Category Archives: Consumer protection

Consumer protection

Basic Child Literacy Cannot Be too Much to Ask of Richmond City Public Schools

by James C. Sherlock

Half of Black 4th graders in Richmond public schools couldn’t read in 2019. That is not OK.

It is way past time to demand both better performance and accountability. Clearly neither the city of Richmond nor the Commonwealth has done that effectively.

So I have filed formal complaints with the federal government to see if the Departments that provide federal money to the Richmond City Public School District can establish accountability for how all of that money has been spent.

Jason Kamras currently serves as the Superintendent of Richmond Public Schools (RPS). He has first-rate credentials — National Teacher of the Year in 2005, undergraduate Princeton, masters in education from Harvard. Worked in leadership positions in D.C. Public Schools before coming to Richmond.

He is the highest-paid superintendent in Richmond history at $250,000 annually. His initial three-year contract was slated to expire this summer.  He just received a 4-year extension on a split 6-3 vote by the Richmond School Board.

The performance of Mr. Kamras’ Richmond School District is cataclysmically bad.   Continue reading

Consumer Reports Misleads on Virginia EV Bill

Great Seal of Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

Few media outlets are as influential with their readership as Consumer Reports or as active in soliciting direct contact of public officials on issues that management feels are important to that publication’s political values. That is their right, but false statements in support of their positions is a violation of public trust.

I received yesterday afternoon in my email a solicitation for political action in Virginia pushed out by Consumer Reports to all subscribers. It read:

Earlier this week, the Virginia House of Delegates approved an exciting piece of legislation that would allow the state to make it easier for consumers to buy fuel-efficient and electric vehicles at car dealerships in the Commonwealth.

That in turn could help drivers save money on fuel and reduce our air pollution: a win-win no matter how you slice it.

But before the bill can get signed into law, it must pass through the Senate by next week. Can you send a message to your VA Senator now and ask them to vote YES on House Bill 1965?

Continue reading

Virginia’s Legendary Corruption Blocks Antitrust Enforcement

Great Seal of Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

Readers of this blog have indicated an unquenchable appetite for information about and discussion of Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need (COPN) law and its administration.

This essay informs on the negative impacts of the COPN law and the Virginia Antitrust Act (the Act) itself on the enforcement of antitrust laws against Virginia’s regional hospital monopolies.

First, know that the business activities that some of Virginia’s hospital monopolies exhibit can already be deemed illegal under both federal and state antitrust laws. But the Act gives them a special dispensation, complicates both state and federal antitrust enforcement and results directly in the in-your-face anticompetitive activities we see every day.

The federal government (and once even Bob McDonnell as Virginia Attorney General) occasionally have intervened to block interstate mergers or in-state acquisitions before they occur, but always within the federal administrative and court systems, and they have never challenged COPN decisions.

But no government agency has ever sued over the business activities of Virginia’s COPN-constructed monopolies. Continue reading

DePaul Hospital’s Closing Presents a Unique Opportunity for Hampton Roads

De Paul Medical Center Jan. 29, 2021. Photo Credit: James C. Sherlock

by James C. Sherlock

Not too long ago, before the decline of the malls and COVID, the healthcare community coined what they called the Nordstrom Rule.

The meaning was that if you wished to optimize profits in your healthcare business, build it close to a Nordstrom. The theory was that Nordstrom had already done the market research to identify concentrations of wealthy customers.

I wrote yesterday about the Sisters of Charity and Bon Secours, Catholic charities both. The Sisters were not in it to serve wealthy patients. They purposely located their hospitals among the poor. So 19th and 20th century of them.

Sentara, a more sophisticated public charity, avoids locations close to the poor.

In 1991, Sentara purchased the Humana Bayside Hospital in Virginia Beach, renaming it Sentara Bayside Hospital. That cleansed Virginia Beach of a competitor. But Bayside served Virginia Beach’s largest concentration of economically disadvantaged minorities. So Sentara closed it at the first opportunity.

The Virginia Department of Health brokered the closing of Bayside in 2008 under the cover of the Certificate of Public Need (COPN) process that fatally wounded DePaul, allowing Sentara to relocate the Bayside beds to the new Sentara Princess Anne, far from the minority citizens of Bayside.

The closest hospital for many residents served by Bayside was then, you guessed it, DePaul. No longer. Continue reading

Unintended Consequences of Minimum Wage Hikes

Credit: prescottenews

by James C. Sherlock

Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, and Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, contributed an op-ed titled Home health workers at risk without legislative action this morning in the Virginian-Pilot. They will be surprised to read that I agree with every word.

And that I would go farther.

Unintended consequences in the government economy

Lucas and Aird have authored a compelling, well-written narrative of the problems faced by home health workers and their employers under two Virginia programs that have not been reconciled:

  • the rise of the Virginia minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9.50 an hour, a 31% increase; and
  • the lack of a corresponding raise of the Medicaid reimbursement rate for home care workers.

