Volcanic ash strands Virginia Lt. Gov. Bolling in Italy

The Eyjafjallajokull volcano in southern Iceland has erupted twice in less than a month, raising concerns that it could trigger a larger and more dangerous eruption at a volatile volcano nearby.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 20, 2010

RICHMOND -- Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) is stranded in Italy because of the ash from an Icelandic volcano that has crippled air traffic across much of Europe and will probably be unable to preside over the state Senate when the General Assembly returns for a one-day session Wednesday.

Bolling's flight from Florence, scheduled for Tuesday night, was canceled, and he has not been able to get one before next week, said Randy Marcus, his chief of staff.

Bolling's office has consulted with United Airlines officials, the National Guard, the Virginia Department of Aviation and charter companies. "It's a very real possibility he will not be back'' for the session, Marcus said.

The General Assembly will return to the state Capitol for the one-day session to consider Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell's (R) proposed amendments to 123 bills, including the state budget.

Bolling serves as the tiebreaking vote in cases of deadlock in the 40-member chamber, which Democrats control by a 22 to 18 majority. The body will take up a number of sensitive issues that could result in close votes.

Notably, senators will decide whether to accept an amendment to the state budget that would restrict funding for abortions to those performed in instances of rape or incest or when the life of the mother is at risk. Virginia also allows funding when the health of the mother is in danger or when the baby will be born seriously deformed.

Abortion votes are always tight in the Senate. If Bolling were present and the vote were tied, he would cast the deciding vote on behalf of the Republican governor's initiative. If Bolling is absent, the proposed abortion restriction will flounder in case of a tie.

"That would be problematic for him," said Sen. R. Edward Houck (D-Spotsylvania).

Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William), who as president pro tempore of the Senate would preside in Bolling's absence, said he had been informed of the lieutenant governor's predicament and remained hopeful Bolling would make it back to Richmond in time.

"That's his job, and if he doesn't make it, I'll be glad to do it," said Colgan, a former pilot who founded his own regional airline. "But it's his job, and I hope he makes it."

Colgan, 83, who has cancer and has at times appeared fatigued in recent months, said he was confident he would be able to preside during the session. "That's child's play," he said.

Although Bolling has taken on an expanded role in promoting economic development in McDonnell's administration, his only constitutionally mandated role is to preside over the Senate. He formed a committee last month to begin raising money for a possible run for governor in 2013.

He left last week for a weeklong trip to Italy to participate in an economic development symposium, at which he is speaking Tuesday about the role of higher education.

Bolling, the state's chief jobs-creation officer, also met with several Italian officials but did not talk to any companies interested in relocating in Virginia.

The city of Florence paid for the travel costs of about $2,000, according to Bolling's office. James Madison University, which has a study abroad program, is housing Bolling. No additional state money was spent on the trip.

Bolling's wife, Jean Ann, accompanied him. The Bollings paid for expenses that are not related to participation in the symposium.

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