Category Archives: General Assembly

Bill Changing Rate Rules on Dominion Advances

Will the General Assembly unshackle the SCC so it can grant refunds or lower rates?

By Steve Haner

As the energy whirlwind continues to spin at the General Assembly, changing the landscape the way a twister changes a trailer park, one proposal that should be a boon to Dominion Energy Virginia ratepayers passed a notable hurdle late Tuesday night.

House Bill 1132, the chance for legislators to repent and make amends for earlier sins against their constituents, cleared the House Labor and Commerce energy issues subcommittee on a 6-4 vote, following a long and instructive debate. Two versions of the bill were introduced, one by Powhatan Republican Lee Ware and the other by Norfolk Democrat Jay Jones. It was the Jones version that passed, but Ware was also at the podium sharing credit.

The subcommittee meeting, which ran until about midnight again, included many party-line votes, but this one had Democrat Steve Heretick of Portsmouth siding with Dominion along with several Republicans, while Ware joined the rest of the Democrats in support of the bill.  “Nay” was the wrong vote on this one. Very wrong. As wrong as the votes which enriched Dominion in 2014, 2015 and 2018.

As previously discussed, the bill will allow the State Corporation Commission to review and adjust Dominion’s rates and profits in 2021 without the handcuffs, leg irons, blindfolds and barbed wire fences previous General Assemblies have built into various laws to injure consumer rights and protect utility profits. It will use the traditional rate-making rules the State Corporation Commission applies to other companies, and most other states’ regulators use for their monopoly power companies (who also thrive, by the way).  Continue reading

The Growing Clout of Virginia’s Solar Lobby

by James A. Bacon

It may be a while before the solar industry matches the clout of Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, but it has come into its own as a lobbying and political player. The new reality hit me forcefully when the Virginia Solar for All Campaign issued a statement applauding the advance of the Virginia Clean Economy Act out of committee yesterday.

“The House of Delegates is taking bold action on energy, advancing legislation that will create a clean energy economy, put Virginia on a path to 100% clean energy, and eliminate harmful carbon emissions to turn back the tide against climate change,” said Rachel Smucker, Virginia Policy and Development Manager for the Maryland Delaware Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association (MDV-SEIA).

Distributed solar generation — small-scale rooftop and community projects — is a key component of the bill, which would mandate a 100% renewable electric grid by 2050. At present, distributed solar is capped at 1% of Dominion’s peak load forecast. Lifting that cap, expanding opportunities for Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), and mandating 100% renewable energy sources would open up multibillion-dollar market opportunities for solar companies.

The collection of logos seen above, representing members of the Virginia Solar for All Campaign, does not even account for all the solar players in the state. Continue reading

Right-to-Work Repeal Would Cost “Thousands” of Jobs, Says VEDP

Governor Ralph Northam at a recent announcement that an investment by Mack Trucks would create 250 new jobs in Salem, Va. Would Mack have committed to Virginia without a right-to-work law?

by James A. Bacon

The repeal of Virginia’s Right-to-Work law would result in the loss of dozens of economic development projects, “thousands” of manufacturing and supply-chain jobs, and $9 million to $25 million per year in annual General Fund revenue just from the state’s current project prospect pipeline, reports the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) in a fiscal impact statement for HB 153.

The bill, introduced by Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, with six co-patrons, would repeal the Right-to-Work law, which prohibits making union membership a prerequisite for employment. Virginia is the northernmost Right-to-Work state on the East Coast, and the law has been a pillar of the state’s economic competitiveness. Scrapping the law would have a particularly devastating impact on rural areas and small metros where manufacturing and supply-chain operations comprise a large part of the economic base.

As the fiscal impact statement explains, a state’s Right-to-Work status is a primary factor considered by company executives and site-selection consultants scoping out sites for corporate expansions. A 2019 survey by Area Development found that more than 70% of corporate executives and 78% of site-selection consultants indicated that it is “important” or “very important” for a state to have a Right-to-Work law. Site selection consultants have told VEDP that a change in the policy would impact Virginia’s competitiveness for economic-development projects, especially in the manufacturing and supply-chain sectors. Continue reading

Crash and Burn

Lots of truly awful legislation is making its way through the General Assembly, but at least two of the worst bills appear to be dead. No guarantees they won’t be back next year, but we can rest easy for now.

