Author Archives: James A. Bacon

How to Cripple Small Business with One Easy Law

Stacking the deck

by Hans Bader

Anti-discrimination legislation under consideration by the Virginia state Senate would shrink the value of the state’s economy and fundamentally alter its business climate.

The “Virginia Values Act,” introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, would subject even small businesses to unlimited compensatory and punitive damages in discrimination lawsuits and order businesses to pay the lawyers’ bills of the workers, tenants, or customers who sue them. The bill also would let Virginia’s Attorney General sue businesses for a $50,000 fine. But if a business proves itself innocent, it would receive nothing under the Virginia Values Act — no reimbursement of its attorney fees.

The legislation is very one-sided. If the “Virginia Values Act” become law, many businesses will have a powerful incentive to pay off people who make even dubious accusations of discrimination. Having to put up with that injustice will discourage people from starting a business in the first  place. It will also discourage large companies for expanding into or relocating to Virginia, since plenty of other states don’t impose such onerous damages and fines on companies in discrimination cases.

The Virginia Values Act was introduced on January 8 as Senate Bill 868. It is more extreme than, but in some ways similar to, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). That law also provides for unlimited compensatory and punitive damages in discrimination cases, and also forces the business to pay the attorney fees of a person who successfully sues it. Continue reading

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K-12: The Mo’ Money Drumbeat Plays On

by James A. Bacon

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has posted a front-page story today exploring all the reasons why Virginia needs to increase its K-12 education spending. Student achievement on standardized tests are declining. School facilities are crumbling. Racial/ethnic disparities persist. And then this factoid: State inflation-adjusted spending per student is 8% lower than before the Great Recession. Mo’ money is needed for reading specialists. Mo’ money for smaller class sizes. Mo money for schools with low-income students. Mo’ money for teacher pay. Mo’ money for English-as-Second-Language students. Mo’ money for everything.

The article quotes spending advocates as arguing that even the $1.2 billion in added biennial funding recommended by Governor Ralph Northam is not enough to meet K-12’s voracious needs. Says Caroline County teacher Rachel Levy: “The governor’s budget proposal for education is a step in the right direction, but unfortunately, it’s not sufficient.”

Northam comes across as the voice of fiscal reason. “Would we like to do more?” he is quoted as saying. “Absolutely. But we have to live within our means. Education will continue to be a top priority for us, but you can’t make up in just one year.”

Nary a dissenting voice was seen. The article contained not one hint of a whisper of a suggestion that maybe $1.2 billion was excessive in any way, or that there might be other ways to view the educational budget. The debate is entirely between the moderate Left and the far Left. Continue reading

Why the Obsession with Collecting Racial Data?

by James A. Bacon

To obtain press identification cards granting regular access to the Virginia State Capitol, journalists are asked an assortment of questions such as birth date, driver’s license number — and race. Democrats now in charge of the legislature say they’ve never heard of the race requirement, and critics say it is a reminder of the state’s segregationist past, reports WAMU.

The Capitol Police say asking for the racial identifier is part of a “standard background check,” but some are drawing a link between the requirement and Virginia’s 1924 “Act to Preserve Racial Integrity” and other vestiges of the Jim Crow era.

“I think it’s another manifestation of what we need to get rid of in the state of Virginia,” said attorney Victor Glasberg, who represented three couples suing for the right to get marriage licenses without stating their race. “It’s old Jim Crow [law] that has yet to be thrown out.”

“That question is on so many things. Marriage licenses, birth certificates, driver’s license applications. It’s unnecessary, but no-one ever thought let’s change it,” said Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond. “Why do we need to know what race a member of the press is?”

Good question. Why do we need to ask peoples’ race — not just for journalist credentials and marriage licenses, but for any purpose at all? Virginians want a color-blind society, don’t they? Well… don’t they? Continue reading

HB 1200: Another Small Business Shakedown

by Hans Bader

Right now, if you employ five or fewer workers in Virginia, you aren’t subject to most state restrictions on who you can hire. And if you have fewer than 15 employees, you usually can’t be forced to pay a worker’s lawyer much at all if the worker sues you.

That would change under a recently proposed law, House Bill 1200. It would subject even small businesses with five or fewer employees to state anti-discrimination laws. And if a worker successfully sued you for discrimination, you would have to pay his lawyer’s bills, too — but if he lost, he wouldn’t have to pay your lawyer’s bills. That’s like having someone tell you, “Heads I win, tails you lose.” Even a small business that never discriminates would find that objectionable.

All employers are already forbidden to deliberately discriminate based on race, by a strong federal law known as 42 U.S.C. 1981. But other types of discrimination by tiny employers aren’t necessarily forbidden.

