The Virginia House of Delegates today overwhelmingly decided to let telephone companies in the state to continue to charge customers who request numbers not listed in a current local directory.
A bill that would have prohibited the charges was rejected on a 56-to-23 vote after telephone company lobbyists stood outside the door of the House chamber and handed out three-page leaflets that claimed that the proposed change was "directly opposed to the consumer's best interest."
Many of the lawmakers who voted against the measure cited the phone companies' statistics on the leaflets that said most consumers would be charged more if the companies were forced to keep tabs on which customers had requested new numbers not listed in directories.
"It was a massive lobbying effort on the part of the telephone compaies" that defeated the bill, said Del. David G. Brickley (D-Prince William), the bills sponsor. "Business managers from every telephone company in Virginia were calling delegates on this all night," Brickley said. "Just score another one for the telephone companies."
Under current regulations, telephone companies in the state are permitted to charge customers 10 cents for each directory assistance call each month beyond the first six calls, which are free of charge. Brickley's bill would have exempted customers from being charged for calls to directory assistance when they are seeking numbers they can find no other way, such as new, long-distance and unlisted numbers.
The proposed measure had 34 cosponsors when it was approved by the Corporations, Insurance and Banking committee on a 12-to-5 vote yesterday. But when the bill came up for a debate today, delegate after delegate cited, statistics included in the lobbyists' leaflet as reasons why they were withdrawing their support.
Del. Franklin P. Hall (D-Richmond), one of the original cosponsors, said he would "not be able to continue" his support for the bill. "I had no idea of the cost," he said. "It gives you reason for pause."
According to the statistics handed out by the lobbyists, Brickley's bill, if it had been in effect in December, would have increased total billing for information calls to Virginia customers from $63,000 to $203,000. In addition, the leaflet claimed, the current directory assistance policy saves Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. $3.5 million annually, while the Brickley bill would cost the same customers between $2.8 million to $4.6 million annually.
C and P said that only 5.8 per cent of its customers made more than the six free directory assistance calls in December.
Brickley denounced the money statistics as misleading, contending that the figures were arrived at by assuming a return to the former policy of allowing an unlimited number of free directory assistance calls, rather than the current policy of charging after the first six.
Two bills intended as a response to Virginia's Kepone disaster also went down to defeat in the House today.
Kepone, a powdery white pesticide manufactured by the Life Science Products Co. in Hopewell until two years ago, has caused millions of dollars worth of damage to the state's fishing industry after it was illegally dumped into the James River. Numerous workers at Life Science were also injured. Life Science produced the pesticide for Allied Chemical Corp., which has been fined $5 million in the case and has agreed to establish an $8 million environmental fund for use in the state.
One of the two bills, introduced by Del. Raymond C. Vickery (D-Fairfax), would have made manufacturers of toxic substances like Kepone accountable for damage in the event of spills or discharges into state waters, the same way that oil companies now are assessed for tanker spills.
Vickery's other bill would have placed fines for illegal discharges levied against manufactures of toxic substances into a special fund to be used to reduce the damaging effects of the discharge on the environment. Vickery said the proposal was to similar laws enacted in seven other states.
"The House just does not want to innovate on environmental matters," Vickery said after the two measures were defeated on a voice vote after a short debate. "They've put the interests of manufacturers in front of the environment and the individual citizen."
The House gave preliminary approval to a bill that would permit communities like Reston in Fairax County to officially become towns. The bill, designed for counties with an urban county executive form of government such as Fairfax, would give such communities if they wanted them, limited self-government rights, but would not permit them to become cities or to annex property. The bill was sponsored by Vickery along with seven other members of the Northern Virginia delegation.
The House also passed a bill today that would amend the interstate compact governing Metro transit operations in the Washington area to prohibit binding arbitration of Metro labor contracts. Some officials have blamed binding arbitration for Metro's high labor costs.
A similar bill was killed by a Senate committee, casting doubt on final enactment of the House measure. Both Maryland and Congress would have to agree to the compact change.
The House Labor and Commerce Committee narrowly rejected a bill that would have expanded unemployment benefits to workers laid off because of cold weather and fuel rationing and also, on a 9 to 9 vote, rejected a watered-down resolution encouraging "discussions" between local governments and their employees.