The District of Columbia voting rights amendment still faces a few problems in the Virginia General Assembly, its chief sponsor here said today.
Among the problems:
The study commission created last year that was supposed to examine the issue has never met.
The commission members have never been appointed.
Lobbying for its passage has been nonexistent.
For those reasons, State Sen. L. Douglas Wilder (D-Richmond) said in an interview, chances are virtually nil that the amendment could be approved by the legislature before 1982, if then.
"Let's just say I've put it on my back burner, with the heat turned down right low," said Wilder, who is the only one of the 140 legislators here listed as a sponsor of the amendment. "I don't want anything to boil over, burn or get the stove dirty," Wilder said.
Wilder, Virginia's only black senator, said he was "shocked" at the failure of D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy's staff to provide the "inspiration, perspiration" and leadership needed to get the amendment off the ground in Virginia, where Wilder said legislative sentiment was running roughly 2 to 1 against the measure.
Johnny Barnes, who oversees the voting rights issue for Fauntroy, rejected Wilder's charges that a lack of lobbying had left Virginia supporters high and dry.
"It's a case of limited resources and limited personnel," said Barnes. "Virginia was not a target set for this session." Barnes said the D.C. forces might step up their Virginia efforts next year, but were choosing to stay away in 1980 for fear of "bumping heads" with supporters of the Equal Right Amendment.
The Old Dominion has traditionally taken a dim view of the District, and downstaters blame their northern neighbor for many of the state's problems with traffic congestion, creeping urbanization and demands on tax revenues. Three years ago, Virginia legislators declined to ratify a constitutional amendment granting D.C. residents the right to vote in presidential elections -- 15 years after the amendment had been approved by most other states and put into effect. Since then, no legislator has attempted to revive that amendment here.
In the face of resistance to the latest D.C. voting rights amendment, the Virginia legislators last year approved the creation of a two-year study committee on the matter.But the retirement of Fairfax's Sen. Omer L. Hirst, a sponsor of the measure, the resultant change in a key House committee chairmanship and a lack of support among legislators combined to assure that appointments to the study group were never made.
"I've never seen anything like it," said one six-year legislative staffer. "The committee vanished without a trace. I guess people figured the bill had no chance, so why bother with it?"
Sen. Hunter B. Andrew (D-Hampton), who would have appointed half of the panel members in his position as chairman of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee said he plans to get the panel under way as soon as possible.
The delay "certainly wasn't intentional," said Andrews, who succeeded Hirst in the committee post a month ago. "It was just an overlooked item."
Only seven state legislatures have approved the voting rights amendment since it passed Congress last February. It must win the endorsement of 38 states by September 1985 in order to become law.