Category Archives: Government Oversight

A Broad Healthcare Agenda for the 2021 General Assembly

Towards a Better, Freer, Less Expensive and More Accessible Healthcare System in Virginia

Image credit: Gordon Johnson

by James C. Sherlock

COVID-19 exposed weaknesses in Virginia’s healthcare delivery system in both readiness and equity of access.

Even before COVID, we have been dealing for decades with the costs of all kinds imposed by Virginia’s unregulated regional healthcare monopolies. The General Assembly has an opportunity, even in this upcoming non-budget year, to deal with them in ways that also save money in Medicaid.

The Certificate of Public Need (COPN) law passed in 1973 gave the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) control over the construction and expansion of new hospitals, ambulatory care and diagnostic imagery centers and of the equipment necessary to operate them. Every effort to break the monopolies it has created or repeal the law has failed. 

We see the results of nearly 50 years of this law in the extraordinarily high costs of healthcare in Virginia, the profound unreadiness of the Virginia healthcare system for COVID and the disproportionate impact of COVID on Virginia’s poor.

It is time to stop pursuing COPN repeal and move forward with reform. 

I will offer here a broad program to update Virginia law to control costs and improve access without repeal of COPN. Each of the reforms start with the assumptions that we have regional healthcare monopolies and they are not going away and that COPN is not going to be repealed. Reform will have to work around those facts. Continue reading

What Is Cuccinelli’s Role in Defining Extremism?

Photo credit: Forbes

By Peter Galuszka

Allegations that the Wolverine Watchmen, a far right extremist group based in Michigan, discussed kidnapping Gov. Ralph Northam draw questions about the role another Virginia politician has played in defining extremist threats.

Kenneth Cuccinelli a former Republican attorney general and failed gubernatorial candidate, has been accused of helping delay a report by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that designated white supremacist groups as the biggest domestic threat the country faces.

That apparently is at odds with President Donald Trump’s view that threats by the so-called “Antifa” leftist groups are the main worry.

Cuccinelli is currently acting deputy to Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf. Both The Washington Post and The New York Times have reported that Cuccinelli helped block an assessment by former Homeland Security intelligence chief Brian Murphy that white supremacists are the larger threat. Continue reading

Special Prosecutor to Investigate Stoney Contract

Smedley Crane & Rigging crew, sub-contracted by NAH LLC, dismantling the JEB Stuart statue.

A Richmond Circuit Court judge has appointed an August County prosecutor to investigate whether Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney broke any laws when he awarded a gave a $1.8 million contract to remove Civil War statues.

Richmond Councilwoman Kim Gray, who is running for mayor against Stoney, had requested an investigation, and Commonwealth Attorney Colette McEachin had referred the matter to Circuit Court Judge Joi Taylor.

“All I can tell you at this early stage is that we will investigate the matter in an unbiased way, and take whatever action is appropriate given what we find,” said Martin, a former Richmond prosecutor who moved to Augusta in 2014 , reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Continue reading

Permanent COVID Reg Called “The Fifth Dragon”

By Steve Haner

Most Virginia employers probably have not read, let alone fully complied with, the emergency temporary standard on protecting their employees from COVID-19 adopted back in July. Yet the public comment period on the permanent version of the rules, which can carry major sanctions, closes this Friday.

Only twenty comments had been filed as of Monday morning, half of them anonymous. So far, the proposed permanent version is not generating the level of activity that surrounded the proposed temporary rule. The Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Code Board allowed no public hearing before adoption, only written comments.

File a comment on the proposed permanent standard here. You can read the comments to date here. The proposed permanent standard can be read here.

Continue reading

Job Recovery Is Not the Special Session’s Focus

This building remains boarded up, and legislators are not there (except the House Speaker and Clerk, pantomiming a real session on Zoom.)

By Steve Haner

With the Virginia General Assembly’s “Cops and COVID” special session moving into its third week, it seems likely to impede rather than assist the state’s economic recovery from the pandemic. It may also greatly expand COVID-19’s financial burdens in the years to come.

The highly publicized issues of unpaid rents and utility bills, threatening tens of thousands with choices between eviction, disconnection, or years of additional debt, are clearly related to un- and under-employment from the COVID-19 recession. But getting people back to work does not seem the top priority for legislators.