Electoral votes still mean something… A bill to award Virginia’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate winning the popular vote has failed to advance in the General Assembly. Under SB 399, Virginia would have joined the National Popular Vote Compact on the grounds that the electoral college is an archaic institution that thwarts the popular will. Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, withdrew the bill for unexplained reasons, reports the Associated Press. The purpose of the electoral college is protect smaller states from domination by the larger, or, as Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, puts it in practical terms, “to ensure that certain large states like California and New York, now, don’t have all the control in making a decision for president.”

The United States is not a democracy, in which the majority will always prevails. It is a democratic republic with checks and balances designed to protect against the tyranny of the majority. In a vast, diverse state of nearly 330 million people, that’s more important than ever.

Labor union payoff bites the dust… A Senate bill that would have empowered some Northern Virginia localities to dictate labor standards to developers of large real estate projects died in committee Monday, reports the Washington Business Journal. Under the bill, also sponsored by Ebbin, localities could have made approval of special use permits in zoning cases contingent up private-sector to enter into “binding contractual commitments that provide protections for the skilled and unskilled workers hired to build the development project.” In other words, the bill was a payoff to the construction unions. Fortunately, the Senate didn’t go along.

Bill Broadens Definition of Sexual Harassment

by Hans Bader

On January 30, a subcommittee in Virginia’s House of Delegates voted 5-to-2 to adopt a revised version of HB 1418, a bill to expand employers’ liability for sexual harassment. The bill originally applied to employers with six to 14 employees. Now it applies to all employers with more than five.

Originally, while the bill provided for unlimited damages in sexual harassment cases, it limited court-ordered attorney fees payable to the plaintiff’s lawyer to 25% of the damages awarded. Now, the limit on attorneys fees has been removed, so an employer can be ordered to pay far more in attorney fees than it ends up paying in damages to the plaintiff.

The revised version also changes the definition of sexual harassment, and makes employers liable for “workplace harassment” based on additional factors other than sex. Its sexual harassment definition omits a critical element of the definition of sexual harassment according to the U.S. Supreme Court and federal appeals courts, “unwelcomeness.” The amended version of HB 1418 adopted on January 30 has a long list of “rules” that “shall apply” in defining sexual harassment (probably found in no other state or federal law), yet it omits the core element of “unwelcomeness” that the Supreme Court says defines sexual harassment.

Unwelcome means unsolicited and uninvited. If a worker invites or solicits something from a co-worker, they can’t later sue over that something, even if it offended them. Continue reading

Consistency? Seek it Not at the General Assembly

The Virginia Constitution grants exemption from local real estate taxes for veterans with 100% service-related disability and for the Gold Star families of those killed in action, a move enthusiastically endorsed by voters in 2010. But in a House Finance Committee subcommittee this morning Virginia’s local governments presented the General Assembly with a bill.

The subcommittee endorsed two bills to provide localities reimbursement from the state treasury for the real estate taxes foregone. House Bill 363 from Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, would allow the reimbursement once the tax exemption amount exceeds one percent of the overall local real estate tax revenue. House Bill 1496 from new Del.Martha Mugler, D-Hampton, did not set a threshold and would reimburse all lost revenue.  Continue reading

How Democracy Dies in Darkness: “Posting in Progress”

by Hans Bader

The Virginia legislature is moving toward passage of bills that could make state employment law far more hostile to employers. But the content of the legislation was hidden from voters for a critical period while it was working its way through the General Assembly. The amended text of the bills was not posted until long after it was approved by key committees.

A subcommittee of the House of Delegates approved Friday a bill dealing with sexual harassment in small businesses. It did so on a party-line 5-to-2 vote, which suggests that they bill has a good chance of passing into law. A lawyer, Liam Bissainthe, had argued that the bill, HB 1418, would change the definition of sexual harassment used in lawsuits in in a way that would allow employers to be sued over a single offensive comment, potentially raising First Amendment issues.

