General Assembly Leaves Vacancy on State Corporation Commission, Senate Republicans Object to Judge with Ties to Loudoun Prosecutor

RICHMOND, Virginia — The General Assembly reconvened for one day on Wednesday to elect four judges to circuit, district, and juvenile courts, but didn’t fill a vacancy on the three-member State Corporation Commission. Senate Republicans abstained on one vote to appoint current District Court Judge Matthew Parke Snow to the Twentieth Judicial Circuit Court. Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) criticized Snow’s links to Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj.

Snow and Biberaj used to practice criminal defense and civil law together in Leesburg. Biberaj has come under fire from Republicans for embracing a progressive prosecutorial philosophy.

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General Assembly Kills Gas Tax Holiday, Hyde Amendment, but Pass Partial Lab School Expansion in FY 23-24 Budget

RICHMOND, Virginia — The Virginia General Assembly approved many of Governor Glenn Youngkin’s budget amendments on Friday, but in mostly-partisan votes, killed his efforts to expand a ban on using state tax dollars on abortions, and to create a three-month gas tax holiday. Additionally, House Republicans and Democrats killed an amendment that would have made it a felony to protest outside courts and justices’ homes to influence proceedings.

Youngkin criticized the defeat of the gas tax holiday on Twitter: “Democrats failed to put politics aside for the good of Virginians — for a third time.”

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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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Virginia Senate Blocks Confirmation of Youngkin Parole Board Appointees as Retaliation for House Blocking Northam-era Appointees

RICHMOND, Virginia – The Democrat-controlled Senate voted against confirming five Youngkin nominees, including the whole parole board and one Safety and Health Codes Board member. In February, Senate Democrats blocked confirmation of former Trump EPA chief Andrew Wheeler to serve as Youngkin’s Secretary of Natural Resources. In response, on February 12 the Republican-controlled House of Delegates blocked confirmation of 11 Northam-era appointments, including the Board of Education.

Senate Privileges and Elections Committee Chair Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) said the move was necessary to send a message to the House.

“I really don’t understand why this is so shocking. […] Where was the outrage when the House crossed off the Teacher of the Year from a resolution, and the former Hanover superintendent of schools,” Ebbin said in the Senate. “We talk about deescalation. We started trying to deescalate this on Friday, February 11 with a visit to the Speaker. I spoke to him that weekend, he suggested getting together around a table, but I’ve not heard from him since on that topic or others.”

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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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Lieutenant Governor Earle-Sears Breaks First Tie of Her Term

RICHMOND, Virginia – Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears cast her first tie-breaking vote in the Senate on Thursday. Senator Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William) voted with Republicans against SB 137, a bill that would allow defendants in most felony cases to appeal a judge’s discretionary sentence if the judge does not provide a “written explanation that adequately explains the sentence imposed[.]” When the 20-20 vote result was clear, Earle-Sears asked bill patron Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke) and opponent Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) to come to the dais, where they discussed the bill. Then, Earle-Sears voted against the bill.

“What I wanted to do was to give the patron an opportunity to talk to me about the bill in a way that I may not have, you know, heard before. And then I also wanted to hear the opposing view. I always want to give people the opportunity so that they can make their case. And as I was listening to all sides, what appeared to me was that the bill unfortunately is poorly written,”she told The Virginia Star.

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State Senators Petersen, Lewis Provide Path for Republicans to Pass Sexually Explicit Educational Materials Bill out of Virginia’s Democratic Senate

Two Democratic senators voted with Republicans in committee to advance Senator Siobhan Dunnavant’s (R-Henrico) SB 656 requiring Virginia public schools to notify parents about sexually explicit instructional material, allow parental review, and provide non-explicit alternatives. The bill instructs the Department of Education to create model policies; if passed, school boards would be required to pass similar policies.

“This is the opportunity for parents to have a conversation with their child,” Dunnavant said in the Senate Committee on Education and Health on Thursday.

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Senate Committee Kills Republican Election Integrity Reforms, Obenshain-Chase Conflict Resurfaces, Surovell Criticizes Miyares for Firing 30 Attorneys

RICHMOND, Virginia — The Virginia Senate Privileges and Elections killed several Republican- sponsored elections integrity bills on Tuesday afternoon, including photo voter identification bills and a bill to repeal same-day voter registration. The committee also killed campaign finance reform bills from Senators Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) and Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax.)

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Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears Presides Over Senate for First Time on Martin Luther King Day

Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears took up the gavel to preside over the Senate for the first time on Monday, Martin Luther King Day. Sears is the first Black woman to hold statewide office in Virginia. Senators spent the Monday session with Martin Luther King Day speeches and with ceremonial introductions, including of Attorney General Jason Miyares.

Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) introduced Sears: “It is wonderful to have Winsome Earle-Sears assume the gavel as the lieutenant governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. For those of you who do not know Madam President, she is a Marine Corps veteran.

