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Editorial: Thorough review of parole board events needed

April 28, 2021

By THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT & DAILY PRESS EDITORIAL BOARD THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT |APR 27, 2021 AT 6:15 PM

It’s been evident for months that a thorough, transparent investigation into the actions and procedures of the Virginia Parole Board is not only warranted, but necessary to ensure public confidence in that agency.

How to conduct such an inquiry focused on public safety without it devolving into partisan, political grandstanding is less certain. But given the need for clarity over how the board made its decisions, with an eye toward clarifying procedures going forward, Virginia officials should find a workable solution.ADVERTISING

The parole board is accused of a host of errors in its decisions last year to grant parole to several individuals convicted of violent felonies. A report by the Office of the State Inspector General found the board did not follow state law in notifying victims’ families or prosecutors, and did not keep accurate minutes of its meetings, among other missteps.

That controversy, already simmering, reached a boil when the OSIG released a report about the matter that was so heavily redacted that it was all but unreadable. Instead of transparency and insight into what happened, the public received pages of blacked-out text.

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Predictably, that only raised more questions and gave voice to calls by Republican lawmakers that the Northam administration was covering for the parole board. Those calls grew louder with release of an earlier draft of the report, this time unredacted, which leveled new accusations against members of the board.

The draft report and recording of an August meeting involving State Inspector General Michael Westfall and members of the governor’s staff were leaked to the media, drawing the administration’s ire. Northam then proposed a budget amendment to conduct an investigation, but was narrow in scope to only include the OSIG’s review and not the parole board’s action.

Lawmakers approved that measure earlier this month and the office of Attorney General Mark Herring announced Saturday that Nixon Peabody LLP had been hired to conduct the inquiry. That work should be illuminating but will not deal with the more pressing public concern — the parole board’s conduct.

Prominent Republican lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Thomas K. “Tommy” Norment, Jr. of James City County, last week called on House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and Senate Rules Committee Chair Mamie Locke to convene a special session to appoint a bipartisan commission of lawmakers to investigate.

The question, of course, is whether this is a matter of political posturing or a genuine attempt to improve the policies and practices of the parole board.

So long as Virginia has a system of parole, decisions about who to release will be subject to disagreement. Some of those under consideration have committed abhorrent acts which must be weighed against their conduct in prison and the potential to make meaningful contributions to society following release.

If the question before Virginia is whether existing policies are functional and adequate, whether the board it operating as intended or whether the proper protocols are in place, then an inquiry into this subject can be a productive undertaking. It can lend confidence to the board’s decisions and the justice system in general.

Similarly, an examination of the OSIG might return useful information as well. That office was created less than a decade ago and there are still doubts about the effectiveness of consolidating the various inspector generals in the executive branch under one umbrella.

But if this is simply an exercise driven by retribution and partisanship — by the administration against the OSIG or by Republicans against the governor — then Virginia needn’t bother.

These are serious policy questions deserving of serious answers. If a bipartisan investigation can provide them, let it be launched quickly.

Shenandoah County supervisors could consider letter opposing LFCC name change

April 16, 2021

By Brad Fauber The Northern Virginia Daily | Apr 16, 2021

Shenandoah County’s Board of Supervisors could soon consider whether or not to issue a letter in opposition to the decision made by Lord Fairfax Community College leadership earlier this year to change the Frederick County school’s name.

Supervisors briefly discussed the topic during Tuesday’s meeting, with District 5 Supervisor Dennis Morris suggesting they invite LFCC President Kim Blosser to their next meeting on April 27 to further discuss the name-change decision. Morris stated on Tuesday that Blosser had offered to meet with Shenandoah County supervisors to answer any questions they may have.

A vote on whether to issue a letter in opposition to the name change could take place during the Board of Supervisors’ May 11 meeting. Tuesday’s meeting agenda included copies of two letters opposing the name change sent to the State Board for Community Colleges: one signed by Virginia state senators Mark Obenshain and Jill Vogel and delegates Todd Gilbert, Michael Webert, David LaRock, Bill Wiley and Mark Cole, and another by the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors.

LFCC, located in Middletown, announced in February that it was seeking a new name because its namesake – Thomas, the 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron – was a Colonial-era slave owner. The school’s decision, according to the Winchester Star, followed months of study and focus-group discussions and was prompted by a resolution passed last summer by the State Board for Community Colleges asking all community colleges in the state to review their names.

