Archive for October, 2011

Synthetic Marijuana

Earlier this year, Virginia banned the sale and possession of synthetic marijuana due to its very harmful effects, but state officials have discovered a new trend:  the products are now being re-packaged and sold with similar, potentially dangerous chemicals that are not prohibited. The State Crime Commission is weighing options to help prevent clever manufacturers from skirting the law—and avoiding prosecution.

The state lab analyzed recent evidence packaged like the banned synthetic cannabinoids.  But Department of Forensic Science Chemistry Program Manager Linda Jackson said it found many more non-prohibited compounds than those that are not.

“And so, it seems that once a compound becomes prohibited, the people who are manufacturing these preparations just take that compound out because it is prohibited, and they now add in another one that is not,” said Jackson.

Commission members discussed whether to add more compounds or perhaps the class of chemicals to the law.  But some wondered if the misdemeanor penalty is a deterrent.  Senator Tommy Norment said a stiff civil fine on retailers who sell the products might be effective.

“And I’m talking in the neighborhood of $50-or-$100,000 to see whether or not they’re willing to take the business risk of selling a compound like this— recognizing that the penalty would be so monetarily severe that ‘the squeeze ain’t worth the juice,'” said Norment.

The Commission plans to make a recommendation in December.

–Anne Marie Morgan

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PolitiFact: Ad Wars

Politifact Virginia was launched a year ago this week at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Fred Echols reports on some of the website’s first-year numbers and learns about a claim in a GOP TV ad.

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Dead Zones

About 10% of Virginia has broadband “Dead Zones” without service.  To the Broadband Advisory Council, that’s significant—since in order to be competitive in business and development, communities need to quickly access the worldwide web.  But Deputy Secretary of Technology Karen Jackson says that creates a “Catch 22” situation because a community can only attract an Internet provider when there’s a decent return on often risky investments:

“There are community models that the community can bind together, aggregate demand, count the number of people who want service and actually build a business case and then market it back to the providers, trade off tower space, trade off high structures for wireless. There’s a lot of creative solutions that have been applied in some areas such as Franklin County, and can be applied without requiring a whole lot of cash to be spent anyway,” says Jackson.

Jackson says Virginia would like to assist communities more, but there’s not much discretionary money.  She adds that the state does not want to get into the business of providing Internet service since states that have, lost money.

–Tommie McNeil

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Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance

Last year, Virginia trailed only Arkansas and Idaho in the amount required to be paid by employer-sponsored family health insurance plans.  A a new Commonwealth Institute study finds that these costs lead to more families without insurance and a less healthy workforce.

The findings reveal that Virginia reached its lowest amount of employer-provided coverage in nearly two decades —with only 40% of businesses with 50 or fewer employees offering benefits.  More than a millionVirginians are now uninsured and most are mid-to-lower wage earners.  The Institute’s Michael Cassidy says that while small businesses face many challenges, they have opportunities to mitigate the costs of insurance—such as new federal tax credits.  He adds that states are also setting up new marketplaces for individuals and businesses.

“These new marketplaces called Health Insurance Exchanges will be a key place where they’ll be able to go to buy health insurance. Subsidies will be available on a sliding scale for folks to afford the premium. They’ll be able to pool their risks in bigger pools than just their own particular employees which will allow them top get better rates,” says Cassidy.

But Cassidy says the state needs to plan now for this marketplace—and since the insured pay more as a result of uncompensated care, everyone benefits from cost-effective ways to insure all.

–Tommie McNeil


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Improving Virginia’s Infrastructure

Financial experts and Virginia leaders say that if the Commonwealth is to rebound from the economic downturn and compete nationally, it’s going to need improvement to the infrastructure.

Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton says in paving projects alone, V-DOT is investing $400-million and the same amount next year. The General Assembly also gave the Department the authority to move forward with Governor McDonnell’s transportation package, which allows more than $3-billion in capital projects over the next three years by taking advantage of low interest rates:

“Just to give you an idea, I mean–Northern Virginia—we at any given night have a hundred different project involving lane closures going on every single night. Over 70% in the Hampton Roads area, and we’re now about to start getting out on the street, a lot of these projects for construction as well,” said Connaughton.

