Governor May Get Two Different Nuclear Bills

Small modular reactor illustrated

By Steve Haner

A Virginia Senate committee voted Monday to approve a House of Delegates bill designed to finance a small modular nuclear reactor in Southwest Virginia, contradicting its own earlier vote for a much broader bill that had statewide application.

Two different bills on the same topic might now pass the Virginia Senate.  If the House does the same thing with the Senate bill, now alive in front of its Labor and Commerce Committee, Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) could have two very different bills to choose from.

“We don’t give the Governor two choices and let him figure it out,” complained Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, “It’s our job to figure it out.”  But his motion to take the previous Senate language and conform the House bill to the Senate version failed on a voice vote.  The bill was then approved 9-6.

When the House and Senate have different bills on the same subject, what usually happens is what Surovell wanted. The two sides insist on their own versions and put the bills into a conference committee to work out a compromise.  Or the patrons and lobbyists huddle and work out the differences and bring forth a substitute to present before the Assembly adjourns. Continue reading

Virginia Budget Amendment Could Lead to Lawsuits Seeking Many Inmates’ Release

from Liberty Unyielding

On February 22, Virginia’s progressive House of Delegates removed language from the state’s proposed budget that limited early releases of inmates who committed both violent and non-violent offenses. It removed that language in a 53-to-44 vote, then passed the House’s version of the state budget by a 75-to-24 vote.

If the final state budget also lacks this language, it will be argued that the affected inmates are entitled to be released earlier, including at least 500 of them this year, and thousands more in the years to come. In 2023, the Virginia Mercury reported that 8,000 offenders in Virginia prisons are there for a combination of violent and non-violent offenses, and thus would be effected by this sort of provision.

This provision would allow the affected inmates to benefit from a 2020 law passed by Democrats that released many non-violent inmates earlier by dramatically expanding time off inmates’ sentences for avoiding major prison infractions and participating in prison programs. This time off is known as “earned sentence credits.” Affected inmates who previously received 4.5 days off their sentence for every 30 days they largely complied with prison rules instead got 15 days off . Effectively, this shrank their period of incarceration by nearly a quarter from what they otherwise would have served. Prisons have been emptied as a result: Virginia recently announced plans to close four state prisons in 2024.

Continue reading

A Veto-Proof Local Tax Hike Nearly Approved

Virginia sales tax rates: Light blue, 5.3%, green, 6%, dark blue, 6.3% and yellow 7%. All but the localities in dark blue would be allowed to add another 1% under this pending legislation. Click for larger view.

By Steve Haner

A bill likely to produce $1.6 billion or more in local sales tax increases is moving through the General Assembly with enough bipartisan votes to block any veto from the Governor, but differences remain between the House of Delegates and Senate versions.

Both House Bill 805 and Senate Bill 14 would allow all Virginia cities and counties, except for the handful which have already done so, to call a referendum on adding one more penny to the sales tax, a second percentage point dedicated to local school funding.

Several localities (dark blue on map) have held and approved such referenda already, authorized by legislation just for them since 2019. All the rest would be authorized to do so. How much money they might reap can be gleaned from this Tax Department report on what they already get from the 1% of the existing share of the tax returned to them for schools.  It would be the same or more.

The House version (House Bill 805 as it passed the House) remains narrower in scope than the Senate’s preferred language (House Bill 805 Senate Floor Substitute).  But the next step in the legislative ballet is for the full House to vote on that broader Senate version, and it might accept it.  Its own version received 69 votes, but only 51 votes are needed to accept the Senate substitute.

The broader Senate version was equally popular, however, with 27 votes. Those are enough votes in either chamber to override any effort by Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) to apply a veto. Continue reading

Contracting Out the Space Race

Photo credit: NASA

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Because the focus of this blog is on Virginia politics and public policy, I am loath to venture beyond those boundaries. However, I have recently become concerned about an issue (nonpartisan, I hope) that has ramifications beyond the Commonwealth. I am interested in the opinions of those on this blog who may have much more expertise in the issue than I have.

