The Virginia General Assembly approved new consumer protections, expanded financial disclosure requirements for public officials, and added to the list of murders punishable by death as it moved slowly toward adjournment tonight.
The Assembly was winding up a 52-day session in which it made major revision in the state's $7.4 billion biennial budget, adopted last year, and approved a referendum for November on $125 million in bonds to construct college, prison, port and park facilities in all parts of the state.
The Assembly speeded up tax collection, transfereed money from special funds, like that for highway construction to the general fund, and made some spending cuts to come up with $220 million to balance its budget. Last year the Assembly overestimated the amount of money that state would collect.
The budget and bond bills were disposed or earlier this week, leaving the last day of the session clear for negotiations between conferees of the Senate and House of Delegates on more than two-dozen measures.
One of the most significant and controversial bills passed during the day will require that the state issue certificates of need for every health facility costing more than $150,000.
The bill was strongly backed by both consumer advocates and professional groups attempting to impose controls on escalating health care costs. The legislation rests on the theory that overbuilding of expensive health facilities - hospitals, nursing homes and even docttor's offices equipped with expensive diagnostic and laboratory equipment - is a major factor in rising health care expenses.
The bill did not pass without some outspoken opposition, especially in the House.
In a final burst of impassioned oratory, Del. Ray L. Garland (R-Roanoke) argued that the certificate of need bill was unnecessary. Waving a fact sheet he had prepared for each delegate and speaking with theatrical emphasis, Garland said the legislators had been "bamboozled by deceptions."
"One of the most dismaying aspects of this debate (over the certificate of need measure) is that we've seen the regulators and the regulatees embracing each other and wallowing in each other's company," he cried, Garland said that over 5,000 people need beds in nursing homes in Roanoke but available beds can't be filled because the homes have not been granted certificates.
Sen. Hunter B. Andrews (D-Hampton), well known for his equally loud and dramatic orations in the Senate, was visiting the House as Garland was speaking. "My, he's worse than I am," he said loudly as he left.
Final action on death penalty legislation came in the Senate with acceptance of a House-passed measure adding the slaying of a police officer to prevent him from performing his duties to the types of murder that can be punished by execution in the electric chair.
The police officer provision was offered in the House yesterday by Del. Wyatt B. Durrette Jr. (R-Fairfax) after defeat of a proposal to make all first degree murders subject to the death penalty. The opponents of that measure feared it would be ruled unconstitutional.
The Senate accepted the police officer provision with only one dissenting vote by Sen. L. Douglas Wilder (D-Richmond).
Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan (D-Fairfax), usually an opponent of death penalty legislation, voted for this bill because he said it strengthens the state's ability to prosecute rapes. Under existing law, a person acquitted of murder in connection with a rape cannot be convicted of the rape itself. The measur epassed today permits conviction for rape regardless of the outcome of the murder charge.
Yesterday, the Senate completed action on a bill intended to conform Virginia's procedures for imposing the death sentence to new U.S. Supreme Court standards. Gartlan tried unsuccessfully to amend that bill to require courts to find that a convicted murderer understands the criminality of his act.
The disclosure bill give final approval today requires all officials appointed by the governor or elected by the Assembly to reveal real estate and other holdings that exceed $5,000 in value and represents more than 5 per cent interest in the business or property. All salaried positions and clients who pay the official more than $1,000 for services must be listed.
This bill, however, exempts members of advisory boards and permits the governor to exempt other officials from the requirements of the law at his discretion.
Before adjourning for a three-hour dinner and conference break, the House of Delegates gave final approval to a variety of measures to help consumers.
The passage of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act, introduced last year by Del. Thomas W. Moss (D-Norfolk) and carried over to this year's General Assembly, outlaws such practices as false advertising or misrepresenting goods or services. It allows city and county attorneys to investigate possible violations and permits local consumer agencies to ask for an investigation. Previously a consumer's only remedy was to sue a merchant or business himself.
The act also allows a judge to order that deceptive practices be stopped, and establishes fines for "willful" violations of the act.
Final approval also was given to a bill that would permit double recovery from an insurance company if a policy holder proves the company arbitrarily refused to pay a small claim. The bill also requires the insurance company to pay attorney fees for the policy holder who successfully proves his claim.
The House gave final approval to an expansion of the equal credit opportunity act that prohibits discrimination in granting credit on the basis of race, religion or age. It also establishes a conciliation and mediation service to deal with complaints from consumers who think they may have been denied credit on the basis of sex, marital status, or the newly added categories.
The House and Senate approved a conference committee change tonight to the Freedom of Information Act, which generally requires that all meeting s by legislative bodies, authorities, boards, bureaus, commissions, municipal councils, school boards, planning commissions and other agencies be open to the public.
The Seante had earlier decided to exclude "informal meetings" between two or more public officials from the requirements of the act. Opponents said this was "opening a loophole" that would permit officials to conduct public business in secret.
Tonight both houses agreed to language excluding from coverage only gatherings where public business is not scheduled to be discussed or transacted. This appeared to satisfy legislators who complained that the Freedom of Information Act prevented them from having lunch together without a reporter present.
Two bills concerning bingo were expected to receive final approval in the House after getting passed in the Senate. One legalizes "instant" bingo, which permits the sale - by an approved charity - of small cards on which the result is printed and peeled off by the customer.
The second bill, proposed by Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William), limits the charities to three nights of bingo a week, plus special events such as carnivals, and requires large scale bingo operators to file with local authorities audited statements on money raised and spent.
Colgan's bill, while not as restrictive as orginally proposed, is aimed at games like some in Northern Virginia where organized bingo operations been making up to $450,000.
One issue that threatened to stall adjournment was disagreement over a bill that would allow creation of special "agricultural and forestry districts" in the state's rural counties. Although the House overwhelmingly accepted a conference report on the bill, the Senate approved the report by a one-vote margin and then voted to reconsider the issue later tonight.
If the Senate rejects the report, that would set the stage for a second conference committee to attempt to resolve the dispute. Opponents of the measure, including Sen. Omer L. Hirst (D-Fairfax), were insisting last night on nothing short of defeat of the bill.
They claimed the measure, which sponsors said is designed to preserve farm lands, would seriously hamper highway construction across the state and said Highway Commissioner John harwood was strongly opposed to the bill.
Shortly before an evening recess, the Senate dropped consideration of serious legislation and let members of its teen-aged "page corps" take the floor to win approval of "Senate Page Resolution No. 1," a whimsical document that urged the pages be given unlimited access to pinball machines, state-backed expense credit cards and stereo record players.
Then both the pages and senators began heaping gifts on the Senate's presiding officer, Lt. Gov. John N. Dalton, who on Monday is expected to announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor.
"This is probably my last day in the Senate," Dalton said, after he opened boxes containing a small elephant given by the pages and two antique gold candlesticks and a small mahogany tea chest given him by the 40 senators. "I do have other plans for the next four years, but whether or not they materialize, I want you to know that these four years in the Senate have been among the best four years of my life."
Senate Minority Leader William A. Truban (R-Shenandoah), a Woodstock veterinarian, told Dalton he looked forward to visiting with him "on the third floor during the next four years," a reference to the location of the governor's office, a floor above the Senate chamber in the State Capitol.