Renters Didn’t Make the Governor’s List

by James C. Sherlock

I just completed a survey of the 50 states to see how many of their legislatures were in regular session or special sessions called to deal with COVID issues between April 1 and August 15, 2020.

That 4.5-month period started when enough was known about COVID to start taking legislative action to back up Governors’ emergency decrees. It ends just before Virginia’s General Assembly will convene in special session to deal with COVID-related measures and other issues.

Thirty-eight of the 50 state legislatures have been either in regular session during that period or in special sessions called to deal with the COVID emergency.

Virginia is one of the 12 whose legislatures have not been in session. The others are Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and West Virginia. Continue reading

Fool Me Once

By James C. Sherlock

I want every tenant who cannot pay his rent because of COVID to be able to stay in his home. I want every landlord who supports them to be paid for their forbearance so they can pay their own bills.

This post starts with both of those goals in mind.

It is about a Governor and a Virginia Supreme Court who created horrible judicial precedents that never needed to happen.

Jim Bacon’s column this morning well summarized the issues with the Virginia Supreme Court’s August 7 order: IN RE: AMENDMENT OF EIGHTH ORDER EXTENDING DECLARATION OF JUDICIAL EMERGENCY IN RESPONSE TO COVID-19 EMERGENCY.

That order reimposed until September 7 a previous Supreme Court denial of residential landlords’ access to the courts to gain adjudication of unlawful detainer actions by tenants accused of failure to pay rent and it banned eviction orders on that same basis.

The Governor and the General Assembly

Governor Northam has been hesitant to call the General Assembly into session because he cannot ultimately control what legislators do when they meet. Republicans and some Democrats appear poised to try to limit, especially in duration, some his virtually unlimited emergency authorities under Virginia law. When written, the drafters of that law simply did not imagine an emergency that would last for more than a month or two.

Continue reading

No Equal Justice for Landlords

The Virginia State Supreme Court extended yesterday the judicial moratorium on eviction proceedings for another 28 days. The split decision prompted a blistering rebuke from D. Arthur Kelsey, which L. Steven Emmert summarized yesterday in the post below, republished here from his blog, Virginia Appellate News & Analysis. — JAB

Today the court responds to the Governor’s request for reimposition of the judicial moratorium on eviction proceedings. A bare majority of the court grants that relief, suspending the issuance of writs of eviction from August 10 (that’s next Monday) through September 7, a period of 28 days. The moratorium only applies to writs sought for nonpayment of rent; a landlord can still evict a tenant who has breached a lease agreement in other ways.

With two exceptions, all previous judicial-emergency order have been unanimous. The exceptions are the first, issued March 16, where the chief justice acted before he could consult his colleagues; and the June 8 modification to the fifth order. That one cites “the agreement of a majority of the Justices of this Court,” and also suspended writs of eviction, among other landlord remedies. The order didn’t state which members of the court didn’t go along.

Today the court names names. Justice Mims signs the two-page order for his colleagues, Justices Goodwyn, Powell, and McCullough. This majority notes that the pandemic fits the definition of a disaster, since the Code defines that term to include a  “communicable disease of public health threat.” It goes on to note that that statute is triggered when the disaster substantially impedes the ability of citizens to avail themselves of the court system. The court accordingly does as the Governor had requested, in the terms that I mention above. Continue reading

More Evidence Demolishing the Oppression Narrative

by James A. Bacon

Hamilton Lombard has posted some fascinating data on the University of Virginia Demographic Research blog, Stat Chat, that illuminates the income gap between whites and blacks. For Lombard’s spin on the data he presents, I suggest that you read his commentary here. It’s different from my take. I wouldn’t say that his interpretation and mine are in conflict, but I don’t want to imply that he would necessarily agree what I’m writing here.

The black-white income gap. The first point worth noting is that between 1950 and 1970 (inside the magenta circle in the chart above), when blacks’ economic opportunities were curtailed by segregated institutions, the gap between black and white incomes narrowed significantly. In the 50 years since then, the income gap between blacks and non-blacks has not budged.

“The fact that the income gap for Black Virginians has not changed considerably since 1970 is particularly notable,” writes Lombard, “because the intention of the Civil Rights Era reforms and the Great Society programs that have existed since the late 1960s are in large part to help close the income gap.” Continue reading

What if COVID-19 Never Goes Away?

by James A. Bacon

Here’s a question my wife and I have been asking ourselves recently: What if COVID-19 doesn’t go away?

From the beginning of the epidemic, we assumed that we (along with the rest of the country) were enduring a temporary inconvenience. We’d hunker down, restrict our social interactions, wear masks in indoor public places, avoid airplanes, and the like, and in a few months — by the end of the year at latest — it would be over and we could return to normal.

