General Assembly Wrap Up

Other than ending a day early, in a token symbol of “efficient GOP governance,” the best news about the recently concluded General Assembly special session is that they finally passed a budget.

One that recent increases in state revenues, along with last year’s preemptive 5 percent spending cuts and a $250 million dip into the state’s unclaimed property holdings allows them to give university faculty at state colleges a 2.5 percent raise, state employees a 2 percent raise, and helps teachers in local school districts with a 1.5 percent raise, provided localities can kick in their shares. Reversing a statewide trend where wages have remained stagnant, eroding employee’s purchasing power and standards of living across the state. http://www.dailypress.com/news/ politics/dp-nws-ga-budget-story-20150224-story.html

News which is tempered by the Republican dominated General Assemblies ongoing refusal to include Medicaid expansion into the state budget, a situation which Lt. Governor Ralph Northam, say leaves“…a gaping hole in the budget that few people are talking about. The most important investment we could be making has been discussed the least: Medicaid expansion.”

He points out how the Republican controlled General Assembly is starting to grudgingly acknowledge the reality that uninsured Virginians are in desperate need of health care — and that the state has a role to play in providing them with those services. Citing their adding $6 million in new funding for free clinics and that it is trivial amount when compared to the billions Virginia could be using with Medicaid expansion.

The fact that many of our Republican legislators believe this is a solution, while simultaneously throwing away $4.4 million in tax dollars each day we go without expansion is something that should have the citizens up in arms. http://www.roanoke.com/opinion/commentary/northam-the-gaping-hole-in-virginia-s-budget/article_b81d3292-5de3-5e61-b95a-ce78e6524d19.html?mode=story

Such a small bore “nibble at the edges” approach towards addressing the Commonwealth’s long term economic and social problems has been the Republicans standard response for several decades, one that stems from the inescapable reality that most of our legislators are for all practical purposes extensions of their corporate sponsors, particularly Dominion Power.

Their passing bills promoting their master’s financial interests is accompanied by a shared ideological devotion to the notion that an unfettered and unrestricted free market will solve every problem, a simplistic approach which continues to be contradicted by decades of empirical evidence, and one that goes against the very principle of promoting the common welfare of all that this country was founded on.

Take for example, the many pro-Dominion bills which have passed the General Assembly and are now awaiting the Governors signature, bills which promote their free market at any cost mentality while pointedly ignoring two greatest intertwined realities facing modern civilization, energy consumption and global warming.

While Dominion may claim that they are acting in their customers best interest with their recent filling with the State Corporation Commission asking them reduce the amount of money it collects from their customers for their fuel costs. Charges they pass on to their 2.4 million customers without making a profit or taking a loss, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Dominion has known long before any of this legislation was ever introduced in the General Assembly that falling natural gas prices would be something that the SCC would be taking a look at, and that they would likely be ordering Dominion to refund those overcharges to their customers.  http://www.richmond.com/business/local/article_e86f63e3-bee4-5164-947f-278640e5b439.html

So rather than give up any of the profits they made by overcharging their customers, they are effectively asking for another “bank error in their favor,” knowing full well that once this temporary rate reduction is over that the SCC will be unable to conduct any regulatory oversight of their base rates for the next six years. And Dominion will be able to levy additional surcharges when natural gas prices rise from their current rock bottom levels.

And they will rise, because Dominion’s long term strategic plan is to export even more of this countries natural gas to Europe, India and China. Once their pipeline along with other energy companies pipelines have been completed relatively little of this gas will be used for domestic consumption.  Because the overseas markets are demanding it, your cost for gas (and electricity) will inexorably follow the economics of supply and demand to whatever levels energy companies like Dominion see fit.

Despite all the talk we’ve been hearing for decades about making this country “energy independent,” overall energy consumption in this country has remained relatively flat since the mid 1990s.  Energy efficiency is why, and it is a major reason why US energy consumption per dollar of economic output has declined from 13,381 BTU’s in 1980 to 7,328 BTU’s in 2013 while our GDP has increased by nearly 50%.

While many of our energy company’s overseas customers, particularly heavy industries are nowhere as efficient as ours, or Western Europe’s or increasingly China’s, they will continue to demand huge amounts of natural gas to meet those needs.

While on one hand the burning of natural gas is widely thought to be far better than burning coal in terms of pollutants and reducing the levels of CO2 which contribute to the greenhouse effect and acidification of the world’s oceans. The methane extraction to energy consumption pipeline comes with many hidden costs that energy companies like Dominion would prefer stay out of the public’s consciousness.

Starting with their customers coming to conclusions like energy companies economic interests in profiting from these massive increases in overseas consumption directly conflict with their right to live in world which allows access to clean water, air and freedom from environmental extremes.

Previous BlueLouisa posts discussed how most the natural gas produced in this country and increasingly around the world comes to us via hydrofracking, a process which uses tremendous amounts of increasingly scarce fresh water, is known to cause earthquakes, and pollutes under water aquifers with toxic chemicals and radioactive substances.

http://bluelouisaorg.fatcow.com/2014/07/15/frakings-got-a-water-problem/

http://bluelouisaorg.fatcow.com/2014/07/15/frackings-got-a-chemical-problem/

http://bluelouisaorg.fatcow.com/2014/07/15/fracking-has-a-radioactive-problem/

http://bluelouisaorg.fatcow.com/2014/07/15/fracking-has-an-illegal-dumping-problem/

http://bluelouisaorg.fatcow.com/2014/07/15/fracking-causes-earthquakes-2/

Even worse, it leaks methane (CH4) a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 at virtually every point in the process; from high pressure gas bubbling up through the ground and water tables, at the well head, when being transferred to tanker trucks, and when it is being transmitted through pipelines.  http://bluelouisaorg.fatcow.com/2014/07/15/fracking-releases-methane/

When you consider just how little effort on the part of the Federal, state or even foreign governments is being made to measure how much methane is being released from hydrofracking operations, a figure that doesn’t even take into the millions of operating and abandoned oil and gas wells around the world that are also leaking methane into the atmosphere. The mental image of an ostrich sticking its head in the ground is one that comes to mind.

In a world where the quest for greater profits are driving virtually every aspect of their decision making process, the energy, oil and gas industries along with their “regulatory captive” governments are operating under the delusion that they can continue to destroy the planet in order to enrich themselves and that somehow they will still have a world worth living in.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_capture

Such a need to maintain control their one sided economic system, is one of the reasons why Dominion instructed the General Assembly to write up bills which would ensure their ability to control the development of alternative energy sources, particularly solar. As a distributed energy source it represents one of the few alternatives to their model of economic extraction that gouges their customers at every opportunity, and is widely considered by the energy industry to be an existential threat to their ability to maintain this stranglehold. http://blogs.wsj.com/corporate-intelligence/2013/03/22/utility-boss-faces-mortal-threat-from-solar/

This mindset goes a long way towards explaining why several states have followed the energy industries recommendations and have “outlawed” the ability of homeowners to “sell back” their surplus energy to the electrical grid, along with allowing energy companies to impose arbitrary user “fees” on solar panel owners which have nothing to do with energy usage.  http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-no-solar-20140810-story.html#page=1

As energy companies continue to pass their costs of doing business to their customers, all the while blaming it on things like the proposed EPA regulations on coal burning power plants, it will become increasingly clear to more and more people that the only way to deal with such delusions is to hold energy companies feet to the fire and use their demand (or even lack of in the case of home owners with solar panels) to force them to diversify and adapt new sources of energy which are not as environmentally harmful.

Speaking of a lack of a moral compass, this brings us to two bills HB2070 and HB2330 which passed General Assembly on the final day of the special session. Bills which will supposedly “reform” the General Assemblies standards of ethics along with the scandal plagued Tobacco Commission, bills which along with their companion bills, SB1424, and SB1440 are now sitting on the Governors desk awaiting his signature.

The back story behind the passage of one ethics bill HB2070 encapsulates the inability  of the Republicans in the General Assembly to acknowledge that an ethics problem even exists and that a minimum they should put forth some token measures to try and shift public opinion.

During the last days of the General Assembly’s special session the Senate Republicans went out of their way to sandbag HB2070, claiming they needed “…more time to work on a bill they considered overly complicated.”   A level of shameless foot dragging that was so bad that it prompted House Speaker Bill Howell to threaten to publicly shame them if they refused to pass this bill.

Saying the House would adopt a resolution for ethics reform just for their chamber, move to adjourn and leave the Senate hanging in the winds of public opinion “unwilling” to address the states ethics problem. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/virginia-senate-republicans-were-set-to-sink-ethics-bill/2015/02/28/05729c98-bec7-11e4-bdfa-b8e8f594e6ee_story.html

In the case of the two ethics bills HB2070 and SB1424, a summary of a statement made by Senator Donald McEachin is particularly insightful.  “At the eleventh hour, the General Assembly … passed ethics legislation. This initial step is certainly not sufficient but is, at least, an acknowledgment”… that there are … “some glaring omissions that I hoped we would address. Over the next year, I hope we will address these significant shortfalls and create lasting, comprehensive ethics reform and transparency for the sake of all Virginians.” http://www.bluevirginia.us/diary/12973/virginia-news-headlines-saturday-morning

While Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared this recently concluded legislative session as proof that “We can work together,” along with “I think we’re a model for the country,” which might be an apt analogy if the standard you’re comparing Virginia to is a corrupt third world country. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/va-assembly-agrees-on-bill-requiring-more-sex-assaults-be-reported-to-police/2015/02/27/b74d462c-be84-11e4-bdfa-b8e8f594e6ee_story.html

Meanwhile the House Democratic Caucus released several statements about this session, summarized below, starting with “…the Republican Caucus hid many of their legislative actions under the table and away from Virginia voters, rather than focus on many issues Virginians care about.”

