Virginia’s Top Employment Cop Adds Enforcers

Virginia’s Powerful Top Employment Cop, Attorney General Mark R. Herring

By Steve Haner

The final state budget is still in negotiation, but it could add as many as five new enforcement staff to the Office of the Attorney General to seek out and prosecute discrimination in Virginia’s workplaces, using old and new definitions of what is prohibited. The price tag looks to be about $600,000 per year.

The Virginia Senate proposed budget amendments to that agency’s budget for three new people to enforce two pending Senate bills. The House of Delegates budget added five new lawyers and staff, based on its versions of those same two bills plus two additional bills granting the Attorney General new tasks and powers.

Some of the bills have been discussed previously on Bacon’s Rebellion. Both the House and Senate are passing versions of the Virginia Values Act (such as House Bill 1663 ) and both have bills to prohibit and punish discrimination against pregnant workers (see House Bill 827). That bill has not been discussed, but it creates the same opportunities for the aggrieved to sue in court for actual and punitive damages.

The bill forcing employers with 100 or more workers in Virginia to file detailed payroll data with that office, House Bill 624, was watered down in a Senate committee late Thursday before passing. It was sent to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, presumably to await the budget conference committee’s actions on the funding.  Other House versions of these bills rest with the same committee.

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From Diversity Training Sessions to Political Re-Education Camp

John Beatty — submit or be crushed

by James A. Bacon

Loudoun public school officials thought it would be a good idea to provide “cultural competency and sensitivity” training to teachers, administrators and school board members. As described by LoudounNow, the county rolled out a workshop series designed to “push participants outside their comfort zone” and “question their belief systems.” In particular, participants were “forced to grapple with the benefits afforded them from generations of white privilege, stretching back to America’s earlier days.”

Last week, board member John Beatty made the mistake of actually participating in the conversation. He made the observation that in the Jim Crow era following Reconstruction former slaves were worse off than they had been during slavery because they lacked the patronage of a master. The comment was meant to be an indictment of Jim Crow, not an endorsement of slavery, but it ignited a firestorm.

Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee Chairwoman Katrece Nolen and Executive Board member Wande Oshode found his observation so heinous that they called for him to be removed from two school board committees and asked the full board to condemn his comments. Continue reading

Minimum Wage and Medical Insurance

Question of the Day: If Virginia enacts a minimum wage increase, how many employers will respond by cutting fringe benefits like medical insurance?

Kennon Morris, president of the Virginia Forest Products Association, raises the concern in a Free Lance-Star op-ed today. Here’s his prediction of what would happen in rural Virginia: The minimum wage “would force many businesses to shut down, cut jobs, or hire part-time workers without benefits.”

Foes of the minimum-wage hike have focused mainly on the impact on jobs. But employers may choose other ways to control costs. One possibility is scrapping company-subsidized health plans — encouraging employees enroll in Medicaid or buy Obamacare. I would love to see an analysis of how many workers potentially would be affected and what the fiscal impact on state and federal government would be if thousands suddenly became medical wards of the state.

— JAB

Will the Tuition Incentive Work a Second Time?

Data Source: Virginia Department of Planning & Budget

by James A. Bacon

In a gambit to hold the line on the rising cost of college attendance, the General Assembly last year budgeted $52.5 in incentives to be distributed to higher-ed institutions that froze in-state tuition increases. It worked. Governing boards of every institution agreed to hold steady on tuition and mandatory fees. This year lawmakers in the House of Delegates are hoping for a repeat, proposing a comparable incentive: $111.8 million spread over two years.

Governor Ralph Northam did not include the sum in his proposed budget, however, nor did the state Senate in the budget it passed last week. The fate of the initiative will be worked out in the Senate-House budget conference.

“If passed, three straight years of tuition freezes would give Virginians a chance to play financial catch-up when it comes to the share of household income they’ve been spending on college education,” James Toscano, president of the Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Continue reading

State Senate Saves the Commonwealth. Again.

by Kerry Dougherty

Here’s a morsel of good news from Richmond: Virginia will not be joining the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact movement.

This year, anyway.

For the second time in 10 days a State Senate committee saved us from extreme bills that had already passed the drunk-with-power House of Delegates.

First, it was the vague assault weapons bill, which would have turned thousands of law-abiding Virginia gun owners into felons. That proposal was scrapped, thanks to four bold Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee who sided with their GOP colleagues.