As the legislators point out: Continue reading

Another VA Gas Pipeline Project Dies Under Fire

Still Alive? The northern part of the Header Improvement Project. Source: VNG Application.

By Steve Haner

Another proposal to build a pipeline pumping wealth and prosperity into the Virginia economy has been brought down. That is my impression of what the impact would be of expanding natural gas supply to our state – added wealth and prosperity. This beneficial project is not to be.

Virginia Natural Gas has notified (read it here) the State Corporation Commission that it is abandoning plans for the Header Improvement Project, a major expansion connecting existing major transportation pipelines with its Hampton Roads service territory. That also ends its plans to provide service to two merchant electricity generating plants in Charles City County that would have been served by the additional supply.

The dispute over the expansion was discussed here earlier this year. The project drew the usual environmental objections, based on their firm belief that natural gas pipelines deliver death, but the SCC itself sank the plans over its skepticism that one of the electric generation plants would actually get built and need the supply. Writes VNG through counsel:

Continue reading

Initial Observations on the Virginia Election Results

by James C. Sherlock

Nobody asked, me, but I offer my Wednesday morning initial assessment of the elections in Virginia. In no particular order, here they are.

Until there is a Republican Party of Virginia, not the current Republican Party of me, the party candidates will remain eclectic to the point of statewide incoherence. Not sure who has the juice to pull that together.

It looks at this point like Abigail Spanberger lost to Nick Freitas by about 3,000 votes with 100% counted. I suspect there will be a recount. The rest of the House races were pretty one-sided. Redistricting by the new commission established by the new constitutional amendment will be crucial.

Northern Virginia is the bedroom of the federal government. It has been a long time since there were a significant number of Republicans in the career bureaucracy. Dispersing the offices of those bureaucrats around the country, generically a good idea, may not help the Republicans in swing states.

One question with a potential huge impact on Virginia legislation: Will the Virginia Supreme court take cases that result in an assertive role for that court in assessing new laws for constitutionality?

Continue reading

The Strange Case of a Proposed Medical Merger in Hampton Roads

by James C. Sherlock

Hampton Roads

There was a story  Could EVMS merge with ODU, Sentara?” – in the Virginian Pilot this morning. It was well done and rendered a major public service.

A private study is “assessing” a regional merger of Sentara, ODU, EVMS and Norfolk State.  “Its task will be to provide recommendations to Gov. Ralph Northam on new ways the schools and hospital system could combine.” Not whether they should, or if there are any better options. 

The study is paid for by the hopeful merger candidates, so no one will be waiting breathlessly for the findings, except apparently the Governor.  

Northam has already announced that the results “may lead to significant changes for Hampton Roads’ “health care ecosystem,” which serves more than 1 million people.

The whole project reeks of Sentara self interest. The merger being studied will not be optimized for the good of the people of Hampton Roads. 

Sentara wants the state to award it because the merger otherwise cannot withstand federal antitrust review.

Continue reading

Elmer Gantry In Lynchburg

Jerry Falwell, Jr., and wife Becki

By Peter Galuszka

The resignation of Jerry Falwell Jr. amid a series of scandals may have a strong impact in Virginia where his late father built an extraordinary, ultra-conservative evangelical university in Lynchburg that later became highly politicized lightning rod supporting President Donald Trump.

Falwell has been caught up in a number of controversies including limiting speech on campus, going after The New York Times for trespassing when it reported he insisted that student ignore wearing anti-viral pandemic masks and so on.

What happened with Falwell Jr is as  an American story as apple pie topped with a Cross. It might have some straight out of the pages of Elmer Gantry.

After touting strict school policies that forbid students from drinking alcohol, watching “R”-rated movies or engaging in pre-marital sex, Falwell was pictured aboard a NASCAR mogul’s yacht half dressed with a semi-clad, pregnant woman who was said to be his wife Becki’s assistant. Falwell was holding a wine glass with a liquid in it but Falwell said it wasn’t wine.

Shortly afterwards, he gave an interview to the right-leaning Washington Examiner stating that his wife had been involved with a multi-year sexual affair with Giancarlo Granda, a former Miami Beach pool boy whom Falwell funded to set up a hostel business. Continue reading

We Underpaid Dominion in 2019? Not Really.

Future Dominion price increases. Source: SCC.  Actually, 1000 kWh per month is a bit low for the average residential customer, so many Virginians will be paying much more. Click for large view.

By Steve Haner

You will be shocked to learn that we customers of Dominion Energy Virginia did not pay it enough money in 2019. The shareholders did not get the profit margin they were due, the utility reported to the State Corporation Commission, which subsequently reported it to us on August 18.

