McAuliffe’s Actions

Now that the deadline the Governor to veto, amend, or pass legislature sent to him by the General Assembly has come and gone. Let’s take a look at what bills are likely to become issues in the General Assembly when they reconvene for their regular spring session April 15th.

Despite many of our legislators describing this past special session as having been “eerily calm” and how business like and efficient it was. They certainly got the business part right, since most of their significant legislature was all about business – Dominion Powers business.  Their actions coupled with the Governors passing all of their pro Dominion bills, should make it abundantly clear that Dominion is the business of Virginia.

It’s no coincidence that even before the session was concluded the Governor signed SB1349 which exempts Dominion from having any reviews of their base rates for 5 years, and SB1163 which allows them to recover their costs for building the Atlantic Coast Gas Pipeline from their customers. Along with SB1334 which allows Dominion to recover their costs for procuring right of way access for that pipeline from their customers.

If you follow the news with any regularity you’re probably familiar with a concept know as “Friday afternoon dumps,” where a government or administration releases information at the end of the day on Friday, knowing that it will likely be buried deep in the weekend news cycle and is not likely to come to light until after long after the Sunday talk shows are over and Sunday editorials in the papers have come out.

Here in Virginia, the Governors office has found another way to slow walk the release of public information, taking full advantage of the built in latency of the states LIS system which tracks the progress of bills as they pass their way through his office.  Usually the LIS systems information is updated every 2 or 3 days several days, making any attempts to track a bill progress on a daily basis an exercise in futility.

In the case of bills waiting to be signed, vetoed or amended, by the Governor that process was somehow stretched out to a week or more, making it virtually impossible to know what the status of a particular bill was.  Much of the information about the bills sitting on the Governors desk was compiled weeks ago, and it was only after the March 29th midnight deadline had passed that the Governors actions of these past 2 weeks became publicly available.

In the case of Dominion, it was the passage of HB1475, which was passed on 3/17 and like SB1163  further “legalizes” Dominions ability to “capture” their infrastructure costs from their customers for their Atlantic Coast Pipeline, along with HB2237 which he passed on 3/26 which allows them to build a 400 MW demonstration solar plant at their ratepayer’s expense. The Governor also amended SB1161 on 3/27 which subsidizes Dominions burning of coal in their coal burning power plants at taxpayer expense. So far, no details are publicly available about what this amendment entails.

A state of affairs which puts me in mind of an observation by the comic, Lewis Black, “the only thing dumber than a Republican or a Democrat is when these pricks work together.”  While they may be divided on many things they are unquestionably united in being “regulatory captured” when it comes to anything concerning Dominion Power.

Another thing they are untied in is the preservation of the states and law enforcement ability to limit public access to information, whether it is restricting limiting their ability to spy on the citizens of the commonwealth and how long they can retain that information SB965 (amended by the Governor), seizing their property without a warrant or due cause, commonly known as “Asset Forfeiture.”

The only bill addressing this issue, HB1287 died in earlier in committee, while presumably SB721 which would compel law enforcement agencies to issue a receipt in 3 days after property has been seized would remedy this situation. Now that the Governor has passed his recommendations for this bill on to the Senate, it remains to be seen what the details of his recommendations are, and what if anything the Senate will do with them.

By far the General Assemblies most popular way of limiting access to public information is to simply deny certain kinds of FOIA requests by legislating them out of existence, which is likely the case with SB968, SB963, HB1946, and SB919.

One bill, SB1393 which was recently killed in the House would have hidden all information about executions by lethal injection, and is perhaps the worst example of restricting access to public information, especially since it was enthusiastically supported by the Governor, the Attorney General, and the Senate. Fortunately it was narrowly defeated in the House.

Virtually all of the bills which were passed through the Governor’s office have followed this pattern of delayed communication, and for some of the more questionable or politically sensitive bills there was no public information available until this morning.  Whether this was part of his administrations calculations to give the Republicans as little time as possible in crafting their response to any of the bills that he vetoed or amended, or it these delayed actions reflect institutionalized inertia remains to be seen.

These bills are listed below by topic, bill number and when they were passed, vetoed, or amended.

___________________________________________________________________________

Economy

SB763 Passed  3/19 and HB1360 crowd funding exemption           Passed 3/19

HB1608 + HB2395 – prohibit localities from requiring contractors to pay living wage (both vetoed) 3/27

___________________________________________________________________________

Voting

SB816 remove listing religious reasons for vote absentee             Passed 3/17

HB1318 photo id requirement for absentee voting (vetoed) 3/27

SB986 + HB1237 (adjust precincts in 17th Senate) (vetoed) 3/26

HB1538 (relax standards on match of id name vs. polling information) Passed 3/17

___________________________________________________________________________

Civil Liberties & Public Disclosure & Law enforcement

HB2112 –eliminate training requirement for undercover work (no training facility) Passed 3/17

HB1928-DNA samples taken for certain misdemeanors Passed 3/16

HB1578– State Police certify DNA of sex offenders in Data Base Passed 3/16

HB1353-post dated additions to sex offender database with little consideration for mistaken identity Passed 3/29

HB1946 Passed 3/23 electronic communication of administrative subpoenas not subject to FOIA

SB919    Passed 2/26 electronic communication of administrative subpoenas not subject to FOIA                                                                                    (both pertain to human trafficking and sex crimes against minors- if Commonwealth Attorney makes written certification)

SB963– FOIA exemptions if not part of public business (not prearranged or @ function open to public)  Passed 3/17

SB968 – FOIA exemptions healthcare committees –withheld from discovery Passed 2/26

SB721– receipt for property seized under asset forfeiture (Recommendation sent to Senate) 3/27

SB965-Two amendments 3/27 – eliminate the 7 day limit for government retention of personally identifying data, replacing it with  a 60 day limit, and eliminate the inclusion of all other surveillance technologies, and make it only applicable for license plate readers.

________________________________________________________________________

Guns Now, Guns Today, and Guns Forever

                                                                                                                                         SB1137 – legal to carry loaded shotguns rifles in vehicle                             Vetoed  3/37

SB948 – do not share handgun permit information w/other states if they don’t share similar laws Vetoed   3/27

HB2286– possession of firearms & weapons by felons whose rights have been restored (Substitute introduced) 3/26

HB2009 – Requires the chief law enforcement officer to provide a certification for transfer of a machine gun within 60  days if the applicant is not prohibited by law from receiving the machine gun              Vetoed      3/27

__________________________________________________________________________                                                                                             

Education

SB783 – seclusion & restraint standards and limitations in public schools Passed 3/16

HB1714 –take science SOL assessments after 8th grade Passed 3/17

HB1490 + SB874 – expedited retake of tests (except writing test)        Both Passed 3/16

HB1626 – home school student participate in interscholastic programs (Tebow bill) (an ALEC initiative)  Vetoed 3/27

HB1752 + SB724  – Board of Educaton prohibited from adopting Common Core standards  (ALEC initiative) Vetoed  3/27

HB324 – creation of virtual schools (another ALEC initiative)   Passed 3/27

SJ256 – Authorize school districts to create charter schools                 (yet another ALEC initiative)                                                                               Must pass for 2 consecutive years and then be put to public ballot initiative before it becomes law

________________________________________________________________________

Ethics

SB1440 & HB2330 both passed 3/26                                                                     Supposedly reform the tobacco commission

SB1399 Passed 3/17  & HB2070 (Rec. sent to House) 3/27             both bills propose a $ 100 limit on gifts but neither would limit the ALEC loophole

Jon Taylor

 

 

 

Retaking Virginia’s Senate

The filing deadlines for Virginia’s Senate and House of Delegates having come and gone, and the best chances of Democrats regaining partial control of the General Assembly lie with their retaking the Senate this November.

Out of the 40 Senate seats, only 10 are being contested this election, a figure which is slightly better than the 19 seats being contested in the House.

