2014 James and Nellie Butler Albemarle County High School Scholarships

Butlers

This Scholarship program was established in 1998 by the Albemarle County Democratic Party to honor James and Nellie Butler, life-long members of the Democratic Party. The scholarship honors their commitment to Albemarle County and their support for public education. All graduating Albemarle County High School students who plan to attend college, university or an accredited technical/ vocational program are eligible to apply.

Since the creation of the scholarship by the Albemarle County Democratic Party, over $20,000 in scholarship money has been awarded to students to help defray part of their college costs. The Butler Scholarship Committee, after a review of the applications which include an essay, will select the recipients of the 2014 scholarships. Financial need is a consideration.

One $500 scholarship toward post-secondary education tuition is awarded to a senior at each of the four Albemarle High Schools: Albemarle Senior high, Western Albemarle Senior High, Monticello Senior High and Murray Senior High.

Jim Butler served Albemarle County for over 35 years as an agricultural extension agent. He was the first African-American to be named Unit Chairman for an agricultural extension office in Virginia. Jim was also the first African-American elected to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, winning the seat from the Rivanna Magisterial District in 1981.

Nellie Butler was a Girl Scout leader and a 4-H advisor in Albemarle County. She taught at Piedmont Technical Education Center in Culpeper for over 25 years.

Jim Butler was recognized for his many contributions to Albemarle County in 2000, when the Baker-Butler Elementary School was named for him and John Baker, the first African-American Chair of the Albemarle County School Board.

Find additional Information and download the 2014 application. Applications are due by May 10th.

Senator Creigh Deeds sends his latest update from this year’s General Assembly Session

Dear Friend,

The midpoint of the 2015 General Assembly Session has passed. We are nearing crossover, the point when the Senate and House of Delegates must complete work on bills generated by its members. While the budget remains the focus, a number of controversial issues have come before the Senate thus far.

With respect to mental health, there are some issues that have to be worked out. A house bill sets up a study for whether emergency room physicians should have the ability, now performed solely by CSB evaluators, to determine whether one should be subject to a temporary detention order. The participation of ER doctors is already being studied by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) and by the joint subcommittee I chair. Nevertheless, it is somewhat in conflict with legislation I sponsored as a result of the DBHDS study on the qualifications and training of emergency evaluators.  My sense at this point is that we will try to work out the differences, but it may be wise to take the cost of improving the program into consideration and try to have the Governor incorporate the changes into his budget and legislative priorities next year.

Senator Mark Obenshain sponsored a resolution to establish charter schools in the Constitution of Virginia and grant decision-making authority to the State Board of Education. I voted against the measure, as I have in the past. Charter schools have a place in our educational system, but unless we develop a different funding source I am not willing to strip local school boards of the authority to determine whether the creation of a charter school is best for their community. Public charter schools would no doubt be funded through the current educational funding stream, and the money would come out of the public schools in the locality where they are located. Therefore, I am not willing to substitute the state’s judgment for that of the local school board.

There has been a lot of promise and a lot of discussion in charter schools. We want children to have the best outcome possible and the best hope for positive outcomes in the future. However, our obligation as a Commonwealth is to make certain every child has an opportunity to succeed. The best way to do that is to make certain our public schools are as strong as possible. Looking around the country at the charter school movement, the results are mixed in states where charter schools are more prevalent. I am not encouraged that charter schools are the answer to addressing the needs in our public school system.

Senator Tom Garrett introduced Senate Bill 1132 to allow guns on school property by concealed carry permit holders after school hours. I voted against the bill because I think it sends the wrong signal. We banned firearms from public school property years ago, and I do not see any reason to change that policy. Over the years I have been an advocate for the rights of law-abiding citizens to own and possess firearms. However, there are limits to everything. Schools need to be a place of safety for young people. In addition, the legislation would have required private schools to allow firearms on their premises. Many of the private schools are run by churches, and I do not think the state should override churches in this regard.

