PSV Virginia News

Fall 2019 Issue


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Legislative Update

Mark P. Hickman

By James Pickral and Mark Hickman
Commonwealth Strategy Group 

Special Session
The General Assembly’s 2019 “Special Session I” convened on July 9, 2019 amid protests, rallies and prayer vigils that encompassed much of Capitol Square. Governor Northam called this special session in response to the deadly Virginia Beach mass shooting that occurred on May 31, 2019 and urged lawmakers to pass significant gun control measures. Since the Governor’s call, both sides of the gun control debate have passionately worked to stake out their positions, previewing what many anticipated would be an ideological stalemate between Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly. 

While the Governor can call legislators back to Richmond for a special session, he cannot dictate how the legislature conducts its business during that session, including what legislation they may or may not consider. The Republican majorities in the House and Senate reminded Governor Northam of this fact when they adjourned after less than two hours of only hearing floor speeches. They set the return date for November 18, two weeks after the general election for both chambers. This surprise – yet clearly coordinated – move abruptly ended the floor session, leaving many Democrats and outside observers confused about what had just transpired.

In a press conference following adjournment, House Speaker Kirk Cox and Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment defended their process by citing then-Governor Tim Kaine’s use of a blue-ribbon commission to comprehensively study the factors that led to the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting and propose legislative recommendations informed by those findings. House and Senate Republicans argued that Governor Northam’s call for a special session was premature and that new policy proposals should be vetted more thoroughly and in conjunction with a study of the Virginia Beach shooting. Democrats, in response, blamed Republicans for abdicating their responsibilities and being beholden to pro-Second Amendment special interests.

All legislation filed for Special Session I will be referred to the bipartisan Virginia State Crime Commission for consideration. The Commission will be tasked with reviewing all special session legislation and undertaking a “systematic review” of the Virginia Beach shooting. The Commission will deliver a report with its findings to the General Assembly no later than November 12. 

Primary Elections
Supreme Court Decision
On Monday, June 17, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court on a 5-4 decision, with a surprising cross-section of votes from liberal and conservative justices, dismissed an appeal from the GOP-led House of Delegates. The appeal sought to overturn a decision from a lower court that instituted redrawn maps affecting 25 voter districts after 11 districts were found unconstitutional due to racial gerrymandering. The Supreme Court majority opined that the House of Delegates lacked standing as one chamber of a bicameral legislature. Virginia law states that the Attorney General, currently Mark Herring (D), is empowered to represent the Commonwealth in court. Herring had decided not to appeal.

The new maps make many of the 25 affected districts, most of which are held by Republicans, including Speaker Kirk Cox and Appropriations Committee Chairman Chris Jones, much more competitive, threatening the GOP’s already narrow two-seat majority in the House of Delegates. With the Supreme Court decision, the new district lines that were already used in this month’s June primary elections will be set for the general elections in November and until the next redistricting process after the 2020 census. Because the state legislature controls redistricting, whichever party controls the General Assembly has the power to draw the lines in a way that benefits its party and incumbents.

Primary Day and Nomination Fights
Primary elections for various General Assembly and local government seats were held on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 as both parties selected nominees for this year’s general election, when all 140 seats of the Virginia legislature will be on the ballot.
The biggest news on election day was the defeat of two incumbents. In a stunning upset, former Delegate Joe Morrissey defeated Senator Rosalyn Dance for the Democratic nomination in the 16th Senate District, which includes all of Petersburg and Hopewell, and parts of Richmond, Chesterfield, Prince George and Dinwiddie. Senator Dance has served in the General Assembly for over a decade and sits on the powerful Finance and Commerce & Labor Committees and is Chair of the Joint Commission on Healthcare. Despite Dance’s backing by the Democratic Party establishment, Morrissey, who is known for a number of controversies during his life in public office, soundly defeated her by over 10 points. He is the presumed winner in the general election in the solidly Democratic 16th district.

Republican Delegate Bob Thomas lost to challenger Paul Milde, a former member of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors, in the 28th House of Delegates district that represents parts of Fredericksburg and Stafford. Delegate Thomas was elected in 2017 to fill the seat of former Republican Speaker Bill Howell. Delegate Thomas was one of a handful of Republicans who joined Democrats in the General Assembly to vote for Medicaid expansion last year, which Milde used to campaign against him in the primary.

More recently, Republican Delegate Chris Peace lost a contentious and protracted nomination battle to Hanover Board of Supervisors member Scott Wyatt in the 97th House District, who campaigned against Peace’s vote for Medicaid expansion. Delegate Peace is a senior member of the House Appropriations and Health Committees, a budget conferee, and is chairman of the General Laws Committee.

Two sitting Democratic Delegates elected in 2017 as part of Virginia’s blue wave won their bids for the nomination in two key Senate districts that may determine control of the Senate of Virginia this year. Delegate Debra Rodman won the Democratic nomination to face Republican Senator Siobhan Dunnavant in the 12th district, which includes Henrico and parts of Hanover. Senator Dunnavant, along with her brother Delegate Chris Stolle, are the only two physicians in the General Assembly. Democratic Delegate Cheryl Turpin won a three-person race to compete in the open 7th Senate district vacated by former Republican Senator Frank Wagner, who was the powerful chair of the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee. Both Senate districts were won by Governor Northam and U.S. Senator Tim Kaine and will be top targets for Democrats this fall. The House districts that Delegates Rodman and Turpin currently represent are now competitive open seats that the Republican Party will hope to reclaim this year.

All other incumbents facing primary challenges cruised to victory, with the exception of Democratic Senator Dick Saslaw, the long-time minority leader in the Senate. Saslaw clinched a narrow win of just over 500 votes in a three-person race. If the Republican-controlled Senate flips, he will likely become majority leader. Republican Senator Emmett Hanger also handily survived a challenge from the right in his primary, defeating his opponent by a large margin. 

Two other races to watch this fall are the 10th Senate district, where incumbent Republican Senator Glen Sturtevant will face Democrat Ghazala Hashmi, who defeated two other contenders including Eileen Bedell, a twice previous candidate for Congress who was endorsed by newly-elected U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger (D-7). The 10th district includes parts of Richmond, Chesterfield and all of Powhatan, and is considered one of the most competitive legislative districts in Virginia. The second is in the 13th Senate district, where incumbent Republican Dick Black is retiring and Geary Higgins won the Republican primary and will be competing against Delegate John Bell, a Democrat, in a seat that has turned very purple in the last election cycle. 

PSYCHMD PAC and 2019 Elections
Our PAC is the profession’s voice in the political process. Contributing to the PAC is investing in your profession, patients and high-quality healthcare from psychiatrists.

2019 is a pivotal election year in Virginia. All 140 seats in the General Assembly will be on the ballot and control of both chambers is at stake.

Every year the legislature considers bills that could potentially impact our profession and patients. Mental and behavioral health are big issues every year. At the same time, mid-level providers continue to act aggressively in ways that cause concern for physicians and patient safety. Our PAC enables us to help keep legislators in the General Assembly who support our profession and patients.

Visit the Legislation page at to contribute online or mail a check payable to PsychMD PAC with your full name and contact information to 118 N. 8th Street, Richmond, VA 23219.

Please contribute to PSYCHMD PAC and encourage your peers to join you.

Thank you to all our contributors this year!

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Dr. John Shemo


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