Author Archives: Dick Hall-Sizemore

Finally — a New Budget Bill

Photo Credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The money committees have reported a “conference” budget bill, which the General Assembly will probably adopt either tomorrow or Saturday.

The legislature has backed off the earlier contingency appropriations that drew objections from the Governor.

As with any budget, there are numerous moving parts. The legislature would capture savings in several areas and provide additional spending in others. Here are some of the major spending items:

  • $95.3 million for K-12. The source of the money is revenue from licensing of “gray” machines or “games of skill.”
  • $60 million for higher education “to maintain affordable access.”
  • $11 million for a one-time $500 bonus to state law-enforcement and corrections officers.
  • $379.6 million over the biennium to reappropriate some of the $2 billion in new spending earlier unalloted due to revenue shortfalls.

Continue reading

Investigative Journalism: Still Alive and Aimed at Dominion

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Well, investigative journalism is still alive. The Richmond Times-Dispatch has teamed up with the national journalist investigative organization, ProPublica, to report on the political influence of Dominion Energy in Virginia.

The first result of this effort is a major, long article in today’s edition of the RTD.  By long, I mean a big front-page display and three full pages on the inside, plus another full page on utility influence in other states. For those BR readers who are stopped by the newspaper’s paywall, I would recommend that you try to read it. Continue reading

A Revolt in Williamsburg

By Dick Hall-Sizemore  (Class of 1970)

While some participants on this blog have been busy trying to foment an alumni revolt at the The University, there has been a real alumni revolt at The College. The alumni won.

On the surface, the turmoil was over sports. But, at its core, it was over what should be the values and priorities of the College of William and Mary.

The story started with the appointment of Samantha Huge as athletic director in the spring of 2018. That fall, the beloved football coach, Jimmye Laycock, announced his retirement. That could have been a coincidence, however, and not related to Huge. After all, Laycock had been the coach for 39 years.

In the spring of 2019, Huge fired Tony Shaver, the long-time (16 seasons) men’s basketball coach. Admittedly, Shaver’s career won/lost record was not sterling (226-268). But he was well-liked, his players graduated, and there had not been even the hint of a recruitment scandal. In recent years, his teams had been competitive and had gone to the final game in the conference tournament four times, more than any other school.

All these arguments in Shaver’s favor were offset by one factor, as far as Huge was concerned: W&M had never made it to the NCAA basketball tournament (March Madness). In her announcement, she made no bones about her motivation: “We have high expectations for our men’s basketball  program, including participating in the NCAA tournament, and we will not shy away from setting the bar high.” Continue reading

Yes, the General Assembly is Still in Special Session

The Virginia Senate in its spread formation

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

It is time to check in on the progress of the endless session of the General Assembly. It is apparent that it was a mistake for the House to meet virtually. If the Delegates had been required to stay in Richmond the whole time, rather than being able to “attend” committee meetings and floor sessions from the comfort of their homes, they would have finished much quicker. But, maybe it is not endless; leaders of both houses are predicting they will be able to finish up by the end of next week.

Budget. The legislature has not gone through the formal process of getting the budget bill into conference and appointing conferees. Nevertheless, the chairs of the two money committees, Del. Luke Torian, D-Prince William, and Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, report they are close to a final budget deal, according to today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch.

But, Governor Northam is not happy with the approaches the two houses have taken and is threatening to throw cold water on any deal and veto it. He does not like the contingency spending that was in both the House and Senate versions of the budget bill, because those provisions commit funding that he wanted to keep in reserve due to uncertainty over the fiscal effects of the pandemic. He also does not like the legislature designating how most of the federal CARES money should be spent on COVID issues, thereby decreasing his flexibility over that $1 billion pot of money. (For a more detailed discussion of these issues, see my previous post here.)

Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne repeated his earlier position, “We do not need a new budget for financial purposes.” That remark leads to the obvious question: “Then why did the governor call the special session?” Continue reading

It Just Got Worse for the Unemployed

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

For those on this blog (including me) who have speculated as to why unemployed Virginians, who were getting up to $300 per week in unemployment benefits, could be behind on their rent, mortgage, and utility bills, here is one answer: They have not been getting that money since August 1.

