Category Archives: General Assembly

Illinois to Legalize Recreational Pot: Implications for Virginia

Legal tokin’ in the Land of Lincoln. Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign Illinois’ recreational marijuana legalization bill tomorrow. Illinois, America’s sixth most populous state, will become the 11th state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. The District of Columbia has also legalized the possession of ganja. This has implications for Virginia.

First, Illinois is the first state to legalize the possession and sale of marijuana via the state legislature. Vermont’s legislature legalized the possession but not the sale of marijuana. All other states came to legalization via citizen led ballot initiatives. Since the Virginia Constitution has no provision for citizen-led ballot initiatives, the General Assembly would have to follow in the footsteps of the Illinois legislature to legalize marijuana in the Old Dominion. Illinois has proven this is possible. The second implication is the looming encirclement of Virginia by states with legalized recreational marijuana. The closer legal pot dispensaries get to Virginia the harder it will be for Virginia to stop cross border marijuana flows. Continue reading

Fix the General Assembly, Then Tackle Energy Bill

It has been over a month since a coalition of unnatural allies announced a proposal to revise Virginia’s electricity regulation system – again – but the idea dropped from view fairly quickly. One of the main and most visible proponents, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, has now taken on a very different role in the Trump Administration.

As I wrote in Sunday’s Washington Post (here), the ideas in the document itself need to remain on the shelf until the General Assembly and the rest of the Richmond establishment are less influenced by the various high-dollar players mixing profit and ideology in this effort. There also needs to be a more robust voice speaking only for consumers, a voice that actually gets heard.

Do what we’ve done before and we get what we’ve gotten before – a hit on consumers that enriches the moneyed interests. That happened in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2018.   Continue reading

No Great Leap, But a Continuing Tide

The following was written for the Thomas Jefferson Institute’s Jefferson Policy Journal and distributed earlier today.  Some themes repeat an earlier post

Fighting Joe Morrissey

It’s hard to dissect a battle while the smoke is still clearing, but the June 11 Virginia primaries demonstrated again the state’s continued and steady move away from its conservative past. It was not a Great Leap Forward for the progressive elements of the Democratic party, but where they didn’t win, they applied some serious heat.

Case in point, Senate minority leader and ultimate inside player Richard Saslaw of Fairfax, who only survived because the 51 percent of voters who rejected him had two liberal choices and split their votes. Case in point, former and once-disgraced delegate Joe Morrissey, who defeated long-time incumbent Senator Rosalyn Dance for the seat stretching between Richmond and Petersburg. Dance is no conservative but has proven willing to work across the aisle.  Continue reading

More (But Not All) Cost Projections Filed About Ratepayer Bill Transformation Act

Source: SCC Staff summary. Click for larger view.

With some of its closest legislative allies facing primary challenges next week, much of what Dominion Energy Virginia filed Friday in response to questions about the consumer cost of its future plans is redacted.  The story in Tuesday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch (here) could only cover that portion of the data not kept secret.

Three of the four documents filed by Dominion are about its motion requesting protected status for the information, and the fourth (here) includes numerous blacked out portions, which we will not see unless the SCC rejects those motions.  Continue reading

Staying Within the Debt Capacity

I am following up on an earlier post discussing the capital budget recommendations of the Governor and the Commonwealth’s debt capacity. Jim Bacon’s recent post discussing Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne’s worries about increasing debt also dealt with this general issue.

Guided by Secretary Layne, the Governor’s introduced budget was relatively conservative in its capital provisions and the authorization of $568.4 million in additional tax-supported debt. As predicted in the earlier post, the General Assembly came under a lot of pressure to add to the package and responded accordingly.  The final budget bill, signed by the Governor in early May, authorized the issuance of an additional $1.1 billion in state-supported debt.

