Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, said Monday that she intends to keep her job at a state agency while serving in the General Assembly, despite a legally murky rule laid out in the state Constitution that says “no person holding a salaried office under the government of the Commonwealth” may serve in the legislature.
Adams is on unpaid leave from her job as director of the Office of Integrated Health in the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, but she said in an interview Monday that she will return to the job after the 60-day legislative session. An out-of-office reply set up at her government email address indicated she will be back to work on March 19, about a week after the legislature’s March 10 adjournment date.
In an interview, Adams said that when she began her winning campaign against former Del. Manoli Loupassi, a Richmond Republican, she initially believed she would have to give up her state job if she won. After narrowly defeating Loupassi last year, Adams said she and her department investigated the legal technicalities and determined she could stay. After seeking guidance from state human resources officials and the Attorney General’s Office, Adams said, a determination was made that “there’s precedent for a state employee being in the legislature.”
“Everything is above board,” Adams said.
Though there’s a long history of Virginia lawmakers also holding teaching posts at public colleges, others who made the jump from the state workforce to the legislature have opted to give up their day jobs to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. For example, Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, gave up his job in the Attorney General’s Office when he was elected to the House of Delegates last year.
The section of the state Constitution that lays out qualifications for serving in the General Assembly bans judges, sheriffs, court clerks and other local constitutional officers who receive funding from the state.
What the rule means for state employees is somewhat unclear, but two prior legal opinions from the Attorney General’s Office suggested the law would not preclude a community college faculty member or a “classified state employee” from serving in the legislature.
By going on unpaid leave, Adams will avoid the issue of receiving two publicly funded salaries simultaneously. State delegates receive a salary $17,640 plus a per diem allowance of $203 for each day of the session. According to state data, Adams receives a six-figure salary from DBHDS, which provides mental health, substance abuse and developmental disability services.
“My intention has been to demonstrate excellent practice models that serve individuals with quality programs affordably, then leave and return to clinical practice,” Adams said.
Adams said she plans to consult with state ethics attorneys if she’s ever unclear about whether she should or shouldn’t vote on a policy that may affect her department. Delegates can abstain from votes if they feel they have a personal conflict.
The state budget, the top item on the agenda for the General Assembly, includes $92 million for DBHDS.