Category Archives: General Assembly

Analysis: Only Assembly Can Impose Carbon Tax

By Steve Haner

It is illegal in Virginia for a petroleum wholesaler to arbitrarily reduce the amount of product it provides to retailers. The General Assembly has intervened in that marketplace, probably for the reasonable public purpose of preventing price gouging. Regulating the sale of fuel for some other purpose should also require action by the General Assembly.

The “other purpose” under scrutiny at this time would be reducing carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. David Schnare of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy was researching whether the governor could impose the Transportation and Climate Initiative on Virginia without General Assembly action. He found and cites the existing state law against rationing gasoline and other legislative oversight of that market in an analysis published today.

Schnare holds both environmental and law doctorates and served 34 years with the federal Environmental Protection Agency. His conclusion is the Governor lacks the authority to act arbitrarily through an executive order or agency decision.  t was the same conclusion reached recently by the Supreme Court in Washington state in reviewing and rejecting a cap-and-trade effort from that state’s governor, Jay Inslee.

Here’s the take on that from the Wall Street Journal editorial board:

Good news: The political panic over climate change doesn’t justify one-man rule. That’s the message the Washington Supreme Court delivered this week to Governor Jay Inslee, who tried to impose his command-and-control agenda by fiat.

Perhaps you heard Mr. Inslee for a millisecond in the presidential race last year declaring that climate change is “the most urgent challenge of our time.” He failed to galvanize the masses, much as he failed to persuade the Washington Legislature in 2015 when it rejected his cap-and-trade proposal.

Continue reading

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

As the Richmond Times-Dispatch recently reported and summarized, the Northam administration has introduced a comprehensive bill covering a wide range of transportation issues. The proposal is being carried in the House by S[eaker Eileen Fuller-Corn (HB 1414) and in the Senate by Sen. Saslaw of Fairfax (SB 890).

This bill (the introduced House and Senate bills are identical) covers subjects ranging from the use of cellphones while driving to a major reconfiguration of how transportation revenue is disbursed to a decrease in vehicle-registration fees to an increase in gas taxes.  The scope of the topics covered in the bill’s 86 pages is mind-boggling.

It would seem that the bill would be in clear violation of the “one-object” rule of the Virginia Constitution:  “No law shall embrace more than one object, which shall be expressed in its title.”  To be fair, the bill does express in its title one object: transportation. That is comparable to saying that a bill expanding Medicaid and reforming foster care would have one object: social services. Nevertheless, the bill is safe from challenge on this score. In the House, the Speaker rules on whether a bill violates the “one object” rule, and I have no doubt she would rule in favor of her bill. Continue reading

At Least Some Legislators Dream of Tax Fairness

By Steve Haner

The new chair of the House Finance Committee has introduced a major long-term tax reform proposal that will help most Virginia families, and the former chair of the same committee has offered a significant improvement to it. Both are good bills and combined they are great tax policy.

Delegate Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, has proposed House Bill 735 to apply an annual inflation adjustment to Virginia’s income tax brackets, credits and the standard deduction. The federal tax code does that, recognizing that without that simple adjustment a progressive tax system becomes more and more regressive over time. Without indexing inflation provides the government with an annual unearned raise and families with a sneaky annual tax hike.

Delegate Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, dropped in House Bill 1717 right on the deadline Friday, to increase the standard deduction used by most Virginia taxpayers from the current $9,000 per married couple to $12,000. That was the standard deduction level recommended in several bills during 2019, and the Assembly did raise the amount – just not that high. It remains a goal of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

Neither bill has been “scored” by the Department of Taxation, and once their fiscal impact is estimated the outcries from the spending crowd will begin. Were they to pass, there would be a large tax cut in the early years, followed by a general downward bend in Virginia’s future revenue growth. Tax policy should be considered without respect to the appetite for spending, if only because it will never keep up.  Continue reading

Tensions Build as Gun-Rights Rally Nears

Sen. Amanda Chase

by James A. Bacon

The gears are moving for the Second Amendment rally at the state Capitol scheduled for tomorrow. Buses are loading up with protesters. Law enforcement authorities are planning their crowd-control measures. Despite professions of everyone in charge that they want the event to take place peacefully, there are many disquieting signs. The most disturbing indicator, of course, was the arrest of three far-right extremists Thursday on allegations that they were planning to instigate violence.

