Category Archives: General Assembly

Shredding Virginia Employment Law One Bad Bill at a Time

Face palm

by Liam Bissainthe

The Virginia state senate has blocked a bill that could potentially change the definition of “sexual harassment.” It would hold even small employers liable for comments defined as either “workplace harassment” or “sexual harassment.” Employers would held liable even for conduct that occurs “outside of the workplace,” and even for conduct committed by “nonemployees” such as customers.

But the very same provisions are found in another bill passed by the Virginia House of Delegates, that is still sitting in a committee of the state senate. So the legislation could still conceivably become law.

In a 20-to-18 vote, the state senate voted on February 5 to send the first harassment bill (SB 1360) back to the Judiciary Committee, where it died on February 6. But the exact same provisions appear to be found in the second harassment bill, HB 2155, which is still alive and sitting in the General Laws committee. Continue reading

Before There Was an Atlantic Gas Pipeline….

N&W coal train in West Virginia

…There Was the Coal Slurry Pipeline.

by James A. Bacon

The early 1980s were a momentous time for the U.S. coal industry, and for Virginia economic history and politics as well. As the world turned to coal in the wake of the Arab oil embargo, coal exports through Hampton Roads were surging. Loading terminals literally could not load the black rock fast enough, and dozens of ships were backing up in Hampton Roads waiting for their turn at dock. Meanwhile, the Norfolk & Western Railway (soon to become part of Norfolk Southern) and the C&O (soon to become part of CSX) exercised duopoly control over rail shipments to the ports, and, newly deregulated, they used their power to charge punishing tariffs. Thus commenced a years-long battle between railroads and coal operators over the spoils of a once-in-a-lifetime export boom.

E. Morgan Massey, president of the Richmond-based A.T. Massey Coal Co., took the lead in taking on the railroads. Not only did he build new terminals in Newport News and Charleston, S.C., to bust the railroad monopoly on loading facilities, he helped orchestrate a bid to build a 350-mile coal slurry pipeline across Virginia to bypass the railroads. Just one hitch: A coal slurry pipeline had to cross railroad rights-of-way, and only the General Assembly could grant the eminent domain. Thus began one of the greatest lobbying battles between business lobbies – VEPCO, the Transco pipeline company, and coal industry interests on the one hand, and the railroads on the other — that Richmond had ever seen.

Chapter 8, “Rails and Pipes,” of my new book, “Maverick Miner” tells the story of the clash between business titans from Massey’s perspective. Here, for the joy and delight of Bacon’s Rebellion readers, I excerpt the section that focuses on the coal slurry pipeline debate. There is no coal slurry pipeline in Virginia today, so it is not a spoiler to reveal that the railroads won the legislative battle. But Morgan and his allies, VEPCO and Transco, felt like they squeaked out a victory in the business war. Continue reading

Senate Taxes Less PPP, House Bill Almost All

by Steve Haner

First published this yesterday by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

Majorities in both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly agree with Governor Ralph Northam and have voted to tax the federal Payroll Protection Plan grants that saved Virginia jobs in the pandemic. They only remain at odds over how much to tax.

The Virginia Senate has passed a bill 39-0 that allows employers, who used the money to maintain their workforce, to exempt the first $100,000 of their PPP grant from 2020. The rest is taxed. The bipartisan compromise allowed the bill to pass with the emergency clause it needs to go into effect immediately upon approval, in time for this tax filing season.

The average Virginia PPP grant was about $107,000, state officials reported. More than 20,000 employers would still see some taxes on their grants under the Senate bill. This state and its localities have received multiple billions of dollars of direct federal funding during the COVID pandemic, with more on the way, yet Governor Northam also wants to skim 6% off the top of what Virginia employers received.

It is that simple. Continue reading

Time to Double Fines for Littering

Credit: Onthecommons.org

by Robin Beres

It isn’t often that a Virginia legislator files a bill calling for increased fines that one is tempted to stand up and cheer for, but a recent piece of legislation submitted by Del. James Edmunds, (R-Halifax), is pretty close.

Edmunds’ bill, HB 1801, calls for increasing the minimum fine for “dumping or disposing of litter, trash, or other unsightly matter on public or private property,” from $250 to $500. (The maximum fine of $2,500 would remain the same.) The bill would also require litterers to perform 40 hours of community service, four times as much the current mandatory minimum of 10 hours.

