Author Archives: Steve Haner

COVID Workers Comp On House Democrat Bill List

By Steve Haner

The coming Special Session of the General Assembly will be narrowly focused but filled with controversy, based on the legislative wish list just released by House of Delegates Democrats.  Only two bills listed fall outside of the major categories of “COVID-19 Relief” or “Criminal Justice and Police Reform.”

Under the heading “COVID Relief,” the Democrats wish to reopen their drive for employee paid leave, and as predicted want to designate COVID-19 as a workplace disease.

The Senate Democrats have their own list, released in June and reiterated in a more recent news release.  The release claims that one of the bills is ready for public viewing, but provides no link and the bill mentioned is not yet available through Legislative Information Services.  Neither caucus has yet revealed any thoughts on how to amend the state budget, a task where Governor Ralph Northam naturally takes the lead.

Here is the list from the House Democratic Caucus, with some thoughts following:

COVID-19 Relief:

  • Requiring businesses to grant paid sick leave for Virginia workers.
  • Prohibiting garnishments of stimulus relief checks. (Office of Attorney General bill)
  • Establishing a presumption of workers’ compensation for first responders, teachers, and other high-risk essential workers.
  • Providing immunity from civil claims related to COVID-19 for complying with health guidance.
  • Combating price gouging for Personal Protective Equipment. (Office of Attorney General bill)
  • Protecting Virginians from eviction during a public health emergency.
  • Creating a Commonwealth Marketplace for PPE Acquisition.
  • Mandating transparency requirements for congregate-care facilities during a public health emergency.

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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

Taxaginia Reappears As Special Session Looms

Another try at imposing a Virginia estate tax this month?

By Steve Haner

It must be a reflex. Waken or startle a Democrat and they shout, “raise taxes!” Our friends at the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis came out Monday with a new list of (mostly old) tax proposals for the August 18 General Assembly special session. It drew the attention of Virginia’s Public Radio in a report this morning.

Keep in mind, it is still unknown (to us anyway) how much (or little) cash the state accumulated to carry forward into the new budget cycle that stated July 1. And nobody outside of state government has seen the new Fiscal Year 2021 and 2022 revenue forecasts, showing the impact of the economic-shutdown-induced recession. We see those August 18. Why wait for actual data before proposing new tax hikes?

For that matter, nobody can be sure yet just how much money the tax increases already approved by the 2020 regular session will extract from Virginia businesses and individuals. That might also be clearer come August 18. The tobacco and motor fuel tax increases landed hardest on those low income taxpayers the Commonwealth Institute seems most concerned about.  Continue reading

How Discount Power For Poor Will Raise Your Bill

By Steve Haner

Virginia’s two major electric utilities estimate that as many as 150,000 of their poorest residential customers will see their monthly bills reduced next year using money extracted from all their other customers on their own power bills.

Appalachian Power Company projects about 30,000 of its low income customers will receive subsidies of $500-$600 per year. Dominion Energy Virginia projects bill subsidies to about 120,000 households of about $750 per year.

Both companies told the State Corporation Commission recently that to pay for this, about $1.12 will be added to the cost of every 1,000 kWh of electricity used by homes, businesses, and industries in Virginia. The cost per kWh is the same for all customer classes, and thus represents a larger percentage price increase for the commercial and industrial users.  Continue reading

Limit On Emergency Powers is First Bill

Aaaaaaand, they’re off. The first five bills have been filed for consideration by the August 18 Special Session, all introduced by Senate Republicans. As the list of proposals fills in rapidly, you can track it here.

First on the list, surprising no one, is a bill from Senator Steve Newman of the Lynchburg region limiting a governor’s emergency powers by executive order to 30 days, then outlining how the General Assembly may intervene if it chooses (and it may choose not to).  This bill may or may not be ruled germane to the session’s purpose, but I’m glad it is bill number one. (Well, five thousand and one.)

SB 5001 Emergency Services and Disaster Law; limitation on duration of executive orders.

Next up, from Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment of Williamsburg, is bill prohibiting police use of choke holds, a practice that has led to far too many injuries and deaths among arrested individuals, including but in no way limited to the notorious case in Minneapolis. This is very much germane to the session’s official call.

SB 5002 Law-enforcement officers; prohibition on the use of neck restraints.

