Morrissey talks action in legislative session

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Despite the efforts of freshman Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) to avoid the censure of Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield), it appeared that the Senate would vote to censure her this week.

“I worked tirelessly so we could come to a compromise,” Morrissey said on Saturday, noting he supports the freedom of speech. The compromise included Chase apologizing for certain things and denouncing certain things, Morrissey said. However, on Friday, Jan. 22, Chase instead gave a general apology while condemning violence that occurred at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

On Jan. 8, the state’s Senate Democrats called on Chase to resign for “horrifyingly empowering a failed coup d’état” in Washington, D.C. Chase, in response, called on Democrats to resign.

Sen. John Bell (D-Loudoun) said last week that he would edit his censure resolution to remove a portion about Chase violating her oath of office due to freedom of speech concerns by some senators. Instead it would accuse Chase of conduct unbecoming a senator, the Washington Post reports. Morrissey said that he and Sens. Lynwood Lewis (D-Eastern Shore) and Chap Peterson (D-Fairfax) were those with concerns about restrictions on freedom of speech.

Chase’s Senate Facebook page was deactivated for 60 days, and although her personal Facebook page was up for a time last week, on Sunday it could not be found during an online search of the social media giant.

In a recent vote that resulted in Chase losing her seat on the Senate’s Local Government Committee, Chase cast the lone no vote while Morrissey abstained. Chase lost her seats on three other committees last year after she refused to caucus with Republicans due to them selecting longtime Sen. Tommy Norment (R-Williamsburg) as their leader.

O’Berry seat

The seat of Chesterfield/Colonial Heights District Court Judge Pamela O’Berry may be open soon after the Senate did not certify her to stay in office last week.

Morrissey offered no comment when asked why he pulled O’Berry’s name from the certification list. “I moved to take her name out,” he said, adding there was no objection from his Senate colleagues.

If O’Berry’s seat becomes vacant, that would leave two vacancies in Chesterfield courts. Circuit Court Judge T.J. Hauler’s seat has been vacant since the longtime judge retired Dec. 31, 2019. A bipartisan compromise was reached last year to appoint Chesterfield Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judge Jayne Pemberton to replace Hauler, but Dels. Dolores McQuinn (D-Richmond) and Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg) opposed the move. Gov. Ralph Northam could have appointed a judge to temporarily replace Hauler but did not do so.

During questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Dec. 11, Morrissey noted that O’Berry was ranked 47th out of 47 judges up for reappointment.

Municipal elections

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) broke a 19-19 tie last week in favor of a bill that would move local elections from May to November. Chase joined with Morrissey and most Senate Democrats in favor of the bill. Peterson voted with Republicans against the bill.

Marijuana legalization?

As a member of the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee, Morrissey voted in favor of a bill that would legalize marijuana in Virginia by January 2024. The bill would establish a new state agency to regulate sales, which are estimated to generate $500 million a year within five years. Localities could opt out of allowing marijuana retailers by holding a referendum of the voters. Among those who oppose the bill are some physicians, the Virginia Catholic Conference and the Family Foundation.

Death penalty?

A bill that would abolish the death penalty in Virginia passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee 10-4 with support from Morrissey and Republican Sen. Bill Stanley of Glade Hill. However, Stanley said he will pull his support if the legislature votes to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, according to the Washington Post.

On Jan. 19, Morrissey said he used to support the death penalty, but switched when he found out that innocent people have been executed. He noted that 155 people who received a death sentence since 1973 have later been determined to be innocent. Another 174 were exonerated because of DNA evidence, he told the committee.

The Virginia State Police Association opposes the bill. M. Wayne Huggins, the association’s executive director, noted that the state parole board last year released a man who murdered a Henrico County police officer in 1979.

Twenty-eight states have the death penalty, but it is paused in three by order of the governor, according to deathpenaltyinfo.org.

‘Donutgate’ ends

Three misdemeanor charges against Morrissey for allegedly committing polling place violations on Nov. 5, 2019, were nolle prossed. The request to not pursue the charges was made by Greg Overholser, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney from New Kent County.

Morrissey filed a motion to dismiss the charges based on six affidavits from poll workers and election officials saying he had done nothing that violated the law, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The complaint alleged that Morrissey kept voters from casting their ballots while taking photos in the Powhatan Community Center and interfered with a Richmond polling place by giving election workers a box of doughnuts and posed with them for photos.

Morrissey criticized Attorney General Mark Herring (D) for signing off on the investigation that resulted in the charges.

GOP convention?

On Saturday, Jan. 23, the state Republican Central Committee voted 38-33-4 to keep a nominating convention later this year instead of a primary.

The online Zoom session reaffirmed their decisions on Dec. 4 and Jan. 16, according to the Richmond daily.

Among those who have announced on the GOP side include Chase, Del. Kirk Cox of Colonial Heights, Northern Virginia businessman Glenn Youngkin, former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Sergio de la Pena of Burke and former Army Ranger Kurt Santini of Bedford County.

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