It was the largest number of voting abstentions yet for the Virginia General Assembly, which has been struck this year with increased concerns over conflicts of interest.

When a bill giving legislator-lawyers longer exemptions for court appearances reached the floor for a final vote, 27 members -- including eight sponsors of the measure -- declined to vote on it.

One delegate's query as to whether the issue could create a conflict for lawyers in the House prompted House Speaker A.L. Philpott (D-Henry) to respond: "I'm not in a position to answer his question. Let your conscience be your guide."

Philpott, a lawyer, was among the delegates who abstained.

The bill was approved with a 70-to-2 vote in favor of the change and the 27 abstentions.

Under state law, members of the legislature and their staffs may be granted continuances for any court appearance while the legislature is in session.

The bill that passed the House would expand the time allowed for those continuances from 30 days after the regular session of the General Assembly adjourns to 15 days after the one-day April veto session.

The change would give lawmakers an extra two months of courtroom continuances.

Legislators this year have abstained in record numbers from voting on matters that could be considered conflicts of interest with their personal financial affairs. In most cases, however, only a handful of legislators has abstained from voting on any given bill.