Category Archives: General Assembly

NoVa Rules Now

This electoral map published by the Virginian-Pilot is a bit dated, but it shows the dominance of Northern Virginia in House of Delegates districts that elected Democrats last week.

by James A. Bacon

The big shift in power in the General Assembly does more than put Democrats in control of the state legislature. It gives Northern Virginia more power than ever before. Northern Virginians taking senior leadership positions in the General Assembly in January include:

  • Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, Senate Majority Leader
  • Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax Station, Speaker of the House
  • Del. Charniele L. Herring, D-Alexandria, House Majority Leader
  • Del. Richard C. Sullivan, D-Fairfax, Democratic Caucus chairman

Just as significant, roughly half the Democratic Party caucus hails from Northern Virginia. In the Age of Trump, Northern Virginia has become a politically blue monoculture. In many NoVa districts, Republicans didn’t even run candidates.

So, here’s a question: To what degree will Northern Virginians elected officials vote their liberal/progressive philosophical inclinations and to what degree will they vote their geographic interests? Continue reading

Aird Is a Woman to Watch

by James A. Bacon

Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, as one would expect, is playing on her identity as a young, African-American woman in her bid to become the next Speaker of the House. But there’s more to her appeal to fellow Democrats than identity politics. She has a plan — a plan for the Democrats to get off to a fast start in the 2020 General Assembly session.

Aird lays it all out in her “60 Day Plan for a Stronger Commonwealth,” which she has posted online and disseminated widely. (I presume she distributed it widely if I got a copy.) Therein she lays out her ideas for the internal caucus structure of the House of Delegates (seen in the diagram above). I have never covered the General Assembly as a beat, so  I don’t know how novel this structure is. (Perhaps Steve Haner could fill in details). Whatever the case, Aird clearly has spent a lot of time thinking about it. This chart suggests to me that the young woman, 33 years old, has considerable organizational acumen. Continue reading

Omega Protein Exceeds ASMFC Catch Limit of Menhaden

Photo credit: Stephan Lowy

by Don Rippert

What, me worry? Omega Protein has admitted exceeding its menhaden catch limit for 2019 in the Chesapeake Bay. Omega Protein, a Houston-based company and wholly owned subsidiary of Cooke, Inc, a Canadian firm, operates a fishing fleet based in Reedville, Va. Employing about 300 Virginians, Omega Protein has been mired in controversy over the years regarding its heavy catch of menhaden.  Since this topic has been repeatedly covered on Bacon’s Rebellion, I won’t provide detailed background. However, the environmental group Menhaden Defenders operates an informative website describing the situation.

Menhaden Defenders writes, “The commercial menhaden fishery is made up of two sectors, a reduction fishery, which grinds billions of bunker up for fish meal and oil, and the bait fishery which supplies menhaden for lobster and crab traps. Reduction fishing is an antiquated practice that has been banned in every east coast state, except Virginia.” Virginia is the only east coast state that allows reduction fishing and is also the only east coast state that allows unlimited contributions to state politicians. Over the last 26 years Omega Protein has donated just under $600,000 to Virginia politicians, political committees and PACs with the majority going to Republicans.

Continue reading

Out of Obscurity: Lashrecse Aird

Lashrecse Aird

As Democratic legislators organize in advance of assuming control of the General Assembly, the media spotlight shifts to the maneuvering to fill the senior leadership positions. The elevation of Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, to Senate Majority Leader is a foregone conclusion. But who will become the next Speaker of the House?

At this point, according to the Virginia Mercury, there are four declared candidates: past House Minority Leader Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax; Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg; Del. Luke Torian, D-Prince Williams, and Del. Ken Plum, D-Fairfax.

Of these, the most interesting to me is the little-known Aird. First of all, it’s a remarkable sign of the times that a 33-year-old African-American woman and  lawmaker with a mere four years of experience could seriously aspire to the most important state legislative position in the state. So, congratulations to Aird on that score. If she wins, I’m sure the first-in-Virginia-history angle will totally dominate the news coverage.