Edmunds, who has long been a participant in the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Adopt-A-Highway program, says he has seen an increase in litter. His theory is that since restaurants have been closed during the pandemic, more people are ordering food to go and eating in their vehicles. When done, many are simply tossing the empty containers out car windows. Virginia roads have become eyesores.

“The roads are the worst I’ve ever seen them,” Edmunds recently told The Virginia Star. “The status quo is not doing any good. This bill will hopefully bring attention to a terrible problem.” Continue reading

Dominion VCEA Plan Review Ends with Questions

by Steve Haner

A near year-long review of Dominion Energy Virginia’s plans to meet service obligations while abandoning fossil-fueled energy has ended with a pile of data, a list of unanswered questions, no real decision and plenty of reason to fear future electricity cost increases.

The review of Dominion’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) started March 9, 2020, and the State Corporation Commission issued a final order February 1:  The Commission, however, cannot conclude … that Dominion’s 2020 IRP, as filed, is reasonable and in the public interest for purposes of a planning document.”   Continue reading

What’s the Point?

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Republicans in the General Assembly refused to go along at the beginning of the session with the customary practice of extending the “short session” from 30 days to 46 days.  They said that the Democrats had a long enough time during the very long special session to enact legislation.  Although they were in the minority, they had the upper hand because the state constitution requires approval of two-thirds of each house to extend a session.

So, what was the ultimate agreement?  The organizing resolution required each house to complete action on its bills by February 5 (last Friday), the budget committees to report their respective versions of the budget bill by February 7 (today), and the General Assembly to adjourn on February 11 (next Thursday).  That would have provided four days to accomplish what it usually takes about two weeks to get done.  Knowing this would be unrealistic, the organizing resolution provided for “legislative continuity”, which means that any bill can be carried over to a 2021 Special Session that the resolution explicitly assumes will be called.  Only one House Republican voted against this awkward approach, while nine Senate Republicans (half of them) objected. Continue reading

One Third of House GOP Backs Stronger SCC

Delegate Carrie Coyner, R-Chesterfield

by Steve Haner

Five interrelated bills that will strengthen the State Corporation Commission’s oversight during Dominion Energy Virginia’s next rate case advanced out of the House of Delegates Friday, with the two strongest receiving either 12 or 10 Republican aye votes.

All received at least some Republican votes, and four of the five had Democrats voting in opposition. After I made a pitch (elsewhere) for Republicans to do this, a report on the outcome is in order. A major Dominion rate case begins in April and may be reaching a conclusion around Election Day, and by then the impact of all the restraints put on the SCC in past years may be painfully clear to millions of Dominion customers.  Continue reading

Consumer Reports Misleads on Virginia EV Bill

Great Seal of Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

Few media outlets are as influential with their readership as Consumer Reports or as active in soliciting direct contact of public officials on issues that management feels are important to that publication’s political values. That is their right, but false statements in support of their positions is a violation of public trust.

I received yesterday afternoon in my email a solicitation for political action in Virginia pushed out by Consumer Reports to all subscribers. It read:

Earlier this week, the Virginia House of Delegates approved an exciting piece of legislation that would allow the state to make it easier for consumers to buy fuel-efficient and electric vehicles at car dealerships in the Commonwealth.

That in turn could help drivers save money on fuel and reduce our air pollution: a win-win no matter how you slice it.

But before the bill can get signed into law, it must pass through the Senate by next week. Can you send a message to your VA Senator now and ask them to vote YES on House Bill 1965?

Continue reading

Criminal Justice Scorecard at Crossover

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

With the General Assembly at the crossover break, now would be a good time to take stock of the status of major criminal justice and public safety legislation. Not surprisingly, the priorities identified by Democrats are faring well.

Below is a summary of the actions taken on selected bills. For a more detailed description of each bill, see my earlier post. The votes are in parenthesis. In most cases, the original bill was amended or there was a substitute before it passage.

Still alive; Passed first house

Democratic priorities

Repeal of death penalty—HB 2263 (57-41); SB 1165 (21-17) Continue reading

Virginia’s Legendary Corruption Blocks Antitrust Enforcement

Great Seal of Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

Readers of this blog have indicated an unquenchable appetite for information about and discussion of Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need (COPN) law and its administration.

This essay informs on the negative impacts of the COPN law and the Virginia Antitrust Act (the Act) itself on the enforcement of antitrust laws against Virginia’s regional hospital monopolies.

