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Votes

Assembly Awash in Legislation

With the midsession date nearing, Sen. Leslie L. Byrne (D-34th) said the Senate is swimming in bills.

"It's like drinking out of a fire hose," Byrne said.

Like her colleagues, Byrne has introduced several bills that she hopes will pass. One bill, on adequate public facilities, would time infrastructure with growth. Byrne put forth similar legislation when she served in the House of Delegates.

Byrne's bill would allow any locality to adopt in its subdivision ordinance the option to defer the approval of site plans if the locality finds that the local infrastructure of schools, roads, public safety, and sewer and water facilities cannot support the proposed development. It would also allow a locality to consider the adequacy of public facilities as it prepares its zoning ordinance.

"The growth issue and sprawl are eating up our taxpayer resources," Byrne said.

Several other bills are also awaiting committee approval. One is an anti-Internet-spam bill, which would require a sender of commercial e-mail to identify the message as an advertisement or solicitation; provide a notice of the right to decline receiving future e-mails; provide a valid, cost-free method of contacting the sender; and provide valid return e-mail and postal addresses.

Others are a telemarketing bill, which would prohibit telemarketers from soliciting persons who are included in a database of persons who do not wish to receive telephone solicitations, and a bill that would make health spas more forthcoming to customers if they close down.

While some bills are on the stove, others have hit the back burner. Legislation to monitor nursing homes electronically in order to detect resident abuse or neglect was rejected by the Education and Health Committee, 9-4. Byrne blames the rejection on special interest groups who support nursing staffing.

"That was a disappointment," Byrne said.

Byrne was also upset by the recent denial to reappoint Verbene M. Askew to the Newport News City Court bench. Republicans rejected the reappointment of Askew, who is black, in part because of a sexual harassment claim that was filed by a female colleague in 2000.

"It looked to me to be based clearly on race and gender, and I was really disappointed to see that the Senate has sunk so low," Byrne said.

As for the state's budget, Byrne said she hasn't heard much about what the budget committee will present at the end of the session. She did, however, disagree with Senate Republicans’ wish to abolish the estate tax. For those estate holders who die in 2003, the estate could face taxes if assets equal $1 million or more.

"If the Senate Republicans go forward with the estate tax ... that means we're going to have another hole in the budget of $135 million a year," Byrne said.

Byrne said that she's surprised and pleased with citizen participation this year. She has had visits from teachers, parents, mental health professionals and conservationists, among other constituencies.

"The place is just hopping with people who want their views known," Byrne said.