Category Archives: General Assembly

The Grim Reapers of Virginia’s General Assembly

by Kerry Dougherty

When she was hospitalized in September 1998, my brother and I had a somber discussion with her physician. We asked how long our mother – who was clearly failing – would live.

“How long is a piece of string?” the doctor shrugged.

She died four days later.

I’ve been thinking about my mother, her suffering and her last years spent under a death sentence since I learned that Virginia Democrats are again pushing an assisted suicide law. Unlike earlier bills that died in committee, this one, introduced by Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, cleared the Senate’s health subcommittee, a first step toward becoming law.

This measure – SB280 – would allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication to patients who are determined to be terminally ill with less than six months to live.

As if that’s an exact science. Continue reading

Democrats Lose Concerns About Taxing the Poor

Econ 101 Quiz. Virginia Democrats are poised to raise the sales tax 1% in most localities, add digital products to the taxed services, and create a new payroll tax. How will those changes impact that chart? Click for larger view.

By Steve Haner

A piece of Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s tax package has survived after all, but only the part that increases the sales tax base to collect about $1 billion or so more per year from citizens. Democrats who recently complained that sales tax increases were unfair to the poor are suddenly embracing them. 

On Sunday, both the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates budget committees approved Youngkin’s budget language to impose the sales tax on a host of digital products and services, adding 6% or more to the prices of downloads, streaming services, and online data storage. The full range of newly taxed transactions is not yet clear. 

The Senate then increased the gain to the treasury by making sure the new taxes will also cover business-to-business transactions, something the governor sought to exempt and something which is just passed along in higher prices.  

The risk of including that tax policy initiative inside Youngkin’s introduced budget bill was obvious from the start, and General Assembly Democrats have now pounced on the opportunity to capture that revenue. The tax increase is now wrapped in with all the state spending for two years, a hard bill to vote against.   Continue reading

Partisan Poison: Va Dems Quash a Bill to Protect School Kids

Del. A.C. Cordoza

by Kerry Dougherty 

How exactly is Virginia’s General Assembly celebrating Black History Month?

By killing a bill to protect children in public school lavatories, introduced by Del. A.C. Cordoza of Hampton.

Cordoza is an African-American. And a Republican. He was famously denied membership in the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus when he was elected in 2022.

Sadly, to the caucus, he’s not the right kind of Black man. Because his views are on the right.

Cordoza claims his bill that would require school personnel to check bathrooms every 30 minutes would not require added personnel nor would it cost taxpayers a dime.

It was tabled, he told the Virginia Mercury, because he’s a Republican.

While the proposed legislation was not expected to impact state spending, Cordoza said his bill was still forwarded from the House Education Committee to the House Appropriations Committee for review. It died in that committee without a hearing.

“It’s sent there to die,” said Cordoza, “to die quietly because they don’t want the world to know that they’re killing a bill to protect little girls in the bathroom, but they want to make sure that a Black Republican is not the one who does it.” said Del. A.C. Cordoza, R-Hampton.

It’s actually a practical suggestion, given that there have been a number of assaults in several school bathrooms, and perhaps some that have not been reported. Having an adult stick his or her head in the lavatory every 30 minutes would certainly discourage bullies and sex offenders. Continue reading

The Fight Against Invasives

Image credit: National Geographic

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

One fascinating aspect of the General Assembly is legislation that does not make headlines but is important to a fervent group of Virginians and that could have an impact on the state as a whole.

In recent years, the problem of invasive plants has gained the attention of legislators. In 2009, the General Assembly defined an invasive plant as one “that is not native to the ecosystem and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic harm or harm to human health.”

The requirement that an introduced plant must cause harm in order for it to be considered invasive is the key to the definition. That means the daffodils that are now adding some cheer to my backyard in the middle of winter are not invasive. On the other hand, the English ivy in my yard is invasive.

That statutory definition does not identify the specific plants that should be considered invasive. Consequently, there could be disagreements among “plant people” and confusion in the general public. Last year, the General Assembly directed the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to “create a list of invasive plant species” by January 1, 2024. It also prohibited any state agency from planting, selling, or propagating any plant on that list, except under narrowly defined situations. (The Virginia Mercury has described this years-long history in detail.) Continue reading

Progressive Legislators Declare “Profound Solidarity” with Criminals

from the Liberty Unyielding blog

Killings and violence have risen in the U.S. over the last decade, as some government officials have come to sympathize more with criminals than their victims. The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus recently said it is “in profound solidarity” with Virginia’s prison population, and that its members “work to dismantle the unjust criminal system.” They said the criminal-justice system has the “role of dehumanizing, abusing and punishing Black America.”