An American private company recently succeeded in landing a payload on the moon. This was the first American moon landing in 51 years. This feat highlights a change in space policy by the United States: the government has turned much of space activity over to the private sector.

The director of NASA’s planetary science division summarized this change in space policy this way:

This is a really a significant shift in how we do business. “The fact that NASA is not actually building or responsible directly for these missions or their launches is an opportunity to invest in the commercial industry to build a new capability. NASA can then purchase the delivery service, and the intent hopefully being that we can increase the frequency of deliveries and reduce the cost to NASA of doing science. Continue reading

What Is It with Democrats and Criminals?

by Kerry Dougherty

Elections have consequences.

And when Virginia voted last November to give Democrats a slim majority in the General Assembly they also voted to give almost 8,000 violent criminals a shot at getting back on the streets.

This ill-conceived measure – SB427 – is the evil brainchild of Sen. Creigh Deeds, who believes that juries and judges should be second-guessed once an inmate has served at least 25 years of his – it’s almost always a male – sentence.

News flash: any inmate who’s served that many years in prison is a bad dude. A murderer, a rapist or some other sort of vile reptile. These are not petty criminals or marijuana users.

(Deeds’ initial bill wanted to spring felons after 15 years behind bars, but he amended it.) Continue reading

The Grim Reapers of Virginia’s General Assembly

by Kerry Dougherty

When she was hospitalized in September 1998, my brother and I had a somber discussion with her physician. We asked how long our mother – who was clearly failing – would live.

“How long is a piece of string?” the doctor shrugged.

She died four days later.

I’ve been thinking about my mother, her suffering and her last years spent under a death sentence since I learned that Virginia Democrats are again pushing an assisted suicide law. Unlike earlier bills that died in committee, this one, introduced by Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, cleared the Senate’s health subcommittee, a first step toward becoming law.

This measure – SB280 – would allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication to patients who are determined to be terminally ill with less than six months to live.

As if that’s an exact science. Continue reading

New Admissions Policy for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology Will Stand

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear the appeal of the Coalition for Thomas Jefferson challenging the decision of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the changes in the admissions policy for the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.  The result is that the changes in the school’s admission policy adopted by the Fairfax County School Board in 2020 will stand.  Justices Thomas and Alito dissented from the decision not to grant certiorari.  (Their dissents begin on page 30 of the linked document.)

This issue has been discussed extensively on this blog.  For some background, see here.

Democrats Lose Concerns About Taxing the Poor

Econ 101 Quiz. Virginia Democrats are poised to raise the sales tax 1% in most localities, add digital products to the taxed services, and create a new payroll tax. How will those changes impact that chart? Click for larger view.

By Steve Haner

A piece of Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s tax package has survived after all, but only the part that increases the sales tax base to collect about $1 billion or so more per year from citizens. Democrats who recently complained that sales tax increases were unfair to the poor are suddenly embracing them. 

On Sunday, both the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates budget committees approved Youngkin’s budget language to impose the sales tax on a host of digital products and services, adding 6% or more to the prices of downloads, streaming services, and online data storage. The full range of newly taxed transactions is not yet clear. 

The Senate then increased the gain to the treasury by making sure the new taxes will also cover business-to-business transactions, something the governor sought to exempt and something which is just passed along in higher prices.  

The risk of including that tax policy initiative inside Youngkin’s introduced budget bill was obvious from the start, and General Assembly Democrats have now pounced on the opportunity to capture that revenue. The tax increase is now wrapped in with all the state spending for two years, a hard bill to vote against.   Continue reading

Partisan Poison: Va Dems Quash a Bill to Protect School Kids

Del. A.C. Cordoza

by Kerry Dougherty 

How exactly is Virginia’s General Assembly celebrating Black History Month?

By killing a bill to protect children in public school lavatories, introduced by Del. A.C. Cordoza of Hampton.