A number of bills of interest relating to energy and power companies are still pending before the legislature. The first, Senate Bill 1338, sponsored by Senator Emmett Hanger would repeal a 2004 law that gave natural gas companies the right to enter onto private property, prior to the exercise of eminent domain, to conduct a survey to determine if the property is suitable for a pipeline. Frankly, the utilities can already do this with permission. I voted against the law in 2004 and am co-sponsoring the bill because I do not think the state absent exigent circumstances has the right to give private companies or individuals the right to come onto the property of someone else without permission. It has effectively legalized trespass and is totally unconstitutional, in my view.

Senate Bill 1349, which is sponsored by Senator Frank Wagner, would remove two of the major energy suppliers in the Commonwealth, Dominion and American Electric Power, from much of the regulation that are currently subject to in exchange for a temporary rate freeze. There is no freeze proposed or promised for the entire period of the deregulation. I am interested in the debate on this bill, but I am inclined to vote no. Public utilities that essentially have a monopoly over services should be subject to regulation.

I pulled three bills this past week. The first was modeled after a Minnesota law that is designed to protect our declining number of pollinators. Bees are the bedrock of agriculture, and thus the economy. Recent declines in the number of pollinators are disturbing. The bill, which was designed ultimately to reduce bees’ exposure to toxins through more stringent labeling requirements, was pulled to give me more time to review the effectiveness of the Minnesota law.

The other two bills I pulled were the bills relating to subaqueous bottomlands. In recent years, Senators Petersen and Marsden, both from the rapidly growing area of Northern Virginia introduced legislation that would have effectively required bottomland owners to open up their land to fishermen and canoeists.  I led the charge against those bills because I thought they were unconstitutional takings. However, in 2013 I requested the Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources to direct the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to convene a working group of interested parties to see if there were any areas of consensus. The results of the study, issued in the fall of 2013, prompted the two bills I introduced this year.

The first set up a voluntary process for landowners to determine whether there is a crown grant and thus private ownership of the bottomland. There ought to be a process short of litigation for people to figure these things out. The second would have allowed those landowners to place their bottomlands in easement and receive a tax credit if they chose to open their land up for sportsmen. Both bills were totally voluntary and at the complete discretion of the landowner. An early drafting error fed a campaign of disinformation, and at the end of the day, I heard from many people about how the bills were forcing landowners to do something they didn’t wish to do. I also heard from some environmentalists who thought these efforts did not go far enough. At the end of the day, I decided life is just too short to try and legislate in an area where making anyone happy seems impossible.

Some other bills of note include the following:

  • Senators Bill Carrico and Janet Howell have sponsored legislation to address pay issues for our dedicated members of law enforcement with the State Police and Sheriff Deputies. Pay raises and salary adjustments are a frequent request in these high risk jobs. The legislation this year is unique in that they offer a revenue source to fund those increases. Those bills remain in the Senate Finance Committee, and my sense is that the bills will languish there. I think the Committee is working to find a way to provide a two to three percent pay increase for all state employees.
  • A constitutional amendment sponsored by Senator Rosalyn Dance would allow the General Assembly to establish a process for the restoration of civil rights to people who have been convicted of nonviolent felonies. Since I believe everybody deserves a second chance and there ought to be a pathway for people to restore civil rights, I voted yes. Current law gives the Governor alone the right to initiate this process. Frankly, the last four Governors (Warner, Kaine, McDonnell, and McAuliffe) have done a good job in restoring rights for those who have turned their lives around, but this is a process that should not be dependent on the Governor.
  • Two highly contentious resolutions, SJ252 and SJ269, have generated significant debates, rallies, emails, and phone calls. Both resolutions call for a constitutional convention under Article V of the United States Constitution. One attempts to limit the scope of the convention to a Balanced Budget Amendment while the second sought a more general approach of reigning in the federal government. Given the uncertainty of whether the scope of the convention can be limited and how the delegates are selected, I intended to vote no. Both bills have effectively been removed from consideration.

The General Assembly also recognized the passing of two great community leaders, the Honorable James Brady Murray and Mr. Horton Beirne. Jim Murray was a highly respected businessman, conservationist, and former member of the House of Delegates. Horton Beirne was an active member in a number of community organizations and his church, and added to the significant family legacy in newspaper publishing with his work as the publisher of the Virginian Review. Horton’s love of the Highlands and his work for a better future were unsurpassed. Both are sorely missed by their loving family and friends.

