Thursday, February 10, 2005

RICHMOND — Gun rights lobbyists said yesterday that they will sue the state for its ban on weapons at the state Capitol.

“They’ve given us no choice, we’re preparing to file a lawsuit,” said Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League.

The new ban, implemented last year by a handful of powerful lawmakers without a public hearing, forbids anyone without a concealed-weapons permit to openly carry weapons into the Capitol or the General Assembly building nearby.

In Virginia, a permit is required to conceal a handgun on one’s person, but not to own a handgun or carry it openly. Virginia Capitol Police requested the ban.

Mr. Van Cleave lobbied lawmakers to repeal the ban, but the two key committees did not vote on a bill that would have overturned the ban, which means the measure will not be lifted anytime this year.

“It’s too bad they didn’t stand up and do the right thing,” Mr. Van Cleave said. “We’ll proceed with plan B.”

Delegate Benjamin L. Cline, Rockbridge Republican, and Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Fairfax County Republican, each proposed a bill that would have allowed anyone who lawfully possesses a firearm to carry it into the Capitol.

Mr. Cline’s bill was left in the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee, whose members didn’t take any action on the legislation. Mr. Cuccinelli’s bill was left in the Senate Rules Committee.

New legislation may not be introduced before the session adjourns Feb. 26.

Mr. Van Cleave said state police sent his group a letter that stated it was unlawful for a person to openly carry a weapon without possessing a concealed-weapons permit. “Rights have been violated,” he said.

Mr. Van Cleave thinks that letter will be enough to persuade a judge to overturn the ban.

The office of Attorney General Judith W. Jagdmann did not have a position on the matter yesterday, and will not be able to comment once there is pending litigation.

Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, Virginia Beach Republican and a member of the 14-person Joint Rules Committee that passed the ban last spring, said he thinks the ban is “fair” and “responsible.”

Mr. Stolle said even though he supports Second Amendment rights, he sees it as a safety issue and doesn’t want the ban lifted.

Gun safety advocates also support the ban.

The House and Senate yesterday approved slightly different versions of state budget amendments, leaving negotiators to resolve differences that include transportation outlays, rural economic development and a new Southside university.

The Senate breezed through 218 pages of amendments for the final year of the state’s biennial budget in about 45 minutes, passing the package 37-1.

The House, meanwhile, covered 232 pages of amendments in about two hours of sometimes contentious debate, most of it over reductions to spending Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, proposed for public education and work-force development initiatives. It passed 92-4.

In the next two weeks, the House and Senate will designate members to a joint committee that will negotiate over the differences, eventually agreeing on what will likely be the final form of the budget.

The largest monetary difference in the budgets focus on transportation. The Senate proposes an additional $670 million that would mainly provide money for mass transit and pay off $256 million in past-due road construction debts.

The House package, however, calls for about $1.2 billion in new spending. It eliminates the old debt as the Senate proposes, but adds $528 million in ongoing projects that future budgets would have to fund. It also directs one-third of the tax the state levies on insurance premiums into a fund to be used solely for transportation purposes.

House Democrats objected to reductions by the Republican majority to spending levels Mr. Warner proposed for some of his administration’s signature programs for job development in the Southside and for underperforming schools.

Among the cuts were $2.3 million from his “Race for the GED” program and the elimination of $1.6 million he sought for free or reduced-price breakfasts for poor children. The cuts were sustained in the House by ratios of nearly 2-to-1, mostly along party lines.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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