He does say the long-term challenge to transportation construction is a reliable funding stream. Since vehicles are more fuel-efficient, the state cannot rely on a gas tax, but no other solution has yet been approved.

–Tommie McNeil

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Awards for Volunteerism

First Lady of Virginia Maureen McDonnell hosted a ceremony at the Executive Mansion to honor four nonprofit organizations that were awarded corporate grants for their community service. Her goal is to champion the many private initiatives that are taking place across the Commonwealth.

Capital One awarded $600,000 to four organizations that advance workforce development, academic achievement, financial literacy, or ending homelessness.  But the corporation’s Executive Vice President, Katherine Busser, said that’s only the beginning. “Last year, Capital One volunteered over 51,000 hours for all of the organizations in the capital region that we partner with.  And for these four alone, we had almost 7,000 hours of volunteerism.”

The grants were awarded to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond, Junior Achievement of Central Virginia, the Richmond YWCA, and Virginia Supportive Housing.

–Anne Marie Morgan



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30 Day Utility Reprieve for Some

These days it’s not particularly shocking to hear that someone has fallen on hard times, especially if the primary bread-winner is ill.  But the State Corporation Commission is advising residents of a new law that could give a number of those who are struggling a little extra time to make ends meet.

State Corporation Commission spokesman Ken Schrad says utilities were allowed to cut the source of heat, water, and essential appliances 10 days after a notice was sent, although some did grant exceptions. The new state law establishes a 30-day exception—but only for people with a serious medical condition who can prove it.

“Keep in mind, they still owe the electric company or the water company, and there’s still a threat of service being cut off. It’s just a matter of getting additional time before that final act occurs.  Under the rule adopted by the commission, a customer can only use this provision twice in any 12-month period. So basically you have two opportunities to take advantage of this rule over the course of one year,” says Shrad.

— Tommie McNeil

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Politics on PolitiFact

Virginia House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong is running for re-election this year against another incumbent, Republican Charles Poindexter. That’s because the GOP targeted Armstrong when it redrew the legislative map, moving his southwest Virginia district to the DC suburbs. Armstrong has caught the eye of Politifact Virginia this week, as Fred Echols reports


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Teacher Retirement Plans

The Board of Trustees of the Virginia Retirement System has once again set the level of funding that it estimates will be needed to pay into the state pension fund.

Virginia Education Association members say as the General Assembly crunches VRS numbers, it will seek ways to cut costs—and sometimes that’s been on the backs of teachers who’ve already made sacrifices. Bea Moss and other retirees say discussion of teachers paying into a 401k-type plan is unacceptable, especially given stock market downturns.

“We earn low wages for those with our level education. There’s no profit sharing, no stock purchase plan, but we are promised some dignity in retirement. The time has come to stop short changing VRS and to honor the commitment of those who have given their commitment to the students of this Commonwealth,” says Moss.

Some say another key issue is that defined benefit plans are documented to be an important tool to attract and retain a quality public sector workforce —and public employees oppose switching to defined contribution plans.

— Tommie McNeil

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Collateral Calamity

The city of Harrisburg recently  made headlines when it declared bankruptcy, but the capital of Pennsylvania was not the first municipality to face serious financial problems this year.  Here in Virginia, one community nearly lost its police station and city hall when it  failed to keep up with its bills.  Sandy Hausman has that story.

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Energy Conference

The state’s second annual conference on energy has wrapped up, as Governor McDonnell promotes more diverse energy sources for the Commonwealth

The Governor’s Senior Advisor on Energy, Maureen Matsen, says three very different energy company leaders— Dominion Resources’ Tom Farrell, Duke Energy’s Jim Rogers, and NRG’s David Crane—provided distinct insights. Some think the leading emerging technology may be either solar panels or electric cars, but they all agreed that the state can not move forward without traditional energy.

“I think that all three of them agreed that nuclear is a critical component of our base energy assets. That’s efficient base load that we’re going to need for the future. That coal is certainly is still a large part of what we do–we can’t keep the lights on without it. And natural gas–it was interesting–Jim Rogers isn’t sure that it’s a game changer, but others are quite sure that it’s a game changer,” said Matsen.