But gun-rights sympathizers are arguing that Governor Ralph Northam is going to excessive lengths to maintain security. Not only has he prohibited protesters from carrying weapons on the Capitol grounds, they say security forces have erected heavy fencing around the Capitol and plan to limit admission to the area through a single entrance.

The gun-rights crowd is not responding well. State Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, has suggested on her Facebook page that protesters are “being set up.” With the assistance of the media, she said, Northam has laid the groundwork “to make the entire movement look like insurrection.” Continue reading

Early-Release-For-Murderers Bill Advances

A Virginia Senate committee voted Friday 9-to-5 (largely along party lines) to make many murderers eligible for release when they reach age 50. SB 624 effectively reinstates parole for many long-time inmates, even though the Virginia legislature abolished parole in 1995. The bill also guts Virginia’s three-strikes law, which required life without parole for offenders convicted of three separate murders, rapes, or robberies, or any combination of the three.

SB 624 would let inmates seek release at age 50 if they have served 20 years, or age 55 if they’ve served 15. Inmates would not be eligible for geriatric release under the bill if they committed a “Class 1 felony,” but such felonies are reserved for only the most heinous of crimes. First-degree murder, classified as a Class 2 felony, would be affected by the bill.

Supporters of the bill cited low recidivism rates by offenders previously given “geriatric release” in their 60s or later ages. But that doesn’t justify granting geriatric release to people in their 50s, who are younger and more capable of committing murder and rape. Moreover, changes to the parole board’s composition may lead to higher rates of geriatric release in the future, resulting in the release of higher-risk offenders. Continue reading

Prison Space Fiscal Impacts

In 1993, the late, great Delegate Chip Woodrum of Roanoke introduced a bill, which was subsequently enacted into law, to hold the General Assembly fiscally accountable for any legislation it passed that would add to the Commonwealth’s prison population.  The statute has been tweaked several times since its original enactment, but the overall purpose remains the same: the General Assembly must provide a specific appropriation to cover a portion of the costs of housing any additional inmates resulting from the passage of a crime-related bill.  Around Capitol Square, any legislation meeting this criteria is known as a “Woodrum bill.”

Del. Chip Woodrum Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

The statute directs the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission (subject of a future post) to prepare the fiscal impact statement.  In accordance with the law’s provisions, the Sentencing Commission staff project how many additional inmates would be housed in each of the succeeding six years as a result of the enactment of a proposed bill.  It then takes the highest of those six annual projections and multiplies it by the average annual cost of housing an inmate in prison (supplied by the Department of Planning and Budget) to determine the fiscal impact of the bill.  If there is insufficient data available to make a determination of a bill’s impact, a provision of the Appropriations Act requires that an impact of $50,000 be assigned. Continue reading

Legislative Staffer Files Retirement Mid-Meeting

By Steve Haner

I am no longer with the Division of Legislative Services. If you need assistance, please contact…”

That is the message you get back if you send an email today to one of the key players in all the energy debates down at the General Assembly, perhaps the key player during the actual session.  That would be former senior staff attorney Frank Munyan, who calmly stood up and walked out of a House of Delegates committee meeting, went upstairs and filed his retirement papers.

As the staff person for both the House and Senate committees and the author or editor of most energy-related bills, Munyan has been considered an honest craftsman and adviser by all the various contestants for years.  As far as I know, everybody trusted him. He certainly kept all the legislators’ various secrets well, but if I asked him “do this bill do what I think it do?” he would answer.  He was also helpful with amendments.

He is a shining example of the uncounted cheerful professionals around that building in various jobs who keep the rest of us looking a bit less dumb.  If he comes back, many will cheer. Perhaps his Vontae Davis moment was enough and some apologies will come his way.  Continue reading

Education or Indoctrination?

by James A. Bacon

No question: The Holocaust was one of the defining events of modern history. An estimated six million Jews and five million others (Poles and Roma, mostly) died under the Nazi regime’s genocidal programs. No question: Ignorance of the Holocaust among American youth is startling and dismaying. A 2018 survey of Millennials found that 66% could not identify the Auschwitz death camp. No question: Virginia schools need to incorporate teaching of the Holocaust and other genocides into their history curricula.

But does Virginia really need a Holocaust and Genocide Advisory Committee?