But there’s another aspect to Aird of interest to anyone plumbing Virginia’s deeper power structure: She is employed as chief of staff at Richard Bland College, a two-year college in Prince George County. As Speaker of the House she would be a powerful ally of public higher education in Virginia. Continue reading

What Will Clean Virginia Be Asking For?

By Steve Haner

“Do you actively support efforts to reduce corruption in government?”   

Of course, any candidate presented with that question will reply yes. What do you expect?  “No, I’m quite passive about corruption in government. Live and let live.”

That was one of the softball questions on the Clean Virginia candidate survey form, which will be taking on added significance given the number of Clean Virginia-funded and endorsed candidates who were successful  Tuesday. You can read the full questionnaire here, and potential 2021 candidates are advised to print it out and start a file on coming roll call votes.  Continue reading

Tax-and-Spend Pressure Builds Inexorably

by James A. Bacon

There are two items in the news today indicating that pressure for more spending and taxes will be remorseless in the 2019 General Assembly session: (1) The Virginia Retirement System board of trustees has lowered the expected rate of return on its $82.3 billion investment portfolio, requiring $215.6 million-per-year additional contributions from state and local governments, and (2) the Virginia Board of Education has approved changes to the Standards of Quality for Virginia public schools that would require $950 million more in state support to meet. And that doesn’t include increased demands from Medicaid, the program that ate Virginia’s budget; higher education where state support is the only thing restraining runaway tuition increases; or more money to meet the state’s burgeoning mental health needs.

First, the VRS. Last year the retirement system for public-employee and teacher pensions earned a 6.7% return on investment: not shabby but below the 7% assumption used to calculate contributions from state and local governments. In recognition of poorer investment prospects in an era of super-low interest rates, the board reduced its assumed rate of return to 6.75%. To make up the difference, state and local governments will have to contribute $215.6 million a year more during the two years of the next Biennial budget, reports the Richmond Times Dispatch.

“I know it’s going to take more money out of the budget, but it’s the right thing to do,” Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne told the RTD. Continue reading

Board of Education Wants $950 Million Mo’ Money

by James A. Bacon

Elections have consequences, as former President Obama famously said. In Virginia, where the Democratic Party displays enormous momentum in the 2019 election for control of the state Senate and House of Delegates, you can get an idea of what those consequences will be in this article today in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

In a preview of a Virginia Board of Education (SBOE) meeting today, Justin Mattingly with the RTD reports that the board will review a proposal calling for $950 million in new money for public schools, much of which will be reserved for schools serving high proportions of low-income households.

In a Republican-dominated legislature, even one that prioritizes K-12 spending, the proposals would be Dead on Arrival. But there’s no telling what a Democratic-controlled General Assembly will do in collaboration with Governor Ralph Northam, who, in contrition for his blackface episode of 35 years ago, has pledged to redeem himself with policies favored by progressive politicians. Continue reading

Will These Insurance Ads Also Sway VA Voters?

“You Only Pay For What You Need”

By Steve Haner

As the state campaign debate rages about health insurance plan which are short term or less comprehensive than the Affordable Care Act, two  on-going national ad campaigns may cross-pollinate the debate.  They are bolstering the Republican position nicely.

The first are the spots with people saying they are worried about the various Medicare for All proposals. They express concerns about a more expensive one-size-fits-all approach. Well, isn’t that exactly what Democrats like Senate candidate Debra Rodman and other others are demanding in Virginia? One size fits all? In several districts they are attacking Republicans who voted to allow lower cost alternatives that didn’t offer all ACA features.  Continue reading

Don’t Abandon Medicaid Work Requirement

Cover art from 2014 JLARC report on Virginia’s array of workforce training programs. Another state report notes almost 860,000 served in 2017.

By Steve Haner

To Republicans who supported the 2018 decision to expand Medicaid services to more Virginians – and encouraged yes votes from reluctant colleagues — the promise to couple those benefits with pathways toward gainful employment was a key reason. The compromise has worked in other states as well.  Continue reading

Medicaid Expansion Cost Still Off-Budget, Elusive

By Steve Haner

All the signs point to trouble. The next state budget, a two-year plan to be proposed in December, adopted by March and implemented in July, may be caught between stagnant revenue and soaring spending.  The spending charge will be led once again by Medicaid.

