Two Virginia state senators were told yesterday they can vote on an interstate banking bill despite their membership on the board of Sovran Financial Corp., the largest bank holding company in the state.

But the decision of the Senate Rules Committee was accompanied by the caveat: "Let your conscience be your guide."

Senate Majority Leader Hunter B. Andrews (D-Hampton) and Sen. Elliot S. Schewel (D-Lynchburg) had requested an opinion from the committee on whether the two could vote on a bill to permit regional interstate banking operations.

In addition to his board membership, Schewel owns or controls 22,000 shares of common stock in Sovran, a Richmond-based concern.

The interstate banking bill would allow Virginia banks to acquire banks in 12 other other Southern states and allow banks in those states to establish operations in Virginia.

Senate Rule 36 permits its members to abstain from voting on matters on which they stand to make a direct financial gain.

Both Andrews and Schewel said the interstate banking bill was so broad there was no way to assess the potential for future financial rewards. After a closed session from which Andrews was absent, the rules committee voted 7 to 4 to clear the way for the two senators to vote on the bill.

Sen. William Parkerson, D-Henrico, said the committee majority felt that board membership or stock ownership "should not, in itself" prevent a senator from voting on the bill.