Right now, only employers with 15 or more employers are covered by most federal civil-rights laws, like those banning religious or sexual discrimination. Employers with fewer than 15 but more than five workers are covered by a state law that says they can’t discriminate, but workers can only sue under that law for lost wages, not emotional distress or punitive damages. And a judge can award attorneys fees only out of the “amount recovered,” not on top of them. Continue reading

Plundering the Middle Class

by James A. Bacon

To get a handle on how progressive (to be clear, I use “progressive” as a synonym for “leftist”) Governor Ralph Northam’s proposed two-year budget is, consider the following.

If Northam’s agenda is adopted, Virginia’s middle class will pay higher gas taxes, higher cigarette taxes, higher income taxes, and higher electric rates. That doesn’t include higher charges resulting from a new hospital tax last year, nor does it include higher college tuition, any of the proposals (such as an inheritance tax) proposed by emboldened Democrats in the legislature, higher who-knows-what-else is squirreled away in the budget, or ideas just hanging fire like the Transportation Climate Initiative.

What will the middle class get in return? Virtually nothing, unless you count expenditures on programs meant to benefit the public at large such as the environment, rural broadband, education, and workforce development. The majority of spending programs are targeted to help lower-income Virginians — and various Democratic Party constituencies who mask their self-serving agendas as benefiting the poor.

Going down the list of initiatives listed in Northam’s State of the Commonwealth address, we find: Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Dems Gone Wild Edition

With Democrats focused on really important stuff such as the proper use of pronouns “(she” and “her” when referring not only to female senators and delegates but the sergeant of arms, a male), they may or may not have time to attend to every bill submitted, especially those likely to bog down in the face of determined resistance. But it’s worth highlighting some of the more extreme measures for the purpose of illuminating the Democratic Party id. Even if these bills go nowhere this session, they reveal the preoccupations of the progressives who are increasingly dominant in the party of (the now-discredited) Jefferson and Jackson, and tell us where Virginia could be heading. (Hat tip to Hans Bader for bringing these to my attention.)

Expanding the Virginia Human Rights Act. Del. Kathy Tran, D-Springfield, who last year championed late-term abortions and lobbied for a lactation room in the General Assembly, has submitted HB 1200 to revise the Virginia Human Rights Act, which already makes it it unlawful to discriminate against any employee on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender… or medical condition such as lactation. The bill would prohibit discrimination on the basis of age for anyone 40 years or older, eliminate the exemption for employers with fewer than five employees, and render the employer liable for up to $25,000 in damages plus attorneys fees — not “reasonable attorneys fees,” as provided in federal law, but “attorneys fees,” which could be wildly inflated and could easily be substantially higher than the actual award.

Equal Pay Act. Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Herndon, has submitted SB 660, which would prohibit employers from paying wages and compensation to members of a “protected class” (race, religion, gender, sexual orientation — it’s not clear if this includes lactation status) “at a rate less than the rate which it pays … employees who are not members of the protected class for substantially similar work.” The measure establishes criteria for when wage differentials between employees are permitted: seniority (not penalizing for leave due to pregnancy, parental, family, or medical reasons), a “bona fide merit system,” or a “bona fide factor” such as education, training or experience. Throwing in a burdensome bureaucratic requirement for good measure, the Equal Pay Act would require employers to maintain records on the wages and wage rates, job classifications, and other terms and conditions of employment for three years. No exemptions for small businesses or even micro businesses. Boysko’s state senate biography lists her occupation as “community organizer.”

If Democrats prevail on bills like these, you can kiss good-bye to free labor markets.

— JAB

Death Tax Proposed for Virginia

by Hans Bader

Lawmakers in both houses of Virginia’s legislature have proposed an estate tax. That’s a tax on what residents own at the time of their death. The proposed tax, set at hefty rates not seen since the 1970s, would affect the inheritances of many middle-class people.

Virginia had an estate tax until July 2007, when the Republican-controlled legislature allowed it to be effectively repealed. But this year, the Democrats took control of both houses of the Virginia legislature. And two Democratic lawmakers promptly proposed reinstating and increasing the estate tax, to a higher level than in 2007.

The tax is contained in two bills: SB 637, proposed by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, and HB 736, sponsored by Del. Vivian Watts, D-Alexandria.  (The bills would exempt “closely held businesses” to avoid decimating small businesses on the owner’s death.)

