Home 2019 Elections How Terrible Was the 2019 Virginia General Assembly Session? With Republicans Like...

How Terrible Was the 2019 Virginia General Assembly Session? With Republicans Like Kirk Cox and Tommy Norment in Charge…Take a Guess!

Hint: it was exactly as bad as you'd expect from Republicans.

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Back in November 2018, I wrote about some excellent legislation that had been introduced for the 2019 Virginia General Assembly session. I added some more bills to keep an eye on in December and January. And, of course, see Ivy Main’s “guide to 2019 climate and energy bills,” as well as her superb rundown of climate and energy legislation at “halftime” of the 2019 session.

So how did we do this session in terms of progressive, pro-environment and/or pro-clean-energy legislation? In short, horribly, thanks mostly to House Republicans killing just about everything good in subcommittee or committee. See below for a bunch of examples of what I’m talking about, and use this to motivate you for November 2019, when we can FINALLY win back the House of Delegates and State Senate, at which point we will at long last be able to make some progress in Virginia – as opposed to just stopping the most heinous stuff Republicans put forward. Also, if you have other examples you think I should add, just mention it in the comments section, as I didn’t even try to make this comprehensive, but mostly tried to give a flavor for how godawful this session was…

EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT – Passed the Senate, overwhelmingly with Democratic votes, but kjilled by Republicans in the House of Delegates, where the Republicans wouldn’t even allow a floor vote. Republicans overwhelmingly oppose equal rights, in the U.S. constitution, for women. #RememberInNovember

GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION – Basically everything killed by Republicans, such as HB 1644 (Introduced by Del. Jeffrey Bourne – “Requires a person who lawfully possesses a firearm to report the loss or theft of the firearm to any local law-enforcement agency or the Department of State Police within 24 hours after such person discovers the loss or theft or is informed by a person with personal knowledge of the loss or theft. The bill requires the relevant law-enforcement agency to enter the report information into the National Crime Information Center)”; SB 1034 (Introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke – “Prohibits any person who is not a licensed firearms dealer from purchasing more than one handgun in a 30-day period and establishes such an offense as a Class 1 misdemeanor.”); SB 1008 (Introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin, prohibits “bump stocks”); SB 1748 (Introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin, ” Prohibits any person from importing, selling, bartering, or transferring a firearms magazine designed to hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition”); HB 1763 (introduced by Del. Rip Sullivan, “red-flag bill” that “creates a procedure by which any attorney for the Commonwealth or any law-enforcement officer may apply to a general district court, circuit court, or juvenile and domestic relations district court judge or magistrate for an emergency substantial risk order to prohibit a person who poses a substantial risk of injury to himself or others from purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm”); HB 2244 (introduced by Del. Rip Sullivan, “Prohibits a person who has been convicted of assault and battery when the person intentionally selects the person against whom a simple assault is committed because of his race, religious conviction, color, or national origin from possessing or transporting a firearm”); SB 1454 (introduced by Sen. Louise Lucas, “Requires a background check for any firearm transfer and directs the Department of State Police (the Department) to establish a process for transferors to obtain such a check from licensed firearms dealers”); HB 2604 (introduced by Del. Jeion Ward, “Prohibits any person who is not a licensed firearms dealer from purchasing more than one handgun in a 30-day period and establishes such an offense as a Class 1 misdemeanor”); etc.  So, basically, Republicans killed almost every bill that would have addressed gun violence in this state. Don’t forget that in November!

VOTING RIGHTS – Another disaster, thanks to Republicans, with almost everything that would have expanded voting rights killed.  For instance… SB 1447 (Introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke; removes the requirement that voters show a form of identification containing a photograph in order to be allowed to vote); SB 1202 (Introduced by Sen. Louise Lucas, provides that the Board of Corrections shall provide information on absentee voting to all persons confined in a local correctional facility who may be eligible to vote and information on the process of applying for a restoration of civil rights and of voting rights for those persons who have been convicted of a felony); SB 1063(Sen. Dave Marsden; Would implement automatic voter registration by providing for the automatic electronic transmission by the Department of Motor Vehicles to the Department of Elections of certain information for any person coming into an office of the Department of Motor Vehicles); SB 1281 (Sen. George Barker; provides that the expiration date on a Virginia driver’s license offered for voting identification purposes shall not be considered when determining the validity of the license); SJ 261 and SJ 262(Introduced by Senators Locke and Lucas; Establishes that the sole qualifications to vote in the Commonwealth are United States citizenship, being at least 18 years of age, residency in the Commonwealth, and registration to vote in accordance with the requirements set out in the Constitution of Virginia. The amendment further provides that any person who meets those qualifications has the right to vote and that such right cannot be abridged by law. The bill removes from current constitutional qualifications to vote not having been convicted of a felony and not having been adjudicated to be mentally incompetent.). In short, Republicans oppose expansion of voting rights. Don’t forget that when you VOTE – Democratic, of course – in November!

