When the Virginia General Assembly convened Jan. 12, its 140 members were preoccupied with a $220 million projected revenue shortage that most felt meant either a tax increase or a sharp cut in programs.
Largely because of an unwillingness to accept either in an election year, the legislators agreed in the last days of the session to revise a $7.4 billion biennial budget in a way that avoids both.
A combination of tax collection speedups, special fund transfers and across-the-board spending cuts was approved by both the Senate and the House of Delegates to close the revenue gap.
While dealing with the state's budget problems, the Assembly also considered about 1,500 bills and resolutions on other subjects. Some of the most controversial of these remained to be acted on in the last days of the session. The following is a summary of actions completed as adjournment approaced. Banking
Most of the most intense lobbying campaigns of the current session ended in failure for both the state's major banking organizations and the State Corporation Commission, which had sought an end to the prohibition on statewide branch banking. Currently banks are able, by use of holding companies and subsidiary banks, to achieve a form of statewide branching, but the banks argued that this method was costly and hurt competition.
There were opposed by the state's small independent bankers who, in an equally serious lobbying campaign, charged that statewide branching would be their doom and that the big state banking organizations would swallow them up one by one if the legislation passed. Actually, the statewide branching bill never got off the ground.
If fell victim to the "country bankers" in a House committee and was watered down to comtain continued, severe restrictions on further branching in the state. The amended bill passed the House but died quickly in a Senate committee.
Del. Ralph L. Axselle (D-Henrico), who sponsored the legislation, promised last week that he will try again next year to win passage of the statewide branching bill and admitted that it was a mistake not to have worked harder for support in the Senate for the measure. The branch banking bill contained provisions that would have tightened restrictions on loans by state-chartered banks to their own officers and directors, a step prompted by the 1973 collapse of an uninsured state-regulated Norfolk savings firm. But Axsell said the loan provisions were never an issue in the banking bill and that the entire issue became whether Virginia was to allow statewide banking.
The Assembly did pass one bill restricting somewhat the rights of new bank holding companies to sell certain forms of insurance. But the legislation allows banks now selling insurance to continue to do so and allows new banks to sell certain forms of credit life insurance with loans.
Last year a similar insurance bill died in the Senate when numerous senators declared they could not vote on the measure because they had a conflict of interest by ties to either insurance or banking organizations. This year enough senators agreed to vote to enable the measure to pass. Pollution
Legislation that would have tightened the state's regulation on oil spills and would have provided for a special fund for their cleanup died during the session. The full House killed a measure that would have allowed the State Water Control Board to use pollution fines to purchase equipment for fighting oil spills and other pollution problems, a measure sponsored by Del. Raymond E. Vickery (D-Fairfax).
A Senate-passed bill that would have required polluters to report and clean up spills of as little as 25 gallons of oil died later in a House committee, where it came under heavy attack from petroleum company interests. Passage of the bill would "clutter up the code," argued Del. Robert R. Gwathmey (D-Hanover) as the committee killed a weakened version of the Senate bill that would have required reporting of 100-gallon spills.
One of the victories conservationists could claim during the session was the defeat by a Senate committee of a House-passed bill that would prohibit the water board from requiring yachts and other pleasure craft moored at marinas in the state have sewage holding tanks.
The bill was sponsored by Del. Thomas M. Moss (D-Norfolk). Health and sehllfish interests has complained that pollution from marinas might endanger the state's oyster beds and shellfish interests. Moss compalined that their fears were unfounded and that the tanks were a nusiance for small boat owners.
A bill banning use of aerosol sprays that rely on chloroflurocarbons for propellant was defeated in committee. The bill was sponsored by Del. Thomas J. Rothrock (D-Fairfax). Constitutional amendments
Although the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution made it to the floor of the State Senate for the first time in four years, neither it nor most other consitutional changes fared well. A sudden, unexpected switch by Sen. A. Joe Canada (R-Virginia Beach), a candidate for lieutenant governor this year, killed Senate ratification of the ERA by one vote.
The amendment would have prohibited discrimination by sex and the Senate refused to reconsider its action this year despite an appeal to some anti-ERA senators by First Lady Rosalynn Carter. Although House approval of the amendment seemed unlikely this year, ERA supporters are vowing to press the issue next year after election of a new House.
The Democratic-dominated Assembly refused, despite the urging of Sen. Joseph T. Fitzpatrick (D-Norfolk), chairman of the state Democratic Party, to ratify three of four other constitutional amendments approved by other states.
It moves that left Fitzpatrick visibly angry and perplexed at the conservative mood of the legislature, the legislators killked moves to approve the 44-year-old 16th Amendment, allowing direct election of U.S. senators; and the 16-year-old 23rd Amendment, allowing District of Columbia residents to vote in presidential elections.