Yesterday, I also had the pleasure of commending the Nelson County Future Farmers of America Farm Business Management team and the Nelson County Middle School Future Farmers of America Agronomy team for each placing second in their respective career development competitions at the 87th National Future Farmers of America Convention and Expo. Several of the students and their parents joined Coach Ed McCann, and the superintendent, Dr. Jeff Comer, on a trip to Richmond to be recognized for their accomplishments.

And on that happier note, I apologize for not issuing a column on January 30. There was a birth in my family that required me to travel out-of-state last week.

It continues to be my high honor to serve you in the Senate of Virginia. Please let me know if you if I can be of service to you in any way. You can reach my office during the legislative session at PO Box 396, Richmond, VA 23218,district25@senate.virginia.gov, or (804) 698-7525.

Best,

Creigh

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Senator Creigh Deeds sends his second update from this year’s General Assembly Session

Dear Friend,

The 46 day session is moving rapidly. Subcommittees and committees are meeting around the clock, which leaves little time for reflection. This week I will address a couple of the issues I am working on.

First, Senate Bill 1252 requires colleges and university employees to notify law enforcement officers within 24 hours of a report of a sexual assault or rape. Simply put, I do not believe our colleges and universities should be in the business of investigating criminal activity. The current process is flawed, and I am hopeful the deliberations this winter will yield some positive changes in how these serious crimes are handled on campuses throughout the Commonwealth.

An area of ongoing controversy is subaqueous lands, or river bottoms. Under Virginia law, land west of the fall line of the James River, river bottoms that were granted out by the crown prior to 1802, are the private property of the landowner. If they were not granted out, those lands are the property of the Commonwealth. This is an issue that has caused mountains of litigation and controversy over the years and resulted in the introduction of any number of bills that ultimately would have taken people’s property away from them. In 2013, I asked the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to convene a work group to examine the issue and develop some alternative means of dispute resolution that protects private property rights but also encourage landowners to open up these bottomlands to canoeists and fisherman.

Those discussions generated two ideas that I brought forward via legislation this year. The first bill, Senate Bill 1271, sets up a means for people to determine, short of going to court, and ultimately to arbitrate whether a crown grant exists. This is a totally voluntary process. If the landowner doesn’t want to go through this process, a landowner does not have to and does not affect ownership at all. The second bill would set up a process whereby a landowner could grant an easement across subaqueous land to the benefit of the Commonwealth, and incur a tax benefit if the public is granted use. Again, there is nothing mandatory about this bill and is solely designed to offer an incentive for those who may open up their property for the sportsmen. Both bills seek to provide additional tools to those involved in this contentious issue.

I continue on the quest of creating the best system of public mental health care in Virginia. The bulk of that work comes through the Joint Subcommittee to Study Mental Health Services in the 21st Century. The Subcommittee will not make recommendations until 2015 and 2017. In the meantime I’ve introduced a number of bills on mental health.

Last year, I sponsored Senate Bill 261. Delegate Rob Bell introduced a companion bill in the House of Delegates. Both bills passed, directing the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) to evaluate the way emergency evaluators are trained and assigned. Today I filed three bills and a $780,000 budget amendment to put into action the recommendations generated from this report and follow through with some of the important work we began last year. Evaluators in these circumstances are making critical decisions that may deprive an individual of his or her civil liberties. It is critical that they are highly qualified and trained.

In addition, I introduced Senate Bill 1270 after long discussions with UVA Law Professor Richard Bonnie. This bill is designed to improve the process for the appointment of an emergency power of attorney in the event of a mental health crisis by providing an alternative to current law. This bill proposes that DBHDS implement a pilot project utilizing this alternative method in the coming year.

I’ve also introduced SB 1263. This bill comes at the request of the Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health and is designed to improve the transportation of an individual for whom a temporary detention order has been issued. SB 1265 adds definitions to the real-time bed registry that was created last year. We want to ensure that the registry is updated as quickly as possible and accurately reflect the availability of psychiatric beds.