There are 5 Senators resigning this year, 3 Republicans and 2 Democrats, with  2 of those 3 Republicans seats are being contested by Democrats. On the other side of the coin, only one of the open Democratic seats is being contested by the Republicans, with the other open seat going to one of four Democrats.

The 10 contested elections feature 4 returning Republican Senators running, and 3 returning Democrats who are highlighted in bold below. In addition, particularly heinous Senators or known party operatives are noted with an asterisk *.

There are four elections which are of special interest, either because they are in our neck of the woods or because of who is running in them.

Leading off is Democrat Traci Dippert running against Bryce Reeve’s in the 17th Senate District.

Breaking News: Traci has dropped out of the race effective April 17th and her place on the 17th Senate Democratic ticket will be taken by Ned Galloway an educator from Albemarle County, who is the President of the Albemarle County School Board.  So be sure to see him at our Meet the Candidates forum on May 16th at the Louisa Arts Center.

While Bryce Reeves claim to fame is that he has tried for the past 2 years to pack his district by gerrymandering  with another 600+ reliable conservative voters though some creative “redistricting” in the General Assembly.

In addition, he has served as a regional director of Americans for Prosperity, one of the Koch brothers many political front groups. A term of office he quaintly describes as “just few months in 2009.”

Now if you can believe this site, http://watchdog.org/198999/virginia-tea-party/ there is a sizable libertarian-paleoconservative faction out there seeking to wreak havoc on Virginia’s GOP establishment including unseating Bryce Reeves.

While a more likely scenario, comes from a 2011 letter to the editor in the Charlottesville Daily ProgressAny candidate linked to Americans for Prosperity will most assuredly vote against any aid or safety nets for the poor and middle classes.” And that “…former chair of Americans for Prosperity likely would never condone giving health care or social services to those who could not afford them,” a claim which has certainly been supported by his voting record in the Senate over the past four years.  http://www.dailyprogress.com/news/reeves-ties-to-far-right-won-t-serve-public-s/article_c0d88aaa-dc89-5f2b-8248-798616a81db2.html

Batting second is the 16th Senate district race featuring 3 Democrats. Including Democrat turned Independent and back again into a Democrat, Joe Morrissey running against incumbent Rosalyn Dance, along with Joseph Preston, who replaced Ms. Dance in the 63rd House of Delegates after she moved up to the Senate playing the role of the dark horse spoiler.

Breaking update:  In an unsurprising development, former Delegate Joseph D. Morrissey was not certified to run as a Democrat in the race for Virginia’s 16th District Senate seat, since only 222 of the 972 petition signatures he submitted were acceptable. By filing his candidacy for the 16th Senate seat, Morrissey officially vacated his  74th  House of Delegates seat, which he won as an independent candidate in a special election last year.

Derik Jones, a Richmond School Board member and son of Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones, also did not qualify. Only 129 of his roughly 300 signatures were accepted as valid. A candidate needs 250 signatures to qualify for the primary ballot. http://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/article_7b560726-e2e0-5e94-b246-56a8c8f8e5da.html

Batting 3rd on the Republican side in the 11th Senate district, there are 3 Republican candidates running. While the incumbent Steve Martin has been a state Delegate for 6 years and a Senator for 12, he is now nationally known for his recent comments characterizing women as “hosts for babies.” And it remains to be seen if he will face any electoral fallout for those comments.

Meanwhile, he faces a serious challenge from Amanda Chase*, who is by far the most interesting of the 2 Republican challengers running against him. She is a conservative’s conservative, I mean operative and has previously worked for Ken Cuccinelli, SpongeBob McDonnell and former Congressman Eric Cantor.

She also worked for former Lieutenant Governor Candidate Susan Stimpson, who is currently running as a Teapublican for the 28th House seat held by House Speaker Bill “ALEC” Howell.

This comes on the heels of her loosing the 2013 Lieutenant Governors nomination to E. W.  Jackson who is best known for splitting melon’s with an axe. She also worked briefly on Dave Brat’s election campaign.  Other than his website, there is little to say about the third candidate.

Batting clean up are 4 Republicans running for retiring Senator Walter Stosch’s old seat in the 12th district over in Henrico county, including our former 56th district Delegate Bill Janis*. Who unlike our current 56th Republican Delegate, Peter Farrell (now running unopposed for a 3rd consecutive term) never met a constituent he wouldn’t ignore.

It should also be noted that Bill Janis also served on the ALEC Civil Justice Task Force as recently as 2011, and that he suddenly dropped out the House race shortly after the filing deadline had passed. A set of circumstances which lead to Peter Farrell being appointed as his replacement over four other “candidates” including Dave Brat by what has been called “a gang of 4” party officials.

It should also be noted that the circumstances behind his decision to run at the last minute as an “independent” against the Republican nominee for the Henrico Commonwealth Attorneys office Matthew Geary were so strange and unusual that shortly before the election that even the “we love everything about Eric Cantor” Richmond Times Dispatch  Disgrace described them “highly unusual.”  (link no longer available)

Starting with an open violation of Henrico Republican Committee rules where the committee formally asked Geary, their candidate for Henrico commonwealth’s attorney, to leave the race, because they deemed him morally unfit for office, along with many influential Republicans throwing their support behind Janis, and engaging in a vicious whisper campaign against Geary.

Needless to say both Geary and Janis were crushed in the November 2011 election by Democrat Shannon Taylor.

Still it was set of circumstances so unusual and extreme that after the election the Henrico Republican Committee dismissed several members of their Executive Committee including then House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor from the party, because of Party rules requiring their automatic removal for supporting a candidate other than the Republican nominee.

Prompting Geary to ask afterwards how Cantor could remain the Majority Leader in the House of Representatives when he was no longer a member of the Republican Party, along with then Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Lt. Governor Bill Bolling who also supported Janis.

One thing you can say about conservative Republicans is they don’t believe in nuance, and when confronted with their own hypocrisy they simply double down on it. So it wasn’t surprising to see during the 2011 election that the leaders of the Republican Party of Virginia , including then Governor Sponge Bob McDonnell along with Speaker of the House Bill Howell did just that.

Pouring  money, resources, and endorsements into the campaign of 59th House of Delegates candidate Matthew Fariss, who had a lengthy record of civil and criminal litigation and convictions against him. Including an Emergency Protective Order, in which the officer wrote “a history of violence;” a drunk driving conviction; a weapons violations; and a jury award of $500,000 against one of his businesses.

Less than 3 months after that 2011 election, Matt Geary was found dead from a self inflicted gunshot wound. While it’s impossible to directly link his death to the politics of personal destruction used against him by the Republican Party at virtually every level, at a minimum many prominent Virginia Republicans were guilty of outrageous and morally reprehensible behavior. http://bluevirginia.us/diary/5874/matthew-geary

Meanwhile, Matt Fariss is still the 59th District Delegate, and is running unopposed for his 3rd consecutive term. Showing that while voting does matters, it is equally important to put up viable opposition to the most heinous of our politicians.

These two stories should be indicative of just how far the Republicans are prepared to go in order to retain their control of the Senate.