The tax is not set to the level of 2006 or 2007, when few American estates were even subject to the death tax, and tax rates were not at their peak. Instead, it would be set as it was back in the 1970’s, when estate taxes were at their most burdensome and affected the largest number of middle-class households. Continue reading

More Info, Please, on Northam’s Proposed New $145 Million Entitlement


by James A. Bacon

In his State of the Commonwealth speech yesterday, Governor Ralph Northam outlined his proposals for hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending initiatives. Needless to say, it was impossible during such a high-altitude overview to provide a detailed explanation of the thinking behind each program. In most instances, he posited a “need,” proffered a government “solution,” and moved on. But in one intriguing instance, his $145 million program to make community college more affordable, he delved deeper.

There are two big barriers that hinder “non-traditional students” (those whose parents did not attend college) from completing their community college degrees, the Governor said. One is cost, and the other is life itself.

Here’s an example. At Reynolds Community College here in Richmond, a majority of students are people of color. The college looked at “retention rates” — who starts a degree program and then goes on to complete it. They identified students who started one academic year and didn’t come back the next. They asked why didn’t these students come back.

The answer is really important. The facts showed it was not academics that kept them from coming back. In fact, these students usually had earned a 3.1 grade point average when they left school.

These students enrolled in a degree program — trying to get a skill, so they can get a job, and provide for the people they love. They set a goal. They worked hard. They performed well, but they dropped out. Why? They left because life got in the way. The car broke down. Or the baby got sick. Or they lost their job. Just trying to get ahead. And then life hits you.

There’s a lot going on in that statement. Let’s unpack it. Continue reading

Virginia 2020: Tax-and-Spend on Steroids

by James A. Bacon

Ralph Northam ran for governor as a don’t-rock-the-boat center-left moderate who would continue governance of Virginia in the tradition of his predecessors Terry McAuliffe and Tim Kaine. Virginians bit the bait. Then the blackface scandal happened, and Northam had to do penitence to Virginia’s progressives to survive politically. Subsequently, in what was in part a referendum on an unpopular President Trump, Virginians installed a Democratic Party majority in the General Assembly. I’m not sure Virginians knew what they were getting, but they’re now finding out.

Northam has chosen to govern as a classic tax-and-spend liberal. The Commonwealth’s budget (General Fund and Non General Fund) will have increased from $57 billion as originally submitted in Fiscal 2019 to $68.4 billion by Fiscal 2022, or 20%. That would constitute one of the biggest spending expansions in Virginia fiscal history. (If we adjust for inflation, which is much lower than in the past, it may be the biggest expansion of government in our lifetimes.) Judging from the governor’s State of the Commonwealth address yesterday, there is not a single problem facing Virginia that doesn’t warrant a government solution.

Yet, as much as Northam embraced big government yesterday, his agenda is not as radical as many of his Democratic confreres in the legislature would like. He did not advocate a rollback of the state’s Right to Work law. He believes that corporate investment is a good thing, and that Virginia needs more of it. He did call for a minimum wage increase but did not specify that it had to be $15, as many have called for. Rather than fund every special interest with its hand out, he actually proposes setting aside hundreds of millions of dollars to build the state’s financial reserves to $1.9 billion, enough to safeguard Virginia’s AAA bond rating and provide a financial buffer against a recession.

Here’s a terrifying thought: Given the impotence of General Assembly Republicans, Northam may be the only thing standing between Virginia and a really radical progressive agenda. Continue reading

Now the Cherokee Want to Build a Casino in Virginia


by James A. Bacon

Indian ancestral lands are sacred — sacred, I tell you!

Until they’re not. As is apparently the case in Washington County, where the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the vast majority of whom live in North Carolina, have proposed to build a casino.

The eastern Cherokee, who operate the Harrah’s Cherokee Resort Hotel and Casino on tribal land in western North Carolina, have called the proposed Washington County side part of its “beloved ancestral home,” according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Sure. Just the place for a casino, resort hotel, 15,000-seat outdoor concert venue, recreational facilities.

As RTD writer Michael Martz notes, the proposal complicates a policy challenge facing the General Assembly as it considers the legalization of casino gambling and other gaming ventures in the state. Last year, the state enacted a law allowing the Pamunkey Indian Tribe to build a casino in either Norfolk or Richmond, and permitted the construction of commercial casinos in Danville, Portsmouth, and Bristol on the grounds that they experienced declining population, high poverty and high unemployment rates. Needless to say, developers of a proposed casino in nearby Bristol are vehemently opposed to a Cherokee-related casino very nearby.

I haven’t delved into this deeply, but my gut reaction is that this Indian casino thing is a racket. Continue reading

Amazon’s Security Collaborative: Cool or Creepy?

