The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Health and Fitness

February 21, 2013

Flu season taxes Virginia lawmakers as doctor-legislators aid both sides of aisle

By Laura Vozzella

The Washington Post

RICHMOND, Va. — Splayed out on the couch in his Capitol Square office, state Sen. William Stanley coughed and wheezed and gasped for breath as he tried to talk school reform with the governor's top legislative lobbyist.

The worried lobbyist whisked him to the hospital Friday night, where doctors diagnosed double pneumonia and prescribed two things: antibiotics and bed rest. Come Monday, Stanley, R-Franklin County, was taking his medicine, but taking it at his desk in the state Senate, afraid to miss a vote in the evenly divided chamber as the 45-day General Assembly session entered its last week.

The flu clobbered the commonwealth this year, and glad-handing, germ-swapping politicians have turned Mr. Jefferson's Capitol into a stately petri dish, where midwinter contagion has sickened scores of legislators. Yet even the most peaked lawmakers, say they can't afford to miss a single vote in the frenzied homestretch.

"Almost no matter what, you've got to try to be here every day," said Stanley's seat mate, state Sen. Jeffrey McWaters, R-Virginia Beach, who tries to ward off disease with hand sanitizer. "This time of year, we've got all these bills coming across, and some of them are 20-20 votes."

That's particularly true in a year when Republicans used the Inauguration Day absence of one Democrat to slip a surprise redistricting plan through the Senate. Neither chamber permits voting by proxy. So as they push to complete work by Saturday on a hotly contested transportation funding overhaul, state budget amendments and public school reform, sniffling, sneezing and even feverish legislators will be on the job — some limping along with help from the four doctors who happen to be members of the General Assembly.

"Even if I have to have somebody on a gurney, okay, and me pushing the button for them, we'll have 20 votes," said state Senate Minority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax.

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