Cordoza is an African-American. And a Republican. He was famously denied membership in the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus when he was elected in 2022.

Sadly, to the caucus, he’s not the right kind of Black man. Because his views are on the right.

Cordoza claims his bill that would require school personnel to check bathrooms every 30 minutes would not require added personnel nor would it cost taxpayers a dime.

It was tabled, he told the Virginia Mercury, because he’s a Republican.

While the proposed legislation was not expected to impact state spending, Cordoza said his bill was still forwarded from the House Education Committee to the House Appropriations Committee for review. It died in that committee without a hearing.

“It’s sent there to die,” said Cordoza, “to die quietly because they don’t want the world to know that they’re killing a bill to protect little girls in the bathroom, but they want to make sure that a Black Republican is not the one who does it.” said Del. A.C. Cordoza, R-Hampton.

It’s actually a practical suggestion, given that there have been a number of assaults in several school bathrooms, and perhaps some that have not been reported. Having an adult stick his or her head in the lavatory every 30 minutes would certainly discourage bullies and sex offenders. Continue reading

In Their Own Words: Lanice Avery

Editor’s Note: To document the spread of “wokeness” — short-hand to describe the philosophy of intersectional oppression — The Jefferson Council has begun publishing profiles of University of Virginia faculty members in their own words. Not our words. Not our spin. Not our interpretation. Their words. — JAB 

Assistant Professor Lanice Avery has a joint appointment to the departments of Psychology and Women, Gender & Sexuality at the University of Virginia. Her research interests, she says on her university profile page, lie at “the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and media.” In her LinkedIn page, she describes herself as a “board-certified sexologist.” This semester she is teaching one course, on Black feminist theory.

In this post we highlight her work in her own words, both in writing and on video. (We have highlighted key phrases to show how her work conforms to the intersectional-oppression paradigm, commonly referred to as wokeness, that is increasingly prevalent at UVA.) From Avery’s university web profile:

She is interested in Black women’s intersectional identity development and how the negotiation of dominant gender ideologies and gendered racial stereotypes are associated with adverse psychological and sexual health outcomes…. Her work examines how exposure to gendered racism impacts Black women’s psycho-social development, and the contributing role of media (mainstream, digital, and social) use on Black women’s identity, self-esteem, victimization experiences, and mental health outcomes.

Continue reading

The Fight Against Invasives

Image credit: National Geographic

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

One fascinating aspect of the General Assembly is legislation that does not make headlines but is important to a fervent group of Virginians and that could have an impact on the state as a whole.

In recent years, the problem of invasive plants has gained the attention of legislators. In 2009, the General Assembly defined an invasive plant as one “that is not native to the ecosystem and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic harm or harm to human health.”

The requirement that an introduced plant must cause harm in order for it to be considered invasive is the key to the definition. That means the daffodils that are now adding some cheer to my backyard in the middle of winter are not invasive. On the other hand, the English ivy in my yard is invasive.

That statutory definition does not identify the specific plants that should be considered invasive. Consequently, there could be disagreements among “plant people” and confusion in the general public. Last year, the General Assembly directed the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to “create a list of invasive plant species” by January 1, 2024. It also prohibited any state agency from planting, selling, or propagating any plant on that list, except under narrowly defined situations. (The Virginia Mercury has described this years-long history in detail.) Continue reading

Progressive Legislators Declare “Profound Solidarity” with Criminals

from the Liberty Unyielding blog

Killings and violence have risen in the U.S. over the last decade, as some government officials have come to sympathize more with criminals than their victims. The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus recently said it is “in profound solidarity” with Virginia’s prison population, and that its members “work to dismantle the unjust criminal system.” They said the criminal-justice system has the “role of dehumanizing, abusing and punishing Black America.”