The major projects added by the legislature were the replacement of Central State Hospital ($315 million), a top priority of the Governor; “renewal” of Alderman Library at UVa ($132.5 million); and demolition and replacement of Daniel Gym at Virginia State University ($82.9 million). Also included in the introduced and final total packages was $248 million, primarily for Virginia Tech, which was tied to the Amazon deal.  Including the authorizations provided by the 2018 General Assembly, the 2018-2020 Appropriation Act authorized the issuance of an additional $2.1 billion in tax-supported debt. Continue reading

SCC Again Denies Escape from Dominion Monopoly

SCC: We’re All In This Together

The State Corporation Commission has denied another request from a major Virginia retailer for permission to escape from Dominion Energy Virginia’s monopoly electricity service.   The score for such petitions is now one approval, two denials, and the message is clear to all the other petitioners:  Go fight it out at the General Assembly.

The petition denied today was from Costco, seeking to aggregate 27 of its stores into a single electricity account that met the 5-megawatt demand trigger which allows large customers to seek a competitive supplier.  The final order is here.

Continue reading

Are PBMs Killing Pharmacies, Hiking Medicaid?

Stoney Creek Pharmacy, Nellysford, VA

A form letter mailed this month announced the death of another local independent pharmacy, this one in the bustling community of Nellysford.  Residents of Nelson County’s Rockfish Valley, including those in the large Wintergreen community, will join plenty of other rural areas in the U.S. without a pharmacy close by.

“Very few independent pharmacies show a profit now unless they sell CBD oil, still unproven, do compounding or find other niche markets that small populations…cannot support,” wrote pharmacist Bob Ladd, who first owned the business in 1988, got out and then bought it back in 2017 in a last ditch effort to make it viable.  A new Dollar General store nearby was a major blow to his non-prescription sales, he added.  Continue reading

What can Virginia learn from Nashville (Part 2)?

Update. In the first installment of this two installment post I described the metropolitan juggernaut that is modern day Nashville. I also provided some historical perspective on how Nashville became the sixth fastest growing US city (measured along several axes) between 2011 and 2016. As a side note, the 35 fastest growing cities documented in the prior link included no cities in Virginia. I have family in Nashville. For three of the last four years I have visited my family, run in a wildly popular race and witnessed the remarkable growth of Music City. My 2019 trip is complete and this article is the promised update.

First, a step back. Admiring the rapid growth of Nashville requires a fundamental belief. One has to believe that rapid growth in urban areas is a good thing. This is not a universally held belief, in Virginia or in Tennessee. Thomas Jefferson, for example, was quoted as saying, “When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe.” While I understand the bucolic allure of country living I believe that the economic future of the United States and Virginia will largely be in the cities. I think Virginia should be striving to create an environment conducive to fast growing, safe, livable cities. To that end much can be learned from Nashville as well as Charlotte, Austin, Raleigh, etc. Continue reading

Cuccinelli to North Carolina on Electricity Regulation – Avoid Virginia’s Mistakes

The Cooch is back. Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli penned an op-ed for the Wilmington, North Carolina based Star News opposing Duke Energy’s proposed changes to electrical regulation.  The title of the opinion piece is, “N.C. should block this Duke Energy power grab”.  Cuccinelli’s biggest issue with the pending regulation is extending the period of time between utility rate cases.  The editorial board of the Star News agrees. Cuccinelli writes:

“Key provisions to extend the period of time between utility company rate cases are embedded within N.C. Senate Bill 559, being debated at the N.C. General Assembly. Similar provisions hurt Virginia customers, and will hurt North Carolina customers, too.”

Continue reading

Barbara Favola Makes Disingenuous Statements about Dominion Funding

A clarification has been added to the end of this article.

Setup. Barbara Favola is the Democratic State Senator from Virginia’s 31st district.  That district is centered in Arlington but includes areas of Fairfax and Loudoun Counties as well.  Favola is a politician-for-life having served on the Arlington County Board from 1997 through 2012 and in the Virginia State Senate since then.  She is seeking to extend her 22 consecutive years in politics to 26 in the upcoming General Assembly election.  However, Sen Favola’s well laid plans hit a snag.  She will face a challenger named Nicole Merlene in the June 11 Democratic primary.  Ms. Merlene has astutely called Sen Favola’s ethics and independence into question based on Favola’s non-legislative position as the head of a lobbying organization representing clients in Richmond.  An article in ggwash summarized a debate between Favola and Merlene:

“In her opening statement, Merlene referred to a December 2016 proposal to build a 325-foot tall tower on Virginia Department of Transportation land in Rosslyn. Favola, the sitting state senator for the district, was an advisor for the project.

