The 2018 General Assembly Session adjourned on Saturday, March 10, without voting on a final budget bill. This is unusual but not unprecedented; in my first year, 2006, we deadlocked on a budget until June 28, and in 2014 we did not have a budget until June 23. I am confident we will pass a budget, but it appears that it will take some time for the House and the Senate to come to an agreement. I fully expect that if we do not have a budget early enough to fund government operations on July 1, Gov. Northam will likely propose a new budget and require us to vote on it. [Read more…]
On Monday, February 26, 2018, the House passed SB 966, one of the most significant bills we considered this year, by a 65-30 margin. I voted against the bill. The bill was proposed largely in response to the so-called “Rate Freeze Bill” enacted several years ago.
As I have written previously, utilities had been “overearning” for the last several years and the bill would provide not only for refunds, but a new way by which the utilities could invest in modernizing the grid.
When the bill was first introduced, it had serious flaws, including a provision allowing the utilities to, in some cases, collect twice for the same investment. This was the so-called “double dip,” and I successfully offered an amendment on the House floor that removed it. The same amendment was placed on the Senate bill. [Read more…]
“Crossover” is the term used to describe the date that bills in the House need to be passed and moved to the Senate for consideration, and vice versa. Any bills that were not sent to the other body by yesterday (February 13) are dead for this Session. On Monday and Tuesday, we considered a number of controversial bills, not the least of which were measures involving possible re-regulation of utility rates and new requirements for Medicaid recipients.
UTILITY RATES – Defeating The Double Dip
Citizens have been reading for months about problems with the so-called “rate freeze” bill that was passed in 2015, and the General Assembly is now trying to fix it. A straight repeal of the 2015 measure failed in both houses, leaving only HB 1558 as a possible alternative. But that bill was fundamentally flawed when first introduced; it permitted utilities to keep much of their “overearnings” and left them largely free of State Corporation Commission (SCC) oversight. While the efforts of environmental and consumer groups made the bill that was considered on the House floor on Mondayand Tuesday noticeably better, it remained seriously deficient in several categories, including provisions that would have allowed the utility companies to enhance their profits with the so-called “double count” or “double dip.” [Read more…]
One of the most significant bills of this session is HB1558, which would repeal the Utility Rate Freeze Bill of 2015. There has been much confusion and controversy about what the bill does, and does not, actually do. Many of you are aware that in 2015, in response to concerns about possible rate increases in the aftermath of passage of the federal Clean Power Plan, a bill was passed to prevent increases by freezing electricity rates for several years. That bill also removed the State Corporation Commission (SCC) from its role in reviewing rates until 2022.
Over the last several years, two big changes have happened. First, the Trump administration has unraveled the Clean Power Plan. Second, our major utilities have accumulated substantial “overearnings.” Most estimates place these overearnings at several hundred million dollars. There is no reason that these overearnings should not be returned to consumers.
In response to this, several bills were proposed that would undo the rate freeze and reinstate SCC oversight for Dominion and the other utilities. Straight repeal has been defeated, and only HB1558 has a chance of passage this Session. The question, then, is whether this bill will return any overearnings to consumers, and the extent to which the bill will lead to new investments in renewable energy availability and use, grid modernization, and weatherization improvements to save energy. [Read more…]
The session is now in its fourth week, and the pace has not let up as the deadline for crossover approaches. If you want to watch our work, you can find links to the live and archived versions of the floor sessions here, and committee sessions here.
GUNS AND WAR MEMORIALS
Last Friday was Groundhog Day and we have again witnessed the defeat of most of the gun safety bills. These are often referred by the Speaker to a small subcommittee of largely rural legislators, where they are dispatched quickly in party-line votes. I had two bills (HB 1009 and HB 1019) that both met this fate. The first was a bill to add the City of Charlottesville to a list of jurisdictions where semi-automatic weapons are not permitted in public spaces. The second was a bill to allow localities throughout the Commonwealth to prohibit the carrying of weapons and firearms into a permitted demonstration area. Both of these bills were filed in response to the events of August 11th and 12th. Each was defeated on 4 – 2 votes in a small subcommittee of the Militia, Police, and Public Safety Committee of the House. Similar bills have also died in the Senate, along with other gun safety measures.
My bill (HB 1225) to clarify the law related to war memorials met a similar fate in a different committee. [Read more…]