Category Archives: General Assembly

Richmond Wants to Kill Its Gas Utility, Also Ending Service in Henrico, Chesterfield

Pending Termination

by Steve Haner

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: That the (Richmond) Council hereby commits to working with the City’s Administration on an equitable plan to phase out reliance on gas and shift to accelerated investment in City-owned renewable energy and hereby recognizes that the continued operation of the City’s gas utility is an obstacle to the City’s goal of Net-Zero emissions in accordance Resolution No. 2020-R024, adopted June 8, 2020.

Translation:  The Richmond Gas Works, a municipal owned public service utility, is targeted for closure.   Council sees its continued operation as “an obstacle.”  The 117,600 customers (as of 2018) will need to run their lives and businesses without natural gas.  Those customers are not confined to the city itself but are also located in Henrico and Chesterfield counties.

Disclosure:  The neighborhood where Jim Bacon and I live, miles from the city line, is served by Richmond Gas Works.  Just last year at some expense I converted a traditional 80 gallon electric water heater to a tankless gas unit.  The goal was to save energy (it did), but if this happens, I’m back to the less efficient approach and my least favorite power company digs deeper into my pocket.

Every single candidate for the legislature in Richmond, Henrico or Chesterfield needs to tell the voters whether they will let this stand or oppose this effort to kill natural gas options.  It will end up before the General Assembly or the State Corporation Commission or the courts or all three.  The resolution itself contemplates needing legislation to accomplish its goals.   The city probably has a legal (and enforceable) obligation to continue service under current law. Continue reading

The Economics of Flood Control in Virginia

Hampton Roads base flood – 1% annual risk

by James C. Sherlock

We have work to do, and need to do it quickly and well.

  • If we want to get storm defenses built before major storm damage rather than after; and
  • if we want the federal government to pay 65% of the costs.

Let’s assume we do.

The “Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Planning Framework” appears to be heading in a direction that may miss important pieces of any benefit/cost assessment. And those assessments drive federal interest.

The assumption in Framework going forward appears to be that the value of flood protection is in loss avoidance. Exclusively. 

Indeed, all of the work that I can find in flooding assessments Virginia is put towards the goal of understanding the costs of such losses.

Not sufficient, but fixable. Continue reading

Louisiana Shows How Flood Control Can Work at Massive Scale

by James C. Sherlock

Louisiana has half the population of Virginia. Virginia is ranked the 18th richest state in per capita income, Louisiana 48th.

So, why has Louisiana been so phenomenally successful in flood control efforts since Katrina while Virginia writes its own framework for action that it is too expensive here?

Primarily because Louisiana figured out after Katrina that:

  1. the feds simultaneously have all the flood control resources — money, expertise, experience, scale — that states do not have, and both write the regulations and regulate flood control.
  2. the state had to organize both the state and local governments to deal with the federal government with a single voice.

The new agency charged with that monumental and immediate task, while quickly and iteratively creating itself, was the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) of Louisiana.

There is much for Virginians to know about and learn from Louisiana’s success. You will see that the Bayou State has way bigger flooding problems to solve than does Virginia.

Their success must be a model for us.

Yet the Commonwealth seems hell bent on ignoring the methods that enabled that success. Our leaders also deny that engineered defenses, “castles,” are even affordable as part of the solution set in Virginia. Each idea is both ill considered and dangerous.

I will describe briefly how Louisiana has done its part in this. Continue reading

Redistricting: Let the Lawsuits Begin!

Sen. Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell) Photo crecit: Steve Helber/AP

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The first draft maps had not been drawn when the first lawsuit challenging Virginia’s redistricting process was filed.

Sen. Travis Hackworth. R-Tazewell, along with several other plaintiffs, is challenging 2020 Virginia legislation that required, for redistricting purposes, prison and jail inmates to be allocated to the population counts of the locality of their last known address, rather than to the localities in which the prisons and jails in which they were incarcerated, as had been the practice in past years. (That legislation was the subject of an earlier BR post.)

Because most prisons are located in rural areas, by shifting their populations to other areas of the state for purposes of the population totals used in redistricting, the lawsuit claims that the change will politically weaken rural areas.

The basis for the suit is unusual. The defendant is the newly constituted Virginia Redistricting Commission. The Commission was established through voter approval of a constitutional amendment approved in a 2020 referendum. The court petition claims that, because the legislation dealing with how the Commission should treat prison populations during its redistricting efforts was passed by the legislature and not approved by voters in the referendum, the legislation is invalid. Continue reading

Campaign Finance Reform in Virginia – the New Governor Must Lead

by James C. Sherlock

I consider campaign finance reform the foremost issue facing representative government in Virginia.

We are one of only a few states with no campaign donations limits at all. We pay for that in legislation enacted and not enacted because of the preferences of huge donors. And in the stink of legal public corruption.

It also drives way up the cost of running and keeps good people from participating.

The new governor will have to lead. Continue reading

Redistricting is Working – Sen. Barker Threatens to Resign

by James C. Sherlock

Something must be going right. Sen. George Barker, D-Alexandria, has threatened to resign. Seems he is unable, at least so far, to pick his voters in the redistricting process.