The idea of creating a state park in Highland County continues to be a priority. I have proposed a budget amendment with this in mind. This is not the year to find great success on budget amendments, and I am working several routes to try and find the funding to achieve this goal, because I think it will transform the economy of Highland County by creating a destination that will generate tourism and other associated business opportunities. Even though I know the money is not there for the state to fund the park’s creation this year, I have introduced the amendment because I don’t want people to lose sight of the idea.

This year I asked Senator Vogel of Fauquier County to introduce the redistricting amendment that I have carried for many years. She is chair of the committee, and it makes sense to put another face on the bill. I am pleased to report that bill passed out of committee earlier this week with only one no vote and should be voted on early next week on the Senate floor.

I’ve introduced Senate Joint Resolution 280 asking the Joint Legislative Audit and review Commission to consider a consolidation of all state law enforcement agencies under the Department of State Police. This is also an idea I’ve carried forward in the past.

Senate Bill 1261 is also an oldie but goodie and is designed to improve the judicial election process.

There are certainly other bills that I have introduced and more than I am working on this session. It continues to be my great honor to serve you in the General Assembly.  Do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance. You can reach me at PO Box 396, Richmond, VA 23218, district25@senate.virginia.gov, or (804) 698-7525.

Best,

Creigh

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Senator Creigh Deeds sends  his first update from this year’s General Assembly Session

Dear Friend,

The 2015 Session of the General Assembly is underway. This is a short session, scheduled to adjourn on February 28, 2015, so the work will be fast and furious. We will deal with some hefty matters this session, but as usual, budgetary issues will control much attention. Virginia’s economy is changing in fundamental ways, which affects Virginia’s revenue stream. If we fail at this time to meet the changing economy, diversify and do the best we can to insure that Virginians for generations will have the opportunity to succeed, our legacy, regardless of the issues we address this session, will fall short.

 

The Governor is rightfully focused on the economy and job creation, as reflected in his State of the Commonwealth address. While Virginia faces many challenges, there are certainly successes that have occurred in his first year in office. In the past year, he has closed over 200 economic opportunities bringing thousands of jobs to Virginia and $5.58 billion in capital investments to the Commonwealth. That is more than twice as much as any past administration during the Governor’s first year in office.  That is certainly good news.

However, the reality is that in the face of sequestration at the federal level, the loss of defense contracts in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, we have no choice but to remain dedicated to bringing new investment to the Commonwealth. An important tool the Governor has used to bring jobs to Virginia is the Governor’s Opportunity Fund. I am proud to have written that Fund into the Code of Virginia in 1996.  We have to strengthen the Fund and make certain it is available for opportunities throughout Virginia. The Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund is another key tool that supports a critical part of Virginia’s economy. The Governor announced in his speech that agricultural exports are at an all-time high.

Despite the fiscal climate, the Governor made a point of not cutting K-12 spending or making further cuts in higher education this year. I have always likened cuts to education to eating your seed corn. The cuts simply do not make sense if one wants to have a promising future. We must continue to invest in education so that the next generation of Virginians has the tools they need to succeed in the workforce or at the next level of education. Likewise, we need to make sure that the Standards of Learning are realistic and a tool to help our children and schools succeed. We began a reform movement last year and will take that another step this year.

Although we are in a new year, the issue of Medicaid expansion continues to play a role in our economy. By refusing to expand Medicaid or adopt the alternative approach offered last year, Marketplace Virginia, we gave up about $2.1 billion in federal funding for 2014.  Under the Affordable Care Act, 100 percent of the costs of Medicaid expansion will be borne by the federal government in 2015 and 2016 should we expand.  Up to 400,000 Virginians who currently are without insurance and ineligible for existing Medicaid – primarily the working poor – could benefit. Unlike a lot of federal programs, Medicaid expansion is already paid for through new taxes or fees embedded in the ACA, including a tax increase on those who earn more than $200,000 annually.

