Tag Archives: Dick Hall-Sizemore

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

Dick Hall-Sizemore

As a life-long resident of Virginia for seven decades (there, I have said it), I have seen many changes.  Occasionally, reminders of these changes are especially striking. One of those stark reminders occurred about 10 years ago. I was sitting in on a General Assembly committee meeting in which the Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court gives sort of an annual report to the legislature. The Chief Justice at the time was Leroy Hassell, the first black chief justice. It suddenly hit me: Wow! The Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court, an imposing black man! Virginia has really come a long way over the last 30-40 years.

I just finished a remarkable book that brought more reminders. The book is We Face the Dawn: Oliver Hill, Spotswood Robinson, and the Legal Team That Dismantled Jim Crow by Margaret Edds. The author combines the best of two worlds: thorough and detailed scholarly research and the writing of a journalist. Continue reading

Disregard that Law

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Well, Virginia made the national headlines again last week and over the weekend.  This time it was over the requirement that couples applying for a marriage license list their race on the application. And Attorney General Mark Herring was the hero, saying that, despite what the law said, the couples did not have to do that.  (NYT, WP, RTD, as well as all the networks).

On the face of it, the state could make a case that gathering information about the race of people getting married serves a legitimate purpose by providing data for state demographers and sociologists. But, because “race” can be a vague concept and applicants self-identify their race, any data collected has become meaningless. Apparently, each county can compile its own list of categories from which applicants choose.  According to newspaper reports, Rockbridge County had a list of  approximately 200 “races”, including American, Aryan, Hebrew, Islamic, Mestizo, Nordic, Teutonic, Moor, and White American. Continue reading

A Cautionary Note to the Drive to Legalize Pot

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In response to some of the comments to my recent post on crime and drug data, as well as to a running theme on this blog, I want to share a thought-provoking article that I recently encountered.

I have long felt that the use of marijuana should not be a criminal offense.  However, a recent New Yorker article caused me to have second thoughts.  The author does not take a stand on whether pot should be legal or not.  He is questioning one of the basic premises behind the drive to legalize it: that it is safe.  He points out that we really don’t know how safe it is because relatively little research had been done in this field.

The point that stood out for me is that there is some evidence linking the heavy use of pot to mental illness, particularly schizophrenia.  Also, some researchers have shown links between the use of pot and increases in violence.

All of this research is preliminary and much more needs to be done before any definitive conclusions can be reached.  In any event, it is important to keep in mind that THC is a potent chemical and that the human brain chemistry is a delicate balance that can be affected, in good and bad ways, by the introductionof “foreign” substances.

Good News, Bad News on Crime Trends

Getty Images

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Each year the state produces six-year forecasts of state and local criminal offender populations. These forecasts are ultimately adopted by an interagency, inter-disciplinary committee, chaired by the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.

The process of producing the forecasts is fairly complicated and stretches over several months, involving numerous meetings. I will provide a more detailed description later when the final forecasts are agreed upon and released, which will be in October.

In the meantime, one of the main benefits of the process, aside from the forecasts themselves, is a comprehensive look at criminal justice trends in Virginia. This information was gathered from the research of analysts in several agencies and presented to the Offender Population Forecast Policy Committee in late August. The presentation went into a great detail and consisted of over 70 Power Point slides. Needless to say, I will limit this report to a few of the most salient charts.  Continue reading

What?! Us Train Our People?!

Today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch reports the lament of the Associated General Contractors of Virginia that its members are having a hard time finding qualified workers in the building trades, such as plumber, welders, and HVAC technicians. Almost half of the members said “one reason is that the employment pipeline in their communities for training skilled workers is poor.”

Their recommended solution: “increased funding for career and technical education for community and career college students to qualify for federal Pell grants.” Wow! These guys sound like the caricatures of Democrats often seen on Bacon’s Rebellion—more government spending.

What happened to the concept that companies did their own training with apprenticeship programs? Unions offer training and apprenticeship programs, but, of course, we don’t like unions in Virginia.

These contractors could learn a lot from the director of the Capital Construction Unit of the Department of Corrections. That unit consists of inmates who complete numerous construction projects within the prison system, such as roof repair and replacement, masonry work, and basic carpentry framing and dry wall installation. Their work results in significant savings for the Commonwealth.  The director of the unit told me that, in the past, he could usually get inmates with some experience in construction trades, but that is not the case now. Now, most of the inmates he selects have no background or training in construction to the point that some have probably never held a hammer in their hands. Therefore, he trains them.

In the same vein, I was astounded a few years ago when I learned that Southside Virginia Community College offered a course in utility pole climbing and line installation. C’mon Dominion, you can’t afford to train your line workers?

Oh, by the way, another recommendation of the AGC: Allow more immigrants to enter the country.

An Alternative College Ranking

Coinciding with our discussions here on Bacon’s Rebellion about higher education, I just received the annual Washington Monthly issue with its college rankings.

The Monthly takes a significantly different approach to ranking colleges and universities than does the U.S. News and World Report. It identifies the aspects it feels are important in making a college or university “good.” After establishing those qualities, it uses quantitative measures to rank each school.