With Delegate Scott Surovell saying,  “I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Republican Caucus of the House of Delegates chose to focus on allowing loaded shotguns in cars and facilitated concealed weapons permits for convicted stalkers and mentally ill Virginians instead of focusing on gun violence prevention and firearms safety...”

And Delegate Kaye Kory’s saying, “… I am disappointed that so many pro-women bills were killed under the table by the Republican Caucus. By repealing the invasive mandatory ultrasound, ensuring equal pay, and passing the Equal Rights Amendment, we could have sent a message that in a new Virginia economy, we ensure women have their rights protected to make their own healthcare decisions, are paid equally for equal work, and are guaranteed equal rights under the law. Instead, our colleagues across the aisle chose to kill these bills under the table.

Followed by Delegate Sam Rasoul’s comments that “Voters should be able to pick their politicians, not the other way around, and this legislative session our body failed to pass legislation that would allow for fair redistricting. It is very unfortunate our two Caucuses were unable to come together to ensure all Virginians have their voices heard in elections. I hope going forward, the General Assembly sees the need for fair redistricting, and works to achieve this commonsense, widely supported initiative.”

And finally Delegate Alfonso Lopez proclamation that “….the Republican Caucus chose to continue subscribing to the Tea Party science magazine of climate change denial,”  killing bills which would have “…invested in clean energy infrastructure that would protect our environment while creating good jobs…” Instead, “….they passed under the table legislation which undermines the EPA’s clean air standards. www.bluevirginia.us/diary/12973/virginia-news-headlines-saturday-morning

Jon Taylor

Dominion Rules

A previous post in BlueLouisa talked about how Republicans in the General Assembly have concentrated on trying to “…muzzle their firebrands — keeping the crazy cousins in the closet,” along with going out of their way not to discuss anything remotely controversial. Allowing them to pass a host of inoffensive “brochure bills” which get them on the record that they “tried” to address a particular issue without actually having done anything.

Assured that any commonsense bill which somehow manages to pass either side of the legislative chamber will die in the opposite Republican controlled chamber, it’s an old tradition, long part of the gentile and pretentious Virginia Way, one that our legislators grudgingly acknowledge but refuse to discuss.

Until Tom Garrett’s oafish “brass knuckle” bill went down in flames last week, the Republicans were fairly successful in keeping their crazy relatives tucked out of sight. But the General Assemblies problems go well beyond a few rabid bats in the belfry.

And during this final week of the legislative session, their servility to their corporate masters will become impossible to ignore. As they twist Lord Acton’s famous axiom: “Dominion Power corrupts, and absolute power by Dominion, corrupts absolutely,” into reality.

A reality that starts with the first of many pro Dominion bills Gov. Terry McAuliffe will be signing.

SB1349 which he signed this past Tuesday, freezing Dominion’s base rates until 2020 and prohibits the State Corporation Commission from conducting a comprehensive review of the company’s earnings until 2022. There are two possible explanations for this.

The first and most charitable explanation is that Dominion always takes positions which coincide with the best interest of the general public, and that they are willing to compromise enough so that the public interest is secured.

The other explanation comes from George Stigler, a Nobel laureate, who first described “regulatory capture,” which occurs when regulators of an industry become so close to it that they start to put the industry’s interests ahead of the publics.

Virginia’s State Corporation Commission, which in recent years has ordered rate refunds, so far seems to have avoided the General Assemblies fate.

Their actions have freed Dominion from any regulatory oversight by the SCC for the next 5 years, and ensures that no review of their rates will happen for an additional 2 years, and with the Governors signing of SB1349 they have effectively given Dominion the “freedom” to shaft  their customers in the future.

While Dominion sanctimoniously claims if it closes any coal-fired power plants during the next five years, shareholders will absorb the costs, only a fool would believe them. This “grand bargain” changes the current state law where company’s 2.4 million customers would be responsible for any coal fired power plant closures.

The hidden catch in this bargain is that Dominions customers would have to pay for any plants which which close in 2020 or later.

There are a host of other “Dominion is the business of Virginia” bills sitting on the Governor’s desk for him to sign, starting with HB1475, SB741, SB1161, and HB1879 along with HB2237 which allows Dominion to recover their infrastructure costs for developing 400 MW’s of solar power over the next few years allowing Dominion to pass the cost of expanding their business their customer’s and taxpayer expense 

And like the earlier Byrd Machine, who took over 30 years to pass the 19th amendment  granting women the right to vote, the current General Assembly is all about protecting the status quo. And instead of “massive resistance” against integration of the 50’s, there is massive stacking of the decks for their corporate sponsors.

And that same entitled dynamic is driving this years two ethics bills, along with two bills “reforming” the Tobacco Commission slush fund. After last year’s legislative debacle over ethics, the Governors office recommended a $100 limit on contributions, plus the creation of an ethics panel with audit and subpoena powers.

In response, the Senate proposed SB1424 which includes the $100 limit, and proposes random inspections with possible civil penalties but no subpoena powers, and after passing the House it is currently sitting on the Governors desk awaiting his signature. And the House version of ethics reform, HB2070 which also has a $100 limit but no audit or subpoena provisions, will likely pass the Senate this week.

These ethics reforms are such a minimal improvement over the existing status quo that it hardly seems worth the effort to decide if they deserve cheers or jeers. Meanwhile the General Assembly continues to ignore more pressing ethical issues by denying there even is a problem.

It remains to be seen if the Governor has the integrity to reject both bills like he did last years ethical “window dressing.”

With Louisa’s Senator Tom Garrett calling these reforms an “exercise in self-flagellation,” and Bryce Reeves calling it’s a “bureaucratic nightmare” and “The press is going to beat us over the head if we don’t.” Their comments reflect the General Assembly’s culture of entitlement accompanied by an indignant sense of victimization after being “caught” in their own hypocrisy.

A pattern that repeats itself with bills which propose to “fix” the endemic cronyism and corruption in the Tobacco Commission, with the Senate bill SB1440 has already passed the House and is currently sitting on the Governors desk awaiting his signature. Along with HB2330, which passed the Senate and the House with a substitute provision added and this “new and improved” version will be headed to the Governors desk shortly.

Then we shall see if he’s part of the solution and rejects these toothless bills, or if he’s part of the problem and passes them while proclaiming them to be “reform.”

On both of these ethical fronts, it should be clear just how disconnected our political class has become from the interests of the people they supposedly represent, and their actions are part of a much larger and insidious agenda driven largely by corporate interests.

Jon Taylor

Next: http://bluelouisaorg.fatcow.com/2015/02/25/hand-picking-voters/

Hand Picking Voters

When it comes to protecting our political classes ability to stay in power so that they may continue to do their corporate masters bidding, the number of front’s its happening on it truly mind boggling; from privatizing and dumbing down our schools, to selecting their voters and limiting the ability of certain classes of people to vote.

While the House bill HJ577 which would of given school boards the authority to create charter schools within their jurisdictions was rejected in the Senate on Monday 2/23 by a 20-20 vote, with both Bryce Reeves and Tom Garrett voting for it.  Its companion bill SJ256 just passed the House by a 58-42 margin this past Tuesday 2/24 with Peter Farrell voting for it, and is headed for the Governors desk for his signature.  What he will do with this bill is anyone’s guess.

If you search through BlueLouisa posts from last summer you will find several which extensively discuss ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council and how they propose and even write model legislature for state representatives around the country to pass, and that the privatization of state and local functions, including education is one of their top priorities.

While their membership is a closely guarded trade secret, it’s common knowledge that Bill Howell, the long time Speaker of the House is one of their national leaders. Given their history of pro business at any cost legislative proposals and voting history it clear that several other key members of the House and Senate are devotees of this cult if not in fact members of ALEC.

What better way to preserve the current dysfunctional political dynamic than ensuring that the coming generations of voters are increasingly products of a “privatized” educational system, a system which stresses conformity and adherence to rules and regulations, and minimizes critical thinking, while educating its students just enough to be productive if not disposable wage slaves.

This bill along with a host of already passed bills that “relax” the abysmal state SOL standards represent the leading edge of a series of “reforms” all aimed at dumbing down the educational standards of the coming generations.

This is nothing more than a partisan attempt to give the General Assembly control of the state’s Standards of Learning for public school students bypassing the McAuliffe controlled state Board of Education who apparently can’t trusted to resist the modifying the state standards to be more in line with the more stringent Federal Common Core curriculum standards. In their minds, resisting yet another example of an overreaching federal edict which denies “local control” of the educational system http://www.richmond.com/ news/virginia/government-politics/jeff-schapiro/article _5ee04610-9c76-5251-855c-78629452abd7.html

Keep in mind that the biggest Republican priority during this election year is to tone down their previous extreme demeanor, and not to give the voters any reason to reject them, hoping it will help them to maintain control of  the Senate. The easiest way to accomplish this is to essentially preselect their voters through perpetuating the gerrymandering electoral districts to the point where as long as they can put up a warm body with an R behind it they will win.