NON-PARTISAN REDISTRICTING I’m in the “piss-poor” camp on this one. Cindy is a bit more charitable/diplomatic, as she usually is. 😉 But yeah, this could have been much better if Republicans hadn’t messed it up.

BUDGET: Virginia Senate Dems tried to claim victory here, but I’m not buying it. Yes, there’s some good stuff in there, such as a much-needed raise for teachers, but as far as I can tell, it would have been much, much better (or far less bad, depending on how you look at it) if Democrats had been in charge. I need to have some more discussions with legislators about this one…

LGBTQ EQUALITY: With Republicans in charge, good luck with this! For instance, see HB 1864 (Introduced by Del. Debra Rodman, “Health insurance; nondiscrimination, gender identity or transgender status” – killed by Republicans in committee); SB 1007 (Introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin, “Repeals the statutory prohibitions on same-sex marriages and civil unions or other arrangements between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges and obligations of marriage” – killed by Republicans in Senate Courts of Justice committee); SB 1375 (Introduced by Sen. Barbara Favola; “Adds gender, disability, gender identity, and sexual orientation to the categories of victims whose intentional selection for a hate crime involving assault, assault and battery, or trespass for the purpose of damaging another’s property results in a higher criminal penalty for the offense”); etc.

MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE: Again, with Republicans in charge, forget about it! For instance, see HB 1850 (Introduced by Del. Marcus Simon, would have increased the minimum wage to  $15 per hour effective January 1, 2023 – killed by Republicans in committee) and SB 1200 (Introduced by Sen. Roslyn Dance, would have increased the minimum wage to $15 per hour effective July 1, 2021 – killed by Republicans in the Senate).

WOMEN’S REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH/FREEDOM: Republicans showed their true colors on this topic, that’s for sure. Just a few examples of great legislation killed by Republicans this session include SB 1451 (Introduced by Sen. Jennifer McClellan and Del. Kathy Tran, “Eliminates the requirement that an abortion in the second trimester of pregnancy and prior to the third trimester be performed in a hospital” – this is the one that Republicans went nuts over); SB 1637 (Introduced by then-Del. Jennifer Boysko, “Virginia Human Rights Act; establishment of right to reproductive choice”); SB 1344 (Introduced by Sen. Barbara Favola, creates a state-level protection for people in fully-insured plans from the expansive religious exemption to the ACA’s birth control coverage mandate); SB 1132 (Introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke, xpands ACA provisions for no-copay insurance coverage to include a broader host of reproductive health care services); etc. In short, Republicans killed almost everything that would have improved women’s reproductive health and freedom in Virginia.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM – Again, not good thanks to our Republican “friends.” For instance, Republicans killed HB 2370 (introduced by Del. Charniele Herring; “Decriminalizes simple marijuana possession and provides a civil penalty of no more than $250”); HB 2373 (introduced by Del. Lee Carter; ” Eliminates criminal penalties for possession of marijuana for persons who are 21 years of age or older”);  HB 1651 (introduced by Del. Cliff Hayes; “Increases from $500 to $750 the threshold amount of money taken or value of goods or chattel taken at which the crime rises from petit larceny to grand larceny”); SB 1137 (introduced by Sen. Barbara Favola; ” Provides that a defendant in a capital case who had a severe mental illness, as defined in the bill, at the time of the offense is not eligible for the death penalty”); HB 2121 (introduced by Del. Jennifer Carrol Foy; “Bail; data collection and reporting standards; report”); etc.

