Gilmore Approves Tough New Trash Law
By Craig Timberg
RICHMOND March 29óGov. James S. Gilmore III approved new restrictions on Virginia's garbage industry today, the constitutional deadline for signing or vetoing more than a thousand bills passed by the General Assembly last month.
The batch of bills signed today included a law that will allow consumers to choose their electric company, much as they now choose a long-distance telephone company. Gilmore also proposed amending a bill in order to give teachers bonuses of up to $5,000 if they raise the test scores of their students.
The General Assembly will return to Richmond for a one-day session on April 7 to consider that amendment and any other bill the governor vetoed or proposed amending.
Much of the 46-day regular session was spent deciding what to do with the state's billion-dollar surplus. Last week, Gilmore signed a bill to cut the state's food tax. And he grudgingly signed a bill approving $104 million in new road construction in Northern Virginia and another bill reimbursing $48,000 in legal costs to Michele Finn, whom Gilmore fought in court last fall over her decision to remove a feeding tube from her severely brain-damaged husband, Hugh.
More pleasing to Gilmore were the new laws on trash disposal, which will take effect July 1. They ban garbage barges, restrict the construction of landfills and cap the amount of garbage dumped in Virginia's seven giant "mega-fills" at last year's levels.
The Republican governor and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers had pushed for the package as the best way to protect the state, which has become the nation's number two dumping ground, behind Pennsylvania.
"They're historic pieces of legislation," said Mark A. Miner, spokesman for Gilmore. "The governor made this a high priority during the session, and the outcome will affect all Virginians."
Gilmore began to crack down on the garbage industry in the months leading up to the session, and the issue emerged as among the most prominent of the session.
And after New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani suggested Virginia had an obligation to take his city's trash, the governor made restricting it a focus of his State of the Commonwealth Address. Environmental groups also embraced the bills.
"Without the bills being signed and passed, Virginia was on the way to becoming the number one waste importer in the nation," said Jim Sharp, of Campaign Virginia, an environmental group.
The package's few opponents complained that banning garbage barges is unconstitutional because the federal government has sole authority over interstate commerce.
No garbage barges now travel on Virginia's rivers, but garbage barge traffic to two ports has led to complaints about bad smells and containers leaking foul liquids.
Deregulation of the electric industry got less attention than the garbage issue but was one of the most heavily lobbied during the session. Deregulation would allow competition to begin on a limited basis in 2002 and full competition in 2004. The law's supporters say competition will result in lower rates for consumers. But consumer advocates said it is as likely to increase rates, particularly in rural areas that now enjoy low electric bills.
Gilmore asked the legislature to reconsider a bill next year that would have stripped Fauquier County of its ability to review some large residential developments. Fauquier County Board of Supervisors Chairman Larry L. Weeks (R-Scott) praised the governor's action.
Other bills signed or amended:
Gilmore proposed an amendment requiring that teachers demonstrate mastery in preparing students for the Standards of Learning tests.
Gilmore proposed amending the bill on character education to have schools teach patriotism, respect for the flag, the Pledge of Allegiance, hard work, economic self-reliance, nondiscrimination and consequences for bad behavior.
Gilmore signed the "Patients' Bill of Rights," which adds protections to patients in managed care programs.
Staff writer Graeme Zielinski contributed to this report.
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