RICHMOND, FEB. 14 -- A pared-back proposal to restrict smoking in certain public areas was snuffed out today by the House of Delegates.
The action, carried out by an unrecorded show of hands, came on a motion by a legislator from Virginia's tobacco growing region to send the bill back to committee.
Del. Bernard S. Cohen (D-Alexandria) said the defeated proposal was "a far cry from the sweeping bill" that he had introduced and had been amended in committee.
Deleted from the original proposal were provisions to ban smoking in restaurants, schools, hospitals, libraries and museums. What remained was a bill that carried no penalties but would have relied on "self-enforcement and courtesy" to prohibit smoking in elevators, school buses, hospital emergency rooms and voting places. Also, the bill called for setting aside nonsmoking areas in state and local government buildings, supermarkets and jury deliberation rooms.
The proposal would have affected Northern Virginia only so far as it contained provisions not now covered by local nonsmoking ordinances. Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William counties and Alexandria already have more restrictive ordinances, including requiring no-smoking sections in restaurants, than what remained of the statewide plan.
The defeat of the Clean Air Act highlighted a rare Sunday meeting of the House of Delegates, which must complete action by Tuesday on the 1,099 bills introduced by its 100 members.
The 40-member Senate, in which about 800 bills were introduced, didn't meet today.
Two anticrime measures with political significance to their respective backers, Lt. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder and state Attorney General Mary Sue Terry, were among the last bills considered tonight before the House courts committee concluded its work at 10:15 p.m., more than 12 hours after it began the annual rite known as The Night of the Long Knives.
Wilder's proposal to limit juries that return guilty verdicts in capital punishment cases to meting out either a death sentence or a prison sentence of life without chance of parole was changed after it appeared that the original measure, opposed by House Speaker A.L. Philpott (D-Bassett), among others, did not have the votes to pass.
The amended bill eliminates life without parole but would increase from 12 years to 25 years the time a person convicted of capital murder must serve before becoming eligible for parole.
Del. C. Richard Cranwell (D-Vinton), who proposed the change, said that Wilder, who is expected to be a candidate for governor next year, still can claim credit for toughening the law. "But for his thrust, we wouldn't have done anything," Cranwell said.
Terry, who is likely to be Wilder's chief opponent for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, did not fare as well before the House committee. It rejected her bill to allow juries in drunk driving trials to know if the defendant refused to take a blood test.
Supporters of Terry's idea attempted to amend the bill to make refusal to take the test a crime -- it is now a civil offense -- but that proposal was carried over until next year.
Burt Rohrer, Terry's press secretary, conceded that opponents "raised questions that should be answered . . . . The last thing the attorney general wants to do is make it harder to get drunk driver convictions."
Terry's original bill is still alive in the Senate but is given little chance of passing if it gets to the House.
Del. Alan A. Diamonstein (D-Newport News), chairman of the General Laws Committee to which the clean air bill was re-referred, said he may seek to get the legislation back to the floor Monday for an up-or-down vote.
But even if that happens, there appeared little doubt that the measure would be defeated.
Before Cohen could finish explaining provisions of the bill to his House colleagues today, Speaker Philpott, lighting a match to fire up his ever-present pipe, asked, "Will it include the House chamber?"
"I would have no objection to designating the speaker's desk as a nonsmoking area," said Cohen with a smile.
After Del. Lewis W. Parker Jr. (D-South Hill) moved to send the bill back to committee, Cohen urged defeat of "this undisguised effort to kill this bill," and he called for a recorded vote "on a serious and important issue."
"I know he represents a tobacco area, and I know the tobacco industry is upset about this bill . . . . I understand those of you who have to vote against this," Cohen said. "But both smokers and nonsmokers have rights."