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Commentary: Another session with vital work left undone: Virginia outgrows its part-time legislature



It’s been a long time since the biggest business in Virginia was tobacco. Or since people hunted rabbits where rail mass transit and office towers now stand in Tysons. And since a drive from Bristol to Winchester consumed a whole day on looping two-lane roads.

One constant during that span is the amount of time Virginia’s elected legislators allow themselves to assess those changes — and the dizzying increase in the pace of the changes — that have inundated the commonwealth since the middle of the 20th century.

And on Saturday, for the sixth consecutive year, the General Assembly adjourned its regular winter session with its most important work unfinished.

Legislatively, the nation’s 12th largest state by population and 13th largest by gross domestic product uses the same part-time model that it used 50 years ago or more. Residing, as it does, hard against the boundary of the nation’s capital and now as a major global crossroads of the internet, Virginia still presumes to need only 46 to 60 days, depending on the year, to formulate policy solutions for issues that would have been considered science fiction during the Eisenhower administration.

“The part-time legislature is a fiction. It was great for the 19th and maybe 20th century. To say they can get their jobs done in an abridged legislative session is silly. It’s not possible anymore,” said Mark Rozell, founding dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. “The task of governing is too complex to be completed in such a short period of time.”

In an article he wrote for the Washington Post last March, Rozell noted that Virginia is among 26 states that have what the National Conference of State Legislatures calls a “hybrid legislature,” a broad midpoint between the 10 states with full-time, professional legislatures and the 14 that are strictly part time.

Of the 11 states more populous than Virginia, he wrote, six have full-time legislatures. He also notes that legislative pay in Virginia ($18,000 for senators, $17,640 for delegates with $210 per diem for both each legislative day) is in the bottom third for hybrid legislatures. West Virginia, he discovered, with one-fifth Virginia’s population, pays its lawmakers $20,000 annually.

In one sense, this should not reflect on the 140 members of the General Assembly. They’re painted into a corner in which they’ve finished their work within the short time prescribed just eight times in the past 24 years. Since 2000, they’ve required at least one special session to complete their essential work in 16 of those years. Four of those years — 2021, 2018, 2008 and 2004 — required more than one extra session.

Yet it’s a dilemma only the General Assembly can fix. It alone has the authority to modernize a legislative system locked into a time when Virginia was a somnolent, Dixiefied, agrarian economy. Indulging the conceit that the level of study and debate required for lawmaking in 2023 can be achieved on yesteryear’s terms is indeed folly.

Consider that the commonwealth’s population of 3.3 million in 1950 increased by 162% — to nearly 8.7 million — by 2020. Consider also that the state’s operating budget of $21.4 billion in fiscal year 2000 almost quadrupled to $80.6 billion in the fiscal year that ended last June.

While there is much to be said for the ideal of a “citizen legislature” whose members remain more connected to their communities than they can in the myopic Capitol Square process, there’s also something to be said for time to deliberate and get the job done.

I watched the process meltdown and spill into extra innings many times firsthand in my decades of covering the Legislature. In the few sessions when the House and Senate adjourned on schedule (or reasonably close to it) without going into a special session, there was a sense of weary happiness and accomplishment. There were celebrations, including some in the Capitol’s media filing quarters, that remain legendary.

By contrast, regular-session adjournment in years when an unfinished budget or other essential business necessitated trudging back to  Richmond in the spring and/or early summer for an indefinite period was met with near-universal dread and discord. Legislators knew their real lives and livelihoods would be disrupted and, as former Del. Barnie K. Day described it in his 2005 insider’s look at legislative processes, the sausage-grinding would resume.

There is a massive amount of work that the General Assembly shoehorns into one of the shortest legislative meeting schedules in the nation. The brunt of that heavy lifting falls on  the staff of the committees where bills either die or advance to the floor. That’s particularly true for the committees that decide the final shape of the state budget — the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees.

