VCDL, VAPLAN Rank Virginia’s General Assembly Legislators

Nick Freitas and Mark Obenshain

The pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) has released a scorecard of legislators from the recent General Assembly session, with most Republican legislators scoring 100 percent.  In tallies that count votes, Delegate Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) and Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) earned the highest scores based on the number of votes cast and who introduced legislation. The Virginia Progressive Legislative Action Network (VAPLAN) has also released a scorecard, finding that Speaker of the House Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) and Delegate Thomas Wright (R-Lunenberg) tied for most conservative in the House, while Senator Steve Newman (R-Bedford) was the most conservative in the Senate.

“Congratulations to Senator Mark Obenshain (R – Harrisonburg) and to Delegate Nick Freitas (R – Culpeper) for having the best voting records in the General Assembly,” the VCDL wrote in an update. “And honorable mention goes to Senator Ryan McDougle (R-Mechanicsville and freshman Delegate Marie March (R-Pulaski), who both came in 2nd place.”

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With No Budget Compromise Ready, General Assembly Meets and Adjourns Special Session for Now

RICHMOND, Virginia – The General Assembly met briefly on Monday afternoon after Governor Glenn Youngkin recalled them for a special session to complete and pass a budget compromise and finish other legislation. The legislators passed rules for the special session that allow them to adjourn until Speaker of the House Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) or Senate Rules Committee Chair Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) recall the legislators with 48-hours’ notice. Then, since the budget compromise isn’t ready, the legislators adjourned.

“I was disappointed at the pace the work was going,” Youngkin told the media after a ceremonial bill signing on Monday morning. “I was disappointed there wasn’t more work last week. Everybody’s here today, and I expect them to get to work today. And I know that there are meetings that can be held, and should be held, and will be held. So it’s important to go ahead and get people back to work, and I think calling them back to special session is an important motivator to do that.”

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General Assembly Passes Bill Authorizing Local Law Enforcement to Use Facial Recognition Technology

After banning almost all Virginia law enforcement from using facial recognition in 2021, this week the General Assembly passed a bill to allow local law enforcement to use the technology, with some restrictions. The legislation passed out of both chambers with broad bipartisan support, but also with broad bipartisan opposition.

“It can be used to help identify other people who might be witnesses or involved in crimes. It will also help identify people who are unconscious or dead, that don’t have ID on them, maybe people who have dementia or are wandering around,” sponsor and State Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) told The Virginia Star.

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As Budget Negotiations Continue, Gov. Youngkin and Virginia Legislators Make Last-Minute Pitch for Pet Proposals

As legislators work towards a budget compromise balancing increased spending with revenue losses from tax cuts, Governor Glenn Youngkin and legislators are continuing to argue for their positions.

“The idea that we have to choose between tax relief and our shared priorities is a false choice. It is critical that we do our part to reduce the tax burden on our citizens, particularly at a time when present receipts continue to be as robust as they are,” Youngkin wrote in a Wednesday Richmond Times-Dispatch column.

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General Assembly Passes Dog-Breeder-for-Testing Oversight Bills; Sen. Stanley Celebrates with Puns

Both the House of Delegates and the Senate unanimously passed several of Senator Bill Stanley’s (R-Franklin) bills on Monday and Tuesday to regulate dog breeders, the result of bipartisan work spurred by dramatic reports at a Virginia beagle-breeder-for-medical-testing Envigo. The bills are now headed to Governor Glenn Youngkin’s desk. An outright ban on the practice sponsored by Senator Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax) is set to die in the House Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources Committee after being passed by the Senate. Oversight bills from Bosyko and Senator David Marsden (D-Fairfax) are also doomed in the same committee.

“I want to thank all of you for the hard work that y’all did. We had the Envigo incident and Senator Boysko, Senator Marsden, Senator [Barbara Favola (D-Arlington)], Senator [Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell)], Delegates [Rob Bell (R-Albemarle)] and [Bobby Orrock (R-Carolina)] worked very hard to make sure that we’re going to hold those people that breed dogs, especially beagles, for scientific purposes, accountable,” Stanley said.