Dominion, the state’s largest energy provider, is diversifying its resources—but says all forms of energy will be needed to keep up with surging demand. Matsen adds that state leaders are working to make Virginia the East Coast leader in wind energy—and consulting with other countries to ensure that coastal wind power is more efficient than other projects nationwide.

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Overhauling Leave Time

State employees have accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars in unused leave and Virginia policymakers say the potential unfunded liability is enormous.  That’s because many state workers can cash out their unused vacation and sick days when they retire and that number is expected to surge as Baby Boomers leave the workforce.

Efforts are underway to overhaul the 60-year-old system.     In addition to vacation and sick leave, there are now more than 20 time-off alternatives, including community service and family illness.  But Human Resources Management Director Sara Wilson said the complex rules vary among workers. “Whether it was tenure-based, look at the different ways we provide leave.  It’s credited, accrued, earned—the different categories.  And some you can carry over, some you can’t, some have a leave year, some have a fiscal year, some have a rolling calendar year,” says Wilson.

Wilson led a study of potential changes to make the system more simple and flexible.  They include freezing old leave balances, capping paid time-off, and combining classifications into all-purpose leave that would be used or lost.  Delegate Joe May said that merits more study.  His own informal survey suggested that some abuse sick leave.  “I concluded that if you were over 50 and married, you were five times healthier than if you were under 30 and single,” says May.

Lawmakers have not yet endorsed any plan but agree there must be reforms.

–Anne Marie Morgan

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Cancer Treatment

Concern over patient access to certain chemotherapy drugs has prompted the Joint Commission on Health Care to research costs and cancer treatment trends in the Commonwealth.  The commission has found a disparity in insurance coverage … and is weighing whether a new mandate might be necessary.

With more than 30,000 cancer cases diagnosed in Virginia each year, treatment regimens may include oral or intravenously administered chemotherapy, or both.  But Delegate Chris Peace said a constituent told him about an unexpected problem.

“His wife had been offered IV treatment and then ultimately the oral chemotherapy treatment. She developed a tremendous rash and other complications from the IV medications. There were some considerable benefits to the oral.  What they found was that the oral was much more expensive because the coverage was different,” explained Peace.

One study found that average out-of-pocket expenses for oral chemotherapy drugs were more than $2900 per month.  And one in six cancer patients with high out-of-pocket costs fails to take the medicine as prescribed. The commission’s report said one reason for the disparity is that many insurers count IV treatments as a medical benefit and oral drugs as a pharmacy benefit.  The panel said legislation requiring parity may be an option.

–Anne Marie Morgan

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Small Business Summit

While large corporations are more than welcome to set up shop in Virginia, Governor McDonnell told a gathering of small business leaders that they are not being overlooked, especially since they provide the majority of jobs within the Commonwealth and the U.S.

But he also said at the first Governor’s Small Business Summit that the legislature cannot do it alone. He’s asking these business leaders to devise plans and innovative ways to become world-class local and global competitors.

The Governor said the state wants to cultivate a positive environment where businesses can prosper, expand, and hire Virginians. He also expressed how he feels about the “Occupy Wall Street” protests around the state and country.

“It’s sort of disappointing to see some people that have points to make and are free to make them, but camping out in the parks and protesting against business. Well, that’s what creates jobs. And I want people in Virginia to know that we’re pleased with our businesses coming here and investing and creating opportunities.”

McDonnell said that while Washington may not be listening to the needs of the people, Virginia lawmakers are, and he believes the entrepreneurs who head smaller businesses in Virginia are the same type of visionaries who created Microsoft and Apple. He believes that the thousands of U.S. regulations are preventing those companies from expanding. Although the Governor supports the creation of higher paying technology jobs, he would like to see a resurgence of manufacturing jobs here.

-by Tommie McNeil

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Politifact: Transportation Funding, Jobs to China

This week Politifact Virginia tests Governor McDonnell on another transportation funding promise and finds out whether a GOP State Senate candidate is really responsible for sending Virginia jobs to China. Fred Echols reports.

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Wage Gap

This week, the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis released a report that reveals a wage gap between Virginia’s top and lowest earners.  It stressed that the top tier of earners experienced more wage growth recently than the lowest tier in the past 30 years.  But the study also defines clear trends and suggests what could be done to address them.