In the closing days of a legislative session, as a dozen or so senators and delegates from those committees huddle behind closed doors to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget, I’ve watched staffers of those committees toil almost round-the-clock, fighting off sleep with bad coffee and energy drinks as they crunch hundreds of pages of numbers, hoping it will hasten a deal and — fingers crossed — a dispositive floor vote in an impossibly short timeframe.

That didn’t get done this year. It hasn’t since 2017.

Other committees deal with staggering workloads under the same punishing schedules, including the Courts of Justice, Public Safety, Transportation, Education and Health, Welfare and Institutions committees.

The operational math of the 2023 regular session alone gives you a sense of the workload. According to Virginia’s Legislative Information System’s statistics, the General Assembly this year dealt with just over 3,000 separate pieces of legislation, counting 166 carried over from 2022. Of that, 2,062 were bills which, if passed and signed by the governor, become law. Forty percent passed both chambers; 60% failed.

Spread across the full 46-day run of this year’s “short session,” that would average final action on 45 bills per day. But that’s not how it works. Lawmakers tarry and jam most of their action into a couple of frantic weeks just before crossover (each chamber’s mid-session deadline for passing legislation it originated) and final adjournment.

Fatigue can cause concentration to lapse. Errors get made. Tempers grow short.

Given such procrastination by lawmakers, however, it’s a tribute to the legislative staffs that so few blunders are made. One notable d’oh! was in 2004, when errant bill drafting inadvertently reinstated Virginia’s Victorian-era blue laws requiring businesses to close on Sundays. Dour lawmakers returned to Richmond in July for that year’s second special session to enact a legislative patch.

Despite the compelling case for legislative reform, it’s the elephant in the room that’s seldom spoken about. Change never comes easy in the Old Dominion. I’ll spare you the hackneyed joke about how many senators and delegates it takes to change a light bulb. And there seems no chorus of objection from either lawmakers themselves or the citizenry.

But as long as we’re dealing with down-home bromides, let’s not forget the cautionary tale about what happens when you put 10 pounds of stuff in a five-pound bag.


by Bob Lewis, Virginia Mercury

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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An Open Letter to the BOS – Fully Fund Samuels Library



Dear Board of Supervisors,

I write to ask that you fully fund Samuels Library for a variety of reasons:

  1. Respect the internal library process that is already ongoing to determine appropriateness of books.
  2. Respect the mission statement of the library to bring people, information, and ideas together to enrich lives and build community.
  3. Respect the 99% of 473 library users who gave the library high marks during the Community Survey of 2021
  4. Respect the 13 pages of laudatory comments submitted by these 473 library users in the Community Survey
  5. Respect the 53 persons who submitted forms to the library objecting to several books … BUT
  6. Respect the fact that those 53 persons represent about 1/10 of one percent (0.1325) of the 40,000 people who live in Warren County.

I truly believe that Samuels Library is a jewel nestled in the heart of this community.  Everybody, far and wide, talks about it. To hurt it in any way may undermine your pledge to serve the common good.

Respectfully yours,

Jeanne Trabulsi
Front Royal, Virginia

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Beware the False Prophets Among Us



I am frequently reminded of my God and my Saviour’s demand that I “Love my neighbour as myself.” (Leviticus 19:18 / Matthew 22: 37-39).

Neither God, Moses nor Jesus ever said it would be easy, nor convenient. They never said it would be fun. They never said we would get a trophy. They, also, never put the challenge up cafeteria style, for those of us who claim Jesus as our Saviour, to decide when and where this was to be practiced. This was further accentuated in the Gospel of Luke, when my Saviour stated that we should: “Do unto others as we would have done unto ourselves” (Luke 6:31).

I am deeply saddened and disappointed to continue to witness those in my beloved community who seem comfortable using the same religion I love and deeply espouse, as a means to manipulate others. The late much revered and loved Reverend Billy Graham reminded us of this when he opined: “The far right have but one interest in religion, and that is to manipulate it.”

