The Virginia House of Delegates gave preliminary approval yesterday to a bill that would void the controversial ordinances in Fairfax and Loudoun counties requiring deposits on soft drink containers.
Approved by a resounding voice vote, the bill will come before the House today for its third and final reading. If it again passes, it will go to the Senate, which is considering legislation that would require deposits on both soft drink and beer containers throughout the state.
No locality could pass an ordinance like Fairfax's or Loudoun's if the House bill were enacted.
In another development, the House General Laws Committee, by a 11-to-8 vote, passed and sent to the full House a bill that would authorize a November referendum on whether pari-mutuel betting should be permitted in the state.
If the first referendum passed a second would have to be held in any locality where a racetrack was proposed.
The Fairfax container deposit ordinance has cleared some initial legal tests all the way to the State Supreme Court. And while Loudoun Circuit Court Judge Carleton Penn granted at industry-sought injunction against Loudoun's attempt to control both soft drink and beer containers, he did not, in the same ruling, raise objections to controls on soft drink bottles and cans.
Both ordinances still are under legal pressure in cases being argued at the Circuit Court level.
The House's action yesterday was a jolt to deposit advocates, who have become increasingly confident that they might get statewide legislation - already in effect in Oregon and Vermont - this session of the General Assembly.
One of the leaders of the deposit drive, Sen. Charles L. Waddell (D-Loudoun) even has a bill in committee that would permit Fairfax and Loudoun, and any other locality, to control beer as well as soft drink containers.
"I thought we'd have a closer vote," Waddell said after yesterday's voting in the House. The General Laws Committee reported out the anti-deposit measure Tuesday by a 8-to-6 vote, but yesterday's House calendar recorded the vote at 13 to 6. Chairman Thomas W. Moss (D-Norfolk), who sponsored the bill, along the Del. Warren E. Barry (R-Fairfax), explained that five members who were not present asked later to be recorded as voting yes.
"They can do that as long as their votes don't change the overall vote of the committee," Moss said.
In votes on the floor, the delegates, who have to make decisions on hundreds of bills in a matter of weeks, frequently use committee votes as a guide to their own decision making.
Because Del. Raymond E. Vickery Jr. (D-Fairfax) was the only legislator who defended the Fairfax and Loudoun ordinances, Moss and Barry were able to dominate yesterday's debate.
"It (the Fairfax law) is an unjust and illogical ordinance," Barry told the House. "Fairfax County has had a 34 percent increase. We're not getting rid of the ordinance went into effect last year. Arlington has had a 26 percent increase and Alexandria has had a 34 percent increase. We're not getting rid of litter, we're relocating it."
Both ordinances were passed in an attempt to reduce roadside litter in the two counties.
The Fairfax ordinance requires deposits on arbonated-softdrink containers, both returnables and throwaways. It also prohibits pull-tab cans with disposable rings.
The Loudoun ordinance, which in its original form covered both beer and soft drink containers, was rewritten to require deposits only on soft-drink containers. Pull-tab cans can still be sold, but they will be banned by statewide legislation that goes into effect in July.
Bottlers and stores selling soft drinks have argued that the ordinances have had minimal impact in reducing litter. Deposit advocates argue that it is too soon to tell how effective the ordinances are. Both laws have been in effect less than half a year.