The remaining contested Senate races are listed below:

Name                Party                   District          Filing date

John C. Miller, Democrat Senate -1 Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Mark R. Matney, Republican Senate -1 Thursday, March 26, 2015

__________________________________________________________________________

Lynwood W. Lewis, Jr., Democrat Senate -6 Thursday, March 26, 15

Richard H. Ottinger, Republican Senate -6 Tuesday, March 10, 2015

__________________________________________________________________________

Gary T. McCollum, Democrat Senate -7 Tuesday, January 13, 2015

*Frank W. Wagner, Republican Senate -7 Friday, March 20, 2015

_________________________________________________________________________

“Dave” Belote, Democrat Senate -8 Thursday, March 26, 2015

Bill DeSteph, Republican Senate -8 Sunday, March 01, 2015

Craig M. Hudgins, Republican Senate -8 Thursday, March 05, 2015

________________________________________________________________________

Name                Party                   District          Filing date

Alex McMurtrie, Democrat Senate -10 Wednesday, March 25,

Emily C. Francis, Democrat Senate -10 Thursday, January 22, 2015

Daniel A. Gecker, Democrat Senate -10 Thursday, March 26, 2015

Bruce W. Tyler, Republican Senate -10 Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Glen H. Sturtevant, Jr., Republican Senate -10 Sunday, March 08,  15

__________________________________________________________________________

Name                Party                   District          Filing date

*Amanda Chase, Republican Senate -11 Wednesday, March 04,

Barry F. Moore, Republican Senate -11 Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Steve Martin, Republican Senate -11 Tuesday, March 03, 2015

_______________________________________________________________________

Name                Party                   District          Filing date

Edward S. Whitlock, Republican Senate -12 Thursday, February ,12

Siobhan S. Dunnavant, Republican Senate -12 Wed., March 04,

Vince M. Haley, Republican Senate -12 Wednesday, March 25, 2015

*“Bill” Janis Republican Senate -12 Friday, March 06, 2015

___________________________________________________________________________

Name                Party                   District          Filing date

B. Jill McCabe, Democrat Senate -13 Tuesday, March 24, 2015

*Richard H. Dick Black, Republican Senate -13 Friday, March 20,

__________________________________________________________________________

Name                Party                   District          Filing date

Joe Morrissey, Independent? Senate -16 Wednesday, March 25,

Joseph E. Preston, Democrat Senate -16 Wednesday, March 25,

Rosalyn R. Dance, Democrat Senate -16 Monday, March 23, 2015

_________________________________________________________________________

Name                Party                   District          Filing date

Traci L. Dippert, Democrat Senate -17 Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ned Galloway, Democrat Senate 17 Saturday May 9,2015

*Bryce E. Reeves, Republican Senate -17 Tuesday, March 10, 2015

__________________________________________________________________________

April D. Moore, Democrat Senate -26 Friday, March 06, 2015

*Mark D. Obenshain Republican Senate -26 Wednesday, March 04,

_________________________________________________________________________

Name                Party                   District          Filing date

Jeremy S. McPike, Democrat Senate -29 Thursday, March 12, 15

Michael T. Futrell, Democrat Senate -29 Wednesday, January 14,

Atif M. Qarni, Democrat Senate -29 Thursday, March 26, 2015

Hal Parrish Republican Senate -29 Thursday, March 26, 2015

__________________________________________________________________________

Name                Party                   District          Filing date

Scott A. Surovell, Democrat Senate -36 Wednesday, February 11,

Mark Allen Cannady, Democrat Senate -36 Thursday, March 26,

Gerald “Jerry” Foreman, Republican Senate -36 Tuesday, March 17,

 

Jon Taylor

100 Days of Congress

For over a century the traditional measurement of Congress’s effectiveness has been how much they get done during the first 100 days. With the Republicans controlling both the House and the Senate it should be clear that the 114th session of Congress has returned to a dynamic similar to the Bush era, one where ideology dictates policy.

Their priorities are clear; first and foremost, reward their corporate donors by passing bills which amplify their ability to profit no matter who get harmed in the process, along with enhancing their stranglehold on our political system.

It was no coincidence that one of the Houses first acts was to pass the Natural Gas Pipeline Act HR 161, accompanied by the Senate passing the Keystone XL pipeline bill S.1, with House following suite a few weeks later.

It should be noted that neither of these votes are likely to get enough votes to overcome a presidential veto, especially since the Senates vote earlier this month to overturn the presidents Keystone XL pipeline veto failed with even fewer votes 62-37 than the original Senate vote passing this bill.

Nor will their attempts block the new N.L.R.B. regulations through the little-used Congressional Review Act, in which the two houses may pass a resolution disapproving rules by an executive agency. The Senate passed such a resolution in March by a vote of 53 to 46, and the House approved it 232 to 186 — mostly along party lines. Because the measure is a joint resolution rather than a normal bill, Mr. Obama signed what is called a memorandum of disapproval, effectively vetoing it.

Another one of their ideological priorities is to eliminate the Affordable Care Act with the House voting 239-186 for HR 596 with every Democrat opposing the measure, along with three Republicans. Unlike the previous 50+ votes made by the previous two Congress’s this vote included instructions for several committees to replace the healthcare law with new policies.

Marking the first time the House has coupled voting to repeal the ACA with something to a replace it with, but since it didn’t impose any deadlines on committees to finish their work, it’s a safe bet they will be bringing up repeal of the ACA in one form or another again and again between now and the 2016 election. While it’s a matter of conjecture of exactly what form their attempts will take, the most likely approach will be to try and starve the ACA through a lack of funding, or by changing the rules under which it operates.

One of the unspoken possibilities they are counting on is for the Supreme Court will do their dirty work for them, absolving them of any responsibility by ruling against the ACA in June. So don’t be fooled by the fact that the House just voted 392 -37 to reauthorize funding for Medicaid and the CHIP program by passing HR 2, because they know that bill is unlikely to pass the Senate.

Predictably our congressional representative, Dave Brat was one of the 37 who voted against funding these two programs. Most of those who voted against this bill are members of the newly formed House Freedom Caucus. Nor are their hypocritical efforts limited to their most extreme members, because with few exceptions the entire party’s actions are not based on common sense or reality but rather on ideology.

Take for example their objections to the EPA proposed greenhouse emission standards, where the House voted 236-181 to pass HR 1029, along with HR 1030 by a 241-175 margin.  Bills which reshape what kind of testimony can be given before the various House committees, allowing the promotion of energy industry interests over science driven policy. Along with prohibiting the EPA from proposing, or issuing regulations based upon science which is not “reproducible”, disingenuously claiming that the EPA’s rulemaking current process based on peer reviewed science is not sufficiently “transparent.”

Even going so far as to defeat amendments to HR 1029 by a 181-236 vote which would have allowed the EPA to continue using peer reviewed science in making their decisions, along with denying advisory status to “experts” whose funding comes from the energy industry by a similar 179-236 vote. What we are seeing is systematic attempt to stack the testimonial deck ensuring that any “experts” speaking before their committees are industry flacks.

Since the Senate just passed their version of the budget last week by a 52-46 margin along party lines, it won’t be long before we can expect to see the House roll their version out. Like death and taxes the one thing about their budget we can be certain of is that House Republicans will use it with all the subtlety of John Henry swinging a sledgehammer in a china shop.  Going out of their way to introduce even more tax loopholes and reducing corporate taxes even further for their benefactors, along with slashing any programs they happen to be ideologically opposed to.

Over the next few months we should expect to see one of their first attempts to hold the entire budget process hostage involving the funding of the federal highway trust fund which expires on May 31st. The heart of this matter is whether Congress should provide temporary short term vs. long term funding of this vital infrastructure program. Some indications of what they are likely to do are their recent motions to privatize Medicare in the House’s proposed budget. A motion which passed the House by a 219-208 margin, along with bills that would make significantly alter Medicaid (block grants), Medicare (voucher program) and Social Security by raising the retirement age, using chained CPI and means testing.

While it goes without saying that this country and our legislative bodies are bitterly divided along ideological fault lines and one thing you can be sure of, is that  Republicans will be breaking out more of their classics from their vault  including endless repetitions and variations of “God, Guns and Gays” over the next few years.

Jon Taylor

Louisa Sunshine

Even though “Sunshine Week,” has officially concluded, it doesn’t mean that coverage of Louisa County has come to a standstill.   Thus far the biggest story has been the ongoing evolution of counties FY 2016 budget, as the Board of Supervisors continues to try and find ways to deal with a multimillion dollar budget short fall along with financing  their bigger long term development projects.

During last week’s budget work session, the Board unanimously voted to approve an interim agreement with Fluvanna Country for the James River Water Project, along with reimbursing the cost of certain initial expenditures.

