Author Archives: Dick Hall-Sizemore

Juvenile Center New COVID-19 Hotspot

Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Department of Juvenile Justice has announced that 25 juvenile offenders have tested positive for COVID-19.  That is 12.5% of the population of 200 housed at the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center in Chesterfield County.

The announcement was made only after advocates for juveniles cited reports of numerous offenders in the facility as having tested positive.

The agency announced last week that one juvenile had announced positive. That announcement was obviously misleading, if not downright false. The medical director of the facility stated that 13 of those who had tested positive “have already been released from medical isolation per Virginia Department of Health (VDH) guidelines.” Those guidelines recommend a two-week quarantine. Obviously, at least those 13 had tested positive more than two weeks ago, but the agency neglected to include them in its earlier report. Continue reading

A National Strategy for COVID-19 Testing

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The President does not seem able to formulate a national strategy for COVID-19 testing. So, I am proposing one:

  1.  Say to Abbot Laboratories, “Here is $1 billion. Turn over the rights to your new testing machine to the government.”
  2. Say to Abbot Laboratories, “Here is $100 million. Train an army of technicians to use your testing machines.”
  3. Invoke the National Defense Procurement Act and say to various labs and manufacturers, “Here is $2 billion. Manufacture xx number of the Abbot testing machines and the needed reagents and other supplies and deliver them to the federal government.”
  4. Announce a national schedule for distributing the Abbot machines and supplies to state governments, based on need and demonstrated level of virus outbreak.
  5. Say to the nation’s governors, “Set up a testing schedule and procedures that best suit your state and allow people to start working as soon as you determine it is safe, based on testing.”

The dollar amounts are somewhat arbitrary and subject to change, based on better projections than my SWAG.

Early Prisoner Release Will Not Help Much

Virginia Correctional Center for Women

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Governor Ralph Northam has announced that he will ask the General Assembly for authority to release from prison those offenders with a year or less to serve on their sentences in order to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in prisons. He stressed that only those who have demonstrated good behavior and would not pose a threat to society would be eligible.

The vehicle for the request would be an amendment to the budget bill for the current fiscal, the “caboose” bill. That bill would take effect as soon as the Governor signs it.

In its latest release, DOC reported 26 offenders testing positive, with 6 of those being hospitalized. That is an increase of one in the total number, as well as one more in the hospital, from the previous day. The agency also reported 25 staff members testing positive, an increase of three from the previous day. Continue reading

The Budget Sausage Factory

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

I have been going through the individual budget amendments adopted by the General Assembly. I admit it — I am a budget nerd who finds this stuff interesting. Plus, in this instance, my immersion into budget wonkery had the advantage of providing a diversion from the omnipresent discussion of the coronavirus.

Budgets are a great guide to a government’s policies. Governments put their money where their priorities lie. There was a summary recently in this blog of the major amendments to the recently passed budget bill.

In addition to the major policy initiatives such as public employee compensation, education, and health care, it is instructive to examine the smaller amendments.  They provide further insight into the legislative process (another area I find fascinating): Who has influence, what areas or policies are favored, etc.? Continue reading

Buying Time to Fix the Budget Hole

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

To deal with the virus-created budget crisis in the short term, the Northam administration has announced sort of a “time out.” According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the plan will consist of two primary components: freezing all new spending and diverting planned deposits in the cash reserve to pay for essential services in the current year.

The Governor will propose an amendment that would allow the administration to use about $600 million that had been planned for deposit in the cash reserve fund for essential operations of state government. This is not the Rainy Day fund, but money in the additional cash reserve established a couple of years ago.  Under the provisions of the state constitution, the Rainy Day fund cannot be tapped “unless the general fund revenues appropriated exceed such revised general fund revenue forecast by more than two percent of certified tax revenues collected in the most recently ended fiscal year. “Therefore, the state would need to wait until a re-forecast is conducted in the late summer before counting on the Rainy Day fund. Continue reading

New Budget Woes

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The outlook for the state budget gets grimmer.

The most immediate concern is the budget for the current year. The state collects about a third of its fiscal year revenue in the last quarter (April-June). Income tax filings and payments are usually due May 1.  (This year the payments can be delayed until June 1 without penalty.) The COVID-19 crisis probably will not affect that revenue stream; it is based on calendar year 2019 income. But, the prolonged crisis will affect sales tax receipts, current withholding  tax receipts, and, possibly, non-withholding estimated payments. There will be some savings—state travel has been drastically curtailed and the filling of vacant positions can be put on hold, for example—but it is not known to what extent these actions will counteract the loss of revenue. Continue reading

A Capital Idea

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

As a diversion from the coronavirus story, as well as an effort to give you a little more variety, the following is my previously promised summary of the General Assembly’s changes to the capital budget.  (It was only a little over two weeks ago that the legislature adjourned, but it seems much longer.)

The actions of the General Assembly were both surprising and not surprising. The surprise was that, for the first time in many years, maybe ever, the legislature ended up authorizing fewer capital projects and less debt than the Governor had recommended. The non-surprise was the winners and losers. Continue reading

Help for the State Budget

In answer to some calls on this blog for immediate adjustments to the state budget, my response was: Don’t panic.  There is a process already in place to deal with such a situation. Now, there is even less reason to panic. It is reported that the Commonwealth will receive at least $1.5 billion from the federal rescue package that will soon be enacted.

