Category Archives: General Assembly

Will Dominion Fool Us Again with SMR Cost Bill?

Artist rendering of a NuScale small modular reactor plant, proposed but now not being built in Idaho.

By Steve Haner

Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  A utility-backed bill to stick electricity ratepayers with the high-risk costs of developing small (modular) nuclear reactors, approved by a Senate committee Friday, is a “fool me twice” example.  Shame on the General Assembly if it falls for it. Continue reading

Only Tax Increases Still Pending at Assembly

Gov. Glenn Youngkin

By Steve Haner

Governor Glenn Youngkin’s package of proposed tax changes is now stalled in both the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates. A House subcommittee spiked it Feb. 5 and then dashed other bills imposing major tax increases on higher income Virginians. A full Senate committee refused his bill on Feb. 6.

Of course, anything is possible until the General Assembly adjourns in March, but it seems only two major tax increase proposals are still viable in the 2024 Assembly.  

The first would allow all Virginia cities and counties to add an additional 1% to the sales and use tax within their borders for school spending, if a local referendum approves it. Current law has allowed that in eight counties and one city but this bill would expand that to the entire state. It is advancing in both chambers. 

The second, not usually discussed as a tax hike, is the proposal for a new state trust fund to provide weekly payments to employees taking family or medical leave from work. The bill calls for a payroll tax to fund the benefits but does not specify a tax rate or indicate just how much of an employee’s wage would be taxed. The Virginia Employment Commission based its fiscal estimates on a tax of just under 1%.  

Bills creating this new state-paid family and medical leave benefit program are now in the budget committees of both chambers, and they have until February 18 to reveal their budget amendments. This program could easily become a $1-2 billion annual entitlement. The underlying federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides no income replacement, just up to 12 weeks of job protection for covered absences. Continue reading

The General Assembly’s Gift to Virginia’s Students

by Matt Hurt

During the 2024 General Assembly session, two bills were introduced which have the potential to provide two additional weeks of uninterrupted learning that Virginia’s students in grades three through eight haven’t had in a few years.  Specifically, HB 1076 and SB 435 are two very concise sister bills which simply intend to allow school divisions the flexibility to administer other assessments in lieu of the through year growth assessments (HB2027/SB1357) that were required by the 2021 General Assembly, so long as the alternative assessments are aligned to Virginia’s Standards of Learning.  Last week HB 1076 passed the House 80-18 and SB 435 made it through the first Senate subcommittee.

The through year growth assessment legislation was certainly well intentioned.  Educators have clamored for years for a process that would demonstrate student growth throughout the school year and to use this measure for accountability purposes.  The problem with this method of determining growth is that there is a great incentive to obtain high scores at the end of the year, and equally great incentive to obtain low scores at the beginning of the year in order to demonstrate high degrees of growth.  This problem was explained in detail here, and the negative unintended consequences yielded were outlined here

Currently, these through year growth assessments disrupt instruction in each elementary and middle school for a week in the fall and another week in the winter.  While these assessments take a little less time to administer than the end-of-year SOL test, the entire process still takes a significant amount of time.  For example, many students with disabilities require testing accommodations such as small group or one-on-one testing, having the test read aloud, etc., all of which requires teachers to spend extra time testing that they would normally spend instructing students.  Classroom teachers, special education teachers, intervention teachers, instructional aides, etc. are all pressed into service to help with testing, and this limits the amount of time that they work with students. Continue reading

General Assembly Committees Approve Bill That Would Allow Even Serial Killers to Seek Release

from Liberty Unyielding

When Virginia abolished the death penalty in 2021, Virginians were assured it wasn’t needed, because the worst killers could be given life sentences without the possibility of parole.

But now, even the worst killers could eventually be released. Committees in Virginia’s Democratic-controlled legislature have approved bills to allow all inmates serving long sentences to seek release after specified periods — even serial killers and others who committed aggravated murders who once would have been eligible for the death penalty. HB 834 and SB 427, known as the “second look” bills, have been amended to create three tiers for release. Most inmates could seek release after 15 years, while those who commit the most serious offenses would have to wait 20 years or 25 years, depending on their offense.

For Virginia inmates whose prison sentences are shorter than 15 years, this legislation would change nothing. Most rapists who are first-time offenders, and many second-degree murderers, receive sentences of less than 15 years to begin with.