Does Virginia really need to develop, as called for in HB 916, a “robust model curriculum and teacher training module” to provide instruction on the Holocaust and other historical genocides for the purpose of providing “anti-bias education for public school students in the Commonwealth?”

Under the bill introduced by Del. Mark Sickles, D-Alexandria, the Advisory Committee would go beyond just teaching about the Holocaust. He envisions a broader initiative in which case studies and instructional lessons in public schools would explore the Holocaust and other genocides “in the context of how lower levels of hate, ridicule, and dehumanization” led to wider acts of violence. Anti-bias education also would provide “tools for responding to different forms of racism, bigotry and discrimination,” and explore “slavery and other forms of historical dehumanizing injustice.”

Wow. I guess Virginia’s public schools aren’t politically correct enough. Now we need a formal program of indoctrination in which legislators not only dictate which subjects to teach but how to teach them. Continue reading

Will Middle-Aged Killers Get Early Release?

John Reginald Christie, an English serial killer and necrophiliac who killed into his 50s.

by Hans Bader

A Virginia bill, SB 624, would make middle-aged murderers and rapists eligible for “geriatric release.” It would do so even though “geriatric” is precisely about being old. It is defined in the dictionary as “old, elderly,” or “relating to, or appropriate for elderly people.”

Under SB 624, a prison inmate would be eligible for geriatric release if he is 50 years old, or 55 years old, depending on how long he has been in prison. Such inmates are not old, but middle-aged. As the Merriam Webster dictionary notes, “middle-aged people” are “people between the age of about 40 and the age of about 60.” Wikipedia describes middle age as extending to 65 — far above age 50.  I am 50 years old, and have never been treated as old for any purpose.

The bill would let inmates seek release at age 50 if they have served 20 years, or age 55 if they’ve served 15. That’s lower than the age at which famous serial killers were still active. These inmates are younger than serial murderer Albert Fish, who killed starting at age 54, and Dorothea Puente, who killed from age 53 to 59. Many other serial killers continued killing into their 50s, such as Peter Tobin (up to age 60), John Reginald Christie (up to age 53), and Ted Kaczynski (into his 50s). The murder rate is much lower for people in their 60s than in their 50s, but there are people who commit murder even in their 70s. Continue reading

Electoral College Vote, Carbon Tax, Labor’s Wants

By Steve Haner

The End of the Electoral College Looms

The legislature’s new ruling Democrats, having celebrated their adoption of the national Equal Rights Amendment, may continue their Constitutional aspirations next week and try to kill the federal Electoral College. Some believe the will of Virginia voters in choosing presidential electors should be overridden by the popular vote total in all fifty states plus the District of Columbia combined.

This idea is known at the National Popular Vote. Objections to the Electoral College process have a long history but were reignited when former Senator Hillary Clinton became the fifth presidential candidate who won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College. As predicted by Bacon’s Rebellion, the proposal to grant Virginia’s votes to the national front runner is back in three bills, with far longer lists of patrons and co-patrons. The two House bills are here and here, and the Senate version here. All now rest with firmly Democratic Privileges and Elections committees.  Continue reading

Be Careful What You Wish For

Judge John Dillon (look familiar to regular readers of this blog?)

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

For the participants on this blog who have longed for the lifting of the yoke of the Dillon Rule from the necks of local governments, major relief is in sight. However, you may not like the area in which it is being contemplated: taxation.

Generally, Virginia counties have less authority than cities and towns to levy certain taxes. Cities and towns have general authority in the Code to levy the following taxes: admissions, transient occupancy, cigarette, and meals. As far as counties are concerned, the General Assembly over the years has given individual counties, as specified in the statutes, authority to levy some of these taxes. In some cases, that authority carries limits and, in the case of the meals tax, it must be approved by local referendum to be effective.

As reported in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, legislation has been introduced in both houses of the General Assembly to provide counties the same taxing authority as cities and towns. Furthermore, it seems that these bills have widespread support. Particularly striking is HB 785, introduced  by Del. Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, chairman of the House Finance Committee, the committee that has jurisdiction over tax bills. Co-patron of the bill is Del. Terry Kilgore, a senior Republican from Scott County. The bill would provide counties general authority to levy these taxes, without any caps or referendum requirement.

If any of these proposals are enacted and your county subsequently adopts a new tax or increases an existing one, you can’t blame those Democrats in Richmond; you need to blame your board of supervisors. And, of course, these measures would not eliminate the application of the Dillon Rule in the Commonwealth. What the General Assembly giveth, the General Assembly can take away.

