Tag Archives: Guest contributors

Runaway Costs and Hospital Monopolies

Employee contributions to medical insurance premiums (family coverage, 2018 by state — Virginia is the highest. By a longshot.

by James C. Sherlock

Healthcare costs are crowding out other spending by citizens and governments. All Virginians know this. Few understand, though, that their elected leaders in Richmond, who are recipients of huge campaign contributions from hospital interests, bear a significant share of the blame and some are actively working to increase costs further.

Virginia had the highest priced commercial health insurance in the country in 2018. (See chart above.) At $6,597, the 2018 average annual employee premium contribution for family health insurance coverage was the highest in the nation. The premium for single coverage in Virginia was the third highest.

The Affordable Care Act exchange is no better. The Centers of Medicare/ Medicaid database lists 16,900 lines of Silver plans and locations nationally in 2018. Virginia had 22 of the 55 highest priced, including 14 of the top 16. In the worst case in the nation, a 40-year-old couple with two children in the Charlottesville area paid almost $39,000 in premiums in 2018 for the less expensive of the only two family Silver policies available on the ACA exchange. Both were offered by Sentara’s Optima Health. With that policy, their out-of-pocket costs were capped at $14,700. Both policies were HMOs with no coverage for out-of-network providers. It was a Sentara network.

Hospital systems in Virginia’s five largest metro areas, either own their own health plans and insurers or have joined exclusive partnerships with one. Sentara, the largest, controls 63 corporations, 43 of which are for profit. Its non-profit subordinates include Optima Health and Sentara providers except its ambulatory surgery centers, which are for-profit partnerships. Continue reading

Early-Release-For-Murderers Bill Advances

A Virginia Senate committee voted Friday 9-to-5 (largely along party lines) to make many murderers eligible for release when they reach age 50. SB 624 effectively reinstates parole for many long-time inmates, even though the Virginia legislature abolished parole in 1995. The bill also guts Virginia’s three-strikes law, which required life without parole for offenders convicted of three separate murders, rapes, or robberies, or any combination of the three.

SB 624 would let inmates seek release at age 50 if they have served 20 years, or age 55 if they’ve served 15. Inmates would not be eligible for geriatric release under the bill if they committed a “Class 1 felony,” but such felonies are reserved for only the most heinous of crimes. First-degree murder, classified as a Class 2 felony, would be affected by the bill.

Supporters of the bill cited low recidivism rates by offenders previously given “geriatric release” in their 60s or later ages. But that doesn’t justify granting geriatric release to people in their 50s, who are younger and more capable of committing murder and rape. Moreover, changes to the parole board’s composition may lead to higher rates of geriatric release in the future, resulting in the release of higher-risk offenders. Continue reading

Will Middle-Aged Killers Get Early Release?

John Reginald Christie, an English serial killer and necrophiliac who killed into his 50s.

by Hans Bader

A Virginia bill, SB 624, would make middle-aged murderers and rapists eligible for “geriatric release.” It would do so even though “geriatric” is precisely about being old. It is defined in the dictionary as “old, elderly,” or “relating to, or appropriate for elderly people.”

Under SB 624, a prison inmate would be eligible for geriatric release if he is 50 years old, or 55 years old, depending on how long he has been in prison. Such inmates are not old, but middle-aged. As the Merriam Webster dictionary notes, “middle-aged people” are “people between the age of about 40 and the age of about 60.” Wikipedia describes middle age as extending to 65 — far above age 50.  I am 50 years old, and have never been treated as old for any purpose.

The bill would let inmates seek release at age 50 if they have served 20 years, or age 55 if they’ve served 15. That’s lower than the age at which famous serial killers were still active. These inmates are younger than serial murderer Albert Fish, who killed starting at age 54, and Dorothea Puente, who killed from age 53 to 59. Many other serial killers continued killing into their 50s, such as Peter Tobin (up to age 60), John Reginald Christie (up to age 53), and Ted Kaczynski (into his 50s). The murder rate is much lower for people in their 60s than in their 50s, but there are people who commit murder even in their 70s. Continue reading

Virginia Death Tax Would Be Fairly Narrow

by Hans Bader

A few days ago, I wrote about legislation to reinstate Virginia’s estate tax. The Tax Foundation has informed me that the tax contained in the bill would affect fewer households than in most of the states that still have an estate tax. (Most states no longer have an estate tax at all).