But for serial killers and others who commit aggravated murders who are serving a sentence of life without parole, the passage of this “second look” legislation would be a big change. It could give them even more than parole. Inmates released on parole are subject to the supervision of a parole officer, and if they misbehave or evade oversight, they can be sent back to prison for a long time. By contrast, an inmate who has been released under the “second look” legislation lacks these guardrails, and is not accountable to a parole officer, because his release marks the end of his sentence. Continue reading

Rare SCC Deadlock Sinks Dominion’s Energy Plan

By Steve Haner

The year long debate over Dominion Energy Virginia’s proposed integrated resource plan, which threw climate catastrophe activists into a frenzy because it added a new natural gas plant, is ending with no decision.  Two State Corporation Commission judges split on whether to approve it, basically a win for the anti-fossil fuel forces.

In December, a hearing officer assigned to study the case had ruled that Dominion’s plan should be rejected because it included the expansion of gas generation, when the anti-natural gas forces in the General Assembly had passed laws against that 2020 and 2021.  Those laws did include provisions for maintaining or adding fossil fuel generation on the basis of a threat to reliability, but only under limited circumstances. Continue reading

Mea Culpa, Bills Targeting UDC Should Fail

Is the historical homestead of the Lees of Virginia, Stratford Hall, being stripped of its tax exemptions just because of its connection to one Lee in particular?

By Steve  Haner

Racial animus and revenge are always bad policies. It is now very clear those are the motivations for the bills advancing to strip tax exemptions from legitimate historical and charitable institutions, simply because of connections to the Southern Confederacy. They should die.

The beeping sound you hear is me backing up my truck to prepare for a 180- degree turn. My initial reaction to House Bill 568 was to not really care, but that was based on a cursory reading of the fiscal impact statement. I also forgot the lessons of 40 years of watching the sausage factory and failed to read the bill to the end. Continue reading

NJ Greenmailed Into Massive Wind Energy Costs

By Steve Haner

New Jersey just agreed to two ocean wind projects with astronomical guaranteed power prices. The price demanded and received by independent competitive suppliers shows there is at least some upside to the utility-owned, captive ratepayer-financed model behind Dominion Energy Virginia’s massive offshore wind facility.

In late 2023 the news was full of reports that independent wind developers were pulling out of various projects along the East Coast because the projects were no longer economically viable. Those who thought the future of the industry was in jeopardy were wrong. Continue reading

Dems Want to Block a Tough-On-Crime Parole Board Chief

by Kerry Dougherty

Virginia Democrats are audacious. You’ve got to give them that.

During the lawless  McAuliffe-Northam years, Virginia’s Parole Board was headed by bleeding hearts, who specialized in releasing criminals.

They were rewarded for their soft-hearted approach with judgeships. Because that’s how Democrats roll.

You’d think the party that favors criminals over victims wouldn’t want to remind the public of its own terrible record.

But they can’t help themselves.

Now that Gov. Glenn Youngkin has named Patricia West, a tough, super-qualified retired Virginia Beach judge to the same position, they’re trying to block her confirmation. They fear she’ll be too tough on criminals.

Dems have removed her name from a list of gubernatorial appointments. Her name could be restored by the entire General Assembly.

You’d think Democrats would be so embarrassed by what they did when they controlled the board they wouldn’t want to remind the public of their own terrible record. Continue reading

The Aggressive Progressive Democratic Agenda

From tiny acorns grow the mighty oaks of government.

By Steve Haner

The Democrats now running Virginia’s General Assembly are not just more progressive, but far more ambitious than their predecessors. To fully understand how ambitious you must compile the entire list of progressive bills advancing in the 2024 session and consider their total impact on the cost of living and cost of doing business in the commonwealth. Individual news stories miss the big picture.  

The push to radically regulate Virginia’s energy future discussed earlier is being mimicked with equally aggressive legislation throughout the rest of our economy. None of the ideas below are new, and most are already in law in places like California, New York or other more liberal states. What has changed is that when proposed in the past, they usually were rejected in Virginia on a bipartisan basis. Democrats now march in lockstep.  

The Assembly is still in its first phase and adjournment is set for early March. Which of the following will pass remains to be seen, and in many cases, amendments are already appearing. Most may also face gubernatorial veto or amendment, but that just underscores that Virginia is only one election of one official away from total transformation.   

