With a new found air of placidity, the 1978 Virginia General Assembly approaches its last two weeks with the possibility of approving several pieces of far-reaching legislation that would give the governor more direct control over the state bueaucracy, end a 75-year war over annexation between cities and counties, rewrite rape laws and open the state to horse racing tracks.
Still, the assessment by some legislators at this technical, if not chronological, midpoint in the 60-day meeting, which ends March 11, is that this session has been boring.
There has been no carping and whinign about the state's biennial budget this time, in part because the budget-writing process was opened up for the first time and legislators were encouraged to actually understand what they were voting on. And there has been no Mills Godwin sitting in the governor's office exerting what many used to call his imperial powers.
There is, to be sure, a great deal of legislative trivia being cranked out by this citizen legislature, as always. Take for example, a resolution that was approved setting next Sept. 28 as Baylor's Dragoons Memorial Day, commemorating a colonial regiment whose bayoneted bodies were tossed into a tanning vat in New Jersey where they remained until discovered by archeologists in 1968.
Consumer legislation has not fared well "miserably" was how Del. Raymond E. Vickery (D-Fairfax) described it) but more controls on utilities and extensions of the Freedom of Information Act have been approved by one house or the other. "They are bits and pieces individually," Common Cause Judy Goldberg said of the Freedom of Information Act changes. "But together they amount to significant legislation."
A new high-rise legislative office building has allowed lawmakers and the public to meet in comfort, although the modern committee rooms have cut down on some of the intimacy created in the old, cramped chambers. Now everyone's voice is homogenized by microphones; legislators sit on a dais dimly lit like busts in a museum with the public appearing as supplicants beneath them.
But it is no longer quite as easy for lobbyists to reach over to a committee table and help adjust legislation and it is rarely neccessary to end a meeting just because some other committee has to use the room.
At this point in the session, each House has sent to the other legislation it has passed. Senate bills are being discussed in House committees, and vice versa. By the end of the second half of the process, some of the measures that have been approved by one house or the other will have been killed, amended, carried over until next year or aprroved and sent to Gov. John N. Dalton for his signature.
Many legislators have noticed a new theme of partisanship this year, although they are not quite sure why. Part of it is the presence of Dalton, the first openly party-minded Republican governor after three years of a rather hybrid party alliance between the governor and the overwhelming Democratic legislature.
As a Democrat-turned-Republican, Godwin had allegiances on both sides of the political fence. Many legislators say that Dalton's executive impact has not been noticeable in the seven weeks hes been in office, but he has made it clear that the lines are drawn between Republicans and Democrats.
"I don't think he's really going to do anything much as governor except promote the Republican party." said House Majority Leader A.L. Philpott "We're starting to realize that the leadership has got to come from us (Democrats) here in the General Assembly."
The new partisanship has been seen particularly in two examples. One is the quick rejection by the House of a bill that would have allowed the secretary of the commonwealth (recent Dalton appointee stanford E. Parris, a former Northern Virginia congressman) to designate his duties to an employe -- and thus be free to spend his time on party work.
The other, an attempt to switch control of the state's electoral boards from the Republicans to the Democrats, passed the Senate but is being held in limbo by a House committee. Nonetheless, the mere fact that it was introduced -- by Senate Majority leader Adelard L. Brault -- was seen by many as evidence of growing partisan awareness.
"The partisan potential is greater than ever," said Del. Bernard L. Barrow (D-Virginia Beach). "If it stimulates a healthy check and balance and debate of the issues, that's good. But if it becomes solely partisan bickering, that's bad. It's too early to tell yet -- everybody's kind of sparring at this point."
One obvious landmark of this session is the passage in the House of the pari-mutuel betting bill, a proposal that has been around for about 10 years and always killed in the House. It was a close vote, 52 to 43 as has been the case on other emotional and controversial issues. But House approval of a statewide referendum on racing and legislation restoring state funding of some abortions for indigent women may indicate a barely perceptible shift to the left.
"The leadership is still terrifically conservative, but the membership is more moderate." said Del. Lewis P. Fickett Jr. (D-Fredericksburg).
Some lawmakers say, however, that nothing much has been accomplished other than the improvement fostered by new House Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard M. Bagley (D-Hampton), a quiet fellow whose leadership qualities were unknown at the start of the session. He has been applauded for making the budget process entirely public, unlike the often secret sessions of the past.
Even House Majority leader Philpott is not impressed with the session so far.
"Frankly, I don't think we've done anything earth shattering," he said when asked for examples of significant legislation. "I really can't think of anything."
Here is a summary of where key legislation stands with two weeks to go in the 1978 Virginia General Assembly: Government Reorganization
Two bills that have passed the Senate and are in a House committee would increase the power of the executive branch of the Virginia government. One would in the words of Sen. William B. Hopkins (D-Roanoke), the leader of reorganization efforts, "create a secretary of transportation in fact as well as in name." The other would transfer the independent State Corporation Commission's administrative powers to the executive branch.