Just how much the decision to expand Medicaid will cost in the future remains elusive.

The state’s fiscal prospects were explained to the General Assembly’s money committees September 16 and 17 by Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne.  The highlights are summarized in this article for the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, using the image of a strand of worry beads.  The article is being distributed today.  Continue reading

Virginia Ethics Enforcement So Weak It Can’t Be Rated

by Don Rippert

Your General Assembly in Action (or inaction).  The Coalition for Integrity (C4I) has rated the political ethics enforcement approaches of the 50 states.  Virginia’s ethics enforcement is so weak that it is one of seven states that cannot be rated.  This should not be surprising to anybody who regularly reads this blog. The other un-ratable states are Arizona, Idaho, North Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming. The Coalition for Integrity acknowledges that Virginia has two ethics boards (Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council and the Virginia House Advisory Panel) but finds that both have “Limited or No Power”. As the Center for Integrity states in its general recommendations, “A toothless ethics agency serves no purpose. Agencies need wide powers to investigate and sanction all government personnel. Currently, seven agencies have limited or no investigative or sanctioning power.” Of course Virginia is one of the seven. Continue reading

Virginia Unemployment Fund Gains In Good Times

2018 labor force participation rates. Source: VEC. Click for larger view.

Laissez les bon temps roulez. Virginia’s strong employment climate is adding a financial spare tire to Virginia’s unemployment trust fund, now above 83 percent solvency by one actuarial measure and exceeding a federal recommended minimum balance on another measure.

The annual unemployment fund status update for a legislative oversight commission Wednesday lasted about 30 minutes, with the chairman, Del. Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, noting it was far shorter and less dramatic than some previous meetings in tight times, adding “it’s a good drama not to have.” The presentation is here.

The projected $1.45 billion fund balance for next December 31 will be another record, said Virginia Employment Commissioner Ellen Marie Hess. The figures used are not adjusted for inflation, however, and the state has been at higher solvency levels in previous periods of prosperity. The funds are just sitting there earning interest and awaiting the next recession, which history deems inevitable.  Continue reading

Speaking of Mental Health–Virginia has a Crisis

The Commonwealth is experiencing a crisis in its mental health system.  The situation is the result of some positive initiatives of the General Assembly, coupled with the legislature’s reluctance to provide the funding needed to deal with the results of those initiatives.

The crisis is an acute shortage of mental health treatment beds. Around the first of this month, the Commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) warned “there will be times over the July 4th holiday weekend when there will not be any open staffed beds at any of the state hospitals.”   And the July 4 weekend was not an aberration. The state’s adult mental health hospitals operated at 98 to 100 percent capacity in May and June. One day this month, the two hospitals that treat elderly patients had more patients than beds.

The state has reduced its mental health bed capacity in recent years, going from 1,571 beds in June 2010 to 1,491 beds in FY 2020, a reduction of five percent.

During that period of decreasing bed capacity, the General Assembly took two actions that have resulted in a significant increase in mental health admissions. Continue reading

Yes, Mental Illness is Key, Says U.S. Secret Service

The United States Secret Service, probably not a tool of the gun-loving American right, has just issued a report on 2018 mass shootings with a strong focus on the mental health problems displayed by the shooters. Clearly it didn’t get the same memo received by our friends at Blue Virginia, who think any such discussion unfairly stigmatizes the mentally ill and distracts from the real villains: guns themselves.

Let me get this right: Democrats don’t want to stigmatize the mentally ill, but are all too happy to blame the millions of law-abiding gun owners and subject them all to new regulations or restrictions, up to and including search, seizure and confiscation?  Continue reading

Firearms Theater: Boring, Tiresome, Repetitive

It is easy to dismiss next week’s special session of the General Assembly on proposed gun control as meaningless political theater, because that it what it will likely amount to.  It is also boring, tiresome and repetitive.

Following the 2007 tragedy at Virginia Tech, a group of well-intended and well-informed experts formed a non-partisan task force looking for insight, information and common ground.  There were state-level (here) and national (here) reports produced.  Continue reading