Virginia’s State Health System Will Continue to Kill its Citizens If We Let It

by James C. Sherlock

Dr. Northam

Virginians of every political stripe have grown very tired of watching the Northam administration obfuscate repeated, very public failures to carry out its role in protecting the health of its citizens since the onset of COVID.

But that is an effect, not a cause, of the massive and continuing failures at the state level to protect the public health.

A parade of failures

The bigger problems — incompetence in the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), lack of management oversight by the Governor and his appointees and political indifference driven in part by political corruption — go back as far as I can remember.

The very latest is COVID vaccinations. VDH has known for 9 months that it would have to lead the internal distribution within the state of vaccines and oversee a program to make sure they get into peoples arms. That is going so well that we are 48th in efficiency of vaccinations.

Before that it was the state’s failure to read much less practice the state emergency pandemic plan that was written at federal expense by federal contractors more than a decade ago; failure to maintain the state emergency stockpile that it called for; failure to effectively inspect for hospital and nursing home pandemic readiness prior to COVID; failure to appropriately manage COVID personal protection equipment distribution; delays and corruption in the program for COVID testing in nursing homes; failure to even acknowledge the attempted hostile takeover of EVMS; failure to support Health Enterprise Zones to improve access by the poor to primary care; VDH’s use of its role in COPN to create regional hospital monopolies and restrict the number of beds; severe and very costly restriction of the establishment ambulatory surgical centers under COPN; the list goes on. Continue reading

Court Fines and the Poverty Trap

Highest Fines & Fees in Areas with Most Black Residents. Source: The Commonwealth Institute

by James A. Bacon

Court-imposed fines and fees set poverty traps, disproportionately burden black communities, and “affront basic notions of equal protection under the law,” asserts The Commonwealth Institute (CI), a center-left think tank, in a new report, “Set Up to Fail.”

Fines and fees relating to traffic and criminal cases amount to less than $200 million in fiscal 2019, a modest sum in the context of Virginia’s $70 billion budget, says the report, but they lock people into cycles of debt they cannot escape. “Unpaid court debt, even when resulting from low-level offenses, often leads to additional costs, court hearings, wage garnishments, and even deductions from state tax refunds.”

The use of fines and fees does not afflict all poor Virginians equally, contends the Institute. “Race — explicitly or implicitly — is a factor that influences the level at which fines and fees are imposed. … Fines and fees are imposed at the highest rates in areas with the largest percentages of Black Virginians.”

I think it is fair to say that CI has highlighted a real social problem. Poor people in Virginia do get caught in cycles of fines, fees, unpaid debt, compounding interest, and second-round punishments and fees stemming from the first. In a related problem, not related in this report, courts often take away peoples’ driving licenses as punishment for their inability to repay the fines, thus hindering their ability to generate an income. But is race really a factor? CI’s case is much weaker. Continue reading

COVID Vaccine Distribution: What Can Virginia Learn from Florida?

Image used with permission of Coastal Cloud

Fiasco. From the start, Florida prioritized anybody 65 or older into its top tier for receiving the COVID vaccine. Virginia initially limited early access to the vaccine to those 75 and over. Last Thursday Gov Northam announced that Virginia would include people 65 and over in the current distribution of vaccines. That adds 9.5% of Virginia’s population, or 810,920 Virginians, to the “eligible now” list. What can Virginia learn from Florida about distributing the vaccines to a larger percentage of the population?

Florida’s initial efforts to distribute the COVID vaccine were widely described as a fiasco. Newspapers featured pictures of senior citizens in long lines waiting to get vaccinated. Just registering for a vaccination appointment was chaotic. Registration call centers were overwhelmed. CNN described the registration process as haphazard. If Florida is a benchmark … Virginia will soon enter the “chaos zone.” However, there is good news from Florida that could help Virginia. A Florida based technology company, Coastal Cloud, has started managing vaccine appointments using an application built on Salesforce.Com. I interviewed the husband-and-wife team that founded Coastal Cloud yesterday and they explained how their company is helping four counties in Florida get a handle on the scheduling of COVID vaccinations. Continue reading

The House of Delegates’ Hidden Pay Raise

Like last year, members of the House of Delegates will get to pocket $211 daily per diems for attending the General Assembly — even though they’ll be sitting in virtually and incurring no meal and lodging expenses. Reports Virginia Public Media:

The so-called “session payment” rate is pegged to federal estimates of Richmond meal and hotel prices. Unlike formal per diems normally given to lawmakers who travel to Richmond during session, the 2021 payments are subject to taxes.

The payments are separate from part-time delegates’ annual salary ($17,640), office stipend ($15,000 for most delegates) and compensation for non-session meetings ($300 for a half-day, $400 for a full day). Each lawmaker’s legislative assistant will also collect the $211. Del. Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) and Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) have declined the payments, according to Elizabeth Mancano, the House’s chief communications officer.

