 9,700 women in the U.S. would be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2006 and another 3,700 women would die from the disease.

The American Cancer Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other groups have recommended vaccinating girls against the virus.

If passed by the General Assembly, the legislation would take effect Oct. 1, 2008. But because schools open before October, it wouldn’t have a significant impact until the summer of 2009, when students in public and private schools get their vaccinations.

That gives additional time to make sure there aren’t problems with the vaccine, said Delegate Phillip A. Hamilton, Newport News Republican and the bill’s other sponsor.

Delegate John J. Welch III, Virginia Beach Republican, said he’s afraid the General Assembly is reacting too quickly.

“I appreciate what the FDA does, but obviously, it’s been proven in the public that sometimes these things are a knee-jerk reaction,” said Mr. Welch, one of two delegates who voted against the measure.

“It seems to be very shortsighted that six months out of the shotgun that we’re requiring every living female going into the sixth grade to get the immunization,” he said.

Mr. Welch said it should be left up to families and their doctors to decide if whether a girl gets the vaccine. Families can refuse to get any required vaccine for their child for religious or medical reasons.

Dr. Cecilia Boardman, a gynecology oncologist who specializes in cervical cancer at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Massey Cancer Center, said more than 22,000 women in the U.S. and Europe were studied over for five years before the FDA approved the vaccine. She called cervical cancer “a completely preventable disease” and said the vaccines would help eliminate the disease.

Because the state would be required to fund the vaccinations, the bill must be sent to the House Appropriations Committee for consideration.

• Victim leave

Crime victims who need to go to court shouldn’t have to take vacation or sick days or deal with any hassle from their bosses, Delegate Brian J. Moran of Alexandria said yesterdayTues.

Mr. Moran, a former prosecutor and chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, is sponsoring legislation requiring employers to provide unpaid leave to crime victims to attend judicial proceedings.

“No victim should be deprived of the right to look his assailant in the eye at trial,” Mr. Moran said at a press conference.

The bill would ensure that victims can attend trials, parole and other hearings. It also would allow them to attend court to seek a protective order.

Mr. Moran acknowledged that many employers already provide leave for crime victims, and he was unable to quantify the scope of the problem his bill seeks to address. However, he said that when he was a prosecutor in Arlington County, he often dealt with crime victims who found it difficult to get to court because of their job obligations.

The bill prohibits employers from firing a worker who leaves work to go to court, and it allows the employee to sue any employer who violates the measure.

The legislation allows a hardship exemption for businesses unable to cope with an employee’s absence. The exemption would have to be approved by a judge, Mr. Moran said.

• Trespassing bill

A state senator has proposed legislation that would allow trespassing charges to be filed against “scuzzball reporters” who enter private property to gather news about a death or other traumatic event.

Although Sen. Kenneth Thomas Cuccinelli II’s bill targets journalists, it also could make criminals of virtually anyone else who ventures onto the traumatized person’s property door-to-door salesmen and delivery drivers, for example.

Mr. Cuccinelli, Fairfax County Republican, said he plans to amend the bill to make it clear that a friend or acquaintance who drops by would not be trespassing. His goal, he said, is “to keep reporters from bugging people” who are grieving.

“There’s obviously more than enough scuzzball reporters out there who don’t have a shred of human decency to give a flying rat’s tail about the condition or feelings or circumstances of these families they just want a juicy quote from them,” Mr. Cuccinelli said. “If they are not going to regulate themselves, it’s our job to protect the people of Virginia.”

Ginger Stanley, executive director of the Virginia Press Association, said the bill infringes on the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of the press.

“It’s a direct attack on First Amendment newsgathering activity,” she said.

• Triggerman rule

The Senate passed legislation yesterdayTues to eliminate Virginia’s “triggerman rule,” which limits the death penalty to the person who directly inflicts the fatal wound.

Sen. Mark D. Obenshain’s bill would allow capital punishment for any accomplice who shares the triggerman’s intent to kill.

Mr. Obenshain, Harrisonburg Republican, said that under current law, if a bank robber orders his partner to shoot a teller, only the triggerman can get the death penalty.

Nobody spoke against the bill, which passed 28-11.

The Senate also voted 30-10 to pass legislation sponsored by Sen. Nick Rerras, Norfolk Republican, allowing capital punishment for killing a judge or a subpoenaed witness in a criminal case, provided the slayings were intended to interfere with the victims’ duties.

Both bills were endorsed by the Virginia State Crime Commission, and similar bills are pending in the House of Delegates.

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