The Virginian Pilot (and other media outlets) reports that the Virginia Employment Commission is still having trouble distributing the funds made available by President Trump’s decision to use FEMA balances after the Congressional authorization expired. At first, VEC said that there was sufficient funding for only three weeks, which would be paid retroactively in early September. Then it was six weeks’ worth of funding, but payment would be delayed until September 30. Now, the agency says there has been a programming problem and the target date is October 15, although there is some hope that the payments will go out sooner than that. Continue reading

No! We Want to Spend the Money!

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

After more than a month into a special session called primarily to deal with revenue shortfalls resulting from the pandemic-induced economic slowdown, the House and Senate finally have produced their versions of a revised budget.

I wonder if Governor Ralph Northam is regretting having even called this special session. Neither house limited its budget amendments to provisions related to revenue shortfalls, COVID-19 response, or the fiscal impact of other legislation being considered by the special session (criminal justice reform). For example, the Senate has an amendment related to the development of a “linear park” in the Shenandoah Valley. In effect, both houses have proposed major re-writes of the budget. Continue reading

Hitting a Cop With a Pretzel Will Still Be a Felony

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

One of the pieces of the criminal justice reform package that caused some consternation on this blog has been killed in a House committee. SB 5032 (Surovell, D-Fairfax) would have amended the statute that makes assault of a public safety employee, including a law-enforcement officer, a felony, with a mandatory minimum sentence of six months. (Assault generally is a misdemeanor.)

As the bill emerged from the Senate, it included the following provisions:

  • The felony charge was retained;
  • The mandatory minimum sentence was eliminated;
  • If the degree of culpability were slight, e.g. offender was mentally ill, or if there were no bodily injury, a jury or judge could find the offender guilty of misdemeanor assault, rather than felony assault. (Such a reduction in the charge would be discretionary on the part of the jury or judge.), and
  • The incident would have to be investigated by another law-enforcement officer not involved and any arrest approved by the Commonwealth’s attorney.

Continue reading

The Trojan Horse Amendment

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

I need some help sorting out a dilemma I find myself in.

I am strongly in favor of the concept of authorizing an independent commission to draw legislative district lines. On the other hand, I really do not like the proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution that would create such a commission.

During the debate last session, two objections were the most prominent. The members of the Legislative Black Caucus objected strenuously that the proposed amendment did not guarantee that minorities would be represented on the commission. I am not swayed by that argument. There is ample opportunity to have minorities appointed as citizen members. Furthermore, the voting rights of minorities are protected by the Voting Rights Act. If any redistricting plan produced by the commission unfairly violated the voting rights of minorities, it would be struck down by the federal courts. The Republicans found this out a couple of years ago. Continue reading

Progress Check on Criminal Justice Reform and Budget Fix

Senate of Virginia, in session in Science Museum Photo credit: Virginian Pilot

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Although there is not an official “cross-over” deadline for legislation in the special session, each house of the General Assembly seems to have largely completed consideration of its own bills. Thus, this is a good time to review their progress on enacting the Democrats’ agenda on criminal justice reform and revising the budget.

Criminal justice system reform

I have prepared a table (available here) listing all the major bills and the actions of each house. As is usually the case in legislative sessions, there were multiple bills introduced on some subjects. The usual procedure is to pass only one bill and “incorporate other bills into it, giving credit to the incorporated bills in the header. Accordingly, when there were multiple bills on an issue, I have listed only the bill that was selected to go forward.

In order to be somewhat consistent, I have used the same format that I used previously in summarizing the announced criminal justice reform agendas. I have also included several issues that surfaced during the session that were not on that agenda.

Some summary take-aways: Continue reading

A Sad Emblem of Our Times

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

A venerable Richmond-based printing company closed last May. Somehow, that really saddened me. Perhaps because it was located not far from where I live. Perhaps because it had been around for so long.  Perhaps because it had a niche business that seemed sort of neat to me. Perhaps because its closing seemed so emblematic of the times.

