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VIRGINIA VEHICLE INSPECTION STICKERS REDESIGNED

New Safety Approval Sticker Promotes “Move Over” Safety Message

RICHMOND – The Virginia State Police Safety Division is rolling out a newly-designed vehicle safety approval inspection sticker that now includes a traffic safety message. Effective Jan. 1, 2019, all certified Virginia inspection stations began issuing the sticker which has been reduced from 2.75 inches in height to 2 inches and from 4 inches in length to 3 inches. The year of expiration is now permanently affixed to the right side of the sticker, with the only insert being the month of expiration. Even though the overall size has been reduced, the month has been enlarged to provide better visibility.

“The change in size is in response to the feedback State Police received from Virginians following the sticker’s relocation to the bottom left corner of the windshield in 2018,” said Captain R.C. Maxey Jr., Virginia State Police Safety Division Commander. “We heard from a number of motorists who had difficulty seeing around the sticker, so we worked to reduce its size to slightly smaller than the average credit card.”

The sticker’s security features have also been enhanced in order to discourage and prevent unauthorized removal, tampering and counterfeit practices. The changes in size and design do not apply to motorcycle or trailer safety inspection stickers. Vehicle rejection stickers also remain unchanged.

Another new feature of the inspection sticker enables State Police to reach an estimated 8.2 million motorists annually with a reminder about Virginia’s “Move Over” law. This portion of the sticker is not for display on the front windshield. Instead, it is detached by the inspector and provided to the customer. Virginia’s “Move Over” law requires motorists to move over a lane when approaching an emergency vehicle stopped alongside the road. If unable to move over, then drivers are required to cautiously pass the emergency vehicle. The law applies to all vehicles equipped with red, blue and amber lights.

The placement of the sticker was changed in 2018 from the center of the windshield to the bottom, left corner due to safety concerns related to automotive innovations in recent years. The center placement of the sticker could prevent a vehicle’s crash avoidance system from operating properly.

Senate Panel Kills Bill To Update Law For Same-Sex Parents

By Jayla Marie McNeill, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — A Senate committee has killed a bill to remove gender-specific pronouns from parentage laws. The legislation would have made state laws more inclusive of same-sex couples, while also reflecting federal law.

“Our code is out of compliance,” said Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, who introduced the bill. “The commonwealth, I think, is subject to due process challenge because we haven’t changed things.”

In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Obergefell v. Hodges that state bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional.

The court ruled that the 14th Amendment “guarantees the right to marry as one of the fundamental liberties it protects, and that analysis applies to same-sex couples in the same manner as it does to opposite-sex couples.” Federal laws were then updated to reflect the court’s decision.

The gender-neutral language of SB 1544 was taken from the most recent version of the Uniform Parentage Act, a set of rules for determining a child’s legal parentage without discriminating against same-sex couples.

The bill also sought to ensure that same-sex couples would no longer have to go through the adoption process when using assisted conception. Currently, the non-biological parent must go through an adoption process to be considered a legal parent of the child.

For example, if a lesbian woman uses assisted conception to conceive a child, that woman’s wife would have to go through an adoption process to be considered a legal parent of the child under current Virginia law. Under this bill, adoption would not be required.

“I’ve had people contact me in Northern Virginia that actually make arrangements to have their child born in D.C., so they don’t have to go through legal adoption in Virginia,” Surovell said. “This [bill] is needed to bring our law up to speed.”

Joseph D. Wilson, from the law firm of Kelley Drye & Warren, voiced his support of the bill during the floor debate.

“We need to do this to comply with what the Constitution is now,” Wilson said. “I represent a same-sex lesbian couple, and I’m here to speak principally to you. I support the provisions in SB 1544.”

On a 7-8 vote, Surovell’s bill was defeated Monday in the Senate Committee of Courts and Justice. An identical bill also failed to advance out of committee in 2018.

Some legislators who opposed the bill raised concerns about the legal parental and financial ambiguities that could result from a scenario in which someone decides to conceive a child without consent from that person’s spouse.

Wilson said this concern already exists with current Virginia law. He said the bill would not resolve this issue but would only update the language to include non-gender-specific terms.

How they voted

Here is how the Senate Committee of Courts and Justice voted Monday on SB 1544 (Assisted conception; parentage presumption).

01/21/19 Senate: Failed to report (defeated) in Courts of Justice (7-Y 8-N)

YEAS — Saslaw, Howell, Lucas, Edwards, Deeds, Sturtevant, Petersen — 7.

NAYS — Obenshain, Norment, McDougle, Stuart, Stanley, Reeves, Chafin, Peake — 8.