This is done by letting bills which have survived the crossover process quietly die in committee without even being heard, let alone voted on. Julie Emery, executive director of the Virginia Civic Engagement Table,  noted the problem is long been a bipartisan problem. “Whatever party has been in control has abused that power.

In the House of Delegates many bills die at the hands of the chair of House Privileges and Election Committee, Mark Cole, who has long been known as the parties one man “death panel” When he claims that “the vast majority of those votes are recorded, or have the ability to be recorded if a member requests it,” and that “there’s nothing done in secret,”  he’ being disingenuous, having killed many bills this session by “laying them on the table” without even a recorded vote.

Claiming that any change would require a modification of the House rules,  adding — “and I understand the rules have been that way forever.” http://www.fredericksburg.com/news/virginia/in-virginia-general-assembly-many-bills-die-by-stealth/article_bfbd12c0-bd25-11e4-a211-af13f90df680.html?_dc=37493979092.68737

 When it comes to addressing this issue of gerrymandering, Cole quietly tabled SJ284, an amendment to the states constitution which would have set up an independent commission to redistrict the states electoral boundaries this past Tuesday 2/24 for exactly this reason. http://www.roanoke.com/opinion/editorials/our-view-the-devil-the-details-and-gerrymandering/ article_4d513437-0e89-5048-b37d-5c06b89dd5fc.html

Even though this bill was designed to fail, it was more important for his party that it never come to the voter’s attention in an election year. Attention which might  be considered “controversial” and potentially cost them control of the Senate.  Perhaps that’s why Delegate Cole’s accomplices in the House Appropriations Committee quietly left SB742 in committee this past Tuesday 2/24.

This bill proposed an automatic run off in state wide elections should any candidate fail to get more than 50 % of the vote. A provision that dovetails with the increasingly lower turnouts in gubernatorial elections, where barely 4 in 10 voters cast ballots in the 2013 election, allowing them to magnify the strength of the state’s consistently reliable, albeit diminished, Republican vote.

It’s a major reason why Bob McDonnell won the 2009 race by a landslide, just one year after Barack Obama comfortably carried Virginia, the first Democratic presidential candidate to do so since 1964.

Had there been a runoff in the middle of the 2013 Christmas season, what better conditions would have Cuccinelli’s re-energized base asked for? Remember how the Louisiana U.S. Senate runoff went this past December?  After Mary Landrieu won the general election she lost the runoff handily as statewide turnout fell by 200,000 votes.

It’s hard to say if it was a fear that allowing the Governor to serve more than one term might somehow become an “issue” which would motivate Democratic voters, or the prospect that there could be a democratic governor until 2021 which prompted House Republicans to drop this bill. Even though this bill was quietly killed by the House Appropriations Committee who couldn’t even be bothered to vote on it, make no mistake like a bad penny it will turn up in time for the 2017 statewide elections. http://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/government-politics/jeff-schapiro/article_5ee04610-9c76-5251-855c-78629452abd7.html

Nowhere is this approach of pre-selecting voters to win elections clearer than in the 17th Senate District of Republican Senator Bryce Reeves a district which includes Louisa County. Coincidentally it is the only district in either the House or the Senate that is being changed during this election year. Something which in no way has anything to with the fact that he won in 2011 by slightly more than 200 votes, or that these two bills SB1237 and SB986 would effectively guarantee him between 600 to 700 more reliable Republican votes.

Both of these bills have passed the House and Senate, and are waiting for the Governors signature, Hopefully he recognizes them  for what they are and vetoes these bills, giving Traci Dippert a realistic chance of winning this election. It should be noted that hyper gerrymandering will be coming into play as several long time Senators from both parties are retiring this year and it is quite possible that Democrats will be able to flip the Senate back into their control perhaps by as much as a 21-19 margin.

While the State budget hasn’t been finalized, the General Assembly has decided to cut out $28 million which Governor McAuliffe wanted to use to buy new voting machines, a program that would have helped local governments with the cost of replacing failing touch screens. Here in Louisa County, that decision will cost the county ~ $150,000 for 50 new optical scanning voting machines that have auditable paper trails. http://www.dailypress.com/news/politics/dp-nws-ga-budget-story-20150224-story.html

Last year was the first year that Virginia voters had to present photo ID’s at the polls in order to cast their votes, a transparent “protect the integrity of the process” maneuver which disproportionately affects the ability of elderly, the poor, minorities and the young to vote. Also, coincidentally voters Republicans have deemed most likely to vote Democratic.

Now that HB1318 which proposes that anyone submitting absentee ballots also provide a photo ID has passed the House and the Senate yet another unnecessary barrier to voting has been erected. This bill is currently sitting on the Governors desk and if he’s smart he will veto it, but count on it being resurrected like a zombie in time for the 2017 elections.

Jon Taylor

Next: http://bluelouisaorg.fatcow.com/2015/02/25/constitutionally-questionable-bills/

Constitutionally Questionable Bills

Finally we come to a multitude of bills which are intended to extend the legal powers of the corporate controlled state to arbitrarily deny its citizens their constitutional rights further solidifying their “legal powers” in what is becoming an increasingly intrusive and repressive police state necessary to maintain their stranglehold on power

While SB1393 which would have protected all details of public executions by lethal injection from any public scrutiny including information that could be used in civil suites died this past Tuesday 2/24 by a 56-42 margin in the House with Peter Ferrell surprisingly voting against it.

It wasn’t ethical or constitutional concerns about this bill that caused it to die in the House.  It was the overriding priority of the Republicans this election year to avoid any controversy that might cost them control of the Senate, and this vote was no exception.

No where is this clearer than in the recently killed asset forfeiture bill HB1287 which the Senate Courts of Justice Committee quietly passed by last Tuesday 2/17 by an 11-2 vote.  With Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, claiming it would be studied by the State Crime Commission. Another example of how a commonsense bill passes one legislative chamber with little opposition only to quietly die in committee in the opposite Republican controlled chamber.

Leading its sponsor Delegate Mark Cole to say afterwards that “I’m very disappointed,” “I think that was just an excuse to kill the bill.” Considering that this comment comes from the General Assembly’s most prolific killer of bills, his words drip with sanctimonious irony. http://hamptonroads.com/2015/02/senate-committee-kills-police-asset-forfeiture-bill

With police departments around the country being  allowed to keep property seized from suspects in “drug investigations”, even if a conviction is never obtained. Virginia law enforcement agencies have taken full advantage of this Federal program to seize more than $57 million through the state civil asset forfeiture process between 2008 to 2013. With numerous studies and investigations like the Washington Posts 6 part series, showing that policing for profit has become big business for many local jurisdictions. http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/2014/09/06/stop-and-seize/#

Yet lawmakers in the General Assembly are determined to throw due process out the window after law enforcement representatives petitioned them claiming their budgets would suffer if they could not be allowed to continue to take other people’s stuff. Ignoring the constitutional principle that punishment is supposed to come after conviction, not before it. http://www.richmond.com/opinion/our-opinion/article_219251ec-445e-5efe-b0a6-71ae8c8fd04e.html

Meanwhile the General Assembly should have SB721 on the Governors desk by the end of the week. Currently they are in the process of both chambers resolving last minute substitutions before they pass this bill. A bill that proposes to compel local police department to issue a receipt for any property seized.

That it fails to address the fundamental constitutional problem of leaving the defendant with the burden of having to prove their property didn’t commit a crime before they can get it back is beside the point.  Because nothing says the General Assembly is looking out for the rights of the citizens of the Commonwealth like locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen.

Apparently the General Assembly is convinced that the second part of Henry Kissinger’s Watergate era comment “the immoral we do immediately, the illegal and unconstitutional just takes a little longer,” is good legal and social policy.

Take for example, recent revelations that not only is our Federal government spying on us, but this intrusive violation of civil rights has aggressively moved downstream to local police departments as well. According the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, one local police department in Chesterfield has been using “stingray” technology to intercept cell phone calls for years. https://www.aclu.org/maps/stingray-tracking-devices-whos-got-them

While it’s not clear what other police departments are using this or other intrusive technologies, or how widespread this practice is, the General Assembly is busy throwing up smokescreens to keep the magnitude of this problem from ever coming to light with two related bills HB1946 and SB919. Both bills which proposes to seal “administrative subpoenas” of electronic communications  relating to the investigation of certain pornography, abduction, and prostitution crimes from public inspection if the attorney for the Commonwealth or Attorney General makes written certification.

The fact that both bills passed the both the House and the Senate by wide margins, strongly indicates how strongly the General Assembly that feels this measure “protects” the public. These bills should be on the Governors desk awaiting his signature by the end of the week.

A prevailing view which ignores the fact that these bills are a direct attacks our Fourth Amendment rights,  that local law enforcement has the right to search, seize, strip, scan, spy on, probe, pat down, taser, and arbitrarily arrest any individual at any time for the slightest provocation.