This week, the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee tabled — for this session, anyway –– HB177, a measure that would have relinquished Virginia’s sovereignty to California and New York by awarding our electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote in presidential elections. Continue reading

The Legal Corruption of COPN

Sentara: Monolith

by James C. Sherlock

I have been asked to give examples of the corruption of administration of the Certificate of Public Need (COPN) law and show how it has created and supports regional monopolies. I have chosen as my example COPN Planning District 20 which is my home area of south Hampton Roads, the cities of Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Suffolk and Portsmouth, home to more than 1.2 million people.

Sentara Health and its massive vertically integrated health system thoroughly dominate this area and the COPN process here.

Sentara has five general hospitals in south Hampton Roads: two in Norfolk, two in Virginia Beach and one in Suffolk. Portsmouth’s hospital is Bon Secours Maryview. Bon Secours also operates DePaul hospital in Norfolk. Chesapeake’s general hospital is state-chartered Chesapeake Regional Medical Center.

Bon Secours and Chesapeake Regional combined have lost money for years on their hospital operations here while Sentara hospitals have operated at double digit margins. In 2017, Sentara’s five hospitals made 87% of the operating revenue of the entire corporation. Continue reading

SCC Raises Estimate of Clean Energy Bill Costs

By Steve Haner

The State Corporation Commission staff popped up in a House of Delegates Committee Tuesday to provide another unwelcome lecture, with revised estimates on the likely cost to Dominion Energy Virginia customers of the pending omnibus clean energy legislation.

The numbers it provided to the House Labor and Commerce Committee Tuesday afternoon were higher than the estimate it provided in a Senate Committee two weeks before. That first document provided a range of from $23 to $31 per month more on 1,000 kilowatt hours of residential use. Now the SCC is saying the range is $28 to $36 per month, or $334 to $432 per year. Here’s the sheet, which looks much like the prior one. The big addition is an estimate of $4-6 per month for future energy storage.

The legislation in question, styled by proponents as the Virginia Clean Energy Economy Act, is heading for a conference committee to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions. In a Senate committee Monday afternoon, the first step in that process drew no commentary. But the procedural vote in the House committee turned into a long debate once the SCC provided its analysis.   Continue reading

More Mobile Homes, Please

Smitty’s Mobile Home Park in Norfolk

by James A. Bacon

The good news is that the poverty lobby has recognized that mobile home parks provide a valuable source of affordable housing in Virginia. The bad news is that… the poverty lobby wants to help.

There are about 600 mobile home parks in Virginia. The average sales price for a single-width mobile home is about $53,000 (not including lots), a fraction of the $280,000 median price for a single-family house. These parks provide affordable housing for tens of thousands of Virginians — more than 11,400 in Central Virginia alone.

One way to approach mobile homes in Virginia is to say, “Fantastic! A source of affordable housing. How can we open up more land for development of mobile home parks? How can we increase the supply and give poor people more options for where to live and whom to rent or buy land from?”

Another way to approach mobile homes is to look at the negatives. It turns out that many are in disrepair. Figure that — homes owned by poor people are in disrepair. Not only that, Christie Marra, director of housing advocacy at the Virginia Poverty Law Center, tells Virginia Public Media (VPM), many trailer parks have less than desirable surroundings. “They didn’t have street lights, they didn’t have paved roads, they didn’t have up-to-date electricity or sewer systems.” Continue reading

COVID-19: How Prepared Is Virginia?

by James A. Bacon

Yesterday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement on the COVID-19 coronavirus, warning that the highly infectious respiratory illness could spread to the United States. The disease, which has a long latency period and can be spread without people knowing it, continued to defy efforts to contain it in China, and now has erupted in South Korea, Japan, Italy, and other countries. In the absence of any mechanism yet to accurately detect the virus, it seems inevitable in today’s globally connected world that the bug eventually will inundate the U.S. Based on the limited data available, the mortality rate could run as high as 2% (although there are reasons to think that figure may be high). As investors absorbed the implications of the global pandemic for the economy, the DOW Jones Industrial Average shed 2,000 points yesterday.

There is a thin line between taking basic precautions and engaging in fear-mongering. There is no need (yet) to panic. But it would be prudent to give some thought to how we might prepare for the inevitable.

Americans instinctively turn to the federal government for leadership in a crisis like this. But the CDC makes it clear that state and local governments must play an important role in containing the spread of the disease. It is not too early for Virginians to begin asking Governor Ralph Northam what measures the Commonwealth is preparing to take when the virus reaches the Old Dominion. Continue reading

Who Regulates the “Business” of Healthcare in Virginia?

by James C. Sherlock

Understanding the relationships between healthcare and government oversight in Virginia requires distinguishing between the business of healthcare and the practice of medicine.

