RICHMOND -- There are two ways to tell that the session of the Virginia General Assembly is almost over: Spring flowers are inching their way out of the ground in Capitol Square, and the bloodless game of legislative hostage-taking has begun in earnest.
With 13 days remaining in the 60-day session, two rival committees of the House of Delegates and Senate purposely delayed action on each other's bills last week, temporarily halting the customary give-and-take of assembly business.
On the House side, the Roads and Internal Navigation Committee put off until tomorrow a vote on a Senate version of the perennial bill on covered truck loads, which the delegates had earlier killed. The Senate Transportation Committee responded by delaying until Thursday its key vote on raising the speed limit on rural interstates to 65 miles an hour.
Few doubt the eventual outcome of this minidrama: The delegates probably will not overcome their historic revulsion to the truck-cover legislation long sought by Northern Virginia legislators. And the Senate committee is certain to approve some kind of higher speed limit, because Gov. Gerald L. Baliles has been quietly pushing it.
The standoff on the two bills was not the only hangup between the House and Senate panels. On Thursday, state Sen. Charles L. Waddell (D-Loudoun), chairman of the transportation panel, played his own game of chicken with Del. V. Earl Dickinson (D-Louisa), a powerful member of the House road committee.
Waddell desperately wanted the House road panel to pass out his bill to help finance the widening of Rte. 28, the congested highway near Dulles International Airport in his district. Dickinson, a longtime ally of Virginia's car and truck industries, wanted Waddell's committee to approve a rewrite of the law regulating automobile dealers in the state.
The logjam was broken fairly easily. In the early afternoon, the road committee met hurriedly on the floor of the House chamber and approved Waddell's bill in a flash. A few hours later, Waddell exercised his prerogative as committee chairman and held an expedited hearing and vote on Dickinson's bill.
Not surprisingly, it passed by a landslide vote.