The Virginia House of Delegates approved yesterday a package of bills that for the first time sets up a grievance procedure for state and local government employes.
The bills must yet be approved in their final form by the Senate and sent to the governor for his signature.
The bills do not cover teachers, who are seeking similar protections in two other measures that the Senate is scheduled to vote on today or tomorrow. It does not include any kind of machinery for negotiating wages or conditions, but creates a procedure for employes to resolve complaints about dismissals, demotions, suspensions, desciplinary actions and personel regulations.
"The threat of collective bargaining has been posed against this state," said Del. James B. Murray (D-Albermarle), who supported the proposal. "(these measures) do something to stave off this threat."
The most controversial of the three bills, which were sponsored chiefly by Sen. Elliot S. Schewel (D-Lynchuburg), sets up a new office solely for employes to turn to for advice and information. The employe relations counselor office, which is intended to prevent reprisals agains employes who file grievances, as well as to provide information and suggestions on how to proceed with the grievance.
The employe relations counselor would have the power to investigate any allegations of reprisals, and would establish a toll-free number for employes to call for information.
An effort to weaken this aspect of the bill failed by five votes.
Del. Alan Diamonstein (D-Newport News), one of the House patrons of the bills, said that hearings had been held all over the state to hear from government employes. "Fear of reprisals was so evident that we had to establish two level of hearings. We had to have closed hearings (because) even employes who had no complaints about the grievance procedure said they felt reprisals from following the grievance process."
The bills passed yesterday would formalize and make law what is now a technically available but unenforcable system for governmetn employes to resolve differences with management.
"We should proceed with caution, take a little bit at a time and make sure we've done it right," said Del. Calvin Fowler (D-Danville), who opposed the measures.
One bill in the package wuld set up a personnel advisory committee to report to the governor on personnel matters and review "all public employer-employe relations throughout the commonwealth."
In other action, the Senate, by a 23-to-8 vote, passed an emended version of a House bill that would permit banks in one county to open branches in adjoining counties within a 15-mile limit. At present banks cannot expand across county lines. The present five-mile limit on branching from counties into cities is also extended to 15 miles.
At present, the limitation on branching is partially overcome by large financial holding companies, which establish separate institutions - under one holding company banner - across county lines. At present, independent banks do not enjoy this privilege.
The State Corporation Commission supported unlimited statewide branching - assuming it approved expansion on a case-by-case basis - and a consultant's study for the state also approved the statewide branching principle. But the bill sent to the Senate by the House represented a compromise - the 15-mile limit - to win broader support than measures in the past, which have failed to pass in the General Assembly.
The only Northern Virginia opposing the bill was Sen. Clive L. DuVal 2nd (D-Fairfax). The bill now goes back to the House to reconcile the amendments added by the Senate with the version passed earlier by the lower chamber.
Opponents of the branch braking bill say it will allow large banks to establish chains that will force small banks out of business.
"Down the road we'd have four or five chains in the state," said Sen. Virgil Goode (D-Franklin), who voted against the bill. "Chain banks are on the move and this will help them move. I'm going to vote with the little guys."
Five senators abstained from voting under the Senate's conflict of interest rule, but Sen. Madison Marye (D-Montgomery) opposition floor leader, said "I'm on the board of directors and own stick in a small bank, and if it wasn't for me nobody would be here against the bill. Someone else will have to decide if that's a conflict of interest."
The Senate put off till today action on other controversial measures, including one that almost passed 20 to 18 yesterday before it was retrived for a second vote today. The bill would establish that anyone who owned a house on which the electricity meter was tampered with would be presumed guilty of that tampering and could be charged with a misdemeanor.