Their next budget work session is not likely to be well attended since it will be held at 9:00 am on March 25th, a departure from their usual public meetings which are held at 6:00 pm on the first and third Mondays of the month.

According to a report given by Andy Wade, Louisa County’s director of economic development, the necessary parcels of land that will need to be purchased along with necessary easements for this water pipeline have been identified. This phase of the project will cost roughly $5.3 million, and his presentation did not make it clear if that also includes the cost of reimbursing the contractor selected for their preliminary engineering design and survey work.

This initial phase is in many ways the most important phase of this project, as determining those costs will help the county planners to establish what the maximum cost for this project will be, information which is critical in determining the amount of bonds to issue to fund this pipeline.

Perhaps the most relevant comment about the ongoing saga of this project came from Patrick Henry Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes, who noted that since this project was first proposed that the cost of building this pipeline has risen from roughly $18.5 million with the latest projected costs of this pipeline likely to be somewhere between $40 and $45 million.

While his recollection of when this project was first started was a bit hazy, it should be noted that since the initial memorandum of understanding about this project was first introduced over a decade ago in 2004, that it took the Board nearly 5 years from that point to approve the creation of a Joint Authority, and another 4.5 years to finally approve the current agreement.

What that bodes for their future actions on this project is anyone’s guess.

This budget meeting also featured a legislative update from our 56th District Delegate Peter Farrell, who described it as “short and strangely calm.”

His description of the legislative session would have made the fictional character Obi Wan Kenobi from the Star Wars movies proud “…what I told you was true … from a certain point of view.”

An characterization which completely avoided any discussion of why this legislative session might have been so calm when compared to previous sessions. Nor did any of the board members think to ask him.

Allowing him to quickly segue into talking about educational reforms that the General Assembly passed, and how funding for mental health services were increased.  Missing was any mention about the states budget including no provisions for Medicaid expansion, effectively throwing away millions of dollars each day or that most of the increased mental health funding comes from a special category of Medicaid money.

When taking questions from the board members, his response about the largest educational “improvement” passed by the General Assembly, a 1.5% increase in teacher’s salaries he danced around the fact that it was being funded mostly at the counties expense, saying that “localities were not likely to take action on this issue unless pushed by the General Assembly.

Another example of unfunded mandates being dumped on localities.

When asked why the General Assembly didn’t approve of funding for new voting machines given the scale of problems they had with them failing in many precincts around the state in the 2014 elections, knowing that most of them were over 10 years old his response was “we just didn’t have enough time to get it done.”

Along with “we will look into this next year,” leaving the question unanswered about what would happen to counties like Louisa who have already taken the proactive stance of purchasing new voting machines, getting ahead of a “disaster waiting to happen.”

A more cynical person might be tempted to say that such a potential fiasco suits the Republican Party just fine, knowing that their gerrymandering of districts assures them control of the House until the 2020 redistricting.

And that in order to maintain their complete control of the General Assembly until then, all they have to do is concentrate their efforts on winning a handful of Senate races this year.

Should some antiquated and obsolete machines happen to fail during those elections, it shouldn’t be too difficult for them to tie the results up in the media and in the courts, while sanctimoniously questioning the “legitimacy” of the voting process.

Other questions about the General Assemblies funding of the Central Virginia Regional Jail, along with General Assembly’s support of high speed internet in light of recent FCC changes, were answered with “we will be looking into funding formulas,” and that this will be a “multi-year fight” and that localities shouldn’t “rely on the state when making their plans.”

Jon Taylor

Good Day Sunshine

It’s been said that a government’s responsiveness in making their records public is an important measure of its openness and accountability. According to Associated Press’s chief executive, Gary Pruitt, “The systems created to give citizens information about their government are badly broken and are getting worse all the time.”

An analysis of federal data by the Associated Press covering all requests to 100 federal agencies during fiscal 2014 under the Freedom of Information Act shows that the federal government is taking even longer to turn over files, and is increasingly censoring these documents, along with saying that it can’t find them or simply refusing to hand them over.

The report also showed that in nearly 1 in 3 cases that the federal government initial decisions to withhold or censor records were improper under the law — and that this information was only released when those rulings were challenged.

One reason is because there are fewer federal workers to respond to these requests than before. Over the past 5 years, there has been a 9 percent cut of the number of full time employees who are paid to look for these records, leading to a backlog of more than 200, 000 requests and a 4 percent decrease in the number of FOIA requests the government responded to.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ 2015/03/18/us-government-files_n_6893618.html

Nor it this just a federal problem, it’s a problem that stretches from town halls through statehouses to Federal agencies all the way to the White House, part of a growing national trend where it is becoming more difficult to obtain records and increasingly more expensive to use those public records to hold government officials accountable.

According to Adam Marshall, a fellow with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press authorities at virtually every level are making those requests more difficult by charging fees for searching for records, making copies, hiring technical experts to analyze the data along paying lawyers to redact certain parts of the information that often prevent information from flowing,” saying It’s incredibly easy for an agency that doesn’t want certain records to be exposed to impose fees in the hopes that the requester is dissuaded. If the people don’t know what’s going on, either because they don’t have direct access to information or because the media isn’t able to provide them with access to information about what their government is doing, it’s impossible for the people to exercise any sense of informed self-governance.

In most cases, the fees imposed are at the agency’s discretion; those agencies sometimes waive the costs or requesters can appeal them to an administrative board. But in other cases, Marshall said news organizations and private citizens are faced with the “ridiculous choice” of weighing the costs and benefits of being a responsible public steward.

Virginia law (Virginia code section 2.2-3700) allows reasonable charges not to exceed the actual cost of accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records. For example, to get electronic copies of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s daily calendar, officials told the AP that it would need to pay about $500 in advance. Because McAuliffe’s counsel said staff would have had to search, review and possibly redact certain calendar entries, While in California, daily calendar entries for Gov. Jerry Brown are routinely provided at no cost to the AP.

Dan Bevarly, acting executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, a nonprofit based at the University of Missouri-Columbia that works to protect the public’s right to open government,” says “…there is a higher cost to fulfill these requests,” and “there are other times where there’s a deliberate effort to circumvent the system.http://www.dailypress.com/news/politics/dp-nws-wire-ap-sunshine-at-a-price-20150315-story.html#page=1

Take the example of Daily Press reporter Dave Ress, eight months struggle with the Virginia Supreme Court staff for a statewide criminal case file database — a document the court once made available as a public record. In June 2014 he made what he thought was a routine request. He asked the Virginia Supreme Court’s Office of the Executive Secretary for a copy of its electronic criminal case file database, which he had previously obtained in years past.

The Executive Secretaries Office said could not give him the database because it was reviewing a policy change. Because his first request didn’t specifically say it was being made under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act in October he filed another request that invoked FOIA. The Executive Secretary’s Office responded by saying, “these are court records required by law to be kept,”— arguing that it doesn’t have to release the database because it is exempt under FOIA.

Since these records are kept by the circuit court clerks the information contained in this database is considered a public record. In an effort to get this information he reached out to local circuit clerk courts in October and November to see if he could get the data from them directly. The Newport News Circuit Court Clerk responded and asked the Supreme Court to release the data, which it did. The Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court also requested that the Supreme Court release its data .

Since information from these two localities wasn’t enough to fill in the gaps of a statewide database. In November, with the help of Ben Schoenfeld, who works for nonprofit Code for America he finally found a way to get that information by scraping the court’s website and creating http://www.vacircuitcourtsearch.com, which allows users to search for a defendant by name across more than 100 Virginia circuit courts.

What he discovered was that African-American defendants had a harder time striking a plea deal for a lesser charge than white defendants. “There is a disparity and it could be a disparity on the basis of race or it could be other things,” Ress said. “We don’t know. But one thing we do know is, ain’t nobody looking at it. We were the first to look at it.

This unwillingness to release even one year’s worth of data is part of an attitude which Ress described as “how dare you ask us what kind of job we are doing?”  And it masks a much larger problem, the increasing inability and perhaps in today’s ideological political environment the unwillingness of government at all levels to use that information to determine trends and more importantly to base their policies on.

