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Democratic control of legislature opens up chance for long-delayed SCC appointments

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Democratic control of legislature opens up chance for long-delayed SCC appointments

Nov 29, 2023 | 12:04 am ET
By Charlie Paullin
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Democratic control of legislature opens up chance for long-delayed SCC appointments
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Appalachian Power Company Director of Regulatory Services William Castle testifies during a hearing at the State Corporation Commission. (Charlie Paullin/Virginia Mercury)

After securing control of both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly in the November elections, Democrats will have a new opportunity during the 2024 session to fill two long-time vacancies on the State Corporation Commission, the state body that regulates utilities, insurance, banking and business in Virginia.

Incoming Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Chair Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, told the Mercury Monday that the goal is to have the vacancies filled “as quickly as possible.” 

Deeds said he is working with House Labor and Commerce Committee Chair Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, to select candidates. “We want to get this done,” Deeds said.

The State Corporation Commission, a powerful state body of nearly 700 staff members, is charged with regulating Virginia’s utilities and banks, overseeing the state’s insurance marketplace and granting businesses their limited liability licenses, in addition to other responsibilities. 

The Virginia Constitution allows up to five judges to sit on the SCC, but the General Assembly to date has only authorized three. 

Appointments to the SCC have become increasingly contentious in recent years. Chairman Jehmal Hudson has been the only judge serving on the commission since former Commissioner Judith Jagdmann retired in December 2022. A third seat has been vacant since 2022, when House Republicans allowed the appointment of former Commissioner Angela Navarro, who previously served in Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration, to expire.

As a result of the vacancies, the SCC has recalled retired judges for periods of 90 days to ensure the body has a two-member quorum needed to issue rulings. 

Former Commissioner Patricia West has served in a temporary capacity, but her recent appointment by Gov. Glenn Youngkin to the Parole Board means she will no longer be available. Former commissioner James C. Dimitri was also recalled on Sep. 27, and can be recalled again until the vacancies are filled permanently, said SCC spokesperson Andy Farmer.

Negotiations on filling vacant State Corporation Commission seats falter

Permanent appointments require a vote by each chamber during the legislative session. Last year, House Republicans and Senate Democrats attempted to broker a deal that would have given both parties control over one appointment, but negotiations ultimately broke down, with both sides accusing the other of having reneged on the deal.

Now, said Deeds, “we get to choose.”

House GOP spokesperson Garren Shipley did not respond to a request for comment.

Deeds said a number of individuals are being reviewed for the positions, with the Department of Legislative Services beginning to collect resumes. If Navarro is interested in the role, he said, she is “certainly in the mix.” 

Among other names being floated to fill the vacancies are Democratic legislators not returning to the General Assembly next year, including Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, and Sen. Lynwood Lewis, D-Accomack, who both told the Mercury people have brought the idea up to them.

“Sure, I’ll look at it,” Petersen said, adding that “there’s a lot for the SCC to do” in the transition to renewable energy sources. But he also said he’s not “pitching a tent outside the General Assembly” to campaign for a commission post.

Lewis, who has served on the Commerce and Labor Committee and said he is familiar with the  less noticed areas the SCC regulates, including banking, stated he was “interested.” 

Asked about potential legislative candidates, Deeds said, “I’d think they’d all be fine.”

Virginia law requires that SCC judges be eligible voters in the state, and that at least one member be able to practice law, a criterion met by Hudson.

Deeds said he was “confident” the vacant seats will be filled by the end of January, and “hopeful” they will be before then.