- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2008

RICHMOND (AP) — Legislators return to the Capitol today to consider several dozen legislative amendments by Gov. Tim Kaine, 41 of them affecting the state budget. Then they shift into a special session to pass a $1.4 billion bond package.

Somewhere in there, legislators hope to agree on judicial appointments across the state.

Mr. Kaine’s budget amendments would boost state spending by nearly $8.9 million over the life of the new two-year, $78 billion budget.

Among the Democrat’s recommendations:

• $4 million more than legislators approved for high-level research and development projects.

• $5 million to help nonprofit organizations that preserve endangered Civil War historical sites.

• Slightly more than $1 million to help the Virginia Outdoors Foundation respond to requests from landowners who want to put some of their property in conservation easements.

• $1.5 million in additional funds for Old Dominion University’s computer modeling and simulation program.

The most likely skirmish, however, will be over an amendment intended to save $1.5 million by adding less-expensive behavioral medicines to the Medicaid preferred drug list.

Mental health advocates, along with several legislators, last week decried Mr. Kaine’s amendment. They said people with severe mental or psychological conditions could be denied specific and proven drugs at critical moments if generics are substituted. The complicated behavioral medicines are not easily interchangeable and can have devastating results, critics of the change warned in a Capitol Square press conference.

Mr. Kaine proposes that before the less-expensive substitutes are prescribed for the indigent, disabled or elderly who rely on the federal-state program for help with their medicines, a panel of experts must approve them.

Other amendments the governor offered will reschedule the effective date of legislation cracking down on so-called puppy mills to six months earlier, from July 2009 to January, and reduce pollution and reduce long-range energy use in the state. There is a technical amendment to a bill tightening requirements for payday lenders.

The disagreement with the most potential to extend what is normally a single-day session is the appointment of judges. While there is agreement on most of the 30 appointments to circuit, general district and juvenile and domestic-relations courts, several remain disputed. Among the appointments is a slot on Virginia’s corporate and utility regulatory body, the State Corporation Commission.

After nearly six weeks of negotiations, House and Senate conferees last week agreed in principle on a borrowing package to finance construction on state-supported college campuses, new state buildings and parks.

Not included in this week’s unfinished business is a new transportation funding plan. Mr. Kaine has huddled privately with House and Senate leaders from both parties hoping to build support for new road-maintenance money and for reconstituting major portions of the 2007 highway funding law the state Supreme Court unanimously struck down Feb. 29.

So far, House Republicans are not convinced that new statewide taxes are needed to meet a road-maintenance backlog, which is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Without the maintenance funding, however, Democrats won’t support restoring regional taxing authorities, created last year to generate about $500 million annually for highway projects in the state’s most traffic-choked areas — Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Cash for new construction in those regions, they contend, would soon be swallowed by soaring upkeep and repair costs.

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