Something which 10 years’ worth of data from the Supreme Court might address. http://www.dailypress.com/ news/watchdog/dp-nws-sunshine-supreme-court-20150318-story.html. Its part of a nationwide trend which was discussed earlier in several earlier BlueLouisa posts Consequences of willful ignorance, Can numbers create accountability?, There is no data.

According to Ress, “It’s really important for, not just guys like me, because guys like me can spend eight months doing this, it is really important for everybody to say, ‘I want to know what my government is doing, and it shouldn’t be so hard to find out.‘” And “the reason is, we live in a democracy.”

Virginia’s FOIA law is being studied by the Freedom of Information Advisory Council to determine which of the 170-plus meeting and record exemptions are needed. Having an state FOIA law with far fewer exemptions will also be easier for the public to read and understand without having to consult with a lawyer.

This did not prevent more exemptions from being created during the 2015 General Assembly session. Some, such as a bill that would have created a meeting exemption for the discussion of gang-related activities, was sent to the FOIA Council for further study. Others, such as a record and meeting exemption for cyber security, were approved by the House of Delegates and the Senate, where they now await Gov. Terry McAuliffe signature.

One of the biggest wins for open government advocates this year came when the House defeated Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw’s bill which would have made the drugs (and the pharmacy compounding them) used in lethal injection executions exempt from disclosure under FOIA.

The law itself states that “the provisions of this chapter shall be liberally construed to promote an increased awareness by all persons of governmental activities and afford every opportunity to citizens to witness the operations of government.” Allowing the public to inspect records and attend meetings of the state and its political subdivisions, such as county and city governments, unless the FOIA or other state law permits secrecy.

Even having FOIA in the state code doesn’t prevent elected officials from trying to hide their actions — or the reasoning behind them.  Sometimes, this problem isn’t just limited to what the public doesn’t know — it’s also what public officials don’t.

Take the case of the public-private partnership toll road to replace U.S. 460 between South Hampton Roads and Petersburg, a project which so far has cost the state $290 million, without a single shovel being put in the ground, or single piece of land being purchased for the right of way. When Daily Press reporter Travis Fain started digging into the reasons why he found the state agency that approved the deal hadn’t read the 773-page contract for the deal.

Part of the problem is that the state Freedom of Information Act specifically applies to records of government bodies, and since the list of subcontractors working on this project was held by a private entity U.S. 460 Mobility , it meant that without access to this information, the state agency had no way of knowing how much of that money had been used to cover actual expenses and how much was pure profit. Not knowing such key financial data meant that contractors could overstate the value of the work they did in the early phases of a project to boost their profits.

Like their $5.5 million dollars in charges for mobilization — no other description, just “mobilization.” When Fain contacted U.S. 460 Mobility Partners, they couldn’t point to any supplies or equipment that went into the building of this road.  After asking for a list of subcontractors it took weeks to obtain information that information from VDOT and U.S. 460 Mobility. While making those calls, he discovered that U.S. 460 Mobility had been telling subcontractors not to talk to him.

This lack of access to detailed financial records for the U.S. 460 project — including, any information about “mobilization”— made it difficult if not impossible for the state to audit the project, unable to say how much subcontractors on the suspended U.S. 460 project had been paid because it didn’t know. http://www.dailypress.com/ news/watchdog/dp-nws-sunshine-460-20150316-story.html.

That’s why it is incumbent upon the public to know their rights under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act and to use it to challenge their elected officials to operate as transparently as possible. Not just during “Sunshine Week,” but throughout the entire year because sunshine has always been the best remedy for bad government.

Jon Taylor

Cherrypicking Voters

Despite Senator Reeves’s recent claims in the “Culpeper Star Exponent” that this legislative session was a paragon of responsible governance so efficient and businesslike that it ended one day early, it was anything but. http://www.dailyprogress.com/ /opinion/reader-s-views-a-positive-end-to-general-assembly/article_e579edfa-c26e-11e4-8fad-e733692d8f50.html

A better description comes from Del. Marcus Simon, “The Republican majority were incredibly efficient in disposing of popular, progressive initiatives, killing all of our bills during the first two weeks, smiling while they did it.”

Bills which reflected the public’s support of policies like; Medicaid expansion, increasing minimum wage, supporting equal rights and pay, workplace rights, bills that would improve the workman’s compensation system, recognize same-sex marriage, make it easier to vote, enact common sense gun laws, and would repeal medically unnecessary forced ultrasounds.

That’s one of the reasons things were so eerily quiet in the General Assembly during this election year. The other was that Republicans made a concerted effort to muzzle their firebrands — keeping their crazy cousins locked in the closet. A game plan that involved going soft on their usual social wedge issues, not pushing any hint of the radical Tea Party agenda which had dominated Virginia’s legislature in recent years.

They could avoid this during an election year because the greatest damage has already been done. Whether it was by gerrymandering districts into safe party strongholds, attacking the rights of workers, and women with targeted regulations of health care providers or TRAP laws, transvaginal ultrasounds, allowing guns into bars, or by making voting more difficult.

What Senator Reeves and his fellow Republicans did accomplish during this legislative session was to pass a host of “Whatever Dominion wants Dominion Gets” bills which effectively transfer Dominions cost of doing business to their customers and the taxpayers. Along with passing a series of brochure bills which give them the appearance of having “done something” while strengthening their appeal to their base during an election year. But in reality are bills that at best nibble around the edges of the problem, like the Senate ethics bill SB1424 which both Senator Reeves and Garrett along with Delegate Peter Ferrell voted for.

Voters should also know the Republican dominated General Assembly passed two bills that would gerrymander Senator Reeves district even further by flipping around voters in precincts in Albemarle and Louisa County.  Disingenuously claiming it would fix the problem of split voting districts.

It should be noted that Senator Garrett’s office contacted the Louisa County registrars office earlier this year asking what could they do to “help fix” this problem. A problem which the registrars office had been bringing to the General Assemblies attention for the past 4 years getting no response until this election year.

It should be noted that this was the only split district in the state where the Republican controlled General Assembly thought such “adjustments” were necessary.  Perhaps their vote has something to do with the fact that this was the states closest Senate race in 2011. An election which Bryce Reeves won by just over 200 votes, and that if their two bill are approved by the Governor it would give him another 600 + reliable conservative voters.

Such self-serving and dishonest attempts by Senator Reeves and his party to handpick his own voters should not be rewarded with another term in office, especially since this is one of the few elections which Louisa county voters will even have a choice in.

Jon Taylor

Sunshine Week

With this being “Sunshine Week,” a celebration of access to public information and what it means to local communities, rest assured that our local paper The Central Virginian will not miss this opportunity to tell us how well they are informing us.

When it comes to covering how local and regional decisions affect the residents of Louisa County, readers of the CV have long noted that their reporting leaves much to be desired in terms of timeliness and depth of coverage.

Perhaps that’s why they feel compelled to remind us so often. Now that we have just experienced another earthquake, it remains to be seen how long it will take them to cover some of the more significant local events which also directly affect Louisa County residents.

Starting with the Central Virginia Regional Jails request for a $4.5 million increase from last years budget, with ~ $1.5 million of that tab belonging to Louisa County.

The CVRJ claims they need this money to fully fund operational costs and additional staffing for their new 200-bed expansion project which is currently under construction and is scheduled to be completed and operational by the fall of 2016.

It should be noted that the CVRJ was originally built to hold 245 prisoners, and that it has been housing over 400 prisoners for quite some time and it has been significantly overcrowded for years. This jail was opened because in the past many counties were hauling their prisoners down to southwest Virginia—a seven-hour drive which added significant costs to each counties budget.

The CVRJ was established with the understanding that each of the five counties has a financial investment in it, preventing disgruntled counties from backing out of this arrangement without giving a years notice.