Virginia has offered a number of reforms, which have ensured accountability and individual responsibility, lessening the likelihood of fraud and requiring co-payments. We have even written into the law that if the federal share of Medicaid expansion drops below 90 percent after 2016, Virginia will drop out.  Nevertheless, the Virginia General Assembly continues to refuse to expand Medicaid.  Expanding Medicaid this year would reduce our budget deficit by over $100 million, provide much needed insurance to hundreds of thousands of people, and improve the long-term health of our workforce. As I have said before, it is just the right thing to do in my view.

In spite of the intransigency of the House of Delegates with respect to Medicaid expansion, the Governor has administratively found a way to provide a level of healthcare to about 20,000 people who struggle with severe mental illness. While this program is important, it’s a drop in the bucket. There are estimates that as many as 77,000 Virginians who struggle with serious mental illness would be eligible if the legislature expanded Medicaid. The inability to fully access services or treatment leaves this population vulnerable and puts them and the community at risk. It is simply irresponsible for us not to find a way to provide more coverage to people with significant health care needs.

Session will be busy for me. I will continue my work on mental health issues this year with a bill that originates from the University of Virginia Law School and deals with advanced directives for people who have a mental illness and with a couple of bills from the Governor’s Mental Health Task Force. My legislative package also includes initiatives to follow up on SB 261, which passed last year. The primary work on mental health reform will generate from the Joint Subcommittee to Study Mental Health Services in the 21st Century, created last year by Senate Joint Resolution 47. The Subcommittee is scheduled to report to the General Assembly in December 2015 and 2017. The process of reform will be deliberate because we want to get it right. And it is my hope that in spite of the measured nature of this work, we do not lose our sense of urgency, because people’s lives are literally at stake.

I am carrying a number of bills this session and will report on those in the coming weeks. It continues to be my high honor to serve you in the General Assembly.  If we can of service or assistance during the legislative session, or if you would like to visit Richmond to see the legislature in action, please feel free to contact us at: PO Box 396, Richmond, VA 23218, district25@senate.virginia.gov, or (804) 698-7525.

Best,

Creigh

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Meet the Press: Media and Journalism in Charlottesville and the Commonwealth

Saturday, January 17th from 9:30 to 11:30AM
Cville Coffee (1301 Harris Street)

PROGRAM:  In this month’s City-County Democratic Breakfast Meeting, we will discuss the state and future of media and journalism in Charlottesville and in the Commonwealth. Guest panelists will share their thoughts about the state of the industry, the future of media and journalism, and the conduct and coverage of recent high profile stories. This will be an off the record discussion and will include questions from the audience.

WHO: Guest speakers include: Lisa Provence, Senior Reporter from C-ville Weekly; Chris Callahan, Senior Reporter, WINA News Radio; and Brian Wheeler, Executive Director, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Questions? Comments? Ideas for future meetings? Contact Emily Blout, ACDP City-County Breakfast Coordinator at emilyblout@gmail.com

Happy 2015 Albemarle Democrats!

It is going to be an exciting year with 17 different races that will impact Albemarle County.  While many consider this an “off off year” election, it is the cycle where we elect the local officials who can have the most direct impact from government on our daily lives.  Unfortunately, without federal or national races on the ballot, turnout is expected to be the lowest of each four year cycle and this makes your contribution to our efforts and your VOTE  even more important in 2015.

