- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 17, 2001

RICHMOND The House Militia and Police Committee has become the place where bills in Virginia's General Assembly go to die.

The speaker of the House has sent the committee bills ranging from issuing a new license plate for supporters of the Million Mom March to easing the criminal penalty for sodomy and from prohibiting drivers from using cellular phones to authorizing more counties to use red-light cameras.

The bills will be heard and most think quickly disposed of by the committee, which was reconstituted with mostly rural lawmakers last year to stall gun-control bills, but as a byproduct takes a dim view of bills that tweak the edges of personal liberty, like red-light cameras.

"Everyone knows that's the committee where he's sending things to die," said Steve Vaughan, spokesman for the House Democratic Caucus.

Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., who names committee members in addition to assigning bills, said sending these bills to Militia rather than Courts of Justice or Transportation where the bills have gone in previous years is just a matter of efficiency.

But everyone else is in on the joke, with some members favorable to the committee's philosophy affectionately calling it the "bubba caucus."

Having a "killing committee" is invaluable to the speaker, since he can send bills he dislikes there.

The latest victim is a bill that would allow police to pull a car over if they see its occupants not wearing seat belts. The speaker first sent the bill to Transportation, where it has passed before and was expected to pass again.

But last week, he changed his mind and successfully persuaded the committee to send it to Militia, where backers say they don't have anywhere near the votes to be approved.

"The speaker is putting the bill in Militia and Police for no other reason than to kill it. He is doing everything in his power to make sure the bill doesn't make it to the House floor," said David Kelly, a spokesman for the Virginia Coalition for Child Safety, which is lobbying for the bill.

Delegate Brian J. Moran, Alexandria Democrat and Transportation Committee member, called the move to send the bill out of that committee unfortunate because Transportation has gained expertise on the issue over the years. Other members say the same holds true for the Courts committee, which has gained a certain amount of expertise on the matters before it over the years.

Mr. Wilkins said the bills he sent to Militia this year mostly address traffic infractions and misdemeanors that he felt were appropriate for the committee, since its purview includes police. He said his move will take some of the pressure off Courts of Justice and Transportation, and is a precursor to consolidating and eliminating some committees next year.

Two years ago, when Democrats were still in power, Militia was a little-used committee that considered only two dozen bills. As of Monday night, there were 74 bills in Militia, 131 in Transportation and 189 in Courts.

Other lawmakers have picked up on the committee's usefulness in killing bills they don't like.

On Monday, the full House was considering a bill already passed by Transportation to restrict teen-age drivers when Delegate William P. Robinson, Norfolk Democrat, tried to have the bill sent to Militia and Police.

"I just didn't like the bill," he said, adding that he figured it would get a cooler reception from Militia and Police than it got in the Transportation Committee. "It was not a friendly motion by any means."

Having a killing committee is not a Republican invention. Members said that under former Speaker A.L. Philpott, the Courts of Justice Committee was used as the committee bills were sent to "when they needed to be put to sleep."

"When I was an intern down here in '87, when I was in law school, it was that way," said Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax Republican.

Under former Speaker Thomas W. Moss Jr., a Democrat who lost the position in the Republican takeover last year, it was more a matter of procedure than intent, lawmakers said. Traditionally, the committee received many more bills than it could handle, so on the last night bills could be approved, the committee killed lots of legislation members found unworthy.

But Mr. Wilkins' moves have created a few problems. One issue came up in the committee's first meeting Monday when lawmakers realized they were considering a bill while a very similar one had been sent to Courts of Justice. That means it's possible two similar bills could reach the House floor something the committee system is supposed to prevent.

Still, members from both parties agreed that the speaker has the right to do what he's doing.

"If I were speaker, I'd do the very same thing, because I'd want to kill some stuff," said Delegate Thomas M. Jackson Jr., Carroll County Democrat.


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