Category Archives: General Assembly

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.

One year’s pause, or “breather” to use a word bandied about during the General Assembly session, in tuition increases will not reverse the trends making Virginia higher education too expensive for many without a crushing level of debt. And this year’s pause, if it happens, took several years in a row of improving state funding to accomplish.  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

Virginia’s “Secret” Medical Marijuana Program

The doctor who should be governor. State Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant is a Republican from Henrico County. She is also a practicing physician. In this year’s General Assembly session she put forth SB1557 which expanded last year’s so-called “Let Doctor’s Decide” legislation (HB1251).

What’s new? The 2018 legislation (HB1251) authorized licensed medical providers to prescribe CBD and THC-A oil “to alleviate the symptoms of any diagnosed condition or disease determined by the practitioner to benefit from such use.” CBD, or cannabidiol, is a naturally occurring compound found in the resinous flower of marijuana plants. It is used to treat a variety of maladies. It is non-intoxicating. THCA, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is the non-psychoactive acid form of THC found in marijuana plants when raw. It is also non-intoxicating unless it is heated. Once heated, THCA releases THC which is intoxicating.  The 2018 legislation restricted THCA oil to contain no more than 5 mg of THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana). Continue reading

On Energy Efficiency, Ratepayers Lose Again

Fellow electricity ratepayers, we just took it in the neck again.

This morning’s Richmond Times-Dispatch brings the news that Dominion Energy Virginia will not seek to count lost revenue as one of the cost elements in the energy efficiency program it was ordered to undertake by the 2018 Ratepayer Bill Transformation Act.  This follows an earlier story, also by the Associated Press, that Governor Ralph Northam has written the company to insist on that position.

Missing from both stories is a key fact:   Dominion won’t spend a dime.  It is all your money.  When the 2018 General Assembly mandated $870 million of spending on energy efficiency and demand response programs, it was the same as a near-billion dollar tax increase.  One of many in the bill.  Now the $870 million customer cost will get larger.   Continue reading

Sure, Give The Money To Everybody. Why Not?

The so-called Taxpayer Relief Fund to be created with the residual dollars from the 2019 state tax legislation has not seen the first dollar deposited and Governor Ralph Northam is already proposing to spend some of it, seeking to expand the refunds which were part of that bill to all Virginians.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch story on the proposal, which you can read here, quotes state officials as pegging the cost at a modest $18 million, with 98 percent of the recipients being exactly the people Northam sought to reach with his proposal to make the Earned Income Tax Credit into a grant program.   Continue reading

The Marijuana Legalization Debate in Virginia: Lessons from Colorado

It’s a long way from Colorado to Virginia!

Elevated thinking.  I recently had the opportunity to do some skiing in Colorado. I hadn’t been to Colorado since the state legalized recreational marijuana use in 2014. I expected to see a Cheech and Chong movie played out on a vast scale high in the Rocky Mountains. That expectation went unmet.  Instead, I saw an American town where legal marijuana use has been incorporated into everyday life in a barely noticeable manner. Colorado has more pot shops than Starbucks outlets but you wouldn’t know that from a cursory visit. All of which got me thinking – what has been the marijuana legalization experience in Colorado and what lessons are there for Virginia?

Nil sine numine. “Nothing without providence.”  Residents of The Centennial State believe Colorado is guided by a “divine will.” After five years of “divine will” has legal pot turned into Rastafarian revelry or Puritanical perfidy? My unscientific poll of Coloradans riding various chairlifts and gondolas with me established a consensus of … “more good than bad”. Continue reading

SCC Details High Customer Cost of RGGI

RGGI states

The State Corporation Commission staff has “shown its work” on an earlier estimate of electricity rate increases resulting from Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, despite a Democratic legislator’s complaint in Sunday’s Washington Post it was not being transparent.

“Even if you agree with the SCC, its analyses should be public information designed to inform the public debate. The SCC, however, has chosen a less transparent route, disadvantaging the public and the legislature from having all the necessary information to determine energy policy in the commonwealth,” Delegate David Toscano of Charlottesville wrote.   Continue reading

More Power for States: Good or Bad?

One of the most pleasant surprises that I discovered upon becoming a frequent follower of this blog was the whole world of energy regulation. RGGI, and, now, TCI, were new terms for me. I became aware of the cap- and-trade concept in its first widespread use in dealing with sulfur dioxide emissions, but was not aware of its current use for carbon dioxide.