While localities have been preparing for years for their approximately $2.5 million share of the construction costs, many counties officials are claiming that they were blindsided by the ~ $4.5 million dollar FY 2016 increase, along with timing (July 1st 2015) of when these funds will be needed. http://www.dailyprogress.com/orangenews/news/draft-jail-budget/article_ec0b6230-bd04-11e4-b758-4b7cac30d15e.html

The Chair of Central Virginia Regional Jail Authority Steven Hoffman noted that because the jail used to house as many as 300 federal prisoners, a figure that now varies between 60 and 75, and because of that federal money that for nearly 20 years the CVRJ could operate at virtually “…no charge to the counties.

Since Federal revenue has declining from approximately $2.7 million fiscal year 2009 to just $1.4 in fiscal year 2014, along with increased local occupancy, particularly from Louisa County, that’s no longer the case. http://www.dailyprogress.com/orangenews/ news/jail-construction-funding-debate-continues/article_9c3fa510-9cc3-11e4-bfc8-f780570a7ff2.html

He also added that “I have no good news,” since many of the budgeted line items for the jail were being driven by federal law. “It’s a culture shock … to be paying, you board members have gotten so used to not paying anything,” adding that the FY 2016 budget will be as “bare bones” as possible.

With the predictable result that over the course of the past few months the meetings of the Central Virginia Regional Jail Authority have become increasingly contentious. So much that over the past two months they have needed Mr. Hoffman to cast tie breaking votes on the 2016 budget on several occasions.

While the initial root of this disagreement was the size of the budget and the increased cost to the counties, a sentiment which prompted Madison County Chairwoman, Doris Lackey to say that “We could take them elsewhere and pay less,” — noting that a jail in Farmville was willing to provide the car and escorts to pick up the prisoners. http://www.dailyprogress.com/madisonnews/news/supervisors-hoffmann-weaver-talk-cvrj/article_04ceba32-b87e-11e4-8989-57b5f2cb66e5.html?mode=story

A truly grandiose claim that flies in the face of the reality that the price of transporting prisoners every day for court from Farmville, along with paying two county deputies overtime for the escort. Nor was she the only county board member to claim that the only way they can meet these increased costs is to either raise property taxes by 3 to 4 cents, or to cut vital county services. http://www.dailyprogress.com/madisonnews/news/county-questions-cvrj-contribution-increase/article_f4a40b64-acb4-11e4-bbca-872eb376c33d.html

One thing the Central Virginia Regional Jail Authority did accomplish during their January meeting was to change the process by which the CVRJ’s budget was controlled, with establishment of a finance committee.

A committee which featured Louisa Counties and Orange Counties administrators; Christian Goodwin and Ernie Hoch, along with Louisa Supervisor, Troy Wade, and at large member Robert “Bob” Ullenbruch of Fluvanna County along with the Superintendent of the Jail and 2 staff members.

What should be noted is that the establishment of this committee now gives the counties controlling interest over making recommendations to the authorities members about the regional jails budget.

During this meeting, a $12.8 million dollar budget was introduced by the authority with Steven Hoffman to casting his first tie breaking vote. In between this meeting and the subsequent March 12th meeting is when things got interesting; with the Orange County Board of Supervisors voting to replace the authorities vice chair Bob Schwartz whose term didn’t expire until November 2016 with one of their supervisor’s Mark Johnson.

Schwartz said he wasn’t informed by the board that he was going to be replaced, and only found this out at the meeting. According to the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, none of the Orange County Board members would discuss their reasons for replacing Schwartz.

It is worth noting that Schwartz did vote for the original budget, along with along with Madison County Sheriff Eric Weaver; Greene County Supervisor Davis Lamb; Greene County Sheriff Steven Smith; Louisa County Sheriff Ashland Fortune; and Hoffman.

At the March 12th meeting, Authority members David Haney, of Fluvanna; Fluvanna County Sheriff Eric Hess; Orange County Sheriff Mark Amos; Fluvanna County Supervisor Bob Ullenbruch; and Louisa County Supervisor Troy Wade all voted in favor of a different budget proposed by the finance committee that would have reduced the CVRJ’s budget from $ 12.8 million to $11.1 million dollars.

Despite the Madison County Board of Supervisors voting 4-1 Monday March 9th asking their Madison County representatives to the Central Virginia Regional Jail authority; Madison County Sheriff Eric Weaver and Hoffman to reject the original budget. The alternative budget was voted down and original $12.8 million budget was approved, with Hoffman casting the tie breaking vote both times.

Meanwhile; Troy Wade was elected vice chairman of the authority, replacing now deposed Schwartz, and Chairman Hoffman announced that he planned to retire from the authority, but would stay on until CVRJ Jail Superintendent Glenn Aylor who announced that he would be retiring July 1st 2015 replacement was hired.

Beyond all this drama and political maneuvering is the fact that every county in the region will be paying more for their share of the CVRJ’s costs. With each counties’ total spending being divided by the average percentage of the inmate population being housed over the last three years with Louisa county accounting for a lion’s share of the inmates (35 -40%), housed at this facility.

Currently, the counties are paying $5.2 million: with Fluvanna contributing $809,000; Greene $834,000; Louisa $1.8 million; Madison $574,000; and Orange $1.2 million.

Under the 2016 budget, the counties will be contributing a combined $6.5 million: with Fluvanna paying $987,000; Greene $1.1 million; Louisa $2.3 million; Madison $735,000; and Orange $1.4 million.

Meanwhile, the Charlottesville Daily Progress and its constellation of weekly local papers; the Orange County Review , and Madison County Eagle along with the daily Fredericksburg Free Lance Star all seem to have overlooked one key detail about these numbers.

Without a significant reduction in the CVRJ’s fiscal year 2016 budget exactly how did the CVRJ’s original request of $9.7 million (a $4.5 million increase) from the counties, manage to drop down to $6.5 million?

According to a reporter from the Madison County Eagle this “found money” is coming from the CVRJ’s unrestricted general fund which grew to several million dollars during the days when large numbers of Federal prisoners allowed them to accumulate money that wasn’t being spent on operating expenses,  allowing the 5 counties to house their inmates at virtually no cost.

But neither this reporter, nor any of the members of the finance committee could confirm if this “reserve” was in fact enough to make up $3.2 million that the 5 counties were refusing to pay.  Nor was it clear if any of this “difference” could be made up with increased funding from the Federal government or the state.

Should this cause the CVRJ to burn through its reserve money before the expansion is completed in the fall of 2016, they are going to have serious problems, starting with adequately staffing the facility, turning all of this politically contentious Sturm und Drang into the fiscal equivalent of a  rearrangement of the Titanic’s deck chairs.

Nor is it clear how any of the counties plan on dealing with the reality that their share of financing the CRVJ is projected to increase during the 2017 fiscal year.   Currently a $2.1 million increase over the previous fiscal year.

The problem with such three card fiscal Monte and political maneuverings by the various county Administrators and Supervisors is that in the end, all they have accomplished is to kick the fiscal can a bit further down the road.

What they are not doing is addressing their shared funding problems before they become even more unmanageable.

Another unspoken dynamic particularly with regard to Orange and Madison Counties and to a lesser degree Greene County is that their Board of Supervisors will likely be undergoing significant changes this election year.

It remains to be seen, if it will it be a move away from the traditional good old boy politics which have dominated these counties for decades.

Or will it  shift the existing status quo to one which obsessively focuses on debt reduction to the exclusion of all else. A dynamic not unlike how  the Tea Party conservatives have taken over the Republican Party.

With these supervisory boards effectively controlling five out of the 10 seats on the Central Virginia Regional Jail Authority, they will be able to heavily influence any decisions that their 5 sheriffs make on  the CVRJ Board

So don’t be surprised if you see a dramatic shift in next fiscal year’s budget.

Which brings us to the Louisa County’s official stenographer, The Central Virginian whose level of coverage of this issue will not rise to the level of these other papers.

