Va. Lawmaker Revives Finn Payment
By Donald P. Baker
RICHMOND, Feb. 18 A day after a legislative committee refused to pay Michele Finn's legal expenses in her right-to-die battle with Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Northern Virginia senator disclosed that he already had slipped $48,000 into the state budget for that purpose.
Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (Fairfax), the Democratic floor leader, said he took that action because he was certain that Republicans on the House Claims Committee would deny Finn the money when it met Wednesday. And it did, on an 8 to 7 party-line vote.
Saslaw sponsored the claim on behalf of the widow of Hugh Finn, who contends that state officials most notably Gilmore interfered with her husband's wish that he be allowed to die rather than linger in a vegetative state resulting from massive brain damage suffered in a 1995 automobile accident.
Saslaw's move, which appeared to catch Gilmore off guard, leaves the administration with three choices: It can try to get the amendment removed from the budget before the legislative session ends in nine days; remove it from the budget later with a line-item veto; or quietly let it take effect.
Gilmore's first shot will come when House and Senate conferees three from each party in each chamber meet to resolve differences in their versions of the budget. Saslaw said that although the money is not included in the House budget, he expects the conferees will approve it.
Also today, a Senate panel defeated the only two antiabortion measures that were before the General Assembly this year. On an 8 to 7 vote tonight, the Senate Committee on Education and Labor rejected a House-passed bill that would have imposed a 24-hour waiting period on abortions. Supporters said the time is needed so that women considering abortion can weigh options such as adoption. Opponents said the bill was an attempt by antiabortion forces to limit women's rights.
Earlier today, the same committee killed without debate a House-passed bill that would have required abortion clinics to meet architectural regulations that now apply only to hospitals. The vote was 11 to 4.
Both Saslaw and the governor's office accused each other today of playing politics with the Finn issue, which was transformed from a personal family tragedy to a national debate when state officials tried to prevent Michele Finn from having her husband's feeding tube removed.
Gilmore said he got involved in the case only after most members of Hugh Finn's family, including his parents and all but one of his seven siblings, complained that Michele Finn was too eager to end her husband's life. They said other family members were willing to care for him. Michele Finn is seeking reimbursement for her legal fees in the court battle that ensued before her husband died Oct. 9.
Tonight, a Richmond television station said its poll showed that 81 percent of those interviewed think Gilmore was wrong for getting involved and that 71 percent think the state should reimburse Michele Finn.
In response, the governor's press secretary, Mark A. Miner, said that Gilmore "governs by principle, not by polls."
Saslaw, who has been in the assembly more than 20 years, said his move was "not a slick trick. It's just that I'm not going to let a decision die like that. It's insane."
He said he asked a Senate Finance Committee staff member to draw up language for the amendment and then had it inserted into a packet of budget changes that were approved without discussion on the Senate floor Wednesday.
He said he told most committee members of his action before the vote. Although a couple of members said today that they didn't know about the action beforehand, Saslaw said he went out of his way to notify Republican members "because I didn't want to bamboozle the Republicans."
Saslaw said he felt comfortable going outside normal procedures because the Senate had approved the Finn claim on a 34 to 6 vote two weeks ago.
One Finance Committee member who didn't learn about the move until afterward, Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William), defended Saslaw's action, saying that "the money should be in the budget, because the claim was approved" by the Senate.
Saslaw said he had no duty to notify the governor. "He hasn't been consulting me," Saslaw said. "He's got a lot of people working for him [trying to defeat the measure], and I don't. I'm just trying to overcome that advantage."
Saslaw added: "I hope [Gilmore] knows that he's got a mess here, and backs down. Otherwise, it's a war."
Miner called Saslaw's comments unfortunate. "Saslaw is clearly being motivated by politics," Miner said. "The Claims Committee voted on this issue yesterday, and it was defeated. Now Senator Saslaw is going against that vote and the wishes of the body he serves."
Asked about the governor's next move, Miner said, "The strategy is . . . to continue governing based on beliefs and the governor's belief on this issue."
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