In the case of the bills to increase the minimum wage (here and here), Democrats are simply building upon what they did during their last period of control. But if they succeed in setting future wage increases to automatically grow with inflation, the impact just builds and builds. Classes of employees reasonably exempted from the law currently, such as farm workers, may now be covered, as well.   

Likewise, the previous Democratic majority also took the first steps toward collective bargaining for limited groups of local employees, but only after elected local officials gave a green light to negotiate a contract. This year’s bill expands the right to bargain to almost all local and now most state employees, with no vote needed by a school board or city council. It was revealed that the most recent version does conveniently exempt employees of the General Assembly, however. Continue reading

Rent Control Legislation Passes House Committee

from Liberty Unyielding 

Legislation to allow rent control ordinances has passed a committee in Virginia’s House of Delegates. On a party-line, 11-to-9 vote. The Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns passed HB 721, which defines rent gouging to include raising rent to keep up with inflation, if inflation exceeds 7 percent.

This vote reflects the leftward movement of the Democratic Party. Rent control has historically been prohibited not merely in Republican states, but even in many Democratic states. Massachusetts, for example, banned rent control in a 1994 referendum, even as it was electing Democrats to nearly fourth-fifths of the seats in its state legislature, and even as it elected Democrats to eight of its ten seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. When Georgia still had a Democratic-controlled legislature and a Democratic governor, it banned rent control in 1984.

Yet, all Democrats on the committee voted for HB 721.

The legislation states that once a local government has adopted “anti-rent gouging provisions,” it “shall prohibit any rent increase … of more than the locality’s annual anti-rent gouging allowance,” defined as the “percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index...or seven percent, whichever is less.” So if inflation is 9% — as it was from March 2021 to March 2022 —  the landlord can only raise rent by 7%, at most. And the landlord might not be allowed any inflation adjustment at all, because under the legislation, a local government “may” — not must — “allow rent increases” to compensate for inflation.

So landlords will become poorer and poorer due to inflation under these “anti-rent gouging” ordinances. Continue reading

Great Judges Can’t Fix Bad Energy Laws

Former SCC Commissioner Mark Christie communicated his enthusiasm for Kelsey Bagot’s election with this photo on X.

By Steve Haner

The General Assembly has now filled the two open seats at the State Corporation Commission (SCC), ending two years of gridlock.  Unfortunately, the same legislators, on both sides of the aisle, are still working overtime to dictate and micromanage the state’s energy policy, reducing the discretion and authority of the independent, non-partisan regulators. 

Samuel T. Towell, elected to the SCC last week, fits the expected mold for such positions.  His legal career has been inside and outside the Virginia government, with his term as the civil litigation deputy under Attorney General Mark Herring (D) as the highlight of his resume.  In that role he supervised the consumer counsel functions under Herring, participating in SCC matters.  Since then, he has been working for Smithfield Foods.  

Breaking the mold is Kelsey Bagot, only a decade out of Harvard Law and with no real Virginia-specific experience.  She spent much of her career so far at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), working part of that time for former SCC Chairman Mark Christie.  Christie’s expressed enthusiasm for her qualifications makes her about as close to a bipartisan choice as was possible.   

They join current Commissioner Jehmal Hudson, also a veteran of FERC, who has been serving by himself for more than a year.  Towell and Hudson, less than 20 years out of law school, and the younger Bagot form a trio that could be in office together for decades.  That had to be on the minds of the legislators (all Democrats) who made these choices.   

Fully qualified and engaged judges are still bound to follow the law.  Virginia’s headlong rush into an economically foolish war on fossil fuels is being directed by the bills flowing from the General Assembly, not by rogue judges.  If the last two sessions controlled by Democrats, 2020 and 2021, were a two-alarm EV battery fire, the 2024 session could be the equivalent of the Maui apocalypse.    Continue reading

Email Your Delegate: Kill the Unconstitutional Affirmative Action Bill

by Jock Yellott

As a follow-up to “US Constitution Calling Jason Miyares,” published here January 15, 2024: the Virginia Legislature now is considering a bill, HR 1404, mandating “Disadvantaged Business Enterprise” affirmative action in all state government contracting.  It’s before the House Committee on Rules.

H.R. 1404 presumes people are “disadvantaged” based on their origins; their group identity.  Which the US Supreme Court declared unconstitutional 30 years ago in the Adarand Constructors case.  And the Supreme Court confirmed its unconstitutionality last June in Students for Fair Admissions. The bill mirrors the federal Small Business Administration list of groups presumed disadvantaged, always and everywhere, that a federal district court declared unconstitutional last July (the Biden administration’s SBA is now trying to wiggle out from under that ruling).

