Warner defends vetoes

Gov. Mark R. Warner defended his two vetoes and changes to Republican bills and the state budget during his monthly Northern Virginia radio call-in show Tuesday.

He guaranteed a 2.25 percent pay raise for state employees including teachers rather than the measure approved by lawmakers that was contingent on economic growth.

“If I’m going to ask state employees to do more with less, I’m going to make sure the raises that have been promised — they can count on,” he said, adding it does not mean there won’t be cuts — if necessary they will just come from elsewhere, he said.

During the legislative session Warner was criticized for staying on the periphery of bill debates, but in a sort of

legislative show of force over the last several days has left two prized Republican bills vetoed, seven major policy bills altered and 67 changes to the budget.

And he let lawmakers know they’ll be part of the budgetary dance in the fall should more cuts be needed — Warner will call a special session, likely in mid- to late October, which would bring state delegates and senators back to Richmond right before November elections.

Warner vetoed the estate tax repeal, a favorite of Republicans this year, and he looked to be picking up the votes to sustain the veto: Mt. Vernon Sen. Linda T. “Toddy” Puller, D-36th District, has come over to his side leaving Newport News Sen. Henry Maxwell, D-2nd District, the last needed senator to prevent a two-thirds majority.

“The more information I got, the more I realized we really can’t afford to do this right now,” Puller said. For a repeal that was not to take effect until 2005 anyway, it should be done as part of overall tax reform next year, she said.

Warner also vetoed a “Choose Life” license plate bill. He said opponents of the plate have been demonized as “hateful toward children” but those personal attacks are unfounded: License plates are not an appropriate forum for political statements, and that interpretation of the law is supported by the only court to consider the issue on its merits — a South Carolina court found it unconstitutional.

Warner said the legislature’s parental consent bill for abortions threatens medical privacy so he removed a notarization requirement because notaries do not have to keep information confidential. Only one other state, Louisiana, requires a notarized statement by parents, he said. He also made the judicial bypass provision less burdensome for girls for whom consent is not an option.

On Prince William Delegate Robert G. Marshall’s “infanticide” ban bill, a procedure also referred to as partial-birth abortions, Warner said he is opposed to “post-viability abortions” except to protect the mother’s life or health and inserted those exceptions.

The General Assembly passed a law to prohibit illegal immigrants from getting in-state tuition, but Warner revived exceptions sought by Fairfax Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, D-35th District, for undocumented children who grew up in the county, graduated from high school and pay taxes.

“This amendment recognizes that there are some young people who came to America when they were very young, and who are in a position to become legal residents of the United States,” Warner said. “It is only fair that this narrowly targeted group of students — whose parents paid Virginia income taxes — have the chance to receive in-state tuition.”

His exception is sure to be controversial as Saslaw’s was during session. Republican Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore said, “I continue to believe that it is not too much to ask that people obey the laws of our society before they take advantage of what our society has to offer.”

Warner left intact a law requiring proof of legal presence by applicants of driver’s licenses, which immigrant groups opposed. Warner said in light of post-Sept. 11 security concerns it was necessary as 27 other states adopted similar rules, but he said it must be implemented fairly and not biased against immigrants.

He said lawmakers did not adequately fund this mandate and this could have led to another “disaster” of long lines at Department of Motor Vehicle offices. To the General Assembly’s $400,000 he added $1 million for car registrations that the legislature passed. The additional funds will come from part of the proceeds created by a mandatory $1 contribution for the Jamestown-Yorktown 400th anniversary celebration in 2007.

Prince William Delegate John A. “Jack” Rollison, R-52nd District, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s Transportation subcommittee, said $400,000 was their original estimate, but “if he’s going to provide additional money, we can put it to good use. I’m not going to argue with him on that.”

Warner changed the narrow definition of “mentally retarded” in the General Assembly’s bill that prohibits executions of retarded criminals. He put in a broader definition endorsed by the State Crime Commission and the two patrons of the bill.

Warner delayed by a year enactment of the law to extend the 21-day limit for non-DNA evidence after conviction to 90 days. The crime commission will propose a more comprehensive proposal next year so this would prevent two cycles of changes by the courts, something the bill patron supports, Warner said.

Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (703) 878-8062.

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