- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2004

RICHMOND — The House of Delegates yesterday passed a resolution requesting that future governors exclude tax increases in their budgets, but stopped short of asking Gov. Mark Warner to resubmit his plan that calls for $1 billion in tax increases.

The Republican-controlled House voted 71-27 for the resolution. The only opposing votes came from Democrats. The resolution does not have to go to the Senate and will be forwarded to the governor’s office. Mr. Warner does not have to sign off on the resolution.

The original resolution, drafted by Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William County Republican, was highly critical of Mr. Warner, and asked that the Democratic governor immediately resubmit his $59 billion, two-year budget without his “Commonwealth of Opportunity” tax plan.

“The purpose is to preserve the prerogatives of this body against any executive who doesn’t preserve tradition,” Mr. Marshall said. The message to Mr. Warner is: “Don’t do this to us anymore,” he said.

However, Delegate Johnny S. Joannou, Portsmouth Democrat, offered a substitute resolution that made the request apply to future governors.

“I don’t believe any governor, regardless of party, should send down a general tax increase in a budget bill,” Mr. Joannou said during a lively floor debate.

He said his new resolution preserves the integrity of the House.

The lawmakers can’t force a future governor to comply with their request, and a future legislative body can repeal or change the resolution.

Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said past Virginia governors have presented budgets that included revenue increases in the form of fees or taxes.

“That’s nothing new,” Miss Qualls said.

Clergy members would be required to report suspected instances of child abuse to authorities under legislation that received preliminary approval in the state Senate yesterday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Janet D. Howell, Fairfax County Democrat, would add clergy to the list of professionals required by law to report abuse, which includes teachers, law enforcement officers and mental health workers , as well as day care employees and social workers.

The legislation, which faces a final Senate vote today, advanced after Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Fairfax County Republican, unsuccessfully tried to restrict it to reporting of suspected abuse by other clergy — not by family members or other parties.

A Senate committee unanimously endorsed legislation yesterday to lift Virginia’s three-week deadline for inmates to introduce new evidence that could exonerate them.

Inmates now have only 21 days after sentencing to produce new evidence of innocence. The only exception is DNA evidence, which can be introduced at any time. That change was approved by lawmakers in 2001.

The Courts of Justice Committee sent to the Senate the legislation that would eliminate the deadline and would not restrict the type of evidence inmates could present to the Virginia Court of Appeals.

The measure was recommended by the State Crime Commission and sponsored by its chairman, Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, Virginia Beach Republican.

The 21-day rule is the most restrictive law in the nation.

Call it “Survivor: General Assembly”

A Democratic lawmaker asked his colleagues yesterday to go on a “welfare diet” to better understand the issues of the poor in Virginia. The resolution was unanimously killed in the House Rules Committee.

Delegate Mitchell Van Yahres’ resolution would have encouraged legislators to eat hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, and tuna casserole for two weeks — that is, live on the budget of someone with food stamps.

“I think we can all learn from this exercise,” said Mr. Van Yahres, Charlottesville Democrat. “By putting ourselves in the same position that so many in our state find themselves, we may find ourselves looking harder for ways to eliminate these conditions.”

Mr. Van Yahres said tip sheets would give participants survival hints and recipes. He said a low-income family also could help legislators for the two weeks.

But Speaker William J. Howell, Fredericksburg Republican, said Mr. Van Yahres could have sent a letter to legislators urging them to participate, rather than draft a resolution.

The House Rules Committee overwhelmingly defeated a bill that sought to link legislators’ salaries to schoolteachers’.

Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax County Republican who sponsored the bill, said the low pay for General Assembly members — currently $17,640 a year — prevents many people from running for office, particularly young candidates.

“The pay is so bad that, unless you are retired or independently wealthy, you cannot serve in this body,” he said.

Previous attempts to raise members’ pay have failed. Mr. Albo’s proposal would have pegged legislators’ salaries to 40 percent of that of schoolteachers because legislators work 40 percent less time during the year than teachers.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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