Fact Checking Bill Leighty

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In my review of Bill Leighty’s memoir, I quoted at length an incident that was supposed to illustrate Leighty’s deal-making skills, as well as how things are often accomplished in state government. One of this blog’s alert readers, “how_it_works,” pointed that the timing of the events related in the story just did not work out, thereby casting doubt on the story.

I thought the objection was valid and serious enough to warrant investigation. Because the story involved legislation enacted in the late 1980’s and the on-line Legislative Information System does not have legislative history before 1994, I had to wait until the public agencies with the paper records opened after Memorial Day before I could do any checking. This follow-up article sets out the results of my research.

To recap, Leighty related a string of deals he had made culminating in Del. Leslie Byrne of Fairfax agreeing to introduce legislation “creating a vehicle emissions inspection program in northern jurisdictions of the state.” This series of events occurred between 1986 and 1990, when Leighty was Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Transportation.

Since the early 1980’s a mandatory motor vehicle emissions inspection program had existed in Northern Virginia. Vehicles registered in those jurisdictions were required to be inspected on an annual basis. There was a provision that the program would be expanded to jurisdictions in the Richmond area under certain conditions. Subject to the requirement were all liquid-cooled motor vehicles with a gross weight of 6,000 pounds or less that were of the eight model years immediately preceding the current new model year. Exempted were Diesel vehicles.

The 1988 General Assembly enacted significant changes in the law. (Chap. 806. 1988 Acts of Assembly). The legislation involved considerable rewording of the affected statutes, but here are the most important changes:

  1. Moved the oversight of the emissions inspection program from the Department of State Police to the State Air Pollution Control Board;
  2. Expanded the maximum size of vehicles subject to the requirement from a gross weight of 6,000 pounds to 8,500 pounds;
  3. Expanded the pool of vehicles subject to the requirement to any that were more than one year old but less than 21 years old;
  4. Deleted the potential for the program to be applicable to Richmond-area localities; and
  5. Changed the frequency of the required inspection from annual to biennial.

The legislation was introduced by Del. Mary Marshall of Arlington, not Del. Leslie Byrne.

In summary, the 1988 legislation significantly expanded the category of motor vehicles subject to  mandatory emissions inspection in Northern Virginia, which could well have upset many voters in the area. However, it certainly did not establish a brand new program as Leighty clearly implied.

The discrepancy in patrons can be plausibly explained. After all, Leighty did not say that Byrne actually introduced the legislation, only that she agreed to do so, which was the key to his deals. After agreeing, Byrne could well have prevailed upon Marshall to introduce it instead. Such trading off among patrons is fairly common. Besides, it would have made political sense. Marshall had a lot more seniority than Byrne, she was on the committee that would hear the bill, she was well-liked, and she was in a safe Democratic seat in Arlington.

Under the Fact Checker rating scale, I would give Leighty “Two Pinocchios” (half true).