Now it is August, and the virus is spreading with no sign of respite. Our thinking has swung to the other extreme. We’re wondering, what if nothing works? What if the much-touted vaccinations are only partially effective? What if antibodies confer only temporary immunity? What if the virus mutates? What if all our efforts at “flattening the curve” do nothing but delay the inevitable and everyone — including us, and those we love — gets exposed to COVID-19 eventually?

Will there ever be a return to “normal”? And, if not, how long can we sustain the partial shutdown of our economy, the shuttering of public school buildings, the gusher of government red ink, and the helicoptering of relief dollars, all of which were predicated on the assumption that the virus would be tamed and all emergency responses would be temporary? Continue reading

Why Have Nursing Home Outbreaks Continued?

by Carol J. Bova

In a July 29 tele-press conference, Dr. Norman Oliver, Virginia’s Commissioner of Health, said, “We’ve made a concerted effort at testing in nursing homes and other congregate settings. … We’ve done 456 such point prevalence surveys [PPS] covering all of our skilled nursing facilities and correctional facilities.”

As of June 5th, the Department of Health had recorded 224 outbreaks with 5,230 cases in long term care facilities (LTCF) — nursing homes, assisted living and group homes — and 30 outbreaks in correctional facilities with 1,568 cases.

By August 5th there were 100 more outbreaks with 3,090 additional cases in nursing homes and similar facilities, and 18 more in correctional facilities with another 1330 cases.

That’s a total of 372 facility outbreaks, 11,218 cases, from the 456 facilities where PPS testing was carried out. There have been no recent statements on what impact the PPS testing had in reducing cases. Did the testing come too late in the pandemic, or did outbreaks occur in spite of the testing because of infection control failures? Continue reading

BE HEARD Act Could Cripple Virginia Small Businesses

How about a law banning government harassment and hostile business climates?

by Hans Bader

Small businesses in Virginia could face a very different business climate next year due to Joe Biden’s support for laws like the BE HEARD Act. It could easily become law if Democrats take control of Congress and the presidency (as most pollsters expect).

Under the BE HEARD Act, even the tiniest employers with only one or two employees will face unlimited liability in lawsuits, for things like discrimination, or harassment committed by an employee. It would also redefine sexual harassment in an overly broad and confusing way that could lead to small businesses being liable for trivial acts or comments by an employee. These small businesses would also be liable for attorneys fees that could dwarf what they end up paying workers who sue them.

Right now, small businesses in Virginia aren’t covered by most federal discrimination laws like Title VII, unless they have at least 15 employees. This doesn’t mean they can get away with being racist. If they intentionally discriminate based on race, they can be sued under a federal race discrimination law that covers even the smallest employers, 42 U.S.C. 1981. And if they fire someone for a non-race-based reason — such as their sex, age, or religion — they can be sued under Virginia state law, if they have more than five employees (although punitive damages in such lawsuits are limited to $350,000.) Continue reading

Bashing the Beach

by Kerry Dougherty

I love Virginia Beach. This cul-de-sac by the sea has been home since 1984.

We locals might complain about the place — greedy developers, corrupt politicians, no waves — but we don’t much like elitist outsiders blowing into town and bashing us after they leave.

And that’s just what one man did when he penned a hit piece on the Resort City this week for Forbes.

Why Forbes published this drivel is a mystery. I suspect it fit a certain narrative.

The story was headlined “A Trip To Virginia Beach Showed Why We Aren’t Beating This Virus,” but a more accurate header would have been “Rich Guy Visits Virginia Beach And Spends Entire Trip Counting Masks.”

The author launched his diatribe this way (boldface is mine):

CV101 started when we parked near the beach. We donned our masks and stepped out of the car, and immediately noticed that almost no one else was wearing a mask. Now, it was a sunny and warm day and we didn’t see big crowds or lack of reasonable distancing. But coming from the DC Metro where wearing a mask is the norm and not wearing mask is likely to get you accosted, this was surprising to us.

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How To Lessen the November 3 Polling Train Wreck

By Steve Haner

If the state and the major political parties do not spend substantial time educating voters about how voting rules have changed, and what has not changed, the lines and delays on November 3 will be incredible.  This voter education must start now. The Northam Administration is not known for effective communication, sadly.

The Virginia Public Access Project has posted a useful illustrated “how to” on voting absentee by mail, pointing to some things which have changed. But even it glosses over something key that has not changed: To apply on-line for an absentee ballot by mail, you still need to provide formal identification.

The first request in the on-line application is for your Virginia driver’s license number. Lacking that, it seeks some other numbered state-issued identification. You must also provide your Social Security number. Requesting and actually checking the voter’s data provides some assurance ballots will be mailed to real persons at their actual addresses.

The additional safety procedure of requiring the signature of a witness to that ballot, however, is under assault in the courts again. It was waived in June and the pandemic is still with us. Waiving it again simply feeds the claims that the process cannot be trusted.  Continue reading

The Tide of Protests Has Crested

Judging by the number of local requests for state assistance, the George Floyd-inspired protest movements are losing momentum. This chart documents the number of incidents since Governor Ralph Northam declared a State of Emergency “in response to widespread First Amendment protests and civil arrest.”