Virginia’s new bipartisan redistricting commission is working the details with two months to complete its work.

Barker is on that commission. But he lives in Clifton, at the western tip of the current 39th Senate district. Oops.

His current 39th Senate District (pictured above) resembles a golf driver in which he lives in the toe. But his comfortable Democratic margins live in the shaft of the 39th that reaches all the way into Alexandria.

As a matter of fact, the state’s Democrats are packed so thickly in Northern Virginia that geographically compact districts can produce fewer, not more, Democrats in the General Assembly.

So they won’t be geographically compact. But Sen. Barker apparently lives too far from the main Democratic vein to merit an exception. Continue reading

Republican Senator Quits Redistricting Commission

Sen. Steve Newman (R-Lynchburg) Photo Credit: Bob Brown/Times Dispatch

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Sen. Steve Newman (R-Lynchburg) has resigned from the Virginia Redistricting Commission. He was one of two Republican Senators appointed to the Commission.

Newman did not give any reasons for his decision. However, it is difficult to think it was not out of personal pique at the turn the decision process has taken. As I detailed in my last post, the bipartisan co-chairs announced in their August 23 meeting a policy forbidding individual commissioners from communicating with the Commission’s partisan attorneys and map drawers outside of a public meeting or without all the members being aware of the communication and any questions and of the response. This policy largely negates the decisions previously made by the Commission and vigorously pushed by Newman: two sets of partisan attorneys, two sets of map drawers, consideration of political data, and consideration of incumbents’ addresses. Newman was the most outspoken member opposed to the new protocol. The recent revealing by the map drawers of proposed Senate districts for Northern Virginia must have been the last straw. They were developed without taking incumbents’ addresses into consideration. Any attempted tinkering with those boundaries will have to occur in public session, presumably subject to a series of votes. Continue reading

Redistricting, Part 2: Squabbling Among Democrats, Republicans, and Citizens

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

(Author’s note:  This is the second installment of my reporting and comment on the Virginia Redistricting Commission. Warning — it is long.  I apologize for the length, but it seemed best for interested readers to have a fairly thorough summary of the Commission’s doings up through the end of August in one place, rather than breaking it up in pieces.)

The story of the Virginia Redistricting Commission so far is one of two battles.  One is the partisan struggle between Democrats and Republicans. One side does not trust the other. The other battle is the effort of citizen members to ensure that the process does not become one in which legislators devise districts to suit their own interests. This effort ran into opposition from legislators, primarily, but not solely, the Republican legislators.

Presiding officer

The partisan split was made clear from the beginning. At its first meeting, in an obviously orchestrated move, Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, moved that the commission elect co-chairs, one from each party. Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, seconded the motion. Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, declared it a great idea. There was no mention that the state constitution provision establishing the Commission stipulated the election of “a chairman” (emphasis added).

The constitution also stipulates that the chairman be a citizen member. In complying with this provision, the members unanimously elected as co-chairs Mackenzie Babichenko, an assistant Hanover County prosecutor, from the Republican-nominated citizen members, and Greta Harris, from Richmond and president/CEO of the Better Housing Coalition, from the Democratic-nominated citizen members.

The Commission later established two subcommittees and designated Republican and Democratic co-chairs of each one. Continue reading

Redistricting: Say You Want Nonpartisanship?

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

(Author’s note: The following is the first of several articles on the redistricting process that is underway in the Commonwealth. There is a lot going on that merits discussion, but it is my sense that relatively short articles, as opposed to long ones with lots of detail, are more appropriate for the blog.  The reporting and comments are based on numerous reports, with links at the end of the articles, as well as on hours of listening to, and watching, the recorded meetings of the full commission and one of its subcommittees.)

The Virginia Redistricting Commission has been preparing since January to draw the Commonwealth’s new Congressional districts, as well as the districts for the state Senate and House of Delegates. I wish that I could say “I told you so,” but it is worse than I feared.

A quick background summary would probably be helpful in refreshing everyone’s minds For many years, Republicans in the General Assembly had resisted calls to hand redistricting over to a nonpartisan commission. Then, in the 2017 elections, they lost 15 seats in the House of Delegates, shrinking their previous 32-seat margin to two seats (and one of those they got literally through the luck of the draw). Sensing the likelihood of additional losses in 2019 and thereby putting Democrats in control of redistricting in 2021 and being able to do to them what they had done to Democrats in 2001 and 2011, Republicans proposed a constitutional amendment in the 2019 Session that turned redistricting over to a commission. The amendment passed the 2019 General Assembly with a lot of Democratic support (the vote in the House on the final bill was 83-15). Continue reading

Marijuana and Casino Legalization Linked to Increases in Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

Paul Krizek (D-Pamunkey Nation)

by James C. Sherlock

We know what is going to happen.

Dr. Daniel Carey M.D., Virginia’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources, will soon apply to the federal government for funding for substance abuse prevention grants.

He knows.

He plans to tell the federal government that additional people, mostly poor and Black, are going to suffer and die from mental illness and substance abuse because we legalized marijuana, casinos and sports betting.

But apparently we did it for a good cause — equity — or so some say.