On the energy/environment front, it was an absolute, basically unmitigated #FAIL, thanks to Republicans and a few Dominion Dems (e.g., Dick $a$law). Note that this section is very long, because I used Ivy Main’s superb list and didn’t feel like deleting any of it…

  • “HB 2329 (Keam) and SB 1456 (McClellan and Edwards) is the Solar Freedom bill that removes barriers to renewable energy installations by utility customers, mostly in the net metering provisions, and adds language to the Commonwealth Energy Policy supporting customer solar.”  Keam’s bill was KILLED in committee by House Republicans. McClellan’s/Edwards’ bill was likewise KILLED in committee, this time by Senate Republicans. So much for Solar Freedom in Virginia, thanks to Republicans!
  • “HB 1683 (Ware) gives electric cooperatives greater autonomy, including authority to raise their total system caps for net metering up to 5% of peak load.” KILLED by Republicans in House Commerce & Labor.
  • HB 1809 (Gooditis) follows up on last year’s HB 966 by making the renewable energy and energy efficiency provisions mandatory. If utilities don’t meet annual targets, they have to return their retained overearnings to customers.” KILLED by Republicans in House Commerce & Labor.
  • “HB 1869 (Hurst), SB 1483 (Deeds) and SB 1714 (Edwards) creates a pilot program allowing schools that generate a surplus of solar or wind energy to have the surplus credited to other schools in the same school district.” KILLED, mostly by Republicans, in various committees.
  • HB 1902 (Rasoul) would provide a billion dollars in grant funding for solar projects, paid for by utilities, who are required to contribute this amount of money through voluntary contributions (sic).” KILLED by Republicans in a House Appropriations Subcommittee.
  • “HB 1928 (Bulova) and SB 1460 (McClellan) expands utility programs allowing third-party power purchase agreements (PPAs) for renewable energy while continuing to restrict the classes of customers who are allowed to have access to this important financing tool.” KILLED by Republicans in House and Senate committees
  • “HB 2117 (Mullin) and SB 1584 (Sutterlein) fixes the problem that competitive service providers can no longer offer renewable energy to a utility’s customers once the utility has an approved renewable energy tariff of its own. Now that the SCC has approved a renewable energy tariff for APCo, this is a live issue.” KILLED, mostly by Republicans (plus Dominion puppets like Dick Saslaw) in committee.
  • HB 2165 (Davis and Hurst) and HB 2460 (Jones and Kory), and SB 1496 (Saslaw) provide an income tax credit for nonresidential solar energy equipment installed on landfills, brownfields, in economic opportunity zones, and in certain utility cooperatives. This is a Rubin Group bill.” KILLED, mostly by Republicans, in committee.
  • HB 2192 (Rush) and SB 1331 (Stanley) is a school modernization initiative that includes language encouraging energy efficient building standards and net zero design. It also encourages schools to consider lease agreements with private developers, but does not seem to contemplate the more common use of third-party power purchase agreements.” This bill actually passed!
  • HB 2241 (Delaney) establishes a green jobs training tax credit.” KILLED by Republicans in House Finance Committee.
  • HB 2500 (Sullivan) establishes a mandatory renewable portfolio standard (RPS) for Virginia, eliminates carbon-producing sources from the list of qualifying sources, kicks things off with an extraordinarily ambitious 20% by 2020 target, and ratchets up the targets to 80% by 2027.” KILLED, mostly by Republicans, in House Commerce & Labor.
  • HB 2547 (Hugo) and SB 1769 (Sturtevant) makes changes to the net metering program for customers of electric cooperatives. The overall net metering cap is raised from the current 1 percent to a total of 5%, divided into separate buckets by customer type and with an option for coops to choose to go up to 7%. Customers will be permitted to install enough renewable energy to meet up to 125% of previous year’s demand, up from 100% today. Third-party PPAs are generally legal, with a self-certification requirement. However, the coops will begin imposing demand charges on customers with solar, to be phased in over several years, replacing any standby charges. In the House version only, one additional provision allows investor-owned utilities (Dominion and APCo) to ask the SCC to raise the net metering cap if they feel like it, but I’m told it is not expected to be in the final legislation. This bill was negotiated between the coops and the solar industry via the ‘Rubin Group.'” Believe it or not, this actually passed.
  • HB 2621 (Ingram) and SB 1398 (Stanley) authorize a locality to require the owner or developer of a solar farm, as part of the approval process, to agree to a decommissioning plan. This is a Rubin Group bill.” Believe it or not, this actually passed.