In one of his floor-speech comedy routines, on Monday, Stanley exhorted senators to adopt beagles rescued from the facility. Stanley said that there were 480 beagles that were overbred during the pandemic and that Envigo was allowing them to be adopted instead of euthanized. Half of those have already been adopted.

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State Sen. Chase Presents Data About 2020 Election to Virginia Attorney General Miyares’ Office; Republicans and Democrats Kill Her Effort to Fund a Full Forensic Audit of the Election

Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) told senators Thursday that she had delivered information about the 2020 election to Attorney General Jason Miyares’ office on Tuesday. She pushed several budget amendment that would have spent millions of dollars on investigations both into the 2020 election and on future elections, but her amendments received vigorous opposition from Democrats and feeble support from Republicans.

“We presented quite a bit of data and information, our team did, to the attorney general’s office the day before yesterday, and one of their comments was that they need more time and more resources to do that investigation,” Chase said during debate over budget amendments.

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State Senate Committee Advances 1.5 Percent Grocery Tax Cut for Virginians, Leaves Local One Percent Intact

The Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee (SFAC) advanced a bill that would eliminate the state sales and use tax of 1.5 percent on groceries and personal hygiene products. In its Thursday meeting, the committee combined Senator Jennifer Boysko’s (D-Fairfax) SB 451, focused on the hygiene products, with bills from Senator Stephen Newman (R-Beford), Senator Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover), and Senator Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach) that included all groceries.

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State Senate Committee Kills Bill That Would Have Expanded Virginia Attorney General Miyares’ Prosecuting Power

The Senate Judiciary Committee killed a bill that would have expanded the power of the Office of the Attorney General to conduct its own criminal prosecutions if requested by local law enforcement. The bill was on Attorney General Jason Miyares’ wishlist and would have allowed Miyares to intervene in cases where Miyares and the chief local law enforcement officer don’t like the way the local Commonwealth’s attorney handles a case.

Under Virginia law, the governor can already ask the attorney general to conduct criminal prosecutions, but otherwise the attorney general’s local prosecutorial power is limited to some specific types of cases. Progressive prosecutors in some jurisdictions have pushed for more lenient sentences, or declined to prosecute certain kinds of cases; that’s frustrated conservatives who say prosecutors should represent the interest of the state, not the accused person.

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Speaker Gilbert, Senator McDougle to Serve Again on Republican Legislative Campaign Committee Executive Committee

Senator Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) and Speaker of the House of Delegates Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) will again serve on the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee (RLCC) Executive Committee. Gilbert is also in a new role at the RLCC as finance chair.

“National Democrats proved in 2021 that they are willing to spend whatever it takes to win state-level races so they can turn the entire country into a socialist utopia,” Gilbert said in a RLCC release Wednesday. “Despite that obstacle, Republicans were able to flip the House of Delegates in the Commonwealth of Virginia while making significant gains in other liberal strongholds like New Jersey. I am excited to continue working with this incredible organization and to act as a resource for my colleagues trying to replicate the success we had in 2021.”

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New Virginia Gov. Youngkin Announces More Transition Officials

Glenn Youngkin announced a 113-member list of legislators, law enforcement, business owners, and Republican Party of Virginia officials that will be part of his transition “landing teams” — separate from the transition steering committee he announced earlier in November. The teams will coordinate with Governor Ralph Northam’s cabinet.

“In order to change the trajectory of our great Commonwealth, our transition team is utilizing the vast experience of business owners, law enforcement officials, veterans, healthcare providers, industry experts, and—most importantly—parents to determine how government can begin to serve Virginians better and start delivering on our Day One promises of better schools, safer streets, a lower cost of living, and more jobs,” Youngkin said in a Wednesday press release.