This matters, because I incorrectly wrote that the tax would “affect the inheritances of many middle-class people.” Well, it turns out it’s not that many. That’s because the bill indirectly incorporates by reference a $10 million exclusion — even though that is not mentioned anywhere in the language of the bill itself.

As the Tax Foundation told me, after I emailed them my blog post, the bill’s language “could be clearer” about that, and “probably should be,” but it apparently does have the effect of incorporating a $10 million exclusion. So unless you have a relative with $10 million, it probably won’t affect you.

(Because the bill itself did not mention such an exclusion, many commenters at Richmond Sunlight and elsewhere had assumed that it would affect many Virginia households, especially in northern Virginia, where homes are quite expensive, and a typical home in many neighborhoods costs over a million dollars) Continue reading

How to Cripple Small Business with One Easy Law

Stacking the deck

by Hans Bader

Anti-discrimination legislation under consideration by the Virginia state Senate would shrink the value of the state’s economy and fundamentally alter its business climate.

The “Virginia Values Act,” introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, would subject even small businesses to unlimited compensatory and punitive damages in discrimination lawsuits and order businesses to pay the lawyers’ bills of the workers, tenants, or customers who sue them. The bill also would let Virginia’s Attorney General sue businesses for a $50,000 fine. But if a business proves itself innocent, it would receive nothing under the Virginia Values Act — no reimbursement of its attorney fees.

The legislation is very one-sided. If the “Virginia Values Act” become law, many businesses will have a powerful incentive to pay off people who make even dubious accusations of discrimination. Having to put up with that injustice will discourage people from starting a business in the first  place. It will also discourage large companies for expanding into or relocating to Virginia, since plenty of other states don’t impose such onerous damages and fines on companies in discrimination cases.

The Virginia Values Act was introduced on January 8 as Senate Bill 868. It is more extreme than, but in some ways similar to, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). That law also provides for unlimited compensatory and punitive damages in discrimination cases, and also forces the business to pay the attorney fees of a person who successfully sues it. Continue reading

HB 1200: Another Small Business Shakedown

by Hans Bader

Right now, if you employ five or fewer workers in Virginia, you aren’t subject to most state restrictions on who you can hire. And if you have fewer than 15 employees, you usually can’t be forced to pay a worker’s lawyer much at all if the worker sues you.

That would change under a recently proposed law, House Bill 1200. It would subject even small businesses with five or fewer employees to state anti-discrimination laws. And if a worker successfully sued you for discrimination, you would have to pay his lawyer’s bills, too — but if he lost, he wouldn’t have to pay your lawyer’s bills. That’s like having someone tell you, “Heads I win, tails you lose.” Even a small business that never discriminates would find that objectionable.

All employers are already forbidden to deliberately discriminate based on race, by a strong federal law known as 42 U.S.C. 1981. But other types of discrimination by tiny employers aren’t necessarily forbidden.

Right now, only employers with 15 or more employers are covered by most federal civil-rights laws, like those banning religious or sexual discrimination. Employers with fewer than 15 but more than five workers are covered by a state law that says they can’t discriminate, but workers can only sue under that law for lost wages, not emotional distress or punitive damages. And a judge can award attorneys fees only out of the “amount recovered,” not on top of them. Continue reading

Death Tax Proposed for Virginia

by Hans Bader

Lawmakers in both houses of Virginia’s legislature have proposed an estate tax. That’s a tax on what residents own at the time of their death. The proposed tax, set at hefty rates not seen since the 1970s, would affect the inheritances of many middle-class people.

Virginia had an estate tax until July 2007, when the Republican-controlled legislature allowed it to be effectively repealed. But this year, the Democrats took control of both houses of the Virginia legislature. And two Democratic lawmakers promptly proposed reinstating and increasing the estate tax, to a higher level than in 2007.

The tax is contained in two bills: SB 637, proposed by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, and HB 736, sponsored by Del. Vivian Watts, D-Alexandria.  (The bills would exempt “closely held businesses” to avoid decimating small businesses on the owner’s death.)

The tax is not set to the level of 2006 or 2007, when few American estates were even subject to the death tax, and tax rates were not at their peak. Instead, it would be set as it was back in the 1970’s, when estate taxes were at their most burdensome and affected the largest number of middle-class households. Continue reading

New Bill Would Mandate Release of Old Murderers

Del. Don Scott

by Hans Bader

A proposed law would require Virginia prisons to release many murderers when they reach age 60 or 65, even if prison officials know they are dangerous. Under a bill proposed Friday by Del. Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, parole officials would be stripped of their authority to block such inmates’ release.