Thirty-two of Virginia’s 140 state legislators belong to the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, including the speaker of Virginia’s House of Delegates, Don Scott; the president pro tempore of the state Senate, Louise Lucas; the head of the House Appropriations Committee; and the head of the Senate Rules Committee.

On February 14, the VLBC issued a statement that began:

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus (VLBC) remains in profound solidarity with the 122,500 Virginians who are actively trapped in our state’s criminal justice system, nearly half of whom are Black. When slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment, it was qualified with “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” With that, mass incarceration was born and the criminal justice system absorbed the role of dehumanizing, abusing and punishing Black America. Continue reading

We’re Doctors. Implicit Bias Training Has No Place in Medicine.

by Martin Caplan, MD, and Kenneth Lipstock, MD

Apparently, Virginia’s doctors and nurses are racist.

This is the message of two bills that are moving through the state legislature. The bills would force medical professionals to take ongoing “implicit bias training” to get and keep their license. The problem is that such training is insulting, dangerous, and scientifically indefensible. It’s grounded in the false idea that people mistreat and even oppress others, especially those of a different race.

It’s a popular narrative, but there is no sound evidence to support it. What is clear is that if our lawmakers pass these bills, they’ll encourage racial division and tribalism, while undermining the medical profession and hurting patients who need our help. Continue reading

Floyd Judge Ponders Order to Return RGGI Tax

The states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative tax compact before Virginia withdrew.

By Steve Haner

A circuit court judge in Floyd County may soon order Virginia to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and to reimpose the related carbon tax on Virginia’s electricity consumers.

Judge Kenneth “Mike” Fleenor Jr. ruled earlier this month that a suit seeking reinstatement of RGGI could continue and held a hearing on February 5 on the question of “immediate relief.”  The plaintiff, a group of energy efficiency and insulation contractors using the RGGI tax dollars for their programs, has claimed it will suffer immediate and irreparable harm unless Virginia returns to collecting a carbon tax on coal and natural gas used by utilities.

The main impact of RGGI membership is on Virginia’s largest electricity provider, Dominion Energy Virginia, which simply passed the carbon tax directly on to customers on their monthly bills.  It stopped buying carbon allowances last year, but the bills had accumulated, so it is still charging customers.

Virginia’s Solicitor General Andrew Ferguson pointed out that the state bank account holding proceeds from the carbon tax collected in 2021, 2022 and 2023 still held $350 million and was only being expended at $30 million or so per month.  There should be enough to keep the plaintiff’s program going through 2024 as the case proceeds, he told the judge, according to a transcript of the hearing.

The plaintiff is the Association of Energy Conservation Professionals, with members who have been operating programs to insulate and weatherize properties using donated and government funds for almost 50 years.  It claims the RGGI dollars are the sole support for a particular program, but there are other funding sources for this work, including other money collected from utility customers.

Can an entity that benefits from a government spending program assert a right to maintain that spending program?  Once a tax funding a particular program is created, can it ever be repealed?  The contractors’ reliance on this stream of tax revenue has been recognized by two circuit courts now as sufficient standing to sue and demand reinstitution of the tax. Continue reading

A Traditional Conservative Issues Warning

Liz Cheney Photo credit: Richmond Forum

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Liz Cheney was in Richmond Saturday night delivering her warning about Donald Trump.

Cheney represented Wyoming in the U.S House of Representatives and held the No. 3 leadership position in the Republican caucus.  She served on the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.

Her speech was this month’s offering of The Richmond Forum, a long-running public subscription lecture series.  According to the president of The Forum, Cheney was booked about a year ago, before her high-profile role in the 2024 Presidential election campaign could have been known.

Cheney’s message was simple:  if elected President this year, Donald Trump will destroy constitutional democracy in the United States.

Another takeaway:  congressional Republicans have been infected by a “plague of cowardice.”

For her Virginia audience, Cheney had effusive praise for U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger.  She said that Spanberger was only the second Democrat she had ever endorsed.

Apparently, all the media outlets in the Richmond area were asleep.