It was the most eventful—and scandal-plagued— session of the General Assembly in recent memory. Over in the executive branch, Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring’s past blackface antics were revealed and drew calls for Northam to resign. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax faced accusations of sexual assault, which he denied and called a “political lynching.” Both the Northam and Fairfax scandals were initially publicized by a right-wing website owned by Reilly O’Neal, a North Carolina political operative whose clients have included Roy Moore and Corey Stewart.
Local Delegate Rob Bell plans to hold a hearing on the Fairfax allegations in the Courts of Justice Committee, which he chairs, although it’s unclear if Vivian Tyson, who says Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex in 2004, will attend, amid her concerns of being “embroiled in a highly charged political environment,” according to her lawyers.
And Delegate David Toscano, 68, who served as House minority leader for seven years, announced on the last day of the session he will not seek reelection to an eighth term representing the 57th District.
Amid the scandals, legislators, all of whose seats are up for grabs in November, also passed some new laws.
Laying down the laws
- Gerrymandering: Long an issue for legislators like state Senator Creigh Deeds, a redistricting bill finally got the nod from both houses. The constitutional amendment, which would establish an independent commission to draw state and congressional lines, still has to pass the General Assembly next year and then go to voters before it’s official.
- Felony DUI: Drunk driving that results in serious injury, as was the case with an 8-year-old Palmyra girl who was almost killed in a 2017 crash, will now be a felony with passage of a Rob Bell bill.
- Jamycheal Mitchell’s law: Another Bell bill requires the Board of Corrections to establish standards for mental health care after Mitchell, 24, stole $5 worth of snacks and languished in a Hampton Roads jail for months before dying of heart failure and severe weight loss.
- Tommie’s law: Penalty for animal torture is upped from misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony. The bill passed both houses unanimously after Tommie, the Richmond dog tied to a pole, doused with accelerant and set on fire, died.
- No-excuses voting: Citizens can cast absentee ballots in person one week before an election, starting in 2020.
- Wage discrimination: A Jim Crow-era law that allowed employers to pay less for jobs once frequently held by African Americans—such as newsboys, shoe-shine boys, and doormen—passed both houses, with Delegate Matt Fariss one of the 14 “no” votes.
- Keep talking: The General Assembly was poised to ban driving while using a hand-held cellphone, but at the last minute voted to allow talking, but no texting or web surfing.
- No spoofing: Displaying Virginia area codes if not in the commonwealth is prohibited, but whether the toothless Class 3 misdemeanor will deter robo-callers remains to be seen.
- Public notice: Before state universities hike tuition, they must hold public hearings—if Northam signs the bill into law.
Quote of the week
“This was their chance to actually take a vote on ratifying the ERA, and they blew it.”—Delegate David Toscano on House Republican leadership redirecting a vote on the Equal Rights Amendment back to committee
A revised tourism campaign, which features a “more to C” theme, wins points with the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau after an earlier campaign touting “C’villeization” bombed.
Several people have contacted us to ask if Fashion Square Mall is for sale—and one said UVA had purchased it. Not true, says UVA spokesman Anthony de Bruyn, who adds the university has no interest in doing so. And Washington Prime Group, the parent company of Fashion Square, “has no plans to close or sell the mall at this time,” says spokeswoman Kimberly Green.
Can’t get a date
Charlottesville for Reasonable Health Insurance, which called out Sentara-owned Optima’s 2018 tripling of health insurance premiums here, says it wasn’t invited to Congressman Denver Riggleman’s February 19 meeting with Sentara Martha Jefferson to find ways to make health care affordable, nor, says the group, can it get on Riggleman’s calendar.
Back where he came from
Former Trump staffer Marc Short, who drew controversy—and two resignations—when he joined UVA’s Miller Center of Public Affairs as a senior fellow in August, is stepping down and headed back to the White House, where he’ll serve as chief of staff to Mike Pence. Tweeted UVA professor of religious studies Jalane Schmidt, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”
ERA activist Michelle Renay Sutherland was arrested February 18 for enacting the Virginia state seal, which features Virtus with an exposed left breast. A judge initially ordered her held without bond for the misdemeanor charge, but she was finally released three days later.