To begin Tuesday’s discussion on the LFCC name change, Shenandoah County supervisors heard a 17-minute speech from film director Ron Maxwell, who lives in Rappahannock County and directed the Civil War films “Gettysburg” and “Gods and Generals,” and who called on Shenandoah County supervisors to join those in Rappahannock County in formally opposing LFCC’s decision.

Maxwell stated during his speech that society is witnessing an “exhibition of the woke trying to outdo one another in the woke sweepstakes” and that “history teaches us that each and every time the righteous urge to destroy is loosed upon a society, it is always cloaked as an improvement and is in every case regretted and deplored by subsequent generations.”

Maxwell further added that an “inescapable fact of history is that we … are the inheritors of all who came before, and that “as inheritors of this legacy it is our responsibility, in our brief moment on Earth, to safeguard the entirety of our past with all its content, art and history, the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful,” and that “to live only in the present tense is to live an impoverished life.”

“It is incumbent upon us, the living, to see people as they once were, in their full humanity … just as it’s incumbent upon our descendents 240 years from now to look on us the same way,” Maxwell said. “Otherwise, we have no culture, no history, no heritage, no shared humanity. We are simply set adrift, floating on an imaginary foundation made up of little more than this thin air of our own puritanical rectitude and moral narcissism.

“By the standards of the Lord Fairfax college board,” he continued, “we will soon embark on a renaming crusade as cities, counties, towns, parks, roads, schools and institutions of higher learning named after any of the generation who founded this country are removed and replaced one-by-one.”

Also on Tuesday, Shenandoah County supervisors discussed an amendment to the board’s meeting rules of procedure that would revise language in the order of business pertaining to the public comment section so that it matches a subsequent section in the rules that prohibit “public presentations on a matter for which a public hearing has been or will be held.” The public comment section in the order of business currently reads “Public Comment (other than matters previously the subject of a public hearing).”

The proposed amendment stems from the March 23 meeting during which Board of Supervisors Chairman Steve Baker prohibited public comments on the fiscal year 2022 budget, citing the public hearing on the matter scheduled for the following week.

– Contact Brad Fauber at bfauber@nvdaily.com

Veto Session Wrap Up

April 8, 2021

Dear Friends,

As you may or may not know, a few weeks after Session ends each year, my fellow Senators and I gather for a one-day meeting called Reconvene Session. On this day, we vote yea or nay on any bills for which the Governor offered amendments and vote to overturn any bills he vetoed.

This year because Democrats in Richmond passed so many of his liberal priorities and defeated so many of the bills we sought to implement as conservatives, the Governor did not veto a single bill. 

However, he did offer amendments to a few bills, perhaps most significantly the bill to legalize recreational marijuana. 

Let me be clear, I remain opposed to the legalization of marijuana. 

And the fact that the legalization under this bill would not take place until 2024 did not change my opinion. That is why I was appalled when Governor Northam – in a fashion all too similar to the arbitrary and dictatorial way he yielded his authority during the COVID shutdown – decided to amend the bill to move legalization up to July of 2021 – yes, that is THIS July, less than 90 days from now. He bucked all the input and research that went into the 8,000-line bill, that his office actually crafted, he reversed course and determined that legalization should occur immediately. 

As if that was not bad enough, he slipped 4 lines of language into the bill that are wholly unrelated to this topic to throw a bone to the job-killing, left wing organized labor interests from whom he has received millions of campaign dollars. 

These are 4 lines provide that licensees who grow, manufacture or sell marijuana products will lose their licenses if they do not “remain neutral” in response to efforts of union organizers to unionize their businesses or if they do not pay a “prevailing wage” dictated by the U.S. Department of Labor. It is even worse than it sounds, as these businesses can be shut down if they block union organizers from trespassing on their property to solicit employees in their organizational efforts. This is a serious infringement upon the property rights of farmers and other business owners and it undermines Virginia’s status as a right-to-work state. 

Licensure of marijuana businesses was supposed to be a means of ensuring the safety of marijuana products being grown, manufactured and sold to the public — not a tool to force the unionization of the work force. 

