- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2007

RICHMOND (AP) — Legislation requiring students at public high schools to have a parent’s permission to participate in certain extracurricular clubs got new life yesterday.

The measure died in the House Education Committee last week on a tie vote, but was revived and passed yesterday after it was changed to include middle-school students and to require parents to identify clubs they do not want their children to participate in, rather than making them give written permission for each club their child could join.

Homosexual-rights advocates have said the legislation is intended to undermine homosexual-straight alliances — clubs formed to encourage tolerance and provide a safe haven for homosexual students to discuss their problems.

Delegate Matt Lohr, Harrisonburg Republican, said his bill simply would allow parents to be better informed as to what their children are doing.

Local school boards would have to notify parents about a club’s mission, activities and dues or other financial requirements, and parents would have to sign a form identifying clubs they did not wish for their child to join. The “opt out” policy gives parents a say without creating the flood of paperwork that would have accompanied a policy requiring permission slips before children could join any club.

Delegate Phillip A. Hamilton, who requested the bill be brought back before the committee, said he voted against the proposal before, but supported the idea of an opt-out program. He said putting it in writing clears the school of any liability if it denies a student access to a club. He said his vote had nothing to do with homosexual-straight alliances.

“It’s not so much what the club is, I just think the opt-out provision is the more appropriate way to go with that,” the Newport News Republican said.

But Delegate Adam P. Ebbin, Alexandria Democrat, the state’s only openly homosexual legislator, said the bill’s target is clear. “The intent is still to make it harder for children to join some clubs,” he said after the meeting.

Mr. Ebbin said making it more difficult for children to join the homosexual-straight alliances could have unintended consequences.

Recess bill

A bill that would have prohibited teachers from denying a student recess as punishment unless a parent said it was OK died in a General Assembly committee yesterday.

Supporters called recess an important time for children to release energy and have unstructured creative time.

Those who voted to kill the bill said the threat of taking away the free time is a crucial bargaining tool for teachers when it comes to disciplining unruly students.

Representatives from the Virginia Parent-Teacher Association and the American Heart Association urged legislators to require that each child get the free time for play and exercise.

Delegate Robert D. Hull, Falls Church Democrat, the bill’s sponsor, said there are many other options for disciplining students.

But others said the issue should be left up to local school boards to decide, not the General Assembly.

Triggerman rule

Legislation backed by the Virginia State Crime Commission drastically modifying the “triggerman rule” moved a step closer to passage yesterday.

The rule reserves capital punishment for the person who directly inflicts the fatal wound. A bill sponsored by Delegate C. Todd Gilbert, Shenandoah Republican, would allow the death penalty for any accomplice who shares the triggerman’s intent to kill.

Delegate David J. Toscano, Charlottesville Democrat, cast the only dissenting vote as the House Courts of Justice Committee endorsed the bill and sent it to the House floor. A companion bill is up for a vote by the full Senate today.

Payday lending

Borrowers would be limited to three payday loans at a time and would be required to wait 24 hours between transactions under legislation that passed out of committee after long debate yesterday.

Legislators stopped short of repealing the 2002 law that opened the door to the payday-loan industry by allowing lenders to issue short-term loans with interest rates exceeding the 36 percent cap other lending institutions face.

Sen. Richard L. Saslaw’s bill would require a statewide database to track payday loans. It also would prohibit lenders from taking action against those who can’t pay off the loan for 60 days, after which time the company must work with the customer to set up an extended payment plan.

Mr. Saslaw, Fairfax County Democrat, acknowledged that the 24-hour cooling off period between loans doesn’t stop someone from going to another lender.

“This bill doesn’t solve all the issues that have been raised, but it does solve a few,” he said.

Payday loans work by allowing a borrower to write a check up to $500, including a fee for $15 for every $100 borrowed. The company holds the check until the customer’s next payday, when he or she either pays off the loan or the lender cashes the check.

Opponents say most borrowers take out an average of seven loans per year and use one loan to pay off another, sending them spiraling into a cycle of debt.

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