As she walked out of the hearing room into the corridor of the State Capitol, yesterday, consumer activist Barbara W. Bitters had a stunned look on her face.
"Oh, did we get crucified," she said, walking up to Del. Raymond E. Vickery Jr. (D-Fairfax), who had a stunned look on his face, too.
A few minutes earlier, the House Roads Committee had dealt a powerful blow to Vickery's bill to require the licensing of all car-repair garages in the state. Bitters, vice president of the Richmond chapter of the Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, was one of the bill's staunch supporters.
The committee had decided to keep the bill in the subcommittee headed by Del. Donald A. McGlothlin Sr. (D-Buchanan) - an action that was only slightly less devastating for the measure's prospects than outright defeat by the committee.
In fact, McGlothlin, before the committee acted, proposed that the bill be "passed by," which is to say, defeated.
Although past efforts to license garages had failed, Vickery and Bitters thought that House Bill 295, introduced Jan. 20, had a better chance to succeed.
Between last year's and this year's sessions of the General Assembly, Vickery had corresponded or met with all the main industry foes, as well as with officials of the Department of Motor Vehicles, which, in the past, was less than enthusiastic about assuming responsibilities for administering a licensing program involving thousands of garages.
Where he could make changes that would not, in his estimation, eviscerate the intent of the bill - protecting automobile owners from unscrupulous garages - Vickery accommodated to win over, or at least, defuse, opponents.
He was so confident that the Virginia Gasoline Retailers Association supported his bill that he invited association yesterday before the Roads Committee
Because his wife had given birth to a baby at 4 a.m., Denton asked the executive secretary of the association, James W. Heizer, to testify for him.
After Heizer finished his testimony, Del, George W. Grayson (D-Williamsburg), "if these are the probill-witnesses, I'd hate to see the foes."
After the meeting, Heizer said, "I read exactly what he (Denton) wrote. All I did was scratch out his name and put in mine."
It was not the prepared statement but what Heizen said extemperaneously immediately afterwards during a question period that seemed to make more of an impression on the committee members, and the impression was not favorable to H.B. 295.
Heizer said California's licensing act required a state staff of 150 million. Then he said, making a point obviously calculated to impress his generally fiscally conservative audience: "Five shops have had their licenses revoked in California since the Bureau of Automotive Repair was established. You could say that the cost had been about $1 million per shop.
Answering another question, Heizer said the cost of licensing - $50 per garage, with no fee required of individual mechanics - "seems to be less objectionable than anything in past legislation. He added that "The $50 would be peaunts compared to what the higher insurance costs might be."
Vickery got up from his chair and said: "The question of insurance has never been raised before." Heizer had scored a big point with the legislators, some of whom had raised concern about what the bill would cost garages, especially small, private ones.
The committee chairman, Orby L. Cantrell (D-Wise), wanted to know if the bill would cover the service station where he would go to have his headlight replaced. "If repairs are made, the garage would be covered," Vickery said, an answer that did not appear to satisfy Cantrell or some of the other delegates who have been hearing criticism of the bill from their friendly neighborhood service stations.
After the hearing, cosponsor Grayson was not optimistic. "If you had Ralph Nader, Esther Peterson and Bess Meyerson here, the bill wouldn't have gotton any further," he said.
Consumer activist Bitters said Del. Robert B. Ball Sr. (D-Henrico) told her that perhaps a compromise can be worked out if the bill could beamended to exclude many service stations that make only small repairs, such as replacing headlights.
After hearing that possibley good new, Vickery said, "I intend to meet with the subcommittee and get a workable bill. The present bill is not dead, although it is certainly wounded."