Monday, April 19, 2004

RICHMOND — Lawmakers, now in their sixth week of a special session on the budget, will reconvene tomorrow to approve or reject Gov. Mark Warner’s amendments to dozens of bills approved during the regular session.

The measures most likely to spark debate relate to same-sex civil unions and fetal homicide. Mr. Warner has proposed amendments to those bills that have been criticized by the bills’ sponsors and by conservative groups.

In all, Mr. Warner signed 980 of the 1,035 bills that were passed by the General Assembly during its regular 60-day session. The Democratic governor vetoed two minor bills, one of them at the sponsor’s request, and amended 53. Most of the amendments are considered likely to pass.

The amended bills will go to their chamber of origin for approval. If they pass, they will become law on July 1 or earlier, in some cases.

Mr. Warner amended a bill that would prohibit Virginia from recognizing same-sex civil unions performed in other states. The bill passed the House and Senate by more than two-thirds in each chamber, the majority that makes the bill veto-proof. It passed the House 77-21 and the Senate 28-10.

The bill would prohibit civil unions and any “partnership contract” or other arrangement between people of the same sex.

The governor proposed an amendment that would delete the phrase “partnership contract or other arrangement,” and a clause that would void contractual rights created by the union. Mr. Warner said those elements are unconstitutional.

“I don’t support gay ‘marriage,’ but what you have here is a piece of legislation that goes well beyond issues related to gay marriage or even civil unions,” Mr. Warner said. “It would move Virginia so far out of the mainstream that that’s not where I think we ought to be.”

Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican and the bill’s author, is expected to fight the amendment.

Mr. Warner also amended two identical “feticide” bills that would make it illegal to kill an unborn child against a mother’s wishes. The bills state that fetal homicide is murder when the person who killed the child did so with malice. The bill passed the House 77-22 and the Senate 29-11.

The bills say abortion isn’t considered murder, but Mr. Warner has proposed amendments to affirm that the bills are not intended to affect the rights of women established in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

Mr. Warner offered an amendment to a bill that would give felons unlimited time to present new evidence in their cases. Current law requires convicts to submit new evidence within three days of sentencing.

He praised the bill but amended it to remove a provision that would limit petitioners to one claim of innocence.

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