Requiring business owners to allow union organizers to trespass on their property to solicit their employees has become a hot-button issue for right-to-work and property rights advocates. Only two weeks ago an appeal brought by the Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of a California nursery owner was argued in the United States Supreme Court. There, union organizers trespassed on the business’s property asserting it as their right under a California state law that allows private-sector unions to come onto private property for three hours a day, 120 days out of the year, to recruit workers into joining their ranks. The language slipped into Virginia’s marijuana bill may be even more intrusive and disruptive. I hope that the Supreme Court will rule for the California businesses. For more information on that case click here

This bill is bad and this amendment is bad. Period. 

The Senate voted 20-20 and Justin Fairfax, the Lieutenant Governor and Democratic candidate for Governor, made the tie-breaking vote to pass these amendments.  Remember when Democrats and certain editorial pages urged Virginians to vote against the Constitutional Amendment to place Right to Work in our Constitution arguing that nobody wants to undermine our right to work laws? This action demonstrates the falsity of those assertions. 

In other news from yesterday’s session, the Democrats predictably voted to adopt the Governor’s $250,000 budget amendment to hire outside counsel to do a very limited and partisan “investigation” in response to the Parole Board scandal. The “investigation,” of course is a sham. It authorizes an investigation of the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG), not the Parole Board.  What is needed is a real investigation; one that covers all of the widely reported incidents of Parole Board misconduct, the targeting and firing of the OSIG whistleblower, as well as the involvement, if any, of members of the offices of the Governor or the Attorney General in a cover-up.  Instead, now we will end up with a sham “investigation” that is nothing more than window-dressing designed to divert public attention from this serious and potentially dangerous breach of public trust.  For more on this you can read the Senate GOP Caucus statement below and the RTD story from last night here

As we conclude the 2021 Session, I will continue to fight for our shared conservative values and freedoms – support our small businesses, and our right-to-work laws. I support a strong and fair criminal justice system that keeps our communities safe while showing respect to victims, and those in law enforcement. It is an honor and privilege to serve the citizens of the 26th Senate District. 

I’m back in my district office in Harrisonburg and look forward to serving my constituents on state government related issues.  Please feel free to contact me at 540-437-1451 or at mark@markobenshain.com .

Best,

Mark Obenshain

Parole Board Controversy Will Get Independent Investigation

April 8, 2021

By JAHD KHALIL  APR 8, 2021

Legislators approved a budget amendment funding an independent investigation into the Office of the State Inspector General Wednesday, as Republican lawmakers said the investigation’s scope sidestepped critical issues.ListenListening…1:17Jahd Khalil reports

The growing controversy stems from the inspector general’s office investigation of the process used by the parole board to grant parole to Vincent Martin, a man convicted of killing a police officer. Leaks later revealed a report to the governor was missing violations the inspector general included in an earlier draft. After a whistleblower filed a complaint, she was fired. She then sued the office over the termination.

The budget amendment creating the investigation says the Attorney General’s office will pick the investigator. It will do that with input from the Governor’s office and leadership from the General Assembly. The investigation will cost $250,000.

The House of Delegates approved the investigation on a party line vote. Before they did, accusations flew.

“This investigation – this so-called investigation – does not investigate anything about the parole board at all. It investigates the inspector general’s office,” said Delegate Todd Gilbert, the leader of House Republicans.”

Republicans want the inquiry to focus on the parole board itself, rather than the inspector general’s investigation of the parole board.

“We need to look at it all and let the chips fall where they may,” said Senator Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg. “I think there’ve been somewhere near a dozen different investigations. But what this does is says, ‘we’re going to spend $250,000 looking at one, one single investigation by the office of the inspector general,’ and that’s of the Vincent Martin case.”

Democratic Delegate Don Scott said Republicans’ arguments stem from their opposition to parole generally.

“In their soul they’re opposed to parole. They opposed to second chances,” he said. He went on to say that they sought to politicise the issue. “They’ve told you that every time this is their election issue”

The Virginia Senate also approved the amendment after a much longer debate which included a lengthy debate over a parliamentary process in order to amend the provision to create their own investigatory committee.

Investigators will need to submit a written report by June 15th, 2021.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Democrats reject broad parole board probe in favor of limited investigation

April 8, 2021

By PATRICK WILSON Richmond Times-Dispatch | Apr 8, 2021

Democrats who control the General Assembly rejected a plan for a bipartisan special committee to investigate wrongdoing at the Virginia Parole Board, opting on Wednesday to fund a limited investigation into controversy involving one case.