The Institute’s Michael Cassidy says several factors lead to the disparity, including job sectors.  Areas such as accommodations, tourism, and food service still pay much less than others that do not require a college degree.   “We’ve also seen a real decimation of the middle income jobs in our economy. So, sectors like construction and manufacturing have seen among the highest employment losses since the recession,” says Cassidy.

And he says while those with at least bachelors degrees often see higher wage gains than those without, it’s not the only factor.

“Just having more folks in the economy with a college degree doesn’t necessarily mean that there are going to be jobs there for them. Here in Virginia we’ve seen that in the recent years, that has certainly been the case.”   Cassidy says policymakers must find ways to promote workforce training in sectors that are growing, such as healthcare.  But he says state officials also must discover ways to boost demand for products and services that businesses provide–to make hiring and higher wages possible.

–Tommie McNeil


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He was a graduate of Harvard Law School, a Rhodes Scholar, and President of the University of Virginia before beginning two decades of work in defense of the First Amendment.

Now, Bob O’Neil has retired, and Charlottesville is planning a unique event to say thanks.  Bob O’Neil grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of a faculty member at Harvard. He got undergraduate and law degrees there, before taking academic jobs in California, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and the University of Virginia, where he served as president.

His assistant, Sandy Gillem, remembers the day O’Neil was officially selected. “There’s a secret organization at the university called the Society of the Purple Shadows.  It’s a benevolent group. They will appear at some gathering, dressed in purple robes with a mask or a veil, and they will extend silently whatever it is they’re bringing, and I remember the day that the board elected Bob O’Neil as president. Bob was in the middle of his remarks when the shadows appeared, and what they were doing was bringing him a letter welcoming him to the university, but I can remember the expression on their faces for the rest of my life. They had never lived in the South before, and they thought, My Lord!  The Klan has arrived!”

The O’Neils soon discovered that Charlottesville was a civilized place, and Bob made friends quickly. “He could be reserved. Karen, his wife, on the other hand, could talk to a stone wall, so they were an awfully good pair. They entertained constantly.”

After five years in office, O’Neil stepped down to start the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, a group that would offer assistance to people fighting legal battles on First Amendment grounds. His second in command was Josh Wheeler, a UVA Law School graduate who had studied under O’Neil.

“After I’d been working at the center for a while, I created a little game for myself that I called ‘Stump the Bob,’ and the purpose of the game was to find a First Amendment case that he did not know about, and I would work it into the conversation. I gave up after about six months, because not only did he always  know the case, he went on to tell me additional facts about the case that were not reported that he somehow knew about,” said Wheeler.

O’Neil was also generous.  Wheeler says he rarely turned down a request to speak, and John Whitehead, who founded another not-for-profit to protect civil liberties said his counterpart was happy to share expertise. “He clerked for William Brennan on the Supreme Court, so he understands how the Supreme Court thinks, and what was good about Bob, when I’d call and say, ‘Can you help me with this?’ I’d get an e-mail back.  I knew Bob was going to do his best to help.”

But after 20 years at the center, O’Neil was ready to retire. Colleagues at the Jefferson Center, the University of Virginia Law School and the Virginia Coalition for Open Government thought this a very good time to pay tribute to O’Neil, with a reception and dinner hosted by comedian Chris Bliss, and at least one VIP seated at every table.  The guest list includes broadcasters Ken Rudin, Ann Compton and Bob Edwards, writers Rita Mae Brown and Rita Dove, actress Sissy Spacek , two former governors of the state and many more.  Tickets are now on sale for the tribute to Bob O’Neil, set for October 29th at the University of Virginia Law School.

-by Sandy Hausman

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JLARC Medicaid Review

With Virginia set to add another 400,0000 Medicaid recipients in a few years due to a federal mandate, the General Assembly asked its investigative agency to find out why the program has been making millions of dollars in improper payments.  The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission found that most of the mistakes seem to originate in local social services agencies.