  • HB 2641 (Gooditis) makes third-party power purchase agreements for distributed renewable energy resources legal statewide.” KILLED by Republicans in House Commerce and Labor Committee.
  • HB 2692 (Sullivan) allows the owner of a multifamily residential building to install a renewable energy facility and sell the output to occupants or use for the building’s common areas.” KILLED, mostly by Republicans, in House Commerce and Labor.
  • HB 2741 (Aird) establishes a rebate program for low and moderate-income households that install solar.” Believe it or not, this actually passed.
  • HB 2792 (Tran) and SB 1779 (Ebbin) establishes a 6-year pilot program for municipal net metering for localities that are retail customers of investor-owned utilities.” Believe it or not, this actually passed.
  • HJ 656 (Delaney) would have the Virginia Resources Authority study the process of transitioning Virginia’s workforce from fossil-fuel jobs to green energy jobs.” KILLED by Republicans in House Rules Committee.
  • Energy Efficiency (some of which have RE components)
  • HB 2243 (Sullivan) creates an energy efficiency revolving fund to offer no-interest loans to local government, public schools, and public institutions of higher learning.” KILLED by Republicans in House Appropriations Committee.
  • HB 2292 (Sullivan) and SB 1662 (Wagner), dubbed the “show your work bill,” requires the SCC to provide justification if it rejects a utility energy efficiency program.” Believe it or not, this actually passed.
  • HB 2293 (Sullivan) establishes a stakeholder process to provide input on the development of utility energy efficiency programs.” Believe it or not, this actually passed.
  • HB 2294 (Sullivan) establishes mandatory energy efficiency goals for electric and gas utilities.” KILLED by Republicans in House Commerce and Labor Committee.
  • HB 2295 (Sullivan) creates an energy efficiency fund and board to administer it.” KILLED by Republicans in House Appropriations Committee.
  • HB 2332 (Keam) protects customer data collected by utilities while allowing the use of aggregated anonymous data for energy efficiency and demand-side management efforts.” Believe it or not, this actually passed.
  • “SB 1111 (Marsden) requires utilities to provide rate abatements to certain customers who invest at least $10,000 in energy efficiency and, by virtue of their lower consumption, end up being pushed into a tier with higher rates.” Stricken at request of patron in Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.
  • SB 1400 (Petersen) removes the exclusion of residential buildings from the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, which allows localities to provide low-interest loans for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements on buildings. Believe it or not, this actually passed.
  • HB 2070 (Bell, John) provides a tax deduction for energy saving products, including solar panels and Energy Star products, up to $10,000. KILLED, mostly by Republicans, in House Finance.
  • Energy transition and climate
  • HB 1635 (Rasoul, with 9 co-patrons) imposes a moratorium on fossil fuel projects, including export facilities, gas pipelines and related infrastructure, refineries and fossil fuel exploration; requires utilities to use clean energy sources for 80% of electricity sales by 2028, and 100% by 2036; and requires the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy to develop a (really) comprehensive climate action plan, which residents are given legal standing to enforce by suit. This is being referred to as by the Off Act(Update: HB 1635 passed Commerce and Labor on January 23 and heads to the floor of the House. Read this blogpost to understand what’s going on.)” Republicans played a big game with this one, before finally killing it on the House floor.
  • HB 2735 (Toscano) and SB 1666 (Lewis and Spruill) is this year’s version of the Virginia Coastal Protection Act, which would have Virginia formally join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). It dedicates money raised by auctioning carbon allowances to climate adaptation efforts, energy efficiency programs, and coalfields transition. The Governor has made this bill a priority.” KILLED by Republicans in House and Senate committees.
  • “HB 1686 (Reid, with 14 co-patrons) and SB 1648 (Boysko) bans new or expanded fossil fuel generating plants until Virginia has those 5,500 MW of renewable energy we were promised. This is referred to as the Renewables First Act.” KILLED, mostly by Republicans, in House Commerce and Labor committee.
  • HB 2611 (Poindexter) would prohibit Virginia from joining or participating in RGGI without support from two-thirds of the members of the House and Senate, making it sort of an anti-Virginia Coastal Protection Act.” This HORRIBLE bill passed, on party lines, and presumably will be VETOED by Gov. Northam.