The limited investigation authorizes Attorney General Mark Herring, in consultation with Gov. Ralph Northam and other Democratic leaders, to choose a law firm to investigate how and why allegations of wrongdoing at the parole board were not included in one state watchdog report last year. The cost could be up to $250,000.

Senate Republicans pushed to create a special committee with subpoena power to investigate the bigger picture of an ongoing scandal involving the parole board. That proposal died on a partisan vote of 21-19, but Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, asked detailed questions about the plan and said there may come a time when such a committee is necessary.

Republicans — led by Sens. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, and Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham — said a bipartisan investigation would be open and transparent, while the proposal from Northam for a limited investigation would be done under a contract with the attorney general’s office, and records would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, said a special committee would require too much work by lawmakers. “I didn’t sign up to be in a full-time legislature,” he said. And the governor’s proposal, he said, was exactly the investigation that had been requested.

But the investigation the General Assembly approved directs a law firm to look into how the Office of the State Inspector General investigated only one case involving the parole board.

“The scope is nowhere near correct,” said Newman, who warned there would come a day when a fuller investigation will be needed.

Republicans in the House and Senate brought up things that the investigation won’t go into, like allegations that the former parole board chairwoman released more than 100 parolees from supervision unilaterally and without any recommendation, and that she had notifications turned off for the surrogate grandmother of a murder victim when the killer was going to be paroled.

“We were told that we would have a full investigation into the parole board matter,” said House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah. “Madam Speaker, you and I both know that something is very rotten at the parole board. We know this because we got a full packet of information from a whistleblower about what is going on.”

Lawmakers debated the issue Wednesday when they convened to consider the governor’s amendments to legislation passed earlier this year.

The ongoing scandal began last year when the Office of the State Inspector General began finding misconduct by the parole board. OSIG completed reports saying the parole board and its former chairwoman, Adrianne Bennett, now a judge in Virginia Beach, violated state law and policy, including at times not notifying the family of victims that convicted killers were being paroled.

The lead OSIG investigator, Jennifer Moschetti, provided records to lawmakers earlier this year and filed a lawsuit acknowledging she had done so and asking for whistleblower protection.

Some of the records that were obtained by news media, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, related to the parole board’s release last year of Vincent Martin, who was convicted in the 1979 killing of a Richmond police officer. While the final OSIG report was six pages, a longer report of 13 pages — apparently a draft — contained more allegations of wrongdoing.

Moschetti’s lawsuit accused Herring’s office of sanitizing the report and said the governor’s staff was so intimidating in a meeting with OSIG about the case that Inspector General Michael Westfall feared for his job.

Westfall reports to the governor, who appoints the five members of the parole board.

The attorney general and governor’s office deny those allegations. Westfall fired Moschetti, who then dropped her lawsuit. But several OSIG investigations of the parole board apparently remain pending, and it’s unclear if Westfall plans to complete them.

The probe approved by lawmakers relates to how OSIG looked into the parole board’s handling of the Martin investigation.

Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, said he reached out to Northam’s general counsel, Rita Davis, and she wrote back to tell him what the investigation will cover.

An independent third party will look into whether the final inspector general report on the Martin case resulted from normal office practices or from any undue political influence, and it should determine the reasons OSIG omitted some material in its final report, Levine said.

The investigator should determine whether OSIG substantiated the allegations in the longer Martin report that were not included in the final report, he said.

A report is supposed to be completed by June 15.

The parole board and marijuana dominated Wednesday’s debates, but the assembly also approved all of Northam’s 18 proposed amendments to the two-year state budget.

Several of the amendments addressed potential uses of federal COVID-19 emergency aid — primarily for Medicaid and child care — until the General Assembly meets in special session later this year to determine how Virginia will spend billions of dollars in funding under the American Rescue Plan Act enacted on March 11.

pwilson@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6061

Twitter: @patrickmwilson

Staff writer Michael Martz contributed to this report.

Local lawmakers remember delegate and professor Pete Giesen

April 7, 2021

By Caitlin Piemme
Published: Apr. 6, 2021 at 5:42 PM EDT

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — Valley lawmakers are mourning the loss of former Virginia Delegate Pete Giesen, who died last week.

State Senator Mark Obenshain reflected on their time spent together and the legacy Giesen leaves behind here in the Shenandoah Valley.

“He was really instrumental, I would say, in the realignment of Virginia politics that took place in the 1970s and 1980s, and turned Virginia from a one-party state to a two-party state,” Obenshain said.