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Virginia Redistricting Commission Adjourns Indefinitely Without Completing Any Maps

Virginia may have seen the last of its Redistricting Commission. After multiple perfect ties split along party lines on votes held over the past months, the Commission reached consensus on Wednesday to adjourn until the two co-chairs decide to reconvene the commission. The commission’s one remaining  scheduled meeting on Monday and a public hearing for Friday are canceled. The co-chairs said they would reconvene the commission if two commissioners, one from each party, were able to jointly propose a way to redistrict Virginia’s congressional maps.

Co-chair Mackenzie Babichenko (R) said, “That would give us kind of a better basis, so if Senator Barker finds someone that likes something also on the other side they can bring it to the co-chairs attention, and then we can call a meeting for us to all come and consider it. But I think the issue is that if we say that there is some place for consensus and that we can still keep working, but is that going to happen at another meeting just like this?”

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Virginia Court Denies Demurrer, Allows Sadler’s Skill Games Ban Lawsuit to Go Forward

A Greensville County Circuit Court judge declined to dismiss NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler’s lawsuit over Virginia’s recent skill games ban. In a hearing Tuesday, the court denied a demurrer from the Office of the Attorney General and ordered an expedited discovery process so that a hearing on an emergency injunction can be held in early December.

“We are grateful the Court was able to see through the Attorney General’s latest and last-ditch attempt to avoid a trial in this case,” said Senator Bill Stanley (R-Franklin), attorney for Sadler and Sadler Brothers Oil Company.  “Mr. Sadler’s lawsuit seeks to protect his constitutional rights and the rights of hundreds of Virginia’s small and family-owned businesses.  We’re looking forward to December 6, when we hope the injustice and inequity of the skill games ban will be seen by the Court for what it is.”

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After Legislative Map Failure, Virginia Redistricting Commission Has Airing of Grievances, Thinks About Congressional Maps

Tennessee Capitol building

The Virginia Redistricting Commission hasn’t made a formal decision, but it seems to be moving on after missing a Sunday deadline to complete General Assembly maps. In a virtual meeting Monday, commissioners couldn’t take any votes, but they heard preliminary presentations from the partisan legal teams about redistricting Virginia’s congressional maps. When Co-Chair Mackenzie Babichenko (R) tried to wrap up the meeting with a summary of action items for a meeting later this week, Delegate Les Adams (R-Chatham) questioned Co-Chair Greta Harris (D) status on the commission, launching what Babichencko called an “airing of grievances” from frustrated commissioners.

On Friday, Harris and two other citizen members broke quorum, ending a fraught meeting. At the time, she said, “At this point I don’t feel as though all members on the commission are sincere in their willingness to compromise and to create fair maps for the Commonwealth of Virginia. And so at that point, if I can’t believe that the people I’m supposed to work with are true and sincere, regrettably, I am done. So thank you very much for the opportunity to serve, but I will remove myself from the commission at this point.”

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Virginia Redistricting Commission Running Out of Time to Complete General Assembly Maps

Capitol of the Commonwealth of Virginia

The Virginia Redistricting Commission is scrambling to find more time to finalize General Assembly draft maps ahead of a series of public hearings on October 4-7. On Monday, the commission saw separate sets of draft maps proposed by the two partisan map-drawing teams. On Thursday, they saw a consensus of four Senate district maps from southwest Virginia where both teams’ proposed districts had more than 90 percent of the population in common. But Thursday’s meeting was largely occupied by debates over when to provide political data to map drawers, and about creating additional instructions about creating districts where minorities can control the vote.

As a result, with just three meetings currently scheduled before public hearings, the commission has only considered how to blend the two partisan proposals in the four easiest districts from the Senate, and has not considered how to handle the partisan House proposals.

“We need more time,” Co-chair Mackenzie Babichenko (R) said. “I think we’re going to want more time if we’re going to go through and look at all these decisions.”

