Thursday, January 16, 2003

RICHMOND John Nicholson opened a flower shop a few years ago with hopes of leaving it to his children. He said yesterday the dream will not come true unless Virginia repeals its estate tax.
“I think it’s important for all small businesses to continue to grow and not worry about some arbitrary ceiling,” said Mr. Nicholson, owner of Company Flowers and Gifts in Arlington, which employs 20 persons.
John Cox came to Richmond to tell lawmakers the same.
“Why should my two daughters be faced with liquidation or closure at the time of my death, just to pay this tax?” said Mr. Cox, who employs more than 200 workers at the Ashland transportation hauling company he started 21 years ago.
Mr. Nicholson and Mr. Cox were joined by other small-business owners yesterday at the state capital to ask lawmakers to repeal what critics call the “death tax.”
With Virginia facing a $2.1 billion deficit, legislators have said they will not support tax increases to help balance the budget.
But repeal of the estate tax has gained momentum in the opening days of the General Assembly.
Yesterday, Delegate Robert F. McDonnell and state Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr. introduced such legislation that would apply to people who die after Dec. 31.
Virginia now can take as much as 16 percent of the value of an estate.
“We should not have the tax man at the door asking for 16 percent on the day of the funeral,” said Mr. McDonnell, Newport News Republican.
The U.S. Congress passed similar legislation in 2001.
Virginia lawmakers also took the first step toward stopping a repeat of the sexual-abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church.
The Senate Courts of Justice passed 11-1 legislation that would add members of the clergy to the list of professions required to report charges of sexual abuse. Members of the clergy would be exempt only if they learned about a reputed crime in the confines of church doctrine, for example the sacrament of confession in the Catholic Church.
The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Janet Howell, Fairfax Democrat, and James O’Brien, Fairfax Republican. Sen. Nick Rerras, Norfolk Republican, voted against the proposal.
“Please make it happen any way you can make it happen,” the Rev. Pasquale J. Apuzzo of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond told the committee. “We’ve never asked for this exception in the first place.”
Jack Knapp, executive director of the Virginia Assembly of Independent Baptists, said he was concerned that the legislation would hurt Protestant ministers and others without doctrines similar to the Catholics’.
“You are going at this problem with an atomic bomb when maybe a fly swatter would do,” Mr. Knapp said. “This was a problem of criminal activity by pastors and priests in the Catholic Church. They have addressed it and taken care of it, so we don’t need this.”
Sens. William C. Mims, Leesburg Republican, and Kenneth T. Cuccinelli Jr., Fairfax Republican, submitted amendments to ensure other faith-based meetings would be covered. However, administrative meetings between clergy and their supervisors are specifically not covered in the legislation.
Thirty-one other states have either passed or are considering similar legislation. The bill now goes before the entire House for a full vote later in the session.

A bill that would have required unlicensed dealers at gun shows to conduct background checks on buyers failed to get out of committee yesterday.
The Senate Courts of Justice Committee decided instead to request a study on the issue by the state Crime Commission. Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, Richmond Democrat, said the move was a polite way of killing his bill.
“I don’t want to waste another year studying it,” Mr. Marsh said. “There was no argument really against it.”
Mr. Marsh’s bill would have expanded state law, which requires federally licensed dealers at gun shows in Virginia to conduct background checks but does not apply to unlicensed dealers. Mr. Marsh said the “loophole” makes it easier for criminals to circumvent the system.
“If one person buys a gun illegally and kills somebody, that’s a sufficient basis for a bill,” he said.
Committee members voted 11-3 to send the measure to the Crime Commission, saying there was insufficient evidence that more background checks at gun shows would lower crime significantly.

Lt. Gov. Timothy Kaine said the state’s legislative redistricting process has created voting monopolies that discourage competitive races and take election power from the people.
Mr. Kaine joined Democratic leaders yesterday in urging passage of legislation in the House and Senate that would create an independent redistricting commission to redraw legislative lines after census changes.
Mr. Kaine said none of the congressional races in November after Republican-led redistricting yielded a challenger who earned more than 40 percent of the vote.
“It’s a mini-monopoly form of government,” he said. “Whether you are an ardent Republican or an ardent Democrat, you are better off being in a district where people can’t take you for granted and have to come out and make a case to you about why they should be put in office.”

A House of Delegates committee yesterday watered down a proposal to require schools to teach Virginia’s Bill of Rights as part of their character-education programs.
The Education Committee amended Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter’s bill to eliminate a provision that would have required schools to post the Virginia Constitution’s Bill of Rights in every classroom. The bill now just adds to the character-education law a “Virginia Statement of Values” consisting of the Bill of Rights and information about the state seal.
The committee sent the amended bill to the House floor on a voice vote. It is expected to be up for a vote next week.
Mr. Lingamfelter, Prince William County Republican, took the change in stride. He said that as long as educators must teach the “Statement of Values,” they may post it on the wall but won’t be required to do so.
Last year, the General Assembly rejected Mr. Lingamfelter’s bill to require schools to post the Ten Commandments.

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