We all have an entitlement to our opinions. We all have the right to express them.  I’m a huge first (and second, for what that’s worth) amendment advocate. What I am not an advocate of is the gas-lighting of manipulated scripture and ideology by, seemingly, false prophets in my community, that use a house of God for self-serving political purposes. While this is strictly forbidden by law for entities enjoying tax free accommodation, it is widely ignored in communities where it is well known that there will be zero accountability. How ironic for a small group which screams for accountability from others.

It is sad to see our elected officials ignore their oaths of office, to possibly win  “indulgences” from their political coffer fillers. Despite the beautiful lives lived by my spiritual heroes Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict, Mother Teresa, Rev. Graham, Pope Francis and others, It is even more disappointing to see (what appears) to be the reincarnation of Pope Urban arising within our own midst (Matthew 7:15).

Please allow me to be clear: I have no problem with any church or religious organization in our area. I am dear friends with many who attend a variety of houses of worship, to include my own. My problem is with the increasingly small, yet vociferously loud and lying lips of the small handful who seem comfortable leading God’s children astray, for their own hate filled, anti-child, anti-American, self-serving political ideology.

My wife and I have been part of this beautiful community for over 25 years. I was, personally, born and raised in the Northern Shenandoah Valley. Our 21 year old son was born and raised here. I would, kindly, encourage my fellow citizens (especially those who attend houses of God) to search the scriptures themselves. Read for yourselves. Take the time to get to know those whom your false prophets are slandering and defaming. Be wary of those, who because they may share your religious affiliation, assert they are best suited to lead our beautiful community politically and policy-wise.

To those who blindly do as they are directed by others, I encourage you to personally do your own homework — ask tough question of others, not just those whom you are told to beware of. Listen critically to their responses.  You may be surprised.

Beware of those “Sample Ballots” and other pamphlets that get bullied into your hands, hoping to make it into your hearts. Make sure that the decisions you make are ones which you can justify, based upon your own homework, not that of others, who claim to have your “best interest” at heart.

We can civilly, and with calm discourse, agree to disagree and still love one another.  We will not, however, survive as a community if we continue to act with laziness and apathy, and simply do as we are told by those who have but one self-serving interest, to become political power brokers cloaked in a charade of faith while setting a standard of “us versus them” hatred based on negative political and social stereotyping.

Self-Disclosure: I have had to, personally, apologize for how I have at times failed as a Christian over the course of 57 plus years on this planet, by not loving my neighbor as I wish to be loved. I admit that I, myself, need to be better. I am more than willing to sit with anyone over a hot or cold beverage of choice, in a public location, and engage in civil discourse.

Michael S. Williams
Front Royal, Virginia

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Concerned community stands up against alleged pornographic material in Samuels Public Library



The Royal Examiner’s Roger Bianchini has given a very detailed report about the WCBOS meeting this past Tues evening at the government center in Front Royal and has done the community a service by bringing to light the central issue of whether or not this community is going to uphold the traditional Judeo/Christian (Traditional American Family) values that have allowed God to bless this nation for well over 240 years.

The issue he is reporting on is a moral issue, and it is nice to see (and hear) so many of our Warren County friends (and friends of Warren County) stand up for decency in an effort to expose the filth at the Samuels Public Library and by extension, the filth that permeates so many public libraries across this nation (mostly those affiliated with the liberal, Marxist ALA American Library Association), by making their voices heard in a public forum and in front of hostile adversaries that would characterize their efforts as “religious extremist-based censorship”… a characterization that Mr. Bianchini appears quite comfortable repeating.

Note: It is a common maneuver by leftist “liberal” proponents who have no legitimate rationale for their far-left (and often profane) views to attempt to reframe an issue to obscure the argument for which they have no defense and which cannot be supported by facts or logic (think of the word Gay as a reframing of Sodomy, or Christian concern for what the Bible says (God’s Word) which they love to reframe as bigotry or censorship… which is further categorized by the SPLC (one of the last organizations that should be talking about terrorism) as “terrorist”, “terrorism” or, as Roger Bianchini likes to report: “religious extremist-based censorship”).