HQ2 rendering

by James A. Bacon

Amazon.com, Inc., is pushing for an intelligence-sharing alliance with law enforcement and emergency-management agencies around its Arlington office complex, similar to arrangement it already has with its Seattle headquarters, reports the Washington Business Journal.

On the positive side, Arlington police and other participants could gain access to Amazon’s tech, best practices, and intelligence-gathering methods. On the other hand, deeper collaboration and information sharing between one of the nation’s biggest corporations and law-enforcement sounds kind of Orwellian.

“Amazon can take a leadership role in the region and establish a new NOVA/Washington DC Regional Security Council (modeled after the Greater Seattle Security Council),” wrote Florence Chung, in charge of Amazon’s public-private partnerships, in an Aug. 1 email. It would “promote collaboration and information sharing between security leadership from both the private sector and public sector.” Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Elections Have Consequences Edition

Half a loaf is worse than none. Sen. Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Springfield, has introduced a bill that would represent a significant erosion of Virginia’s Right to Work law without repealing it outright. SB 426, entitled “Fair Share Fees,” would authorize an employer to charge employees within a collective bargaining unit who choose not to join the union for the union’a cost associated with collective bargaining, administrative overhead and representation of employees before public bodies. The “fair share fee” would exclude the cost of political activities, lobbying and other activities unrelated to collective bargaining and in no case would exceed 60% of dues. The justification is to eliminate the “free riding” of non-union members who benefit from a union’s collective bargaining efforts.

Tactically, this is a brilliant move by Saslaw because it undermines the most powerful argument against mandatory union membership and payment of union dues — that it forces employees to contribute to political causes with which they disagree. Politically, the bill represents a big payoff to organized labor. Republicans in the General Assembly aren’t likely to support this half-a-loaf approach, but it could persuade moderate, pro-business Democrats. If Saslaw’s gambit succeeds, it would significantly increase the economic power of unions in Virginia and undermine the state’s business climate.

Are safe zones next? HB 40, sponsored by Del. Ibrahim Samirah, D-Herndon, would require every Virginia public school to create and maintain a “mental health break” space with the public school building. Under the bill, the Board of Education would promulgate regulations for the design of the space, student usage, and staffing. The spaces would be indoors, separate from classrooms and as close as possible to the school’s medical service facilities. I can’t imagine this bill will go anywhere this year — the Democrats have bigger fish to fry with the move to bolster K-12 spending by $1.5 billion — but it provides insight into emerging priorities among Virginia progressives. In the progressive vision, the mission of public schools is morphing from educating children to ameliorating their social, economic and mental-health condition. This my friends, is a bottomless pit. There will never be enough money. (Hat tip: Carol Bova.) Continue reading

Handguns, Not Rifles, Are the Problem

Source: 2018 Crime in the United States. (Figures do not include “Firearms, type not stated.”)

Governor Ralph Northam has just introduced his “Virginia 2020 Plan” outlining his legislative priorities for the 2020 General Assembly session. His summary of the plan says this about gun control:

Advance common-sense gun safety measures. Keep prohibited persons away from firearms. Universal background checks. “Red flag” law. Restore longstanding “1 handgun a month” law.

What? Nothing about bump stocks and assault weapons? Has Northam backed off the idea of restricting gun types in favor of keeping “prohibited” people (domestic abusers, the mentally ill) away from firearms? If so, that’s a move in the right direction. Continue reading

New Bill Would Mandate Release of Old Murderers

Del. Don Scott

by Hans Bader

A proposed law would require Virginia prisons to release many murderers when they reach age 60 or 65, even if prison officials know they are dangerous. Under a bill proposed Friday by Del. Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, parole officials would be stripped of their authority to block such inmates’ release.

Right now, Virginia’s parole board has the leeway to grant “geriatric release” to many older inmates. If it wants to, it can release inmates if they have been in prison for ten years and have reached the age of 60, or if they have been in prison for five years and have reached the age of 65 — as long as they haven’t committed a “Class 1” felony, which includes certain types of murders.

But it doesn’t have to release such inmates, and it tends not to, unless an inmate is both in poor health, and no longer dangerous.

Scott’s bill would totally change this, leaving state officials powerless to block the release of Class 2 felons, such as rapists and killers whose homicide didn’t rise to the level of a Class 1 felony. It says:

Any person serving a sentence imposed upon a conviction for a felony offense, other than a Class 1 felony, (i) who has reached the age of 65 or older and who has served at least five years of the sentence imposed or (ii) who has reached the age of 60 or older and who has served at least 10 years of the sentence imposed shall be granted conditional release.

Continue reading