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Senate Democrats replace Republicans on advisory bodies
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Senate Democrats replace Republicans on advisory bodies

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Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, spoke to Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, during the Senate floor session March 6. Locke heads the Senate Rules Committee. Norment lost his seat on three high-profile advisory panels.

The victors are setting the rules in the Virginia Senate, where newly empowered Democrats voted Tuesday to replace Republican senators on a number of high-profile state advisory bodies.

The Senate Rules Committee excluded Republican senators from more than a dozen of the 102 commissions, boards and councils with new appointees — including the Virginia State Crime Commission, which could play a role in shaping police reforms that House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn has promised to propose in an upcoming special legislative session.

Filler-Corn previously included two Republicans in her six legislative appointments to the crime commission.

Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, one of three Republicans on the Rules Committee after Democrats claimed a 21-19 edge in January, wasn’t happy about the committee actions. He voted against legislative appointments to 14 different advisory bodies because of what he called their “party makeup.”

“I’m voting ‘no’ on all of the commissions where there was bipartisan representation and now there is one-party representation,” he told members of the commission, meeting by video conference call because of the public health emergency.

McDougle voted against appointments to panels dealing with electric utility regulation, unemployment compensation, workforce development, housing, reforms of health insurance and the Washington Metro system, a state foundation for healthy youth, the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind, revisions to the state code and regional transportation authorities in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

He also voted against the appointment of Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, to replace Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, on the Task Force to Commemorate the Centennial Anniversary of Women’s Right to Vote.

“Today, Senate Democrats effectively silenced different viewpoints and perspectives from being heard on critical boards and commissions,” McDougle and Caucus Co-Chairman Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, said in statement hours after the meeting.

McDougle was among Republicans bounced from several advisory boards, including the Broadband Advisory Council, but said he did not object to the appointment of three Democrats to the council because “we had all Republicans.”

Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Fauquier, the only other Republican among the 12 committee members on the conference call, also asked the Rules Committee to reconsider political representation on the crime commission, but Chairwoman Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, declined.

Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, lost his high-profile seats on the Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board, the Commission on Electric Utility Regulations and the Commission on Employee Retirement Security and Pension Reform. Norment, a member of the Rules Committee who was not present for the meeting, could not be reached for comment.

In January, Democrats assumed simultaneous control both chambers of the General Assembly and the governor’s office for the first time in more than 25 years.

Last month, Filler-Corn appointed four Democrats to replace Republicans on the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, a traditional Republican political stronghold representing Southside and Southwest Virginia. However, Filler-Corn also reappointed two Republicans to the tobacco commission, including its longtime chairman, Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott.

The Senate Rules Committee named three Democrats to the tobacco commission on Tuesday, but also reappointed Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Russell.

McDougle voted against the appointments to the commission because he said two of the legislators — Sens. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, and Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth — live outside of the former tobacco regions, and not within the regions, as required by state law.

In a separate action, the committee voted to limit how many pieces of legislation senators can file or request to be drafted for the 45-day legislative session scheduled to begin in January.

Senate leaders had vowed to curb the number of bills that members could request or introduce after a glut of more than 1,000 bills overwhelmed the system during this year’s session, which ended after 65 days.

The new rule limits each senator to 40 requests for drafting of legislation by the assembly’s beleaguered Division of Legislative Services. Each senator can introduce no more than 25 pieces of legislation, including 10 after the pre-filing period preceding the session.

House rules limit delegates to introducing 15 pieces of legislation each during the 45-day short session.

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