General Assembly is no millionaire's club, but some are quite comfortable

Our General Assembly isn't quite as much of a millionaire's club as Congress, but the latest round of statements of economic interests (compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project) that legislators have filed show some aren't doing too badly for themselves: a dozen have investment holdings of more than $1 million.

Leading the pack is State Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, with holdings of at least $6.7 million. We have to use very wide estimates because legislators report their holdings as approximations: $5,000 to $50,000, $50,000 to $250,000 and more than $250,000.

Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, reports holdings of at least $2.8 million, while Del. Scott Garrett, R-Lynchburg, has investments worth at least $2.5 million.

On the other hand, even more report no investments at all — 20 in total, including Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, and Del. Gordon Helsel, R-Poquoson, from the Peninsula delegation.

Legislators are required to report investments, real estate, directorships and generally where they earn their income so that voters can and judge whether their votes on bills serve their own interests more than the public's.

With that in mind, Shad Plank took a look at legislators with large holdings in companies that have big stakes in what the General Assembly does or that pay lobbyists to watch the legislature for them.

So, DeSteph has more than $250,000 of his money in each of Dominion Energy, IBM and UBS Financial.

Del. Manoli Loupassi, R-Richmond, has a more than $250,000 stake in Dominion, the energy giant famed for its large-scale spending on lobbying and campaign donations, which many critics say results in overly favorable legislation. Garrett has a $250,000-plus stake in IBM. IBM registers lobbyists, but they don't report spending a lot of money on behalf of the company, state filings show.

Legislators with $250,000-plus bank investments include Norment's more than $250,000 holding of TowneBank shares, and the holding of Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, in EagleBank. Neither of these banks have registered any lobbyists, but the state bankers' association takes a keen and active interest in bills dealing with financial regulation.

State Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, has more than $250,000 in Verizon shares. She's a lawyer for the telecom company and makes a point of abstaining with telecommunication issues arise in the legislature.

Legislators with $50,000 to $250,000 stakes in Dominion are: Norment, House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, Del. Barry D. Knight, R-Virginia Beach, and state Sen. Siobhan Stolle Dunnavant, R-Henrico.

Legislators with $50,000 to $250,000 in banks include Del. Eileen R. Filler-Corn, with an investment in Bank of America, Del. Terry L. Austin, R-Botetourt, in Bank of Botetourt, state Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, in EagleBank, and Garrett, in Bank of the James. State Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, and state Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, each have more than $50,000 of stock in TowneBank.

Dels. Riley Ingram, R-Hopewell, and Robert Bloxom, R-Accomack, each have more than $50,000 worth of shares in Capital One, the credit card giant based in Virginia with a longstanding lobbying effort on financial matters.

Wagner has more than $50,000 in Shenandoah Telephone, and Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, has more than $50,000 in Verizon. Wagner's major holdings also include more than $50,000 in Dollar Tree Stores shares.

Henrico Republican Del. Peter Farrell's $50,000-plus holdings are in Altria, the cigarette-maker, Norfolk Southern, the railroad, and banking giant BB&T.

Garrett has a $50,000-plus holding in Reynolds America, the No. 2 cigarette maker.

Kaine's idea on health care

With so much of the punditocracy's focus on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's efforts to pull together 50 votes on Obamacare repeal out of his 52 GOP colleagues, Shad Plank wondered what Senate Democrats might be thinking.

So we asked.

Sen. Tim Kaine, fresh from this weekend's Remote Area Medical mobile clinic in Wise County, says he and his colleagues are working a slew of measures they hope will emerge as amendments, or even alternatives to the House GOP proposal that is effectively what's now on the table, to ensure that millions of Americans will still have access to health insurance.

Kaine himself is working on a particularly geeky idea (well, you'd expect that from a policy wonk, wouldn't you?).

It's reinsurance. It's basically the same idea that allows people to buy flood insurance, doctors to afford medical malpractice and, for the first few years of the Affordable Care Act, provided some stability for insurers as they jumped into a brave new world where they had to cover everybody, no matter what their health condition, and could not charge sick people more than healthy people.

Basically, reinsurance is a pool of money that insurers can tap when claims from any one person (or property, for flood insurance) exceed a pre-determined level. For a wide range of insurance, everything from covering drivers to covering billion dollar businesses, reinsurance is a free-market solution. Financial giants find reinsurance is a profitable line of business. Insurers around the world find it is a backstop worth paying for. And insurance customers find (whether they know it or not) that coverage is more affordable.

"It could stabilize the individual market, and help bring down premiums," Kaine said.

The idea has been supported by GOP legislators in the past. And Kaine said he's heard from one Republican senator that reinsurance could be an alternative to a rushed repeal bill that could give Congress breathing space to tackle health insurance in a more rational way.

That is, to work the way Kaine and his across-the-aisle colleague, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, think legislators ought to work.

It's how the Armed Services Committee that both senators serve on managed with this year's National Defense Authorization Act, Kaine said. After a couple of months of public hearings, advice from a wide range of technical experts, hundreds of amendments debated in subcommittee and full committee, the committee — believe it or not — voted unanimously for a piece of major legislation.

Conservation vote scores

The Virginia League of Conservation Voters says two Peninsula state senators and one delegate were among the 28 legislators who supported all of its positions on conservation issues in this year's General Assembly.

They were state Sens. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, and Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, and Del. Mike Mullin, D-Newport News.

Among legislators supporting the league's position more than three-quarters of the time were Dels. Cia Price, D-Newport News, and Jeion Ward, D-Hampton.

At issue were bills ranging from solar energy to transportation policy to climate change, including requiring site-by-site assessment of coal ash storage facilities and the defeat of a bill that would have kept the public from knowing chemicals used in fracking for natural gas.

Ress can be reached at 757-247-4535 or dress@dailypress.com. Read the Shad Plank blog at www.ShadPlank.com.

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