  • “HB 2501 (Rasoul) directs the Division of Energy at DMME to include a greenhouse gas emissions inventory in the Virginia Energy Plan.” KILLED by Republicans in House Commerce and Labor committee.
  • “HB 2645 (Rasoul, with 13 co-patrons), nicknamed the REFUND Act, prohibits electric utilities from making nonessential expenditures and requires refunds if the SCC finds they have. It also bars fuel cost recovery for more pipeline capacity than appropriate to ensure a reliable supply of gas. Other reforms in the bill would undo some of the provisions of last year’s SB 966, lower the percentage of excess earnings utilities can retain, and require the SCC to determine rates of return based on cost of service rather than peer group analysis.” KILLED, mostly by Republicans, in House Commerce and Labor Committee.
  • “HB 2747 (Kilgore) and SB 1707 (Chafin) create a Southwest Virginia Energy Research and Development Authority which will, among other things, promote renewable energy on brownfield sites, including abandoned mine sites, and support energy storage, including pumped storage hydro.” Believe it or not, this actually passed.
  • “HJ 724 (Rasoul) is a resolution ‘Recognizing the need for a Green New Deal in Virginia which promotes a Just Transition to a clean energy economy through lifting working families.'” KILLED by Republicans in House Commerce and Labor Committee
  • Other utility regulation
  • “HB 1718 (Ware) requires an electric utility to demonstrate that any pipeline capacity contracts it enters are the lowest-cost option available, before being given approval to charge customers in a fuel factor case.” Passed the House, KILLED mostly by Republicans in Senate committee.
  • “HB 1840 (Danny Marshall) allows utilities to develop transmission infrastructure at megasites in anticipation of development, charging today’s customers for the expense of attracting new customers.” This crappy bill passed.
  • HB 2477 (Kilgore) would eliminate one of the few areas of retail choice allowed in Virginia by preventing large customers from using competitive retail suppliers of electricity, including for the purpose of procuring renewable energy, in any utility territory with less than 2% annual load growth. (I haven’t confirmed this, but that might be Dominion as well as APCo.) This crappy bill passed.
  • “HB 2503 (Rasoul) requires the State Corporation Commission to conduct a formal hearing before approving any changes to fuel procurement arrangements between affiliates of an electric utility or its parent company that will impact rate payers. This addresses the conflict of interest issue in Dominion Energy’s arrangement to commit its utility subsidiary to purchase capacity in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.” KILLED in GOP-controlled Commerce and Labor Committee
  • “HB 2691 (O’Quinn) establishes a pilot program for electric utilities to provide broadband services in underserved areas, and raise rates for the rest of us to pay for it, proclaiming this to be in the public interest.” This crappy bill passed.
  • “HB 2697 (Toscano) and SB 1583 (Sutterlein) supports competition by shortening the time period that a utility’s customer that switches to a competing supplier is barred from returning as a customer of its utility from 5 years to 90 days.” KILLED, mostly by Republicans, in House and Senate committees.
  • “HB 2738 (Bagby) and SB 1695 (Wagner) authorizes utilities to acquire rights of way on land that the Virginia Economic Development Partnership Authority decides could attract new customers to the site, and allows utilities to recover costs from existing customers. Because, you know, having utilities seize Virginians’ land for speculative development is already going so well for folks in the path of the pipelines. Who could complain about paying higher rates to help it happen more places?” This crappy bill passed.
  • “SB 1780 (Petersen) requires, among other things, that utilities must refund to customers the costs of anything the SCC deems is a nonessential expenditure, including spending on lobbying, political contributions, and compensation for employees in excess of $5 million. It directs the SCC to disallow recovery of fuel costs if a company pays more for pipeline capacity from an affiliated company than needed to ensure a reliable supply of natural gas. It requires rate reviews of Dominion and APCo in 2019 and makes those biennial instead of triennial, and provides for the SCC to conduct an audit going back to 2015. It tightens provisions governing utilities’ keeping of overearnings and provides for the allowed rate of return to be based on the cost of providing service instead of letting our utilities make what all the other monopolists make (“peer group analysis”).” KILLED in GOP-controlled Senate Commerce & Labor Committee

In sum, this session was godawful in almost every way, thanks to the fact that Republicans were in charge. That situation needs to change, ASAP, with our next chance to do so in November.