A sentiment that ignores the fact that “The Fourth Amendment was designed to stand between us and arbitrary governmental authority. For all practical purposes, that shield has been shattered, leaving our liberty and personal integrity subject to the whim of every cop on the beat, trooper on the highway and jail official. The framers would be appalled.”—Herman Schwartz, The Nation https://www.rutherford.org/publications_resources/john_whiteheads_commentary/forced_blood_ draws_dna_collection_and_biometric_scans_what_country_is_this

When it comes to the collection and retention of private information, there are two proposals to limit the retention of data taken from license plate readers to 7 days versus being retained indefinitely SB965, and HB1673. Both bills have already passed the House and Senate and are currently being discussed in joint House/Senate conferences after substitutes were rejected by both bodies. http://www.dailyprogress.com/opinion/opinion-editorial-set-limits-now-on-keeping-data/article_4611b148-b5ea-11e4-885a-3f2

It is anticipated that both of these amended bills will pass and be sent to the Governors desk for his signature by the end of the week.  What is interesting is that the language of the substitutes in these bills particularly numbers 1, 6 and 7 below appear to conflict with the premise of secrecy which HB1946 and SB919 are advocating for:

C. Record keeping agencies of the Commonwealth and political subdivisions shall adhere to the following principles of information practice to ensure safeguards for personal privacy:

1. There shall be no personal information system whose existence is secret.

2. Information shall not be collected unless the need for it has been clearly established in advance.

3. Information shall be appropriate and relevant to the purpose for which it has been collected.

4. Information shall not be obtained by fraudulent or unfair means.

5. Information shall not be used unless it is accurate and current.

6. There shall be a prescribed procedure for an individual to learn the purpose for which information has been recorded and particulars about its use and dissemination.

7. There shall be a clearly prescribed and uncomplicated procedure for an individual to correct, erase or amend inaccurate, obsolete or irrelevant information.

How this will play out in the real world is anyone guess, but keep in mind that the Republicans overriding priority this election year is to maintain control of the Senate, and one of the best ways to do it is to claim that Democrats are opposing what appear to be commonsense bills intended to protect the public, knowing that if the Governor vetoes their constitutionally poisoned bills, they can blame the Democrats for standing in the way of justice.

A claim which ignores the fact that these 4 bills conflict with each other, along with flying  in the face of the fact that most of these bills have passed through both the House and the Senate with minimal opposition and in most cases unanimously.

When the underlying issue is that the both the General Assembly and the Governor have been hell bent on expanding their power while working as hard as possible to undermine each other dedicated to working each other over. http://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/government-politics/jeff-schapiro/article_5ee04610-9c76-5251-855c-78629452abd7.html

Finally we come to HB1928, which was sent to the Governors desk on Wednesday 2/25 and is now awaiting his signature. This bill proposes that DNA samples be taken upon conviction of certain misdemeanors. This bill like many of the proposed bills are direct attacks our Fourth Amendment rights and should be vetoed.

This fall you should expect to see more of these unconstitutional proposals come up during the second session and especially during next years 2016 winter special session in the run up to Presidential and House/Senate elections. And if you live in a Republican controlled Senate or House district like Louisa County expect to see more glossy re-election fliers in your mailbox in the next few weeks telling you how much they have “accomplished” this legislative session. http://www.richmond.com/ news/ virginia/government-politics/article_2ab0396e-ab72-5cba-9c70-066faf21eea5.html

Jon Taylor

Week 6 – Headed for the Homestretch

This week of the General Assembly’s special session was much like previous weeks, characterized by “Whatever Dominion wants, Dominion gets.” This post crossover week however, offered an additional twist to the General Assemblies usual corporatism, called “Hell no, we won’t change” a belligerent attitude which has apparently infected committees in both chambers who have tabled or killed a multitude of bills that crossed over from the opposite chamber.

On the “We’re working for Dominion” front, several bills have passed both chambers and are currently waiting for the Governors signature, or veto. Among them; SB1349, which exempts Dominion from any regulatory oversight for 6 years, HB1475 which allows Dominion to recoup their infrastructure “costs” of building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline from their customers and the taxpayers. Along with SB1163 which was sent to the Governors desk on Monday 2/16 that allows Dominion to petition the State Corporation Commission (SCC) for approval of their natural gas system expansion infrastructure costs … aka the pipeline.

Followed by SB741 which subsidizes the mining of Virginia coal, and SB1161 which gives Virginia energy companies credit for burning Virginia coal. With the later bill passing out of the House Finance Committee Tuesday the 16th by a 14-7 vote after a substitute provision was “suggested” by Dominion Power, with Peter Farrell the son of Dominion’s CEO abstaining. This bill later passed the full House on Wednesday the 18th by a 66-31 margin again with Farrell courageously abstaining .

The Senate also voted that same day to approve a companion bill, HB1879 by a 24-14 margin with both Garrett and Reeves voting for it. Coincidentally just after the Senate Finance Committee amended it on Tuesday to include similar provisions provided by Dominion Virginia Power and supported by the Virginia Coal & Energy Alliance.

These tax credits have come under increasing scrutiny over the past few years since subsidizing the mining and burning of Virginia’s coal hasn’t been cost effective with the price of their coal being 2 to 3 times the cost of coal from western states. It should be noted that both proposals will create a $ 5.2 million dollar hole in the states proposed budget, and that the primary economic beneficiary of this bill is Dominion Power. http://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/government-politics/article_2d90a8ec-5c06-5682-922a-f85235f28ce1.html

While HB2337 which would allow Dominion to similarly recoup their infrastructure “costs” for building a 400 MW solar power plant, again at ratepayer and taxpayer expense, while limiting any competition has been sitting quietly in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee for over a week now after being referred to this committee on 2/11, and will likely be voted on by this committee next Monday the 23rd.

On the “Hell no, we won’t change front,” the previously mentioned House Privileges and Elections committee, controlled by Delegate Mark Cole, killed two constitutional amendments by unrecorded voice vote this past Monday 2/16. The bills were SJ238 which would have restored felons voting rights, and surprisingly SJ263 which would have allowed the governor to serve more than one term.

While SJ284 which would set up a non-partisan redistricting committee was referred to the Houses Privileges and Elections committee was referred to its Elections subcommittee on Monday 2/16 where it will likely be heard this Friday.

Even should this bill pass and be signed by the Governor, it is likely to be ineffective for reasons made clear by this link. http://www.roanoke.com/opinion/editorials/our-view-the-devil-the-details-and-gerrymandering/ article_4d513437-0e89-5048-b37d-5c06b89dd5fc.html

That morning promises to be an interesting one, since it will be perhaps the only opportunity the public will have to speak out against Delegate Cole’s unilateral actions, along with this committee’s lack of action when several groups will be meeting outside the Privileges and Election committee room, in a public demonstration just as they did the previous Friday

These groups lead by Women Matter will be asking members of this committee to give SJ216, the ERA bill, the “dignity of the debate,” and finally pass this bill through their committee allowing it to be heard on the House floor.

According to Candace Graham of Women Matter, “A ratified ERA is the necessary underpinning of legislation requiring equal pay for equal work. The economic benefits to Virginian women and their families will be significant.” While apparently the attitude of the committees chair and most of it members are shared by Senator Emmett Hanger who voted against this bill in the Senate two weeks ago.

When he said “There are differences between men and women which are undeniable as far as natural law is concerned, so I don’t think our efforts should be within the Constitution to attempt to say that we’re all equal, because I think that we are equal, but in different way.”

Claiming that the problems women face with employment are being worked out in the workplace, which he “…believes are being corrected over time as women are assuming different roles now than they used to in the workforce, in management, in leadership, and in all types of professional roles.”

It should be noted that an ERA bill has passed the Senate 5 consecutive years only to die in this Republican controlled committee without any debate. http://www.rappnews.com/2015/02/15/virginia-still-deciding-if-women-are-equal/139780/

Meanwhile, Louisa’s Tom Garrett saw two of his bills which passed out of the Senate go down in flames. SB1143 which would have established public health quarantine zones, died in the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions subcommittee #3 on Tuesday the 17th, by an unrecorded voice vote.

In one of the more interesting reversals of this legislative session, Garrett’s SB1130 which would of made it legal to possess with intent to sell switchblades, throwing stars, nunchucks, and shooting knifes, reported out of the House Militia, Police and Public Safety committee on 2/13 by a 14- 7 party line vote, and passed the full House on Tuesday the 17th by a 56-42 vote with Farrell voting for it.

After several articles and editorials appeared in papers around state lambasting this bill it was “reconsidered” and voted down by the full House by an 83-17 margin the next day.

Afterwards, Garrett said the bill had been “over-vilified.” noting that Virginia law allows the purchase and possession of firearms and machetes but restricts other weapons such as ninja throwing stars disingenuously claiming “There is just no throwing star crime out there.”

Comments which along with Del. Scott Lingamfelter’s,I think I would rather defend myself in a very bad situation with a firearm than a blackjack,” make it clear that many in the General Assembly are committed to weapons rights of any kind.

Another comment made by Republican Del. Tim Hugo was particularly indicative his party’s cluelessness as well as the underhanded nature of many of Garrett’s and his party’s bills this session, where he said a lot of delegates “thought the bill had to do with antique weapons and not with a broader permission for their sale.

Apparently unable to connect his statement with the fact that this is exactly what happens when Republican’s in the House don’t take the time to read the contents of bills passed by their fellow Republicans in the Senate and simply pass them because there is an R behind them.  http://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/ government-politics/article_ba07aaa1-00ef-572e-923f-3e1fcbd025ca.html

One such lack of common sense bill did pass the House, Garrett’s third bill, SB1137 which makes it legal to carry loaded rifles and shotguns in cars. After reporting out from the Militia, Police and Public Safety committee on 2/13 by a 14-7 party line vote, this bill passed the full House on Tuesday the 17th by a 62-34 vote with Peter Farrell voting for it.