First, know that the business activities that some of Virginia’s hospital monopolies exhibit can already be deemed illegal under both federal and state antitrust laws. But the Act gives them a special dispensation, complicates both state and federal antitrust enforcement and results directly in the in-your-face anticompetitive activities we see every day.

The federal government (and once even Bob McDonnell as Virginia Attorney General) occasionally have intervened to block interstate mergers or in-state acquisitions before they occur, but always within the federal administrative and court systems, and they have never challenged COPN decisions.

But no government agency has ever sued over the business activities of Virginia’s COPN-constructed monopolies. Continue reading

Where Is the Outrage?

Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and House Clerk Suzette Denslow
Photo Credit: Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

I have waited all day for the howls of protest on this blog concerning the high-handed action of a House committee chairman who would not allow a bill even to be considered and voted on in committee. She just sat on it. Shades of Ed Willey! And we thought these Democrats were going to be transparent, but there has been no complaint from those who are usually so quick to condemn the legislature and its “plantation elite” ways.

Oh, wait. That was Lee Carter’s bill (HB 1755) that would have repealed the right-to-work law. I guess the conservatives on this blog are OK with such dictatorial behavior when it comes to bills they hate. And we thought those Democrats were going to be so liberal and wreck one of the state’s business-friendly pillars. Heck, they don’t even want to talk about it.

If a Delegate or Senator introduces a bill, he or she deserves the courtesy of at least a subcommittee presentation and vote. Chairmen should not be allowed to protect members from having to “go on the board.”

Here is the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s account of the Democratic leadership squelching Delegate Carter. You have to give him credit—he went down fighting and did not hesitate to take on his party’s leaders

State Tax on PPP Grants Reduced Only Slightly

by Steve Haner

A Senate Committee voted today to reduce the amount of tax that Virginia will impose on the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) grants that saved Virginia jobs, but not by much. It remains clear many legislators think employers owe Virginia tax on those dollars.

Declining to tax the entire amount is being packaged as a gracious concession on the state’s part.  Continue reading

Virginia’s Physicians and Nurses Must Take – Yes, Take – More Influence Over Virginia Health Policy

Virginia Health Service Areas and Health Districts

by James C. Sherlock

As I have studied and reported upon Virginia’s struggles in COVID response, many things have come into focus that need to be done better in healthcare. I have reported on a lot of them here and called for changes.

One major, overarching flaw needs attention.  

Virginia’s physicians and nurses do not have sufficient influence over health laws, policy, regulations, Department of Health oversight or health programs.  Physicians and nurses as organized groups largely were neither consulted or listened to in COVID response policy. If you doubt it, ask them. They are beyond frustrated.  

When you needed a COVID vaccination, were you able to get one from your doctor or nurse practitioner? Didn’t think so.

I will recommend here a way to change the balance of influence. It is important to all Virginians that it indeed be altered. Continue reading

And They SWaM and They SWaM

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Governor Northam is moving to increase the amount of business that goes to companies owned by women or minorities.

A little background would help put the pending legislation into perspective. There have long been programs at the federal, state, and local levels that serve to give some preferences to small businesses, as well as to businesses owned by women and minorities. These programs have generally been upheld by the courts. Indeed, one of the leading cases in this area arose out of a suit brought in Virginia—City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Company, 488 U.S. 469 (1989). The case law surrounding this issue is fairly complicated.  A summary can be found here in the recent diversity report commissioned by the Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity (DSBSD). A more detailed analysis can be found here in an earlier report. Continue reading

Dysfunction Exposed in COVID Demands Overhaul of Virginia’s Government

by James C. Sherlock

Great Seal of Virginia

We all like to discuss the politics of things. That in many instances is appropriate. But political leadership is neither the problem nor the solution I will discuss here today.  

We will spend every day between now and November’s election debating how the politicians responded to COVID. And we should. But our state government has failed both us and our elected leaders.  

I submit that the failures of the bureaucracies would have crippled elected officials from either party. We need desperately to fix the laws, regulations and bureaucratic structures that harbor such failures as permanently as we are able.

I will suggest a path.

What needs to be done?

I wrote in late March in praise of Virginia’s pandemic influenza emergency plan and published key details the next day. Two days later I discovered the coverup. The plan had been removed from public view on state websites, never to be heard of again. Continue reading