In Virginia, the Department of Health regulates the practice of medicine. The State Corporation Commission regulates the business of health insurance. No agency of the administration has the authority to regulate the business activities of healthcare providers. The Attorneys General, who have the power to reign in the most obvious abuses, have looked the other way. Virginians have for generations paid the costs.

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has been responsible for the administration of Certificate of Public Need (COPN) since its inception in 1973. The law itself is bad enough without feckless administration. But without any legislative mandate to do so and at the urging of incumbents, VDH used COPN to create and protect regional monopolies everywhere but Richmond, where their employees live. Continue reading

One Small Victory for Sanity? Maybe Not

by James A. Bacon

Finally, an issue that transcends the partisan and ideological divide. Both the state Senate and House of Delegates have unanimously passed a bill to allow public and elementary school teachers to… drum roll… carry their own sunscreen. Wait, there’s more. Teachers also will be allowed to apply their own sunscreen!

The General Assembly may be as divided as ever on taxes, energy policy, guns, minimum wage and public-sector unions, but lawmakers concur that it’s good public policy to permit teachers to use sunscreen. Continue reading

More Angst over SOQ

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Although I am not happy about it, I am going to join, at least temporarily, this blog’s critics of newspapers.  Today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch has an article that is significantly slanted and ignores an important aspect of the subject being covered.

The article deals with the funding proposals in the General Assembly for K-12 education. In the print version, the sub-headline reads: “Budgets from each chamber will not fully finance new state standards for schools.” Throughout the article, there are references to the “revised Standards of Quality prescribed by the Board of Education” as well as to the state constitution’s requirement that the legislature “find the money to pay for the SOQ.” After reading this article, one has the distinct impression that the General Assembly is violating its constitutional duty by not providing the funds needed to pay for the revised SOQ (approximately $1 billion annually) that the board adopted last fall. (For a detailed description of these changes, see my earlier post here.) Continue reading

Getting to a Greener World with a Win-Win Agenda

by James A. Bacon

Climate Change Alarmism is out of control. We’re being told that we have ten years to re-engineer the global energy economy or the world will reach a tipping point after which it will inevitably descend into an apocalyptic climate meltdown. A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post published an article observing that “Kids are terrified, anxious, and depressed about climate change.” Climate Alarm is feeding the anxieties of an entire generation of Greta Thunbergs, who think they have no future worth living.

There’s just no escaping it. Today we read in the Washington Post an op-ed by Parris N. Glendening, a former Maryland governor and now president of Smart Growth America’s Leadership Institute, arguing that states (including Virginia) in the Northeast should joint the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector. His rhetoric isn’t alarmist, but he advances a sweeping agenda. Not only does Glendening want more bike lanes, more walkable communities, more mass transit, and more charging stations for Electric Vehicles, he wants Americans to pay more to get them sooner than we otherwise might. Continue reading

In Memory of a Great (West) Virginian

By Peter Galuszka

Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson, a pioneering and brilliant African-American mathematician whose on-the-money calculations kept early astronauts alive, died Monday at the age 101. She spent most of her life in Hampton and worked for NASA there until she retired in 1986.

Her life and that of two other female African-American mathematicians from NASA, were portrayed in the 2016 film “Hidden Figures. Last year, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Ms. Johnson was born in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va, where she was able to develop her talents despite the restrictions of the Jim Crow era. In the Mountain State at one point, public education was not provided to black people from high school on. So, her Father moved the family to the town of Institute where a high school was available. She graduated summa cum laude From West Virginia State, a historically black school, in 1937 when she was 18 with degrees in math and French.

For years she moved in and out of education, teaching at a school In Marion. Va. and continuing her studies. She moved permanently when her husband found work in Hampton. Continue reading

“Insane” Virginia Bill Will Endanger Kids

by Kerry Dougherty

Just when you thought the new left-wing majority in Richmond couldn’t get any crazier, they do this: Abolish the requirement that school principals report to law enforcement any student who commits sexual battery.

Boneheaded. Dangerous, too.

There’s more.

If HB257 becomes law school administrators will no longer be required to call the cops when a student engages in stalking, assault and battery, threatens school personnel or threatens the school itself.

This soft-on-young-criminals approach has its roots in an Obama policy aimed at ending the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline” that supposedly begins when kids engaging in minor criminal acts at school are turned over to the police and embark on a life of crime.

Of course, many of us don’t consider sexual battery minor. Nor do we shrug off threats made against a school. (Assault and battery could include fighting. No need to involve law enforcement for every minor skirmish. If it escalates, however, if a kid is seriously hurt, authorities should be summoned.) Continue reading