Category Archives: General Assembly

Redistricting: Incumbents, Race, and Prisoners

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The most recent meeting of the Virginia Redistricting Commission was marked by tension over the two most sensitive issues—incumbency and race. The meeting was supposed to be dedicated to viewing efforts of the two sets of partisan map drawers to come up with a single map for the Senate districts upon which they could agree. Instead, it was spent largely going over ground that had not been resolved regarding the development of majority-minority districts.

Mackenzie Babichenko, the co-chair whose turn it was to preside, started off the meeting by announcing that, in compliance with the statutory requirement of “political fairness,” incumbent addresses had been released to the map drawers. She went on to say that the map drawers had been advised that they could consider the data in drawing districts, but political fairness should have the lowest priority of the various criteria they had been given to consider. Continue reading

More Ignored News: Bag Tax Coming to Richmond

From American Progressive Bag Alliance flyer opposing local bag taxes.

by Steve Haner

The plastic bag tax recently approved in Roanoke and several Northern Virginia localities, created by the General Assembly in 2020 as a local option, is also coming to the City of Richmond. It was promised in the same September 13 Richmond City Council “climate crisis” resolution that implied a future closure of the Richmond Gas WorksContinue reading

Henrico, Chesterfield Users of Richmond Gas Unprotected by SCC, State Law

Pending Termination

by Steve Haner

Sec. 13.10. No sale or lease of utilities except when approved by referendum. There shall be no sale or lease of the water, wastewater, gas or electric utilities unless the proposal for such sale or lease shall first be submitted to the qualified voters of the city at a general election and be approved by a majority of all votes cast at such election.

That provision is in the charter for the City of Richmond, part of the Code of Virginia. Note it does not require the city’s leaders to consult with the people before closing a city-owned utility, just before the sale or lease.  Continue reading

Redistricting: the First Stab at Statewide Maps

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Virginia Redistricting Commission started out by dividing the state into eight regions. Its original plan was to proceed with drawing House and Senate districts, region by region, starting with Northern Virginia. That quickly proved to be inefficient, slow, and impractical.  Last week the map drawers  were instructed to produce statewide House and Senate maps. As part of their guidance, they were told to “respect” political subdivisions as much as possible, while adhering to the compactness and equal population requirements.

Today, they produced those maps for the Commission members, and the public, to view and comment on. I will use one county with which I am familiar, Halifax, to illustrate two aspects of the redistricting process: how different, legitimate approaches can produce different results and the partisanship dilemmas. Continue reading

SCC Staff: Dominion Should Refund $312M, Cut Rates, Due to $1.14B Excess Profits

SCC Staff summary showing how $1.14 billion in Dominion Energy Virginia excess profits get whittled down to only a possible $312 million refund.  Step one, not shown, is the law allows the company to keep the first 70 basis points of excess profit no questions asked.  Click for larger view.

by Steve Haner

Customers of Dominion Energy Virginia are due a refund of $312 million and the company’s future base rates should be reduced by another $50 million annually, the utility accounting staff at the State Corporation Commission concluded in testimony filed September 17.

Patrick W. Carr, deputy director of the division of utility accounting and finance, was joined in filing testimony by ten other members of that staff, but he provided the baseline result in his opening summary.

In the staff’s opinion, Dominion earned $1.143 billion of profit in excess of its allowed 9.2% return on equity during the four year period it reviewed, 2017 through 2020. The company will vigorously dispute those claims in rebuttal testimony, it is safe to predict.

The State Corporation Commission is entering the key phase of its so-called “triennial review,” which in Dominion’s case covers an extra year because that is what it asked of the Virginia General Assembly, and the Assembly seldom declines DEV’s requests. This is the first full audit of the company’s finances since 2015, which covered the two prior years of 2013 and 2014. Continue reading

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.  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