In a 30-day General Assembly session, the back-door pay raise amounts to about $6,000. Continue reading

Governor’s Spox Deflects Blame for Vaccine Rollout

by Kerry Dougherty

Uh-oh. Seems Virginia’s governor and his staff are a bit touchy about the commonwealth’s desultory COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

They ought to be apologizing.

As the rest of the country manages to open 24/7 vaccine centers, the Old Dominion — the only state with a medical doctor in the Governor’s Mansion — has fallen to 48th in the rate of vaccine use. A week ago, we were 38th.

This is especially worrisome because, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch, the feds will be releasing future batches of the vaccine based on how quickly the states use the ones they have.

Lucky us.

Northam and his minions can’t blame this on Donald Trump, either. States are in charge  of deciding how the vaccine will be administered and Virginia’s total lack of preparation is embarrassing. Continue reading

Virginia Pay Bill Will Be a Nightmare for Some Small Employers

by Hans Bader

Pay regulations that are a manageable hassle for the biggest employers can be a nightmare for small employers. One example is SB 1228, a bill pending in the Virginia legislature. If enacted, it would keep employers from setting employee pay based on employees’ past wages, even though wages are usually a sign of what an employee is worth, and often reveal more about an employee’s role in a company than the employee’s mere job title reveals. It would forbid any employer in Virginia, regardless of size, to “rely on the wage history of a prospective employee” in determining the employee’s wage. It would also forbid them from seeking “the wage history of a prospective employee.”

Since federal law permits such wage-setting, and small businesses often don’t have lawyers, some small businesses will likely get sued for violating it, before they even learn about the existence of this law.

SB 1228 also defines certain pay differences as discrimination even when they are unlikely to be due to bias — especially when they occur at small employers, where such pay differences affect only an isolated number of employees, and thus are statistically insignificant. SB 1228 requires pay equity for businesses of all sizes, for all protected classifications — not just sex, but also marital status, religion, race, disability, etc. Continue reading

A Last-Ditch Effort to Improve Regulatory Balance

By Steve Haner

In a matter of weeks, Dominion Energy Virginia is expected to initiate the long-awaited review of its revenues, expenses, and profits in front of the State Corporation Commission, the first since 2015. A series of bills in recent years has set rules for that process which constrain the SCC’s discretion and fix the game in the utility’s favor.

Behind the smoke and mirrors, Dominion’s goals were clearly discernable: Despite growing profits, prevent any reduction in base rates. Keep the base rates unchanged even though more and more operating costs were being moved over to activity-specific rate adjustment clauses. Limit or eliminate the threat of major refunds to customers. Somehow, every bill ended up accomplishing those things for the utility.

Efforts in 2020 to return the regulatory rules to their pre-2007, or even pre-2015 status, and restore some lost SCC flexibility, were mostly unsuccessful. Is it therefore too late to change a rate case about to start? Bills that pass in the 2021 General Assembly go into effect in July, unless they are emergency bills that need super majority votes. There likely is not a super majority ready to dismantle the Rube Goldberg machine built to protect Dominion’s stockholders.

But a simple enactment clause may be able to reach back and change the rules on the rate case. It was attached to a successful bill in 2020 and the SCC recognized the statutory change in the similar rate case for Appalachian Power Company, which also had begun before the July 1 enactment date.  If the General Assembly clearly expresses an ex post facto intent, it can be valid.  Continue reading

Restructuring Higher Ed for Greater Produktivität

Pre-COVID, the UVa Kaffeestunde met every week. German speakers of all levels hung out to sprechen deutsch.

by James A. Bacon

Last month the University of Virginia Board of Visitors approved a recommendation to eliminate the M.A. and PhD programs in the Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures. While UVa students retained a healthy appetite for learning to read and speak in German, only a few showed an interest in plumbing the depths of German literature.

The scaling back of the German department, which offered advanced courses in such authors as Freud and Kafka last semester, was part of a larger restructuring of UVa’s graduate foreign-language program. The board also voted to eliminate the M.A. program in Italian and the B.A. in Comparative Literature.

Whether the rollbacks result in a reduction in the number of courses, staff or expenses is as yet unknown. The University is “still assessing” the impact of the cutbacks, says spokesman Brian Coy. “Because the University makes a practice of fully supporting doctoral students, we expect the termination of the PhD in German to result in some small savings, however other changes within the department have not been made.” Continue reading

Everything Here Is Exactly As It Seems

James Lane
Superintendent of Public Instruction

by James C. Sherlock

I just reviewed the newest Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) CYA buck- passing disguised as K-12 school reopening guidelines. Interesting.

It consists of a page of “indicators” followed by two pages of “considerations” and then seven pages of multivariable decision matrices called “steps” which together can help produce a decision. Or not. But it is carefully tailored so that whatever decision is reached, it cannot be blamed on the VDOE.

What could go wrong? And what would we do without a Department of Education? Continue reading

Live by the Sword

Del. Jerrauld C. Jones. Credit: Washington Post

by James C. Sherlock.

