- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 22, 2004

The 2004 Virginia General Assembly session officially ended Wednesday after 119 days, including two special sessions and three reconvened sessions.

The legislature went into overtime — almost double the scheduled 60 days — because the House and Senate could not agree on the state budget and how to pay for it.

Wednesday’s pro-forma session concluded a second special session that was held to correct a minor legislative glitch that allowed workers to demand Saturdays or Sundays off.

The General Assembly met July 13 to correct that mistake, and the governor signed the measure into law immediately. The legislature was required to meet Wednesday — the sixth Wednesday after that special session.

Twelve of the Senate’s 40 members and 13 of the 100 delegates were present.

The 25 lawmakers accepted $115 each to host the mandatory session, where no business was conducted and no legislation was passed. The Senate met for seven minutes and the House of Delegates for eight minutes.

Although the tab came to nearly $3,000 (plus round-trip mileage costs), most lawmakers were eligible to receive $200 plus meals and hotel expenses because they were in the state’s capital for committee meetings that day.

State law prohibits lawmakers called back for a reconvened session from receiving the $200 payment, and instead allows them to receive the $115 per diem.

Delegates who accepted the per diem payment were: David B. Albo, Fairfax Republican; Robert H. Brink, Arlington Democrat; Kathy J. Byron, Lynchburg Republican; M. Kirkland Cox, Chesterfield Republican; Allen W. Dudley, Franklin Republican; H. Morgan Griffith, Roanoke Republican; Franklin P. Hall, Richmond Democrat; Robert Hurt, Pittsylvania Republican; R. Steven Landes, Augusta Republican; Joe T. May, Loudoun Republican; Brian J. Moran, Alexandria Democrat; Thomas Davis Rust, Fairfax Republican; and Thomas C. Wright Jr., Lunenburg Republican.

Senators who accepted the per diem payment were: J. Brandon Bell II, Roanoke Republican; John H. Chichester, Fredericksburg Republican; Jeannemarie A. Devolites, Fairfax Republican; John S. Edwards, Roanoke Democrat; Emmett W. Hanger Jr., Augusta Republican; R. Edward Houck, Spotsylvania Democrat; Janet D. Howell, Fairfax Democrat; William C. Mims, Loudoun Republican; Stephen D. Newman, Lynchburg Republican; Linda T. “Toddy” Puller, Fairfax Democrat; Kenneth W. Stolle, Virginia Beach Republican; and John C. Watkins, Chesterfield Republican.

• Rejected

The Virginia State Board of Elections has rejected petitions by Ralph Nader’s presidential campaign, denying the 70-year-old consumer activist a spot on the ballot in Virginia.

State elections officials say Nader campaign workers failed to meet state requirements that signatures be grouped according to congressional district, and then by localities within each of the 11 districts.

Denying Mr. Nader a spot on the ballot was a victory for Sen. John Kerry’s campaign and for Virginia Democrats, who think they have a chance to win a presidential race in the state for the first time in 40 years.

• Legal is good

U.S. Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, told a Hispanic business group last week that he welcomes the contributions of immigrants in the United States, but said they must enter the country legally.

Mr. Allen told the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce meeting in suburban Richmond that the process of coming to the United States should be made easier “for companies that can’t find Americans to do the work.”

He acknowledged his position might be disputed by some Hispanic business owners.

• The final frontier

A new low-cost rocket project at Wallops Island could mean big business for NASA on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, says the space agency is releasing $10 million to develop a rocket called the Falcon. It will be developed at the Wallops spaceport and could bring hundreds of high-paying jobs.

The idea is to lower the cost of sending satellites into space. Scientists say NASA needs a more efficient rocket system to do that.

The United States used to dominate the satellite launch business, but since the late 1990s that market share has faded dramatically because of the high cost of launch.

Countries such as Japan, Israel and China are looking for cheaper access to space.

Miss Mikulski, who is seeking re-election this year, says the demand could create a new industry in Maryland.

• Isn’t it special?

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. is calling for the General Assembly to hold a special session this fall to address increases in medical malpractice insurance rates.

Mr. Miller, Prince George’s Democrat, says he would like to create a state fund to help private insurers pay for jury awards and settlements in malpractice cases.

He says a $50 million fund would allow insurers to effectively freeze premiums at current levels.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, has called malpractice insurance a crisis that is forcing doctors to quit high-risk specialties. He has called for curbing payouts to injured patients and also is considering limits on attorneys’ fees in malpractice cases.

• A bigger board?

A Maryland state lawmaker wants to expand the board of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, the water utility for most of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

State Sen. Leonard H. Teitelbaum, Montgomery Democrat, is crafting a bill that would add a seventh commissioner to vote only on personnel and salary issues. It also would require a super majority of five out of seven votes to approve any personnel decision.

Mr. Teitelbaum was a WSSC commissioner from 1981 to 1987. He says the measure would prevent the kind of disarray that has plagued the agency in recent months.

The six-member board tried in February to fire General Manager John Griffin and his deputy.

The dismissals were overturned on a technicality, and the board then took almost six months before paying each manager more than $250,000 to step down.

• Dueling primaries

It appears likely that Virginia Republicans and Democrats will choose their nominees for governor in primaries next year.

It would be only the third time that both parties have held primaries at the same time.

Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine wants a primary to nominate the Democratic Party’s statewide candidates. He is expected to be the Democratic candidate for governor. The party’s state central committee will vote on the issue on September 11.

Republicans already have chosen a primary to pick their ticket, at the request of Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, who is expected to be the Republican nominee for governor.

The primaries will be held June 14, and voters will choose party nominees for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

• Signs

They dot lawns across Virginia — sometimes unsightly and often annoying to residents who would prefer that neighbors keep their opinions to themselves.

But with the presidential race and some local campaigns under way, the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is warning localities against enforcing time restrictions on privately posted political campaign signs.

Last week, the state ACLU said it sent letters to all 323 local governments in Virginia, reminding them that the General Assembly had passed a law protecting people’s right to post campaign signs on their land. The law took effect July 1.

Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia ACLU, said the statute “really does nothing more than codify the First Amendment right to post a sign with a political message on your property whenever you wish and for as long as you like.”

“Now, however, when a local official tells someone to take down a campaign sign, the ACLU will not have to explain the Supreme Court rulings on the subject and then threaten a lawsuit,” Mr. Willis said.

Mr. Willis said he doesn’t know how many Virginia localities restrict political signs. But in the past year, his group has threatened lawsuits after Farmville and Culpeper residents were ordered to remove campaign signs posted outside local time limits.

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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