- The Washington Times - Monday, January 31, 2005

RICHMOND — Lawmakers yesterday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would create a special license plate for supporters of traditional marriage, despite objections from Democrats who said the bill was unconstitutional.

Republicans cut off debate on the legislation after just 10 minutes, and the full House quickly endorsed the bill on a voice vote. Lawmakers are expected to take a final and recorded vote today.

Delegate Brian J. Moran, Alexandria Democrat, tried to amend the bill by deleting the word “traditional” so the plate simply would say it supports marriage.

“What we’re about to buy is a lawsuit that we clearly will lose. … That’s not the way we should spend our hard-earned taxpayer dollars,” Mr. Moran said. “I suspect we all support marriage, in fact, probably many of us have tried it more than once.”

Mr. Moran said because the message is political, a court will rule that it is unconstitutional and require the state to create a “marriage equality” or “gay marriage” plate. His amendment was defeated.

Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter said his bill is “neutral,” not political.

“We will be giving Virginians who subscribe to the wisdom of 4,000 years of transcendent history a chance to show their support for an institution that is absolutely fundamental to any civilized society,” the Prince William County Republican said. “We will also be showing our children that we understand that traditional marriage is fundamental to the way family life is organized in civilized society.”

Delegate Adam P. Ebbin, the legislature’s only openly homosexual member, said he opposes the bill because of its political nature.

“There is a forum on our car, and it is called the bumper, where we can put a bumper sticker that says whatever we want,” the Arlington Democrat said. “I don’t see the threats to traditional marriage or any kind of marriages being the other drivers on the roadway. This plate, if I understand correctly, would be available to adulterers, divorced people, those who have married multiple times, even those who engage in sex outside of a marital relationship.”

Mr. Ebbin said there are more than 200 special license plates, none of which are political in nature. Several of those plates, including a “master gardener” plate that the House approved yesterday, requires an application and written proof that shows that the buyer is a “master gardener.”

Mr. Ebbin tried to continue his argument by suggesting that the “traditional marriage” plate also should require some documentation. But, he was interrupted by Republicans who used a procedural maneuver to end debate.

The “traditional marriage” license plate would feature two interlocked golden wedding bands over a red heart. Proceeds from the sale of the plates would go to the state’s general fund.

The bill passed the House Transportation Committee on a 13-7 vote.

Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, said although he supports traditional marriage, he thinks that it is a bad idea to put politics on a license plate. Homosexual rights groups said they think the plates are a waste of money and are discriminatory.

The House yesterday unanimously approved a bill that would designate a 300-year-old highway between Manassas and Dumfries in honor of the late President Ronald Reagan.

A bill offered by Mr. Lingamfelter would allow state officials to recognize the 40th president by designating the heavily traveled Route 234 Bypass between Route 1 and Interstate 66 in Prince William County as the “Ronald Wilson Reagan Memorial Highway.”

The bill now goes to the Senate Transportation Committee.

The House yesterday tentatively approved legislation to tighten abortion clinic regulations.

The bill by Delegate John S. Reid, Henrico County Republican, would require any clinic that performs 25 or more first-trimester abortions a year to be licensed and meet the same standards as ambulatory surgery centers. Currently, the clinics are treated like doctors’ offices and are not routinely inspected by the state.

A final House vote is expected today.

The House has overwhelmingly passed similar legislation two years in a row only to see it killed by the Senate Education and Health Committee, which is chaired by a moderate Republican.

Mr. Reid said the intent of the bill is to see that abortions “are performed in as sterile and as safe an environment as possible.”

Delegate Vivian E. Watts, Fairfax County Democrat, said the intention of the bill “is to significantly reduce the number of abortions by making them extremely expensive.”

A House committee has voted to expand use of the death penalty to include gang-related killings.

Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax County Republican, said his bill provides a very narrow addition to the 11 factors that can lead to the death penalty in Virginia. The legislation would include a person who kills at the behest of a gang leader or to meet a requirement for gang membership.

A Senate committee yesterday endorsed legislation that would allow convicted felons who plead guilty to bring newly discovered evidence of actual innocence to the Virginia Court of Appeals.

The state already allows DNA evidence to be presented to prove innocence.

The General Assembly last year eliminated Virginia’s “21-day rule,” which required new evidence to be presented no later than three weeks after sentencing. But the new rules opened the process only to felons who pleaded not guilty at trial and limits them to one petition.

The legislation sent to the Senate floor yesterday by the Courts of Justice Committee would remove that limit.

A bill to allow public-school buses to transport private-school students appears headed for final passage today in the House.

Supporters said that parents of private-school children pay taxes for education and that being able to use public-school buses on common routes is only fair. Opponents warned that the legislation could stretch school bus systems too thin.

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

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