Oyster Harvests Continue to Rebound

There’s a lot of bad news in the world today.  So let’s focus on some good news:  the miraculous restoration of Virginia’s oyster population over the past few years.

Today, the McAuliffe administration announced that the Virginia oyster havest had increased 25% since the past year and more than twenty times its nadir a few years ago.  This year, oystermen took over 500,000 bushels out of the Bay, with a market value of over $22 million.

In 2001, the oyster haul was only 20,000 bushels, almost nothing for a long-time industry.  At that time, it seemed like the oyster industry was dead.  There was even talk about introducing a foreign-bred oyster to try and stimulate the native species to action.  (Call it the mail-order bride solution)

We didn’t do that.  Instead, we left it in the hands of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission which used innovative methods, such as rotating harvest seasons and dropping artificial reefs into oyster breeding areas so the bivalves had a place to meet and mingle in a stress-free environment.  (“oystermingle.com”?)  The native populations survived somehow and began to breed again.  Now it’s coming back to toward its peak populations from the Seventies and Eighties.

The oyster has a long population in Virginia.  The earliest English settlers stayed alive by eating oysters, which they dug up from the banks of the James.  It’s the closest thing we have to a native food source and it’s back.

Comments Off

A Few Thoughts on the Children’s Immigration Crisis

Many years ago, there was a flood of immigrants to our shores.  They were not from Europe or even Mexico.  They were from Vietnam and we called them “the Boat People.” By and large, they were fleeing the Communist government of Viet Nam.  Many of them were the wives and children of captured ARVN soldiers and government officials.

The refugees were picked up by the U.S. Navy.  Thousands were allowed to settle in the United States where they were adopted by various church organizations (most of the refugees were Christian, which was itself a reason to get out).  My church adopted a Vietnamese family which lived next door for a year (in 1979) in my Great-Grandmother’s house, currently “Choices,” in downtown Fairfax City.

As a sixth-grader at J. C. Wood Elementary, I walked two of the older children to school.  They didn’t speak a word of English and I didn’t speak any Vietnamese.  Basically, we communicated with hand signals and their mother rewarded me with some type of fish food, when I brought them home.  (My mom told me to be polite and eat it — so I did).

In this way, thousands of foreign kids were folded into our otherwise-homogenous community.   I lost track of that family, but I have no doubt that those kids and their younger siblings have become great successes in the USA.

I mention this in the context of the thousands of kids who are arriving at our borders in unprecedented numbers ….

1.  To the extent that these children or their families remain in the USA (and that’s debatable), I highly doubt that the Great Republic will collapse if these kids are kept here, either temporarily or permanently.  Eventually, they will be assimilated.  They always are.  I reject the concept that their presence is a “threat” to any community in America.

2.  A larger issue — and one I don’t brush aside — is the problematic theory  that any immigrant to the USA by any method is automatically entitled to benefits and protections and any attempt to repatriate is proof of (cue the word …)  “racism.”

We have always made a distinction between political refugees and economic refugees under law.  The latter can apply for asylum.  The latter cannot.  The Obama administration is bound by that Federal law, just like the rest of us.  If a child crosses the border illegally and is not covered by any legal exemption, then he has to be returned.  I have no objections to providing aid to these central American countries to feed its own population — but we can’t just absorb their surplus population.

So whither the issue of “immigration reform.”  The problem I encounter in my law practice is the delays and red tape in obtaining the necessary documentation for legal status.  I also agree that “DREAM Act” children raised in the USA, with a history of paying taxes, should be given a path to citizenship and state recognition.  (Ironically, the General Assembly last year was pushing towards a recognition of that reality, see HB 747). Any reform to me means streamlining and simplifying the process to legal status, while recognizing those persons who have spent a significant share of their life in the USA and deserve to stay.

That doesn’t mean that people are entitled to cross the border at will or that the Executive Branch should be scared to enforce Federal laws — even in the face of liberal opposition.  (Hey, if you’re afraid to make your friends angry, then you’re in the wrong business).

Regardless, if these children do remain in the USA, it will take individual communities and churches to step up and support these kids.  Just like what happened many years ago.

Comments Off

Procurement Reform and “Small Business”

In 2013, after years of good behavior on the General Laws Committee, I was awarded a seat on the Procurement Reform Commission, which has the unenviable task of overhauling Virginia’s procurement laws.

That means long days in Richmond comparing the benefits of “competitive sealed bidding” vs. “competitive negotiation.”  (The former relates to supply contracts involving generic goods — the latter usually refers to services which require unique skills).  Exciting stuff.

Today, we reviewed about twenty pieces of legislation which had been referred to the Commission.  The most explosive, no surprise, were those bills dealing with contracts awarded to “SWaM,” or small, woman-owned or minority businesses.

Virginia has a pretty paltry history on awarding SWaM contracts.  While it’s tough to compare “apples to apples,” it is apparent that less than 5% of our prime contracts let to private businesses go to minority-owned businesses. Here’s a link to a 2010 disparity study which looked specifically at how various agencies performed.

(ed. note:  it’s worth noting that the percentage numbers are somewhat skewed by the awarding of contracts to publicly-owned businesses which don’t fit any category.  It would have been useful for the study to factor that in).

Every Governor in my experience has made it a point to improve minority contracting in Virginia.  But nobody seems to be happy.  Today, however, I think our Commission took a step in the right direction by acknowledging a major problem — the definition of “small” business under the Virginia Code.

Under Virginia law, a “small business” is defined as a business which has fewer than 250 employees or less than $10 million in gross receipts.  In other words, pretty much every business in Virginia qualifies.  As a result, Virginia businesses which compete for “SWaM” status get little, if any, benefit.  Or Virginia businesses are outbid by out-of-state businesses who become “SWaM” certified, even if they’re doing billions in revenue, because they classify their work force as consultants or contractors.

As a result, Virginia gets little benefit from its “small business” and “supplier diversity” programs, which are meant to increase revenues (and hiring) in Virginia communities that need the work.

In 2014, Delegate Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington) had legislation which simply changed “or” to “and” in the SWaM definition so that a business has to qualify for both thresholds.  While an innocuous change, it makes a major difference.  Among other things, it would eliminate companies with more than 250 employees or $10 million in revenue from consideration. Neither of them have any business in being classified as a “small” business.

The Commission spent nearly an hour today on the Lopez bill, which garnered a lot of audience support.  Eventually, we recommended passing it on a nearly-unanimous and bipartisan vote.  The issue will next be taken up by the Assembly in January.

While it’s not a guaranty to pass before the full Assembly, it’s important to get the Commission’s imprimatur.  There is a lot of work to do to open up Virginia’s procurement system.  The first step is to define “small business” in a way that actually reflects reality.

Comments Off