When the Virginia legislature ended its short session on Saturday, it left behind a long list of new business-oriented laws which may benefit more consumers than companies.
The laws range from one permitting residents to use credit cards to pay taxes to another allowing state-chartered banks and savings and loans to make graduated-payment mortage loans. That law, already signed by the governor, is expected to help financially strapped prospective home buyers.
Another bill signed by Gov. John N. Dalton prohibits oil refiners and producers from operating service stations in the state, and anothr merely requires that the State Corporation Commission "establish standards for simplified and readable accident and sickness insurance forms."
The legislation passed by the General Assembly during its 45-day session must be signed by the governor before April 4 if it is to become law. Most of the laws will then become effective July 1.
One bill which has passed the signing stage is patterned after new federal legislation permitting federally chartered banks to grant graduated-payment mortgages in which payments start out smaller than normal and then over a specified period gradually gorw as the home buyer's icome grows.
The law grew out of sttempts by legislators to "develop alternative methods of financing," said W. O. Pearce, executive vice presidnet of the Virginia Bankers Association. "Something has got to happen to make the financing of housing more viable, he said.
But Pearce added that many lenders are laying low. "I don't anticipate people will run out and make graduated-payment loans," Pearce said. "There are a lot of ramifications" such as determining ways to compound interest on such loans.
Another part of the bill permits reverse annuity mortages which allow persons to receive a monthly payment from a lender based on the value of their home. At the end of a specified time, the home-owner pays back the lender, possibly through the sale of the house.
Pearce said many older persons could benefit from the program. "It gives them a monthly income check based on the value of their home," Pearce said. But he added that few banks probably will rush to implement that law either.
One piece of legislation "we thought was a real laugher" could become a politically prudent consumer issue in some jurisdictions, one local government official said. That law, not yet signed by the governor, would allow localities to permit residents to pay taxes with credit cards.
"It's plastic money people are using to buy everything else, why not taxes?" said Arlington County Treasurer Bennie Fletcher. But Fletcher added that "I'm sure Arlington County isn't looking at it now."
"We gave some thought to it," but the county decided against it, said Warren S. Hutchison, finance director for Fairfax County.
Hutchison said the charge companies usually require businesses -- or in this case, govrnments -- that accept the card to pay a 5 or 6 percent fee. Although the bill would allow localities to charge credit card taxpayers extra, the credit card company fee would still not be offset, some government officials said.
"It would involve a lot-more-complex handling of taxes and it would be more costly to taxpayers," Fletcher said.
But if governments choose not to use credit cards, "It could put a lot of heat on local governments," one official said.
An Alexandria spokesman said yesterday that city officials have not decided whether they will implement the law.
Another law aimed at consumers, but not yet signed by the governor, places certain restrictions on auto-repair companies to aid consumers.
The law requires that if a customer requests a written estimate of work before it is done, the auto repair company must furnish one with estimated costs of labor and parts and a description of the problem and completion time. The repair shop may charge for the estimate and related diagnostic work if the consumer is told of it ahead of time.
The repair shop also must post a sign saying that the customer can receive an estimate and that no charge for repair work may exceed that estimate by more than 10 percent unless the customer is told beforehand.
Another law requires that contracts for the sale of a new house have a warranty saying that the dwelling "with all its fixtures" is "free from structural defects and constructed in a workmanlike manner so as to pass without objection in the trade."
The law exempts condominiums and new dwellings planned to be leased.
Other laws awaiting the governor's signature require insurance companies to give law enforcement officials information about the investigation of fire losses and prohibit a person who voluntarily leaves a job to accompany a spouse in a new locality from receiving unemployment compensation benefits.
Bills that failed in the legislature concerning the state's utility companies would have prohibited them from requesting rate increases more than once a year and would have prevented them from shutting off gas or electric service to customers who claim in writing that they suffer from financial hardship and cannot pay the required security deposit or delinquent account.