- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2005

RICHMOND — The House and Senate are making final adjustments to a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as the union of a man and woman.

The amendment will go to voters next year.

Both chambers of the Republican-controlled legislature passed their versions with overwhelming majorities, but there are minor language differences between the two.

Sen. Stephen D. Newman, Lynchburg Republican, said his version is better because it uses the language found in a similar amendment that was approved in Ohio.

“It’s considered the most vetted, reliable language in the nation, and the best way to do it is to use the best language in the nation,” he said yesterday. “This is an awfully important measure in Virginia, and I’m committed to make sure this is reality.”

A handful of delegates and senators will meet to reconcile the two versions before the legislature adjourns Saturday. Those conferees have not yet been appointed. Mr. Newman will be a conferee on the Senate side.

Both measures ban civil unions.

Homosexual-rights groups oppose the constitutional amendment and said it is not needed because Virginia law already forbids any type of same-sex union and does not recognize homosexual “nuptials” performed in other states.

The amendment does not need the approval of Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat.

“Photo red” was brought back from the dead yesterday.

Four days after a House committee killed local pilot programs that use cameras to catch red-light runners, the Senate revived them as a floor amendment to related legislation.

After adopting the amendment, the Senate voted 29-9 to pass the bill. The measure now goes directly to the House floor, bypassing the committee that had refused to lift the July 1 expiration date for the programs in several Northern Virginia localities and Virginia Beach.

The programs use cameras to take pictures of cars whose drivers run lights at certain busy intersections. The license plate number is used to identify the car’s owner, who then gets a ticket in the mail.

Supporters of photo red technology said it encourages compliance with the law and saves lives by reducing the number of broadside collisions. Critics see the use of cameras as an invasion of privacy. They also don’t like the practice of ticketing the car’s owner, even though the owner can avoid a fine by stating that someone else had been driving the vehicle when the violation occurred.

There was virtually no discussion of the issue on the Senate floor yesterday.

The amendment was tacked onto a bill sponsored by Delegate Gary Alan Reese, Fairfax County Republican, requiring a motorist involved in an accident to provide his license plate number and state of registration to police and the other driver.

Photo red opponents could ask House Speaker William J. Howell for a ruling on whether the amendment is germane to the original bill.

Another traffic safety measure restricting cell phone use by teenage drivers likely is headed to a conference committee to resolve differences between the Senate and the House.

The Senate bill originally prohibited motorists younger than 18 from using cell phones while operating a vehicle. The House amended the bill to allow teens to use only hands-free mobile phones, but the Senate voted 32-6 yesterday to reject the amendment.

Sen. Jay O’Brien, Fairfax County Republican, said teens frequently use cell phones to send text messages, which would be distracting even on hands-free devices.

“They have to look at that one-inch screen and read a paragraph, and even scroll down,” Mr. O’Brien said. “The hands-free device isn’t going to help when they slam into another car.”

The Senate accepted another House amendment changing “operating” to “driving” to make clear that teens can use cell phones if the car is parked.

The measure now goes back to the House, which can either back down from its position or insist on a conference committee to resolve the dispute.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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