NFL stadium bills clear Virginia Senate, House

Washington Post Virginia Politics Reporter Laura Vozzella on Virginia lawmakers’ efforts to lure a Washington Commanders stadium

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Bills that could lead to construction of a $3 billion Washington Commanders NFL football stadium complex in Prince William or Loudoun county have cleared both houses of the Virginia General Assembly.

On Tuesday, the state Senate approved its version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, 32-8. The House version, sponsored by Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, was approved on a 62-37 vote Monday.

The two versions have some differences, however, which will likely have to be resolved in a conference committee before the legislative session ends in early March.

Officials of the Ashburn-based team have been meeting with legislators since late last year. The Commanders’ contract at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., ends in 2027. The stadium was constructed in 1997.

The new authority would be similar to an existing Baseball Stadium Authority, which the state created in 1995 with the hopes of landing a Major League Baseball team. Under such authorities, officials typically create a district around the stadium and dedicate some or all of the new revenue generated from the complex to construction or related infrastructure.

However, attempts are surfacing to withhold state support for the stadium because the results of investigations into harassment in the organization and a sexual misconduct allegation against owner Dan Snyder have not been made public.

When the Senate bill came up before the Appropriations Committee on Feb. 11, Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Falls Church, tried to amend the legislation to withhold any economic incentives or forgo any tax revenue until all documents, communications and results of the investigations are made public.

The Washington Post published an investigation alleging that more than 40 women who were former team employees had been sexually harassed and discriminated against by Snyder and other male executives since at least 2006. The Post also reported that the team settled a previous sexual harassment claim against Snyder for $1.6 million.

Shortly after, the team hired lawyer Beth Wilkinson to conduct an investigation, but the NFL soon stepped in to oversee it. After it concluded, the team was fined $10 million and Snyder stepped down from day-to-day operations.

The Post has since reported that a team lawyer was urging documents related to the sexual misconduct investigation to be destroyed.

Several senators objected to Ebbin’s motion, saying the legislature should only focus on business.

“I don’t think there’s anybody in this room who has any problem with the NFL investigating these allegations that have been made against Mr. Snyder,” Saslaw said. “I certainly don’t. I don’t think anybody else does. But it does not belong in this bill.”

Sen. Chap Peterson, D-Fairfax, said the General Assembly doesn’t conduct such investigations.

“This is a business deal. This is a business transaction,” he said. “We didn’t investigate Jeff Bezos when we did a deal with Amazon. … We need to focus on the business details.”

Ebbin, however, disagreed and said the public is entitled to know who Virginia would be conducting business with if the state pledges to give up tax revenue.

“When you go into business with a billionaire and you’re foregoing up to $1 billion in tax revenue, I just think it’s appropriate to do the due diligence rather than have things drip out week after week, month after month, year after year,” he said. “If we’re going to give him this great incentive, we’re entitled to know that investigation be made available.”

Ebbin made a motion to include his amendment, but it was not seconded and therefore failed. The bill cleared the committee with only Ebbin and Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, opposed.

In the House of Delegates on Friday, Del. Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church, failed in an attempt to add a similar amendment to the House bill. Simon’s amendment would have kept the legislation from going into effect before the NFL produced the results of Wilkinson’s investigation, including her findings and all related documents held by either the NFL or a third-party vendor.

The House essentially voted to reject Simon’s amendment by a 51-43 vote before voting to pass the bill.

The Senate committee meeting was the first mention of potential costs for the stadium, which officials have said would include surrounding retail, lodging and restaurants. Saslaw said construction of the stadium would cost $1 billion, with the surrounding campus costing $2 billion that would be contributed by the owner.

He said the annual tax revenue generated by the complex is estimated at $153 million. Of that, $60 million would go to the state’s general fund, $59 million to the surrounding locality and $34 million toward paying off bonds.

He said any bonds issued by the stadium authority would be backed by the team, not the state. The bonds and stadium lease would be for a term of 30 years.

“The bill does not create a penny of debt backed by the commonwealth,” Saslaw said.

The team is still reportedly considering sites in the District of Columbia and Maryland. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has said his state still hopes to keep the team in the state, and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has said the city is open to a stadium in the District.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner and republished with permission. Sign up for’s free email subscription today.


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