General Assembly: Status of Selected Issues

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on Saturday, February 25.  Time to check on the status of some issues that have been discussed on this blog.

Budget bill. The budget bill contains not only the usual appropriations, but also all those tax cuts proposed by the Governor. There is activity behind the scenes, but, so far, no public hint that any sort of compromise is near.

Utility bills. One major utility regulation bill has been passed, but the others are in conference. I will defer to Steve Haner to comment on these as he deems fit.

SCC judgeships. Last year, the General Assembly could not agree on a person to fill a vacant SCC judgeship. The House supported one person; the Senate favored another. In late 2020, one of the two sitting judges, Judith Jagdmann, announced her retirement with a year left on her appointment. That left two vacancies, seeming to solve the problem: Each legislative house could have its own favorite. But, there was a fly in the ointment.  ne vacancy, Jagdmann’s, was only for the year left on her term. The other vacancy was for a full six years. Who was going to get the short straw? Another impasse.

Then Del. Kathy Byron (R-Bedford) and Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) came up with a method to bypass the problem. Their bills (HB 2463 and SB 1482) would have the following effect: A fourth judgeship would be created. The General Assembly then would elect someone to the new fourth judgeship and one to the current full vacancy. Jadgmann’s seat would then go away after the term expired with no one holding it. (All this is explained in a little more detail in a Virginia Mercury article.

A little convoluted, perhaps, but that approach had the promise of getting the job done with both chambers being able to put their choices into a judgeship. But the General Assembly seldom does something simply. For these bills, they did something I have never seen in all my years of following the legislature. The House and Senate each amended each other’s bills in the same manner: putting a reenactment clause on it. (That amendment makes little sense, if you think about it. If it became law, it would mean that the SCC would continue for another year with just one judge or, if the legislature adjourned, the governor would have been able to fill the seats with interim appointments.) They then went further by rejecting the other chamber’s amendment (which were identical, remember) and put the bills in conference. All these actions were accomplished through unanimous votes of both houses. Therefore, there is a game being played and all the legislators and some insiders are aware of what is going on. Mr. Haner, being the insider that he is, probably understands it.

Selected passed bills

There are at least two issues that have generated interest in the discussions on this blog on which the legislature has taken positive action:

Organized shoplifting. Organized shoplifting, discussed here on BR, has increasingly become a problem. In response, Del. Kathy Byron (R-Bedford) and Sen. Richard Stuart (R-King George) introduced legislation (HB 1885 and SB 1396) to address it. As introduced, the bills would have made it a Class 3 felony for anyone who “conspires or acts in concert with another person to commit simple larceny of retail property from one or more retail mercantile establishments, with a value exceeding $1,000 aggregated over a 90-day period, with the intent to sell such retail property for monetary or other gain.” Senate Democrats objected that this could be a back-door way of cancelling the $1,000 minimum for a larceny to qualify as a felony that had been enacted a couple of years ago. As a compromise, the minimum was raised to $5,000 and the bill was passed by both houses. (See the Richmond Times-Dispatch for more extended coverage.)

Workforce development. Consolidation of the state’s workforce development programs was a top priority of Governor Youngkin. The issue and the Governor’s taking it on were the subject of a couple of BR articles (here and here). The Governor’s bill was carried by Del. Kathy Byron (R-Bedford) and Sen. Frank Ruff (Mecklenburg).  (They were HB 2195 and SB 1470.) The bill passed unanimously in the Senate, but ran into trouble in the House. As reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, unions and representatives of other training programs raised concerns that the provisions of the bill would undercut their own efforts, especially in the area of apprenticeships. After significant amending, the bill passed the House on a largely partisan vote.

In its final form, the legislation would create a new Department of  Workforce Development and Advancement, which would have broad authority over setting performance measures for workforce development programs operated by different agencies and collecting data from those agencies. It also would take responsibility for operating state employment offices. Furthermore, the bill would create an Apprenticeship Council, which would establish standards for apprenticeship agreements.