- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003

RICHMOND Virginia lawmakers are expected to face several important social issues while trying to solve a major budget crisis when the 2003 General Assembly begins tomorrow.
"Anyone who thinks this is going to be strictly a budget session is wrong," said Kent Willis, executive director of Virginia's American Civil Liberties Union. "There are many legislators who will come to Richmond with specific agendas, and they will push these agendas."
State Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, Fairfax Republican, plans to introduce legislation that would require facilities that perform 25 or more abortions a year to be regulated as hospitals.
Mr. Cuccinelli, a freshman lawmaker who won a special election in August on a pro-life platform, is concerned about how safe the clinics are, so he wants more regulations.
"If these places serviced cars, we would call them chop shops," Mr. Cuccinelli said.
But the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, an Alexandria-based advocacy group, disputes this and has asked Mr. Cuccinelli for specific plans.
"Our concern is that the regulations are crafted in the interest of providing quality medical care, and are not politically motivated," Ron Fitzsimmons, executive director wrote Mr. Cuccinelli in a Jan. 3, 2003, letter obtained by The Washington Times.
Sen. Jay O'Brien, Fairfax Republican, was also elected during a special election and ran as a pro-life candidate.
House Majority Whip Jeannemarie Devolites said the special elections increased the conservative philosophy in the Senate.
The bill passed in the House last year but failed in the Senate. Mrs. Devolites said if Gov. Mark R. Warner vetoes the bill again this year, she has enough votes to override it.
Mr. Warner, Democrat, vetoed the bill over concerns it was unconstitutional.
Abortion takes on added significance this year for two reasons. First, Jan. 22 marks the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. And all 140 legislative seats are up for election in November. Abortion is viewed by many on both sides of the debate as an issue to motivate voters to get to the polls.
This year, state Sen. Steve Newman is going to sponsor legislation clearly defining the partial-birth abortion procedure so the bill would pass a likely Supreme Court challenge, he said yesterday.
Mr. Newman, Lynchburg Republican, was the primary sponsor of 1998 legislation passed in the General Assembly that outlawed the procedure. It was challenged, and the Supreme Court eventually ruled 5-4 that the language in the bill was too restrictive. During last year's debate, many legislators cited the court battle as a reason to oppose the legislation, for fear it would cost the state money to defend a bill that would ultimately be defeated.
However, Mr. Newman is confident the new bill will pass constitutional muster.
"This bill need not become entangled in the old arguments of the past," he said. "Most Virginians of every persuasion are opposed to this hideous procedure."
Stricter parental-consent laws are also likely to be presented to the legislature. Right now, Virginia states parents must be notified if their minor daughter wants to obtain an abortion. Pro-life advocates are hoping to change that to require at least one parent to give their permission before the procedure can be done.
Still, most legislators are primarily concerned with the ongoing budget crisis. Last year, Mr. Warner was forced to cut more than $5 billion from the budget. In December, he announced plans to further reduce the budget by $1.2 billion. Legislators will have the next 46 days to discuss his plans, as well as propose their own alternatives.
One proposal would require state agencies to post their budgets on the Internet as a part of public records. Supporters argue this would cost the state little because most agencies have Web servers and the documents have already been prepared. Increasing awareness of budget expenditures would make the process more open, and presumably less confusing, they say.
"It is extremely difficult to get to the bottom of spending," said Delegate Allen Louderback, Luray Republican. "This measure should increase access to the real numbers."

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