- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2005

RICHMOND — The House yesterday passed a bill that would create a stem-cell research fund in memory of actor Christopher Reeve.

The measure, which does not apply to embryonic stem-cell research, passed on a 76-22 vote with no debate.

The Senate has approved the legislation, and it will now go to Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, for consideration.

Under the measure, the “Christopher Reeve Stem Cell Research Fund” would be created and would pay for Virginia college research on ailments such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., Winchester Republican. No money would go to fund embryonic stem-cell research, which pro-life groups oppose.

The fund will consist of gifts, grants and donations from public or private sources. It will be managed by the Commonwealth Health Research Board.

Mr. Reeve died in October after having been paralyzed in a horse riding accident in Virginia in 1995.

• • •

A tug of war has begun between House and Senate budget negotiators who must agree on how to spend a $1.2 billion budget surplus when crafting amendments to the state budget.

The 11 delegates and senators negotiating the spending plan did not meet their midnight deadline last night, and have just two more days to hammer out the final details. The negotiators spent most of last night sending each other messages. At dinnertime, most had not met face to face.

All but one of the House negotiators went to dinner and did not come back for the evening.

The main sticking point is how much to spend on transportation and whether to end the accelerated sales tax procedure.

Several lawmakers have said privately that they think it will be difficult to reach an agreement before the scheduled adjournment Saturday.

Most in the House want to adjourn on time or earlier, particularly because the legislature spent an unprecedented 115 days fighting over tax increases last year.

House Appropriations Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr. said he was frustrated because the Senate is “holding firm” on $347 million in general fund spending for transportation. The House wants to spend $393 million in general fund dollars for transportation.

“We have a deadline and we’re not going to meet it,” said the Fairfax County Republican, one of the chief budget negotiators. “I’m not optimistic at all.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John H. Chichester said he thinks the Senate had met the House halfway.

“We’ve gone as far as we can go,” the Stafford County Republican said.

Mr. Chichester proposed that negotiators work on other details in hopes of a compromise on those. “We’re ready to go to work,” he said.

• • •

The House yesterday watered down and passed a measure intended to crack down on teens who drive while chatting on cell phones.

On a 64-34 vote, the House approved a bill that would ticket motorists younger than 18 for using hand-held cell phones while driving only if they are stopped for another offense.

When Sen. Jay O’Brien’s bill left the Senate, it banned any use of a cellular phone while driving and made it a “primary offense,” sufficient by itself to warrant a traffic ticket.

Mr. O’Brien, Fairfax County Republican, aimed the measure at reducing the number of deadly accidents involving young drivers distracted by telephone calls, voice mails and text messages on their mobile phones.

The House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee on Friday reduced it to a “secondary offense.” House floor amendments yesterday limited the offense exclusively to the use of hand-held phones, and then only when the car is moving.

That sends the measure back to the Senate, which is likely to reject the amendments and let House and Senate negotiators reconcile sharp differences over the bill.

• • •

The General Assembly yesterday gave final approval to a bill that would give college students more time to shop around for the best prices for textbooks.

The bill requires public colleges to disclose the titles of required books as soon as the campus bookstore receives the list, allowing students more time to shop online and elsewhere.

Supporters said that campus bookstores essentially have a monopoly because students often don’t find out which books they need until it’s too late to shop around.

Virginia-21, an advocacy group for college-age Virginians, said that the thousands of students who support the bill should be encouragement enough for the governor to sign it into law.

The legislation also prohibits professors from taking kickbacks from publishers for assigning specific books to students.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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