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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 General Assembly Passes Compromise ARPA Allocation Bill

Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax sp ... inance Chair Senator Janet Howell.

RICHMOND, Virginia – After hammering out a compromise between the House of Delegates and the Senate, the Virginia General Assembly voted to send its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) budget bill to Governor Ralph Northam. The bill passed the House 78-20 and passed the Senate 23-16.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) said that she and other senators fought for the Senate’s amendments in a conference committee with representatives from the House.

“As you look at the conference report you will see that on several items our position was affirmed, and on others we were able to compromise,” she reported to the Senate.

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Virginia Senate Republicans Angry After Democrats Interview Court of Appeals Candidates in Private

RICHMOND, Virginia – Republican legislators say that Democrats are leaving them out of the process of vetting candidates to fill eight Virginia Court of Appeals seats. Next week, legislators are expected to appoint judges to the newly-expanded court. But Democrats privately interviewed the candidates on Wednesday and only intend to advance eight candidates to be approved by the General Assembly, as first reported by The Virginia Mercury and The Richmond Times-Dispatch. On Thursday, Republican and Democratic senators went back-and-forth on the Senate floor about the process.

“I am confident that there were no Republicans who were invited to participate in those interviews and I just want to point out that it seems to be a little bit of a theme that has developed during the course of this session,” Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) said. “There is way too much business that’s being conducted behind closed doors, out of the view of the public.”

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Virginia Senate Passes Amended American Rescue Plan Act Allocation Bill

RICHMOND, Virginia — The Virginia Senate passed its amended version of the $4.3 billion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocation bill late Wednesday evening, after hours of debate on amendments. Although some Republican amendments, including a key law enforcement bonus proposal, were incorporated into the spending bill, many were not. Rejected amendments included a sweeping election integrity amendment and an anti-Critical Race Theory amendment. The final vote on passing the bill was 22-18. Many Republicans said that while they supported some elements of the bill, they disapproved of the process Democrats used, including a vote Wednesday evening to limit debate on each amendment to just three minutes.

Right before the vote to pass the budget, the Senate GOP caucus went into conference. When the senators returned, Minority Leader Thomas Norment, Jr. (R-James City) hinted that many of his caucus would vote against the bill. He said, “It is not so much about the substantive provisions of the budget that we have amended. Rather I believe that the vote you are about to see is going to be a reflection of the frustration and the indignation of the entire process.”

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Virginia House of Delegates Quickly Passes American Rescue Plan Act Spending Bill

RICHMOND, Virginia – The House of Delegates met, passed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) by a 71-25 vote and adjourned in 30 minutes on Wednesday. Facing 107 pages of proposed amendments, a photo-op, and a series of lengthy recesses, the Senate had not completed its debate by press time Wednesday evening although it convened at 10 a.m.

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Independent Investigators Release Report on Investigation into Virginia Parole Board Investigation

Independent investigators found probable bias in the Office of the State Inspector General’s investigation (OSIG) into the Vincent Martin parole case, according to a report released Monday. The report says that OSIG’s investigation was not thorough enough and says OSIG failed to identify likely bias in its Senior Investigator Jennifer Moschetti. It also says the OSIG investigation and findings were not influenced by Governor Ralph Northam.

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Republican Senators Say Independent Investigation Firm Is Biased

Republican senators are criticizing the choice of law firm Nixon Peabody to investigate the investigation into the Virginia Parole Board (VPB). An appointment letter published by the Office of the Attorney General states that the firm was chosen in part to avoid any firms with a strong connection to Virginia. But a week after the announcement, Senators Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) and Stephen Newman (R-Bedford) suggested that the Nixon Peabody team is politically biased.

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General Assembly Republicans Call for Special Session to Investigate Virginia Parole Board

General Assembly Republicans renewed calls for a special session to investigate the Virginia Parole Board (VPB) after media obtained recordings of a call held last summer between Northam administration officials and State Inspector General Michael Westfall.

House of Delegates Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) said in a Monday press release, “The recording of the meeting between the Office of State Inspector General and Governor  [Ralph] Northam’s team explains why the Governor’s budget amendment only called for an investigation of OSIG, and not the Parole Board. The Governor’s office doesn’t think the Parole Board did anything wrong.”

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Democrats Approve Northam’s Investigation into Parole Board Investigation

Democrats approved Governor Ralph Northam’s proposal for an investigation into a 2020 investigation of the Virginia Parole Board. In Wednesday’s veto session, legislators passed a Northam budget amendment funding a $250,000 investigation into the 2020 Vincent Martin parole investigation. Although both Republicans and Democrats have been calling for a new investigation, Republicans said the proposal was too narrow and criticized the decision to allow the Attorney General any oversight.