Note: Besides the central issue of citizen objections to library administrators sexualizing, desensitizing, and grooming our kids (with not only inappropriate materials but especially with the most sexually explicit dialogue and illustrations), there was a common theme shared at the meeting by all attendees: the overwhelming benefit of a public library for us and our neighbors that can be a safe place for all of our citizens to read, learn, explore, socialize and grow… We thought that the Samuels Public Library was just such a safe and welcoming place. That is until it was discovered by several local parents with young children, that the library administrators and those that oversee their activities unbelievably, but actually, support the pornography that has been exposed not just in the library in general but in the kids’ sections as well.

Note: Perhaps one of the most disappointing revelations at the meeting (and for me personally, one of great disappointment), was the appearance of three liberal members of the clergy (individuals that are charged with the moral welfare of their congregants) standing before the cameras and arguing in defense of the filth they were sitting there listing to in real-time… filth that they would never let their congregations bring into their churches, let alone have read to their children. Much to their discredit, one of these self-proclaimed spiritual leaders referenced “the pornography in the Bible” in support of retaining the filth in the Samuels Public Library… it doesn’t get much worse than that… they did a huge disservice to the entire faith community in Front Royal, Warren County and the anywhere that their profane testimony is viewed. They should take a serious look in the mirror (or better yet, view their remarks in the four (4) hour, 27-minute video recording of the meeting)…I’m not sure what their congregations will think when they see the true sentiments of these “leaders”.

Doing his best to control his secular liberal bias, Mr. Bianchini reports that …” to make their point, many pro-defund library speakers read sexually-tinged passages from some of the books in question.” I have great difficulty accepting the idea that the trash (pure pornography) that Mr. Bianchini sat and listened to, along with hundreds of other attendees, was sexually-tinged passages and not actually the filth that was making every adult in attendance wince (a sample of some of that trash can be found under “Pornographic Book Summary” on the website:

By the way, it was not easy listening to so many young parents reading excerpts from these meandering, sexually explicit, and pornographic pieces of rubbish and trying to retain their composure as they attempted to drive home the point that those we depend on to safeguard the values of this community (and the welfare of our children) have completely fallen down on the job. And worse, have demonstrated stiff resistance to these concerned parents who have requested that their children be allowed their innocence while they continue to take home healthy paychecks that are provided by the taxpayers (us).

By the way, a lot of our taxpayer money is going to pay those that would corrupt our children. According to the website: ”The average salary for Samuels Public Library employees is around $95,111 per year or $46 per hour. The highest earners in the top 75th percentile are paid over $108,831. Individual salaries will vary depending on the job, department, and location, as well as the employee’s level of education, certifications, and additional skills”. 

In conclusion (at this time), it’s my judgment that the Warren County Board of Supervisors should:

  1. Immediately insert themselves into this issue and decide to take immediate action to address this “moral” issue (an issue that is not about depriving anyone access to the library, unless perhaps it’s those delinquent individuals that have initiated and/or allowed this cesspool of pornography to infect our community), and make the Samuels Public Library once again a safe place for all of our citizens, especially for our children.
  2. Review the procedure for determining who and what oversite is best to ensure that this situation is quickly resolved and is not allowed to raise its ugly head in the future.
  3. Review the salaries of the library administrators and make those salaries contingent on serving the community’s best interest and not licking the boots of the ALA.
  4. Boot the radical Marxist ALA and its new President (Emily Drabinski) down the road and associate the library with an organization that better represents the values of this community (similar to what the citizens of Campbell County, WY, did to get their library more in line with their shared community values).
  5. Report to this community what the plan of action is to address the whole situation of pornography at Samuels Public Library, including removal of pornography, revising oversite of future activities, revising funding to maximize the acquisition of reading materials and, until immediate results are achieved, restricting or eliminating the salaries of the administrators and the folks responsible for oversite, if they stick around.
  6. Establish a policy requiring the Samuels Public Library to prepare a semiannual status report (no ifs, and, or buts) on its specific efforts to keep pornography out of the library.