To see whether that argument held up, it would have been helpful to read the current version of the bill. But it was not available online to the public yesterday. The committee approved a “substitute” bill for the original. But that substitute had not been posted on the legislature’s web site. Instead, when I clicked on the link to the bill’s current text, I got the message (seen above) that the posting was “in progress.”

Update:  The substitute was posted Monday morning.   SDH
Continue reading

Updates: Electoral College, Carbon Tax, Tax Reform

The benches along this sidewalk are still missing, having been removed for the gun rights rally. Can we have them back for next week’s February Thaw?  Please.

By Steve Haner

Catching up on several issues previously discussed, with links to the original posts:

Virginia’s 2020 Electoral Votes Still Ours to Award. Pending legislation to enact the National Popular Vote regime has now failed in both House and Senate committees, although nothing is really dead in this process until final adjournment in March.  The House bill died in House Privileges and Elections Friday, with three Democrats joining nine Republicans to reject. The Senate version was stricken at the request of the patron a few days earlier. The National Popular Vote is an interstate compact of states agreeing to grant their electoral votes to the presidential candidate with the highest national total vote, but it only kicks in once enough states to control the outcome have joined. Perhaps the idea of Virginia’s electoral votes going to Donald J. Trump, without regard to Virginia’s vote, finally occurred to some Democrats. But complaints about the Electoral College persist and so will this idea.

Secretary of Natural Resources on Transportation and Climate Initiative. Twice last week Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler faced questions from Republican legislators about the state’s plans with regard to the proposed interstate compact on fossil fuels used in cars and trucks. Continue reading

“Virginia Values Act” Devalues Virginia

by Hans Bader

The so-called “Virginia Values Act” has been approved by key committees of the Virginia legislature, aided by blatantly inaccurate claims. The VVA will revolutionize Virginia discrimination law, turning what once was a pro-business state into an anti-business state in key areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations law. The media is not reporting this. It has reported only on the fact that the VVA will add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to state discrimination laws.

But the legislation changes Virginia’s discrimination law as a whole, for discrimination cases of all kinds — not just discrimination against gay and transgender people. For example, it provides for unlimited punitive and compensatory damage awards against companies that lose any type of discrimination lawsuit. It also expands state employees’ ability to sue the state of Virginia for money, which will come at a cost to taxpayers.

Yet, the Senate bill containing the Virginia Values Act, SB 868, claimed it has no cost. That’s blatantly false. The bill’s Impact statement describes its “Fiscal Impact” as “None” and says the VVA “presents no fiscal impact to Executive branch agencies.” Continue reading

High Cost Detailed, Offshore Wind Support Fades

Delegate Mark Keam, D-Vienna. He voted against a bill eliminating SCC oversight on an $8 billion wind investment, then abstained to save the bill. Watch it here.

By Steve Haner

Dominion Energy Virginia’s massive $7.8 billion offshore wind project received a tepid 5-4 endorsement late Thursday night in a House subcommittee, after legislators were told it would add $13 per month to typical residential bills starting in 2027. In stark contrast to a similar hearing in the Senate Wednesday, both the State Corporation Commission and Office of the Attorney General staff spoke forcefully.

That 5-4 vote to report the bill came on a second try, as the first roll call was scrambled by legislators changing their votes before the chairman closed the roll. At times on the first roll call the proposal was failing by 6-3 or on a 5-5 tied vote, but that roll call was discarded. The final vote was 5-4, with Delegate Mark Keam, D-Vienna, abstaining. He had voted “nay” before but can be heard on the video tape saying he didn’t want his vote to kill it.

The basis for his abstention, normally used when a legislator has a conflict of interest, was not stated.

The bill in question is Chesapeake Democrat Del. Cliff Hayes’ House Bill 1664 but pay no attention to the introduced bill.  There was a substitute.  It was a dream bill for Dominion’s plans, once again dictating to the SCC that “all costs” of the project would be “deemed to be reasonably and prudently incurred.” Those are the magic words one opponent labeled “a blank check.”  Continue reading

All Aboard!

Governor Northam has proposed a major long-range expansion of passenger rail service in the Commonwealth. The broad outline was released last December and the means to implement it are included in the administration’s omnibus transportation bill (HB 1414 and SB 890).

