Marijuana legalization, IG investigation approved in one-day session

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A one-day “veto session” April 7 resulted in approval of amendments to legislation requested by Gov. Ralph Northam (D), specifically marijuana legalization for up to 1 ounce effective July 1 and approval of $250,000 for a private law firm to investigate and report on the state parole board and the inspector general’s office. 

The former was legislation co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond). The latter was in response to blowback after an inspector in the state IG’s office, Jennifer Moschetti, was fired after she sought whistleblower protection related to the release of information about the parole board not notifying the Richmond commonwealth’s attorney or family of a police officer before a killer, Vincent Martin, was released from prison. Martin’s early release was approved by the parole board in violation of state law, which resulted in Del. Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) calling for the entire board to be replaced. 

Morrissey said Republicans wanted a 15-member panel of lawmakers created with the ability to subpoena witnesses. Although he supported the $250,000 investigation and report by a private law firm, Morrissey said “it may become necessary to do a special committee” in the future. 

The law firm is to be selected soon by Attorney General Mark Herring in consultation with Northam and Democratic leaders of the Senate and House, Morrissey said. The report is due sometime this summer. 

Morrissey said he struck a deal with Northam and Senate leaders to consider elimination of mandatory minimum sentencing during a special session later this year or in regular session next year. Morrissey and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax held a press conference about the subject at the state capital on Monday, April 5. Morrissey said he was willing to vote against legalization of up to 1 ounce of marijuana in order to make sure his party agreed to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for some 223 crimes. “Mandatory minimums are horrific,” Morrissey said on Saturday, April 10. He gave the example of a man who got charged with child molestation in the midst of a contentious divorce, refused to take a plea agreement, went to trial, was convicted and got a 50-year sentence based on a “he said, she said” situation. 

GOP satellite convention

Morrissey opined on the Republican Party’s May 8 satellite convention, which will be held at 37 locations across the state to select nominees for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general for the Nov. 2 general election. He said the nomination process will likely revert to convention delegates’ second or third choices. 

The GOP state central committee approved ranked voting, which will result in delegates choosing their top three candidates. The convention will also include weighted voting, which means that 133 cities and counties will have an equitable say-so. This prevents Northern Virginia from dominating, Morrissey said. 

He predicted that Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) would get the most votes on the first ballot, but that no one would receive the 50.1 percent necessary to gain the nomination. Morrissey said that ranked choice voting — which has been used in Europe and Australia — would determine the nominee. He suggested that Charlottesville businessman Pete Snyder or Cox could win on the second ballot. Other approved candidates include Northern Virginia businessman Glenn Youngkin, former Defense Department official and Army Col. Sergio de la Pena, former Roanoke Sheriff Octavia Johnson and Peter Doran, a former international affairs consultant who has called for elimination of the state income tax. 

Morrissey said the Republican convention may be the last such convention in the state since Northam signed HB 2020, which requires parties to allow votes by people who are unable to attend such meetings. Categories include members of the armed forces on active duty, those temporarily living outside the country, a college student, a disabled person and someone with a communicable disease. 

HB 2020 goes into effect Jan. 1, 2024. It received bipartisan support in the Senate, where it was approved 29-10 with the support of eight Republicans, including Chase. It passed the House 53-45 with one Democrat, Del. David Bulova of Fairfax, voting no. 

Chesterfield supervisor Leslie Haley (R-Midlothian) is running for attorney general, along with Del. Jason Miyares of Virginia Beach, Chuck Smith of Virginia Beach and Jack White of Northern Virginia. 

Republican lieutenant governor candidates who qualified for the ballot include Puneet Ahluwalia of Fairfax, Lance Allen of Fauquier County, Del. Glenn Davis of Virginia Beach, former Del. Tim Hugo of Fairfax, Maeve Rigler of Alexandria and former Del. Winsome Sears of Winchester. 

Expungement

The General Assembly approved Northam’s modification to two bills dealing with expungement of certain criminal records, HB 2113 and SB 1339. The governor’s recommendation allows state agencies to begin expunging and sealing records as soon as they are able instead of waiting until 2025. The Senate approved the revision 23-17 and the House 60-40. Certain charges that did not result in a conviction, mostly misdemeanors, will be automatically expunged. Convictions would be sealed after 7, 10 or 20 years, depending on the crime, as long as no other offenses occurred during that time period. Some require a petition to the court. 

 

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