The original stated purposes for the session starting August 18 were to amend the state budget in response to the recession, and make other adjustments responding to the viral disease. Deadly confrontations between police and Black suspects in several American cities, and the violent response, added police and judicial reform issues to the agenda.  Continue reading

Covid-19 Testing for Nursing Homes – the Strange Case of Heritage Hall

By Carol J. Bova and James C. Sherlock

The Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would begin to provide 2000 nursing homes with a point of care (POC) rapid-response testing assessment instrument and an initial supply of COVID-19 test assays starting July 20th.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma said, “It gives nursing homes the ability to swiftly identify residents that need to be isolated and mitigate the spread of the virus.”

Eventually, 15,000 analyzer instruments and an initial supply of SARS test assays for those instruments will be distributed nationally directly to nursing homes.

Devices have been allocated to the first 23 of Virginia’s nearly 300 nursing homes.

Heritage Hall. Tommy East is the President and CEO of American Healthcare, LLC, which controls Heritage Hall nursing homes. Mr. East is also listed as a director and officer for each Heritage Hall facility. He is the sole nursing home industry representative on the Virginia Board of Health.

Seven of 18 Heritage Hall nursing homes made it to the head of the line for the first 23 analyzer systems and test assays distributed in Virginia by the CMS program. Heritage Hall is the largest Commonwealth-based operator of nursing homes.

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Atlantic Coast Pipeline Necessity and the FERC

by James C. Sherlock

Peter Galuszka’s piece earlier today in this space made two claims the greens offer endlessly trying to achieve what I call truth by repeated assertion:

  1. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) either did not review or did not review properly (he inferred both) the wisdom and necessity for natural gas pipeline projects in general and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) in particular.
  2. That if it had done so, the FERC would have discovered that there is no market for additional natural gas in the markets to which the pipelines would have brought it.

These claims appear from the usual sources every time any discussion of the ACP is had on this blog. They are both false. I hope this is the last time we will need to read about them.

Mr. Galuszka clearly did not understand the facts.

He wrote:

“So Dominion and its partners could make billions of dollars, some of it paid for by electricity ratepayers, for a project whose public need was always in doubt

and Continue reading

Limit On Emergency Powers is First Bill

Aaaaaaand, they’re off. The first five bills have been filed for consideration by the August 18 Special Session, all introduced by Senate Republicans. As the list of proposals fills in rapidly, you can track it here.

First on the list, surprising no one, is a bill from Senator Steve Newman of the Lynchburg region limiting a governor’s emergency powers by executive order to 30 days, then outlining how the General Assembly may intervene if it chooses (and it may choose not to).  This bill may or may not be ruled germane to the session’s purpose, but I’m glad it is bill number one. (Well, five thousand and one.)

SB 5001 Emergency Services and Disaster Law; limitation on duration of executive orders.

Next up, from Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment of Williamsburg, is bill prohibiting police use of choke holds, a practice that has led to far too many injuries and deaths among arrested individuals, including but in no way limited to the notorious case in Minneapolis. This is very much germane to the session’s official call.

SB 5002 Law-enforcement officers; prohibition on the use of neck restraints.

So is Senator Richard Stuart’s proposal for a Commission on Civil Rights and Policing, for a formal dive into these issues. With the House Democrats already holding three public hearings on their ideas, and with the Crime Commission now thoroughly stacked against debate and dissent, this one’s a long shot.

SB 5003 Civil Rights and Policing, Commission on; established, report, sunset provision. Continue reading

How Employers Must Prevent COVID, Or Else

Virginia Department of Labor and Industry

By Steve Haner

The first thing every employer in Virginia needs to understand about the state’s new COVID-19 temporary workplace standard (here) is it is universal. It applies to every workplace, public and private, for-profit and non-profit, with 10,000 workers or two. The rules are the same, “one size fits all,” without regard to the nature of the industry.

The second thing every employer in Virginia needs to understand about the standard is that it is only temporarily temporary. The goal, and work will begin quickly, is to convert the set of requirements into a permanent regulation, with a permanent burden on employers going forward to protect their employees from a disease circulating widely outside their establishments.  Continue reading

Gerald Smith: Richmond’s New Top Cop

By Peter Galuszka

FYI, here’s a piece I did for Style Weekly about Richmond’s new p0lice chief, the third in about a month, and his interpretation on the problems of law enforcement in this period of defunding.

What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

By Peter Galuszka

Back in the winter of 2015, Craig Vanderhoef, a former Navy captain, got a disturbing surprise in his mailbox at his retirement home near Afton in Nelson County. A letter from Dominion Resources noted that it wanted to survey his land for a new 600-mile-long natural gas pipeline.

On two occasions, he wrote the utility telling them no. Then he got another surprise. A sheriff’s deputy knocked on his door to serve him with papers notifying him that Dominion was suing him to get access to his property.

