- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2002

RICHMOND Late-term "partial-birth" abortions would be outlawed in Virginia if a measure approved by the state Senate becomes law.

The Senate passed the bill 26-12. Last month, the House of Delegates passed the same bill sponsored by Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican 75-25. Gov. Mark R. Warner has said he will consider signing the legislation.

"The fundamental purpose of government is to protect life," said Delegate Robert F. McDonnell, Virginia Beach Republican.

Mr. McDonnell said he is sure that the measure, if it becomes law, will be subject to numerous court challenges.

"We're probably at the edge of the envelope with the language in the bill, but it's worth the fight," he said.

The bill makes it a felony for anyone who commits "infanticide" by "deliberately and intentionally" performing the procedure that sometimes involves the partial delivery of the fetus in order to destroy it.

Virginia would be the first state to restore a ban on late-term abortion procedures after the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down a similar law, which it ruled was too vague and left no exception for the health of the mother. Virginia was one of 30 states that had its laws overturned.

Mr. Marshall said he is confident his bill will pass constitutional muster.

Opponents of the bill said it was futile for the General Assembly to pass a measure that may not even be constitutional.

"We will be on the losing side," Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, said on the floor.

Sen. R. Creigh Deeds said not only will the state lose in the courts, but the measure would be seen as simply an ideological exercise for conservatives, at taxpayers' expense.

"It's so somebody can fight a culture war" in the courts, said Mr. Deeds, Bath Democrat.

Delegate Mitchell Van Yahres, Charlottesville Democrat, said there's the possibility that the law is meant to limit a woman's right to choose.

"It's chipping away at the whole issue," Mr. Van Yahres said.

One of the few Democrats that voted in favor of the bill, Delegate J. Chapman Petersen of Fairfax, said the state has the obligation to outlaw this procedure.

"If the bill is constitutional, then I think it's fair that the legislature should restrict the procedure," Mr. Petersen said. "There's no harder issue than abortion in the legislature. I just try to vote my conscience."

• • •

House and Senate budget negotiators agreed yesterday on a $50.2 billion spending plan that bails the state out of a $1.3 billion shortfall this year and restores transportation funding for two years after that.

The five delegates and four senators reached a budget deal shortly before noon after coming to terms over a handful of minor items that were left unresolved Wednesday night when both sides announced they had settled major differences.

The accord sets up a vote by the House of Delegates and Senate tomorrow, the day the General Assembly ends its 60-day session.

At 2:15 a.m. Wednesday, talks had broken up because of a disagreement over aid to nonprofit, private organizations legislators call "non-state agencies." The panel seemingly resolved that dispute, only to have new questions arise late that night over minor items, including funding for the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington and the state's school for the deaf and blind.

When House negotiators sought out their Senate counterparts to discuss the loose ends, the senators had departed for the night, said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican.

Budget negotiators agreed in principle to settle their disagreement over non-state agencies by providing each chamber a $6.25 million discretionary fund, which the House will use for cultural attractions and the Senate for Medicaid and indigent care.

Key points in the budget, which will run through June 2004, include the restoration of all $652.6 million that former Gov. James S. Gilmore III had proposed diverting into the general operations fund with a combination of cash and debt backed by future federal highway money.

It would provide 2.5 percent bonuses, or an option of two weeks' additional vacation, for state employees, college faculty and judges in the first year of the budget. Those workers also could opt for a 1.25 percent raise and five extra vacation days.

The second year of the budget includes $101.4 million in compensation for state workers, professors, state-supported local employees and teachers. The money would be enough for a 2.75 percent raise, but the legislature won't determine how it is disbursed until next year.

The package provides nearly $200 million more for public schools than the last two-year budget. However, it would eliminate 21 public-education programs targeted by the House because they lacked a statewide mission or had not been proven effective. About $120 million of the $133.4 million in savings was funneled into the state's public-school financing formula to address deficiencies cited in a legislative study.

Some of the education initiatives the House wanted to cut were preserved, including $20 million for a dropout-prevention program and an $82.7 million block-grant program for at-risk students. The plan includes $55 million for school construction.

Funding for state colleges would be cut by $290 million, but the institutions could raise tuition frozen since 1996 to recoup some losses.

The budget forces the closure of the state prison in Staunton and several lesser lockups and the related loss of hundreds of jobs.

Mr. Warner had no immediate comment on the budget deal.

• • •

The House passed legislation establishing a database to track narcotics prescriptions in southwest Virginia after legislators from that region pleaded for help to curb abuse of the painkiller OxyContin.

Opponents of the bill argued yesterday that the monitoring program would invade the privacy of cancer patients and others who obtain and use the drug legally.

The bill, introduced by Sen. William C. Wampler, Bristol Republican, originally would have established the database statewide and would have covered an array of narcotics. The House narrowed it to southwest Virginia and one class of highly addictive drugs that includes OxyContin.

The aim of the program is to help authorities track people suspected of faking ailments to obtain the painkiller from different doctors. Some of these people are addicts and others are drug dealers.

"OxyContin is either a drug used for legitimate reasons or a drug from hell," said Delegate Clarence "Bud" Phillips, Dickenson Democrat.

The bill requires pharmacists who dispense OxyContin or other narcotics in its class to forward detailed information about the patient.

The House voted 59-40 to pass the bill, which now goes back to the Senate for action on the House revisions.

* This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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