So expect to see one of their coming editions feature quotes from either County Administrator, Christian Goodwin or Supervisor Troy Wade claiming how they saved the people of Louisa County as much as $1 million with their efforts to reduce the counties cost of funding the regional jail.

The problem with such partial truths is while they are accurate in the sense  that they saved the county money this fiscal year, they are deliberately overlooking the larger long term picture.

One that ignores an unspoken reality; that ever since the “Great Recession” local government’s are finding themselves increasingly on their own when it comes to sources of funding, and they that should be planning around that reality.

It’s certainly no secret that in the past decade that the Federal government and state governments have been increasingly passing whatever costs they can down to counties, townships and localities.

Take for example, the 1.5% raise that the General Assembly recently gave teachers in school districts throughout the state. The catch is that they will be funding less than a third of those costs, and only for this budget cycle.

Leaving localities like Louisa County to shoulder the rest of those expenses in the coming years.

It’s been said that when you find yourself up to your ass in alligators, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that your original mission was to drain the swamp.

And the Louisa County’s Board of Supervisors collective inability to acknowledge those simple realities, and plan accordingly will end up costing the citizens of Louisa County far more than it should.

That it’s a fiscal problem which will be raising it’s ugly head in-between election years, appears to be rooted in some deep seated Mayberry Machiavellian mechinazations.  A problem rooted in denial, that prevents the Board from being honest with themselves, or their constituents about what the true costs of running Louisa county really are.

From the current and future costs of the regional jail, to the real costs of the James River pipeline , or even the need for bringing high speed internet into the County.

Such denial coupled with a strong get along to go along attitude will  in all likelihood limit their willingness to asking any relevant questions, or even consider pursuing any alternative solutions.

An attitude that will enable them to quietly go along with whatever the County Administrator’s recommendations might be and raise taxes during the 2017 FY by whatever amount is needed to keep the fiscal train rolling.

The 4% property increase that they voted for, and which goes into effect later this year is clearly inadequate to meet the counties growing needs. And apparently the Boards collective though process is lets do a small tax increases , and then large ones during an off election year, and hope that no one notices what just happened.

Since 2015 is an election year, Louisa residents in the Louisa, Jackson, and Cuckoo districts might want to take their actions into consideration when deciding who casting their vote this November.

Jon Taylor

 

American Apartheid

Ferguson’s are all over America, including in Louisa County and we should be seriously examining ourselves and our own failure to act.  A major part of that examination should be elected public officials in all of our institutions, including sheriffs, county attorneys, judges, state and county legislatures, as well as non elected officials and whether they are representing “our best interests.”

We should never assume that is true because we share the same ethnicity.  We have elected and re-elected a familiar, token Sheriff, while an unelected Deputy Sheriff still manages and controls the Louisa Sheriff’s Department and miraculously manages to employ his family!

Given the experience of one of our own who trusted him and local law enforcement, we should be running to the polls in November to make the necessary changes to elect someone we can trust to act on our behalf when that time comes and who will actually “run” the Louisa Sheriff’s Department, instead of collecting a handsome paycheck, showing up to meet and greets and delegating important decisions to an “alleged subordinate.”

We know that if an African American had ever attempted such behavior, we would be reading about it in the CV, we would be watching stories plastered across the news 6 or 7 times each and every day for months and we would be receiving such enormous public outrage that situation would be immediately remedied.

Remember what happened in Richmond when an African American engaged in the same behavior that has been business as usual in law enforcement and corrections for generations throughout Virginia and America.  But , since it is a non-African American, it is simply another day at the office where everyone continues to get paid and promoted, while we taxpayers keep quiet.

Jails, prisons and police have been the number one employer in Virginia as in many small, rural communities for years, so this is the number one motivating force to continue the status quo. Virginia also funds its courts with fees and charges for minor traffic offenses and civil and criminal offenses each and every day because anyone appearing in court is forced to pay court costs when their cases are dismissed and even when they found not guilty of the offense which brought them to court.

These courts render hefty fines and fees for driving without a license when there is very little public transportation available and when many offenses result in the loss of driving privileges.  Add to that the endless court costs and fines assessed with other convicted offenses, which traps most low income and poor offenders at the bottom of a well that they rarely can climb out of.

Do we really want to involve citizens in this horrendous criminal system on minor, non-violent offenses which totally disrupts their lives and their families’ lives, causes them great hardships and often irreversible financial devastation?  I do not want my tax dollars wasted feeding and housing “non-violent offenders” (the largest number of those arrested) awaiting their day in court, only to be exonerated or given a token sentence when they could have remained in their homes, working and productively serving themselves, their families and their communities.

Gloria Pope

Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline

Note: this letter has been modified by the editor from its original form as a letter to Virginia Senator Mark Warner for this blog.

President Obama was right to veto the Keystone XL pipeline, and as one of Senator Mark Warner’s constituents, I was outraged that he voted for it, and a second time to override the president’s veto, a vote which failed. Which makes him a climate denier 2.0, someone who says “Global Warming but it’s not our fault, and CO2 is what plants need to survive, and as our planet warms our agriculture will move to new lands further north and we’ll have a great future.

The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change a scientific body under the auspices of the United Nations, says that we will have 10 feet of sea rise by 2100. The authors of the IPCC reports are chosen from a list of government “approved” researchers, who conduct no scientific research of their own, but summarize the existing literature in reaching their conclusions. As a result they have been called an information monopoly for the quality of their findings.

After reading their latest report it’s clear that the IPCC didn’t consider some critical factors — like the effects of soot on glaciers. Google “dark snow” and look at the photos of how rapidly soot is warming the snow covered north. Then look up “Melt Zone” in a 6/2010 National Geographic issue which shows an 85 million gallon lake on the surface of the Greenland ice cap, a lake which disappeared down thru the ice faster than the flow of Niagara Falls – one of many temporary “lakes” on an ice cap the size of the Louisiana Purchase.

Liquid water which acts as a lubricant for moving ice, forty years ago, glaciers moved 10 to 100 meters a year. Today the fastest glaciers are moving at ten miles year. What will it be like 10 years from now, and the decade after that?

Then Google “Methane Bomb” to see how warmer temperatures are releasing billions of tons of methane from under the Arctic seas and the permafrost of the northern tundra. The IPCC report claims that most “natural” methane being released today comes from cattle farts, rice paddies and swamps, while totally ignoring the huge quantities of methane being released from hydrofracking, and from the rapidly warming northern latitudes;

Athabasca Oil is the dirtiest oil in the world not just because of the 10 to 15% more CO2 which it releases after being burned but because of the vastly greater quantities of soot released after it is burned. Google petcoke, and see how much the people of Detroit and Chicago love the Koch Brothers for the huge petcoke mounds they have built in their cities, mounds which blow toxic soot every which way.

The XL pipeline won’t help us attain energy independence, or slow down global warming.  It is nothing but a conduit of corporate socialism for the likes of the Koch brothers who are the biggest owners of the tar sands oil fields in Canada and who will profit immensely from the selling of their toxic oil to the highest overseas bidder, while sticking the American taxpayer with the cost of cleaning up their messes.

Jim Adams

General Assembly Wrap Up # 2

Editors note: Some of the information below has been covered in previous BlueLouisa postings.

Despite the Governors claims that “It’s been a great session,” “We’ve all worked together. We put the partisan politics aside.” … and “This is the model — we can work together.” A better description of this legislative session comes from Del. Marcus Simon, “The Republican majority killed all of our bills, smiling while they did it. The majority was incredibly efficient in disposing of popular, progressive initiatives this election year.”

Bills which reflected the public’s strong support of policies like; Medicaid expansion, increasing minimum wage, supporting equal rights and pay, workplace rights, improving the workman’s compensation system, recognizing same-sex marriage, making  it easier to vote, enacting common sense gun laws, and repealing medically unnecessary forced ultrasounds.