I meant to comment on it then, but other topics and activities kept bumping it down the list. Then, Jim’s post yesterday about the Virginia economy and some of the follow-up comments brought it back to my mind.

The William Byrd Press was founded in 1913. In 1984, it merged with a North Carolina company and was renamed Cadmus. By 2007, it had 500 employees and was the world’s largest printer for publishers of scientific, technical, and medical journals. It was the fifth largest printer of periodicals in North America. Continue reading

Reinforcing a Constitutional Right

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

While there are several high-profile bills on police and criminal justice reforms making their way through the General Assembly, another, less-noticed bill, SB 5007 (Morrissey, D-Richmond), ending jury sentencing, has the potential to have as great an impact on the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system as any of the others.

Currently, in Virginia, if there is a jury trial in a criminal case, the jury determines the guilt of a defendant and, if it finds him guilty, makes a sentencing recommendation to the judge. The judge may impose a lower sentence than recommended by the jury, but not a higher one. It is unusual for a judge to impose a sentence other than the one recommended by the jury. SB 5007 would restrict the role of the jury to the question of guilt, with the judge determining the sentence, unless the defendant requested that the jury also determine the sentence. Continue reading

Reporting in on the Virtual Learning Experience

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

I am taking a course this fall from J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College.  Virtual, of course. The experience leaves a lot to be desired.

First of all, I need to stipulate that I have little ground on which to complain because I do not have to pay any tuition. The state has a program under which Virginia residents over 60 years old can take any course in a state-supported institution of higher education for free. If one has an income below a certain level, the course can be taken for credit; otherwise, no college credits are earned. The other restriction is that tuition-paying students get first crack at courses; the non-payers can enroll only if there is still room in the course on the first day. (I did have to pay for a textbook.)

The professor is obviously not used to teaching a virtual course. I must say, though, that she is doing the best she can. Having taught college courses on an adjunct basis in the past, I think it would be difficult to teach while sitting down and trying to monitor a couple of computer screens. Although she can “see” us, it is hard to establish any one-on-one relationship or contact. Continue reading

Also Chillin’

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Like Jim, I am taking a week off and chilling out.  Except I am in Sandbridge (Virginia Beach) with my wife, our daughter and her family.  (Those are the grandkids in the photo.)

Sandbridge is pretty isolated from the rest of Virginia Beach.  That is what I like about it.  We have gotten up to the boardwalk area once for lunch.  It is pretty weird.  At this time of year, the restaurants would be crowded, there would be lots of folks strolling on the boardwalk, and on the beaches.  That is not the case now.  There were some people around, but not nearly as in other years.  And Atlantic Avenue was practically deserted.  All the restaurants we have been to have been almost empty.

An employee of the realty company told me that all the houses were rented for this week. That may be so, but folks are staying close to their houses.  There are some people on the beach, but it is not at all crowded.  Weird times.

Be Careful What You Ask For!

Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D), Fairfax

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Increasing earned sentence credits for offenders in state prisons seems to have a good chance of passing in the General Assembly session. SB 5034 (Boysko, Fairfax) has been reported by the Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services and re-referred to the Finance Committee.  The House Democratic Caucus’s agenda for the special session includes this issue.

So far, the discussions surrounding this issue have missed the fact that this bill, along with the reinstatement of parole that will come up in the 2021 regular session, will seriously undermine two major elements of the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system. Continue reading

Police and People in a Mental Health Crisis

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Senate Judiciary Committee reported many of the Democrats’ criminal justice reform bills at its meeting last week. I will discuss the most important ones, in some depth, in installments, rather than all at once. This first installment is on the interaction between police and mentally ill folks.

For many years, police officials and sheriffs have warned of the problems posed by mentally ill persons committing crimes, often petty ones, as well as by those having a crisis and acting more violently. This problem has been increasing over the years. (The reasons for this increase are beyond the scope of this post as well as beyond the scope of the knowledge and expertise of the author.) Law-enforcement officials have said publicly, repeatedly and correctly, that their officers have not been trained to deal appropriately with these folks. Continue reading