- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2004

From combined dispatches

RICHMOND — Virginia lawmakers yesterday took another step toward supporting President Bush’s call for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The House Rules Committee overwhelmingly passed a Senate resolution urging Congress to propose a constitutional amendment banning homosexual “marriages” and civil unions.

The full House and Senate already have approved their own measures by wide margins. After approving each other’s resolutions, the two bodies will send them to Mr. Bush and leaders in Congress.

The Senate resolution’s sponsor said the act demonstrates Virginia’s willingness to approve a constitutional amendment, which needs ratification by 38 states after passing the U.S. House and Senate by two-thirds margins.

“The Supreme Court made it very clear to everybody in the last year there is no other protection against the courts,” said Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Fairfax County Republican. “We have the makings of judicial tyranny in this country.”

Mr. Bush urged approval of a constitutional amendment banning homosexual marriages on Tuesday, saying “activist judges and local officials” have required that the “voice of the people must be heard.”

Business interests as large as utilities and airlines and as small as a Roanoke taxicab company warned a Senate panel yesterday that a House proposal to end their sales-tax exemptions threatens thousands of Virginia jobs.

A House committee, meanwhile, was prepared either to kill or radically amend two Senate bills that would boost taxes by $3.8 billion by raising the sales tax from 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent, adding higher income-tax brackets for the wealthy and boosting cigarette and fuel taxes.

Delegate Phillip A. Hamilton, facing a Senate Finance Committee openly hostile to his bill, noted with candor disarming to committee members that key business interests had coalesced against his bill.

Mr. Hamilton, Newport News Republican, conceded that the $520 million he estimates his bill would add to the state treasury “is but a baby step” toward comprehensive state tax reform that shores up funding for core government services.

He also acknowledged that the revenue estimate was built on extrapolations from a Department of Taxation study that dates to 1992. Taxation officials said they would rank their confidence in the data at 2 on a scale of 1 to 10. The governor’s office yesterday estimated the bill’s yield “is $340,399,733, … not the $520 million.”

Mr. Hamilton’s bill would force enterprises such as railroads, airlines, overseas shippers, telephone companies, trucking lines, oil and gas drillers, taxi companies, laundries and even the Wallops Island space-launch complex to pay a 4.5 percent tax on purchases in Virginia of fuel, parts and materials.

The Senate on Tuesday passed legislation allowing state-run liquor stores in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to open on Sundays.

The bill, already passed by the House, now goes to Gov. Mark Warner.

The aim of the legislation is to help Alcoholic Beverage Control stores in the two regions compete with liquor stores that are open on Sundays in Maryland, the District and on military bases.

The bill’s sponsor, Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax County Republican, has said that even if only half of the eligible liquor stores opened on Sundays, the state would bring in an additional $2 million a year.

But Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., Winchester Republican, argued that Sundays should be considered special and that drinkers have plenty of opportunity to buy their libations the other six days of the week.

The Senate voted 24-13 to pass the bill.

Black legislators yesterday implored their colleagues to find money in the state budget to fund scholarships for students denied public schooling during the “Massive Resistance” movement.

The Senate Finance Committee’s proposed two-year, $61.5 billion budget includes $100,000 in seed money for a “Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship Program and Fund.”

A $58 billion spending plan backed by the House Appropriations Committee includes no money for the scholarships. Delegate Viola O. Baskerville, Richmond Democrat and sponsor of a House bill establishing the program, had asked for $2 million.

The money offered in the Senate plan is “woefully inadequate,” Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, Richmond Democrat, said at a news conference by members of the Legislative Black Caucus.

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