Medicaid is the largest program in the state budget, and it often grows by double digits each cycle… making mistakes costly.  The improper payments could be provider or recipient fraud, errors, or intentional abuse.  JLARC Project Leader Ashley Colvin said 20% of Medicaid cases had errors.  “Some improper payments were prevented through pre-payment reviews, fraud resulted in few improper payments, and the most costly improper payments appear to result from agency errors made during the process of enrolling recipients.”

Colvin said the mistakes’ budget impact may be enormous. “The greatest financial risk to the state comes from eligibility errors made by local departments of social services. But our analysis of federal data indicate that improper payments are estimated to have occurred in a range from $18 million to $263 million in federal fiscal year 2009.”

According to Colvin, the dollar range was wide since some recipients may have been eligible, but the paperwork could not prove it.  Better training of caseworkers and replacing outdated software were two JLARC proposals to mitigate errors.

— Anne Marie Morgan

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Statewide Medical Database

The availability, costs, and practices of medical care vary significantly across Virginia, so a legislative subcommittee is examining whether a database that aggregates statewide information could help improve the state’s health care delivery system.

Twelve states have all-payer claims databases, which gather medical, pharmacy, and dental claims from private and public payers, including insurers and Medicaid.  Delegate —and Doctor— John O’Bannon chairs the Health Care panel that’s exploring the idea.

“The whole goal of this is to begin to measure things across various systems, tests, or procedures across providers to see if we can get begin to get a handle on some of the things that are driving up the costs of care—but more importantly, to focus on the quality side to make care better,” says Dr. O’Bannon.

O’Bannon said the data could answer many questions, such as which diagnostic tests are used, outcomes of different treatments, which providers cost more, who uses emergency rooms, or how clinical guidelines are met.  He envisions that everyone, including communities and businesses, could use the data.  He says to protect privacy, names would not be collected.

–Anne Marie Morgan

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There’s a lesson to be learned for those who say that Virginia is still fighting the Civil War.  It comes straight from the halls of the State Capitol—which was once the Confederate capital—to mark the War’s sesquicentennial.  The bronze statue is called “Brothers” …and it symbolizes how amidst opposing views and divisive issues, it’s how they’re resolved that makes the nation great.

The life-sized statue depicts two brothers: the older Confederate—poor, weathered, and battled-torn—and the younger Yankee—recently recruited and supplied.  On a field of battle, they have set aside their arms and fallen to their knees embracing.  One faces the sky as if thanking his Maker for the chance to make amends.

“After the Civil War was finished, Southerners began to organize into camps–United Confederate Veterans and they would establish camps in different cities. Likewise, the Union Veterans would associated together in Grand Army of the Republic posts that began dawning the landscape. And what I can’t help but notice, is that by the 1890’s when Civil War veterans were holding various reunions, they began to invite their counterparts to the same reunions,” says State Capitol Historian Mark Greenough.

The statue is the work of nationally recognized sculptor Gary Casteel … but was donated by an anonymous Virginian.

–Tommie McNeil

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Regulations on Timeshares

People seem to either love or hate timeshares—and although some say their timeshares have paid for themselves many times over, others find the costly maintenance fees or unfulfilled promises of amenities burdensome.  A large number of Virginians have tried to unload their properties but found that they could not.

At first, Delegate John Cosgrove thought of legislation to allow owners to divest themselves of their timeshares, but the state constitution forbids it. So now he’s trying a new approach to help those with problems. “Basically, there are some really unscrupulous groups out there saying, ‘We’ll sell your timeshares, send us 500-bucks,’ and you never hear from them again. Luckily, I haven’t fallen victim to that scam, but a lot of people have.”

His proposed bill does not solve all problems entirely.  “But what it does do–it looks forward so that when people sell timeshares they must disclose on a separate piece of paper in larger print that you can’t buy a timeshare as an investment—that resale is very difficult. That once you buy it, it’s for your personal use and, you’re pretty much stuck with it,” says Cosgrove.

It also requires companies that resell timeshare weeks to comply with stronger regulations to do business in Virginia, including describing their costs and consumer benefits.  But those who feel cheated will still have to take a timeshare developer to court, and Cosgrove says there have been many such lawsuits in Virginia.