The opening statement of that draft application reads:

Statewide Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Behavioral Health and Substance Use

The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting health impact, uncertainty, social isolation, and economic distress are expected to substantially increase the behavioral health needs of Virginians. Increased alcohol, substance use, including increased overdose rates are key concerns, as well as COVID-19 impacts already evident in Virginia.

Continue reading

Shots and Masks in Richmond Schools

Why is this man smiling?

by James C. Sherlock

Belt and suspenders?

Vaccinations and masks now are both mandatory in Richmond Public Schools. Vaccinations because the school board ordered it last night. Masks because the Governor ordered it last week.

The vaccination order, though many oppose it, has science behind it. Vaccinations work. For the vaccinated, though, the mask wearing mandate is purely political – and political theater. The mask mandate did not presume vaccination mandates.

Cue the squeaking from the “yeah, but” crowd.

Let’s look a these one at a time.

Vaccinations – Richmond

After a vote last night by the school board, nearly all employees of Richmond Public Schools (RPS) must be vaccinated by Oct. 1.

I wish them godspeed.

This policy, with which I agree, is a major experiment with a very short time horizon, an unknown baseline and an unknown outcome. Continue reading

Return to Autocracy in Virginia

Why is this man smiling?

by James C. Sherlock.
Updated Aug 13, 12:15 PM

It was so easy to predict that I can claim no special prescience. I wrote a week ago:

“The Governor’s 15-month emergency powers expired June 30, and, God, does he miss them…. (H)ow long (will the) governor put up with the lack of emergency powers?”

If you guessed a week, you win.

Today’s headline: Virginia Gov. Orders Mask Mandate for State’s K-12 Schools

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday announced a public health emergency order to require masks in all indoor settings for the state’s K-12 schools.

The Governor has a legal basis for the order, § 32.1-13 of the Code of Virginia. The State Health Commissioner, acting for the Board of Health when it is not in session (§ 32.1-20 of the Code of Virginia),

may make separate orders and regulations to meet any emergency, not provided for by general regulations, for the purpose of suppressing nuisances dangerous to the public health and communicable, contagious and infectious diseases and other dangers to the public life and health.

If you are wondering, the Board of Health meets four times a year for a couple of days each meeting. And there is no mention of a role for the General Assembly.

This is not the same law that Northam used for 15 months. New ball game. Continue reading

Oyez, Oyez. The Virginia Court of Appeals is Changing.

The newly elected judges to the Virginia Court of Appeals.Top row: Dominique Callans, Doris Henderson Causey, Vernida Chaney, Frank Friedman
Bottom row: Judge Junius Fulton, Lisa Lorish, Judge Daniel Ortiz, Stuart Raphael
Photo credit: Virginia Mercury

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

One of the General Assembly’s most cherished prerogatives is the election of judges. When one party controls both houses of the legislature, that power is particularly relished. The Democrats had the opportunity in this special session to exercise its prerogative in a big way by electing eight judges to the Virginia Court of Appeals.

The recent expansion of the jurisdiction and size of the Court of Appeals accounted for most of the unusually large number of available judgeships. The 2021 General Assembly provided for an appeal of right to the Court of Appeals in every civil case. Because that policy decision will result in an increase in the workload of the Court of Appeals, the legislation also increased the number of judges on that court from 11 to 17. Two vacancies on the existing court accounted for the other available judgeships. Continue reading

Solar Industry Poll Favors (Surprise) Solar Industry

by Steve Haner

You will never find a better example of blatant question bias in a poll:

“Do you agree or disagree that solar farms are better than other types of development because they do not pollute the environment and help lower the cost of electricity for homes and businesses?”

They “do not pollute” and “help lower the cost for electricity.”  With a tilt like that in the question, the amazing thing is that only 56% of a sample of Virginia voters said sure, I agree, and a full 20% still disagreed, the rest unsure.

There are other examples of biased question design in the poll, released a couple of days ago by a solar industry front group with the convenient and laughable name of “Conservatives for Clean Energy.” Sure, a bunch of conservatives looked up from the latest Tucker Carlson rant, passed on another discussion of the stolen election, and decided instead to pool their money on a poll focused on:

  • The Virginia Clean Economy Act
  • Attitudes about Virginia woods and farmlands being converted to miles and miles of solar panels
  • Virginia’s continued participation in the PJM Interconnection grid

No, this is an industry backed operation, definitely tied to solar developers but the fine hand of a utility might be discerned, as well. Only somebody totally in bed with the solar industry or less than honest would accept this at face value as coming from disinterested “conservatives.” Continue reading

DMV Still Hiding Full Gas Tax Amounts

by Steve Haner

The Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles is now hiding only 22% of the state’s existing motor fuels tax with misleading website data, not the 26% it was hiding when I wrote about this last year.

In the chart you first find searching DMV on motor fuel tax rates, set out below, there is no reference to a statewide wholesale tax of 7.6 cents per gallon on gasoline. It is MIA, leaving the chart reporting a tax of only 26.2 cents. (That is up 5 cents from a year ago, and that is why the percentage “hidden” dropped.) Continue reading