The only amendment the Assembly approved was the 13-year-old 24th Amendment, which prohibits use of a poll tax. And that measure passed a House committee thanks only to the arguments of the Republican minority leader, Del. Jerry H. Geisler (R-Carroll), who noted that he was first elected to the Assembly in 1966 with a pledge to see Virginia remove from its law books any vestige of the tax. Taxes
From the outset of the Assembly session, it was clear that this election year for all 100 members of the House of Delegates would not be a year for raising taxes. All major revenue proposals were killed in committee, including those sought by hard-pressed local governments.
Arlington was authorized to impose a 5 per cent transient occupancy tax on hotel rooms, but its sponsors said the revenues from it will be offset by a simultaneous reduction in the county's gross receipts tax levied on all hotel revenues.
Arlington and Fairfax Counties were again denied the right to impose a 1 per cent tax on restaurant meals in addition to the 4 per cent sales tax. Only Alexandria in the Virginia suburbs has the restaurant tax. Arlington would have collected $700,000 a year from the levy and Fairfax about $1 million.
Fairfax City was authorized to impose a 4 per cent transient occupancy tax despite some opposition from Northern Virginia members of the House of Delegates who were angered by Farfaix City's veto of a regional gasoline tax last year. The gasoline tax had been intended to pay for Metro transit operating deficits.
The Assembly passed bills sponsored by Democractic Del. Carrington Williams of Fairfax and Warren G. Stambaugh of Arlington that permit nursing home residents to claim property tax relief on the homes they own but do not occupy and allow the elderly who earn more than $10,000 a year to claim reduced property tax reductions.
A effort by Del. Mary A. Marshall (D-Arlington) to set a ceiling on local utility taxes of 20 per cent of the total utility bill was killed in committee.
A Williams proposal to authorize a local income tax designed to prevent further increases in real estate taxes also was killed by the House Finance Committee.
Despite the hostile attitude toward new taxes, a bll that would have required legislators to estimate the cost of all legislative proposals they make was not acted on by the House Appropriations Committee. Health care
The House defeated a bill that would have required doctors in Virginia to comply with continuing education requirements. Disclosure
The Assembly approved a bill requiring the three members of the State Corporation Commission and top staff officials of the SCC to disclose their financial interests. The SCC regulates a wide range of business activity, including rates charged by electric, gas and telephone utilities. Criminal justice
A number of proposals to set tougher minimum sentences for violent crimes were introduced this year, including one by Del. Ira M. Lechner (D-Arlington), a candidate for lieutenant governor who has publicized his proposal with a walk across the state.
These measures, however, were killed by lawyer-dominated committees that generally avoid restricting the discretion of judges and juries.
A recurring proposal to revise the process for jury sentencing again was defeated. Juries now set sentences as they return verdicts in criminal cases. The proposed change would have established two-part jury trials. In the first part, the question of guilt or innocence would be decided. In the second part, jurors would have considered the defendant's background and other factors and then returned a sentence.The bill was killed in the House Courts of Justice Committee.
A bill providing that conviction of a crime may not be used as a bar to employment by the state or a city or county in the state was approved. Juveniles
A major revision of the juvenile code was approved by the General Assembly, culminating three years of study and work that included public hearings all over the state and consultation with state agencies, private agencies and citizens.
One of the most significant changes the new law makes is to transfer responsibility for the heretofore labeled "status offenders" - truants, runaways, and those who chronically misbehave but who have not committed criminal offenses - to departments of social service instead of the department of corrections. These children, who will be called "Children in Need of Services" (CHINS) will no longer be sent to correctional institutions, but will instead be funneled to alternative programs designed to help them change their behavior.
These alternative programs will be under the direction of the department of social services, which will get money (some $1.7 million statewide) originally allocated to the department of correction to set up a system of intake and probation officers.
Other measures in the bill assure all children who appear before a juvenile judge, whether as delinquents or CHINS or foster children, of the right to have an attorney present. If the child has no attorney, the judge is to appoint one.
The bill also deals with foster care and requires a new process of analysis and review for all foster children. It also introduces the concept of permanent foster care as a last resort for a child who is under 18 but is either not adoptable, does not wish to be adopted, and for whom a long-term relationship with a family is desireable. One idea behind this concept is to encourage foster parents to make an emotional commitment to a child they know will not be taken away from them.
The Assembly approved a bill sponsored by Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan (D-Fairfax) that expands the requirements for local welfare services to children.
The measure requires city and county welfare departments to purchase special services for children when they are not normally available. If defines "foster care" required by the bill as around-the-clock family support for a child.