That’s one of the reasons things were so eerily quiet in the General Assembly during this election year compared to previous years. The other was that Republicans made a concerted effort to muzzle their firebrands — and were reasonably successful in keeping their crazy cousins locked in the closet.

A game plan that involved going soft on social wedge issues, going out of their way not to push the slightest hint of the radical Tea Party agenda which had dominated Virginia’s legislature in recent years.

They could avoid this during an election year because the greatest damage has already been done. Whether it was gerrymandering districts into safe party strongholds, attacking the rights of workers, and women with targeted regulations of health care providers with TRAP laws, transvaginal ultrasounds, or allowing guns into bars, or by making voting more difficult.

What the Republican dominated General Assembly did accomplish was to pass a host of Whatever Dominion wants Dominion Gets, bills which legally transferred some of  Dominions cost of doing business to both their customers and the taxpayers. Any doubts that this wasn’t a bi-partisan effort should be removed after the Governor’s first action was to sign SB1349 into law even before this session was over with nary a change.

This bill ensures that there would be no review of Dominions base rates for 6 years, so perhaps a  better description of his actions would be abject capitulation. There are multiple We Support Dominion bills sitting on his desk that continue the subsidization of  their cost of doing business at taxpayers and ratepayers expense.

Three bills which allow them to recover their costs from ratepayers for building pipelines and solar plants; HB1475 and its identical twin, SB1163, along with HB2237. Followed by three bills which subsidize their use of coal SB1161, SB741, and HB1879 all at taxpayer expense.

They also passed a series of bills that could best be described as “brochure bills” legislative proposals which give legislators the appearance of having “done something” while appealing to their bases reflexive instincts. While in reality, most are bills that would at best nibble around the edges of the problem, like the Senate ethics bill SB1424 which Delegate Farrell, Senator Reeves and Garrett voted for.

Collectively the actions of the Republican dominated General Assembly, particularly their Dominion is the business of Virginia votes represent a state of affairs know as “regulatory capture ” where regulatory agencies and legislative bodies act in the interests of their sponsors, not the general public.

One hundred years it was the railroads who called the shots, with the Republican and then Democratic party doing their bidding. Today it’s come full circle with Dominion Power calling the shots and the Republicans once again acting as their toadies.

While both era’s shared a  similar ideological devotion to the notion that an unfettered and unrestricted free market is in the best interests of country. History has shown that this simplistic approach is wrong, contradicted by decades of empirical evidence which demonstrate that the main beneficiaries of such policies are the corporations and their exclusive circle of friends.

While the prevailing mentality of both era’s goes against the very principle of promoting the common welfare for all that this country was supposedly founded on there is one key difference between the two which everyone should be aware of.

Modern day energy companies like Dominion are taking their economically extractive and ecologically destructive practices model world wide. No longer content to be the 500 pound gorilla of the US market, they are determined to the economic Godzilla stomping on the world market.

A  free market at any cost mentality that pointedly ignores the fact that their promotion of unbridled  energy consumption is the biggest contributor to a vicious cycle of ever increasing global warming.

What once was a sordid regional tale known as the “Virginia Way” has now grown to the point where companies like Dominion have  become the single greatest threat to Virginia’s democracy. And unless checked  Dominions along with  other energy companies ceaseless quest for unbridled economic growth will become the greatest threat facing modern civilization.

Economy

–       HB1400– A state budget which doesn’t expand Medicaid will ultimately increase the health care expenses of everyone who currently has health care insurance as their premiums go up to cover the uninsured, while throwing away ~ $ 4.4 million of taxpayer money away every day.  The $133 million that the General Assembly has appropriated for mental health expansion doesn’t even come close to meeting current needs even though it is funded mostly by Federal Medicaid money.

When combined with the fact that the General Assembly voted to give only $ 6 million for funding of free clinics, means that hundreds of thousands will continue to go without health insurance and rural hospitals will continue to shut down for  lack of funds

–  Voting to give wage increases of 2.5% for state faculty, 2.0% for state & 1.5% for teachers  provided local funds can be found is a welcome change from years of budget cuts and stagnant wages. This good new that is tempered by the fact that the Republican dominated General Assembly voted against  multiple bills that would have increased the states minimum wage.

Even worse was the routine and perfunctory manner in which it was done, so get used to reading these words “died in committee.”

–  Refused to consider any meaningful changes in Unemployment/Workman’s compensations all killed in committee

–  Refused to end discrimination in public employment on the basis of sexual orientation killed in committee

–  Paid sick leave SB1407 killed in committee

–  Equal pay for equal work bills HB1832 & SB722 both killed in committee

–    HB1608 which prohibits any benefits for workers in local contracts and lower wage scales along with taking away local officials decision making abilities in contract procurements

–    Refused to reform payday loans – 7 bills killed in committee HB1987, HB1889, HB1990, HB1973, HB1976, HB2011, and HB2191

Voting

–  All absentee voters must submit photo ID – HB1318

–  Refused to provide money for new voting machines $ 28 million a decision which cost Louisa County ~ $150,000 for 50 new voting machines. Knowing full well that most machines are 10+ yrs old and desperately need to be replaced, killed in budget process.

–  Refused to establish an independent redistricting committee SJ284, killed in committee

–  Refused to consider a state constitutional amendment for Governor to serve more than 1 term SJ263, killed in committee

–  Refused to consider a State constitutional amendment for restoration of felons voting rights SJ238, killed in committee

–  Voted to gerrymander 17th Senate District in favor of Republican candidate in Louisa County during election year SB1237SB986

Ethics Reform

–  Refused to address the states long standing Ethic’s problems HB2070 or SB1424, even adding a last minute ALEC loophole on the last day of the General Session, another round of toothless “window dressing” bills

–  Refused to fix the states largest slush fund, the Tobacco Commission by passing SB1440 and HB2330

–  Rearranged the Titanic’s ahem ABC’s deck chairs by juggling how appointment are made to the 3 person ABC board by passing HB1776

Civil Liberties

–  Refused to pass a state constitutional amendment for the ERA Bill SJ216, which was killed in committee

–  Refused to deal with the growing problem of Asset Forfeiture HB1287, by killing proposed restrictions in committee

–  Approved a requirement to issue a receipt itemizing the property seized within three days after seizure SB721, in attempt to legalize locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen.

–  Approved a requirement that DNA samples taken upon conviction of certain misdemeanors HB1928, increasing the states capacity to further criminalize and marginalize their citizens.

–  Approved a requirement to authorize  back dating additions to sex offender registry (pre 1994) – with little regard to cases of mistaken identity HB1353

–  Approved two administrative subpoenas requirements that effectively bypass 4th amendment constitutional rights with  HB1946 and SB919

– Tried to pass legislature that would protect the states use of drugs used in lethal injections from any public inspection, including denying the legal right to obtain that information for civil suits SB1393.

Guns today, Guns tomorrow, and Guns forever    * Written by Tom Garrett – Louisa’s former Commonwealth Attorney & 22nd District Senator

–  Approved making it legal to carry loaded shotguns and rifles in vehicles throughout the state SB1137 *

– Approved making it legal to sell switchblades, shooting knifes, throwing stars, nunchucks SB1130* passed both Senate and House and after multiple editorials appeared in papers around the state it was “reconsidered” the next day in the House and was defeated

–  Approved making it legal for the stat not to share concealed handgun permits information with other states SB948

– Refused to prohibit domestic violence, sexual battery and stalking offenders from purchasing and possessing firearms HB2085 killed in committee

Education

–  Approved of prohibiting the state Board of Education from adopting any of Federal Common Core Educational Standards HB1752

–  Approved of allowing home school students to participate in HS interscholastic programs HB1626  (aka the Tebow bill)

– Approved the implementation of  Virtual Schools HB324 (one of ALEC’s national agenda’s)

–  Approved of the General Assembly authorizing the creation of Charter schools SJ256 (another one of ALEC’s national agenda’s)

Jon Taylor