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Virginia legislature weighing novel proposal to fill State Corporation Commission vacancies


Virginia legislature weighing novel proposal to fill State Corporation Commission vacancies

Feb 06, 2023 | 9:09 pm ET
By Charlie Paullin
Virginia legislature weighing novel proposal to fill State Corporation Commission vacancies
The State Corporation Commission regulates Virginia electric utilities. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

Lawmakers in both chambers of Virginia’s General Assembly are seeking to temporarily reconfigure the State Corporation Commission to break a months-long dispute over who should be appointed to the powerful regulatory body.

House Bill 2463, carried by Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford, is on its way to clear the House Tuesday. Senate Bill 1482, carried by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, passed the Senate unanimously last week.

The identical bills would add a new seat to the State Corporation Commission, bringing its membership to four, and then forbid the filling of the next seat whose term ends, returning the body to three members. 

The SCC is an independent regulatory authority responsible for overseeing utilities, insurance and business in Virginia. While the state Constitution allows it to have five members elected by the legislature, the General Assembly has long held it at three members.

But since former Commissioner Mark Christie departed in January 2021, the legislature has been locked in a fight over appointments. 

Under Democratic control in 2021, the General Assembly elected Angela Navarro, a member of former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration, to fill Christie’s seat until his term expired in January 2022. But after his term expired, with Republicans back in control of the House, the newly divided legislature failed repeatedly to reappoint Navarro to a full term or elect a replacement, leaving the commission with only two judges. 

Then, this November, Judge Judith Jagdmann announced she would retire at the end of 2022, one year before the expiration of her term in January 2024, creating a second vacancy.

“Basically what this does is it deletes Judge Jagdmann’s seat and then it creates a new seat, a fourth seat – which will be the third seat — with a six-year term,” Surovell told a Senate committee. “We’ll have one seat with a five-year term” — referring to the five years remaining for the seat formerly held by Navarro and Christie — “and one seat with a six-year term, which will hopefully put us in a  position to be able to get two people put on the SCC by the end of this session.” 

The plan is to pass both bills, Surovell said, and then elect the judges. He said because of the short session and the number of bills up for debate in both chambers, discussions on who could fill the seats have been nonexistent.

Two people — lobbyist Phil Abraham and senior assistant attorney general Meade Browder — were previously being considered to fill the vacancies, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, but Surovell told the Virginia Mercury Monday that there were many people being considered to fill the vacancies. 

Byron also said House Republicans haven’t conducted any interviews, as getting bills passed has been their priority.

“I’m hopeful that we will make [elections],” Byron said, adding that once the budgets are presented, “that’s the time when we really need to have a sit down.” 

But while Byron said that Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin could make interim appointments if the General Assembly fails to elect commissioners by the end of the session, Surovell said state law bars him from doing so because the General Assembly is still in special session after the Democrat-controlled Senate failed to adjourn in September. The governor can only make appointments when the legislature is out of session.

Asked if the General Assembly is still in special session, House GOP spokesperson Garren Shipley said, “Nope. We adjourned.”