- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2002

RICHMOND (AP) The Senate approved legislation yesterday that would require posting of the national motto, "In God We Trust," in state courtrooms, but put its effectiveness in doubt by adding an amendment requiring the state to pay for it.
On a 30-10 vote, the Senate approved the bill the House of Delegates had passed overwhelmingly in January, but a related bill to require posting the motto in public schools was passed by for the day when a senator sought to add the same funding amendment.
Requiring the legislature to appropriate money to post the motto in schools or in courts could keep the measure from taking effect for years as legislative budget writers summarily reject most new spending requests as they struggle with a $3.8 billion shortfall.
"So unless the General Assembly appropriates funds, which I don't believe is done in the Senate budget, the law won't become effective," said Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, Virginia Beach Republican, who heads the committee that added the funding requirement.
Sen. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller liked the amendment so much that when the bill to require posting the motto in schools came up moments later, she offered a floor amendment requiring the state to pay for that as well.
"If we're going to indeed put this law into effect, then it is our responsibility to pay for these plaques, or whatever they are, that are mounted in our schools," said Mrs. Puller, Fairfax County Democrat.

A House of Delegates committee postponed legislation prohibiting the execution of mentally retarded people until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules in a Virginia death-row case.
The Courts of Justice Committee voted 17-4 to hold Sen. John S. Edwards' bill until next year. The panel took the same action 10 days ago on a nearly identical measure sponsored by Delegate James F. Almand.
The Supreme Court chose the case of Daryl Atkins to determine whether it is constitutional to execute mentally retarded killers. Atkins murdered an airman during a robbery and was sentenced to death, even though he is mildly retarded.
The justices will hear Atkins' appeal tomorrow but are unlikely to make a decision before the General Assembly's scheduled March 9 adjournment.
"I'm not sure we're in a position to make a policy decision on this right now," said Delegate Robert McDonnell, Virginia Beach Republican, who offered the motion to carry Mr. Edwards' bill over until next year.
Mr. Almand, Arlington Democrat, urged the committee to send the bill to the House floor.
"It's wrong to execute the mentally retarded," he said, noting that 18 states have approved the prohibition and a dozen others do not have capital punishment.
Delegate Johnny Joannou, Portsmouth Democrat, said he was troubled by the bill's definition of mentally retarded. He said Atkins probably could not have been convicted had the measure been on the books, "and that was a brutal case."
Mr. Edwards, Roanoke Democrat, said he was disappointed by the committee's action.
"They raised what I consider bogus arguments," he said.
The bill had a delayed enactment date of July 1, 2003. Legislators could go on record opposing capital punishment for the mentally retarded and still have time to make adjustments based on the Atkins ruling, Mr. Edwards said.
"Virginia shouldn't be dragged along by the Supreme Court," he said.

