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Candidates' Bills Are No Easy Sell

Kilgore Fares Better Than Kaine

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 24, 2005; Page B01

RICHMOND -- Legislative proposals key to the agendas of Virginia's two leading gubernatorial candidates have gotten lukewarm receptions from the 2005 General Assembly.

Former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore, the leading contender for the Republican nomination, had more success with his agenda in the GOP-controlled assembly than did his likely Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine.

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Kaine and Kilgore Agendas

Here is how some bills supported by former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore (R) and Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) turned out.

Among Kaine's Priorities

SB 1285: Evaluate teachers every three years and inscribe in law a state goal to pay educators at the national average.

Outcome: Failed in the House Appropriations Committee.

SB 1257, HB 2780: Cap college tuition increases at the rate of inflation, provided the state fully funds colleges and universities.

Outcome: Failed.

HB 2659, SB 1193: Includes a provision endorsed by Kaine to require that before a malpractice suit can be filed an expert witness certify that a doctor had violated the standards of care.

Outcome: Passed.

Among Kilgore's Priorities

HB 1974, HB 2438: Stiffen penalties for those who manufacture the drug methamphetamine or possess materials to do so.

Outcome: Passed.

HB 1977: Allow the state to appeal a court's decision to throw out charges when the court rules that the defendant's right to a speedy trial was violated.

Outcome: House and Senate passed differing versions and are working to resolve them.

SB 1177: Also addressed speedy trial appeal. In addition, would have eliminated the "triggerman rule," which states that in most cases only those who physically take part in a murder are eligible for the death penalty.

Outcome: The speedy trial provision advanced; triggerman rule changes removed for further study.

Proposals to toughen penalties for gang recruitment and for the manufacture of the drug methamphetamine, which were among the goals Kilgore announced in December, have both advanced in the assembly. However, the Senate rejected a proposal to expand the state's death penalty provisions, another of Kilgore's priorities.

Each year, the state's attorney general and lieutenant governor present packages of bills they would like to see enacted during the legislative session. Kilgore served as attorney general until earlier this month, when he resigned to concentrate on running for the state's top job. The process attracts more attention in an election year, as candidates seek to define issues for the campaign.

"The legislative agendas were the opening statements in the campaign, and they remain on the table," said Robert D. Holsworth, a professor of politics at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Kilgore had proposed the "Death Penalty Enhancement Act," which would have eliminated a requirement that in all but a few murder cases, only those defendants who actually pull the trigger can be eligible for capital punishment. Kilgore said those who order or plan slayings should also be subject to a death sentence. A Senate committee sent the proposal to a commission for further study.

Republicans on the committee said they do not seriously consider proposals to expand capital punishment until the state's crime commission has analyzed their constitutionality. Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle (R-Virginia Beach) said no exception would be made for purposes of the campaign.

"Once we make an exception, then it becomes a political decision each and every time," Stolle said.

A narrower version of the idea remains alive, inserted into a bill dealing with penalties for drug crimes. The bill would make murder at the behest of a drug-dealing gang a crime eligible for the death penalty. The Senate will consider the amendment before the week ends, and Stolle said it might be adopted, because it merely tinkers with existing law that allows prosecutors to seek death when homicides are related to "continuing criminal enterprises."

A spokesman for the campaign said Kilgore is pleased with his victories on other matters, and a study on his death penalty means the issue will remain alive.

"This shows a record of achievement," spokesman Tim Murtaugh said. "It does in fact take leadership to present ideas to the General Assembly and get the General Assembly to sign on to these ideas."

Many politicians and political observers see the death penalty issue as a potential vulnerability for Kaine, who has said he has religious objections to capital punishment but would enforce state law if elected.

Kaine's legislative priorities fared less well than Kilgore's.

A bill to hold college tuition increases to the rate of inflation was rejected by a Senate committee. Instead, the assembly has approved a measure to loosen government control on the state's public colleges and universities in exchange for their pledge to fulfill state goals, including keeping tuition low. It does not, however, cap tuition increases.

Several proposed constitutional amendments favored by Kaine also failed. They would have required that the Transportation Trust Fund be spent only on roads and transit. A proposal to write into a law a state goal to pay teachers at the national average passed the Senate but died before a House committee.

A Kaine spokeswoman said several of his proposals found bipartisan support in the Senate only to be blocked by the House, and his issues will now become fodder for the campaign trail.

"The House in an election year has really chosen partisan politics over these kinds of proposal that would really move the commonwealth forward," spokeswoman Delacey Skinner said. "He'll continue to fight for those things."

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