Sen. Tommy Norment Talks Life in General Assembly, Ethics at Town Hall Meeting

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Sen. Tommy Norment (R-3) addresses citizens Tuesday at a town hall meeting. (Gregory Connolly/WYDaily)
Sen. Tommy Norment (R-3) addresses citizens Tuesday at a town hall meeting. (Gregory Connolly/WYDaily)

It’s not easy being a legislator in the General Assembly; just ask Tommy Norment.

The Republican Senate Majority Leader hosted a town hall meeting Tuesday at the James City County Social Services Building, using the time to explain to a group of citizens that the 140 legislators in the body get 45 days in odd-numbered years and 60 days in even-numbered years to consider thousands of bills.

“It is really challenging to get everything done in a comprehensive way in 60 days and 45 days,” said Norment, whose third district includes parts of several municipalities in the Senate of Virginia including much of James City County and part of York County.

One citizen asked if Norment supports higher salaries for legislatures and shifting to a full-time legislature. Norment, who has served in the Senate since 1992, said he would like to see 15 more days added to the General Assembly sessions rather than going to a full-time legislature. He said the $18,000 salary senators receive is “absurd” and the compensation needs to increase to ensure a diverse mix of people in the legislature.

“That $18,000 does not change my standard of living one bit,” said Norment, an attorney by trade at the law firm of Kaufman & Canoles. “But there are legislators in there where [service in the General Assembly] is truly a major financial sacrifice.”

This year’s short session proved time enough to pass more than 730 bills, including changes to how colleges and universities must deal with reports of sexual assault and reforms to ethics governing the conduct of state legislators. He used the town hall meeting to share his thoughts on both issues.

“The McDonnell trials were a catalyst that started a discussion about ethics, and it was something that the media grasped on and for months they had the opportunity to write about all the terrible things the McDonnells had done,” he said. “And when the trial was over, all of a sudden there was a hiatus and they needed something else to grasp on, and they picked up on ethics.”

Norment carried the omnibus ethics reform bill during the 2015 General Assembly session. His bill makes several changes, including the implementation of a $100 cap on gifts, a change in law making it a felony to knowingly misstate information on ethics disclosure forms and erases any distinction between tangible and intangible gifts.

He said the McDonnells erred in not reporting gifts and loans they received that later led to federal convictions for violation of corruption laws. Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife were convicted last year of accepting $170,000 in gifts and bribes from the CEO of a dietary supplement company called Star Scientific in exchange for promoting that company to university researchers and other state officials.

“If they had just reported what they had done, they probably wouldn’t have had any difficulties,” Norment said. “It was his failure to report.”

Changes to law governing sexual assault reporting at universities was passed in the most recent session in the wake of a Rolling Stone magazine article about an alleged sexual assault at the University of Virginia. While the credibility of that article is now in doubt — Rolling Stone retracted the article — Norment said sexual assaults on campuses is a serious issue.

“Let there be no doubt, there are sexual assaults taking place on every campus across America, including UVA,” he said.

Norment voted yes on two bills reforming how colleges and universities must handle reports of sexual assaults. One requires the institutions to bring allegations to a committee — which must include a law enforcement officer — within 72 hours of an employee of the institution learning of an allegation.

The other makes it so anyone convicted of a sexual assault or who has left an institution while under investigation for such an assault — or other violations of the institution’s code — must have the issue placed on their academic transcript.

Norment also touched on the issue of Medicaid expansion during the town hall meeting, saying that the Republican-controlled House of Delegates will never allow it to happen. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, allows states to accept money from the federal government to open Medicaid to more low-income citizens.

He said House Republicans believe the state will have a financial crisis in the coming years because the federal government will not honor its obligation to pay for the expanded Medicaid program.

Norment is up for re-election this year, though he did not mention his campaign during the meeting. He formally announced his intention to run for re-election late last month. The election is set for Nov. 3.