This bill is currently waiting for Governors signature, but given Governor McAuliffe’s stance on gun control it is not likely to happen for this bill along with bills like HB2029 and HB1329. Bills which would relax background check standards for concealed handgun permits. Both of these bills were passed out the Senate Courts of Justice committee on Monday 2/16 with Garrett and Reeves voting for both of them. http://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/article_6cca651d-c349-5dd7-a97a-705be2a14f66.html

Another bill, that will likely be waiting for the governors signature or veto is, HB1928 which stipulates that DNA samples shall be taken upon conviction of certain misdemeanors passed the House by a 72-27 margin on 2/10 with Peter Ferrell voting for it. This bill was unanimously referred out of Senate Committee for Courts of Justice on Monday the 16th, and unanimously passed the Senate on Wednesday the 18th with an amendment, which was rejected by the House 2-92 later that afternoon.

This bill was later amended by joint House/Senate conference on Thursday 2/19, and was passed by the House by a 80-11 margin on Friday, 2/20 with Farrell voting for it. This bill is currently waiting for Governor signature or veto.

Whereas HB1287 which would have required that any property forfeited under the Federal “Asset forfeiture” program be suspended until conviction easily passed the House by a 92-6 vote on 2/3 and was referred to the Senate Committee for Courts of Justice on 2/4. It reported from Courts and Justice committee on 2/11 by 11-2 vote with both Reeves and Garrett voting for it. It was then re-referred to Senate Finance Committee, and was passed by indefinitely by a 9-5 vote on Tuesday the 17th.

While over in the Senate, they had no problem with a watered down version of House bill which would require the agency seizing property to issue a receipt itemizing the property seized within three days after the seizure. This bill unanimously passed the Senate on 1/20, and was referred to House Committee for Courts of Justice, sub committee Criminal Law on 2/9, where it was reported out on Wednesday the 18th by a 9-1 vote with amendments, and was later reported from full Courts of Justice committee by a unanimous vote on Friday 2/20 with a substitute.

By now the pattern should be clear, the Republicans strategy this election year is to “pass” a commonsense bill in one chamber or another, only to kill it in the other chamber with as little fanfare as possible.  Nothing more than Brochure bills which allow them to get on the record with their supporters that they “tried” to address an issue while doing as little possible to offend the other side.

It’s an old tradition, long part of the gentile and pretentious Virginia Way, one that our legislators grudgingly acknowledge but prefer not to openly discuss. A uniquely Southern approach little removed from keeping crazy relatives locked up in the attic.

Only problem is that Republicans do have to pass a two year budget along with keeping the electoral deck stacked in their favor for the foreseeable future. And with just one week to go in this special session, they have no choice but to let their hidden agendas, along with their crazy relatives out into the front yard for all to see.

So expect to see more of the morally reprehensible, the unethical, and the unconstitutional all come out to play in the General Assembly over the week or so.

Jon Taylor

Week 6 – Help pass the ERA bill

A recent Charlottesville Daily Progress article talked about gerrymandering in Virginia and how this preservation of “…partisan advantage also allows legislators to act utterly unfairly.” Pointing out the different ways which Delegate Mark Cole, the chair of the House Privileges and Elections silently killed five bills without even allowing a committee vote, along with unilaterally determining not to hear proposed constitutional amendments in his committee. http://www.dailyprogress.com/opinion/opinion-column-politics-distorted-shape-of-virginia/article_5d4cbe16-b513-11e4-9073-1bab8740e3ff.html

While a recent Washington Post article last week described him as a champion of the dysfunctional status quo,” http://www.washingtonpost.com/ opinions/virginias-powerless-voters/2015/02/13/15f8c6e8-b2fe-11e4-886b-c22184f27c35_story.html

The Daily Progress article goes on to describe how nine bills which have been introduced in the General Assembly session to reform the redistricting process were killed in the House without a vote. Speaking of a lack of reform and a moral compass, the Senate appointed Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment this past Tuesday to the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council.

His appointment to the 15-member council, was confirmed by the House Tuesday is fitting , considering his history of accepting free hunting trips from Virginia businesses and lashing out at the media over the focus on ethics, saying “Frankly, in the media, you eviscerate us, you write about all this stuff,” and “I’ve been pretty candid that I thought that folks other than the legislators are driving this.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/thomas-norment-jr-appointed-to-virginia-ethics-council/2015/02/17/576ed6ea-b6cc-11e4-9423-f3d0a1ec335c_story.html

Yet another example of how the Republican dominated General Assembly has no problem with allowing foxes to guard the hen house as long as it’s their foxes.

Such staunch resistance to any change in the existing status quo and hypocrisy will face perhaps the only opportunity the public has to speak out against such actions this coming Friday morning, when several groups will be meeting outside the House Privileges and Election committee room, in a public demonstration asking them to give SJ216, the ERA bill, the “dignity of the debate,” and pass this bill through their committee allowing it to be heard on the House floor.

While contacting the chair of this committee, Delegate Cole is probably a waste of time you can help the group spearheading this public demonstration Women Matter by contacting other members of this committee. They have identified eight Republicans on this committee who may be open to persuasion, they are;

Chris Jones DelCJones@house.virginia.gov (804) 698-1076, David Albo DelDAlbo@house.virginia.gov (804) 698-1042, Timothy Hugo DelTHugo@house.virginia.gov (804) 698-1040, David Ramadan DelDRamadan@house.virginia.gov (804) 698-1087, Israel O’Quinn delioquinn@house.virginia.gov (804) 698-1005, Joseph Yost DelJYost@house.virginia.gov  (804) 698-1012, Nick Rush DelNRush@house.virginia.gov  (804) 698-1007,
and Hyland Fowler DelBFowler@house.virginia.gov (804) 698-1055.

And don’t forget to ask these Democratic Delegates to push for this bill to be passed out of committee, and brought to the House floor for a vote. Johnny S. Joannou DelJJoannou@house.virginia.gov (804) 698-1079, Mark D. Sickles DelMSickles@house.virginia.gov  (804) 698-1043, K. Rob KrupickaDelRKrupicka@house.virginia.gov  (804) 698-1045, Michael T. Futrell DelMFutrell@house.virginia.gov (804) 698-1002, Sam Rasoul DelSRasoul@house.virginia.gov (804) 698-1011, Joseph C. Lindsey DelJLindsey@house.virginia.gov (804) 698-1090, and Kathleen Murphy DelKMurphy@house.virginia.gov (804) 698-1034.

Jon Taylor

Week 6 – Sneaking up to the Finish Line

This past Sunday, the Washington Post ran a lengthy piece talking about the “bewildering calm” which has marked this special session of the General Assembly. Saying it was a marked contrast to the previous 3 bitterly partisan sessions before this one, and that despite a $ 2.4 billion dollars hole in the state budget that legislature appears to be “sailing along,” passing with relatively little controversy.

A perspective which assumes you share their superficial examination of the General Assembly’s actions, willing to only look at the surface reflections, while ignoring the strong currents roiling about underneath, observations which otherwise might seem to have a ring of truth to them.

One of the few accurate observations this article made was this comment by Delegate Scott Surovell, who said”… “I don’t think there’s any question that the Republican caucus got egg on their face the last three years and that they have made a concerted effort this year to try and muzzle their firebrands — keep the crazy cousins in the closet.”

While reasonably accurate, it misses out on one key detail; Democrats in the House, along with the Governor, have put up “virtually no fight” as measures they supported have died in Republican controlled committees.

dems spine

While on the other side of the aisle, Republican Senator William Stanley made perhaps the most honest observation about this session so far, “I think the governor’s learning how to play in the sandbox, and we’re learning how to share our toys with him.http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/in-a-virginia-lately-used-to-legislative-fireworks-a-bewildering-calm-prevails/2015/02/14/77e1f278-b144-11e4-886b-c22184f27c35_story.html

A statement which leaves out the proverbial elephant in the middle of the room, that House Democrats have been beaten up so often by House Republicans that they have adopted a Stockholm Syndrome mentality, and much like abuse victims have grown accustomed to passively accepting what ever “toys” the Republican majority feels like “sharing” with them.

While the Tidewater based Daily Press is less willing to pull punches when describing what’s happening in the General Assembly during this special session. Pointing out how multiple bills over the years have easily passed the Senate, only to die in some House committee and that this year is has been no exception, pointing out numerous examples of bills which “…look good on a Senators campaign flier, but are quietly killed in the House.”

When describing some the redistricting measures which passed the Senate relatively trouble free, Mark Rozell a George Mason University political scientist made this comment. “It was an easy stand to take given the bill had no chance of House passage. Had the bill actually had a chance of becoming law, many senators would have had to consider the electoral consequences for themselves down the road.”

