- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 25, 2007

RICHMOND — The 2007 General Assembly was known as the “transportation session,” but state lawmakers also dealt with other issues that will affect Virginia residents, including illegal aliens, electric bills and highway safety.

The 46-day session adjourned Saturday with lawmakers passing a proposal to resolve the state’s transportation problems largely through borrowing and general operating revenues. The Republican-backed measure now faces significant amendments by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat. Lawmakers return to Richmond on April 4 to consider the governor’s amendments and vetoes.

Several bills targeting illegal aliens were rejected. Among them were proposals to make it illegal for an employer to hire or harbor an alien who is in the United States illegally and to prohibit in-state tuition rates for illegal aliens attending Virginia public colleges.

Earlier last week, the lawmakers agreed on legislation, pushed by Dominion Resources, to end the state’s failed experiment with electric utility deregulation and to establish a “hybrid” form of regulation that critics say gives state regulators too little control over rates.

Opponents and supporters of the legislation agreed that electric bills in Virginia will increase. However, they disagreed on how much and whether the “re-regulation” bill will result in higher rates than otherwise would be allowed.

The lawmakers passed bills to prohibit drivers younger than 18 from talking on cell phones and to allow localities to use cameras to catch red-light runners.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Martha M. Meade said lawmakers “can go home to their districts knowing that their actions will save lives for years to come.”

Before this session, lawmakers repeatedly rejected bills to reinstate local “photo red” pilot programs that expired in July 2005, or to expand the programs statewide. The teen cell-phone ban had failed two years in a row.

Mrs. Meade also praised lawmakers for increasing the age requirement for using booster seats from through age 5 to through age 7, and for rejecting attempts to weaken Virginia’s motorcycle-helmet law.

Advocates of tougher laws on teen drinking were less successful. Lawmakers did not pass bills that would require suspending driver’s licenses for six months for underage drinkers put on probation and for those illegally providing alcohol to those younger than 21.

Legislators again rejected legislation prohibiting passengers from having an open container of alcohol in a vehicle on a public highway.

With all 140 legislative seats up for election in November, tough-on-crime bills were popular. The assembly passed bills banning sex offenders from entering school or child care center property, expanding the capital-murder statute to cover anyone who kills a judge or a witness and eliminating the “triggerman rule” by allowing the death penalty for accomplices who have the same intent to kill as the person who delivers the fatal wound.

In education, lawmakers passed bills requiring state health and school officials to work together to combat childhood obesity. They also passed bills directing the state Board of Education to continue to seek waivers from provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. A bill requiring schools to give parents an opportunity to deny their children’s participation in extracurricular clubs failed after opponents argued that it targeted homosexual-straight alliances.

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