The bill also puts tighter restrictions on the placement of Virginia children in state institutions and requires local welfare agencies to keep current a service program for all of the children in their care. Insurance
A bill sponsored by Stambaugh and approved by the Assembly requires that insurance policies put no stricter limits on benefits for outpatient treatment of mental health disorders than for other illnesses so longs as the treatment is received at certain conventional facilities.
Another insurance measure sponsored by Sen. Clive L. DuVal II(D-Fairfax) bars denial of automobile insurance solely on the basis of age.
The Assembly also agreed to provide workmen's compensation insurance to workers whose employers do no qualify them for converage because they fail to comply with filing requirements.
The bill finances the coverage of on-the-job injuries for these workers by imposing a levy of 0.25 per cent on premiums being paid for workmen's insurance by other businesses. The measure empowers the industrial commission to sue employers of the newly covered workers to recover any benefits paid from the special fund.
The annual effot to sanction no-fault auto-monile insurance in Virginia, this time through a bill introduced by Del. Richard R.G.Hobson (D-Alexandria), again was rejected. His bill was killed by the House Courts of Justice Committee.
In the austere budget climate, efforts to relieve financial pressure on cities and counties did not fare well. Such bills as one that would have required the state to pay the local share of welfare programs and another that would have increased local jail construction grants were killed in committees.
The Assembly did pass a measure that will allow cities to get the same share of the state bank stock tax that counties receive. The bill would raise the city share from 40 per cent to 80 per cent and transfer about $2 million in state revenue to them. Gov. Godwin vetoed an identical bill last year. Utilities
No major legislation affecting utilities was approved.
Both DuVal and Del. David G. Brickley (D-Prince William) introduced bills that would have established a commission to nominate SCC members elected by the Assembly to regulate utilities, but both bills were killed in committee.
A handful of bills intended to increase control over the pass-through of fuel charges to consumers by utilities were beaten in committee.
A fourth attempt to place the rates utilities charge state and local government customers under SCC regulation failed on the House floor. Most consumer advocates have favored they keep up with charges paid by residential and business customers. However, the charge was again beaten because of stron gopposition by the Virginia Municipal League and Virginia Association of Counties.
Utility charges to state and local governments have historically been low, sometimes slipping below costs, but most have risen it recent years as the financial problems of such utilities as the Virginia Electric and Power Co. have resuited in much higher rates for private customers.
A bill sought by the Consumer Congress of Virginia that would have given state sanction to a nonprofit foundation to represent residential consumers in utility rate cases was defeated in the House Corporations, Insurance and Banking Committee.
However, the Assembly approved a measure that reduces from two years to one year the period for which a utility customer can be required to put up a deposit to establish credit.
Measures that would have permitted utilities to loan money to customers to pay for insulation were defeated by legislators who said this is a job for banks and savings and loan companies. However, the state housing authority was authorized to make such loans.
Del. Raymond E. Vickery Jr. sponsored a bill that would have granted a state income tax credit of up to $150 for insulation costs of up to $500. This bill was rejected by the House Finance Committee.
Another Brickley bill would have partially reversed the new practice of charging for telephone assistance in Virginia by prohibiting any charge of requests of numbers not listed in phone directories. The fact that it was defeated on the house floor is another indication of the reluctance of the Assembly to meddle with rate decisions handed down by the SCC.
The Assembly approved a tax relief bill that will save state utilities about $300,000 a year in recording taxes on deeds. All such taxes are passed on to consumers in utility charges. Consumer law
As usual, there were numerous attempts to pass new protections for consumers, but the results were meager.
The Assembly did provide some relief for dissatisfied laundry and dry cleaning customers by increasing the ceiling on liability for damaged clothing to replacement cost of the articles. Under existing law, a laundry or dry cleaning customer can recover a maximum of 20 times the laundry or cleaning charge.
Similar bills that would take the first step toward regulation of the automobile repair industry were defeated on the Senate floor and in a House committee. The bills would have required all auto repair garages to register with the state and pay a registration fee. Mechanics could have sought state certification under the bills voluntarily.
When the State measure came up for a vote it was attacked by Senators from small towns an rural areas where they said the auto mechanics are well known to their customers and do not need to be regulated.
Sen. William E. Fears (D-Accomac) said auto repair fraud is not a problem in his sparsely populated district. "You may have a problem in Northern Virginia," he said, "but you have every problem up there."
Other unsuccessful efforts made for the consumer included a bill introduced by Del. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax). It would have reduced the maxiumum penalty for paying off a home mortgage before it is due from 2 per cent to 1 per cent of the loan value, or $75, whichever is less. That bill was rejected by the House Corporation, Insurance and Banking Committee.
The House General Laws Commitee rejected a measure that would have prevented grocery stores from increasing the charge for any item once it had been marked.
