Wednesday, April 21, 2004

RICHMOND — Lawmakers yesterday rejected Gov. Mark Warner’s amendments to a fetal-homicide bill and approved by a veto-proof margin a bill that bans civil unions.

The Republican-dominated House and Senate voted mostly along party lines to reject two affirmations that the “feticide” laws were not meant to threaten rights established in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. The House voted 69-31 to reject the amendments, and the Senate voted 25-15.

In addition, both chambers passed a bill that would prohibit Virginia from recognizing same-sex civil unions performed in other states. It also would prohibit civil unions and any “partnership contracts” or other arrangements between homosexuals. The House voted 69-30 to pass the measure. The Senate passed the measure 27-12. It will become law on July 1.

Mr. Warner, a Democrat, has 30 days to sign or veto the two identical feticide bills, which would make it illegal to kill an unborn child against the mother’s wishes. If Mr. Warner doesn’t act, the bills will become law.

Opponents said Mr. Warner wrote the amendments to appeal to pro-choice voters.

“It looks to me like nothing more than a political stick in the eye,” said Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Fairfax County Republican. “It is extraordinarily inappropriate.”

However, Sen. Janet D. Howell, Fairfax County Democrat, said lawmakers should pass the amendments to demonstrate that the state does not want to threaten abortion rights.

“Now is the moment of truth. If you really meant that, now is your opportunity to vote for this and make it absolutely crystal clear,” she said.

The bill that bans civil unions comes at a time when several other states are granting extensive legal rights to homosexual couples, short of recognizing civil unions or homosexual “marriages.”

Mr. Warner amended the bill by deleting the phrase “partnership contracts.” He had said that phrase was unconstitutional. The House yesterday voted 65-35 to reject the governor’s amendment before passing the original bill by veto-proof margins.

Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William County Republican who authored the bill, said this is not a civil rights matter.

“Homosexuals were not brought to the United States in slave ships,” he said. “They were not segregated in schools. This is a long human right that antedates human history. Do not alter it.”

Delegate Adam P. Ebbin, Arlington Democrat and the state’s only openly homosexual legislator, called the bill “vague” and said it had “unintended consequences.”

“This would jeopardize other private agreements between people of the same sex,” Mr. Ebbin said. “Think about what’s the right thing. Think about this before you vote.”

Delegates also rejected Mr. Warner’s amendment to a bill that would waive the 21-day limit but restrict convicts to filing only one petition seeking a new trial based on exculpatory evidence. Current law limits convicts to submitting new evidence three days after sentencing.

Mr. Warner suggested removing the provision that limits petitioners to one claim of innocence. The Senate passed the amendment, but the House rejected it 57-43. Mr. Warner now can sign or veto the original bill.

The House and Senate each considered the 53 bills that Mr. Warner amended and agreed to 46 of them.

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