The House passed a Robb administration proposal yesterday that exempts 508 employes from the state personnel act, despite protests that it would politicize government service in Virginia.
Gov. Charles S. Robb sought the bill in the wake of recent problems in the state's Corrections and Mental Health and Mental Retardation departments.
Although the bill by Sen. Elliot Schewel (D-Lynchburg) passed 60 to 37, it divided the House and pitted Republicans and Democrats against the administration.
The bill exempts top executives from the state personnel act and grievance procedure. They would report to superiors and effectively be under the control of the governor.
"There were a lot of criticisms about the Mecklenburg situation," said Thomas W. Moss (D-Norfolk), referring to the prison that was the site of the nation's largest death row breakout and a convict uprising last year.
Del. George Grayson (D-James City) suggested the power could be abused in future administrations, lead to "yes men" in top jobs and change the nature of government service because of problems in two agencies.
"I wonder if, as one state agency head told me, we're napalming the chicken house to get at the fox," Grayson said.
The bill must return to the Senate because of committee amendments before going to Robb for his signature.