- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 1, 2003

Abortion issues will likely take center stage when the Virginia General Assembly reconvenes next week.
Several bills aimed at regulating the procedure have been prefiled, and others are expected to be ready once the 2003 session begins a week from today.
"Anyone who thinks this is going to be strictly a budget session is wrong. There are many legislators who will come to Richmond with specific agendas and will push these agendas," said Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.
State Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Fairfax Republican, plans to introduce legislation that would require clinics that perform more than 25 abortions a year to be classified as hospitals.
Mr. Cuccinelli says the reclassification is necessary because women are at risk when they are treated at these facilities, which he said are "inadequate and dangerous."
"If these places serviced cars, we would call them chop shops," said Mr. Cuccinelli, a freshman lawmaker who was elected in an August special election, in part because of his strong pro-life platform.
Ben Greenberg, director of government relations for Planned Parenthood, said his group would oppose the measure and any others that would restrict women's access to abortion. He called the Cuccinelli proposal "a waste of time."
"Most clinics are in facilities that would not be able to meet these requirements, such as hallways that could fit two gurneys or operating rooms that [are larger than necessary for the procedure]," he said. "They are trying to target those who perform the procedure and trying to shut them down . With everything else the legislature has to deal with, they should not be focusing on this."
A similar measure was sponsored last year by Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican, but it failed.
Lawmakers also are poised to take up a partial-birth abortion ban.
A bill outlawing the procedure passed both houses last year, but was vetoed by Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat. In his veto message, Mr. Warner cited concerns that the bill would not pass constitutional muster. The House of Delegates overrode the veto, but the Senate fell two votes short.
With the election of Mr. Cuccinelli and state Sen. Jay O'Brien Jr., Fairfax Republican, the Senate appears to have the votes to override a veto. State Sen. Stephen Newman, Lynchburg Republican, plans to reintroduce the measure this year.
Ellen Qualls, spokeswoman for Mr. Warner, has said the governor would support a ban on the procedure as long as it is constitutionally sound. The state passed a similar ban several years ago, and was taken to court to defend the measure. It ultimately lost and cost the state thousands of dollars. Legislators during the 2002 session often cited this case as a reason for opposing the legislation.
Partial-birth abortion occurs when a third-trimester fetus is partially delivered through the vaginal tract, and a suction tube is used to remove the baby's brain, causing the skull to collapse. The procedure is rare, and exact figures on how often it is performed are not available.
The issue of parental consent also is likely to return. Lawmakers in the House of Delegates passed legislation last year calling for stricter parental-consent laws regarding minors and abortion. The measure passed in the House, but failed on a tie vote in the Senate.
"Reproductive rights are going to be a big issue, particularly parental consent," said Mr. Willis. "Remember what happened last year [with the tie vote] and [state Sen.] Warren Barry is no longer there to vote against it."
Mr. Barry, Fairfax Republican, resigned from the Senate in July to take a position in Mr. Warner's administration. Mr. Barry, who opposed the parental-consent law, was replaced by Mr. Cuccinelli.
Mr. Warner took office last January, and his first year in office was bumpy, at best.
The legislative session ended abruptly when Speaker S. Vance Wilkins, Amherst Republican, refused to consider a conference report on Mr. Warner's pet project a transportation referendum. The package ultimately passed during a special April session, but voters in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia overwhelmingly rejected Mr. Warner's call for a sales-tax increase to fund transportation projects.
Mr. Warner, who has cut nearly $6 billion in state spending and more than 3,000 jobs, has pledged to promote a reform agenda during the 2003 legislative session that he says would ensure Virginians will never face another budget crisis like the current one.
"My reform agenda includes reforms to the way we craft the state budget, to ensure the Commonwealth reacts quickly in the future to economic downturns and revenue shortfalls," Mr. Warner said yesterday in an op-ed article in the Hampton Roads Daily Press. "My plan would enhance the 'rainy-day' fund, allowing us to invest more during good times. It would require a longer-term outlook on the fiscal impact of new legislation."
Mr. Warner also supports eliminating the one-term limit for Virginia governors. Under his proposal, the rule would not take effect until 2009, so the current one-term rule would not affect him or his successor.
When not dealing with abortion or the budget, lawmakers are expected to have their hands full with new tax proposals and privacy-rights issues.
The Washington Times reported this fall that state law required counties to publish personal information on their Web sites when posting public documents. Items such as a person's Social Security number, date of birth and mother's maiden name all of which are often used by creditors to ensure privacy are available on several county Web sites.
A legislative committee headed by Delegate Jeannemarie Devolites, Fairfax Republican, has been looking into the matter.
"This is not a conservative-vs.-liberal issue, or a Republican-vs.-Democrat issue. It's something everyone agrees to in principle. It's just that we need to shape something that promotes public records posting, but protects the private information," said Mr. Willis of the ACLU, which is opposed to outright publication of private records.


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