Just as the Obama stimulus package (along with shortchanging the state pension system) helped Bob McDonnell balance the budget in the middle of the financial crisis without a tax increase, this new rescue or stimulus package should help Governor Northam weather the economic storm caused by the coronavirus. Continue reading

Hospitals in Quandary

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Washington Post has reported that hospitals are struggling with their cash flow due to the coronoavirus crisis. As a result, they are asking Congress for emergency aid. The American Hospital Association is calling for $100 billion and the Federation of American Hospitals, the trade group for for-profit hospitals asked for $225 billion.

At the urging of national and health officials, hospitals are cancelling elective procedures. Those services bring in the revenue to cover a large portion of their overall operating costs. As a result, they are running low on cash.  Some are projecting they will be able to meet their payrolls only for a few weeks.

To add to these problems, vendors are requiring payment upon delivery for supplies and equipment. Some are saying they do not have the immediate cash on hand to buy the additional beds that political leaders, such as Governor Cuomo, are directing them to do. That could also be a problem in purchasing the additional ventilators that many predict will be needed.

In Virginia, the reaction of hospitals has been mixed. VCU Health, UVa Health and Bon Secours have cancelled or postponed elective procedures.  HCA Healthcare and Sentara have not changed their surgical schedules. Based on its latest COVID-19 advisory, it appears that INOVA in Northern Virginia has not changed its elective procedures schedule. Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington was one of those hospitals mentioned in a national article criticizing some hospitals for continuing to provide elective procedures. Virginia Healthcare Emergency Management Program, a partnership between the Department of Health and the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, issued a statement complaining about the lack of clear national definitions and opposing “a sweeping policy” applicable to all hospitals.

COPN Counterpoint

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

James Sherlock has been a welcome addition to this blog.  He has brought new insights into the area of health care policy.  I appreciate his obviously thorough research and arguments.

I am a person that likes to look at issues from different perspectives. I think doing so sharpens one’s understanding. Unfortunately, there have not been any countervailing arguments in the COPN discussion. Therefore, I have elected to step into the breach and play devil’s advocate, primarily for the sake of generating some more discussion.

As the result of some internet research, I ran across a paper that seems to do a nice job of summarizing the positions of both the opponents and proponents of COPN. The author is Megan Italiano, whose paper was an award-winner in the William and Mary Law School student publication series. Another source I used was an article in the Virginia Mercury last year. The links are at the end of this post. Continue reading

And This is How They Will Spend the Money

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Although the General Assembly, as usual, left most of the Governor’s budget bill untouched, it did leave its mark on it. Its top priority clearly was increasing compensation for state employees and teachers. It also toned down some of the Governor’s initiatives.

The revised budget bill for the 2020-2022 biennium reflects an additional $330.6 million in total revenue over the Governor’s introduced bill.  This increase is made up of $187.6 million in additional nongeneral fund (NGF) revenue and an additional $142.9 million for the general fund (GF). The bulk of the additional NGF comes from increases in transportation revenue provided for in the Governor’s omnibus transportation bill and from additional federal Medicaid matching funds.

This report will focus on the changes in GF appropriations agreed on by the legislature. The revision in the revenue projections accounts for most of the additional GF, with the remaining resulting from policy actions enacted by the G.A. Continue reading

Drugs in Prison

Buckingham Correctional Center

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) finds itself in a classic dammed-if-you-do, damned –if-you-don’t situation. On the one hand, it is facing a surge in illegal drugs coming into its prisons, enabled by drugs that are increasingly difficult to detect. On the other hand, it is facing popular and legislative outrage at some of the steps it has taken to stanch the contraband coming into prisons.

Tampons. There is a history of prison visitors bringing in contraband, including illegal drugs, concealed in their body cavities. DOC has body scanners in many prisons, but these devices cannot distinguish between a tampon and a cache of drugs inside a body cavity.

To enable it to reduce the volume of drugs coming into its prisons without having to strip search every female visitor for which a scanner showed a mass, DOC instituted a policy in the fall of 2018 prohibiting any visitor from using a tampon or menstrual cup inside a prison. The department said that it would provide a feminine hygiene pad for use during visits. Continue reading

GA Moves on Two Major Issues

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

While Steve Haner is doing his civic duty as a poll worker today, I will step in to provide important updates on two issues that have been discussed on this blog:  energy regulation and redistricting.

First, energy regulation: Dominion has won again. The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee late yesterday killed HB 1132, which would have reinstated the traditional review of Dominion’s rate base by the State Corporation Commission. The SCC would have been authorized to require Dominion to refund any profits above the allowed amount. The vote to kill the bill was 8-7, distributed in the following manner:

Yes (Kill): Saslaw (D), Norment (R), Obenshain (R), Lucas (D), Spruill (D), Barker (D), Marsden (D), Lewis (D)

No: Newman (R ), Edwards (D), Deeds (D), Ebbin (D), Surovell (D), Mason (D), Bell (D) Continue reading

Finally Catching Up With Bacon’s Rebellion

It has taken a while, but the Washington Post has finally begin to catch on to what Steve Haner and others have been saying about the omnibus energy bill making its way through the General Assembly:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/va-democrats-push-environmental-change–but-still-in-concert-with-dominion/2020/03/01/ed0c634e-5a40-11ea-9b35-def5a027d470_story.html

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