Scandals Mar First Day of Virginia General Assembly - NBC4 Washington
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Scandals Mar First Day of Virginia General Assembly



    Virginia Lawmakers Open Session Amid New Ethics Controversy

    Northern Virginia bureau chief Julie Carey reports on the controversial beginning of the new General Assembly with Delegate Morrissey at the Capitol by day and in prison at night. (Published Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015)

    A cloud of controversy hung over the Virginia General Assembly as the 2015 session opened.

    A Richmond-area delegate who just won a special election Tuesday night is still serving a jail sentence.

    Del. Joe Morrissey headed into the Capitol today to reclaim a seat on the House floor, where he's served seven years. He's will be a legislator by day, and a Henrico County jail inmate by night.

    Morrissey announced in December he would be resigning after he entered an Alford plea to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

    He'd been accused of having a relationship with a 17-year-old receptionist at his law office. Morrissey ran as an independent in Tuesday's special election and won back his 74th District seat. He was sworn in Wednesday.

    On the house floor, Morrissey was relegated to the last of 100 seats. The House Speaker's opening comments seemed directed at him and the ethics cloud that first formed last year when former Gov. Bob McDonnell was indicted and later convicted.

    "Perhaps now more than any time in recent memory, we must be mindful of the trust that our fellow citizens have placed in us – and the expectations, duties and obligations inherent to the positions we hold," said William Howell (R) of Fredericksburg. "Our fellow citizens demand honor, integrity and civility. I would encourage all of us – Republicans and Democrats alike – to renew our commitment to meet those standards."

    House Democrats and Repubclians are weighing whether to take punitive acton against Morrissey.

    Among their options: Expulsion, censure, or they could do nothing. Fairfax County Delegate and House Democratic Caucus called Morrissey's conduct reprehensible.

    "To have a member actively serving jai time and sleeping in a jail cell while trying to legislate by day is something most of us find completely unacceptable," Surovell said.

    Morrissey said he's not worried about what's ahead.

    "I'm confident in Joe Morrissey," he said. "I'm confident that things will work out exactly the way they are supposed to, just like the election."

    Virginia history suggests there is a foundation for that confidence. Disciplinary action in the House or Senate is rare. Surovell said the last time a House member was expelled was 1876, although a State Senator was censured in 1991.

    Lawmakers will consider a host of ethics reform bills, prompted by the McDonnell scandal and given more momentum by Morrissey's election.

    Several bills would reduce the monetary cap on gifts from $250 to $100 and eliminate the acceptance of trips, meals and tickets. Other proposed measures limit employment of former lawmakers, barring them from accepting certain gubernatorial appointments for a year after they leave office.

    "There's no question momentum is great with McDonnell going to jail. This is unprecedented in Virginia history," Surovell said. "I think its really raised a lot of people awareness of theproblems we need to fix. The public has really told everybody here we need to do somethign this year and we need to have stronger laws"