However, Hopkins' bid to create two cabinet-level secretaries -- one for natural resources and another for agriculture and economic resources --was killed by a House committee after winning narrow Senate approval.
A House bill to put various lawenforcement groups under the state police and create a Department of Justice Planning and Safety Services under the secretary of public safety died in committee.
Also killed on the House side was a bill to put all motor-vehicle regulations under the Department of Motor Vehicles. A bill to create a Department of Consumer Counsel was carried over until next year in the House. Annexation
Legislation that would eliminate some of the main sources of the longstanding friction between Virginia's cities and counties -- the counties' fear of annexation by cities and the cities' fear of losing more of their tax base to the counties that surround them --has either passed the House or has a good chance of passage there. The legislation has brighter prospects this year because of a collaboration by two previous opposing groups -- the Virginia Municipal League, which represents the cities, and the Virginia Association of Counties. However, one measure, which would funnel up to $200 million to needy cities over the next six years, may run into trouble in the Senate. Criminal Justice
The Senate has already passed a proposed revision of the state's sexual assault laws. The new legislation would make a sexual assault of a man as serious as that of a woman, an would shift the emphasis of the law from viewing rape as a sexual crime to that of a violent crime.
Sexual assault would be classified in one of four categories under the revision, depending on the type of assault and the extent of force involved in the attack. One of the on introduction of testimony on a bill is a description of restrictions victim's prior sex life and sexual relationship with the attacker.
Another significant bill narrowly passed by the Senate would give judges instead of juries the right to sentence criminals excet in murder cases involving the possible use of the death penalty. The House has killed similar measures in the past. Pari-mutuel Betting
One of the most attention-getting pieces of legislation that passed the House is the bill to allow the construction of horse race tracks and permit pari-mutuel betting. A Senate committee, which has approved similar legislation in the past, will make a decision on the bill this week.
The House-approved bill requires a statewide referendum on the issue next November. If a majority of the state's voters say they want horse racing tracks, a second referndum would be held in any locality were a track is proposed. Fuel Adjustment Clause
Under a House-passed bill, utilities would be required to submit projections of expected fuel costs to the utility-regulating State Corporation Commission. The commission would approve a basic rate that would incorporate these fuel cost estimates. Fuel costs now are passed on to customers automatically.
The SCC would review actual costs every three months an deny rate increases if it was found that a utility's increased fuel costs were the result of mismanagement, inefficient mix of different fuels or a failure to use the most economical fuel.
The Senate has yet to act on the Taxes
The state's biennial budget was approved by the House without a tax increase. However, the Senate passed a bill that would allow five Northern Virginia jurisdictions to increase the sales tax by one percentage point to raise an estimated $34 million a year for transportation needs in the
The Senate passed a bill that may ease some of the real estate tax burden on homeowners. It would permit region. The House has yet to act. local governments to establish a separate taxing category for single-family homes and permit commercial properties to be taxed at a rate of up to 25 per cent higher than singlefamily homes including condominiums. Abortion
The House voted to restore state funding of therapeutic abortions for indigent women with a doctor's consent, which would reverse a Dalton order. The state now pays for abortions only when the life of the mother is in danger. Heavy opposition is expected in the Senate, where a committee will consider the issue this week. The Senate passed a bill that would require any woman under 13 years to get parental approval before getting an abortion. Equal Rights Amendment
The Equal Rights Amendment failed once again to get out of the House Priveleges and Elections Committee. Supporters of the ERA have decided not to undertake either of two possible parliamentary moves to force the proposed constitutional amendment to the House floor for a vote this year in hope of lining up more support by the 1979 session. Public Employes
The potentially most significant proposal affecting public employes --one that would have allowed limited collective bargaining if a local government wanted it -- was carried over by a Senate committee to next year, a stalling tactic that was viewed as a victory by proponents of the measure who were afraid it would be killed outright.
The House passed a bill to allow fact-finding panels in cases of teacher dismissals if the teacher requested one instead of a hearing before a local school board. Education
In setting the standards of quality that fix overall policies for the state's public schools, the House approved a requirement for a competency test before a student would receive a high school diploma, but rejected a similar testing proposal to govern promotion from grade to grade. At least 17 other states, including MarylandM have enacted similar requirements. Divorce
A proposal to shorten the time required bofore a divorce would be final from the current year to six months was defeated by a House committee. A bill that would allow a judge to seal divorce papers from public scrutiny if either party requests it was passed. Another measure requiring judges to allow a person to resume a maiden name after a divorce was also passed by the House; now a former name can be taken only at a judge's discretion. Environment
The House has passed legislation that would void ordinances in Fairfax and Loudon counties that require deposits on all carbonated soft drink containers and prohibit other localities from passing such laws. Two measures that would have required deposits on both soft drink and beer containers throughout the state were killed. Freedom of Information and Privacy
A bill that would extend the freedom of information act to boards of visitors -- the panels that run state colleges and universities -- has passed the House. Another bill that would open up the records of food and merchandise-selling subsidiaries of colleges and universities has passed the Senate. Another Senate-passed measure would make the salary and expense records of any state employe a matter of public record.