Right now, Virginia’s parole board has the leeway to grant “geriatric release” to many older inmates. If it wants to, it can release inmates if they have been in prison for ten years and have reached the age of 60, or if they have been in prison for five years and have reached the age of 65 — as long as they haven’t committed a “Class 1” felony, which includes certain types of murders.

But it doesn’t have to release such inmates, and it tends not to, unless an inmate is both in poor health, and no longer dangerous.

Scott’s bill would totally change this, leaving state officials powerless to block the release of Class 2 felons, such as rapists and killers whose homicide didn’t rise to the level of a Class 1 felony. It says:

Any person serving a sentence imposed upon a conviction for a felony offense, other than a Class 1 felony, (i) who has reached the age of 65 or older and who has served at least five years of the sentence imposed or (ii) who has reached the age of 60 or older and who has served at least 10 years of the sentence imposed shall be granted conditional release.

Continue reading

Northam Proposes Releasing Middle-Aged Murderers

Released from prison because he was considered too old to be dangerous, 77-year-old Maine resident Albert Flick killed Kimberly Dobbie in front of her sons in 2018.

by Hans Bader

Virginia’s governor wants to make most murderers eligible for parole when they reach age 50. You’d never know that from reading the news stories written by liberal reporters. They say Democratic Governor Ralph Northam wants to help “elderly” inmates.

But that’s contradicted by the governor’s own website. Under his plan, it says, “An individual would be eligible for consideration of parole if they are at least 50 years old and have served 20 years, or are 55 years old and have served 15 years.” A person who is 50 years old or 55 years old is middle-aged, not elderly. Most definitions put middle age as from 45 to 65, and none define people under age 60 as elderly.

But liberal-leaning press entities like the Associated Press didn’t report the fact that Northam’s proposal could result in the release of middle-aged murderers, or people at age 50 or 55. The Associated Press claimed the governor “wants to extend parole eligibility for prisoners who are elderly.” And the Daily Press reported that “Northam wants to give the state parole board more authority to grant early release from prison when inmates are elderly.”

That leaves the false impression that these inmates are so old that they are no threat to anyone. After all, virtually no one commits murder in their 80’s. But Governor Northam’s proposal would let inmates be released at 50 or 55, lower than the age at which famous serial killers were still active. These inmates are younger than serial murderer Albert Fish, who killed from age 54 to age 62, and Dorothea Puente, who killed from age 53 to 59. Many other serial killers continued killing into their 50’s, such as Peter Tobin (up to age 60), John Reginald Christie (up to age 53), and Ted Kaczynski (up to age 52). Continue reading

Non-Competes a Barrier to Economic Mobility

by Schuyler VanValkenburg

Milton Friedman wrote in “Free to Choose” that “economic freedom is an essential prerequisite for political freedom.” But here in Virginia, the people who most need economic freedom and the political self-actualization that comes with it are the people whose economic freedom is most constrained. Let me illustrate with two realistic examples.

Imagine a young cook working in a chain restaurant. The wage scales at those restaurants are fairly flat, and opportunities for advancement pretty rare. So. what would economic freedom mean to that young cook? It would mean the opportunity to move to a new restaurant for a higher paying job, or to get a business loan to open a new food truck or restaurant. But in Virginia, that cook’s employer has the legal ability to bind them from future competition as part of the conditions of employment. Even worse, that boss is allowed to collude with the other restaurateurs in the region to agree not to hire one another’s employees, further limiting competition and frustrating that cook’s desire to seek a higher wage for his talents.

Or imagine instead a cosmetologist and hairstylist. After spending time, money, and effort getting licensed and trained in their trades, they went to work for a national salon chain to build capital before opening their own business. But when ready to start their entrepreneurial journey, their employer tells them that, legally, they can’t open the new salon within 30 miles of their current workplace – and that they will be sued if they do. In Virginia, the national salon operator has the legal authority to do just that. Continue reading

California Too Conservative for Some Virginia Dems

Left turn ahead — sharp left turn.

by Hans Bader

To some Americans, staunchly progressive California may seem too liberal. But not to Virginia’s Democratic legislators. They’re proposing legislation that would make Virginia more liberal than California. That includes letting murderers vote while in prison, and letting them be paroled even if a court has sentenced them to life without parole.

Virginia legislators have proposed allowing even the worst criminals to seek parole — such as a person convicted of murder who tortured his victim to death — even if a court sentenced them to life in prison at a time when parole did not exist. Virginia abolished parole in 1995, due to discontent over the fact that criminals were serving only about 30% of their sentences before being released.

