The 1978 Virginia General Assembly moved toward adjournment last night in a legislative session that was long on emotional debate but will be remembered as much for what it did not pass as for what it did.
In the end, the record was mixed for the 140 lawyers, doctors, teachers, car salemen, farmers, housewives, insurance salesmen, oil dealers and other Businessmen who make up this citizen legislature. They spent much of the last day working out final ditails of a $9 billion budget to finance the operations of the state for the next two years without requiring a tax increase. They also passed a landmark measure that could lead to the legalization of betting at horse racing tracks if the voters approve.
The rejected other controversial legislation, including the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, an increase in the state sales tax in Northern Virginia to help pay for the Washington area's Metro subway, and state aid for abortions for indigent women.
Whether Gov. John N. Dalton will approve most of the legislation passed by the General Assembly is unknown, but one characteristic of this session has been a lack of bisible conflict with the new governor. Where the former majority leader James M. Thomson, once carried the budget bill influenced by former governor Mills E. Godwin to the House clerks by two fingers as though he were carrying a dead rat, new Majority Leader A. L. Philpott (D-Henry) merely mentions the strongly Republican partisanship the governor asserts and the need for the Democrats to develop stronger leadership in the legislature.
Certainly the changes approved by this legislature, aside from the upcoming referendum on horse racing, are not as dramatic as they promised to be two months ago. The Senate, for example, rejected 10 of 34 measures resulting from more than five years of study and discussion on reorganizing the state bureaucracy, because it decided the changes would not produce more effective government.
The House scuttled a package of proposals aimed at ending the 75-year war between cities and countries over annexation, which included a complex revenue reapportionment system many believe to be too complex to figure out this session.
Although the House failed by one vote to approve a 1-cent increase in the sales tax for Norhtern Virginia that was desperately desired by many area officials to pay off Metro operating costs, it did approve a $10 million appropriation for Metro construction over the next two years.
A pay raise and a grievance procedure were approved for state employes, and teachers and police officers were granted similar versions of a grievance procedure. In addition, a provision allowing for enforcement of a grievance procedures by school boards was added to the Standards of Quality Act that forms the legislature's policy on public education.
Also as a result of that act, high school students will have to take a test to prove attainment of minimal skills before they can receive a high school diploma. A bill that would have allowed a judge to suspend a teenager's driver's license for being a discipline problem in school was defeated.
A proposed gas tax in Northern Virginia that would have raised about $11 million a year for Metro expenses was defeated, and the state's inheritance tax was repealed, saving about 25,000 people some $30 million over the next two years.
The powers of the State Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities, were threatened by some bills including the proposed governmental reorganization, but by the end of the session it appeared the SCC was basically intact. Efforts to place more controls on the way privately owned utilities run themselves were largely watered down, with only a revamping of the fuel adjustment clause approved finally yesterday afternoon, left as a major change.
Consumer legislation, such as a proposal to license automobile repairmen, fared badly. In fact, for more than 100 bills listed by one consumer advocate, Barbara Bitters, on her tally sheet, only a handfill passed, including the fuel adjustment clause change and a bill that would require an insurance company to tell a customer why he or she was rejected if the customer asks.
One legislator, Del. Alson H. Smith (D-Winchester), thinks that one of the most noticeable aspects of the 1978 session was the absence of worry over a budget deficit. With revenues apparently stable, the House approved a conservative budget but no longer had a reason to avoid dealing with some social issues, he said. For example, the approval of one measure means that after 1980 the state will begin to pay the administrative costs of local welfare boards that are not paid for with federal funds - even though a way to absorb the costs has not been determined. "Can you imagine us doing that last year?" Smith said, "For the past two or three years all you heard was 'money, money, money.'"
Businessmen were successful in getting a measure requiring the accelerated payments of sales taxes repealed, and will get about a $16 million refund in early payments. Optometrists were successful in their request to be allowed to use certain eyedrops in examining eyes to detect diseases; ophthalmologists were not successful in trying to get the measure killed!
Several freedom of information act measures and financial disclosure requirements were successful. If approved by the governor, the bills would ensure that judges as well as high officials have to reveal their major financial holdings, and that public meetings be open to the public no matter where they are held. Other measures ensure that material received by a public agency in the trans-action of public business is open, and that a person could hire a lawyer to get his or her medical records in addition to getting them through a doctor as one can now.
people who wish to buy drugs without a "childproof" cap on the bottle will be able to do so if they sign a consent from for the pharmacist under one new law, but counties that want to require a deposit on nonreturnable bottles will not be able to do that as the result of another.
A proposal to permit state funding of abortions for poor women was rejected, but other proposals to ask for a constitutional amendment banning abortion altogether were rejected as well.
Measures aimed at reforming the state's rape laws and at ending the practice of juries sentencing people they convict of crimes were carried over to next year, as was a proposal first put forth by newly elected Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman to establish a system of fixed sentences for different varieties of crimes.
The assembly voted to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and golfer Sam Snead; it voted to study tax problems and water problems, among others. It killed a bill to make the praying mantis the state insect.
It voted to allow a bank to set up branches in counties other than the one it is headquartered in, long a subject of controversy.
By yesterday afternoon most of the major issues had been resolved, but a seemingly endless series of House-Senate conferences to resolve differences between versions of a bill adjournment delayed into the evening.
The Senate returned about100 bills to the House in the morning with amendments that had to be approved or rejected. "Most if not all of these amendments are the result of an ego trip by the gentlmen on the other side," House Majority Leader Philpott told the House at about 2 p.m. Unless these amendments do great violence to your bill I urge you to accept these frivolous Senate amendments so we can all go home."
The House shortly thereafter began a debate over a Senate amendment that would require the administration of a single test statewide to determine whether a high school senior had achieved minimum competence. The student must pass such a test after Jan. 1, 1981, to graduate. The House version of the bill did not specify that the same test must be given throughout the state.
Although the chief House sponsor of the legislation, Del. Alan Diamondstein (D-Newport News), agreed to the Senate amendment, the House voted 42 to 46 to reject it and a committee was appointed to straighten out the issue, one of many such committees seen meeting yesterday and Friday in every nook and cranny of the state Capitol.
But after the conference committees have finally hammered out compromises, after the final bills and resolutions are dispensed with and sent to the governor, and the legislators and their aides have made their ways back to the counties and towns from which they came two months ago, this session will be remembered for a relative handful of the 1,404 House measures and 658 Senate measures that went through the legislative machine.
More than 300 of those bills and resolutions were "carried over," a legislative term meaning the bill will be taken up again next year. As of Friday night, more than 950 had been passed by both houses, and more than 50 already have been signed by Gov. Dalton.