–Tommie McNeil

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Virginia General Assembly Elections

With the election only a month away, the campaigns for all 140 House of Delegates and Virginia Senate seats have kicked into high gear.  Dozens of seats are uncontested, but the stakes are especially high in one chamber of the General Assembly.

 A number of long-time incumbents are defending their seats.  But the Senate is more competitive than the House, with the two major parties vying for control.  State Election Services Assistant Manager Matt Abell says the Senate has only 14 uncontested seats.  “That leaves 26 contested races of the 40.  Twenty-four of the 26 are contested between the major parties—the Republican and Democratic candidates.”

The House has only 37 contested seats, with 27 between the major parties. The rest have Independents, Libertarians, or Independent Greens on the ballot.  But Abell says the number of competitive House races has recently declined. “In 2007, there were 59 uncontested House of Delegate races. That dropped to 32 in 2009.  And now in 2011, we’re up to 63 uncontested races,” he says.

Virginia will also hold local elections, including those for constitutional officers, supervisors, and school boards.
–Anne Marie Morgan

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What Killed Kevin?

More than a year after the suicide of an editor at the Virginia Quarterly Review raised questions about workplace bullying, a New York filmmaker is wrapping up production of a documentary about the subject.

The film explores the issues of workplace bullying based on what happened in Charlottesville.

Beverly Peterson’s film begins at the place where Kevin Morrisey’s body was found shortly after he called 911.  The film then turns to media coverage of Morrisey’s suicide.

Peterson spoke several times with Morrisey’s boss ,Ted Genoways, and with Genoways’ wife.

“Kevin’s mood could be dark for days at a time in ways that weren’t always visible to the rest of the staff.   We did so much for Kevin, but it was never enough. I wish we could have done more, but he’s not the person they describe. He wasn’t weak and bullied.”

The film also introduces us to Morrissey’s sister, who said her brother was depressed and that their family was dysfunctional. But after learning others were unhappy at the Virginia Quarterly Review, she points an accusing finger at the magazine’s parent, the University of Virginia.

“I hear this dramatic story of my brother being bullied, of everyone down there asking for help and not getting any help, of them telling people that they were afraid Kevin was suicidal,” says his sister. “No one was helping Kevin. Why?”

The university’s president ordered an investigation that absolved Ted Genoways in the death of Kevin Morrisey. Filmmaker Peterson thinks the media was too quick to lay blame and relied too heavily on an advocacy group called the Workplace Bullying Institute, which quickly adopted Kevin Morrisey as a poster child.

Peterson admits she got interested in this subject years before the Morrisey case when she was the victim of a workplace bully.  Now she’s using her website,, to fight back by promoting a national discussion of workplace bullies and legislation proposed to stop them. The first three parts of her documentary, What Really Killed Kevin Morrisey, are there and she’ll post three more during Freedom From Workplace Bullying Week in mid October.

— Sandy Hausman


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Behind the Budget

Although the McDonnell administration is very cautious about predicting how well the Commonwealth is rebounding during the recession, it has also been touting the recent $545 million budget surplus.

But a left-leaning think tank suggests that state officials are giving Virginians a false sense of security and are not disclosing a “hidden deficit” that’s looming next year.

The Commonwealth Institute’s Michael Cassidy finds fault with using the term “budget surplus.” He says it does not mean the state is flush with cash. Instead, it means that that the Governor and lawmakers used creative accounting and cut education funding, textbooks, school buses, and guidance counselors. Furthermore, while some news accounts suggest that they were “stacking the deck,” he doesn’t think that’s the real story here.

“Well the real issue that’s facing the Governor and the General Assembly is when they go to write next year’s budget.”

That’s because the Institute’s recent study examines how the fiscal picture will look next year, and it is not good.

“By our estimates, we’re facing an $800 million shortfall in the next state budget, based on where revenues are coming in, and based on needs for public services. That’s just assuming we just continue all the cuts we made in the recession we still are going to be $800 million short.”

Cassidy says the cause is the state’s “cuts only” approach and reliance on the Federal Recovery Act, which helped offset cuts to services. But he adds that Congress has no appetite to renew that funding without raising revenues, and more programs and jobs will need to be cut.

