We have now completed the first 12 days of the 2019 General Assembly Session, and the legislative train has clearly begun to pick up speed. But not everything is on the same track. The big developments last week included election of a State Corporation Commission judge, defeat of a dozen common-sense gun bills, and passage of the ERA amendment by the Senate.
SCC and the Exercise of Power
The State Corporation Commission (SCC), a constitutional creation separate from the executive and legislative branches, is one of the most important entities of our state government. It is distinctly different than similar commissions in other states because it has a broader regulatory charge; it not only regulates railroads and utility rates, but also approves health insurance rates and oversees a wide variety of other areas important to consumers. The General Assembly selects the three members of the Commission, and the Governor has no veto power to deny their seating. Under the Virginia Constitution, at least one of the three Commissioners must also meet the qualifications to be a judge, and last year that Commissioner retired before his term had expired; but the Republicans in the House and Senate have not been able to agree on a new appointment to replace him for over a year—until last week. In a surprise and shocking move, at the speed of a “bullet train” and with little notice to the General Assembly or the public, the Republicans approved a new Commissioner within 24 hours of her announced candidacy. Judge Patricia West, most recently an associate dean and professor at Regent University Law School and previously Virginia Secretary of Public Safety for Governor George Allen and chief deputy attorney general to former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, admitted in her abbreviated hearing before the Commerce and Labor Committee that she has absolutely no experience in health or energy regulatory policy, key issues before the Commission. The public had no opportunity to comment on the choice, and very few General Assembly members had a chance to actually speak with the candidate, as is the typical protocol prior to approval. [Read more…]