Along with University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, saying that some Senators appeared to back redistricting reform because they”… realized this was a cost-free vote for the flag and apple pie,” as long as The GOP House is willing to do some dirty work for the GOP Senate,” recognizing that “The latter needs all the help and cover they can get to hold the Senate this fall.http://www.dailypress.com/news/politics/dp-nws-ga-senate-backstop-20150214-story.html

Take for example these two redistricting bills not previously covered by BlueLouisa, SB1000, and SB1084.  In the case of the former it proposed a new method of preparing state legislative and congressional redistricting plans, and would have assigned this responsibility to independent Division of Legislative Services, taking it out of the hands of the General Assembly altogether.  This bill passed Senate on 1/27 by a 28-11 vote, surprisingly with both Garrett and Reeves voting for it.

It was referred to the House Privileges and Elections committee on 1/30, then to their Elections sub committee on 2/6. Last Thursday, on 2/12, it was laid on table by this subcommittee in an unrecorded voice vote and is effectively dead for this year.

A similar fate encountered by SB1084, which proposed to change the boundaries of Senate districts 13 and 33 and House districts 10, 22, 32, 67 and 87 presumably to reflect the rapidly changing populations of those districts.

It should be noted that all but one of these districts were Republican ones, except for Senator Wexton’s (33rd), who was elected in special election to replace now Attorney General Herring, and that this bill was introduced by a Republican Senator.

This bill passed the Senate by a 21-18 vote along straight party lines on 1/26, and it was …again referred to Privileges and Elections committee on 1/30. After doing nothing with this bill for two weeks, it was stricken from that committees docket by unrecorded voice vote on Friday, 2/13 and is also dead for this year. http://hamptonroads.com/2015/02/2-weeks-go-look-va-lawmakers-progress

What’s interesting about this bill is that none of these proposed changes even if they had passed the House and were signed into law by the Governor would have had any material effect on  these districts in the coming 2015 elections.

While both SB1237 and SB986 introduced by Senators Bryce Reeves and Tom Garrett respectively, will effectively add approximately 600 more reliable Republican votes to Senators Reeves 17th District (a recently redistricted race which he won in 2011 by just over 200 votes), where both passed though the Senate along party lines, and passing virtually unanimously out of this very same committee, Friday the 13th, where they both will likely pass the full House.

While its long been know that the House is an elephant’s graveyard where bills go to die, this committee is the Republican’s version of a “death panel” one that will attempt to quietly kill off several state constitutional amendments, such as restoring felons voting rights SJ238, the ERA bill SJ216, along SJ284 another redistricting proposal.  Where they have already killed SB719 which would have allowed citizen over 65 to vote absentee with  no reason necessary, laying it on the table by an unrecorded voice vote this past Thursday, 2/12.

About the only bill which is likely to pass this committee is SJ263 a state constitutional amendment which proposes to increase the Governors time in office to more than one term, while a House Appropriations sub-committee will likely pass SB742 which calls for runoffs in state wide elections should the winning candidate gets less than 50% of the vote.

Own Voters

Make no mistake about what is really happening in the General Assembly, Republicans are quietly working behind the scenes to do everything in their power to shape if not pre-determine the outcome of the coming November and future elections.  First, by creating the perception that they have been busy passing so called “kitchen-table bills” over the divisive social ones they were so dedicated to passing in recent legislative sessions.

Secondly, by engaging in self serving actions like this:

Commend Dominion

Actions that they think will help ensure that the voters remain unaware of just how much they gave away to Dominion Power during this legislative session, like they did with SB1349.  A bill who’s passage prompted investment adviser UBS – in an alert to the markets – labeling Dominion the “king of the hill.”

Citing the company’s spin at a private meeting in Manhattan last week, UBS said the latest legislation “removes one of the largest single risks” to higher earnings: That the SCC, if only temporarily, would be blocked from determining whether Dominion makes too much money.” http://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/government-politics/jeff-schapiro/article_3a89d699-67a5-537c-b92e-ab70860059b9.html

Coupled with several other pro Dominion bills like SB741, SB1161, HB1475 and HB2237  mostly created in response to proposed EPA regulations makes for a situation which prompted UBS to say to investors last month, “Many analysts on Wall Street think that the EPA bill signed last year may actually provide a tailwind for this top utility.” http://247wallst.com/investing/2015/01/13/ubss-highest-yielding-dividend-ruler-stocks-with-solid-growth-prospects-for-2015/

Dominion Warms

These are bills which will likely pass quietly one of these next two Friday afternoons  buried in the weekend news dumps while attracting as little public scrutiny as possible.

So the next time you hear your Republican representatives like Peter Ferrell, Tom Garrett and Bryce Reeves grossly exaggerating their meager accomplishments, remember what they really stand for.

Jon Taylor

Week 5 – Entrenched Power Rules

Perhaps the politest thing one can say about this past week in the Republican dominated General Assembly was that it was an exercise in reflexive support for entrenched power. Complete with last minute passage of bills ahead of the crossover deadline, along with delaying tactics designed to kill any proposals which don’t support their definition of the status quo.

Nowhere was Republican’s reflexive support of entrenched power made clearer than a recent House resolution HJ659 which passed by a 70-2 vote on 2/5, with many delegates abstaining from voting. The resolution expressing support for the state of Israel was a knee-jerk attempt to show solidarity with their fellow Republicans in Congress. who’s actions are attempting to create a political wedge, one they hope will win elections; first for Netanyahu whose address to Congress comes two weeks before the Israeli elections and for Republicans in the 2016 presidential election.

That the Republican controlled Congress has chosen to interject themselves into what has traditionally been a matter of state is bad enough. Now the Virginia House of Delegates self-appointed Middle Eastern experts feel they have to involve themselves in matters where the Commonwealth has no authority or even legitimate business. These two proclamations in the resolution by the House of Delegates should be problematic for anyone reading them.

*The Virginia House of Delegates resolution states that “the thousands of Jews currently residing in the areas of Judea, Samaria, and eastern Jerusalem reside there legitimately.” *And the Virginia House of Delegates resolution states “that Israel be recognized as neither an attacking force nor an occupier of the lands of others, and that peace can be achieved in the Middle East region only through a whole and united Israel governed under one law for all people.” http://www.bluevirginia.us/diary/12899/va-house-of-delegates-foolishly-wades-into-arabisraeli-conflict-contradicts-decadesold-us-policy

In some circles, such actions could be considered akin to simple autonomic reaction much like pulling your hand away from a hot stove.  Other actions by the Republican controlled General Assembly this week were a different kind of reflexive behavior, full of chutzpa, calculating, and deceptive.

Behavior which is apparently rooted in the reptilian levels of the brainstem, and is manifested by brain-dead promotion of policies which are definitely not in the public’s best interest. For example take the recent budget proposals which passed the House and the Senate this past Thursday.

The House budget amendment 4-5.04 # 1h which passed by a 61-34 vote, strips any funding for Medicaid eligible women who need an  abortion due to severe fetal birth defects. Apparently  after a watching their their Fetal Pain Bill, which would have banned any abortions after 20 weeks go down in flames in the House the previous week, the House leaders suffered a delayed hysterical conversion reaction and added this amendment to the budget.

Not to be outdone,  Delegate Sideshow Bob” Marshall  introduced an amendment to the state budget aimed at halting Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s push to ease existing regulations on abortion clinics. Rules which advocates for abortion rights refer  as TRAP laws, or targeted regulations of abortion providers. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/13/virginia-abortion-clinics_n_6678638.html?1423857376

The bill, HB1400, was adopted by a 52-47 margin last Thursday, with Louisa’s delegate Peter Farrell voting for it, where it later passed the House by an 81-18 margin, again with Ferrell voting for it. http://www.bluevirginia.us/diary/12909/video-sideshow-bob-says-board-of-health-can-only-spend-money-on-abortion-regs-he-likes

Because nothing demonstrates Republicans commitment to blocking anything remotely connected to Medicaid expansion like denying the women of the Commonwealth essential medical services. A video of Sideshow Bob in action on the House floor can be found here:

Meanwhile over in the Senate, they approved budget amendment 301 # 11s in a near party line 22-15 vote to remove language from the Governors proposed budget which would have closed the health insurance gap for 400,000 working Virginians. While the budget was being debated on the Senate floor, Republican Senate Leader, Tommy Norment managed to turn it into the theater of the absurd.

First, by allowing Louisa’s Tom Garrett to deliver a “a seven-minute soliloquy on yurts,”asking if the state was getting a good deal on building them in state parks. And second, by moving to cut off any debate after just one senator had spoken; a motion which passed on a near-party-line vote of 23-14. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/2015/02/12/73cb7b06-b2dd-11e4-854b-a38d13486ba1_story.html

HC Repeal and Reform

Republicans in the General Assembly are also using these delay, deny and sandbagging tactics to derail several other proposed constitutional amendments.

There is a great piece in the Roanoke Times by Delegates Ward, Rasoul, and Sullivan about the dangers of gerrymandering of electoral districts. In that op-ed they also describe how the House Privileges and Elections Committee used a obscure procedural maneuver to take “….precisely zero minutes considering our bills” and that it is likely that they will sit on similar bills SJ284, SB824, and SB840 which have crossed over from the Senate. http://www.roanoke.com/opinion/commentary/ward-rasoul-sullivan-redistricting-in-the-general-assembly-the-sound/article_033575fb-16c4-5100-bd4d-d47e6ca078e3.html

Another piece in the Roanoke Times, talks about the devil being in the details, and how a constitutional amendment, SJ284  proposes to “…set up a seven-member commission — with two Democrats, two Republicans and three ostensibly independent members.” A plan which cleverly mandates that any redistricting plan be passed by a super-majority of five votes, and that those five “ayes” have to include at least one Republican, one Democrat and one “independent.”