Dale Carpenter
Warren County

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Library accountability is an unavoidable reality



The recent spotlight on the contents of juvenile books in the Samuels Public Library (SPL), including those containing pornography, has brought out a spate of letters to the editor, social media posts, and many speakers at the June 6 Warren County Board of Supervisors (BOS)meeting.

According to information that is on the SPL website, the BOS funded the library building, and the BOS provided 82% of the 2022 budget. To put it bluntly, there would be no SPL without the financial support of Warren County taxpayers. So, we may ask: Is SPL independent?

Clearly, it is not, despite being a private non-profit corporation with its own governing Board of Trustees and employees, as it receives most of its funding from the Warren County taxpayer.

Is SPL accountable to the taxpayer that pays its bills? Until last night’s BOS meeting, that may have been an open question. However, the rapidity with which this controversy bypassed the SPL Board of Trustees and ascended straight to the BOS indicates a universal understanding that it must be, even if it doesn’t seem to perceive it that way.

Despite utter reliance on public dollars, SPL’s governance has no taxpayer involvement. The real legal name of Samuels Public Library is actually Samuels Library, Inc. (SLI), and SPL is known as a dba: “doing business as.” SLI is a private corporation doing business as a public library. Furthermore, like private corporations everywhere, its trustees elect their own successors and hire their own director. There is no taxpayer involvement. Dwell on that. New members of SLI’s Board of Trustees are elected by … the existing members of its Board of Trustees.

Private corporations are, of course, entitled to manage their own affairs, generally speaking. But when the private corporation has an explicit charter to perform a public service, resides in a building paid for with public money, and it extends its hand to the BOS for a million dollars of public money every year, the insulating effect of this arrangement needs to be closely examined.

This presents a further problem when SLI’s Board of Trustees is an insular group with largely the same outlook and hires a simpatico Director. The representation that should accompany the taxation is largely obscured when taxpayer money is annually granted to the private non-profit SLI, wherein it operates the library “independently” without the need to be responsive to taxpayer input.

A once-per-year take-it-or-leave-it proposition from SLI for either shuttering the entire library or keeping it operating is grossly inadequate. The BOS needs finer-grained tools to be able to represent their taxpayer voters in matters concerning the library operation.

Fortunately, the present controversy has come before us just as the BOS happens to be in decision-making mode about SLI’s current budget proposal. SLI would be wise to consider a change of strategy. Rather than fostering a frenzied public outcry with hyperbole about book banning, censorship, religious fanaticism, and spreading fear of a library closure, SLI may consider adopting a stance commensurate with their open hand.

If SLI genuinely values all library patrons, it can make a good-faith effort to take the initiative and propose potential solutions. They can be working right now to help the BOS find a path to funding the library without violating a substantial number of constituents’ wishes not to acquire pornography aimed toward children. In the meantime, the BOS has to make a decision, and we can all hope they have the wherewithal to avoid SLI’s all-or-nothing trap and find a solution that keeps the library fully funded.

Richard Jamieson
Warren County

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Sheriff Mark Butler’s pledge fulfilled: Warren County Sheriff’s Office earns accreditation



As your Sheriff, I am thrilled to announce that on June 1st, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office received official accreditation, becoming a recognized Virginia Law Enforcement Agency. This achievement is the fruit of relentless efforts since my election as Sheriff in 2019. Our hard work, dedication, and commitment to professionalism have brought us to this proud milestone.

I recall stepping into the role in 2019 and encountering the formidable challenge of an office that needed significant changes. From outdated policies, operational records, perplexing budget structure, and antiquated equipment, we faced obstacles that demanded immediate attention.

Undeterred by these challenges, we embarked on a mission to regain our community’s trust, modernize our methods, deepen community policing and engagement, and tackle drug issues plaguing Warren County. Our ultimate goal? To regain VLEPSC accreditation.

In 2020, we started with a thorough evaluation of our office to identify our strengths and weaknesses. We then embarked on an overhaul of our policies and procedures, aligning them with the stringent professional standards the Commonwealth of Virginia set forth. These revamped procedures formed the blueprint for hiring, training, promoting, budgeting, and operating.

