- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Legislation expanding the use of Virginia’s death penalty is wending its way to the desk of Gov. Tim Kaine.

The Senate on Tuesday passed a bill expanding the death penalty to include capital murder accomplices who share the same intent to kill as the perpetrator on a 24-13 vote.

Current law calls for only the person who commits capital murder to be eligible for the death penalty, with some exceptions. The bill cleared the House on Feb. 10 and will go back to the chamber for amendment approval.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, has vetoed similar legislation twice and is likely to do so again.

“He has said his position on that bill has not changed,” spokesman Gordon Hickey said.

Senators also endorsed, on a 21-18 vote, legislation requiring that firearms purchased by officials through buyback programs be sold only to a licensed dealer. But the bill by Delegate Mark L. Cole, Fredericksburg Republican, was called back and weakened at the request of Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, Virginia Beach Republican.

The original bill required localities wanting to participate in a buyback program to pass an ordinance to do so. Firearms - except for machine guns and sawed-off shotguns - then would have to be sold to licensed gun dealers.

Mr. Stolle amended the bill to allow the guns be disposed of “in any other appropriate manner.”

After the bill was changed, senators put off voting on it until later in the week.

Opponents of Mr. Cole’s bill said it defies the point of the buyback program, by which gun owners turn over their unwanted weapons in exchange for something of value, usually gift cards donated from local stores, the Associated Press reported.

The Senate also voted in favor of measures suspending a minor truant’s driver’s license and banning text messaging while driving.

The truant driver’s bill would allow court officials to suspend the license of a driver who is younger than 18 and has 10 or more unexcused and consecutive school absences.

The bill, which was previously passed by the House, provides exceptions for cases in which students have withdrawn from school for reasons out of their control, are transferring to another school or have a parent or guardian who objects to the license suspension.

The texting bill bans sending or reading texts and e-mail while driving, unless the driver is reporting an emergency, behind the wheel of an emergency vehicle, parked or using a Global Positioning system.

Violators would receive a $20 fine for a first offense and a $50 fine for a subsequent offense, and police could only issue tickets after stopping a driver for another violation.

The bill now goes back to the House to hash out minor changes made in the Senate, the AP reported.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kaine said he is confident that legislation recently passed by the General Assembly to ban smoking in state restaurants and bars will be enforced.

The ban, which permits exemptions for separate smoking rooms and private clubs, will take effect Dec. 1. The governor said on WTOP Radio that restaurants will be looked at for compliance during regular inspections and that he expects “very few enforcement problems.”

“Almost every law gets enforced by people just wanting to follow the law,” Mr. Kaine said. “Nobody’s going to be in doubt that a smoking ban’s going into effect.”

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