IN WHAT WE would hope was momentary failure to devote full time and attention to good government, Virginia's House of Delegates passed a bill last week that is an insult to local governments throughout the state. The proposal, a pet bill of the lobby of industries that thrive on the proliferation of throw-away bottles and cans nationwide, would void two counties' local deposit laws covering beverage containers and would prohibit other localities from passing similar ordinances. Specifically, the two counties with such laws on the books are Fairfax and Loudoun.
But the issue here isn't merely a regional dispute in the state - nor, for that matter, is it a just a question of how you feel about paying for tons of one-way, glass, metal and plastic litter instead of using returnables. It's a matter of home rule. By falling for this special-interest legislation, delegates wound up voting to yank away local authority in favor of more power to Richmond. Legislators from Loudoun pleaded with their collegues to give the existing ordinances a chance. But the bill, sponsored by Del. Thomas W. Moss (D-Norfolk) - an attorney who has represented restaurants seeking beer, wine and liquor licenses - passed by a vote of 70 to 26. Moreover, all the Republicans form Northern Virginia helped it along, while all Democrats from this area recognized a bad proposal (one that also would damage efforts in Maryland and the District to enact complementary deposit laws for the metropolitan region), and all voted against it.
Mr. Moss said he opposes local deposit laws because they say "a Pepsi-Cola can is bad but a Budweiser can is okay." He says he would support statewide legislation that would require deposits on beer containers as well as soft-drink containers. If that's the case, why couldn't he leave the local laws alone for now and concentrate instead on lobbying for a solid, comprehensive bill that would permit localities to decide whether they would include beer bottles under their deposit laws - a power that seems to rest in Richmond.
If localities are permitted to decide whether their drug stores and supermarkets can do business on Sundays - which was the reasonable compromise struck a few years ago in the state legislature - the General Assembly certainly should be able to enact a similar reasonable local-option compromise on bottle and cans. In the meantime, the State Senate should reject the House-passed bill at the earliest opportunity, in the name of good government.