So is Senator Richard Stuart’s proposal for a Commission on Civil Rights and Policing, for a formal dive into these issues. With the House Democrats already holding three public hearings on their ideas, and with the Crime Commission now thoroughly stacked against debate and dissent, this one’s a long shot.

SB 5003 Civil Rights and Policing, Commission on; established, report, sunset provision. Continue reading

VEC: 1.5 Million Unemployment Claims In 2020

Virginia and US employment fluctuations since 2004, showing the dip in 2009-10 and plummet in the last four months. Source VEC. Click for larger view.

By Steve Haner

By the end of this amazing year, almost 1.5 million Virginians may have filed claims for unemployment insurance payments, leaving the state’s once-record unemployment trust fund balance of $1.5 billion reduced to $750 million in the red, legislators were told this morning.

That $2.25 billion swing is due to $2.6 billion spent out of the state fund, to cover basic unemployment benefits. To date, the federal government has supplemented that with another $6.3 billion paid to Virginian under special COVID-19 related benefits, which do not come out of the state trust account.  Continue reading

How Employers Must Prevent COVID, Or Else

Virginia Department of Labor and Industry

By Steve Haner

The first thing every employer in Virginia needs to understand about the state’s new COVID-19 temporary workplace standard (here) is it is universal. It applies to every workplace, public and private, for-profit and non-profit, with 10,000 workers or two. The rules are the same, “one size fits all,” without regard to the nature of the industry.

The second thing every employer in Virginia needs to understand about the standard is that it is only temporarily temporary. The goal, and work will begin quickly, is to convert the set of requirements into a permanent regulation, with a permanent burden on employers going forward to protect their employees from a disease circulating widely outside their establishments.  Continue reading

Ocean Pathfinder Maury Swamped by Culture Wave

Lt. M.F. Maury in 1853

Today we get the attempted cancellation of Matthew Fontaine Maury, one of the world’s greatest oceanographers. Having had his memory preserved on Richmond’s Monument Avenue, and having served the Confederate States Navy, any scientific contributions he made before or after the war are hereby nullified, despite worldwide acclaim. The crane is at his statue as I write.

I was going to write my own summary, but the irony of finding a glowing account of his life on the PBS website was too rich.  For far more detail, there is this on Wikipedia, until they come for that, too.  The Wikipedia article does get into his views on slavery, and his idea to settle parts of the Amazon with American slaveholders and their property. His postwar views, if amended, are not mentioned.

UPDATE: A writer at Virginia Mercury adds this report Maury remained unreconstructed and unrepentant in the immediate aftermath. 

Here’s the PBS report on this man who clearly must be erased from memory:

A Naval officer and pioneer in the emerging field of oceanography, Matthew Fontaine Maury was nicknamed the “Pathfinder of the Seas.” Maury gave crucial support to Cyrus Field and the idea of a transatlantic cable by showing Field the route that a cable could take across the ocean.

Circling the Globe
Raised in Tennessee, Maury yearned to follow in his brother’s footsteps and join the Navy. In 1825, at the age of 19, he received a midshipman’s commission with the help of Sam Houston. Maury spent much of the next nine years at sea, participating in three extended voyages including the first circling of the globe by a U.S. Navy vessel. Dissatisfied with current naval books on navigation, Maury set about to improve them, and his A New Theoretical and Practical Treatise on Navigation was published in 1836.

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Housing Grants Just a COVID Relief Rounding Error

By Steve Haner

Will $50 million be enough? Will that get all the Virginians who have fallen behind due to COVID-19 square on their rent or mortgage payments? Or is that amount, in a relief program now fleshed out by the Northam Administration, merely a start?

There is a hint on the program’s web page, now available. “Financial assistance is a one-time payment with opportunity for renewal based on availability of funding and the household’s need for additional assistance and continued eligibility.” A Senate committee was told last week that Governor Ralph Northam is considering spending hundreds of millions more for the same purpose.

This first $50 million is just the latest way that the billions of federal dollars flowing into Virginia as COVID-19 relief will be used. Within that operation, it is a  rounding error. On June 23, primary day, the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee met virtually to be briefed, among other things, on how the four waves of federal assistance have been or will be spent.

The usual suspects of the Capitol Hill press corps may not have been there (or to be exact, may not have been monitoring the Zoom conference.) The primary results and the Phase 3 announcement held their attention. A week later the unreported reports are still worth reviewing and links to them follow below.

Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne, in his presentation, estimated that Virginia has received more than $28 billion in direct aid – $6.5 billion direct to the state and local governments, $14.4 billion to state businesses in the Payroll Protection Program and $7.3 billion pledged to municipal liquidity facility loans to cover revenue losses.  Continue reading

Senate Democrat Promises on Police Reform

By Steve Haner

What follows, without edits, is the full list of legislative proposals now endorsed by the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus. With 21 members, if they all show up and vote aye on all of these, they pass in the upcoming special session. Bills would then have to also pass the House of Delegates and be signed by the Governor. This follows up an earlier post by Dick Hall-Sizemore.

  1.  Bringing Equity to Virginia Policing
    ● Prohibit No Knock Warrants (Breonna Taylor)
    ● Ban Sex With Individuals Arrested by Law Enforcement
    ● Prohibit Hiring of Officers Fired or Resigned During Use of Force Investigations
    ● Create a Decertification Procedure for Law Enforcement Officers
    ● Ban chokeholds and strangleholds (George Floyd)
    ● Require Attempts at De-escalation Prior to Use of Force
    ● Require Warnings Before Shots Fired
    ● Require Law Enforcement to Exhaust All Other Means Prior to Shooting
    ● Create Duty to Intervene by Fellow Law Enforcement Officers
    ● Prohibit Shooting at Moving Motor Vehicles
    ● Require Departments to Create a Use of Force Continuum
    ● Require Comprehensive Reporting by All Law Enforcement Agencies Including Use of Force Data
    ● Defelonize Assault on Law Enforcement Officer (Return to Misdemeanor Offense)
    ● Cancel HB599 Funding (Virginia supplemental funding for local police departments) After Local Police Have Disproportionate Use of Force Incidents In their Jurisdiction
  2. Expand Local Authority to Respond to Mental Health and Regulate Law Enforcement
    ● Create Local Authority for a Marcus Alert System – System to Report Acute Mental Health Crises
    ● Create Local Option for Citizen Review Board Empowered to Investigate, Fire and/or Discipline Officers
  3. Restore Courts’ and Prosecutors’ Flexibility to Effect Mercy
    ● Confirm Prosecutors’ Authority to Drop Charges
    ● Enhance Courts’ Ability to Expunge Charges for Dismissed Charges, Substance Convictions and Pardoned Offenses
  4. Reduce Racial Profiling Opportunities for Law Enforcement
    ● Prohibit Searches of Person or Vehicle Based on Odor of Marijuana Without Probable Cause for Other Offenses
    ● Prohibit Stops for Equipment Violations Not Covered by State Vehicle Inspection
    ● Secondary Offense For Dangling Objects, Extinguished Tag Light, Tinted Windows or Loud Exhaust
  5. Restore Equity to the Sentencing Process
    ● Jury Sentencing Only at Option of the Accused
    ● Eliminate Commonwealth’s Right to Demand Jury Trial When Jury Trials Suspended for State of Emergency
    ● Require Agencies to Determine Cost Savings for Introduced Criminal Justice Legislation
  6. Restore Equity to the Virginia Prison System
    ● Allow Earned Sentence Credit for Good Behavior During Prison
    ● Create Discretion for Compassionate Release for Terminally Ill or Permanently Disabled Prisoners

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COVID Workplace Rules Endorsed, But Not Final

The Northam Administration’s Safety and Health Codes Board agreed yesterday that COVID-19 in the state’s workplaces demands an emergency state response, but the nature and exact wording of that regulation remains undecided.  If adopted, formal regulations come with the potential for heavy penalties for employers cited for failures.

Earlier versions of the key documents have already been revised by state staff, so should be reviewed again by concerned parties. The draft rules (here) and a related 200-page briefing package (here) were first made available June 12 and then revised June 23, right before Wednesday’s meeting. Further changes are likely.

A window for on-line written comments closed June 22, but more than three thousand were received, with the business community reaction overwhelmingly negative. To review the written comments already filed visit the meeting information page (here) and scroll down to a long list of documents. The massive set of online comments are on this related page on Virginia’s Regulatory Town Hall website.