The three basic qualities, or functions, if you will, are: Social Mobility, Research, and Service. In its methodology, these qualities are weighted equally. To come up with its overall rankings, the magazine uses the following quantitative measures: Continue reading

Exercising Your Second Amendment Right

Interesting scenario:  You are doing some shopping in Walmart. Alarmed by the recent nationwide shootings, you are carrying your recently legally authorized concealed handgun. A man walks in, carrying an assault-style rifle and a handgun strapped to his side, along with several magazines of ammunition. This also is legal in Virginia. What do you do?

  1. Say hello to your fellow gun-carrying customer
  2. Ignore him
  3. Pull out your handgun and confront him
  4. Shoot him because he is obviously a threat

Here are the laws governing this situation, which you may or may not know as you are trying to decide what to do: Continue reading

Recidivism Revisited

Sussex I State Prison

As has been noted in previous posts on this blog (here and here), the latest three-year recidivism rate of offenders released from the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) was the lowest in the nation. In fact, DOC had the lowest rate in the nation for the last three reporting periods.  DOC can justly be proud of this record.

Nevertheless, a closer look at the data reveals some troubling trends.  Before delving into this data, in order to understand the data and ensuing discussion, there are some terms that need defining and clarifying: Continue reading

Speaking of Mental Health–Virginia has a Crisis

The Commonwealth is experiencing a crisis in its mental health system.  The situation is the result of some positive initiatives of the General Assembly, coupled with the legislature’s reluctance to provide the funding needed to deal with the results of those initiatives.

The crisis is an acute shortage of mental health treatment beds. Around the first of this month, the Commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) warned “there will be times over the July 4th holiday weekend when there will not be any open staffed beds at any of the state hospitals.”   And the July 4 weekend was not an aberration. The state’s adult mental health hospitals operated at 98 to 100 percent capacity in May and June. One day this month, the two hospitals that treat elderly patients had more patients than beds.

The state has reduced its mental health bed capacity in recent years, going from 1,571 beds in June 2010 to 1,491 beds in FY 2020, a reduction of five percent.

During that period of decreasing bed capacity, the General Assembly took two actions that have resulted in a significant increase in mental health admissions. Continue reading

Weldon Cooper Revisited

 

In a recent post of Steve’s, members of this blog got into an extended discussion of the methodology used by the Weldon Cooper Center at UVa. to evaluate the effect of tax incentives, specifically its projecting the “impact of raising income taxes by the amount exempted.”  As promised, I contacted a senior executive at Weldon Cooper whom I know and asked for some clarification.

His answer was fairly lengthy, so I will quote key portions and try to summarize his position:

“The answer to your question is that every dollar spent has an opportunity cost.  As you point out, one way the opportunity cost can be measured is the value of the best alternative way you could have spent the money.  Another way is the cost to the economy of extracting a marginal dollar from the economy with a tax instrument….Every tax has some cost in terms of consumption foregone.”

“One cost of a tax is that it might cause some firm or some person to choose to be elsewhere.  This is not a ‘conservative’ idea.  It is just a standard result of microeconomics.  But we must not lose sight of the fact that how the money is spent is important as well.  People and firms value public safety, education services, infrastructure, clean environment, good administration and all the rest.  These things are not free.”

He objected to the characterization in BR of the Weldon Cooper method as “dynamic scoring”, saying, “this is incorrect and is a politically charged assertion.  It doesn’t make us ‘conservative’ to account for opportunity cost and [the effect on the economy of extracting a marginal dollar with a tax instrument].”

In summary, he asserts that any fair analysis must take account of all the effects of government spending.  On the one hand, “every tax has some cost in terms of consumption forgone.”  On the other hand, taxes are used to provide services to citizens that can be best provided by government, rather than the market.

Hall-Sizemore take:  I was off-base in my earlier characterization of the Weldon Cooper approach  as being an “assumption that, were it not for the incentives, those revenues would not have been needed. Thus, there was a ‘tax increase’ needed to produce the revenues.”  It is, in reality, a way of measuring the opportunity cost in terms of the effect of the marginal cost of raising the funds.  It also is a way of consistently comparing different types of economic development incentives.

Actually, balancing of opportunity costs occurs annually in the budget process.  Both the Governor and the legislature do it.  Either the legislature or the executive could determine that the projected revenue was in excess of what was needed to provide a good mix of services in an efficient way and therefore propose reducing the tax rate, rather than expand services.  (Those issues dominated the discussion in last year’s session.)  More often, the opposite is the case—the “needs” and the “wants” of the agencies exceed the amount of projected revenue and the executive and legislature decide that the opportunity cost should be borne by the government.  Thus, the marginal cost to the economy of raising taxes takes precedence over the cost of foregoing expansion of existing services or initiating new ones.

JLARC and the Virginia Cloud

Facebook data center in Henrico

Some years ago, the General Assembly made considerable use of the time between sessions. There were special study commissions that met fairly frequently, as well as meetings of subcommittees of standing committees. For various reasons, that does not happen much now. As a result, the legislature has struggle with tough issues, with little time for research and reflection, during the crowded regular sessions.

