- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2005

RICHMOND — The House yesterday approved a bill that bars consumers from suing fast-food manufacturers if they become obese from eating the makers’ products.

On a 73-23 vote, the House passed the Litigation Reduction and Consumer Personal Responsibility Act, which states that consumers can’t sue a manufacturer or seller for an injury, potential injury or death resulting from consumption of a “qualified” food product, weight gain, obesity or any health condition related to being overweight.

The bill, written by Delegate Bill Janis, will be sent to the Senate for consideration next month.

Delegate Vivian E. Watts said she opposes the bill because it is confusing. She said the bill “discriminates against fat people” because it would technically allow a person who does not gain weight from eating fatty foods to sue the makers.

“This phrasing confuses the common law and we may end up with unintended consequences,” the Fairfax County Democrat said. “There should be no frivolous lawsuits whether you’re fat or whether you’re skinny.”

Mr. Janis said he wrote the bill as a pre-emptive move against lawsuits such as the one filed against McDonald’s in New York. The Goochland Republican said 20 other states are considering similar restrictions to prevent any lawsuits from being filed in their jurisdictions.

The House yesterday unanimously passed an omnibus medical malpractice bill that would help bring tort reform to Virginia.

The bill requires expert-witness certification, allows doctors to show empathy to patients without being held liable and requires the state Medical Review Board to evaluate physicians who have settled three or more malpractice settlements.

Lawmakers said the bill, and an identical one that unanimously passed the Senate, will go a long way toward helping keep doctors in Virginia.

The state wants to keep physicians from leaving the state or quitting high-risk specialties such as surgery, obstetrics and gynecology because of the rising medical malpractice insurance rates. The bill does not include the cap on pain-and-suffering awards many doctors had requested.

Without debate or dissent, legislation to reduce the state sales tax on groceries this summer from 4 percent to 2.5 percent won final House passage yesterday.

The measure, hailed by Republicans and Democrats since Gov. Mark Warner submitted it as part of his budget amendments last month, was on the uncontested calendar of bills. A similar measure won unanimous final Senate passage on Monday.

The state will begin licensing nationally certified midwives if legislation endorsed yesterday by a Senate committee becomes law.

A similar bill already has cleared a House committee and is awaiting a floor vote.

The Senate Education and Health Committee voted 13-1 in favor of the bill sponsored by Sen. Frederick M. Quayle, Chesapeake Republican. The same panel killed similar legislation last year after several members expressed concern about malpractice liability.

Mr. Quayle’s bill addresses those concerns by requiring midwives to obtain liability insurance or a bond, and by providing immunity to doctors who deal with any medical problems that arise on the midwife’s watch.

State health department figures show 403 home births out of more than 100,000 births in Virginia in 2003.

A Senate committee yesterday endorsed legislation to expand and toughen enforcement of the state’s seat-belt law.

State law now requires drivers and front-seat passengers to buckle up, but police can ticket violators only if they are stopped for a separate offense. The bill sponsored by Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., James City Republican, would allow police to stop and ticket motorists for the seat-belt violation alone.

The Transportation Committee amended the bill to require back-seat passengers to also buckle their seat belts. Those passengers also would be subject to the proposed “primary enforcement” provision. The panel voted 11-2 to send the bill to the floor.

If the bill passes in the Senate, it faces a battle in the House, where primary enforcement bills have failed in the past. Mr. Norment last year tabled his bill after realizing that he did not have enough support in the House Transportation Committee.

A bill expanding the seat-belt law to cover back-seat passengers is pending in a House committee, but that bill would continue secondary enforcement.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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