“I mean, just look at the numbers, since 2008. Virginia has lost over six-thousand state and local employees. That’s made this recession a lot worse, cause that, that’s a drag on whatever job creation numbers are being produced in other sectors of the economy.”

But Secretary of Finance Ric Brown counters that there’s no “hidden deficit,” and the focus should not be on terminology.  He says he’s worked for eleven governors and when revenues exceeded estimates, it was called a “surplus,” If it did not, it was called a “shortfall.”  Brown also says the numbers speak for themselves.

“Our forecast is growth at this stage of the game for both 12, 13, 14, not negative, it’s a different ball game than what we’ve had before. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to be able to fund everything that everybody wants and there won’t be tight spots, but that is the budget process.”

Brown does agree with Cassidy that Virginia relied on federal funds, but state officials account for that in future budget planning.

“And all those policy issues are going to be weighed against how much resources do you have to spend, so it’s matter of prioritizing items. At the end of the day, it’s going to be balanced, but it’s not unusual at this stage of the game when you look at agency requests and you look at everything on the table to say, ‘Add up all those pieces,’ and then say ‘Boy that exceeds revenue!’ ”

Brown says no administration wants cuts and job losses, but when asked if the state could survive without higher taxes, he said “Yes”.

“We still have opportunities out there in the way we deliver services to streamline them. I don’t know that big businesses run programs with continuous improvement and cost cutting. They learn how to do that on a routine basis and a recurring basis in order to stay in business. Governments are no different.”

Brown was also asked if the state found another half-billion dollars if some should be used to restore previous cuts.  He said the funds should be invested in “one-time spending,” such as construction projects but not for operational spending because that only buys time for items that may still need to be reduced.

-by Tommie McNeil

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Insurance Shopping

Many consumers don’t know this, but the State Corporation Commission has very extensive shoppers’ guides on buying various types of insurance.

Given the ease of shopping via the Internet, the SCC says it is  imperative to know the best practices.

Surprisingly, the SCC lists the top 50 insurance carriers statewide.  Although there are a handful of well-known insurers, many more exist, including some that do not have great reputations and offer bargains that turn out not to be so good. The SCC’s Rick Wright says his agency recommends that consumers shop their insurance periodically, even if they’re satisfied.

“What we recommend though is that insurance, when you’re shopping for insurance, you start out with an apples to apples quote. Have your own policy in hand and make sure that whoever you’re dealing with is quoting the same coverage that you’ve got on your existing policy,” says Wright. “And that way, you’ve got a fair measure to go by whether or not you’re getting a better deal or not.”

But Wright says a cheaper deal is not a better deal if consumers do not get equal or better coverage. He says one essential part of auto insurance is the maximum liability coverage paid to each person in a vehicle if you are at fault. The person who’s liable must pay for everything that the insurer does not pay, which can cause financial ruin due to one fender bender. Wright also suggests shopping for umbrella policies that extend the automotive coverage; they are typically less expensive than traditional ones.

-by Tommie McNeil

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Flyball Combines Agility & Speed

Thousands of Virginians own dogs and many owners are looking for ways to get some exercise and forge a tighter bond with their pup.  Beverly Amsler reports on one way to do both.

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Making Virginia Law Easier to Understand

A project that’s a hobby of a Virginia Web developer will soon be made public. It will enable citizens who are not attorneys to find and understand the Commonwealth’s laws.

The goal is to make statutes that appear to be perplexing more interesting and user-friendly.

The Website is the brainchild of Waldo Jaquith, the Web Developer for the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. Jaquith wants citizens to be able to access and comprehend state laws free of charge whenever they need to do so. He told the Virginia Code Commission, which works to update state laws, that the Commonwealth’s current Website is confusing. Jaquith said the laws are more useful when cross-referenced with context.

“I want to take the state Code to connect it with Court decisions, Attorney General opinions, scholarly publications, bills that have been or currently are before the General Assembly that propose to modify the state Code, Legal Aid Societies, legal self-help guides, you name it. Iif we can tie it back to the Code I want to do it in one place on one Website.”

The site also refers to each law’s history and will be automatically updated.  It is in the final testing phase and will soon be officially rolled out.  Jaquith has received a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to develop similar sites for other states.

-by Anne Marie Morgan

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