The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Sex-offender laws clear House, Senate; B1

Virginia legislators will discuss adding more funds for programs

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

WINCHESTER — When members of the General Assembly finally sit down to talk turkey about the state’s coming two-year budget, they will be talking about more than transportation and taxes.

They also will be talking about sex offenders.

Tougher laws and tracking programs carried over from the attorney general’s race in 2005 have made their way through both

House of Delegates and Senate in the form of regular laws and changes to the proposed state budget.

Both Republican Attorney General Bob McDonnell and his opponent who came within a whisker of winning, state Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, spent much of the campaign talking about their plans to crack down on sex offenders.

Former Gov. Mark R. Warner proposed spending more than $3.2 million over the next two years to improve the state’s handling of offenders, but both the House and Senate want to go further.

Senate budget writers have proposed adding more than $17 million to the state’s public safety budget, but state Sen. Ken Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, chairman of the Senate Finance public safety subcommittee, says in his report to the full committee that there are concerns about how the cost of such programs might grow.

In particular, the civil commitment program, which allows the state to hold offenders likely to commit another sex crime past the end of their sentence, could need triple its 100-bed capacity in just a few years. And those 100 beds won’t be ready until 2007.

House leaders held a press conference on Monday to talk about the differences between their version and the Senate’s plan — namely, the House decision to spend $19.9 million on sex offenders.

That money includes more funds for police and satellite-based tracking of sex offenders.

Del. Beverly Sherwood, R-Winchester, said the House plan manages to spend more money than the Senate on tracking and controlling sex offenders without having to ask for new funds.

Sherwood chairs the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee, and carried a number of bills related to tougher rules for sex offenders.

“We were able to fund the entire amount of needed resources with identified savings,” she says, in a statement issued after the press conference. “The House was able to do all this while being ever mindful of our number one priority: keeping Virginia a safe place to live and work.”

One of Sherwood’s other bills, House Bill 596, is headed into a conference committee of its own. The bill expands an existing state program for flood mitigation and recovery to cover dam safety and flood prevention.

A Senate version of the bill includes a provision requiring funding from the state’s general fund for it to take effect, but the Senate budget doesn’t contain any funds set aside for the program.

Sherwood said Monday that the House version doesn’t contain that language, but their version of the budget does set aside $400,000 a year for the program. It also takes some taxes levied on flood insurance premiums and adds them to the newly christened fund.