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Senate approves smoking ban in public buildings

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RICHMOND (AP) — Smoke 'em if you've got 'em. Just don't do it inside a public building in Virginia.

That was the message sent yesterday by the Virginia Senate, which voted 23-15 to pass legislation to ban smoking in most indoor public places.

The Senate also passed more narrow restrictions in case the broader ban doesn't survive, including two local-option bills and one backed by Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, to prohibit smoking in restaurants and bars statewide. All four anti-smoking bills now go to the House of Delegates, which last year rejected a restaurant smoking ban.

Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple's bill would prohibit smoking in restaurants, banks, sporting arenas, shopping malls and most other public places. It exempts hotel rooms designated for smoking, specialty tobacco stores and private rooms in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Mrs. Whipple, Arlington Democrat, said science clearly shows that secondhand smoke is a health hazard. She said smoking kills about 9,000 Virginians a year and exposure to secondhand smoke claims an additional 1,000.

Opponents of the bill objected to a provision that allows local governments to pass restrictions even tougher than those imposed by the state. Sen. Stephen D. Newman, Lynchburg Republican, said localities could ban smoking even in private homes and cars.

Without debate, the Senate also voted 28-10 to pass the bill banning smoking in restaurants and bars. Sen. Mamie E. Locke, Hampton Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, noted that the ban does not cover outdoor eating and drinking areas.

The other two bills approved yesterday would allow localities to enact smoking ordinances and give some Hampton Roads localities the authority to enact bans.

Health advocates have lobbied for the restrictions, while lobbyists for restaurants, hotels, businesses and the tobacco industry have opposed them, arguing that smoking policies should be left to business owners.

Tobacco companies and tobacco growers contributed $287,000 to candidates in the 2007 House of Delegates and state Senate elections, while restaurants gave about $218,000, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, an independent, nonprofit tracker of money in state politics.

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The state Senate again passed legislation to eliminate Virginia's so-called triggerman rule, but not by a wide enough margin to override a gubernatorial veto.

In Virginia, only the person directly responsible for a killing can get the death penalty. Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, Harrisonburg Republican, proposed a bill that would allow capital punishment for an accomplice who had the same intent to kill, even if he didn't pull the trigger.

Nobody spoke against Mr. Obenshain's bill, which passed yesterday by a 24-14 vote.

The General Assembly passed the same measure last year. Mr. Kaine vetoed it, and the Senate came up two votes short of the 27 needed to override.

Kaine spokesman Gordon Hickey said the governor will veto the bill again if it reaches his desk.

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The state Senate unanimously passed legislation to toughen Virginia's laws against animal fighting.

The bill approved yesterday on a 39-0 vote would make cockfighting a felony. Cockfighting now is illegal only if gambling is involved, and then it's just a misdemeanor. It also cracks down on other types of animal fighting, including dogfighting.

Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr.'s bill now goes to the House of Delegates, where a similar measure is pending in committee.

Mr. Norment, James City Republican, did not mention Michael Vick by name on the Senate floor but acknowledged that a "highly publicized individual running Bad Newz Kennels" helped focus attention on animal fighting and rally support for stronger laws.

Vick, the suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback, is serving a 23-month prison sentence for operating a dogfighting conspiracy that involved gambling and the execution of six to eight pit bulls that did not perform well in test fights.

"I can't imagine anyone in this body condones, explicitly or tacitly, this kind of barbaric behavior," Mr. Norment said.

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The Senate on a 28-10 vote yesterday rejected legislation to change the way Virginia sets execution dates.

The bill would have prohibited setting an execution date until after the U.S. Supreme Court considers the condemned inmate's first appeal. Under current law, the date can be set before the case reaches the nation's highest court.

Sen. John S. Edwards, Roanoke Democrat and sponsor of the bill, said that as a matter of fairness, every death row inmate should have one Supreme Court review before an execution date is set.

Sen. Richard H. Stuart, Westmoreland Republican, argued that the bill would unnecessarily delay executions and frustrate and demoralize the families of capital murder victims.

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