Thirty-two of Virginia’s 140 state legislators belong to the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, including the speaker of Virginia’s House of Delegates, Don Scott; the president pro tempore of the state Senate, Louise Lucas; the head of the House Appropriations Committee; and the head of the Senate Rules Committee.

On February 14, the VLBC issued a statement that began:

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus (VLBC) remains in profound solidarity with the 122,500 Virginians who are actively trapped in our state’s criminal justice system, nearly half of whom are Black. When slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment, it was qualified with “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” With that, mass incarceration was born and the criminal justice system absorbed the role of dehumanizing, abusing and punishing Black America. Continue reading

Floyd Judge Ponders Order to Return RGGI Tax

The states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative tax compact before Virginia withdrew.

By Steve Haner

A circuit court judge in Floyd County may soon order Virginia to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and to reimpose the related carbon tax on Virginia’s electricity consumers.

Judge Kenneth “Mike” Fleenor Jr. ruled earlier this month that a suit seeking reinstatement of RGGI could continue and held a hearing on February 5 on the question of “immediate relief.”  The plaintiff, a group of energy efficiency and insulation contractors using the RGGI tax dollars for their programs, has claimed it will suffer immediate and irreparable harm unless Virginia returns to collecting a carbon tax on coal and natural gas used by utilities.

The main impact of RGGI membership is on Virginia’s largest electricity provider, Dominion Energy Virginia, which simply passed the carbon tax directly on to customers on their monthly bills.  It stopped buying carbon allowances last year, but the bills had accumulated, so it is still charging customers.

Virginia’s Solicitor General Andrew Ferguson pointed out that the state bank account holding proceeds from the carbon tax collected in 2021, 2022 and 2023 still held $350 million and was only being expended at $30 million or so per month.  There should be enough to keep the plaintiff’s program going through 2024 as the case proceeds, he told the judge, according to a transcript of the hearing.

The plaintiff is the Association of Energy Conservation Professionals, with members who have been operating programs to insulate and weatherize properties using donated and government funds for almost 50 years.  It claims the RGGI dollars are the sole support for a particular program, but there are other funding sources for this work, including other money collected from utility customers.

Can an entity that benefits from a government spending program assert a right to maintain that spending program?  Once a tax funding a particular program is created, can it ever be repealed?  The contractors’ reliance on this stream of tax revenue has been recognized by two circuit courts now as sufficient standing to sue and demand reinstitution of the tax. Continue reading

Nasty Social Media Message Attacks Virginia’s Speaker of the House

Speaker Don Scott

by Kerry Dougherty

Great. Just what embattled Virginia Republicans need now: an ugly social media post attacking the new speaker of the House of Delegates over a crime he committed and did time for almost 30 years ago.

It’s no secret that Portsmouth Democrat Don Scott was convicted on drug charges in 1994 and served seven years in prison for his crime. He was released, turned his life around, became a lawyer, a member of the House of Delegates and was elected speaker this year.

The Washington Post sums up Scott’s biography this way:

Scott was convicted of carrying drug-related money across state lines just as he finished law school in Louisiana. Years after his release, Scott had his Virginia voting rights restored by then-governor Robert McDonnell (R), got his law license and has risen rapidly through the ranks at the General Assembly to become the first Black speaker in state history.

Oh, and when his friend and neighbor, Portsmouth Circuit Court Judge Johnny Morrison, needed a kidney, Scott donated his.

That’s an extraordinary act of generosity.

Look, I don’t agree with Scott’s politics and I think that most of the initiatives Virginia Democrats are pushing are radical and bad for the commonwealth. The party’s soft-on-crime positions are long-standing and detrimental to public safety.

But that has nothing to do with Scott’s past. Continue reading

Four Major Progressive Goals Still Advancing

By Steve Haner

The aggressive progressive agenda working its way through the 2024 Virginia General Assembly has lost some steam at the halfway point, but at least four of the major Democratic goals discussed earlier are still advancing.   