Meaning it’s unlikely that there ever will be a vote of five for any redistricting plan, keeping the current system of partisan gerrymandering in place by default. http://www.roanoke.com/opinion/editorials/our-view-the-devil-the-details-and-gerrymandering/ article_4d513437-0e89-5048-b37d-5c06b89dd5fc.html

Own Voters

This same House Privileges and Election Committee is apparently using a similar strategy of doing nothing to kill SJ216, the ERA constitutional amendment, with Committee chairman Mark Cole DelMCole@house.virginia.gov; refusing to even put it on the docket. In response, local activists met this past Friday morning with a photographer from USA Today who is doing a follow up story about the ERA bill passing the Senate, and being stalled in the House outside the House P & E meeting.

ERA

The other constitutional amendment this committee is trying to kill is SJ238, a bill which that would restore the voting rights of felons who have served their time.  Meanwhile this committee’s  Constitutional sub committee will likely advance SJ256 which authorizes local school districts to create charter schools, while their companion amendment HJ577 passes through the Senates Privileges and Elections Committee.

Nor is it any coincidence that all bills concerning absentee voting SB719, and HB1318 along with a bill proposing run offs for any statewide election where a candidate fails to gain 50% of the vote SB742 runs through both of these committees.

In many ways actions the Republican’s actions in the General Assembly are reminiscent of the United States inflexible and reflexive support for the apartheid regime of South Africa throughout the 70’s and 80’s. Supporting the morally indefensible, long after their corruption has been publicly exposed.

Take the charade that ethics reform has become particularly in the Senate, where they spent the better part of an hour in floor speeches complaining and criticizing the very legislation they were trying to pass. http://www.richmond.com/news/article_9af50782-1cd3-5cc6-8a6d-455b6ca9c85f.html

Actions which were a reprise of the loophole-ridden package the General Assembly passed last year, a bill which Governor McAuliffe vetoed as being window dressing that would not meaningfully address the problem of institutionalized corruption in the General assembly. At this rate, we could be looking at repeat … call it the final part of trilogy if you will that will likely be premiering during next year’s legislative session. http://hamptonroads.com/2015/02/another-ethics-charade-richmond

ideas

Just in case you were wondering what’s so hard about passing a simple ethics bill, here it is. Republicans don’t want to change the status quo, and view any attempts to do so as a form of entrapment filled with as retiring Senator John Watkins put it “trip wires.” http://www.richmond.com/news/article_9af50782-1cd3-5cc6-8a6d-455b6ca9c85f.html

trap

After last year’s legislative debacle, the Governors office recommended a $100 limit on contributions, plus the creation of an ethics panel with audit and subpoena powers. The Senate version SB1424 includes the $100 limit, and proposes random inspections with possible civil penalties, and the House version HB2070 also has a $100 limit with neither the audit of subpoena provisions.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of the Senates actions on the floor during their debate on ethics was their constant finger pointing, blaming their failure to come any resolution on the press. With Louisa’s Tom Garrett calling it an “exercise in self-flagellation, ” and Bryce Reeves saying it’s a “bureaucratic nightmare” and “The press is going to beat us over the head if we don’t.http://hamptonroads.com/2015/02/another-ethics-charade-richmond

This video put together by the Columbia Journalism Review shows several Senators doubling down on their duplicity. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=LQvLcIK2iz4 Actions which reflect a long standing history of do-nothing-ism accompanied by a culture of entitlement and an indignant sense of victimization after being “caught” in their own hypocrisy.

A pattern that repeats itself with bills which propose to “fix” the endemic cronyism and corruption in the Tobacco Commission, SB1440 and HB2330, making it clear just how disconnected our political class has become from the interests and the needs of the people they are supposed to be representing.

Now that SB1349 which suspends any review of Dominions rates  for the next six years passed the House this past Thursday by a 72-24 vote, with Peter Ferrell abstaining, any lingering doubts that the General Assembly isn’t working for corporate interests should be removed.

All that remains to complete the General Assembly’s circle of crony capitalism for their biggest sponsor is for the Senate to pass HB1475, and HB2237, along with the House passing SB1161. All bills which subsidize Dominions cost of expanding their business on the taxpayers dime.

Jon Taylor

Local Papers Fail to Inform

Editors note: After several weeks have gone by the Central Virginian  finally got around to printing this letter to the editor in their 2/19 edition, albeit with a key sentence missing (redistricting of 17th Senate in Louisa county) which they will be reprinting in all it’s isolated glory in the next weeks edition.  While five weeks later, Lewalta Haney’s letter still hasn’t even been acknowledged. http://bluelouisaorg.fatcow.com/2015/01/29/regulatory-capture-is-the-virginia-way/

Apparently  the CV’s editorial staff has resumed a long dormant editorial policy of filling in the slow letter writing months of January and February with conservative syndicated editorial content along with favoring decidedly retrograde opinions by local writers to  the exclusion of all other letters.

What motivates them to undertake this reoccurring act of selective journalism is unclear; one theory is that perhaps in was response to the fact that local Democrats had over 40 letters to the editor published in the CV last year, and in deference to local advertisers and/or county bigwigs saying they don’t want to see this kind of content the CV has simply taken to ignoring letters coming from the left. Or perhaps they don’t want their readers to realize just how much of their papers content is advertising, and that it offers little in the way of useable content.

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Mr. Murphy’s recent February 5th editorial in the Central Virginian asking us to not forget about the local and state elections, to take the time to study the issues and vote is one few would disagree with. Yet one can’t help but wonder if this is a problem that runs deeper than people not showing up on Election Day.

Take last years midterm election which swept the Republicans back into control of the Senate, and 66 out of 99 State legislative bodies through out the nation, including Virginia’s Senate. While mid term elections have historically been less popular, it was the lowest level of voter participation this country has seen in 72 years, and it’s a trend that is accelerating.

Shortly before the 2013 election, Mr. Wolfolk wrote another editorial in the CV talking about this, and when it comes to elections how many people demand change, yet somehow come up a host of excuses for not making it happen, including not voting. That too many people no longer consider voting a privilege a development which has created a pandemic of voter ignorance which causes people to forget that the power of local governance ultimately rests in their hands.

While acknowledging  he was “….preaching a sermon ….reworded and rehashed so many different times that it now resembles a plea,” his point about the debate at the Louisa Arts Centers debates between candidates running for the School Board and Board of Supervisor being so sparsely attended that “….those seats …weren’t the only things that were empty. It seems the words and actions of our citizens might be too,” is one that few could disagree with

When he points out that people shouldn’t complain it wasn’t advertised, or promoted he’s right. But it’s also true that you “can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”  Real community involvement and civic empowerment comes from people being continuously and actively encouraged by civic organizations including local papers like the Central Virginian to participate in the process of local governance.

Last minute articles and editorials will not appreciably help revitalize community dialogue or expand awareness of local affairs. Nor will prominently posting notices about the public’s right to know mean much if it isn’t accompanied by timely reporting of civic events.

CV_Notice 2

Consistently failing to do so contributes to the existing deficit in public awareness of and ability to participate in civic affairs. Information which might have otherwise have expanded local awareness and helped in revitalization of community dialogue and empowerment.

Perhaps you were unaware that Senators Tom Garrett and Bryce Reeves recently voted to change the boundaries of his 17th Senate district in Louisa (and elsewhere) during this election year, and that both these bills have passed the Republican dominated House ready for the Governors signature.

Should we continue to see such bare bones coverage of local affairs, like the Board of Supervisors and School Boards budgetary issues, along with the Board’s progress in bringing high speed internet to Louisa County we should not be surprised if this year’s elections, featuring thus far one contested race (17th Senate) becomes a repeat of 2014’s.

Jon Taylor

Week 5 – Cross Over

Much of the previous week’s coverage of the General Assembly actions centered on the issue of regulatory capture, where our legislators are in essence acting as agents of their corporate sponsors, dedicated to passing bills that will enhance their bottom line and minimize any regulatory oversight of their business.

Nor is this dynamic limited to the General Assembly, it also infects the current McAuliffe administration.

Like last week when Tom Farrell the CEO of Dominion power met for over an hour with Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and basically worked out a deal where Dominion would agree to freeze their base rates, in exchange for no state regulatory oversight, setting the stage for a number of bills to be fast tracked to his desk.

Bills that would greatly enhance Dominions bottom line over the next few years, especially; SB1349, SB1163 and HB1475. http://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/government-politics/jeff-schapiro/article _0ca099b5-fef3-5af7-8d5b-d07163d9d8ee.html

The other related issue which seems to be driving much of the General Assemblies actions of the past weeks, was characterized by the Washington Post as “massive resistance,” a dynamic much like how the General Assembly fought tooth and nail sixty years ago against integrating the states public schools. Only in this case it’s anything that could be remotely considered as expansion of Medicaid, a major state component of the ACA health care reform program.

