By Steve Haner
A Northern Virginia state senator has introduced legislation to change the terms of the members of the State Corporation Commission, perhaps creating a path to compromise on picking two or more new judges. Political deadlock between the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate has stalemated that process for more than a year.
Democratic Senator Scott Surovell’s Senate Bill 1482 gives new commission members full six-year terms. Without that, the two vacancies are for unexpired terms of one and five years, leaving the new members vulnerable to a change in the political wind after less than a full term. The discrepancy gives the two parties something else to argue about, so Surovell levels that field.
His bill also creates a fourth seat on the court, for as close observers know the SCC really is a court of record and operates its process and hearings as a court. The Virginia Constitution allows for up to five members. As the bill now stands, however, that fourth seat, if filled, would not be permanent. The next vacancy would not be filled, returning the court to three members.
Update: Here’s another hopeful sign. There is a House version, introduced by Delegate Kathy Byron, R-Campbell, who chairs House Commerce and Energy.
The bill was introduced Wednesday, after the initial bill filing deadline. It is pending in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, which is also the body that does the open interviews of candidates for the SCC. Candidates also concentrate on private meetings with legislators behind closed doors.
The single active SCC judge is Jehmal T. Hudson, who came to the SCC after working for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. One current seat came open in 2022, when the Republican majority in the House decided not to re-elect Angela Navarro. A second seat is now open because of the early retirement of Judith Jagdmann, who had also served as Attorney General of Virginia.
The deadlock also caused the Virginia Senate to remain in session all through 2022 so Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) would not have an opportunity to make a recess appointment.
Perhaps Surovell’s effort to erase a couple of the roadblocks will allow the rational folks in both political caucuses to come to a deal. Partisanship and issue debates aside, the key qualifications should be a willingness to give all parties a fair hearing and to make decisions firmly based on law and precedent. There certainly are people in both parties, and people on both sides of the killer issues of the day, who fit that bill.