Upon achieving these milestones, we rolled up our sleeves to modernize our record management and accountability software, followed by rigorous training for our workforce. Even as we stumbled upon challenges, we saw them as opportunities for growth and improvement, completing this substantial revision process within two years.

On February 6th, 2023, we willingly submitted to a professional audit by the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS). Their feedback reassured us that our steadfast efforts were not in vain, as few law enforcement agencies could regain accreditation in such a short span of time.

Our rigorous audit encompassed all aspects of the Sheriff’s Office – operations, administration, personnel, training, budgeting, and more. The result? High praise from the VLEPSC Assessors. On June 1st, 2023, we proudly became the 103rd VLEPSC-accredited law enforcement agency in the Commonwealth out of 340 total agencies.

Simultaneously, we also pursued the Certified Crime Prevention Community (CCPC) Program, a prestigious designation that further enhances our service to the county. Bypassing the initial peer review process by DCJS, we demonstrated our commitment to effective community policing, joining a select group of twelve agencies across Virginia with this certification. We eagerly await our panel hearing later this month.

These accomplishments demonstrate not only our competence but also our commitment to doing things right. It’s one thing to claim to be doing the right thing, but it’s entirely another to have a governing body validate this claim. This accreditation rejuvenates the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, reaffirming our commitment to uphold safety, security, professionalism, and transparency. It assures our community that we prioritize doing the right thing, even in challenging situations.

Our dedication to these principles has yielded remarkable results – an 810% increase in drug confiscations, a 70% rise in DUI/DUID arrests, a 60% increase in drug and weapons arrests, a 100% boost in community collaboration, and a 38% faster response time to calls.

We have also been mindful of our fiscal responsibility, saving our taxpayers a significant amount by securing grants that have reduced our operating costs over the past three years, easing the financial burden on our community.

My role as Sheriff is not to ensure nothing bad ever happens – that would be unrealistic. Instead, I am elected to ensure that they are handled professionally when events occur. The Department of Criminal Justice Services has verified that the Warren County Sheriff’s Office does just that, and we will continue striving to live up to that standard.

Mark Butler
Warren County Sheriff


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Choosing common-sense over partisanship: Why Timmy French deserves your vote



A vote for Timmy French is a vote for common sense politics and a vote for the hard-working people of the Shenandoah Valley.

In a country increasingly dominated by polarizing politics and candidates pandering to the extreme fringes, Timmy is running to represent reasonable people like you and me. I will tell you what Timmy is not: he is not a career politician; he is not a lawyer; and he is not a zealot. He is the father of three upstanding young men, owns and operates a small business, and is driven to represent the similarly dedicated, conservative citizens of our beautiful region.

Timmy is the youngest of 9 children (all of whom still live in the Valley) and runs a dairy and cattle operation with two of his brothers. His business experience and common-sense decision-making are the fundamental reasons I support Timmy’s campaign. He is determined to find solutions, not to create partisan discord that never produces meaningful results.

In a short three months, Timmy’s campaign has gathered tremendous support across a broad swath of District 1, including donations from more than 300 individuals and businesses.  This is a genuine grassroots campaign that represents a diverse cross-section of our community. No other candidate has earned more individual donations or support from so many varied backgrounds, including teachers, police officers, farmers, small business owners, firefighters, government employees, and retirees.  In fact, several other campaigns only have donations from a handful of family members or, even more deceptively, have loaned their campaign large sums of their own money.  No gimmicks here. Timmy French’s common sense, community-driven campaign speaks for itself.

As the June 20 primary approaches, please consider which candidate will best represent you in Richmond: a deeply partisan career politician or a common-sense farmer driven to produce results over politics. As a father of three, a small business owner, and a U.S. Navy veteran, I take the right to vote very seriously and ask that you join me in casting your ballot for Timmy French.

Matthew Shaffer
Winchester, VA

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