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Va. veto session produces mixed results for McDonnell

- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2011

RICHMOND — Virginia legislators handed Gov. Robert F. McDonnell a mixed bag in a marathon legislative session that wrapped late Wednesday night.

They had until midnight to approve or reject the governor's amendments to 134 measures and four vetoes, three days into a special legislative session during which they will also approve the redrawing of new House, Senate and congressional district lines.

The most nail-biting moments for Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, occurred in the Democrat-led Senate.

With a deciding vote by Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, the Senate barely approved anti-abortion language Mr. McDonnell inserted into a bill guiding how a new health insurance exchange mandated by federal healthcare reform will be established. Insurance plans that cover abortion except for in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is in danger may not be offered through the exchange.

Mr. McDonnell, an abortion-rights opponent, also supported a bill passed this year requiring abortion clinics to comply with hospital standards that opponents say will force most clinics in the state to close their doors.

The Senate also granted Mr. McDonnell his request to appoint a seat on the Metro Board of Directors, something he had been pursuing since taking office. Three Northern Virginia Democrats — Chap Petersen and Linda T. "Toddy" Puller, both of Fairfax, and Charles J. Colgan of Manassas — joined Republicans to pass the measure 21 to 19.

The House passed both the abortion curb and the Metro Board measure by wide margins.

Lawmakers also upheld three of Mr. McDonnell's four vetoes, including one bill that would have required elementary and middle schools to provide at least 150 minutes of physical education every week. But they rejected the governor's effort to keep the medical malpractice cap at $2 million, voting to raise it by $50,000 annually until it reaches $3 million in 2032.

The bill grew out of a compromise between trial lawyers and medical professionals, who agreed it would give the healthcare community enough stability while gradually raising award limits.

Lawmakers voted 30-10 in the Senate and 93-7 in the House. Two-thirds support in the House and Senate is required to override a veto.

Mr. McDonnell was also thwarted in his efforts to amend bills dealing with autism insurance and cutting funding for PBS.

Legislators rejected the governor's most controversial amendment to a bill requiring insurance companies to cover treatment for autism. The bill requires health insurers to pay for therapy for children ages 2-6, cap annual costs at $35,000 and apply to businesses that employ more than 50 people as well as public employees.

Mr. McDonnell wanted the bill to be nullified if the $35,000 cap was ever overturned by a court, citing concern for undue burdens on insurance companies. Lawmakers nullified his amendment by 71-28 in the House and 39 to 1 in the Senate.

One of the most colorful House debates transpired over the governor's attempt to cut nearly $1.7 million for educational programs provided by the Public Broadcasting Service. Delegates waved stuffed likenesses of Elmo and Ernie from "Sesame Street" as they argued against cutting more aid to PBS.

Even though PBS is receiving 10 percent less state support this year, Mr. McDonnell wanted to cut its funding by another half. The Senate opposed the additional cut by a 27-13 vote, the House by a 61-39 vote.

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