- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Arlington and Fairfax county and Alexandria government officials say they want an exemption from a proposed state law that would prevent illegal aliens from receiving local health care benefits.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, has until midnight tonight to take action on the measure, which passed both chambers of the Republican-controlled General Assembly with a veto-proof majority.

The legislation also would forbid state agencies from giving benefits such as Medicaid and welfare to illegals.

The measure would require that both state and local governments verify the legal presence of an immigrant before providing any nonemergency public benefits. Local governments said the bill would require them to deny access to subsidized health care, free clinics and homeless shelters for adult aliens.

In separate letters to Mr. Warner, the officials asked that local governments be excused entirely from the measure.

Arlington County Board member J. Walter Tejada said the bill “erodes” local authority.

“We know best our community and feel that we ought to be able to serve all the members of our community in the best way that we can,” said Mr. Tejada, a Democrat. “The neediest are always targeted by conservative legislators.”

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly, a Democrat, said the “restriction” should not be applied to local health and public welfare services, “which are created to address local needs and are supported with local-only funds.”

Mr. Connolly said the board opposes the measure in its entirety, and asked the governor to remove all references to local governments from the bill.

“I can’t believe it,” said Delegate David B. Albo, a Fairfax County Republican and a sponsor of the bill. “It is completely outrageous that these local governments are increasing property taxes and crying that they don’t have enough money but they want to be able to give illegal aliens taxpayer-funded services.”

If the governor proposes an amendment to remove localities from the measure, Mr. Albo vowed to “make a huge stink.”

The bill, also sponsored by Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr., applies only to aliens 19 and older. Illegals of any age still will be eligible for emergency aid, such as immunizations and pregnancy tests.

The measure would require people to provide documents to prove legal presence when requesting benefits. The documents allowed would match those required to obtain a driver’s license under a law passed by the General Assembly two years ago.

Jack Powers, director of community programs in Alexandria, said the city does not have the money or people to check for illegal immigrants.

“This is just too far-reaching,” Mr. Powers said yesterday. “Where would the resources come from to do this additional screening?”

He worried the city could be held in violation for providing access to soup kitchens, homeless shelters and crisis counseling.

Mr. Hanger, Augusta County Republican who is seeking the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor, said he does not support excluding local governments from the law.

“We’re all serving the same taxpayers,” he said. “If they want to be silly enough to spend taxpayer dollars in Fairfax County on illegal immigrants over the citizens of the Commonwealth, I would think the taxpaying citizens of the Commonwealth would have a real problem with that.”

Lawmakers will return to Richmond on April 6 to consider Mr. Warner’s action on the nearly 950 bills passed during this year’s session. Mr. Warner can sign the bills into law, veto or amend them.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia also has asked Mr. Warner to veto the aliens measure, which passed the House on an 85-9 vote and unanimously passed the Senate.

Since becoming governor in 2002, Mr. Warner has vetoed legislation that would have required illegal aliens to pay out-of-state tuition at state universities and approved a bill that requires foreign nationals to prove they are legally in the United States before obtaining a driver’s license.

If the aliens measure is signed into law, it will take effect Jan. 1.

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