Steve Haner’s recent post on TCI referred to RGGI and TCI as interstate compacts. That caught my attention. Long ago, in my political science courses, I learned about interstate compacts (my professor wrote what was then the definitive study on interstate compacts). The U.S. Constitution provides, “No state shall, without the consent of Congress…enter into any agreement or compact with another state….” (Article I, Section 10) Virginia has entered into a number of agreements with other states that fall under the ambit of this provision.  The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which sets limits on the catches of certain fish species, is one example. Another, more familiar, example is the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. But  RGGI and TCI have not been approved by Congress, which puzzled me.

It turns out that not all agreements among states constitute an “interstate compact” in the Constitutional sense. The Supreme Court in its first case dealing with interstate compacts (Tennessee v. Virginia, 1895), and confirmed in 1985 in its most recent case on this subject, declared that an agreement among states does not require the consent of Congress if it does not infringe on, or encroach upon, federal supremacy. Continue reading

Back to Taxaginia: Add A New Wealth Tax

Only $1.7 of $4.6 billion was diverted back to taxpayers by 2019 law.  Final row includes $420 million for one-time tax rebates paid later this year.  It was the addition of the Pease Limitation raising taxes on high incomes which reduced the final tax relief total. Sources: Chainbridge Solutions August 2018 report on revenue projections. Department of Taxation on tax reduction estimates. Click to open.

The 2019 General Assembly is a dust storm in the rear-view mirror, but the four state tax increases that were discussed in “Taxaginia” last November are still in the road ahead.   This post revises and extends my reporting on their status in this morning’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, featured on the Commentary section front.

 In a piece in June 2018  I saw signs the state would keep the state income tax revenue harvest produced by conformity with the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.  Turns out that prediction was 60 percent correct, with my calculations showing less than 40 percent of the expected revenue was diverted by tax policy changes.   Continue reading

Environmental Groups Supported Paying “Lost Revenue” Before They Opposed It

Paying an electric utility for power it doesn’t sell is the economic equivalent of paying a farmer not to grow corn or soybeans, and the result will be the same as well – higher consumer prices.

In a legal memorandum filed Friday, Dominion Energy Virginia doubled down on its request that about 40 percent of the money it seeks to recover for a series of new demand management programs be compensation for lost revenue.  If the programs work, and it is verified they reduced demand, Dominion wants to be paid for the electricity it didn’t sell.  Over and over, apparently.   Continue reading

Legislators’ 2019 Batting Averages

Average of all bills passed in the 2019 General Assembly session. Source: Virginia Public Access Project

In a legislature narrowly controlled by Republicans, being a member of the GOP caucus undoubtedly helped lawmakers get their bills passed during the 2019 General Assembly session. Eleven of the 12 legislators with the highest percentage of bills passed were Republican, according to “batting average” statistics published by the Virginia Public Access Project.

Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, had the highest percentage — 100%. It helps to be Speaker of the House. But, then, he introduced only one bill that VPAP measured. Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, saw 20 of his bills passed for a 74% average. Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, was the most effective Democratic legislator. He passed 17 of 21 bills for an 81% record.

Overall, Republicans saw 48% of their bills pass, compared to 32% for Democrats. The numbers are lopsided, to be sure, but they suggest at least a modicum of bipartisan cooperation. Continue reading

“Left In Appropriations” Ends Many a Bill History

Source: Virginia Public Access Project

Fighting words to a member of the State Senate: “Left in Appropriations.”   That phrase appears at the abrupt end of the bill history for so many pieces of Senate legislation (and plenty of House bills, too.)  See for yourself – it is quite a list. All bills died with adjournment Sunday.

I went looking there recently for the fate of Senator Bill Carrico’s proposal to set up an elective course with credit on the Bible in Virginia public schools. Such a course was bound to prove a lightning rod, but that collection of books and the history around them is at the heart of Western Civilization. The growing level of ignorance is appalling. I was all for that idea, which was “Left in Appropriations.” Continue reading

Unraveling the Ralph Northam Infanticide Controversy

Background. The past several weeks have been full of controversy for three of Virginia’s leading Democratic politicians – Ralph Northam, Justin Fairfax and Mark Herring. The local, state and national media have been focused on allegations of racism against Northam and Herring and sexual assault against Fairfax. However, prior to the media onslaught regarding racism and rape Governor Ralph Northam was embroiled in another controversy regarding comments he made during a radio show. During that radio interview Gov. Northam said some things that some people felt condoned, or even supported, infanticide. What did Ralph Northam say (in context) and did he really condone or support infanticide?

Continue reading

SCC Decision Denying Aggregation Choice: Read It

 

Not at the table? Then you are on the menu.

Others will have this story and I like to post things on Bacon’s Rebellion which are unique.  But I do have something to add to today’s State Corporation Commission decision to deny Wal-Mart Stores permission to leave Virginia’s monopoly electric companies.  The short decision is worth reading.   Continue reading