Virginia legislative committee, in what one legislator described later as a "killing mood," refused today to ratify two of three amendments to the U.S. Constitution long ago approved by other states.
Later, in a hurriedly called session that another legislator said was "chaotic" and "impossible to follow," the same committee also killed many of the electiion law changes proposed by members of the House of Delegates. One prompted by confusion over the ballot in last November's election, would hae required candidates to be identified by party on the ballot.
"It's a good thing we weren't back in 1776," Del, John L. Melnick (D-Arlington) said after the meeting. "We'd still be with the British."
In rapid order, the House Privileges and Elections Committee rejected Senate-passed resolutions that would have given Virginia's approval to the direct election of U.S. senators and to permitting District of Columbia residents to vote in presidential elections, steps already provided by the 17th and 23d Amendments.
In fact, Del. C. Hardaway Marks (D-Hopewell), chairman of a subcommittee that recommended the action, said "there was some sentiment that we ought to be memorializing Congress to do away with" the 15-year-old amendment that gave D.C. residents power to choose presidential electors.
Marks said later members of his subcommittee were opposed to the D.C. amendment because Washington "was the seat of the government and these people shouldn't be in politics."
Only one of the three amendments, which had passed the Senate on a 38-to-0 vote, won the committee's approval. That was the 13-year-old 234th Amendment, which abolished the poll tax. Even it encountered some opposition from Del. Lewis A. McMurran Jr. (D-Newport News), a soft-spoken man who complained that the amendment was too far-reaching.
Word of the committee's action on the amendments enraged Sen. Joseph T. Fitzpatrick (D-Norfolk), who had introduced the resolutions after his teen-aged daughter asked why Virginia had never approved four constitutional amendments. One of the measures, the 16th Amendment allowing Congress to enact income taxes, never got out of a Virginia Senate committee.
Visibly angry, Fitzpatrick, chairman of the state's Democratic Party, went on the Senate floor to denounce the committee's action and to appeal to the leadership of both the Democratic and Republican party caucuses to reexamine the way the Assembly handles legislation.
He said he was baffled by the committee action since there had been no public opposition to the amendments. "I just don't think that it's fair," he said later.
But in the committee, most legislators were chuckling as Marks, a small town lawyer with a folksy manner, was recounting how his subcommittee first met "under the gaze of the state of Robert E. Lee" in the old House chamber here in the State Capitol. Then, he said, they moved to the statue of George Wythe, another Virginia patriot, in the same chamber when some committee members began to feel "uncomfortable" with Lee's stare. In any event, Marks said it was "appropriate" that the committee considered the resolutions in the restored chamber, which once housed the Congress of the Confederacy.
But as for the resolutions, Marks said his committee had problems with them because they were so old. And in what some would say is a traditional stance of the Virginia legislature, Marks questioned whether the current session should tamper with the past. "None of us were in being at the time" the resolutions were initially considered, he insisted.
"We got the feeling that the only one we could recommend was the poll tax, because we lived in this period," he said.
Direct election of senators, although ratified in 1913, poses a number of problems, Marks said. "Some say it had a great deal to do with the abolition of states' rights," he said.
McMurran, who presided over the meeting, said later he fully agreed. "Now, how can you justify two senators for Delaware with its small population and only two for California with its population?" he asked. Direct election of senators, McMurran said, "ruined the constitutional concept" of equality among the states.
Although Del. Carrington Williams (D-Fairfax), one of the four who voted for the amendments, said the committee probably acted "tougue in cheek," others insisted that it was not acting in jest. "It was a question of changing what our forefathers did," said Del. John D. Gray (D-Hampton).
Marks said his subcommittee seriously considered the amendments, but added. "It's kind of foolish to have waited all this time" before considering the maesures.
After disposing of the constitutional amendments, the committee held two short sessions in which it killed numerous election measures, including the one requiring candidates to be identified by party on election ballots.
Virginia is one only a few states that do not label state and local candidates by party; the measure was aimed at eliminating widespread confusion among voters that resulted from the placement of names on the state's ballots last November. Under a drawing, the local and satte Republican and Democratic candidates were not listed on the same line as presidential candidates, who were identified by party.
Northern Virginia Republicans and Democrats had joined in the courts in an unsuccessful effort to overturn the ballot design. But Republicans on the House committee joined today with independents and conservative Democrats to kill the bill. Last year a similar bill got out of the committee only to be killed on the House floor.
Today the conservative alliance on the committee repeatedly killed numerous so-called election law reform measures, including a Senate-passed measure establishing high school voter registraation clinics, a bill to prohibit giving "anything of value" to a newly registered voters and a measure to require more information about major donors on campaign finance reports.
The committee did approve a measure changing election day voting hours to 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. from the current 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. and agreed to allow Virginia cities to hold primary elections to select council candidates.
The bill that would have banned fifts to a newly registered voter had been nicknamed the "McDonald's bill" after a Richmond area voter registration drive during which newly registered voter were promised a McDonald's hamburger after they had registered. Some delegates said today they feared the bill would prohibit party workers from taking someone to the polls to be registered or offering pencils or other election materials to new voters.
Another resolution, nicknamed "the country club bill" because it deals with tax exemptions granted some swimming and tennis clubs by the legislature, won the committee's approval. The resolution would require that any organization seeking tax exempt status be open "to the public."
Williams complained that some of the clubs that previously won tax exemption would admit only dues-apying members and urged that the clubs be required to be open "to the general public." That upset Del. Robert B. Ball (D-Henrico) who urged the committee, "Don't set it too public." The committee then dropped the word "general" from the resolution.
In other action, the Senate approved two of the "women's bills" that were originally part of a package presented by the seven female delegates aimed at protecting the property rights of divorced or widowed women.
One bill that was passed would allow a person whose spouse died leaving a will to sell the one-third of the real estate belonging to the deceased spouse, which he or she is entitled to. The other bill would change the word "consort" to "spouse" in describing the order in which a piece of property is passed on to a person's heirs when that person dies without leaving a will.
The women lost a battle in a Senate subcommittee when the committee members voted to eliminate a provision in a divorce bill that would have helped establish the concept of "marital property." It would have allowed a judge to award a lump sum to a spouse in a divorce case in lieu of alimony payments.