The Plan

The details of the plan are too extensive to set out in this post. They can be found here on the website of the Department of Rail and Public Transportation and in a press release from the Governor’s office. Also, both the Washington Post and the Richmond Times-Dispatch have run major stories on the plan.

The plan is the result of an agreement between Virginia and CSX. In summary, the state would build a new rail bridge across the Potomac River, acquire more than 350 miles of railroad right-of-way and 225 miles of track, and make 37 miles of new track improvements. Continue reading

Who’s Got the Power?

House of Delegates. Source: Virginia Public Access Project

Who’s got the power? We got the power!
Breaking through the wall, gonna do it all
We don’t quit!
Who’s got the power? We got the power!
— Powerpuff Girls

The Virginia Public Access Project compared the committee assignments of 113 legislators returning to the General Assembly this year and graphed the change between 2018 and 2020 in the number of committees served and the number of bills considered. Unsurprisingly, given the shift in majority power from Republicans to Democrats, Republicans generally lost power and Democrats gained it. The graph above, which depicts changes in the House of Delegates, clearly shows that, overall, Republicans (red dots) serve on fewer committees dealing with fewer bills while Democrats (blue dots) serve on more committees considering more bills. Continue reading

Legislative Updates: Minimum Wage

by Hans Bader

On January 28, a subcommittee in Virginia’s House of Delegates apparently voted 5-to-3 to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15, and to eliminate some longstanding exemptions to the minimum wage. The vote was along party lines.

The House’s bill is harsher on employers than the companion bill in the state Senate. On Jan. 27, the Senate’s Commerce and Labor Committee voted to gradually raise Virginia’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $15, or to $11.75 for employers that provide health insurance. Continue reading

Virginia Rated Worst State for Partisan Gerrymandering

By DJ Rippert

They’ll be back (in office forever). The USC Schwarzennegger Institute released a report finding that Virginia had the highest degree of partisan gerrymandering among all U.S. states. The report analyzed the “statewide popular vote in 2017 or 2018 state legislative elections and the partisan composition of the state legislative chambers in 2019.” While other studies draw somewhat different results, Virginia is often near the top of the list of “most gerrymandered states.” In mid-2019 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lawsuit by Virginia voters challenging Virginia’s voting districts on racial grounds.

As the USC report states, “Self-interested legislators who seek reelection have long attempted to draw their own districts to protect their personal reelection chances and to improve the electoral odds of their political party.” Repeating for emphasis, Virginia is not only one of many states with extreme gerrymandering, it is rated by this study as the most extreme case of partisan gerrymandering. This is no accident. It is the result of deliberate actions by members of our General Assembly hailing from both parties.

Partisan gerrymandering is a form of voter suppression and disenfranchisement. It should not be allowed and Virginia should certainly never be the worst offender. Beyond that, the Virginia Constitution states, “Every electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory and shall be so constituted as to give, as nearly as is practicable, representation in proportion to the population of the district.” A state does not become the worst example of partisan gerrymandering in the United States by using contiguous and compact districts. Once again our General Assembly’s actions show that they believe laws are for the little people and not for themselves. Continue reading

Offshore Wind Mandate Advances, Cost Ignored

By Steve Haner

Smart lawyers, and the General Assembly is full of them, don’t ask questions unless they know the answer already and want the information included in the debate. Nobody down at the General Assembly is asking what it will cost Virginians on their monthly bills to build massive offshore wind facilities to generate electricity.

Case in point, a meeting of a Senate subcommittee still underway as this is being written. The Energy Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee has endorsed two Senate bills that will dictate to the State Corporation Commission that it must allow Dominion Energy Virginia to build its proposed 2,600-megawatt turbine farm and pass the costs to ratepayers.

Senate Bill 860 actually dictates that up to 5,200 megawatts shall be found “in the public interest,” including projects built off the shores of neighboring states, and covers power purchase agreements. Senate Bill 998 is tightly focused on the Dominion-built project off Virginia Beach, but goes beyond the “public interest” declaration. It tells the SCC to accept the full cost as “reasonable and prudent” and pass those costs on to ratepayers. Probably over 30 years. With an enhanced double-digit all-but-guaranteed rate of return.  Continue reading