But parole would be made available to even the worst murderers by a recently introduced bill, SB 91. It would retroactively extend parole rights to current inmates, as well as giving future criminals the right to seek parole. Most willful and premeditated murders are Class 2 offenses under Virginia law, for which parole would be available after 15 years. Continue reading

Virginia Likely to Impose Excessive Minimum Wage

Beneficiaries… or victims… of a $15 minimum wage?

by Hans Bader

It doesn’t make sense to ban jobs that pay a living wage, just because an employer can’t afford to pay a still higher wage. But that is what a $15 minimum wage does in regions where living costs and wages are low. There are cheap regions to live in where $11 an hour supports a decent lifestyle. If someone can afford decent food, clothing, and housing on $11 an hour, and their employer can’t afford to pay them more than $12 an hour, it is pointless and cruel to ban their job just because it pays less than $15 per hour.

But that is what a $15 minimum wage does. It bans jobs that pay less than $15 per hour, regardless of whether an individual employer and worker have a good reason for a lower hourly wage.

Virginia is now poised to join seven other left-leaning states, such as New Jersey, in imposing a $15 minimum wage. The incoming majority leader of the state senate, Richard Saslaw, D-Springfield, has introduced a bill to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2025, and then adjust it for inflation in future years. Every Democrat in the state senate has already voted for a similar bill in the past, and Democrats took control of Virginia’s legislature this November. Continue reading

Want to Help Workers Work? Keep Virginia’s Right-to-Work Law

by Chris Braunlich

Are a majority of Democratic candidates for the Virginia General Assembly “anti-worker?” Based on their response to a Virginia Chamber of Commerce survey, it would seem that way.

General Assembly candidates were surveyed on whether they would support Virginia’s Right To Work (RTW) laws. Republicans were unanimously supportive. Democrats were almost equally opposed to retaining the Commonwealth’s 72-year-old law, with only five responding they would keep it.

The “comments” section of the survey betrayed the ignorance of many candidates about the advantages of Right To Work, portraying the law as a Dickensian throwback pitting businesses against workers with some citing a questionable recent Oxfam survey (see column by Chris Saxman) ranking Virginia low on “best state for workers.”

The truth shows a very different picture. Study after study demonstrates that a state Right To Work law improves not only the opportunity for a worker to have a job, but also drives personal incomes higher. Continue reading

End Parental Discrimination in Surrogacy Cases

by Jay Timmons

Residents in the Richmond area are represented by three Republicans in the state Senate with very different views of Life and Family. All three will be on the ballot Tuesday.

When it counted, Siobhan Dunnavant stood strong for children and the unborn. But sadly, Glen Sturtevant and Amanda Chase chose discrimination and bigotry over Life. Sturtevant and Chase acted as charlatans who sent a very clear message with their votes that our son did not even have the right to exist.

The bill, HB1979, which Dunnavant supported and Sturtevant and Chase callously voted against, is also known as “Jacob’s Law,” and was inspired by my son and the horrific four-year legal battle that my husband Rick and I endured in an out-of-state court. The bill was simple – eliminate discrimination in Virginia’s parental rights laws for children born through surrogacy so that all intended parents are treated equally. The bill brought laws on surrogacy in line with those that existed for adoption in Virginia. Most importantly, the bill – which is now law thanks to bipartisan support – means more frozen embryos can be rescued and saved from potential destruction. Continue reading

Making Solar Power a Win-Win for Everyone

by Felix Garcia

There is a simple and common-sense approach to energy policy in Virginia. Go to the energy source which provides abundant, safe electricity at the least cost — solar.

Our company is called AgriSunPower (ASP). Along with our co-developer Hecate Energy, our thought process begins with a simple premise. Solar power is the cheapest and most reliable potential energy source which exists today. Why not look for ways to collaborate with a multitude of stakeholders to expand Virginia’s solar energy capacity to feed the growing appetite for green energy?

Chicago-based Hecate Energy is no stranger to Virginia’s burgeoning green energy scene. The company’s successful development of solar farms in Clarke County and Virginia’s Eastern Shore, later acquired by Dominion Energy, illustrate our approach to utility-scaled solar power generation. We base our pitch on economics and economic development. We seek projects in locations where local government believes that solar power is a big win for everybody, and we flip our facility to the local utility that has provided electricity to the community for generations. Continue reading