The Virginia legislature was deep into its annual adjournment ritual, waiting to wrap up unfinished business and fights, when Sen. J. Harry Michael (D-Charlottesville) took the floor to make an announcement about a basketball game.
"I am happy to announce to the gentlemen that the University (of Virginia, of course) has just prevailed by a 12-point margin," he said - as if most of the senators hadn't been watching the game off and on all evening.
At that, the normally reserved Sen. Edward M. Holland (D-Arlington, University of Virginia Law School '65) rose, placed his arm across his chest in the manner of a great singer and started to sing:
"We'l sing a song of Wa-hoo wah
"We'll sing it o'er and o'er . . . "
Holland didn't finish the school song, but the mere fact he started it was an indication that end of session spirits were affecting the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Few wanted a repeat of last year's marathon 25-hour final day, which was marked by wrangling over the state budget and high-jinks on the floors of both chambers - except for one woman who had watched the show last year and came all the way from Baltimore, hoping for a repeat performance.
The General Assembly devoted its final hours before quitting just before 1 a.m. today to clearing up matters the two houses disagreed on. These ranged from the amount of money awarded to relatives of victims of highway collapse, to an emotional dispute over a mandatory sentencing bill.
The tone was dramatically different this year from last, as word had been passed from House and Senate leaders that the presence of liquor on the floor would be frowned upon.
Also, the budget had already been settled, and the Senate was generally basking in the glow of agreement among its members over issues that were dividing the House. In the House, whose 100 members all face reelection this year, ususually bad-tempered disagreements deflated some of the usual exuberance and the consensus was that everyone wanted to go home.
One bill that threatened to stall the session indefinitely would allow farmers and landowners in rural areas to receive a lower tax rate for promising to maintain their land in an undeveloped state. The land must be delcared a special agricultural or forestry district. It finally passed.
Sen. J. Lewis Rawls (D-Suffolk), who opposed the bill, dubbed it the "Arthur Godfrey bill" after the entertainer who owns land in Loudoun County, and said it was designed to help only big estates. Supporters view the bill as a victory for conservation and agricultural interests.
While small groups of legislators worked out differences over this bill and others in conference committees, the House and Senate took on a last-day-of school air as pages asked for autographs, delegates embraced one another and told each other what great legislators they were, and cleaned out their desks.
In the House, however, things weren't always harmonious. A measure requiring mandatory sentences for second, third and fourth felony convictions in addition to the main sentence was rejected several times before it was finally approved on a 54-to-23 vote.
The bill requires sentences of one to five years without parole for repeat offenders. Opponents argued that this shows a lack of faith in the ability of judges and juries to dole out appropriate punishment. Supporters maintained that the mandatory sentences will deter crime and introduce "uniformity" in sentencing to eliminate unfair and unequal sentencing.
Other opponents argued for defeat of the bill, not because they were opposed to mandatory sentencing, but because the legislation ignored a study commission report on the subject and represented a "180-degreed to in the study."When this bill is represented as the product of a study even though it has been changed completely, it breeches faith with those who took part in the study," said Del. Theodore V. Morrison (D-Newport News). "It's an insult to them."
Another threat to adjournment was a resolution proposing a constitutional amendment to redraw legislative districts to conform to the 1980 census and give state delegates a four-year team. The Senate opposed the four year terms and proposed redistricting in 1982; the House wanted new districts in 1981.
It was 12:25 a.m. when the House voted to reject the Senate's version
"Abandon hope," muttered one observer. Majority Leader James M. Thompson walked over to the Senate to deliver the news to Senate Majority Leader Sen. Adelard L. Brault (D-Fairfax). "Forget it," Brault said.
"All right," said Thomson, turning on his heel.
In that exchange the resolution died, and the decision was made to adjourn.