Bill “ALEC” Howell, the Speaker of the House is spearheading this resistance in the General Assembly. He is not interested in compromises, creative or even market based ways to expand Medicaid. He only knows that Medicaid expansion is part of the ACA (aka Obamacare). http://www.washingtonpost.com/ opinions/massive-resistance-again-in-virginia/2015/02/07/9c895eaa-ad7e-11e4-ad71-7b9eba0f87d6_story.html

His response to that editorial was predictable, calling it “outrageous” and “patently offensive.” Bellicose words which ignore the reality that his and his parties continued implacable faith in their dogma has blinded them the fact that without the Federal Medicaid subsidy, 400,000 adult Virginians will not have access to primary health care, much less coverage for hospitalizations – not because they are too lazy to work for it, but because they can’t afford it.

The Roanoke Times makes a different analogy of Howell’s and the General Assembly’s actions, likening them to that of the Roman Inquisition who in the 1600’s went after Galileo after he claimed that his observations supported Copernicus’s early theory; that the Earth was orbiting the sun, and was not the center of the universe.

And like the ACA, it was an idea which contradicted conventional dogma, threatening their established order – and like the inquisitors of old, the Republicans in the General Assembly will do everything in their power to stop Medicaid expansion.  The hypocrisy of their stance becomes even more apparent when you realize that Howell and the General Assembly appear willing to tackle a similar issue, the Governor’s Access Plan a Medicaid waiver program which offers up to 20,000 Virginians with serious mental illnesses behavioral and outpatient medical care and prescription coverage.

Yet they continue to say that Medicaid expansion is a dangerous idea, so when Howell claims that he has…serious worries over its fiscal implications and the effectiveness of the program” his objections are nothing more than Foghorn Leghorn rhetoric. http://www.roanoke.com/opinion/our-view-more-a-dogma-fight-in-virginia-than-massive/article_0b34e5cb-9e1e-5d6a-90d7-53520f24a0b6.html

This week it is anticipated that most of the action in the General Assembly will be greasing the rails for the fast tracking of their sponsor’s bills, along with laying the ground work for future ideological battles in the fall session, so expect to see the below section altered over the course of the next few days

Constitutional Amendments

SJ216  ERA bill –Passed Senate 20-18 , with both Garrett & Reeves voting  against it. It was referred to House Privileges and Elections committee on 2/9, and has been  sitting in this committee for a week now and currently is not on the docket.  The best thing you can do is call and email the members of P&E and ask them to tell Chairman Cole to docket SJ216 the ERA bill

SJ238  Restoration of Voting Rights for released felons, with Reeves voting against it. Referred to House Privileges and Elections committee on 2/9 with no movement this week.

HJ621  sitting in House Privileges and Elections sub committee since 1/20, and was left in House P & E committee on 2/10, and is dead for this year.

SJ263  Governor serve more than 1 term  Passed Senate – referred to House Privileges and Elections committee on 2/6.

SJ284  Non-partisan Redistricting Committee  Passed Senate referred to House Privileges and Elections committee on 1/30.

SJ256  School Districts authorized to create charter schools  Passed Senate 21-17 on 2/4, where both Garrett & Reeves voted for it. Referred to House Committee on Privileges and Elections– sub committee Constitutional Amendments on 2/9.

HJ577 School Districts authorized to create charter schools -Passed and adopted by House 58-41 on 2/10, with Ferrell voting  for it. This bill was referred to the Senate Privileges and Elections committee on 2/11.

Voting

SB719   Voters over 65 can vote absentee, with no reason necessary passed Senate on 2/2- referred to House Privileges and Elections committee on 2/6, with Senator Garrett voting against. And on 2/12 it was laid on the table by the Elections subcommittee by an unrecorded voice vote.

HB1318  All absentee voters must submit photocopy of ID-Passed House 62-34 on 2/9, with Delegate Ferrell voting for it. And on 2/11 it was referred to the Senate Privileges and Elections committee.

SB742     Requiring run-off elections for U.S. Senate, Governor’s race and other statewide races if the initial winner receives less than 50 % of the vote. This bill passed the Senate 22-16 on 2/9, with Garrett and Reeves voting for it. Referred to House Committee on Appropriations subcommittee, General Government & Capital Outlay on 2/11.

NOTE: none of the similar bills in the House advocating for this made it out the of House Privileges and Elections committee.

             Ethics

SB1424   $ 100 cap on gifts —passed Senate 35-1-0 on 2/10 with Tom Garrett not voting, and was referred to the House Committee for Courts and Justice on 2/12. The Senate bill would authorize random inspections that could result in possible civil penalties, but does not include the Governors recommendation of giving the council subpoena and audit power.

HB2070  also proposes a $100 cap on gift. The House bill has neither the subpoena or the random inspection provision. This bill passed house by 93-6 vote on 2/10, and was referred to the Senate Committee on Rules on 2/11.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/va-house-and-senate-unhappily-pass-ethics-bills-governor-awaits-deal/2015/02/10/f9a17bfc-b0af-11e4-827f-93f454140e2b_story.html

SB1399   No person income tax deduction for political contributions—- passed Senate 34-3 on 2/2, and was referred t o the House committee on Finance, subcommittee # 2 , where it was reported out of this sub-committee by a 7-3 vote on 2/11.

SB1440   Fixes Tobacco Commission  — passed Senate 38-0 on 2/10, and was referred to the Committee on 2/12 House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee on 2/12.

HB2330   Fixes Tobacco Commission , passed the  House by 93-4 vote on 2/09, and was referred to the Senate Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources Committee on 2/10.

 Regulatory Capture

SB1349    No review of Dominion basic rate fees for next 6 years and & Appalachian Power for the next 2 years. This bill passed Senate on 32-6, on 2/6 with both Reeves & Garrett voting for it for it. Referred to House Commerce and Labor committee on 2/9 & and passed out of that committee 14-7 on 2/10 with Ferrell abstaining. Passed the House on 2/12 by 72-24 vote  with Ferrell abstaining.

SB1163    Recover infrastructure costs pipeline –passed Senate 38-0 on 1/30 – referred to House Commerce and Labor committee on 2/6, where it was unanimously reported out on 2/10, and the full House voted to Block Passage on 2/12 but it’s counterpart in the Senate HB1475 is still alive

HB1475   Recover infrastructure costs pipeline –Passed House by a 95-2 vote on 1/30, and was referred to Senate Commerce and Labor committee on 2/9.

HB2237   Recover infrastructure costs for development of Solar energy. This bill passed House 88-10 on 2/10, with Ferrell abstaining, and was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor on 2/11.

SB741    Coal mining tax credit passed Senate 32-6 on 2/5, with both Garrett and Reeves voting for it. Referred to House committee on Commerce and Labor on 2/9.

SB1161  Subsidization of energy companies burning coal passed Senate 29-9 on 2/5 , with both Garrett and Reeves voting for it. Referred to House Committee on Finance on 2/9

HB2291  VA Dept.of Environmental Quality (DEQ) needs General Assemblies approval to implement any EPA regulations of the Clean Energy Act was reported from House Commerce and Labor committee 15-6 on 2/9 (with Ferrell abstaining)

* NOTE    this bill was ruled out of order w/ HJR523 by Speaker of House Bill “ALEC” Howell on 2/9 & was incorporated into HJR523ER which establishes a schedule for conduct of business before the General assembly…a motion that was conveniently pre-approved back on the first day of the General Assembly’s session (1/14/15) by a 98-0 vote  in the House and a 39-0 vote in the Senate

Fear and Order

 *SB1143  Establishment of public health Quarantine zones— passed Senate 22-16 on 2/9 with both Garrett  & Reeves voted for this bill. Referred to House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions on 2/11.

*SB1137  Legally carry loaded rifles/shotguns in cars —passed Senate on 2/2, with both Garrett  & Reeves voting for it. Referred to the House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety  sub-committee # 1 on 2/6, and reported out of subcommittee by a 4-1  vote with amendments on 2/12.

*SB1130  Making it legal to possess with intent to sell-Switchblades, throwing Stars, nunchucks, etc –Passed Senate 2/9 ,with both Garrett  & Reeves voting for it. Referred to the House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety  sub-committee # 1 on 2/11,and reported out of subcommittee by a 4-1  vote with amendments on 2/12.

*bills introduced by Tom Garrett

SB1393  Lethal injection drugs- no information about drugs or entire execution procedure can be released under FOIA or can be used in civil suits- Passed Senate 23-14 on 2-10, with both Garrett and Reeves voting for it. It was referred to the House Committee for Courts and Justice sub-committee, Criminal Law on 2/12.

HB1928   DNA samples taken upon conviction of certain misdemeanors passed House 72-27 on 2/10 with Ferrell voting for it. It was referred to the House Committee for Courts of Justice on 2/11.

HB1287  Requires that any property forfeited under the Federal “Asset forfeiture” program be suspended until conviction passed House by a 92-6 vote on 2/3 and was referred to the Senate Committee for Courts of Justice Committee on 2/4. It was reported out of that committee by an 11-2 vote on 2/11 with both Garrett and Reeves voting for it.

This bill was then re-referred to the Senate Finance Committee that same day.

SB721    Watered down version of House bill requires the agency seizing property to issue a receipt itemizing the property seized within three days after the seizure. This bill unanimously passed the Senate on 1/20, and was referred to House Committee for Courts of Justice, sub committee Criminal Law on 2/9.

SB1441  Required State Police to perform background checks for private sales or transfers at gun shows at the request of a buyer or seller @ gun shows. Referred to Senate Finance Committee on 2/2, and was left in Senate on 2/11 — Bill is effectively dead for 2015.