The Virginia Senate today passed a major revision of the state's juvenile code that separates children who have not committed crimes - truants, victims of child abuse, and foster children - from juvenile delinquents under a new system requiring more state reviews and remedies.
Under the bill neglected children, runaways and others who come to juvenile court for help would get new rights - including the right to counsel.
At the same time, deliquents who are convicted or charged with crimes would be faced with stiffer fines than formerly under the bill.
The new law, which will go into effect in July if approved in its final form by the House and signed by the governor as expected, gives convicted delinquents the right to a trial by jury if they appeal the conviction.
"This bill is a major step forward and a positive thrust in juvenile justice law," said Sen. Herbert H. Bateman (R-Newport News) in arguing for the bill. The vote was 34 to 5, after a lengthy argument over an attempt to amend the bill to allow localties to decide how much money to spend on implementing the new law.
The new law requires that the care of foster children be reviewed by judges after a year. It requires that the state make definite plans for the care of foster children within two months of a child's being placed in the custody of the state. The plan must spell out what will be done for the child by the state, what is expected of the foster parents and the natural parents.
A newly required comprehensive plan for a foster child must also include an analysis of whether the child is likely to be returned to the parents and, if not, a description of the alternatives available to the child.
A child becomes a foster child if he or she is the victim of child abuse or neglect, is abandoned, or a judge decides the child should be separated from his parents either temporarily or permanently.
In many ways, the bill removes children who for one reason or another come to the attention of the court from the criminal justice system and puts them under the jurisdiction of social services departments. For example, children who are truants, "habitually disobediant of the reasonable and lawful commands of his parent or legal guardian," or runaways would be dealt with by "intake officers" who have a background in social service. They would not be charged with criminal complaints.
Juveniles who do commit crimes, however, are liable for a $500 fine instead of a $100 fine as a possible punishment under the bill. Another provision says that no child under 15 may be "transported or conveyed" in a police patrol wagon.
Under existing law, localities are required to provide facilities for caring for children. The state is to pay for 80 per cent of the cost of establishing and maintaining these homes or centers as well as the salaries of the people who run them. A total of about $19 million is already included in the department of corrections' budget for this. The remaining cost, which Bateman and others estimated at over $40,000 statewide, is to be absorbed by local jurisdiction.
It was this money that caused the debate on the Senate floor, with proponents of the bill argued that amending at to allow localities to decide what they would spend would effectively gut the bill.
"That proposition comes down to saying that even though you have criminals in your locality who are sentenced to jail you don't have to build the jail if you don't want to," said Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan Jr. (D-Fairfax).
"Once again we in the General Assembly are deciding what is best for each and every locality," argued Sen. Dudley J. Emick Jr. (D-Botetcourt), who supported the proposed amendment. "It's wrong, wrong as rain."
In other action, the Senate killed - twice - a bill that would have allocated Arlington County to protect consumers against health spa operators who require payment for a lifetime membership and then either disappear or fail to build the facility as described in the contract.
"We can't protect people from their folly," said Sen. Frederick P. Gray (D-Chesterfield) who was among those who voted against the bill.
In other action, a Senate committee approved a bill that will end the current ban on annexations in two years. The controversial measure has several Northern Virginia jurisdictions at odds with each other. The plan could lead to counties being required to pay to be immune from annexation by adjoining cities.
Under the amended version approved by the committee today, a study commission of legislators and representatives of jurisdictions in the Northern Virginia Planning District would be established. The group, which is to be paid for by its participants, will examine the impact of the legislation on Fairfax and any other Northern Virginia jurisdiction that wants to participate.
Fairfax County Attorney F. Lee Ruck said the commission would cost Fairfax staff time, but added that much of the work has been done in connection with other projects. He said the bill, which was vehemently opposed by the Board of Supervisors, was accepted to them with the inclusion of the study.
In a related action, the committee approved a bill that will allow the residents of Reson to hold a referendum on the question of whether the community wishes to incorporate as a town. The bill, introduced by Del. Ray Vickery (D-Fairfax) was amended in committee by Sen. Gartlan so that the community must return to the Assembly for permission to incorporate after the study on annexation in Fairfax is completed in two yeads.
Clay Harrell, town manager of Virginia, spoke for his town and for Herndon in opposing the annexation study, saying it was giving "special treatment" to Fairfax. And the lawyer for the city of Salem, W. H. Jolly opposed the entire annexation proposal calling it a "hopless potpourri of nothing."
Separately, a House committee killed legislation that would have tightened the state's controls over oil spills and another House committee gutted a Senate bill that would have dramatically expanded the number of state officials covered by the state's present conflict of interest law.
The full House gave final approval to ratification of the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which became effective 13 years ago and bars the poll tax. It was the only one of four long-existing Constitution amendments that Sen. Joseph T. Fitzpatrick (D-Norfolk) managed to get through the Assembly this year.
Committees killed his effort to have Virginia ratify the 43-year-old provision for direct election of senators, the 44-year-old income tax amendment and the 15-year-old amendment granting District of Columbia electorial colleges votes in presidential elections.
The oil spill bill died by a 13-to-5 vote in the House Conservation and Natural Resources Committee where petroleum company and other business interests had lobbied heavily against the measure. Although they voted against the bill several committee members promised repeatedly they would be willing to study the bill with industry representatives before the next session.
"I know I can speak on behalf of the industry," said Del. Ray L. Ashworth (D-Sussex), and oil dealer who was one of the opponents of the bill. As passed by the Senate, the bill would have required that spills of 25 or more gallons be reported. Although a subcommittee had amended the bill to require reporting of a minimum of 100 gallons and weakened other provisions of the bill, the full committee refused to accept it.