- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 4, 2003

RICHMOND (AP) The House of Delegates overwhelmingly passed a Republican-backed bill yesterday repealing the state's posthumous tax on estates worth $1 million or more.
Delegates approved the measure on a heavily partisan 69-29 vote.
The Senate tentatively approved its version of the bill on a voice vote after rejecting a Democrat's proposal to limit the tax break to heirs of smaller businesses and family farms. A final Senate vote is set for today.
Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner believes the estate tax should be considered as part of a broader reform of the state's tax structure and would not sign the "fiscally irresponsible" measure in its current form, spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said.
Opponents of the bill said it would help only the richest Virginians and would cost the state $136 million a year money that could be used for public schools, mental health and other underfunded priorities.
"The problem I have with this bill, Mr. Speaker, is that it's insulting," said Delegate Kenneth Melvin, Portsmouth Democrat. "It's insulting in its timing because of the budgetary crisis that you all know that we are deeply into now."
He said the mentally ill, the elderly, schoolchildren and parents struggling to pay higher college tuition all need more state support.
In the Senate, Democrat Creigh Deeds of Bath County offered a substitute bill to limit the tax cut's scope. He said the legislature can help small businesses and farmers without breaking the bank.
"It seems to me we can't afford to reduce our revenue stream another $136 million," Mr. Deeds said.
The House rejected a similar amendment Saturday.
Delegate Leslie Byrne, Fairfax County Democrat, noted that the state still has not completed its grocery-tax and car-tax cuts because of budget constraints. She said the Republican-backed bill "says to these wealthy people that you get to jump in front of the line for tax relief."
The Senate voted 28-11 to reject Mr. Deeds' proposal.

Lawmakers narrowly advanced legislation in the House yesterday that would relax restrictions on carrying concealed weapons into restaurants serving alcohol.
The bill moved to its third reading on a 52-48 vote, but the number of Republicans voting against the measure makes its passage through the Senate doubtful, should it make it out of the House. Twenty-four Republicans voted against the bill, while a handful of Democrats voted for it.
The legislation would make it legal to bring a concealed weapon into a restaurant or bar where alcohol sales do not exceed 30 percent of the establishment's total sales.
Opponents warned that the potential for deadly accidents increases when people mix guns and alcohol. Virginia law prohibits anyone from carrying a concealed weapon with a blood alcohol level more than .08.
According to the bill's sponsor, Delegate Lee Ware, the 100,000 people licensed to carry concealed weapons in Virginia are "among the most responsible and law-abiding men and women in the commonwealth."
"In a dangerous world, they wish only to be able to protect themselves and their families when they are dining out and walking to and from a restaurant," said Mr. Ware, Powhatan Republican.

For the third year in a row, the House defeated legislation that would have made it legal for motorcyclists to glide across the commonwealth's highways without helmets.
By a vote of 53-46 yesterday, legislators defeated a bill by Delegate Samuel A. Nixon Jr. that would have made helmets optional for motorcyclists 21 or older on roads designated as Virginia Byways.
Moments earlier, a measure that would have altogether waived the requirement that motorcyclists wear helmets failed on an unrecorded show of hands to advance to a third and final reading.

The House tentatively said "I do" to legislation creating a new form of marriage that requires counseling before the wedding and makes it harder to get a divorce.
Delegate Robert F. McDonnell's "covenant marriage" bill advanced yesterday on an unrecorded show of hands. A final House vote is scheduled today.
"This is just a modest little reform based on counseling that hopefully will allow marriages to stick together longer," said Mr. McDonnell, Virginia Beach Republican.
Under his proposal, couples who choose a covenant marriage would undergo eight hours of premarital counseling and would sign a statement that they understand marriage is a lifelong commitment.

The House tentatively approved a bill yesterday authorizing a specialty license plate with an anti-abortion message: "Choose Life."
Delegates advanced the bill 56-38. A final House vote is set for today, the final day for each chamber of the assembly to act on its own bills.
DelegateRichard Black, Loudoun County Republican, said the bill's aim is to promote adoption. A portion of the revenue from plate sales would go to local governments, which would distribute it to nonprofit agencies that provide adoption services. The bill expressly prohibits distribution of money to abortion clinics.

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