RICHMOND, JAN. 21 -- Elected school boards and deposits on beverage containers, issues that perennially face early deaths in the Virginia General Assembly, survived key tests today, placing bills on both topics closer to passage than at any time in recent years.
By a 2 to 1 ratio, the House of Delegates approved a bill that would allow voters in half a dozen localities, including Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William counties, to decide if they want to replace their appointed school boards with elected ones. Virginia is the only state that does not permit the election of school board members.
The "bottle bill" legislation, which would impose a 10-cent deposit on beverage containers, won narrow approval in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources when Sen. Robert L. Calhoun (R-Alexandria) cast a tie-breaking vote that will send the issue to the Senate floor for the first time in eight years.
The school board bill, approved 63 to 34, also applies to York County, Virginia Beach and Newport News. It now goes to the Senate, where supporters predict a tough battle.
"I've been working on this for 15 years," said Del. David G. Brickley (D-Woodbridge), chief sponsor of the bill. "This is a big victory. It's been since 1947 that similar legislation came forward. It's going to be tough in the Senate, but I hope the very strong showing in the House . . . gives it added support."
After the 1947 action, only Arlington County installed an elected school board, but it was invalidated in the mid-1950s when the county's elected board members refused to participate in Virginia's "massive resistance" to school integration. Since then, school boards in the state have been appointed, either by local governing boards or circuit court judges.
This year's narrowly drawn referendum requirement was credited with winning the support of some previously reluctant delegates. Brickley's original bill affected only three Northern Virginia counties and Virginia Beach; Newport News and York County were tacked on during floor debate. In the past, opponents have added jurisdictions as a way of defeating the measure.
If the bill is approved by both chambers, the issue would be put to voters in designated jurisdictions in 1992. If approved, the first election of school board members would occur in 1994.
The entire Northern Virginia delegation voted for the bill except Del. Robert T. Andrews (R-McLean), who said it could lead to single-issue candidates and could politicize school boards.
During floor debate on the bill Friday, opponents said minorities might find it more difficult to gain places on elected boards than on appointed ones. Opponents also argued that board members should not be elected unless they also are given taxing authority.
"It would be extremely difficult to be in an elected position and be totally fiscally dependent on other elected bodies," Kohann H. Whitney, chairman of the Fairfax School Board, said today. "The voters would hold you accountable for results when you have no control over resources."
Brickley said that elected school boards would restore "a sense of responsiveness not always present" in appointed school boards. He added, "Anybody who doesn't think there's politics on school boards now, they're on another planet."
Sen. Madison E. Marye (D-Montgomery), who has championed the bottle bill for more than a decade, said the legislation has a 50-50 chance of passing the Senate. The last time the full Senate considered the question, in 1983, it garnered only 12 of the 21 votes needed.
Marye, who said he has "felt like a Maytag repairman -- it's been lonely out there," made one major change in this year's version, establishing a fund for unclaimed deposits.
The state's Department of Planning and Budget estimated the unclaimed deposits would amount to about $27 million a year, with 90 percent distributed to a Virginia Recycling Trust Fund and 10 percent to the state's Game Protection Fund.
The bill would apply to bottles and cans of soft drinks, beer, wine coolers and carbonated water, but would not affect bottles of wine or liquor.
Gov. L. Douglas Wilder has not taken a position on the bill, said Laura Dillard, Wilder's press secretary. In 1983, as a state senator, Wilder voted against a bottle bill.
Marye told his colleagues on the agriculture committee that the bottling and beverage industry is trying to "dump all the responsibility" for recycling on local governments.
Calhoun, as the most junior member of the committee, cast the deciding vote against the bill last year, and just a few minutes before today's vote, complained that the issue was being "portrayed as the forces of light against the forces of darkness." But when it came time for Calhoun to vote, and with the tally tied at 7 to 7, Calhoun waved his hand and said, "Oh, let it go."
There was a momentary silence until Chairman Howard P. Anderson (D-Halifax) asked Calhoun whether he had voted yes or no. When he responded "yes," Marye let out a whoop, and proponents in the standing-room audience, which was about evenly divided, joined the celebration.