Actually, these guys were not utility accountants, but they were on the right track.

We’ve entered the realm of energy comedy. The utility accounting process now mirrors the famous movie “The Producers,” with the goal being to book little or no actual profit so high rates can be maintained or even made higher. There is honest accounting, show-biz accounting, but for real whiz bang results there is utility accounting.

The SCC’s annual report to the General Assembly on utility accounting, now including projections of future rate costs, normally comes out closer to September. I was tipped to expect it early by a Dominion big wig, which should have told me it was a report they wanted publicized. This is Dominion playing the long game, preparing for the 2021 showdown on its rates and profits in a formal SCC audit and rate case.

The rules for this long game have been rigged in the utility’s favor over several years by a compliant General Assembly. This is not news to Bacon’s Rebellion readers. But here we go again.  Continue reading

A College-Student Bill of Rights

by James A. Bacon

College students should be reimbursed if they don’t receive the full benefits they pay for in tuition, fees, room, and board, declares the Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust.

“COVID-19 has illuminated the long over-due need for basic consumer protections for those who are struggling to pay for the cost of college,” said Partners president James Toscano in a statement launching the Tuition Payer Bill of Rights.  “As we saw in the spring when campuses were forced to close, colleges and universities cannot guarantee delivery of the quality of instruction, services and benefits they advertise. Still, very few are offering tuition discounts or are refunding fees, and in fact, some are actually raising their tuition.”

Over 100 class action lawsuits have been filed against institutions across the country for breach of services delivered. Toscano believes the litigation would be unnecessary if consumer protection policies existed. “For any other investment the size of college tuition, there are fundamental consumer rights in place to make sure that consumers are fully informed of the cost and benefits of the services for which they are paying, and they have a recourse if these are not delivered.”

The situation in Virginia is in flux as public and private universities receive an influx of college students for the new academic year. Higher-ed institutions are adopting an array of measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, including frequent testing, contact tracing, and social distancing. Athletic events are being canceled. More classes are being taught online. While the policy mix varies from institution to institution, campus life will not be the same, and in many cases neither will the learning experience. Continue reading

The Systemic Racism of Monument Avenue

By Peter Galuszka

Richmond’s grand Monument Avenue, a double lane, tree lined thoroughfare, has been the epicenter of the Black Lives Matter campaign that has focused on the statues of several Confederate figures one the road, including Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Jefferson Davis.

All are up for removal, but the same foot-dragging that has for years protected the statues that some consider racist is at work today. Protestors have torn down Davis and have defaced the rest. On Sunday night, they nearly ripped down the Stuart statue as two city council members urged that it be removed on an emergency basis.

Lee’s statue has been ordered down by Gov. Ralph Northam, but the effort has been tied up in lawsuits by several property owners. One claims either that the original deed that gave the state the site for Lee included language that it could not be removed. Other plaintiffs, most anonymous,  claim that removing the statues would hurt their property values and their special tax status.

If anything smacks of white privilege and entitlement, this is it. But for more perspective, this article in The Atlantic neatly sums up the history behind the statues and the Avenue, noting that the issue has everything to do with rewriting Richmond’s history and making a marketing play to sell expensive and exclusive real estate decades after the Confederacy was suppressed. 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

Construction: Virginia’s Quiet, Strong Man

Scene from Micron’s $3 billion construction project in Manassas. Photo credit: Inside NoVa

By Peter Galuszka

For all the complaints about the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia – the shut-down restaurants and (temporarily) closed beaches – one industry has been working steadily and quietly all along – the state’s construction sector.

Builders haven’t missed much of a beat since the “state at home” orders started going out a couple of months ago.

In Pentagon City, works still progresses on the two, 22-story towers for Amazon’s new eastern headquarters. In suburban Chesterfield County near Richmond, workers toil adding new drain pipes and four-laning once- rural roads. Four-story apartments overlooking Swift Creek Reservoir are taking shape for the over-55 crowd.

At a loud and garish protest next to the State Capitol against Gov. Ralph Norham’s work-stoppage plans last month, Mark Carter, a contractor from Hanover County, made his views known. “We‘re still working,” he told me. “I’m not for Trump and I’m not a Democrat. People need to work.”

In Virginia, some are. After all, New York state and Boston stopped construction work due to the pandemic. Continue reading

WTJU Podcast: COVID-19 and the Economy

By Peter Galuszka

Here’s is the twice-monthly podcast produced by WTJU, the official radio station of the University of Virginia. With me on this podcast  are Nathan Moore, the station general manager, and Sarah Vogelsong, who covers, labor, energy and environmental issues across the state for the Virginia Mercury, a fairly new and highly regarded non-profit news outlet. Our topic is how Virginia is handling the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.