Obenshain also shared that Geisen was a friend to four generations of Obenshains, and they both have a family legacy of lawmakers.

Like Obenshain, Delegate Kirk Cox remained close with Giesen as he moved on to teach politics at James Madison University.

“He loved life. I never saw him without a smile on his face. He loved Virginia, he loved JMU, he loved just being part of the process,” said Cox. “He felt like that, you know this experiment, you know this grand experiment of representative democracy needed to be preserved.”

In addition to the change he brought to Virginia politics, Obenshain says he remembers him for the impact he had on his students at James Madison University.

“Pete will be remembered for building bridges, he’ll be remembered for standing up for what he believed in and for making sure that a new generation of college students understood a little bit about Virginia political history,” said Obenshain.

Cox adds Giesen was a great role model of what a public servant should be.

“That’s what people remember, that good, happy, positive man he was, in frankly an era we don’t see that enough anymore,” Cox said. “And how he got along with everyone. So that to me was his legacy.”

A memorial resolution for Giesen will be considered and passed at the next general assembly.

Copyright 2021 WHSV. All rights reserved.

Democrats reject broad parole board probe in favor of limited investigation

April 7, 2021

Patrick Wilson | Apr 7, 2021

Democrats who control the General Assembly rejected a plan for a bipartisan special committee to investigate wrongdoing at the Virginia Parole Board, opting on Wednesday to fund a limited investigation into controversy involving one case.

The limited investigation authorizes Attorney General Mark Herring, in consultation with Gov. Ralph Northam and other Democratic leaders, to choose a law firm to investigate how and why allegations of wrongdoing at the parole board were not included in one state watchdog report last year. The cost could be up to $250,000.

Senate Republicans pushed to create a special committee with subpoena power to investigate the bigger picture of an ongoing scandal involving the parole board. That proposal died on a partisan vote of 21-19, but Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, asked detailed questions about the plan and said there may come a time when such a committee is necessary.

Republicans — led by Sens. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, and Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham — said a bipartisan investigation would be open and transparent, while the proposal from Northam for a limited investigation would be done under a contract with the attorney general’s office, and records would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, said a special committee would require too much work by lawmakers. “I didn’t sign up to be in a full-time legislature,” he said. And the governor’s proposal, he said, was exactly the investigation that had been requested.

But the investigation the General Assembly approved directs a law firm to look into how the Office of the State Inspector General investigated only one case involving the parole board.

“The scope is nowhere near correct,” said Newman, who warned there would come a day when a fuller investigation will be needed.

Republicans in the House and Senate brought up things that the investigation won’t go into, like allegations that the former parole board chairwoman released more than 100 parolees from supervision unilaterally and without any recommendation, and that she had notifications turned off for the surrogate grandmother of a murder victim when the killer was going to be paroled.

“We were told that we would have a full investigation into the parole board matter,” said House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah. “Madam Speaker, you and I both know that something is very rotten at the parole board. We know this because we got a full packet of information from a whistleblower about what is going on.”

Lawmakers debated the issue Wednesday when they convened to consider the governor’s amendments to legislation passed earlier this year.

The ongoing scandal began last year when the Office of the State Inspector General began finding misconduct by the parole board. OSIG completed reports saying the parole board and its former chairwoman, Adrianne Bennett, now a judge in Virginia Beach, violated state law and policy, including at times not notifying the family of victims that convicted killers were being paroled.

The lead OSIG investigator, Jennifer Moschetti, provided records to lawmakers earlier this year and filed a lawsuit acknowledging she had done so and asking for whistleblower protection.

Some of the records that were obtained by news media, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, related to the parole board’s release last year of Vincent Martin, who was convicted in the 1979 killing of a Richmond police officer. While the final OSIG report was six pages, a longer report of 13 pages — apparently a draft — contained more allegations of wrongdoing.

Moschetti’s lawsuit accused Herring’s office of sanitizing the report and said the governor’s staff was so intimidating in a meeting with OSIG about the case that Inspector General Michael Westfall feared for his job.

Westfall reports to the governor, who appoints the five members of the parole board.

The attorney general and governor’s office deny those allegations. Westfall fired Moschetti, who then dropped her lawsuit. But several OSIG investigations of the parole board apparently remain pending, and it’s unclear if Westfall plans to complete them.