Cool Your Jets, Dudes

by James A. Bacon

So, Governor Ralph Northam yesterday declared a state of emergency that bans the bearing of firearms on stat property from Jan. 17 through Jan. 21. In justification, he cited plans by tens of thousands of gun-rights advocates to gather in Richmond in protest of gun-control legislation under consideration by the General Assembly.

Stated Northam in a prepared statement: “Available information suggests that a substantial number of these demonstrators are expected to come from outside the Commonwealth, may be armed, and have as their purpose not peaceful assembly but violence, rioting, and insurrection.”

Rioting and insurrection? Really. Them’s strong words. The Washington Post has written of out-of-state groups coming to Virginia to form posses and militias, as well as reckless and unsubstantiated rumors spreading on social media. The newspaper also referred vaguely to “threats” made against Northam. According to Virginia Public Media, Northam has said officials have heard reports of “out-of-state militia groups and hate groups planning to travel from across the country to disrupt our democratic process with acts of violence.” He said they “are coming to intimidate and cause harm.”

Question: If specific hate groups have been identified, why aren’t they being targeted by law enforcement? Also, wouldn’t it be helpful to notify the public who they are? Why the need to deprive everyone, including law-abiding citizens, of the right to carry arms onto state property?

Update: According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Northam claimed that “armed militia groups” plan on “storming our Capitol” and “weaponizing drones.” That’s a lot more specific — and alarming — than the intelligence I cited in other media reports.

Meanwhile, Jerry Falwell Jr. president of Liberty University, needs to dial down his rhetoric. Speaking on a Lynchburg radio show, he predicted a backlash of local law enforcement authorities against gun-control legislation from the General Assembly, reports the News & Advance. Presumably referring to legislators, he said, “I think they’re going to be faced with civil disobedience, not just by citizens but by police officers. And I think it’s what they deserve.” Continue reading

No $220 Rebate Checks for Military Families?

By Steve Haner

More than 400,000 Virginians failed to receive their $110 “Windfall Income Tax Rebate” in 2019 because, for perfectly valid and acceptable reasons, they didn’t file their returns by July 1.  That allowed the Commonwealth of Virginia to hold onto $46 million more of the un-legislated state tax increase created by conforming to new federal tax rules.

Some undetermined number of those were military families with a Virginia “tax home” who routinely get extra time to file. It could include servicemen and women deployed in combat zones.

Del. Jason Miyares, R-Virginia Beach, had his House Bill 607 all teed up to fix that today in the House Finance Committee. It would have allowed those late filers to get the rebate this year, instead. But the bill was not up for quick action today in order to pass, but in order to die. The Northam Administration was prepared to oppose the bill and seek its defeat, given it blows a hole in the revenue estimates for the new budget. Continue reading

How the General Assembly Works

To hear podcast click here.

Peter Galuszka, Virginia journalist and contributor to Bacon’s Rebellion, appears in this WTJU podcast on how the General Assembly works. Peter talks about the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in submitting boilerplate conservative legislation to the legislature. His remarks begin around the 8:00 mark.

Yet Another Tax Increase Proposal

Del. Delores McQuinn. Photo credit: Richmond.com.

Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, has submitted a bill, HB 1541, that would raise taxes in Central Virginia by 2.1% on wholesale fuels (about 7.6 cents per gallon of gasoline) and 0.7% on the sales and use tax to fund regional transportation projects.

The taxes would raise an estimated $168 million a year. Fifty percent would be returned to the localities for projects that would “improve local mobility,” including roads, sidewalks, trails, mobility services, or transit; 35% would go to a Central Virginia Transportation Authority; and 15% would be dedicated to mass transit in Planning District 15.

McQuinn said the dedicated funding is critical to improving access to public transportation, especially for low-income residents who have no other way to get to jobs or amenities in the region, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Said she in a meeting with leaders from four localities in the region: “Transportation has become to me almost a civil rights issue.”

A civil rights issue? Wow! I always thought of “civil rights” as ensuring that all Americans enjoyed the same constitutional and legal protections. Now, it seems, the concept of civil rights has expanded to the idea of redistributing income from motorists and consumers, many of them low-income themselves, to trendy priorities favored by urban white elites under the guise of helping minorities and the poor. Continue reading