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Virginia Redistricting Commission Spends a Week Providing Clarification to Map Drawers

After a strategy shift, the Virginia Redistricting Commission spent its two meetings this week discussing guidance from legal teams about how to ensure legal compliance with the Voting Rights Act (VRA), and how to consider political subdivisions, communities of interest, and partisan equity. Republican and Democratic legal teams shared different analyses of how to ensure compliance with section two of the VRA, which requires that districts not dilute the voting power of protected minorities. Democratic legal counsel argued that map drawers must create majority-minority districts where possible including through coalitions of minority groups. Republican counsel said that while creating those districts was permissible and even likely to happen, explicitly instructing the mapdrawers to consider race fell outside the legal criteria under which race can be considered, violating the Equal Protection Clause.

The commission debated the issue for hours across two meetings on Monday and Wednesday and defeated three proposals to say the mapdrawers “shall,” “may,” or “shall provide where practicable,” the majority-minority districts.

Senator Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) summarized the debate over the “shall” language Monday: “This motion specifically means that we’re going to get sued one way or the other — one counsel is saying we specifically can’t do this, one counsel is saying we specifically have to do this.”

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State Senator Bill Stanley Joins Virginia Redistricting Commission, Commission Discusses Use of Incumbent Addresses, and Barker Proposes Map That Protects His Seat

Senator Bill Stanley (R-Franklin) is the newest addition to the Virginia Redistricting Commission. His predecessor Senator Stephen Newman (R-Bedford) resigned after the commission’s busy schedule for the next two months was announced.

“I know he put a lot of effort, time, and passion into this commission. He resigned shortly after we released our wonderful meetings. So I don’t know if [Co-Chair Greta Harris (D)] and I scared him away or what,” Co-Chair Mackenzie Babichenko (R) joked.

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Youngkin Announces Major Policy Goals in His ‘Day One Game Plan’

GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin unveiled a long list of policy priorities prominently featuring tax breaks alongside spending on law enforcement and schools in his “Day One Game Plan.” His Monday announcement in Falls Church also included a declaration that he would ban Critical Race Theory (CRT) from being taught in schools or used in teacher training, and he said he wouldn’t implement COVID-19 shutdowns.

“I will not allow COVID lock downs to ever occur in Virginia again,” Youngkin said to loud cheers and applause from the crowd.

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Legislation Eliminating Mandatory Minimum Sentences Passes Through Virginia Senate Committee

Legislation to remove most mandatory minimum sentences in Virginia advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday through a 9-6 party-line vote.

Senate Bill 1443 would end the mandatory minimum prison time for more than 200 crimes in the Commonwealth that carry the specific punishments, including assault and battery, rape and other sexual crimes, drug distribution and possession, child pornography as well as driving under the influence (DUI).

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Governor Northam Outlines Budget Recommendations with Focuses on COVID-19, Education

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam unveiled his recommendations for the biennial budget on Wednesday with big spending toward the state’s continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic, public education and other items.

The governor presented his budget proposals to lawmakers during a joint virtual meeting of the House of Delegates and Senate appropriation committees.

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Virginia Republicans Blast Northam’s Budget Proposal to Expand Court of Appeals

After Governor Ralph Northam made a number of proposals to the state’s biennial budget on Wednesday, several Republican legislators rebuked the Democrat’s recommendation to expand the Virginia Court of Appeals and claimed he was trying to pack the court.

Northam presented his budget proposals during a virtual meeting with the House of Delegates and Senate appropriation committees.

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Northam Imposes Curfew, New Mask Requirement, Updated Gathering Limits for Virginia

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued increased statewide restrictions during a press briefing Thursday afternoon to combat rising coronavirus numbers in the Commonwealth as the Christmas holiday approaches.

Starting at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, December 14th, a modified stay-at-home order will be in place with a curfew for all Virginians from midnight to 5 a.m. The only exceptions are getting food and goods, seeking medical attention as well as traveling to and from work.

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