The chart comes from a euphemistically named “First Amendment Events” dashboard maintained by the Virginia Emergency Support Team, the outfit that mans the Virginia Emergency Operations Center. (The chart labels are is confusing. The “June” label appears to mark the end of the month, not the beginning.)

Continue reading

Good Schools as Rural Development Magnets

The Duncansville One-Room School Museum in Washington County.

by James A. Bacon

An enduring question in Virginia’s economic development community is how to revitalize the state’s rural counties. Traditional rural industries such as farming, mining, timbering, and light manufacturing are shrinking. Young people are leaving to seek better career opportunities elsewhere, and few people are moving in to replace them. A contracting workforce is not conducive to recruiting entrepreneurs and corporate investment.

Some commentators (I’m one of them) have suggested that rural counties build on their natural amenities such as bays, lakes, and mountains, to attract retirees and tourists. But not all counties are blessed with scenic beauty and recreational resources.

There is one policy lever that rural leaders do control, however, and that is K-12 education. Newly published research by Alexander Marré with the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank and Anil Rupasingha with the U.S. Department of Agriculture concludes that good schools encourage in-migration.

“Our results suggest that for the 2005–2009 time period, the quality of schools—as measured by the share of high school dropouts and nationally benchmarked mathematics and reading test scores—had a positive pull effect on migration to nonmetropolitan counties,” write the authors in an article published in the Journal of Regional Science. “Schools with better outcomes appear to draw in new in‐migrants, even after taking into account the fact that higher‐quality schools are more likely to be located in areas with higher median incomes.” Continue reading

So It’s Not “About the Children” After All

by James C. Sherlock

The Chesterfield Education Association (CEA), a local unit affiliated with the National Education Association, is pushing back hard against a plan to have school employees report to their schools in order to use school facilities and support systems to professionalize remote instruction to their students. (According to the CEA president, the organization currently represents between 28% and 30% of the school system’s teachers, counselors and principals.)

The school district wants to ensure that the failed experiment with remote instruction in the spring is not replicated this fall. In-school platforms for remote instruction guarantee supervision and technical support.

From the Chesterfield Observer August 6, 2020:

“(Chesterfield School Superintendent) Daugherty assured the Board of Supervisors last month that all Chesterfield teachers would be required to work from their school buildings when they return from summer break – unlike last spring, when many teachers struggled to facilitate delivery of a hastily crafted virtual curriculum while working remotely following Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive order closing all Virginia schools.

Since then, however, the School Board has received pushback from employees who don’t think they should have to work in school buildings if students aren’t present.

Last Friday, the Chesterfield Education Association recommended that all CCPS employees with documented health risks, those who have to provide supervision of their own children, and those who simply prefer to work remotely be given the option to do so.

Continue reading

About that Shiny New Contact Tracing App…

by Kerry Dougherty

After months of being next to last nationally – in COVID-19 testing – Virginia is finally first in something:

A brand new contact tracing app.

Yippee!

“Virginia officials on Wednesday launched a smartphone app that uses Bluetooth technology to alert people when they have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19,” reports The Richmond Times-Dispatch. 

“The app, COVIDWISE, is the result of a collaborative project between Google and Apple, which have been in talks with Virginia and other states to develop and roll out the app for months.

“Virginia on Wednesday became the first state to fully launch an app with this particular platform.”

The governor unveiled the app along with a public relations campaign: “Add Your Phone To The COVID Fight” to persuade Virginians to download the free software that will alert them when they’ve been in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus, even if that contact was weeks earlier. Continue reading

Dueling Biographies

I present here two readable accounts of Robert E. Lee, his tenure as president of Washington College, and his claims upon the modern imagination. The first was written by Washington & Lee journalism professor Toni Locy in a piece published in The Nation magazine, and the second by Al Eckes, W&L class of 1964, in an essay distributed by the General’s Redoubt, an ad hoc group of W&L grads formed to preserve Lee’s legacy at the university. The second essay includes a brief refutation of key points in Locy’s piece by Rex Wooldridge, secretary of the General’s Redoubt.

The essays are fascinating on two grounds: first for learning about a little-known phase of Lee’s life during a traumatic time of Virginia’s history, and second for the dueling interpretations of the man from a 21st century perspective. You will likely find much in both essays about the man and his times that you didn’t know before. I urge you to read them in tandem, and then decide for yourself whether Lee is worthy or not of being honored today.

— JAB

Still Asking: Who Is NAH LLC?

Jim Bacon talks to John Reid with WRVA’s Richmond Morning News about NAH LLC, its $1.8 million contract to take down the Confederate statues, the mystery of who owns the company, and whether Mayor Levar Stoney followed proper procurement policy in hiring the company.