You can do something: write a delegate on the House Rules Committee.  Click on the names below:

Scott, D.L(Chair),Watts, Ward, Sickles, Herring, Carr, Torian, Simon, Hayes, Sullivan, Tran,  Kilgore, Austin, Webert, O’Quinn, Batten

They have a lot to read; no need to write an essay. Just say the affirmative action in H.R. 1404 is unconstitutional on its face.  Kill it in committee. Continue reading

Right to Life March Falls on Deaf Ears as Dobbs Makes Abortion Issue More Difficult for Republicans

by Ken Reid

The 50th annual pro-life march took place in DC January 19; it has been held every year since 1974, the year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade, that women had a constitutional protection for abortion, and thus negated 50 state laws regulating the procedure.

It was cold and snowing, but thousands of committee pro-lifers showed up; could have been 100,000. I was not there, but the media coverage was quite limited.

You would think the pro-life movement won with the June 2022 “Dobbs” Decision, which overturned Roe and put the regulation of abortion back to each state. But alas and alack, that is not the case.

Abortion, as I wrote after “Dobbs,” still continues but is down in numbers since 1991 due to the advent of better ultrasound, home pregnancy tests and public education about unwanted pregnancies. There are no back-alley coat-hanger abortions, as the histrionic pro-abortion forces predicted, and if anything, prolife forces seeking six-week bans and the like are being flustered by the political process.  

The abortion drug, Mifeprex, was approved in 2000 and now comprises a majority of all abortions in the U.S. – only for use up to 10 weeks of pregnancy. A pending Supreme Court case may determine if the drug stays on the market or will be subject to state review  – thus negating the Constitution’s “commerce clause” and federal pre-emption, and creating more havoc in this nation. 

I don’t expect that to happen. Some 626,000 abortions occurred in 2021, the most recent year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has numbers 

Anti- abortion groups continue to press their cases with state legislatures for. restrictions and some want a national ban by Congress, which is counter to “Dobbs” and has no chance of passage. Continue reading

Competition for Schools

Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg)

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

One of the good bills introduced in the General Assembly this year would bring a measure of competition in public schools. Put in by Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg), SB 552 would require school districts to allow students to attend any school in the district. Currently, districts are allowed to adopt such open enrollment policies, but are not required to do so. Typically, students must attend the school within the attendance zone where they live.

The legislation would enable an elementary school student in the eastern part of Henrico County, for example, where the reading scores in schools are very low, to attend an elementary school in the western part of the county, which has schools with high reading scores. If the requests for “nonresident” students to attend a particular school exceed that school’s enrollment capacity, a lottery would be used to decide which nonresident students got to attend that school.

The legislation directs the State Board of Education to develop model policies and guidelines to implement the legislation. Under the provisions of the legislation as introduced, the Board would have to act quickly. The bill requires the policies and guidelines to be adopted by August 1, 2024, to enable the open enrollment process to be in effect for the next school year, 2024-2025. Continue reading

Two Excellent Nominees Emerge for SCC

Kelsey A. Bagot, now nominated for the Virginia State Corporation Commission.

By Steve Haner

The new Democratic majority in the Virginia General Assembly is moving rapidly to fill the two State Corporation Commission vacancies with excellent, qualified choices. One is well known in Virginia and the second is new to our hallowed Capitol, but with a decade of energy law experience on the federal level.

Former Virginia Deputy Attorney General Samuel T. Towell has degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (engineering) and the University of Virginia (law).  Kelsey A. Bagot just got her Harvard Law degree a decade ago, but she had the opportunity at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to work for former SCC Chairman Mark Christie.

Former Deputy Attorney General Sam Towell, also nominated today.

Both appeared this afternoon before a brief, perfunctory really, joint meeting of the relevant House and Senate committees. Within a couple of minutes, with only one question asked, both were unanimously certified as qualified. Which they are.

It will be up to the full House and Senate to formally elect them at some point in the next few days. The two seats they will fill have been vacant for a long time and they will start with desks piled high. Members of the SCC are actually judges, subject to Virginia judicial canons. The pending state budget sets the salaries as of next July 1 at $214,000 for the chair and $212,000 for the other two members. Continue reading