The voters in Albemarle County will determine control of the Board of Supervisors, but it is entirely possible that we could also be the votes that determine control of the closely divide State Senate!  In addition we will have School Board, House of Delegates, Constitutional Officers, and even the Soil and Water Conservation seats on the ballot.  We are hopeful that many of our hard working and qualified incumbents will continue to serve and are still looking for a few more volunteers who are interested in public service for those seats that are open.  (Rivanna BOS is now an open seat!)  Please feel free to email me directly at richard@albemarledems.org if you have an interest running or helping out one of these campaigns.
Albemarle County is a good place to run as a Democrat and, despite a difficult political environment, both of our candidates carried Albemarle last year.  This was in large part due to the groundwork laid by our local volunteers, but with so many different races this year it will be important that we build up our troops and start early.  Hiring staff early proved critical to our success in 2013 and we hope to do the same this year.
YOU can help determine the direction we take by:
  1. Signing up as a volunteer and getting involved in our campaigns;
  2. Signing up as a dues paying member of our local committee and attending our events ($25/year); and
  3. Making a special contribution to our new 2015 Fund (all funds will be used to hire staff or contributed to local campaigns).  You can make your contribution and pay or renew your dues by clicking here or going to www.albemarledems.org/dues.
The future of Albemarle County is at stake and success at the polls will be determined by YOUR efforts.  I look forward to working with you to make sure our community remains a great place to live, work and play!  Thank you for all you do.
Richard Brewer
Albemarle County Democratic Party Chair
 
unnamed (1)From David Toscano:
Our 9th Annual Send David Back event was quite the success! We had a much higher turnout than expected for such a chilly winter evening! I appreciate so much your support – here are a few photo highlights presented during the evening and you can read my speech from the evening here.

 

To learn more about the upcoming session please read my first legislative update here. If you are interested in receiving updates throughout the session, please visit davidtoscano.com to enroll in email updates.

 

Virginia law prohibits legislators from receiving campaign contributions during the legislative session. If you were not able to make the event but would like to contribute, please make a donation to my campaign here before noon on January 14, 2015 before Session convenes. And, again, thank you so much for your continued support.

 

It is an honor to serve you and your support is even more important now than ever as we face a tough year for the budget. But I could not do my job without your input. You can watch the legislative session live every day by following the link available on the Virginia General Assembly website here. Please email me at deldtoscano@house.virginia.gov with your thoughts and comments on matters that are before the General Assembly.

 

Sincerely,


David Toscano

Traci Dippert is running for the State Senate for the 17th District which includes parts of Albemarle.

Traci Dippert

unnamedCelebration to Kick Off the 2015 Session

with 

Senator Creigh Deeds 

and Special Guest

Governor Terry McAuliffe

Saturday, January 10, 2015
12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. 

Old Metropolitan Hall
101 E Main Street, Downtown Mall
Charlottesville VA  

Individual tickets … $50
Sponsor … $250
Host … $500
Patron … $1,500 + 

Please RSVP to rsvp@senatordeeds.com 

You may contribute online or by sending a check payable to Deeds for State Senate to PO Box 5462; Charlottesville, VA  22905. 

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You are Invited to Join
Ben Brewster – Pam Cipriano & Ron Turner – Thomas Jones & Diana Foster
Wistar Morris & Karen Moran – Nancy Spangler & Ned Martin
Wendy & Jack Brown – John & Betsy Casteen – Eduard & Francesca De Lange – Llezelle Dugger – Debbie Easter
Sheri Edgecomb & Nick Laiacona – Francis Fife & Nancy O’Brien – Barry & Dorrie Fontaine – Nancy & Jim Galloway
Donna Goings – Chris & Cathy Kramer – Irving Kron – Ed & Carolyn Lowry – Dick & Mimi Riley
Peter Sevcik & Mary Martin – J. Lloyd Snook III – Blair Williamson – William Wulf & Anita Jones
Alison Booth & David Izakowitz – David Brown & Jean Hiatt – Jennifer Brown – Sam Caughron – Mary Buford-Hitz & Fred Hitz
Martin & Deborah Burks – Anne Carley & John Erdwurm – Carrie Douglass & Fernando Opere – Kay Ferguson – Pamela Gale
Barbara Gehrung & Cass Kawecki – Dick & Pam Gibson – James Hingeley – Mary Huey – Joan Jay – Gail & Ed Kitch
Sherry Kraft & Bill Lucy – Amy & Aaron Laufer – Byrd & Mary Leavell – Gail McIntosh & Michael Osteen – Alice Meador
Hosea Mitchell – Harriet & Dan Mohler – Dan O’Neill & Debra Nystrom – Susan & L.F. Payne – Elayne Phillips – Rebecca Quinn
Lee Richards – Michael Signer & Emily Blout – Bobbie Spellman & Fred Schauer – Bryan & Jennifer Slaughter – Dede Smith & Tim Wilson
Bitsy & David Waters – Michael Weber – Elizabeth Woodard
for the
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Senator Creigh Deeds sends  his latest newsletter ahead of Tuesday’s Election for Senate and House of Representatives. Don’t forget to vote for Mark Warner and Lawrence Gaughan!