The two bills which will have the greatest impact on the Virginia economy are the proposed minimum wage increase and a new state-managed employee benefit for workers taking time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The two other bills the Democratic majorities in both the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates have now approved are a major expansion of procurement preferences for minority vendors and allowing class actions in civil litigation.   Continue reading

The Speaker Rules

Del. Don Scott (D-Portsmouth), Speaker of the House of Delegates Picture credit: Axios

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates is widely regarded as the second-most powerful figure, after the Governor, in Virginia state government. Speaker Don Scott (D-Portsmouth), elevated to the position this session after only two terms in the House, has let the power go to his head. Rather than acting like the presiding officer of the whole House, he is behaving like a partisan dictator.

Two events, perhaps related, earlier this week illustrate this attitude.

To help with the understanding of these events, it would be best to state some of the ground rules:

  • The Speaker appoints delegates to committees;
  • The Speaker assigns bills to committees;
  • The Speaker chairs the House Rules Committee;
  • The Rules Committee, unlike other committees, can send bills to the Floor without recommendation;
  • House Rules require that no amendment to a bill can be on a subject that is different from the one under consideration. This is known as the “germaneness rule”;
  • The Speaker can rule on questions of parliamentary procedure;
  • The Speaker’s rulings can be challenged. (Invariably, the members of the majority party, the Speaker’s party, will vote to uphold the Speaker’s rulings.);
  • The federal Hyde amendment prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortions except in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest.

Continue reading

If Assembly Wants SMR Bill, Then Fix It

By Steve Haner

This is progress. Only twenty members of the Virginia Senate voted Tuesday to ignore a key tenet of utility ratemaking and put utility stockholders and profits ahead of consumer protection. Usually when the utilities persuade the General Assembly to do that to Virginia consumers, they get a bigger vote margin than 20-16.*

Senate Bill 454 allows Virginia’s two monopoly electricity providers to spend undetermined millions of dollars on planning and developing small modular nuclear reactor projects and get it all paid by consumers, with a profit margin. But there is no guarantee any such plants will ever be built, and no other power plants built in Virginia have gotten this kind of up-front financial guarantee before the State Corporation Commission ruled them in the public interest. Continue reading

Swallow the Money, Part 2 of 3

by Joe Fitzgerald

There’s a donor in CFReports named “no name.” He, she, or it is listed on the report as “Name, No.” This same donor is called “Unknown Entity” in VPAP. Or perhaps “Entity, Unknown.” (VPAP and CFReports are described in Part 1.)

This donor’s address shows up as Matt Cross’s house on his campaign reports. (The address is public record, but it feels like doxing to use it here.) “No Name” gave Cross $170 for his 2021 campaign for the Rockingham County School Board, which he now chairs.

Cross’s reports demonstrate two things about Virginia’s system for campaign finance reporting. One is that it’s as easy to make at least a dozen mistakes as it is to make one. The other is that if a report is riddled with errors, it’s not clear what’s to be done about it.

Cross’s finance reports are good examples of the idea that the kind of campaign a politician runs can show us what kind of public official they will be. Cross’s reports show a candidate who appears to either not know how to fill out the reports or perhaps thinks the rules don’t apply to him. Maybe that’s what we should expect of a candidate who, upon taking leadership of a like-minded board, began banning books without regard for how they were chosen or what the process is for challenging a book. Instead they are banning books regardless of whether they’re in county schools, based not on any identifiable process but on vague parental complaints they have yet to produce.

The law on “No Name” at Cross’s house is that any campaign donor must be identified by name, address, and occupation. If that information is not available, the money is not supposed to be used for campaign purposes, but should be donated to charity. In the past, local candidates have given unidentified money as well as unspent funds to churches or non-profits. (Where the money goes is not regulated. One Harrisonburg City Council candidate, unopposed for re-election, gave $460 to his son for “campaigning.”) There is no report on VPAP of Cross donating any campaign money to charity, so it’s hard to say what he did with No Name’s $170.

As noted above, the donor’s occupation is supposed to be listed on CFReports. But that information does not appear on any of the donors in a particular group of campaign reports, defined further down. Continue reading

Swallow the Money, Part 1 of 3

by Joe Fitzgerald

When a governor was accepting gifts and amenities from a supporter some years back, the surprise for many Virginians came when it was time to indict him. The Feds had to do it, because he probably hadn’t broken any state laws, and eventually, after trials and appeals, he didn’t stand convicted of breaking any federal laws either.