The full House defeated a bill introduced by Del. George W. Grayson (D-Williamsburg) that would have imposed general regulations on the home improvement business. Judiciary
A bill that would have changed the way the Assembly elects judges in Virginia produced one of the best debates of the season before it was defeated by a single vote in the Senate.
The bill would have established a Judicial Nominations Commission made up of 10 lawyers and five lay persons from throughout the state. With the advice of local advisory commissions it would have nominated attorneys to fill vacancies on state courts. The Assembly would have been free to elect the commission nominees or choose judges from candidates nominated by Assembly members.
Surprisingly, members of the Senate and legal establishment who now have the most influence over selection of judges supported the bill, which was endorsed by the official Virginia State Bar and the unofficial Virginia Bar Association.
It was the non-lawyers in the Senate - there are only nine out of 40 - who beat the bill.Most of them said they felt they can exert more influence over the choice of judges through their Senate vote now than they could if a lawyer-dominated commission were narrowing the choice through its nominations.
Although the debate finally brought 16 senators to their feet, none was willing to criticize openly the present selection process or the judges it has elected. In the past, elections have been marred by obvious indifference on the part of legislators toward judicial candidates who will serve outside their legislative districts, by infighting between bar associations and Assembly members and between Assembly members over patronage rights. A high percentage of the judges chosen in this system have past personal or professional relationships with Assembly members.
One of the principal advocates of the Nominations Commission, Sen. Hunter B. Andrews (D-Hampton), took note in debate of the reluctance of lawyer members of the Assembly to criticize sitting judges. He said mockingly of the present selection process, "Oh yes, I know, we have never made a mistake."
The Assembly enacted a comprehensive revision of the state's civil law procedures to modernize language and streamline some processes.
A major change in jury selection was enacted in a bill that requires jury commissioners to use random selection techniques to select jurors.
The commissioners are required by the bill to use lists of residents, such as voter or taxpayer lists, designated by the chief judge of the circuit in which the jurries will serve.
Under the present jury selection system, commissioners named by the court simply choose jurors as they wish, often from among their friends. This system has been attacked on grounds that it produces juris that are not representative of the population of a city or county and especially has excluded blacks and young persons.
Some circuits, especially in urban areas, have been using random selection systems voluntarily, but the new bill will institute the practice statewide. Automobiles
Automobile mounted radar detection devices, used by motorists as a defense against radar equipped police, were restored to legal use in Virginia.
Current law not only bans the devices, popularly known as "fuzz busters," but also empowers police to confiscate them.
This latter provision, legislators said, has resulted in enforcement problems in cases in which police tried to confiscate fuzz buster belonging to tourists from states where they are lawful. Landlord law
One approved bill introduced by Sen. Edward M. Holland (D-Arlington) will put new restrictions on landlords. It permits military personnel and other tennants to terminate leases before they expire under certain conditions and deletes the requirement in current law that a tenant must notify landlords of violations of state regulations by certified mail. On the landlord's side, the bill also authorizes him to charge application fees to tenants and gives him the right to approve or disapprove of tenants wishing to sublet an apartment. Metro
The Assembly ratified an amendment to the interstate compact between Virginia, Maryland and the U.S. Congress governing Metro transit operations by approving the use of Metro police on Virginia portions of the line.
However, another Metro compact amendment proposed by Del. Wyatt B. Durette Jr. (R-Fairfax) and Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell Jr. (R-Alexandria) that would have barred binding arbitration with Metro employees was defeated. The House passed the bill, 93 to 1, but labor union opponents of the measure found more friends among Northern Virginians on the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee and the bill died there.
The Durrett-Mitchell amendment had unanimous support from Northern Virgina jurisdictions, where many officials have blamed binding arbitration for part of the rise in Metro labor costs. Conservation
A major conservation and planning bill that would have given the Governor's Council on the Environment power to review the environmental impact of major public facilities and advise state agencies on their siting was passed by the House but defeated late in the session by the Senate. Northern Virginia
Actions of special interest of Northern Virginia included:
Approval of an Alexandria charter change allowing the city to require income statements for commercial property owners for the purpose of assessing taxes. . . Passage of a bill permitting Prince William County jail personnel to live outside the county . . . Designation of Catoctin Creek in Loudoun County as a scenic river . . . Revision of the Clifton town charter to provide for town elections on the first Tuesday of May rather than the second Tuesday of June and starting town office terms on June 1 instead of Sept. 1 . . . Creation of a separate judicial district for Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park. Miscellaneous
Miscellaneous actions included: A bill authorizing distribution of family planning information by mail to parents recording births in the state . . . Change of the name of Madison College in Harrisonburg to James Madison University . . . Approval of "instant bingo," a game of chance, when sponsored by nonprofit organizations . . . and the requirement that every public rest room in the state be equipped with at least one free toilet.