The Democratic majority of the Virginia House of Delegates tonight refused on a close vote to endorse a rule change that would force the full House to vote on ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Under consideration by the state legislature every year since 1972, the matter had remained bottled up in committee, never reaching the floor for a vote by either house.
The proposal would require that all proposed amendments to the Constitution be reported to the full house after consideration in committee for no more than 20 days.
Only two state legislatures, those in Virginia and Mississippi, have failed to vote on ERA. Thirty four of the required 38 states have ratified by four more states by March 22, 1979, to become a part of the Constitution.
The caucus endorsed three other rules changes. One would require the House to consider a proposed budget bill for five days before voting on it. A second would prohibit House committees from excluding legislators from their executive meetings and a third reqiures a committee majority to agree before carrying over legislation from one session to another.
The Senate Democratic Caucus, meeting at the same time, agreed to change its caucus rules to permit the Democrats to expel any caucus member who supported opponents of Democrats running for public office. The expulsion vote would require a two-thirds majority of the caucus.
Last year, Democratic Sen. Elmon T. Gray of Waverly served as finance chairman of the U.S. Senate campaign of independent Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. Byrd was opposed by Democrat Elmo Zumwalt.
The Senate caucus rule change will apply to the future only. No action was taken against Gray.
National ERA proponents do not list Virginia as one of the states likely to ratify it. However, Virginia proponents of the amendment feel that they have a majority of the Senate with them and are within one or two votes of certain passage in the House.
Del. James M. Thomson (D-Alexandria), chairman of the committee that handles the ERA and who is opponent of the measure, urged caucus members not to force a vote on the divisive issue.
"Why are you insisting on dividing the Democrats on close measures and making a jackass of the working majority on the House floor?" he said. "You can see by the closeness of these votes that these issues will be cited by the Republicans."
Supporters of the proposed rule change said that committees had no right to change any part of the proposed constitutional amendment before reporting it to the full House. Since this normal committee function of proposing amendments is not possible, they said, constitutional amendments should be brought to a vote by the full membership.
The sponsor of the rules change that would put ERA before the full House, Del. Donald G. Pendleton (D-Amberst), said after the caucus vote that he will take the measure before the Rules Committee on Wednesday. If it is rejected by the committee, Pendleton said, he will exercise his right to propose it to the full House. A rules change proposed by a House member must be voted on within five days.
Normally, a vote by a party caucus on a proposed rule change binds its members to support the caucus position when the measure comes to a vote of the full House. Both before and after tonight's vote, however, House Democrats said they considered the votes on today's rules changes to be advisory only.
The caucus endorsements of five-day consideration of budget bills and a prohibition against excluding House members from executive meetings of committees were directed at the Appropriations Committee. That committee, which fashions the budget bill, traditionally has pushed trough final action within hours of reporting the bill to the full House. Two two-year budget adopted last March has proved to be an embarrassment to legislators because it vastly overestimated state tax revenues.
The Appropriations Committee also has required House members who are not on the committee to leave its executive sessions in the past.