The probe approved by lawmakers relates to how OSIG looked into the parole board’s handling of the Martin investigation.

Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, said he reached out to Northam’s general counsel, Rita Davis, and she wrote back to tell him what the investigation will cover.

An independent third party will look into whether the final inspector general report on the Martin case resulted from normal office practices or from any undue political influence, and it should determine the reasons OSIG omitted some material in its final report, Levine said.

The investigator should determine whether OSIG substantiated the allegations in the longer Martin report that were not included in the final report, he said.

A report is supposed to be completed by June 15.

The parole board and marijuana dominated Wednesday’s debates, but the assembly also approved all of Northam’s 18 proposed amendments to the two-year state budget.

Several of the amendments addressed potential uses of federal COVID-19 emergency aid — primarily for Medicaid and child care — until the General Assembly meets in special session later this year to determine how Virginia will spend billions of dollars in funding under the American Rescue Plan Act enacted on March 11.

pwilson@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6061

Twitter: @patrickmwilson

Staff writer Michael Martz contributed to this report.

2021 Crossover Update

February 3, 2021

Friends,

This Friday marks crossover in the General Assembly.  This is the traditional midpoint of Session, marking the day that the House and Senate each begin addressing legislation originating from the other Chamber. 

The first half of Session this year has been dominated by more Democrat initiatives geared towards so called “social and environmental justice.”  These include the repeal of the death penalty, efforts to restore Virginia’s liberal and lenient system of parole, and eliminating all mandatory minimum sentences for crimes.  Over the past 20 years, Virginia has successfully reversed disturbing increases in the rate of violent crime and recidivism.  Virginia Democrats seem determined to reverse all of the policies that led to that success.  

The marijuana legalization efforts demonstrate Virginia Democrats’ detachment from the concerns of most Virginians, who are worried about getting the economy back on track, getting schools fully reopened, and getting the Covid-19 vaccine.  Instead, the Democrats have rolled out a premature and unworkable marijuana legalization plan. A plan rife with racial preferences, quotas and inconsistencies.  Incongruously, the plan would make it legal to possess marijuana but illegal to grow.  It provides for dispensary licenses, but preferences for those licenses will be given to persons convicted of drug offenses, who will also be receiving taxpayer funded grants and government loans.  While I know that many of my Libertarian-minded friends take a different view towards marijuana legalization than I, most of us will agree that if this is going to happen, this is not the way to do it.

Conspicuously absent from the Governor’s legislative agenda is any meaningful legislation addressing the COVID pandemic, vaccinations or the reopening of schools.  Virginians have been reminded at every turn that we are the only state in the nation with a physician as Governor.  Shamefully, however, Virginia’s rollout of the vaccine has been dismal at best.  The Commonwealth consistently has been in the back of the pack in the administration of vaccines.  In an article just published on realclearpolitics.com, it was pointed out that our Doctor/Governor has willfully injected an overdose of politics and social justice into his vaccination program to the detriment of those most at risk of infection, hospitalization and death.

As for education, there is an increasing drumbeat from parents across Virginia to reopen schools; however, the Administration consistently has demonstrated slavish devotion to teachers unions, who seemingly come up with new excuses at every turn for keeping schools closed.  In Fairfax County, school employees were catapulted to the front of the vaccine line, irrespective of age or the absence of any underlying health problems.  This prioritization was presumably for the purpose of reopening schools, but since the administration of those vaccines, the teachers union has announced that it won’t support a return to school until after next fall!  We cannot allow Virginia’s schools to remain closed to in-person instruction for the better part of two years.  

On the COVID vaccine front, I was pleased to co-patron was SB 1445 which passed the Senate and House unanimously.  This bill would mandate VDH to use an “all hands on deck” approach to get Virginians vaccinated faster.  All qualified healthcare professionals would get training and could  begin to vaccinate citizens.  It would also make it easier for private sector entities to volunteer their open areas to be used as vaccination sites.  The bill now goes to the Governor’s desk for his signature.  I’ll have more about my thoughts on the vaccine rollout in a separate email later this week.

SB 1303, patroned by Senator Siobhan Dunnavant, would make in-person learning available to Virginia students by choice of the student’s parent or guardian.  The CDC has stated that schools can reopen safely if precautions are taken. This is a step in the right direction to get children back in school.  I voted for this bill which passed the Senate yesterday on a vote of 26-13 and now moves onto the House. 

