- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2008

RICHMOND (AP) — The state budget for the next two years was almost killed yesterday in a withering partisan Senate battle of words and parliamentary maneuvering.

Deeply split over its first budget under new Democratic rule, the Senate version of the new state spending plan hobbled out of the Senate on a 22-18 vote.

It illustrated the disintegration of what had been years of remarkable rapport and unanimity between Democrats and Republicans, often in difficult budget years.

Had the budget for fiscal 2009 and 2010 not passed, it would have left only a House-written version of it alive beyond yesterday’s critical deadline.

The Senate vote, normally no more than a procedural milepost, remained in doubt for hours over a Republican amendment that would have deleted state support for nonprofit abortion clinics.

Democrats recessed several times through a long afternoon in an effort to pressure Sen. Charles J. Colgan to oppose the floor amendment intended to eliminate money for Planned Parenthood.

“If I’d had some ketchup smeared on my head, you’d have thought I was bleeding. It was pretty tough. They really wanted me to change my position, but I couldn’t do it,” said Mr. Colgan, Prince William Democrat and chairman of the budget-writing Finance Committee.

Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, unsuccessfully sought to head off a vote on the floor amendment by Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Fairfax Republican, by trying to immediately call a vote on the entire budget bill.

Lt. Gov. William T. Bolling, a Republican, presiding over the Senate, ruled Mr. Saslaw’s motion out of order and, in a subsequent duel of motions and substitute motions, sided with the Senate’s Republican minority to keep the amendment alive.

When the roll was called on the amendment, Mr. Colgan sided with the Senate’s 19 Republicans, creating a 20-20 tie that Mr. Colgan broke, adding the amendment to the budget.

•••

Homeowners delinquent on their high-interest mortgage payments would get more time to avoid foreclosure under legislation that Gov. Tim Kaine is backing.

The bill is a product of the Virginia Foreclosure Prevention Task Force, which Mr. Kaine formed in November to address a drastic increase in foreclosures. Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, said the state’s foreclosure rate has more than doubled since the first quarter of 2006.

The increase stems largely from the proliferation of high-interest, subprime loans to people with credit problems or insufficient income. In last year’s third quarter, 5,900 of the 9,200 foreclosures involved subprime loans, the governor’s office said.

Mr. Kaine’s proposal essentially provides a 30-day reprieve for borrowers with “high-risk” mortgages, along with information about where to go for counseling on how to save their home.

“The basic purpose of the bill is to create a grace period,” Mr. Kaine said at a press conference yesterday.

The panel voted 9-5 to send the bill to the Senate floor.

Lenders would be required to send borrowers who are in default a letter at least 10 days before a final acceleration notice. The letter must state that there may be ways to avoid foreclosure and provide contact information for at least three counseling agencies approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The lender also must inform the borrower that a 30-day extension will be granted upon request. If the borrower fails to contact the lender by a date designated in the letter, however, the company may send the acceleration notice and demand payment of the loan in full.

Connie Chamberlin, president of the state chapter of Housing Opportunities Made Equal, called the bill “an essential response to the rising tide of foreclosures in Virginia.”

•••

Legislation requiring expanded background checks to make sure that teachers who sexually abuse children aren’t allowed to return to the classroom is on its way to the governor.

The bill from Delegate Rob B. Bell III, Charlottesville Republican, would require school superintendents to check child abuse registries in Virginia and other states where applicants have lived in the past five years. Those with founded complaints would not be hired.

The bill also would make it a crime to lie on a school application about past child-abuse complaints.

The bill received unanimous final passage in the House yesterday.

•••

Legislation to regulate so-called “puppy mills” was sent to the Senate floor.

The Senate Finance Committee unanimously endorsed the measure yesterday. The bill requires large commercial dog-breeding operations to get a business license and submit to inspections by local animal-control officers. It also imposes strict record-keeping requirements.

The legislation affects anyone who keeps 30 or more female dogs for breeding. It was prompted by problems last year at several puppy mills, including a fire that killed nearly 200 animals in Bland County.

Alice Harrington, president of Blue Ridge Shetland Sheepdog Club, predicted that the legislation will cost much more than the $50,000 proposed in one version of the state budget.


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