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Investigating an Investigation: Northam Proposes $250,000 to Look at Virginia Parole Board Report

The investigation into the Virginia Parole Board will be investigated, if legislators approve a proposal from Governor Ralph Northam. On Wednesday, Northam finalized his amendments to a budget passed by the Virginia General Assembly, including money for an investigation.

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Governor Ralph Northam Signs Major New Clean Car Standards Bill

Governor Ralph Northam announced newly-signed legislation Friday that will require approximately eight percent of model year 2025 vehicles sold in Virginia to be zero-emissions vehicles. HB 1965, introduced by Delegate Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico), adds Virginia to the list of states following California’s vehicle emissions standards, which are stricter than the federal standards Virginia currently follows.

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Gubernatorial Hopeful Pete Snyder Announces Election Integrity Plan

Pete Snyder announced his ‘Honest Vote’ election integrity plan on Thursday. The six-point plan focuses on transparency ballot verification and ballot verification measures.

“Having secure, legal, and trustworthy elections is something that we must demand in our Commonwealth. Unfortunately, for too many Virginians, whether they be Republicans, Democrats or independents, trust in our election system has been severely strained and due to many last minute Covid-related changes to our voting systems,” Snyder said in a press release.

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Virginia General Assembly Votes to Remove Statue of Former Governor Harry Byrd, Sr.

The Virginia Senate voted 36 to 3 Tuesday to remove the capitol’s statue of former Democratic Governor Harry Byrd, Sr. His legacy is marked by his expansion of Virginia’s economy and roads, and is tarnished by a battle to block desegregating schools. The House of Delegates had already voted in favor of the bill, HB 2208, introduced by Delegate Jay Jones (D-Norfolk.) Governor Ralph Northam is expected to approve the bill.

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Two Bills Seeking Increased Transparency From State Parole Board Pass Virginia Senate

The Virginia state Senate on Monday passed two bills relating to the Virginia Parole Board that aim to bring more transparency to individual votes and give warnings to victims of crimes or their families when a decision to release an offender has been made.

Senate Bill 1125, introduced by Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham), specifically requires the board to notify a victim of a crime through either written or electronic means that a decision has been made to grant parole to the inmate who committed the related offense.

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Virginia Senate Passes Bill Repealing Witness Signature Requirement for Absentee Ballots

The Virginia state Senate on Monday passed legislation that would repeal the witness signature requirement when people in the Commonwealth use absentee ballots to vote in elections.

Introduced by Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington), Senate Bill 1097 passed the body by a 21-18 straight party-line vote, with all Republican members opposing the legislation.

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Virginia Senate Strips Amanda Chase of Final Committee Assignment

The Virginia state Senate on Wednesday voted to update the body’s standing committees for 2021 and simultaneously stripped GOP gubernatorial candidate Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) of her lone committee assignment from the previous year, resulting in a lengthy debate that highlighted the disconnect between the lawmaker and her colleagues.

The standing committee’s membership was updated at the request of Republicans in order to fill the vacancies left by the late Sen. Ben Chafin, who passed away from COVID-19 complications on New Year’s Day, according to Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax).

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Virginia Democratic Senators File Resolution to Censure Amanda Chase

Virginia Senate Democrats filed a resolution on Wednesday to censure GOP gubernatorial candidate and Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) for addressing a crowd and urging action to overturn the 2020 presidential election hours before the Capitol riots in Washington D.C.

The resolution, introduced by Sen. John Bell (D-Loudoun) and co-sponsored by nine other Senate Democrats, formally accuses Chase of “fomenting insurrection against the United States.”

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Senator Mark Obenshain Still Wants More Transparency from Virginia Parole Board

When the Virginia Senate convenes next month in Richmond for its 2021 regular session, Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) will continue to push legislation that brings greater transparency and accountability to the state parole board.

With 14 days left until the session starts on January 13, Obenshain has already pre-filed two bills this month relating to the parole board.

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Virginia House Will Remain Virtual in 2021; Republicans Leaders Want to Keep Regular Session at 30 Days

Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax County) announced Monday that the Virginia House of Delegates would continue to meet virtually during the upcoming 2021 General Assembly regular session, just as they did during the special session, because of the current status of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the emailed statement, Filler-Corn’s decision was made after discussions with the Clerk of the House and officials from the Virginia Department of Health, which includes a letter from Virginia State Health Commissioner, Norman Oliver, strongly recommending the House hold sessions virtually “to the greatest extent possible.

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Vote Fraud Hits Virginia as Hundreds of Voters Receive Multiple Ballots

Almost 1,400 Virginia voters have recently received duplicate absentee ballots in the mail because of printing errors.

So far, voters in three jurisdictions – Fairfax and Henrico counties as well as the City of Richmond – have reportedly received duplicates ballots as the November 3rd election quickly approaches.

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