- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2004

RICHMOND — The House today is expected to pass a bill that would require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as other outpatient medical facilities.

The House yesterday overwhelmingly approved a second reading of the bill. Today’s vote will send it to the Senate, where it is expected to die in either the Education and Health Committee or the Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee.

The Senate last year killed a similar House bill in committee.

“Women who walk into an abortion clinic should have some guarantee this commonwealth will protect her health,” Delegate Robert G. Marshall, the bill’s chief sponsor, said during floor debate yesterday.

Mr. Marshall, Loudoun County Republican, said many of Virginia’s abortion clinics don’t meet the standards laid out in his bill, which would require clinics to provide scrub sinks, backup generators and fire-protection services, among other things.

Democrats attacked the legislation, saying it is unconstitutional.

Delegate Brian Moran of Alexandria, the Democratic Caucus chairman, said the bill would create a substantial obstacle for women seeking abortions.

In an attempt to underscore Democratic opposition to the bill, Delegate Albert Pollard Jr., White Stone Democrat, proposed an amendment that would ban abortions. “There could be no abortion clinics in Virginia and thus no abortions performed,” Mr. Pollard said.

The amendment failed in a 85-12 vote, and Mr. Pollard did not vote for his own amendment.

Meanwhile, Delegate Vivian E. Watts, Fairfax County Democrat, yesterday announced the formation of a Reproductive Rights Caucus to protect birth-control use in Virginia.

State Sen. Janet D. Howell, Fairfax County Democrat, has co-founded the caucus, which she said will respond to “threats” made by some conservatives to outlaw birth control.

“We’ve awakened to these threats,” Mrs. Watts said.

Democrats also are proposing the Birth Control Protection Act, which would stipulate that “contraception is not to constitute abortion” and would place contraception outside the realm of the state’s abortion laws.

A House committee yesterday killed legislation that would have allowed the state to purchase inexpensive prescription drugs from Canada.

Delegate Richard H. Black’s proposal would have applied only to state-sponsored medical programs, including those for state employees and retirees.

Mr. Black, Loudoun County Republican, estimated the program would save Virginia about $90 million a year.

But the federal Food and Drug Administration has fought the importation of drugs from Canada, saying it can’t vouch for their safety. The U.S. pharmaceutical industry also cites safety concerns.

Legislators on the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee overwhelmingly agreed.

A conservative state senator yesterday withdrew his support for a bill that would extend health benefits to homosexual domestic partners.

Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, Fairfax County Republican, said he believes homosexuality is wrong, and he “didn’t want to encourage this type of behavior in law, which is what this in effect would be doing.”

“I didn’t fully appreciate the expansiveness of it,” said Mr. Cuccinelli.

The legislation, sponsored by Delegate James H. Dillard, Fairfax County Republican, seeks to allow private insurance companies in Virginia to offer health benefits to homosexual partners, unmarried heterosexual partners, siblings, parents and other individuals, if they live in the same home as the insured.

Virginia law currently restricts group policy coverage to spouses and dependent children.

Mr. Dillard said the Virginia Log Cabin Republicans asked him to sponsor the bill, which failed to move out of committee last year. He indicated that Mr. Cuccinelli was aware of the broad implications of the bill when he signed on, and he had not been informed by yesterday afternoon that Mr. Cuccinelli was withdrawing his support.

Mark C. Christie, counsel to the speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, was unanimously elected yesterday by the legislature to a six-year term as a State Corporation Commission judge.

Mr. Christie, 50, will succeed Judge Hullihen W. Moore, who is retiring Jan. 31 after 12 years on the busy three-member panel.

The State Corporation Commission regulates public utilities, as well as the insurance and finance industries.

Mr. Christie is an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he teaches constitutional law and government. He said he will continue teaching after joining the commission.

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