- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 23, 2004

RICHMOND — The General Assembly, failing to fulfill its main responsibility of drafting a two-year budget during its scheduled session, passed a slew of bills including ones that would put restrictions on same-sex couples and toughen the state’s drunken-driving laws.

Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, has until April 21 — when lawmakers are expected to reconvene for a veto session — to review hundreds of bills that the General Assembly approved in the past two months. Mr. Warner, who is traveling the state to promote his tax and spending proposal, can veto, sign or amend the legislation passed during the session.

The House and Senate each approved by more than a two-thirds majority a measure that would prohibit Virginia from recognizing same-sex civil unions performed in other states. It passed the House by a 77-21 vote and the Senate by a 28-10 vote. Both chambers also passed a resolution that urges Congress to propose a constitutional amendment to define marriage.

Because the prohibition on same-sex unions passed by a more than two-thirds majority, the legislature could overturn any veto by the governor and make the bill a law. In the 100-member House, a veto override takes 67 votes. In the 40-member Senate, 27 votes are needed.

The resolutions sent to Congress do not need the governor’s approval.

Some Democrats voted in favor of the measures, but critics said Virginia is sending a message of discrimination to its homosexual residents.

Lawmakers also passed, by a veto-proof majority, a “feticide” bill that would make it illegal to kill an unborn child against the mother’s wishes. The bill states that fetal homicide is murder when the person who killed the child did so with malice. Abortion is not defined as murder under the bill.

It passed the House by a 77-22 vote and the Senate by a 29-11 vote. Mr. Warner has been critical of the bill.

Other abortion-related bills, which the House passed, died in a Senate committee.

The Senate Education and Health Committee rejected a bill that would have banned college health clinics from giving students the “morning-after” pill, and another that would have required parental consent before minors could obtain the pill at state clinics. The college health clinic bill passed the House by a 52-47 vote. The parental consent bill passed the House by a 59-41 vote.

The same committee also killed a bill that would have imposed stricter regulations on abortion clinics and another that would have required doctors to give a fetus anesthesia before performing a second- or third-term abortion. The clinics bill passed the House by a vote of 69-28, and the fetal anesthesia bill passed the House by a vote of 68-32.

Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William County Republican who authored some of those bills, pledged to continue to resubmit those bills “until the building turned to dust.” Republican and Democratic senators had said Mr. Marshall’s efforts would be futile.

Both chambers unanimously passed a bill that would make it illegal for teen-agers to attend nudist camps without their parents or guardians. The bill, sponsored by Delegate John S. Reid, Henrico County Republican, would bar the Board of Health from issuing a license to any camp that runs a nudist session for minors when parents, grandparents or legal guardians are not present.

The bill targets Camp White Tail in Ivor, a city in southeastern Virginia. Camp White Tail is an adult nudist camp that hosts a session for one week each summer for about 30 juveniles, ages 11 to 17.

Several bills involved illegal aliens, but only one — banning illegals from attending the state’s public universities — made it out of committee. The House passed the bill by a vote of 71-29, but the Senate Education and Health Committee later killed the bill, saying it was discriminatory.

Lawmakers also tackled a variety of bills that deal with court proceedings.

Both chambers passed a bill that would repeal the state’s “21-day rule” and give felons unlimited time to present new evidence in their cases. The current law requires convicts to submit new evidence within three days of sentencing.

The bill would affect only those felons who pleaded not guilty at trial and would give them one chance at presenting new evidence. The bill passed the House by a 76-23 vote and the Senate by a 38-2 vote.

Legislators got tougher on repeat drunken drivers.

Both chambers passed a bill that would allow the state to seize a person’s car after a third driving under the influence conviction and would deny bail for third-time offenders. The car seizure bill passed the House by a 84-14 vote and the Senate by a 29-11 vote. The bail bill passed the House by a vote of 92-7 and by unanimous vote in the Senate.

Lawmakers also approved a measure that would impose minimum mandatory sentences or fines and extend the period of time police have to administer a blood or breath test after a DUI stop.

Many lawmakers said they will continue their efforts next year to expand red-light camera programs statewide. One bill that would have expanded the measure was rejected in a House committee. A similar bill passed in the Senate by a 28-11 vote and later was killed in a House committee.

Proponents want localities to have the authority to start up or expand programs where cameras photograph the license plates of violators for three seconds after the light turns red. Police later mail a ticket to the registered owner of the car. The owner can dispute the ticket in writing.

Once Mr. Warner signs the bills, they become law July 1. If he amends a bill, lawmakers will consider the changes during the reconvened April 21 session.

Lawmakers can reject his changes with a simple majority, but the bill does not become law.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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