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Repeal of civil remedial fees advances

So much for bipartisanship.

All members of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee appeared to agree yesterday about the best response to the state’s much-maligned civil remedial fees: repeal them as soon as possible and make refunds to those who have paid them already.

Somehow, however, the committee split along partisan lines, 8-7, on several votes merely to repeal them with no emergency provision or mention of refunds.

Democrats saw that as the best way to get repeal and emergency action through the House of Delegates, which has several bills pending that would tweak the fees rather than repealing them outright. The House requires an 80 percent vote to make legislation effective on the governor’s signature, and several senators said they think that is unlikely.

On the other hand, several legislators noted, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine could sign the repeal as emergency legislation on his own hook, and it would take only a simple majority vote in each house to sustain the governor’s action.

That was way too clever for Virginia Beach Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle and his Republican colleagues. They wanted the measure to include an emergency provision and refunds. “We’re letting politics cloud our judgment,” Stolle said. “The right thing to do, and everybody at the table knows this, is to repeal this thing as quickly as we can.’ ”

Six bills that would repeal the fees were rolled into a bill sponsored by R. Edward Houck, D-Spotsylvania and eventually referred the Senate Finance Committee on a majority vote with no emergency or refund provisions.

Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax, said $13 million in fees had been assessed and $4.8 million had been collected by Dec. 31. Those numbers suggest that the fees would generate far less than the $65 million that were projected for the transportation program enacted last year.

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