This is a follow up to Jim Bacon’s story about Levar Stoney, his contributor and city statue removal contractor, credible accusations of corruption and Attorney General Herring.

From the Washington Washington Post:

“In what may become a heated Democratic primary contest for Virginia attorney general, state Del. Jerrauld C. “Jay” Jones Friday attacked Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) Friday for authorizing an investigation into allegations of impropriety surrounding Richmond’s mayor — a standard move in an ongoing court case that Jones called a Trump-like abuse of power. “Using the office of the Attorney General to investigate your political opponents is the same tactic employed by Donald Trump,” Jones (D-Norfolk) said in a statement, referring to the fact that Richmond Mayor Levar A. Stoney has endorsed him, and not Herring, for the Democratic nomination for attorney general this year.”

Welcome to the quicksand of the left, General Herring.

You are now officially accused of abuse of public office for “authorizing an investigation” into allegations of corruption on Stoney’s part. Not indicting, investigating. As is your job. Continue reading

Update: Herring Hands Stoney Contract Investigation to State Police

by James A. Bacon

Attorney General Mark Herring has authorized the Virginia State Police to investigate Mayor Levar Stoney’s circumvention of procurement protocols to award a $1.8 million Confederate statue-removal contract to a campaign contributor, reports Virginia Public Media.

The investigation, requested by Kim Gray, Richmond City Councilwoman and rival candidate for Richmond mayor, had been handed to Timothy Martin, commonwealth’s attorney for August County, as special prosecutor. He kicked it over to Herring, and Herring has given it to the state police. I was concerned that Herring might simply bury the case, but I am pleased to see that he did not. Continue reading

Facebook, MailChimp Suspend Virginia Gun Rights Group’s Access

Philip Van Cleave. Credit: Rappahannock News

by James A. Bacon

Are the social media giants moving beyond de-platforming groups and individuals who participated in the mob assault on the U.S. Capitol building to de-platforming conservative groups indiscriminately?

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), says his personal Facebook account was suspended last week. That action followed Mailchip’s suspension of its email service to VCDL. Continue reading

Combating Past Racism with Reverse Racism

Del. David Reid, D-Loudoun

by James A. Bacon

Del. David Reid, D-Loudoun, has introduced HB 1980, a bill that would establish the Enslaved Ancestors College Access Scholarship Program. Beginning in the 2022-2023 academic year, five public Virginia universities each would provide scholarships to at least one African-American Virginian student born in the Commonwealth sufficient to cover tuition, fees, room, board, books, other educational supplies, and even tutoring — a full ride.

To qualify, the student could come from a household earning up to four times the federal poverty guidelines (roughly $70,400 in 2020 for a family with a single parent and single child). The State Council of Higher Education (SCHEV) for Virginia would implement the program in collaboration with the institutions and report periodically to the General Assembly. Continue reading

Northam Again Targets Virginia Business Taxpayers

Finance Secretary Aubrey Layne. Photo credit: Daily News.

By Steve Haner

Washington giveth and Richmond taketh away. Once again, the Northam Administration wants Virginia to ignore business income tax changes made at the federal level because they would lower state revenue.

Governor Ralph Northam’s finance secretary was in front of the House Appropriations Committee Friday explaining the reasoning and complaining that new federal rules represent a double tax benefit for the affected businesses. “Not only is it expensive, it’s bad tax policy and it’s bad public policy,” Aubrey Layne, a certified public accountant, said at one point in the meeting.

Expensive is one of those “point of view” words. Expensive to whom? In this case, expensive to the public treasury. Should Virginia fully conform with all the changes in the CARES Act from early in 2020 and from the Comprehensive Appropriations Act (CAA) in late December, projected revenue would decline an estimated $190 million in the current fiscal year and almost $1 billion in Fiscal Year 2022.

For tax wonks and accountants, here is a letter Layne provided legislators with plenty of details.  Continue reading

Democrats Propose Expanded Virginia Government Personal Information Collection, Integration and Dissemination

George Orwell

by James C. Sherlock

There are few things the Left desires more than government access to personal data on every citizen and everything he or she does. Virginia continues down that path.

Government Data Collection & Dissemination Practices Act Chapter 38 of Title 2.2 of the Code of Virginia (§ 2.2-3800 et seq.) reads in part:

B. The General Assembly finds that:

1. An individual’s privacy is directly affected by the extensive collection, maintenance, use and dissemination of personal information;

2. The increasing use of computers and sophisticated information technology has greatly magnified the harm that can occur from these practices;

3. An individual’s opportunities to secure employment, insurance, credit, and his right to due process, and other legal protections are endangered by the misuse of certain of these personal information systems; and

4. In order to preserve the rights guaranteed a citizen in a free society, legislation is necessary to establish procedures to govern information systems containing records on individuals.

Democrats in the General Assembly consider those principles trumped by their desires for control of every aspect of citizens lives from birth until death. Thus they are leading an effort to expand government collection, dissemination and integration of citizens’ personal information.  Continue reading