Tough Legislative Questions Digested Over Breakfast

Tough Legislative Questions Digested Over Breakfast

Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber hosts early morning event.

Everything from the direct shipment of beer and wine to partial birth abortions were covered at the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce Legislative Leaders Breakfast last week.

Billed as "A Report of the Veto Session of The General Assembly," Chamber members assembled at Pema's Restaurant on Richmond Highway, got an overview of what state Sen. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D-36) characterized as "One of the hardest sessions I've been through." She was joined in her revisitation by state Sen. Jay O'Brien (R-39).

Puller's analysis of the session was based mainly on the budget battle. But, she conceded, "Most of the bills that passed went through overwhelmingly."

O'Brien emphasized that this was his first term as a state senator. Having been a delegate for 10 years, he disclosed he found the change both challenging and more civil. "Temperament in the House is much more spontaneous," he noted.

"In the House there is far more debate about the bills. You don't vote on the bill the same day it comes up," O'Brien explained. "The culture of the Senate is for more defined."

Puller admitted that she "hated" to have legislation dealing with partial birth abortions come before the legislature. "But, if they (the proponents on outlawing this practice) bring a bill that is constitutional, I will vote for it," she declared.

O'Brien stated that he voted for this session's partial birth abortion bill which passed but subsequently vetoed by Governor Warner. His veto was sustained.

ONE OF THE trickiest pieces of legislation this past session, according to O'Brien was granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. "This bill did not deny such tuition," O'Brien noted. "It said illegal immigrants will not qualify unless a citizen qualifies," he said.

He cited as an example, military personnel and dependents. "Our military should at least be as eligible as illegal immigrants. The latter should qualify for the tuition break only if Americans qualify as well," O'Brien emphasized.

Puller pointed out that her father "was a career Army officer. We came to Virginia when I was a senior in high school. My mother took a job here and paid state taxes so that I would qualify." She questioned, "If a resident comes here and chooses to remain a resident of another state with no income tax, why should they benefit from in-state tuition?"

Both Puller and O'Brien verified they each voted to eliminate the estate tax that Gov. Warner also vetoed. O'Brien found the substance of the bill to be "good policy for small businesses and the family farm."

Puller stated, "I voted to eliminate the estate tax because I am worried about small businesses. I'm not concerned about millionaires. But, this should be part of an overall tax restructuring.

"We need to do a special session just on tax restructuring. It's not right that counties don't have the same taxing powers as cities. Our whole tax structure is antiquated."

O'Brien emphasized, "Tax policy drives behavior." The primary question in any tax restructuring debate, according to O'Brien, will be "What are the principles driving the study?"

OTHER ISSUES covered by the two senators included:

* Direct shipment of beer and wine from out-of-state to consumers. This was liberalized based on certain criteria.

* Restoration of civil rights for convicted felons. Authorizes the General assembly to provide for the restoration of such rights for persons convicted of nonviolent felonies who meet the conditions prescribed by the law.

* Mandatory reporting of clergy in child abuse cases. It passed the Senate but died in the House.

* Gaining control over medical malpractice suits and penalties. Both noted "Virginia is losing doctors due to the present situation."

* Virginia's 21 day rule to produce new evidence in a trial to prove innocence. This was extended to 90 days under a reenactment provision.

* VDOT reform bill now requires VDOT to be accountable. Puller noted she had been very active on this bill due to cost overruns pertaining to the "Mixing Bowl" that was in her previous district. "VDOT's web site now has to give all details on the various projects,"she said.