It’s these priorities that make our elections this year so important. I was honored to start work this week as the Co-Chair for my good friend Pete Snyder’s Gubernatorial Campaign. Pete’s a rock solid Republican who’s ready to disrupt the liberal establishment in Richmond. I hope you’ll take a few minutes and check out his website and learn more about why he’s running for Governor. As you may know, we have 100 House of Delegates elections this year as well as the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General races this fall. 


With the second half of Session approaching, the legislature is going to be working on fine tuning bills that have passed and weeding out the bad ideas.  As always, I am grateful for input from friends and constituents.  Do not hesitate to contact my office with comments, concerns or suggestions about pending legislation.  My legislative aides Jenni Aulgur and Connor Smith can be reached at jennifer@markobenshain.com and connor@markobenshain.com or by calling my district office in Harrisonburg at 540-437-1451.

Until my next update, stay safe and healthy!

Best regards,

Mark Obenshain

2021 Pre-Session Update

January 13, 2021

Friends,

It seems like the 2020 Session of the General Assembly just ended and here it is January and today the 2021 Session convenes in Richmond.  Last year we were supposed to meet for 45 days in a regular session that ended just as the COVID-19 pandemic was heating up.  As we left Richmond in March, it was clear that we would have to return to address COVID related budget issues, but just before the Governor called us back to Richmond, George Floyd died at the hands of rogue police officers in Minneapolis and riots rocked the nation.  Seizing upon that as a political opportunity, the Governor convened the Special Session to address “social justice and criminal justice reform.”  This gave Democrats in Richmond, who now control both Chambers of the General Assembly as well as the Governor’s Mansion, a blank check to pursue all manner of liberal priorities. 

Between the regular Session in 2020, and the Special Session, Democrats in Richmond rolled back many of the criminal justice reforms of the past 20 years that have successfully reduced the violent crime and recidivism.  Similarly, apparently not satisfied with Virginia’s consistent ranking as one of the top five states in America in which to do business, they imposed all manner of new regulations, sought to repeal our right to work laws and allow public employee collective bargaining.  Finally, seeking to emulate Bernie Sanders and AOC, they passed Virginia’s version of the Green New Deal, which set us on a pace to see electric bills for households and businesses to increase by as much as one third.

Needless to say, they accomplished a whole lot in 2020.  Here we are back in Richmond meeting in temporary quarters that are off-limits to constituents.  The Governor has already said that there’s so much on his progressive agenda that we can’t possibly accomplish it all during the 30 days constitutionally allocated for the regular Session and he’s already promised to call a special session that will begin immediately upon adjournment that he wants to use to continue his efforts to turn Virginia into a northeastern state. 

Sadly, we are going to be missing one Republican Senate colleague during this Session.  Senator Ben Chafin, my friend who represented a large portion of Southwest Virginia, died on New Year’s Day.  He was an outstanding representative who cared deeply for the people of Southwest Virginia and tirelessly fought to protect their interest in Richmond.  Inexplicably, the Governor waited until yesterday to announce that he’s calling a special election to fill Senator Chafin’s seat, however, the election isn’t going to take place until March, after the regular Session and perhaps the Special Session as well, are over.  The timing leaves a large portion of Southwest Virginia completely unrepresented in the Senate and the Republicans down one critical vote.  The timing of the special election to fill Senator Chafin’s seat stands in contrast to how the Governor handled the resignation of former Delegate Jennifer Carrol Foy, who resigned in December in order to launch her campaign for Governor.  The Governor announced the special election the same day Delegate Jennifer Carrol Foy resigned and the election was held less than 30 days later.

Notwithstanding these challenges, I remain committed to fighting for common sense Virginia values in Richmond.  I will continue to stand for the protection of our 2nd Amendment rights against renewed efforts to ban most semi-automatic firearms and so-called “high capacity” magazines.  I will fight the announced efforts of Democrats to raise Virginia’s income tax rate.  I will fight for economic freedom and to resist efforts to roll back hard won laws that protect innocent human life. 

