- The Washington Times - Monday, March 4, 2002

RICHMOND Some of the most far-reaching legislation introduced in the Virginia General Assembly, including proposed tax-increase referendums and the state budget, is still pending as the 2002 session enters its final week.
A conference committee consisting of four senators and four delegates faces a midnight deadline today for resolving vast differences in their competing spending plans. Among the items on the table are state employee and teacher raises and cuts in education, economic development and anti-terrorism funding to help plug a $3.8 billion hole in the budget.
The two-year, $50.2 billion budget will be among the last issues decided before the 60-day session's scheduled adjournment Saturday.
Also still in play are three competing bills to allow voters to decide whether to raise their taxes to pay for education and transportation improvements. One bill has a statewide education component; two others would be for Northern Virginia only.
Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner insists on a statewide sales-tax referendum to benefit public schools. Republican House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins adamantly opposes the statewide referendum but supports a Northern Virginia proposal.
Two of the bills are pending in a conference committee and the other has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee. If nothing emerges, Mr. Warner could submit a new bill.
Several other high-profile bills await action.
A bill to regulate a banking practice known as "payday lending" is on the Senate calendar for a final vote. Consumer advocates say the high-interest, short-term loans can trap desperate borrowers in a perpetual cycle of debt.
A cash-strapped consumer can obtain a small loan by writing the lender a check for the amount borrowed plus fees generally about $17 per $100 borrowed. The lender deposits the check at a future date, usually the borrower's next payday.
Delegate Harvey Morgan's bill would cap fees at $15 per $100 borrowed and prohibit lenders from "rolling over" the loan, piling on more finance charges that often can put the borrower deeper in the hole.
Sen. Leslie Byrne, a Democrat, tried to amend the bill to allow payday lenders to make no more than one loan a month, and four a year, to a customer. She made clear her dislike for the bill, which consumer advocates say amounts to state approval of payday lending.
"Trying to help this bill is like putting lipstick on a pig," she said.
The Senate Courts of Justice Committee will consider a bill by Delegate H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, to require localities to get court approval before using "facial recognition" technology.
Virginia Beach plans to put cameras along the oceanfront to record the images of faces and send them to a police computer to be compared against a database of photos of fugitives, runaways and missing people. The city would become the nation's second, after Tampa, Fla., to use the technology.
Mr. Griffith said he is not targeting Virginia Beach; he just believes there should be some controls.

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