Thursday, February 17, 2005

RICHMOND — A Virginia Senate panel yesterday defeated a measure that would have banned illegal aliens from attending state colleges and universities.

The Senate Education and Health Committee rejected the bill 12-3. The House had passed the measure 67-28 earlier this month.

Supporters said illegals should not be granted the “privilege” of higher education and not be allowed to take spots at top colleges away from students who are here legally. Opponents compared the proposal to when blacks were forbidden from attending Virginia schools.

“We were denied the possibility of going to our state universities, and I don’t want to see you all make the same mistake again,” said committee member Sen. Benjamin J. Lambert III, Richmond Democrat who is black. “My dad and mom had jobs and paid taxes, and I could not go to the University of Virginia, I could not go to Virginia Tech, I could not go to William and Mary and I have never forgotten it.”

Mr. Lambert said attending college is a right.

“I’d much rather see them in school than on the streets robbing people,” he said.

Delegate Thomas D. Gear, Hampton Republican, defended his bill.

“What part of ‘illegal’ don’t they understand? If they are illegal, they are illegal,” he said. “Going to college is not a right, it’s a privilege.”

Committee Chairman H. Russell Potts Jr., Winchester Republican who is considering a run for governor, has said barring those who are here illegally hurts the American dream.

The bill was rejected after some heated exchanges between its supporters and committee member Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax County Democrat.

Mr. Saslaw noted that one of the first U.S. military casualties in the war in Iraq had entered the country illegally.

“What you’re saying is that it’s OK to die for America, but we don’t want you going to college here in Virginia,” Mr. Saslaw said, prompting an angry outburst from the audience. “That’s exactly the net effect of what you are saying.”

Mr. Saslaw also criticized the notion that illegals take away slots from Virginia students. Because illegals are required to pay out-of-state tuition, they actually are taking slots away from out-of-state students, he said.

Mr. Saslaw also said that because aliens pay taxes, they are contributing to the state’s higher education system.

Jack Martin, a representative from the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said there are about 16,000 illegal aliens enrolled in the state’s elementary schools and asked the committee to pass the bill.

“It will discourage further illegal immigrants from coming to this state to reside and encourage those who are already here not to stay permanently in this state,” he said. “Paying taxes doesn’t entitle people to go to a university.”

William Soza, a member of the Board of Visitors at George Mason University, said the measure would have “multiple negative implications.”

“Where is our compassion?” he asked the panel. “Where is our helping hand for those that are in need of our help?”

Sen. John S. Edwards, Roanoke Democrat and committee member, blamed the federal government’s bureaucratic red tape, because, he says, many people have applied for legal status but are waiting for their paperwork to be processed.

No other states ban illegal aliens from their colleges.

In 2002, the office of Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, a Republican, issued a letter to state colleges suggesting that they not admit illegal aliens as a matter of policy, but that each school make its own decision.

The Senate Education and Health Committee yesterday rejected legislation requiring doctors to anesthetize any unborn child that is at least 20 weeks old before aborting it.

The panel, which rejected similar legislation last year, voted 9-6 to kill the bill.

Medical experts told the committee that the bill could endanger the health of the pregnant woman, who would require general anesthesia before the painkiller could be administered to the unborn child.

Supporters of Delegate Richard H. Black’s “fetal pain” bill said doctors should be able to find a way to safely administer the anesthesia.

“Couldn’t you just give them a little squirt of pain relief?” asked Sen. Stephen D. Newman, Lynchburg Republican.

Sen. Stephen H. Martin, Chesterfield Republican, said if doctors are able to get their tools to the unborn child to abort it, then they should be able to get a needle there for an injection.

“Senator Martin does not have a medical degree,” said Sen. Janet D. Howell, Fairfax County Democrat. “We should listen to those who do.”

Mr. Black, Loudoun County Republican, said administering a painkiller would not be any more complicated than amniocentesis ” a common prenatal test in which amniotic fluid around the fetus is extracted.

“This is not brain surgery,” he said. “This is fairly basic stuff. Please have a heart for these children.”

The Senate Education and Health Committee yesterday endorsed legislation that would give more independence to Virginia’s public universities.

The bill would establish a three-tier system of autonomy for the state’s 16 public colleges and require them to meet performance standards outlined in six-year financial and academic plans.

The committee sent the measure to the full Senate, after adopting changes the House of Delegates made to Delegate Vincent F. Callahan Jr.’s bill.

The most notable change drops the requirement that universities seeking the highest autonomy get the approval of four key legislative leaders for their management agreements. Under the modified measure, the agreements must be approved as part of the state budget.

The bill makes all schools eligible for the first level of autonomy. Those at the second and third levels would operate under contracts negotiated with the General Assembly and the governor’s office.

The measures evolved from a bid for “chartered commonwealth universities” status by the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and the College of William and Mary. They were expanded to include all public colleges after some officials raised concerns about elitism.

The legislation offers universities varying degrees of flexibility on such matters as building projects, purchasing and personnel. Each school’s autonomy level depends on its financial strength and operational complexity.

In exchange for more freedom, the universities must meet agreed-upon benchmarks in affordability, accessibility to in-state students and other accountability measures. The schools also would have to make do with less state funding.

Public school buses will carry only public school students, at least for now.

Delegate Gary Alan Reese’s bill to allow public school districts across the state to reach transportation agreements with private or parochial schools died yesterday on a 9-6 vote in the Senate Education and Health Committee.

Opponents said it would further burden public schools already stretched thin by growing enrollment and tight budgets.

Supporters said school buses would afford private school children greater safety that their peers in public schools enjoy. They also noted that nothing in the bill would force a school district to bus private school children.

Mr. Reese, Fairfax County Republican and a member of the county’s School Board from 1992 to 2001, said he knew the real reason school boards opposed his bill.

“There are two things school boards don’t like,” Mr. Reese said. “They don’t like private or parochial schools, and they don’t like to have to make decisions.”

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Public libraries won’t be compelled to put software filters on their computers to block pornography from the Internet.

Money to pay for the filters was rejected yesterday on a 4-4 Senate Finance Committee vote. A majority was necessary to advance Delegate Samuel A. Nixon Jr.’s bill to a Senate floor vote.

Supporters said that it is too easy to access explicit and graphic sexual material and that even though the filters aren’t foolproof, at least they’re a deterrent.

“I work in computers, and, yes, the filters are not 100 percent effective, but not having them is 100 percent ineffective,” said Mr. Nixon, Chesterfield Republican.

But Sen. R. Edward Houck, Spotsylvania Democrat and an administrator in Fredericksburg’s public schools, said he found filters on his school’s computers to be counterproductive at times.

“You want to know what I couldn’t access on my office computer? The Code of Virginia,” Mr. Houck said. “I couldn’t access the state code because some of our laws have sexually explicit language.”

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A proposed constitutional amendment to create a “lockbox” to protect state revenue designated for transportation projects was killed by the Senate Finance Committee.

Delegate Robert F. McDonnell’s measure would have required that transportation accounts such as the Transportation Trust Fund be off-limits to other purposes. The resolution died on a voice vote.

The intent was to prevent the sort of raids that lawmakers made on the fund in recent years to help make up for shortages in the general fund budget.

The Senate, however, prefers a two-way lockbox that prevents moving cash out of the transportation funds, but also prevents using general funds for transportation.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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