Del. Warren G. Stambaugh (D-Arlington) voiced optimism yesterday that the House of Delegates would reject the "gutted" version of his handicapped rights bill passed by the Senate, giving the bill's proponents a chance to restore key provisions in a House-Senate conference.

"I don't see any problem with it," he said, when asked what he expected from the House vote today.

If the House accepts the Senate's version, Stambaugh said he would ask Gov. Charles S. Robb, who has been pushing hard for such legislation, to veto the bill. To let the Senate bill become law, he said, "would go against everything that I've stood for and I believe in."

The Senate on Monday severely weakened what Stambaugh called perhaps the bill's most important feature -- extending to the mentally retarded and mentally ill the state's antidiscrimination protections for the physically handicapped.

Under pressure from business lobbyists, the Senate amended the bill to exclude from the definition of mentally ill those who have shown a prolonged pattern of psychotic, behavioral or emotional disturbances. Business groups had argued that the inclusion of such individuals would force employers to put themselves in legal jeopardy by hiring workers who might injure customers or other workers.

The bill's critics pronounced the bill "much improved," but Stambaugh said "they gutted it. . . . If you've been to a psychiatrist more than once you're excluded."

Sumpter Priddy, president of the Virginia Retail Merchants Association and one of Stambaugh's adversaries on the bill, predicted the House vote would be close.

Stambaugh said, "A nice battle gears you up."