In short order, about 240 Virginia landowners were on notice that they too might be sued for Dominion’s proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The county sheriff was notified that he, too, was being sued, although it was an error.

Thus, the stage was set for one of the nastiest environmental and property rights battles in Old Dominion history.

It centered around the Atlantic Coast Pipeline that would run from Harrison County, W.Va. across the rugged Appalachians, down through some of the most peacefully bucolic land in the Virginia., to Union Hill, a mostly African-American community in Buckingham county and on into North Carolina, running through the Tar Heel state’s mostly African-American concentration along its northeastern border with Virginia. Continue reading

Spanberger Vs. Trump

Rep. Abigail Spanberger

By Peter Galuszka

U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th District, continues to draw international attention as a “New Look” Democrat from Virginia who is savvy about the intelligence community and global affairs.

The former CIA case officer was featured on CNN criticizing the administration of Donald Trump for ignoring reports that Russian military intelligence had paid bounties to the Taliban in Afghanistan to kill U.S. troops and members of the pro-U.S. coalition there.

Her comments were picked up by the British newspaper, the Guardian. This may be the first time that a woman Member of Congress has gotten so much exposure beyond borders of the Old Dominion.

Neither Dave Brat nor Eric Cantor, her Republican predecessors in the 7th district that includes parts of the once reliably Red Richmond suburbs of Chesterfield and Henrico, has gotten such exposure. The only other woman who has come close is U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria, a Democrat and former Navy officer who represents the 2nd District that includes Virginia Beach, another area that was once reliably Red. Continue reading

BR’s COVID-19 Parallel Universe

By Peter Galuszka

Almost every morning, I wake up a little before dawn, make coffee, let the dog out and feed her and start reading the news.

I take The Washington Post in print along with The New York Times, Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Virginian-Pilot, NBC News, various television stations and, of course, Bacon’s Rebellion online.

Later in the morning, I check out Blue Virginia, Virginia Mercury and RVA.

When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, every morning I step into two different universes.

One gives me the global and national view that jumps right in and explains where we are with the virus and who and what are at risk.

The other view, that of Bacon’s Rebellion, mostly paints a very different picture. This view insists that the pandemic is exaggerated and overrated, needless regulations are being enacted by a dictatorial governor, our school system and housing trends are at risk and we should open everything up right now. Continue reading

COVID Regs Unclear, Unneeded, Contradictory

By Steve Haner

More than two dozen Virginia business associations have asked that the state’s Safety and Health Codes Board reject proposed workplace regulations to prevent COVID-19, stating they are unclear, contradictory, and not needed in light of other existing worker protections.

Some of the largest statewide associations, such as the Virginia Manufacturers Association, National Federation of Independent Business, and Virginia Retail Federation are on the list. So are some regional chambers of commerce and the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy. You can read their 13-page submission here. The conclusion reads:

“It is unreasonable to apply “one size fits all” COVID-19 regulations to all employers and employees.  Codifying guidance is not a reasonable replacement for regulation. It is confusing why after three months, the Regulations are being pursued through an emergency procedure, especially after OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) rejected the AFL-CIO’s petition for an emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 and the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied their petition for a writ of mandamus to compel OSHA to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard for Infectious Diseases.”

The draft rules (here) and a related 200-page briefing package (here) have only been available since June 12. The public comment period closes tonight, and the board is set to meet Wednesday, in a format where the public can only watch. More details are provided in a Bacon’s Rebellion post from this weekend.

Continue reading

The Ups and Downs of Felix Dzerzhinsky

Felix Dzerzhinsky toppled. Photo credit: AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko.

By Peter Galuszka

For three decades, a 15-ton statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky loomed over a square in downtown Moscow. He rose high near the Lubyanka building, a turn of the century, yellow-colored one-time insurance office that served as the national headquarters for the KGB.

“Iron Felix,” born of Polish nobility, is best known as V.I. Lenin’s henchman, the leader of the Red secret police who orchestrated the deaths of hundreds of thousands during the Russian Civil War. He became regarded as the grandfather of various Soviet security agencies, including the MVD, NKVD, KGB and now the FSB and SVR.

Then in August 1991, Soviet hardliners attempted a coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, the reform-minded Communist Party chief. The coup failed, touching off a storm of retribution.

As many as 1,320 statues of Lenin cross the country came down. Leningrad became St. Petersburg, the Kirov Ballet reverted to its old name, the Mariinsky Ballet, and the city of Moscow ordered the statue of Felix taken down.

In order words, there is a strong similarity between what happened just before the Soviet Union fell apart in December 1991 and what is going on today in this country, especially in Virginia. Continue reading