- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2000

Gov. James S. Gilmore III yesterday announced new job opportunities and came forward with his own plan to help workers after weeks of opposing Democrat-initiated plans to help newly unemployed textile workers in Southside Virginia.

At an afternoon news conference, the governor stood with the chairman and CEO of Nautica Enterprises Inc., the clothing manufacturing company, to announce Nautica will build a distribution plant outside of Martinsville, the area hardest hit by recent textile company closings. It will mean about 375 new jobs when the site is up and running.

Mr. Gilmore also announced his own plan for those out of work, which increases unemployment benefits by $36 a week for all workers in the state and lets them collect unemployment immediately after a company files for bankruptcy, rather than making them wait a week.

Democrats had called Mr. Gilmore the major impediment to assisting textile workers. He had opposed a House bill that would have increased benefits by $100 a week to those in 30 localities with the highest unemployment rates, arguing it was unfair to direct money toward particular workers.

Yesterday, however, Delegate Barnie K. Day, Patrick Democrat, said he was "delighted on all fronts" with the governor's proposal and happy the governor finally was on board. But he added he would have liked to have seen higher benefits and wished the governor had addressed health care coverage for unemployed workers.

The governor's bill will have an emergency clause, which means it can be applied retroactive to Nov. 28, when the first wave of textile layoffs began.

A House of Delegates committee narrowly endorsed legislation yesterday that could more than double the $20 fee charged to Northern Virginians who must get their cars tested every two years for pollution emissions.

The legislation, which would allow inspection stations to charge up to $50, was sent to the House floor on a 12-10 vote over objections of the Gilmore administration, which wants to keep the fee as it is.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Warren E. Barry, Fairfax Republican, said service stations and auto dealers who conduct the tests are losing money because mechanics command a high wage and the testing equipment essentially a large treadmill that measures emissions at a variety of speeds is expensive.

Mr. Barry said stations will stop offering the test if they continue to lose money, forcing the state to adopt a system of centralized testing stations to meet federal air-pollution requirements, as is done in Maryland.

Centralized testing would lead to higher costs and waits of several hours to be tested, Mr. Barry said.

In fact, Maryland drivers pay a $12 fee, and the average wait time at an inspection station is six minutes, according to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.

Delegate Jack Reid, Henrico Republican, said he believes service stations are faring better than they claim because the tests generate repair work when cars fail the tests.

Four judges, a former state senator and Mr. Gilmore's chief lawyer are the finalists for a vacancy on the Virginia Supreme Court, the chairman of a citizens' judicial advisory committee said yesterday.

In a letter to leaders of the General Assembly's new Republican majority, Richard Cullen also listed eight finalists for what could be as many as three openings on the Virginia Court of Appeals.

Mr. Cullen heads the bipartisan, 14-member Joint Judicial Advisory Committee, which the Republican leadership appointed to interview candidates for the state's top judgeships. In past years, when Democrats controlled the legislature, lawmakers relied on bar associations for recommendations.

Mr. Cullen, a former federal prosecutor and state attorney general, said the advisory committee spent three full days interviewing more than two dozen candidates. He said the process worked well.

The state's eight major bar associations still had their say, but their recommendations were filtered through the outside panel instead of taken directly to the lawmakers.

The finalists for the Supreme Court vacancy include Virginia Appeals Court Judges Rudolph Bumgardner III of Staunton and Donald W. Lemons of Richmond. Circuit Judges Jean H. Clements of Loudoun County and William H. Ledbetter Jr. of Spotsylvania also made the cut. Rounding out the list are former state Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell Jr. of Virginia Beach and Gilmore counsel Walter S. Felton Jr. of Williamsburg.

The opening on the state's highest court was created by the retirement of Justice A. Christian Compton, who had been on the high court bench since 1974. The court has nine judges.

The finalists for the Virginia Court of Appeals include five circuit judges: Verbena M. Askew of Newport News, John J. McGrath Jr. Harrisonburg, Michael P. McWeeny of Fairfax, Margaret P. Spencer of Richmond and Roy B. Willett of Roanoke. The others are former state Delegate G. Steven Agee of Salem, Virginia Beach Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Humphreys and former Charlottesville City Council member Thomas E. Albro.

The intermediate appeals court, which currently has 10 judges, will lose Judge Sam W. Coleman III, whose retirement takes effect Dec. 31. If either Judge Bumgardner or Judge Lemons wins the Supreme Court appointment, that will create a second opening. A bill pending in the General Assembly would create an 11th seat on the court.

The candidates will now be interviewed by a joint legislative subcommittee of eight Republicans and seven Democrats. Delegate William J. Howell, Stafford Republican and co-chairman of the House Courts of Justice Committee, said that unless the subcommittee finds a reason to cut one or more of the finalists, the entire slate will be forwarded to the Republican caucus.

The General Assembly is scheduled to elect the judges March 8, three days before the session's adjournment.

Legislation to allow voters to decide on a constitutional amendment guaranteeing Virginians' right to hunt and fish cleared a Senate committee by one vote yesterday.

The Privileges and Elections Committee voted 7-6 to send the bill by Delegate Creigh Deeds, Bath Democrat, to the Senate floor.

Delegate Leslie Byrne, Fairfax Democrat, said she has a problem with giving constitutional protection to a hobby or sport, no matter how popular.

This roundup is based in part on wire service reports.

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