- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2001

RICHMOND The bill to post "In God we trust," the U.S. motto, in every public school in Virginia was in effect killed yesterday by a state Senate committee one of several high-profile bills to go down to defeat.
Among the other bills to die in committee were the last version of seat-belt-enforcement legislation and the open-container law, both of which died in the House Militia and Police Committee. A constitutional amendment to allow counties to issue bonds without voter approval also went down to defeat in the House Privileges and Elections Committee.
The "In God we trust" bill, sponsored by Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican, would have required every public school to post the motto in a prominent place where students would see it.
The Senate Education and Health Committee voted to send the bill to the Senate Finance Committee, which isn't meeting anymore this year a move that effectively kills the bill. But first the committee also amended the bill so that before any school complied, the U.S. government must first require the motto on every U.S. government building.
Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, said he was concerned about the unspecified cost of the bill and about the lack of standards for posting the motto the bill didn't say how big it had to be, or how the sign had to look.
But Mr. Marshall said Mr. Saslaw was being devious.
"I just wish he would have had the courage of his convictions to vote it up or down," he said.
Several other pieces of legislation went to defeat in the House Militia and Police Committee, but not without a little parliamentary excitement.
The committee first passed, then reconsidered and defeated, the open-container bill, which would prohibit passengers in cars from having cups of alcohol or open beer, wine or other alcohol containers. State law currently prevents only a driver from having an open container.
The bill first passed 11-10, but Delegate Lacey E. Putney, the chamber's sole independent, wasn't present. He arrived a few minutes later, and one of the members who voted for the bill asked that it be reconsidered to give Mr. Putney, a staunch opponent, a vote. The second time around, Mr. Putney voted no, as did another member who changed his vote, and the bill failed 12-10.
Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., James City County Republican and the bill's sponsor, said he will scour the bills still pending to see if he can bypass the committee by attaching his measure to one.
Some committee members said the bill is not artfully drawn and would in some instances presume the driver guilty of the violation even if the passenger were responsible for the open container.
But Mr. Norment said it comes down to wanting the bill to pass or not.
"I'm not sure the bill can ever be rewritten so we can address some of these moving concerns that pop up from year to year," Mr. Norment said.
The bill from Sen. Kenneth R. Stolle, Virginia Beach Republican, to allow police to pull over cars because the driver isn't wearing a seat belt called the primary enforcement law also failed to pass the committee by a 2-to-1 ratio.
The House Privileges and Elections Committee sank a resolution that would have proposed changing the state Constitution to allow counties to float bonds without voter approval.
Counties have sought the power for years. Cities have the ability now to float bonds without first asking voters, but as a tradeoff, their outstanding debt can be only 10 percent or less of assessed value of all property in the city. The constitutional change would have imposed that limit on counties.
Backers of the resolution said that the powers of counties and cities must be equalized, and that the voters could always throw out county supervisors who issued debt voters didn't like.
But taxpayer advocacy groups and Common Cause of Virginia, a voting rights watchdog group, argued that taking any direct say away from voters is ill-advised.
The resolution would have had to pass again next year constitutional changes must pass two years in a row before going to voters and also be approved by a majority of residents before taking effect.
The Senate also passed a bill that would raise the age for teen-agers to obtain driver's licenses and limit the hours they can be on the road after dark.
The bill, a floor substitute offered by Sen. William C. Mims, was approved 30-8 after the Senate narrowly defeated another amendment that would have allowed police in the wee morning hours to stop people they believe to be too young to have full driving privileges.
Mr. Mims, Loudoun Republican, said the competing floor amendment would have made police officers on overnight patrol instant arbiters of a driver's age, a provision that would mark the bill for certain death once it returned to the House of Delegates.
The bill raises the age for obtaining a learner's permit from 15 to 15 and 1/2 and for a driver's license from 16 to 16 years, three months.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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