Business won some and lost some in the 1980 session of the Virginia General Assembly,but consumers walked away almost empty-handed.
The legislature, which adjourned its session Saturday, changed workmen's compensation laws to suit business lobbyists but raised the minimum wage in Virginia from $2.35 an hour to $2.65 an hour. The legislators also raised unemployment insurance payments for new businesses and allowed credit card processors to add a 50-cent surcharge oncustomers' unpaid balances.
The closest the legislators came to enacting consumer-oriented legislation was a resolution proclaiming the third Wednesday of January as Consumer Awareness Day. A bill to force violators of the state's consumer protection laws to pay court costs and attorneys' fees was rejected.
The General Assembly passed a bill to simplify the wording of terms and coverage of some individual accident and sickness insurance policies. And it voted to allow savings and loan institutions to make variable rate mortgages.
In the area of energy, the legislators approved bills to aid to the manufacture and sale of ethanol alcohol used to make gasohol, but balked at legislation that would give a tax break to purchasers of alcohol fuel. Gasohol is a motor fuel made of 90 per cent gasoline and 10 percent alcohol.
The bill to reduce the tax on alcohol fuels, scaled to the alcohol content, was carried over to the next session.
The legislature didn't pass the tax bill because it would have decreased the state highway fund, according to Irl Smith, director of rural affairs for the state Agricultre Department, Legislators are concerned that the highway fund is too low.
The bill that passed, however, would provide incentives for those seeking to manufacture alcohol for fuels by eliminating a required $10,000 cash bond by simplifying some procedures, Smith said.
The legislature approved another fuel bill that would create a Virginia Fuel Conversion Authority to plan for and finance facilities to convert coal to alternative fuels.
The authority will assist in coordinating federal, state, regional, local and private efforts "to provide the critizens of the Commonwealth with a coal conversion facility for the manufacture of liquid or gaseous fuels at a reasonable cost," the bill states.
The General Assembly also passed a resolution calling for the conversion of state facilities to coal-fired systems where feasible. The resolution also states that consideration should be given primarily to coal-fired boilers in future state facilities.
The bill considered the most important of the season by some business leaders calls for a peer review system to hear workmen's compensation cases and would raise the unemployment insurance contribution rate for new businesses.
The workmen's compensation bill is intended to help keep workmen's compensation insurance premiums low by giving those cases close scrutiny by by five regional panels and one state panel of doctors.
"Workmen's compensation costs have escalated tremendously in the state, more than 100 percent in the last three years," said Z.C. Dameron Jr., president of the Virginia Manufacturers Association. "Implementation of the peer review will have great impact."
The unemployment bill was intended to increase the unemployment trust fund, "which is below the legal minimum balance," Dameron said. The bill was passed "to keep the system solvent until an in-depth study can be done" of the system, he added.
The bill increased the amount a new employer must contribute to the state fund and also raised the maximum unemployment contribution for all businesses from 3.2 percent of the Taxable wage base ($6,000) to 4.5 percent. The amount an employer pays depends on the number of unemployment claims against his company.
But one legislative aide said that already 70 percent of the state's businesses are paying the minimum contribution, which is 0.7 percent, so the bill wouldn't affect them. Some legislators talked of raising the minimum payment but the aide said that no action followed.
Under legislation approved during the 1980 session, credit card processors would be allowed to charge 50 cents on the unpaid balance of customers' accounts in addition to the regular finance charge.
Before the bills can become law they must be signed by Gov. John N. Dalton by April 7.