The big surprise, the dirty little secret, the obscure fact about campaign finance is that very little is illegal. This is in part because the people who would have to make things illegal are the same people who might be doing the potentially illegal things. Stated another way, a delegate or senator is not going to find fault with a fundraising system they’re going to need next year. Any action they vote to ban might be one they’ve used themselves. A state senator asked to outlaw a particular type of fundraising might instead think it’s worth trying in the next campaign.

The Virginia system is that a candidate can raise as much money as he or she wants so long as it’s all reported. There’s a 69-page document on the state elections website on what needs to be reported and how. There’s a slightly shorter version for a Political Action Committee, a PAC. I’ve read both. Neither is complicated.

But what is complicated is the process to read the reports. CFReports is the state site where anybody on the web can read about any donation to Virginia races from school board to governor, if they know what to look for. VPAP, the Virginia Public Access Project, presents these reports in a more general and more readable form than CFReports, but neither offers any interpretation of the numbers. Is a donation larger than usual? Smaller? Did a major donor give more this year than last? Continue reading

Analog Tax Policy is Harmful in a Digital World

By Chris Braunlich

To many, testifying before a government committee conjures visions of the drama surrounding the McCarthy, Watergate, or Zuckerberg hearings.

In Virginia, not so much.  Faced with processing more than 2,600 bills in 60 days, the legislature conducts hearings that are often more of a kabuki dance, while backstage choreographers figure out the next steps.  Speakers are frequently limited to one minute and sometimes committee chairs simply ask the roomful of citizen and professional lobbyists to stand in support or opposition to a bill.  It is rarely deep and incisive content.

But these hearings are ideal opportunities to test the waters, grab a headline, position your bill for the future, ask a question directly of a bill’s sponsor, or determine where your adversaries are coming from. Continue reading

Dueling Fiscal Impact Statements

Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) Photo credit: Falls Church News-Press

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Providing a fiscal impact statement (FIS) for legislation is a positive aspect of the legislative process. The statement can alert the legislators to the possible fiscal implications of a bill under consideration and its estimated cost. Thus, legislators are in a position to make a more informed decision about supporting the bill.

The process for preparing FISs has been described and discussed in detail in an earlier post on this blog. There is a bill currently under consideration that nicely illustrates the ways in which fiscal impact statements can be misused. Before going into specifics, it would be useful to review how that happens.

As with many things intended to be positive, FISs have a negative aspect, as well. For example, legislators can hide behind them. Subject-matter committees are supposed to make the policy decision on a bill and, if it is approved, refer it to the House Appropriations Committee or the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, as applicable, for the consideration of the fiscal impact. The money committees, in theory, are supposed to limit their consideration to whether the projected fiscal impact can be handled in the budget. In reality, however, those committees also take the policy aspects of those bills into consideration. As a result, legislators on the subject-matter committees who may think a bill is bad for any of several reasons, but do not want to oppose it for political reasons, can vote for it, knowing it will be referred to the money committee, which will likely kill it. Continue reading

Biting the Hand that You Need

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

If you are a Virginia governor entering the last two years of your term with your party in the minority in both houses of the legislature and are depending on the other party to help you put in place a major project which would be part of your legacy, why would you publicly insult that party gratuitously?

In a speech this weekend at Washington and Lee University, Governor Youngkin had this to say: “Today’s progressive Democratic Party does not believe in — nor do they want — a strong America, an America with no rivals; they are content to concede, to compromise away, to abandon the very foundations that have made America exceptional.”

Senate Democrats promptly announced that the bill to create an authority to oversee the $2 billion development for a professional basketball and hockey arena would not be on the agenda for Monday’s meeting of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. Sen Scott Surovell, (D-Fairfax), the Senate Majority Leader explained that the speech “pretty much destroyed any sense that there was “good faith” in discussions between the administration and Democrats. Monday is the last day each house can consider its own bills, with the exception of the budget bill.

I wonder if Youngkin was aware of his party leader’s attitude about America’s “foundations” — treaties are not to be honored; America’s support is for sale; he would encourage Russia to do ”whatever the hell it wanted to” if an ally were not putting up as much as he thought they should.