- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2007

RICHMOND — A Senate committee yesterday killed legislation to require private sellers at gun shows to obtain a criminal background check on buyers.

The Courts of Justice Committee voted 9-4 to reject the measure, marking the fifth consecutive year that lawmakers have refused to close the so-called “gun-show loophole.”

Under current law, licensed dealers are required to run background checks on buyers at gun shows, but unlicensed dealers — typically, individuals selling guns from their personal collection — aren’t.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, Fairfax County Republican, would have required unlicensed sellers to run a background check through a licensed dealer before completing a sale. Mrs. Davis said the bill would help prevent the sale of guns to criminals.

Mrs. Davis acknowledged that most gun-show customers are law-abiding citizens, but added that “clearly, a lot of criminals also go to gun shows to procure firearms.”

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has reported that gun shows are the second-leading source of guns used in crimes, behind only unscrupulous licensed dealers, Mrs. Davis said.

Jim Sollo, vice president of Virginians Against Handgun Violence, spoke in support of the bill, reminding the committee that the guns used in the Columbine High School massacre had been sold by an unlicensed dealer at a Colorado gun show.

But Jim Kadison of the Virginia Citizens Defense League said the bill is unnecessary and burdensome.

“It does restrict the freedom of these small, independent sellers,” he said.

Mrs. Davis had hoped that numerous school shootings last year and a shooting spree outside a Northern Virginia police station that killed two officers would improve the bill’s chances of passage this year.

However, the vote was identical to last year’s committee vote on the measure.

m Losers bill

Losing an election hurts, and the House of Delegates is considering a measure that would make the sting of defeat even sharper.

Lawmakers who fail to win re-election would lose the right to prefile bills that now can survive their authors’ defeat and be considered by a subsequent General Assembly under a bill the House Rules Committee advanced yesterday.

“It truly violates both Democratic and Republican principles,” said the bill’s sponsor, House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican.

It’s hard for an orphan bill to make its way in a dog-eat-dog legislature, Mr. Griffith said when asked about the need for such a measure.

But, it could happen.

“If a defeated member was well-loved, it could sail right through,” Mr. Griffith said.

Legislators for several years have been able to file legislation before the General Assembly convenes each January. The practice, called prefiling, was instituted to ease the frenzy of legislation at the start of each session.

Mr. Griffith’s change would strip defeated delegates or senators of that prerogative after Election Day, rendering them the lamest of ducks.

And just how cold-blooded can life on Capitol Square be?

“Once you lose, we don’t care about you anymore anyway,” Delegate Lionell Spruill Sr., Chesapeake Democrat, said with a shrug.

m Voting machines

The touch-screen voting machines that three-quarters of Virginia voters use would be phased out under legislation headed to the Senate floor.

The bill prohibits localities from buying new touch-screen machines after July 1, opting instead for optical-scan devices, which require voters to mark a paper ballot and enter it into a machine that records the vote.

Localities could use the touch-screen machines they have, but couldn’t buy new ones.

The bill, sponsored by Mrs. Davis, would apply to the 104 of Virginia’s 134 localities that use the touch-screen voting machines. The bill passed out of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee on a 13-2 vote Tuesday.

“The reason people support that is that if something were to happen to the machine, or if you had to do a recount, you’d have a paper ballot,” said Jean Jensen, secretary of the State Board of Elections.

Miss Jensen said the only problem is that the optical-scan ballots don’t accommodate those with certain disabilities. Localities would have to spend another $5,200 for each audio device necessary to accommodate blind voters. The voting machines themselves cost only $5,000.

Localities probably wouldn’t be affected until after the congressional and legislative districts are redrawn in 2011.

m Trespassing bill

A state senator was unable to find even one fellow Courts of Justice Committee member to support his bill allowing trespassing charges to be filed against journalists who enter private property to report on a death or other traumatic event.

Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II’s motion to send what he called the “scuzzball reporter bill” to the Senate floor failed because of a lack of a second yesterday after media groups and lawyers raised constitutional and practical concerns.

The harshest criticism, however, came from Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, Richmond Democrat, who bristled at Mr. Cuccinelli’s suggestion that reporters’ attempts to cover stories about personal tragedies frequently “amounts to harassment.”

Said Mr. Marsh: “I never heard of such a gratuitous, wholesale attack on the press.”

Mr. Cuccinelli, Fairfax County Republican, said his bill was intended to protect the privacy of families in grief. It would have allowed trespassing charges against any stranger who enters private property within a week after the resident suffers a personal trauma that the visitor knew about or should have known about.

Mr. Cuccinelli made it clear that the bill targeted the media, although he conceded that “someone doesn’t have to be a member of the press to poke their nose in.”

Frosty Landon, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said reporters and photographers should be expected to act in a professional manner.

“Harassment or misconduct on the part of a journalist should be censured,” he said, but that should come from their bosses, not the government.

m Long-term care

Hundreds of advocates for older Virginians swarmed Capitol Square yesterday to lobby for legislation to improve long-term care services.

Speaking at a rally, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine assured AARP Virginia members that he’s “very committed to better long-term care,” including more choices for the consumer.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, also urged his audience to support transportation improvements — the major issue facing the 2007 General Assembly — as well as efforts to keep electric-utility prices in check after deregulation failed to produce competition.

“Spiking costs for power if you’re on a fixed income is a very big problem,” Mr. Kaine said.

Some of the bills pushed by AARP would:

• Streamline delivery of services by designating the secretary of Health and Human Resources to coordinate the work of agencies providing long-term care services.

n Write into law that consumer choice for long-term services is a state priority.

• Improve a program that provides grants to caregivers.

• Expand the definition of long-term care to include transportation, education and housing services.

“Long-term care, from my perspective, is the biggest issue facing the commonwealth,” said Delegate Phillip A. Hamilton, Newport News Republican and chairman of the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee.

Mr. Hamilton is sponsoring some of the AARP-backed bills, and he told those attending the rally: “It is through your advocacy that these initiatives will be successful.”

m Library gun bill

A Senate committee has killed a bill that would have allowed localities to ban firearms in public libraries.

Newport News officials wanted to change the law after getting into a debate with a gun-rights group last year.

The Senate Local Government Committee decided against the bill Tuesday, and a similar bill in the House of Delegates didn’t make it out of a subcommittee.

Sen. Mamie E. Locke, Hampton Democrat, said her legislation didn’t require banning guns in libraries, but gave officials the authority to do so.

The issue arose last year, when the Virginia Citizens Defense League told the Newport News City Council that the city violated state law by prohibiting guns in public libraries.

Under state law, guns are banned from schools and courthouses, but are allowed in libraries and other public places.

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