- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2008

RICHMOND (AP) — A House of Delegates subcommittee unanimously killed legislation to ban smoking in restaurants and most other indoor places.

The action yesterday evening came as no surprise. The same subcommittee has rejected anti-smoking bills in the past.

The move does not bode well for similar legislation passed by the Virginia Senate earlier this week. That measure will go to the same subcommittee when it reaches the House.

Public health advocates spoke in favor of the ban at a public hearing, arguing that government has a duty to protect people from the harmful health effects of secondhand smoke.

However, legislators sided with the restaurant industry, which opposed the ban. Several restaurant owners say they have a right to respond to their customers’ desires on whether to allow smoking.

•••

A Senate committee known for supporting abortion rights defeated three abortion-related proposals yesterday.

The Senate Committee on Education and Health killed the bill from Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, Harrisonburg Republican, to prohibit school systems and their employees from performing abortions. While he acknowledged no schools perform abortions, Mr. Obenshain said it wouldn’t hurt to make it a law.

Mr. Obenshain’s bill also would have banned Planned Parenthood from teaching sex education in schools because the nonprofit organization also performs abortions. The bill failed 4-10.

The other bills would have made it a crime to force or coerce a young woman into having an abortion and to subject abortion clinics to the same licensing and regulation as outpatient surgery centers. Those bills failed on 10-5 votes.

•••

The Senate unanimously passed legislation to get rid of all references to “retarded” in state law.

The bill from Sen. Patricia S. Ticer, Alexandria Democrat, would replace “mentally retarded” and “mental retardation” with “intellectually disabled” and “intellectual disability.”

Members of Arc of Northern Virginia, a nonprofit group that advocates for those with developmental disabilities, looked on from the gallery as senators voted yesterday.

It would cost the state about $75,000 to alter signs and other literature to reflect the change.

A similar bill is being considered by a House money committee.

•••

The Senate passed legislation allowing only the General Assembly to approve tolls on Interstate 81.

The bill passed yesterday is sponsored by senators from districts along the I-81 corridor and is in response to the Virginia Department of Transportation’s recommendation to widen the interstate and possibly place tolls on it.

Sen. John S. Edwards, Roanoke Democrat, said the legislation is needed so that the decision to place tolls on I-81 is not made by an unelected board. He and other legislators stressed that I-81 is used by many local commuters.

I-81 runs more than 320 miles in Virginia and stretches from Alabama to New York.

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