Dear Friend,

The 10th of November saw a reconvening of the Virginia General Assembly during what seems to be a never ending session.  Not since 2001 has the General Assembly been in session this long. While these extended sessions do not often occur, I fear the Jeffersonian ideal of a part-time citizen legislature is in jeopardy.

A part-time citizen legislature requires that people gather for short periods of time every year to consider changes to the law.  Those people have to earn their principal living outside of government service and have to live among the people they represent.  The idea is that citizen legislators remain closer to the people, and thus their work is more likely to reflect the needs of the community they represent.

Legislators are drawn to Richmond for a few months every winter, away from their families and jobs, to engage in lawmaking.  It is always a challenge to find the right balance between all of one’s responsibilities.  The system works because the Constitution of Virginia defines the legislative session as being no longer than 60 days in even-numbered years and 30 days in odd-numbered years unless there is an extension agreed to by a super majority or unless the Governor or a super majority of the legislature calls a special session.

Special sessions are called periodically to deal with very specific issues. In 1994, parole was abolished. In 1998, we adopted the plan to repeal the car tax. In 2004, we took up taxes. This year the special session was called because we failed to adopt a budget during our regular session, in large part because of disagreement over Medicaid expansion. In addition, certain judicial vacancies needed to be filled.  Historically, special sessions are not protracted.

After gaining the majority in 1999 for the first time since Reconstruction, the Republican majority cut the Democratic minority to smithereens in the redistricting process in 2001.  Litigation ensued and the Republicans kept the General Assembly in special session all year in order to avoid subpoena or deposition in the litigation.  

This year, former Senator Phil Puckett’s abrupt resignation from the Senate in June gave the Republicans absolute control of both houses of the General Assembly and hastened the death of Medicaid expansion.  It also helped resolve the judicial vacancy issue because appointments to the bench are a prerogative of the majority party.  Since the Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate, appointments would not be bogged down by partisan disputes and should have made for a quick judicial selection process. But it has not been that easy.

A number of judicial vacancies were filled this past summer and a few more this past week.  However, the majority party has not found consensus on the appellate court vacancies.  There will be a vacancy on the Virginia Supreme Court at the end of the year, and there will be at least two vacancies on the Court of Appeals.

The General Assembly could just call it quits, end the Special Session and reach agreement when we convene in 2015.  Legislators would have some normalcy for the remainder of the year and not have to worry about being called to Richmond again before January 14th.  However that would also give the Governor certain prerogatives with respect to filling judicial vacancies.  Continuing the Special Session not only serves to allow the majority party to resolve its disagreements about filling the vacancies, it serves as a check on gubernatorial power.  In that respect, keeping the legislature in a Special Session this year – all year – is unprecedented and undermines the natural checks and balances built into our system of government by the Constitution.

Perhaps it is time for us to reconsider the notion of filling judicial vacancies on the basis of merit, a suggestion that has been made over the years by both Democrats and Republicans.  I remember such ideas coming from Andy Guest, a Republican delegate from Warren County, and Whitt Clement, a Democratic delegate from Danville.  I have sponsored legislation in the past as well because the administration of justice is one of the most important functions of government, and too important to be left to the partisan politics of the day.

It continues to be my honor to serve you in the Senate of Virginia.  If you have questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact my legislative office:  P.O. Box 5462, Charlottesville, Virginia 22905, (434) 296-5491, or via email atdistrict25@senate.virginia.gov.  The General Assembly will convene for the 2015 Session on January 14. Legislation is already being introduced and can be tracked here. If you have ideas or concerns that you think need to be addressed during this session, please let me know as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

Creigh Deeds

You can signup for Senator Deeds email updates at his web site.

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