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  Gilmore Reluctant to Embrace Roads Deal

By Donald P. Baker and R.H. Melton
Washington Post Staff Writes
Tuesday, February 9, 1999; Page B04

RICHMOND, Feb. 8 – Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) gave mixed signals tonight on whether he'll support $208 million in new borrowing for highway projects in Northern Virginia and rural Southside, but the proposal won strong support in the House of Delegates.

The bond package would bring $104 million to improve Routes 1, 7, 15 and 123 in Northern Virginia and an equal amount to finish widening Route 58 along the southern edge of the state. A preliminary voice vote in the House tonight signaled it will have no trouble passing in the final vote Tuesday.

Senate budget writers approved the bond package over the weekend, leaving Gilmore as the main hurdle. Eight lawmakers from the two regions met privately with Gilmore for 30 minutes tonight but left uncertain about his intentions.

The governor was sympathetic – particularly to the incomplete Route 58 project – but he was reluctant to increase the state's debt and questioned whether any amount of transit money could solve Northern Virginia's traffic woes, lawmakers said after the meeting.

"He didn't jump up and down either way, with pleasure or with anger," said Sen. Warren E. Barry (R-Fairfax).

In an interview earlier in the day, Gilmore said he would keep an open mind about the political joint venture, but he criticized as a "radical departure" from past practices the idea of some legislators to repay the debt on the bonds from the state's general fund.

With Tuesday the deadline for the originating chamber to finish legislation on its bills, the General Assembly gave preliminary approval today to several proposals that often manage to pass one chamber only to die in the other.

Among the hardy perennials that cleared one chamber today was a labor-backed proposal that would give state employee organizations the right to meet and confer with their bosses.

Although the proposal stops far short of authorizing collective bargaining between state workers and agency heads, the legislation is the centerpiece of organized labor's agenda, and several hundred union members were in the galleries and hallways today as the bill was approved.

The 57 to 40 vote in the House of Delegates was one of the few contested proposals that did not produce a sharply partisan split. Fourteen Republicans joined with 43 Democrats in the majority, while five Democrats sided with 35 Republicans in opposition.

Last year, the House approved a similar bill, only to see it fail in the Senate by a single vote.

The Senate today passed and sent to the House a bill that gives police officers the authority to stop a motorist driving without a fastened seat belt. Current law limits an officer to issuing a ticket for violations of the seat belt law only if the motorist has been stopped for another violation.

The legislation is expected to face greater opposition in the House, where the legislative black caucus's senior member, Del. William P. Robinson Jr. (D-Norfolk), has assailed it as a driving-while-black proposal that would give law enforcement personnel the ability to harass blacks and other minorities.

Also included in the bill, which passed by a vote of 22 to 16, is a provision that prohibits vehicle passengers from possessing open containers of alcohol.

The Senate passed and sent to the House a bill that would require all public schools in Virginia to teach some form of character education.

The legislation was inspired by a program in use at Fallon Park Elementary School in Roanoke. The Gilmore administration opposes the idea, saying it constitutes an unfunded mandate on local school districts.

Before approving the bill, 35 to 5, the Senate expanded the proposal to include all grades, rather than just elementary schools, as introduced by Sen. John S. Edwards (D-Roanoke).

Staff writer Craig Timberg contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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