Merlene said this type of behavior was pervasive, citing her opponent’s relationship with Marymount University and Virginia Hospital Center, which are both clients of a lobbying organization that Favola leads when she is not working in Richmond.“This is an issue where our representative was using public office for private benefit,” she said.”

Favola responded by employing what has become known as “the Saslaw – Norment defense” which holds that no amount of money from any source could ever be corrupting based on the genetic honesty of long time Virginia politicians. Continue reading

Politician Behaving Badly?

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chester, has caught flak for engaging in an argument with a Virginia Capitol Police officer — dropping the F bomb in the process — when the officer prevented her from parking in a restricted area near her legislative office building. As depicted in media accounts, she came across as officious and entitled. But there may be more to the story.

In breaking the story several days ago, the Richmond Times-Dispatch noted vaguely that Chase had received threats, was “in fear for her life,” and had taken to wearing a pistol on her hip during the 2019 General Assembly session. In a Facebook post yesterday, she claimed to have been “accosted on three separate occasions” and said she doesn’t “feel safe parking outside the Capitol.”

This raises the question: Is there any basis to her fears or is she just being paranoid? There would seem to be a bigger issue here than a temper tantrum over a parking space. Continue reading

Judge Rules Virginia’s Confederate Statues Protected by State Law

Statue of Gen. George Henry Thomas, Virginian and Union General, in Thomas Circle – Washington, DC.

Court case. Circuit Court Judge Richard E. Moore has ruled that the City of Charlottesville cannot remove statues of Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The judge determined that these are war memorials protected under Virginia state law. Articles describing the decision can be found here, here and here. As the Roanoke Times writes …

“The Monument Fund filed suit in March 2017, claiming the Charlottesville City Council in 2016 violated a state code section that bans the removal of war memorials when it voted to remove the statue of Lee. The suit was later amended to also include the Jackson statue.

The defense recently has focused on the question of whether the statues constitute monuments. Recent motions by the defense have sought to have a jury make the determination.”

Dillon’s Rule. Virginia has a strict implementation of Dillon’s Rule. This means that a high percentage of political power within the Commonwealth of Virginia rests with the state government rather than the localities. This political philosophy has been used by the state to micromanage localities for decades. One example is a section of Virginia law titled, “Memorials for War Veterans”. The law allows localities to construct memorials for war veterans but not to remove those same memorials. This section of Virginia code was the basis for the suit over the two statues in Charlottesville. Continue reading

Courts Authorizing “Reverse Location” Warrants in Virginia

FBI “reverse location” warrant in Henrico County…. Photo credit: Forbes

Big brother Google is watching you. Back in October, 2018,  Forbes reported that a Virginia court had authorized the FBI to use a “reverse location” warrant to try to solve a series of crimes in Henrico County, Va. This warrant, also known as a geofence warrant, allows police to compel Google to provide all cellphone activity for all people in a general area over a specified period of time. The resulting handover of data includes locations and other information on potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of people. While Google has complied with the warrants in the past, it is unclear whether the company complied in the Henrico case. Continue reading

Tuition Monster Tamed? Don’t Relax Just Yet.

Virginia 529’s Tuition Monster

It is premature to declare victory in the effort to restore sanity to tuition decisions at Virginia’s state colleges, but several factors seem to be coming together to give students and their families a break for the coming school term. Repeat:  For the coming school term.  Continue reading

How Government Creates Poverty: Fines and Fees

Government is much better at creating poverty than at curing it.

Yesterday the General Assembly voted to end the practice of suspending driving licenses for non-payment of fines or restitution or both and ordered Department of Motor Vehicles to restore driving privileges for hundreds of thousands of Virginians. If you need to do business at a DMV office in July, get there early. Restoring 600,000 licenses may take a while.   Continue reading