Consumer advocates denounced legislation yesterday that would sanction a banking practice that they say traps people in a cycle of perpetual debt by offering short-term, high-interest loans secured by a postdated check.
The bill regulating payday lending has passed the House and is pending in a Senate committee, where it likely will be considered next week.
Representatives of consumer and religious organizations said at a news conference that payday lending preys on people who live paycheck-to-paycheck, find themselves in a financial bind and have few if any other credit options.
"Payday lending is predatory, and Virginia should not endorse this practice," said Jean Ann Fox, director of consumer protection for the Consumer Federation of America.
Here's how payday lending works: A consumer needs cash today, but payday is still a week or two away. He writes a check for the amount he wants to borrow, plus a fee that the lender keeps. The lender holds the check until a future date typically the borrower's payday before depositing it.
Fees generally are $17 or $18 per $100 borrowed, and loan terms are one or two weeks. Consumer advocates say borrowers often renew or "roll over" the loan when it comes due, piling on more interest charges and falling farther behind.
"You don't get out of a financial hole until you quit digging it deeper," Miss Fox said.
State law caps interest rates on loans of $2,500 or less at 36 percent. However, payday lenders circumvent that law by affiliating with nationally chartered out-of-state banks that have no limits.
Delegate Harvey B. Morgan's bill would limit the fee to $15 per $100 borrowed and would prohibit lenders from rolling over a loan. The regulations would allow state-chartered institutions to compete in the booming payday-lending field.
"I don't like payday lending, but since it's here and it's going to stay, my bill would at least put some constraints and controls on it," said Mr. Morgan, Gloucester Republican.
Miss Fox said the state should not put its stamp of approval on high-cost loans. A $15 finance charge on a one-week, $100 advance amounts to an annual interest rate of 780 percent, she noted. And while Mr. Morgan's bill prohibits rollovers, it doesn't stop the borrower from going to another payday lender to get cash to pay off the first.
The Catholic Diocese of Richmond opposes payday lending because of the biblical charge to protect the needy from usurious lending, spokesman Steve Colecci said. Credit counselors for the diocese "have seen families devastated" by payday loan rollovers, he said.
Bob Colvin, a Virginia Citizens Consumer Council board member, said "it is fundamentally wrong" to allow a borrower to deliberately write a bad check. He said writing a hot check for more than $200 is a felony, giving lenders tremendous leverage over borrowers who can't cover their obligation.

The Senate also voted 34-5 with one abstention for legislation that would remove a limit on the amount of real estate that churches may own.
If it becomes law, the measure could resolve a conflict the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg encountered in its efforts to expand. Mr. Falwell sued in U.S. District Court contending the state's acreage limit for churches was unconstitutional.

Nearly a dozen organizations that help former inmates find jobs and housing after they are released from prison could be casualties of budget cuts as the state tries to close an estimated $3.8 billion shortfall.
Officials with organizations like Virginia CARES and Step Up, both geared toward helping inmates continue their rehabilitation on the outside as law-abiding citizens, said the suggested cuts to their funding could wind up costing society far more.
The programs were among those trimmed by the Department of Criminal Justice Services when Gov. Mark R. Warner called for state agencies to cut their budget 7 percent in the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, and 8 percent in the following year. The cut at Criminal Justice Services amounts to $2.19 million annually.
"This is the death knell for 25 years of Virginia CARES," said Ted Edlich, president of Total Action Against Poverty, which started the Virginia CARES program in 1978. "It is a very short-sighted decision."
The 11 nonprofit organizations, including Virginia CARES and Step Up, help about 18,500 inmates per year with tasks from filling out job applications and completing resumes to learning interviewing skills and continuing with career counseling.
The work is done in 83 municipalities and counties throughout Virginia.
Virginia CARES has 14 offices in Virginia, and officials with the program said 74 percent of participants in the 1999-2000 fiscal year avoided a return to prison. Without the program's service, four out of five ex-convicts would be incarcerated again.
"When they cut this program, they are hurting all the people at the program," said Lee Roy Small, job developer at a Virginia CARES agency in Roanoke. "The majority that get out come here first before social services. So we must be doing something right."
Mr. Small said the Roanoke office gets 10 to 12 walk-ins per day.
Similarly, Sandra Brandt of Norfolk-based Step-Up said that program would close without the state money, and that would likely then result in a higher crime rate.
"You're going to see people who would normally have people who help them get jobs and a place to live going back to what they were doing before," she said.
Miss Brandt, the executive director of Step Up, and Virginia CARES Executive Director Cindy Martin spent time in Richmond last week, talking to legislators about how important their programs are and imploring them to save money in other ways.
"Inmates will have nobody to turn to," Miss Martin said. "We've always said our competition is the streets. They'll go back to the same old crowd."
But Joe Marshall, policy and planning coordinator for Criminal Justice Services, said the cuts are necessary to get the budget within the parameters set by Mr. Warner.
"The bottom line was that we have a limited amount of state general funds from which we could make cuts. Our thinking is to prioritize areas of the agency that would be hurt if we cut them. And other areas took precedence over this one," he said.


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