Even though I can’t host visitors in Richmond, my office is going to be open for business.  We need to hear from you about legislation that is important to you.  I count on constituents to alert me to their concerns about legislation that may impact their businesses, communities or families.  While you may not be able to knock on my door during session, my legislative team is experienced and they will be answering the phones and your emails.  Jenni Aulgur and Connor Smith have worked in my office for several years.  Jenni will be working out of my district office in Harrisonburg and Connor will be working in Richmond.  You can contact them at jennifer@markobenshain.com and connor@markobenshain.com.  As always, I value your input, thoughts and concerns.  Please call 540-437-1451 or email me at mark@markobenshain.com

It is a continuing privilege for me to be allowed to represent the citizens of the 26th District in the Senate of Virginia!

Best regards,

Mark Obenshain

NEWSLETTER: More updates on Virginia reopening, local elections, and parole

May 4, 2020

Dear Friend,

Last week, the Governor unveiled his partial plan for reopening Virginia as we continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially Northam’s Health Commissioner was quoted as saying that the first phase of this plan would last two years with measures such as continued use of face coverings, teleworking and only some businesses reopening.

I wanted to see what Virginians’ opinions were of that so I ran a poll on my Facebook page asking people to react to the claim that we would be in phase one for potentially two years. In 48 hours, over 5,700 people responded with 95% saying they thought two years was too long.

Apparently, the Governor’s office received feedback. Since then, they walked back their two-year projection and have announced that as of today, the ban on non-emergency/elective medical procedures will be lifted.

Earlier this week, I along with the rest of the Republican Senate Caucus leadership team sent a letter to Governor Northam demanding further answers and clarity on his plan to reopen Virginia. You can read that HERE. Stay tuned on if he responds and what his answer will be.

Election Update

I’ve sent emails in the past regarding the Governor’s attempts to completely circumvent local autonomy by moving all May local elections to line up with Presidential, U.S. Senate and Congressional elections in November. Thankfully, in last week’s reconvened session, the Senate defeated that measure on a strong bipartisan vote.

Integrity of local elections saved.

The Governor has since used his executive authority to move the date of the elections back to weeks from May 5 to May 19 and those with health concerns can safely cast absentee ballots.

Parole

A few weeks ago, I wrote on Facebook about the Virginia Parole Board’s decision to release Vincent Martin, a convicted murderer who killed a Richmond police officer in 1979. You can read the article covering the Parole Board’s decision by clicking HERE.

I wish I could say that this was the only decision by the Virginia Parole Board in recent weeks that caught my eye. Sadly, this is not the case.

In 2012, Debra Scribner was convicted of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a murder in connection with the shooting death of her son-in-law in Halifax County. She had barely served a third of her sentence and the parole board did not even follow proper procedures in coming to the decision to release her. Read more coverage of the Scribner release by clicking HERE.

Thirdly, it was recently reported that Tyson Xavier Golden was granted release in January with certification coming March 30. He was one of three men charged after a string of violent home invasions in Roanoke that culminated in the beating to death of 91-year-old Larry White. Three blows from the butt of a pistol fractured White’s skull. Read more about that case by clicking HERE.

Finally, there is inmate Robert Clark who is serving multiple life sentences for capital murder, robbery and two counts of use of a firearm from a 1994 conviction in Halifax County.  The Parole Board granted him parole on April 10 and his release back into the community is scheduled for May 4.

There was reporting in three of the aforementioned instances of the Parole Board not following proper procedures in notifying the Commonwealth’s Attorney in the county or city in which the crime occurred (required by VA Code section 53.1-136).

Further, the Governor is reportedly now trying to give people the impression that the only prisoners being released these days are nonviolent offenders. That could not be farther from the truth. The Governor proposed language purportedly aimed at reducing prison populations to address the COVID-19 crisis. That language,  granted authority to the Department of Corrections to immediately release to any prisoner with less than one year remaining on his sentence prisoners, except those convicted of a class 1 felony or a sexually violent offense, .  The only class 1 felony in Virginia is capital murder. On a party line vote in the Senate, Democrats approved this language amendment. That means that people convicted of first degree or second-degree murder, armed robbery, drug distribution and malicious wounding, among many others are immediately eligible for release.

The policy implications of the Governor’s budget amendments coupled with the decisions by his parole board to release dangerous murderers back onto Virginia’s streets is appalling. I will be doing everything in my power to prevent the parole or early release of violent and dangerous felons.

Since the abolition of Virginia’s liberal and lenient system of parole in the 1990s, communities across Virginia have been safer. When juries have given a convicted murderer a life sentence, they have done so with confidence that life means life. We can’t return to that old and broken system.

Best,

Mark Obenshain