The vote to proceed with something came after a contentious virtual emergency meeting where only members of the board and staff were able to speak. Three of the board’s members opposed the emergency declaration and three abstained, perhaps reflecting the broad and strong opposition the draft proposal generated from Virginia’s busines community. It will meet again to dive into the actual text soon.  Continue reading

COVID Regs Unclear, Unneeded, Contradictory

By Steve Haner

More than two dozen Virginia business associations have asked that the state’s Safety and Health Codes Board reject proposed workplace regulations to prevent COVID-19, stating they are unclear, contradictory, and not needed in light of other existing worker protections.

Some of the largest statewide associations, such as the Virginia Manufacturers Association, National Federation of Independent Business, and Virginia Retail Federation are on the list. So are some regional chambers of commerce and the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy. You can read their 13-page submission here. The conclusion reads:

“It is unreasonable to apply “one size fits all” COVID-19 regulations to all employers and employees.  Codifying guidance is not a reasonable replacement for regulation. It is confusing why after three months, the Regulations are being pursued through an emergency procedure, especially after OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) rejected the AFL-CIO’s petition for an emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 and the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied their petition for a writ of mandamus to compel OSHA to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard for Infectious Diseases.”

The draft rules (here) and a related 200-page briefing package (here) have only been available since June 12. The public comment period closes tonight, and the board is set to meet Wednesday, in a format where the public can only watch. More details are provided in a Bacon’s Rebellion post from this weekend.

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Sweeping COVID Workplace Regulation Proposed

By Steve Haner

The Northam Administration’s Safety and Health Codes Board will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday –- in a virtual process allowing no public interactions – to impose sweeping new regulatory mandates related to COVID-19 on Virginia workplaces.

They could take effect immediately upon Governor Ralph Northam’s signature, and will not disappear if an end is declared to the current emergencies or the threat of the disease dissipates.

The draft rules (here) and a related 200-page briefing package (here) have only been available since June 12. The window for on-line written comments closes Monday evening. The affected businesses have had some advance warning because union and employee activists have been pushing similar proposals in other states and at the federal level, often without success.

The stated goal is to prevent spread of disease in work spaces, and screening, sanitation, face coverings and social distancing are directed in detail. The focus on workplace safety follows COVID-19 outbreaks in food processing and health care settings. These proposals, however, will reach into every Virginia retail, office or manufacturing space.

To review the comments already filed (776 as of Saturday morning), or to add your own, visit the related page on Virginia’s Regulatory Town Hall website. The deadline for filing is Monday night at 11:59 p.m. The chances that the comments will be assessed and studied before the votes take place on Wednesday are slim and it appears, so far, much of the debate is focused on mask mandates. That is a minor part of this quite broad proposal.  Continue reading

Who Pays The Unpaid Bills? Watch Out.

By Steve Haner

This was published this morning in The Roanoke Times and then distributed by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

There may be a second wave of COVID-19 disease coming, but the secondary effects of various pandemic economic decisions may hit us sooner. Rent and utility bills customers can delay paying because of the crisis will eventually come due.But for whom?

The Legal Aid Justice Center looked at U.S. Census survey data that indicated many Virginians have fallen behind on their rent and did not expect to pay their next bill. It predicted an “eviction catastrophe” as eviction and foreclosure bans end, and lenders and landlords rush into newly reopened courts for judgments.

“The Governor should use emergency powers to immediately enact a moratorium on evictions or should allow localities to enact their own until the General Assembly can address tenants’ mounting debt. The General Assembly should create relief for tenants who are significantly behind in rent payments through a waiver or rent cancellation plan,” the advocacy group asserted.

Governor Ralph Northam took up the call, and the Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to hold off eviction proceedings a few more weeks, until June 28.   Continue reading

The Times-Disgrace Earns Its Nickname

By Steve Haner

Competitors of Richmond’s venerable morning newspaper have long teased it with a derogatory nickname: The Richmond Times-Disgrace. With its decision to stop reprinting 75-year-old front pages for some unidentified offense to some unknown persons, the nickname is fully apt.

“There are terms and phrases that were used in this newspaper in the past – and which appeared in this space as recently as Friday…that are hurtful and, frankly, ignorant,”  reads the announcement today in the space where the reproductions had appeared. “We do not condone the use of those words and phrases to describe people or groups. We will no longer run them, even in our archive sections, without clear context.”   Continue reading