More and more, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) is filling the void, providing the legislature with analyses and background on a number of thorny issues. This is a positive development.

Originally, the primary function of JLARC was to conduct regular, thorough analyses of agency operations. Gradually, that function has evolved to consist of (i) ongoing oversight over VITA, VRS, economic development incentives, Virginia529 (college savings plan), and Cardinal (the state’s new accounting system); (ii) several annual reports on state spending; and (iii) specific topics referred to it by the legislature or taken up on its own initiative.

This year the agency has one of its heaviest study loads ever. In addition to the ongoing oversight and state spending studies, the workload includes studies on community services board funding, implementation of STEP-VA (reform of the state’s behavioral health system),  the Office of the State Inspector General, VITA’s new infrastructure, Office of the Attorney General, gaming in the Commonwealth, Medicaid expansion, Workers’ compensation, and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Continue reading

Density as an Answer

It seems that our leader, Jim Bacon, is on the cutting edge of new thinking about how to address the rising cost of housing.  (Of course, this is no surprise to BR readers.)  An article in yesterday’s New York Times describes how planners, economists, and environmentalists across the country have begun to advocate more density.

The target of the critics is detached, single-family residential zoning. “It is illegal on 75 percent of the residential land in many American cities to build anything other than a detached single-family home,” the authors contend. They created maps, included in the article, depicting the residential area within many cities (and some suburbs) that is zoned for detached, single-family residential units. (There are no Virginia localities shown.) There are real contrasts. In New York City and Washington, D.C., only 15 percent and 36 percent, respectively, of the residential land is zoned for detached, single-family homes, whereas in Minneapolis and Charlotte, N.C., the percentages are 70 and 84, respectively. Cities in the western part of the country have even higher percentages restricted to detached, single-family units.

Some areas are taking action. Minneapolis has recently ended detached, single-family zoning; Oregon is considering legislation that would allow options as dense as fourplexes in larger cities and duplexes in smaller cities; and Seattle has upzoned six percent of its single family-zoned land. As expected, there has been strong opposition from homeowners in these areas. In the California legislature, such opposition has stalled a bill that would affect local zoning statewide.

It is remarkable how much effect small changes could make. According to the authors’ analysis, “Over time, if just 5 percent of the largest single-family lots in Minneapolis — lots of at least 5,000 square feet — converted to triplexes, that would create about 6,200 new units of housing, according to UrbanFootprint [a software program]. If 10 percent of similar-sized lots in San Jose, Calif., added a second unit, the city would gain 15,000 new homes.”

It may be time for policymakers in Virginia to begin looking at such changes.  As for me, I am glad I bought my detached house with a yard, small as it is, thirty years ago.

Constitutional Officers–The Solutions

As I indicated in an earlier post, I will propose some alternatives to the elected constitutional officer system currently in place in Virginia. Commenters to that post have already suggested the same solutions I will set out, with the exception of one office.

Treasurer and Commissioner of the Revenue—abolished, with each city and county authorized to establish a finance director, whose office would perform functions of both the treasurer and commissioner. This one is the most obvious of all the alternatives.  Each local government should have total control over its finances.  The funding for the new office would come from local coffers.

Circuit court clerk—appointed by the chief judge of the circuit court. This position is the administrator  of the court and it is logical that the judge make the appointment.  This is the same method used to fill the position of district court clerk.  The state would pay all the costs of operating these offices.

Continue reading

Constitutional Officers–The Problem

Our recent discussion of the primary elections and an incidental comment by Steve Haner were the catalysts to get me to develop a posting that I had been mulling over for awhile. The system of elected administrative officers established in the Virginia Constitution for local governments needs to be abolished.

These officers, called constitutional officers for obvious reasons, and their primary responsibilities, are:

  • Circuit court clerk—responsible for the administration of the circuit courts: preparing trial transcripts, handling jury lists, preparing orders, etc.  The office is also the depository of the locality’s land records (deeds, liens, etc.) and wills.
  • Sheriff—responsible for law enforcement in many localities, administration of the jail, provision of courtroom security, and service of legal processes.
  • Commonwealth’s Attorney—chief criminal prosecutor.
  • Commissioner of the Revenue—property assessor and processor of income tax returns
  • Treasurer—collects tax and other state and local revenue and deposits funds into appropriate accounts; invests funds of local government

All officers are elected for four-year terms, except the clerk, who has an eight-year term. The Constitution requires that each city and county have these officers, although it also provides that localities can share officers and that localities can abolish the offices, if approved by referendum.   Continue reading

What is Going On?

Can someone from Northern Virginia please tell me what is going on when almost a million dollars is being raised in each of two primary contests for Commonwealth’s Attorney?  I can understand the money being raised, as reported by VPAP, in the primary for chairman of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors.  That is a political position and there are four candidates.  But, the money being raised for Commonwealth’s Attorney, a supposedly nonpolitical position, with only two candidates in each election, is astounding.