The Virginia General Assembly adjourned its 1979 session early this morning after an often acrimonious 15-hour meeting in which several controversial measures were approved but legistors balked at passing a bill to revamp the state's sexual assault laws.
Legislators in both the House and Senate easily passed bills that would provide stricter regulation of bingo games and ease first-offense penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Both measures are expected to be signed by Gov. John N. Dalton.
The assembly, after a heated debate, also approved an "informed consent" abortion bill but then surprisingly rejected an agreement on another measure that would revamp the state's rape and sexual assault laws.
The sexual assault bill, the product of two years of work by a special task force, died in the Senate late Saturday night after that body refused to approve a House-Senate conference report on the measure.
Opponents of the bill, citing complaints by several prosecutors, said the measure's language was confusing and protested that the legislation would not help the women it had been drafted to aid.
Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan (D-Fairfax), chief sponsor of the original bill, bitterly attacked the conference measure but for different reasons. He said that the bill as amended would allow use of intoxication as a defense in rape cases, a provision he said he could not accept.
"It's reprehensible at this hour to come in here and say, 'We don't know what this bill does,'" said Gartlan, who complained that opponents of the bill had waited until the last day of the session before advising him that they would not accept a compromise on the legislation. He complained that the conference report was no compromise as long as intoxication as a defense was incorporated.
Both the House and Senate began work at 9:30 a.m. but much of the day was spent trying to resolve disputes in each chamber over several pieces of less important legislation.
While House and Senate conferees met throughout the day on various outstanding measures, many legislators busied themselves taking pictures and home movies of each other on the floor and squiring their spouses and children around the historic Capitol, designed by Thomas Jefferson.
The assembly's 45-day session approved an estimated 1,150 bills and resolutions of the more than 1,882 that the 140 legislators introduced. With the possible exception of legislation to resolve the state's troublesome city-county annexation issue, the session failed to produce any major new laws.
Many assembly leaders said that they considered the session mediocre and said it was troubled by friction between House and Senate leaders and Dalton's failure to take any significant initiative.
Although tax-cutting proposals have been popular in other states this year, the Virginia legislature turned back a proposal to limit state taxing but did order a study of the issue. That study will be considered next year when the assembly takes up the state's biennial budget and tax legislation.
For the first time in recent years, the legislators are leaving Richmond for a seven-day recess to return next Saturday for possible veto overrides on any measure they sent to Dalton by the end of this session.
Only two measures are considered possible targets of veto overrides. The House already has overridden Dalton's rejection of a bill allowing optometrists to use diagnostic drugs in eye examinations and the Senate could try to do so at its final meeting.
Dalton is expected to veto a bill that would strip Republican Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman of his power to appoint highway condemnation lawyers. The bill assigns the work to full-time city and county attorneys in the localities that have them.
The bingo bill, which had kept the House and Senate at odds for days, was finally approved after Senate members grudgingly agreed to allow the playing of "instant" bingo in order to get stricter regulation of other aspects of the game.
"It's a good bill but not the best bill," said Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell Jr. (R.-Alexandria), who called instant bingo -- a game wherein the player buys the card and then pulls off a row of tab coverings to see if it's a winner -- "a plague that is going to continue to haunt us."
But, Mitchell acknowledged, "if we reject this bill because of instant bingo, we'll be rejecting a good bill."
The bingo measure would ban instant bingo for those under 16 years of age and would limit the number of times any type of bingo can be played at a facility to two times a week. Since nonprofit and charitable organizations would be exempted from the facilities provision, supporters of the measure proclaimed that the bill would drastically curtail the activities of professional bingo parlors.
The marijuana measure would provide a jail term of up to 30 days and/or a fine of $500 for simple possession. Virginia's current marijuana law sets a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The "informed consent" abortion bill would require a doctor to tell a woman seeking an abortion how the operation would be performed and what the "risks" to her health might be.
"This bill would simply place a burden on the physician that would be on any good surgeon anyway," Mitchell said in the debate before the bill was approved.
The legislative wrangling, however, that brought the compromise bill to a vote was anything but simple. As it bounced back and forth between the House and Senate last week, the bill was stripped of language that would have required, among other things, that a pregnant woman be told about the appearance of her aborted fetus.
In two heated conference committee meetings Saturday, the bill's patron, agreed further to drop a provision in the bill that would have required that a woman seeking an abortion be warned about possible damage to her "reproductive capacity."
Gartlan's concessions in the conference committee meetings failed to mollify Sen. Frederick C. Boucher (D-Abingdon), who complained that the bill was "an invitation to malpractice litigation" and "increased burden" on poor women.
Boucher argued on the Senate floor that the abortion bill would force doctors to spend more time performing abortions and increase the cost of such operations. He said the bill followed a regressive trend by the assembly, which last year voted to deny state Medicaid benefits for women seeking abortions.
Earlier Saturday, the assembly completed work on what many legislators said was the only major piece of legislation passed by the session, a bill intended to end years of city-county annexation battles and revenue allocation disputes.
Dalton had been expected to approve the measure, part of a package of three bills, but he balked Saturday at signing the legislation because of fears that some cities would be treated like counties in the allocation of state aid and thus become a drain on state funds.
Dalton subsequently asked for -- and won -- amendments that would require cities that elect to be treated like counties to give the governor two years notice prior to the budget period in which their revised funding is to take effect.
In one of the few actions the Senate took Saturday afternoon, the nominations of three Fairfax county judges were unanimously approved. District Court Judge F. Bruce Bach was named to a newly created seat on the county Circuit Court and Fairfax lawyers J. Conrad Waters and Frank B. Perry were given seats on the Ceneral District Court. The Senate action requires similar approval by the House.
Also contributing to this story was Washington Post staff writer Blaine Harden .