Panel Takes Step Toward Legalizing Casino Gambling

By Alexandra Zernik, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- The Senate General Laws and Technology Committee approved legislation this week to allow casino gambling in five cities in Virginia. Next stop: the Senate Finance Committee.

The General Laws Committee modified SB 1126 to allow the possible establishment of a casino not just in Bristol, Portsmouth and Danville but also in Richmond and Norfolk. The panel then voted 9-3 in favor of the measure, which supporters say would increase jobs and tax revenues in economically distressed areas.

But the bill won’t go immediately to the full Senate for consideration. Instead, the General Laws Committee sent the legislation to the Finance Committee for a look at its fiscal impact.

Under SB 1126, a city could have a casino if it meets certain criteria of economic need, such as high unemployment and poverty levels. Bristol, Portsmouth and Danville meet those criteria.

The General Laws and Technology Committee incorporated into SB 1126 aspects of two other bills -- SB 1503 and SB 1706. SB 1706 said cities with more than 200,000 residents also could have a casino if it is operated by a federally recognized Indian tribe. The Virginia Pamunkey tribe has expressed interest in establishing a casino and could consider Portsmouth, Norfolk or Richmond under the bill.

“The one thing I’ve pushed for the most is that it puts the ultimate decision in the hands of the people in the jurisdiction directly impacted, including those associated to the Pamunkeys,” said Sen. Charles Carrico Sr., R-Grayson.

Under the bill, local voters would have to approve a casino gaming establishment in a referendum before it could get a license from the Virginia Lottery Board. The measure that emerged from the General Laws and Technology Committee also specifies that only one license can be issued per city.

Gov. Ralph Northam previously called for a study on casino gambling. The committee’s substitute bill adopted that idea and said a “review of casino gaming laws in other states” would be conducted concurrently with local efforts toward possible referendums. No casino license could be issued until July 1, 2020, according to the legislation.

“It doesn’t look like it’s a study to me. It looks like it’s just a first step in a few-year process to making it happen,” said Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, a member of the General Laws and Technology Committee. “This is a gambling bill that has a small provision for a study in it, so that’s why I will be against advancing the bill at this time.”

SB 1126 would require that counseling and other services be made available for problem gamblers. It would also create a “voluntary exclusion program" in which people could sign up for a list to be barred from casinos.

As outlined in the bill, Virginia would collect a casino tax of 10 percent --  a lower tax rate than in every state but Nevada and New Jersey, according to Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax. That’s an issue the Finance Committee will discuss.

“MGM has been sucking hundreds of millions of dollars out of this state up in Maryland, right across the river from my house, for four or five years now,” Surovell said. “I’ve been saying for four years, since I’ve gotten to the Senate, supporting my colleague from Portsmouth, that we need to do something about it.”

How they voted

Here is how the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee voted on SB 1126 (Lottery Board; regulation of casino gaming, penalties).

01/21/19  Senate: Reported from General Laws and Technology with substitute (9-Y 3-N 1-A)

YEAS--Ruff, Locke, Barker, Vogel, Ebbin, Surovell, McPike, Dunnavant, Mason--9.

NAYS--Black, Reeves, Suetterlein--3.

ABSTENTIONS--DeSteph--1.

Senate Passes Bill To Address Virginia Food Deserts

By Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. — More grocery stores might open in areas of Virginia lacking easy access to healthy food options under a bill unanimously passed by the state Senate.

SB 999, which cleared the Senate on Monday, is a bipartisan effort that would establish the Virginia Grocery Investment Fund to provide $5 million for the construction, rehabilitation and expansion of grocery stores in underserved communities throughout the commonwealth.

The bill’s chief sponsors are Republican Sen. Bill Stanley of Franklin County and Democratic Sen. Rosalyn Dance of Petersburg. Stanley said the absence of grocery stores in low-income areas is a health issue for the state.

“Right now, we have 1.7 million Virginians — almost a half a million of those are children — who live in what we call food deserts and have limited access to nutritious and healthy foods,” Stanley said.

Legislators are asking for the General Assembly to provide $5 million for the Virginia Grocery Investment Fund over the next two years. The money would be distributed by the state treasurer with approval from the Department of Housing and Community Development.

Legislators have requested that the annual interest earned and any remaining money stay with the program. Up to 10 percent of the fund can be used to pay administrative and operation costs.

Food deserts are defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as parts of the country that don’t have access to fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthful foods, usually because those areas don’t have grocery stores, farmers’ markets or healthy food providers close by.

According to the USDA, nearly 18 percent of Virginians live in food deserts.

Dance said eliminating food deserts was especially important for children living in indigent communities.

“What we found is that when children are given choices, when healthy foods are available, they select healthy foods,” Dance said. “I think the cost [of the grocery fund] is outweighed by the benefits that the children will receive.”

The bill sponsors cited food deserts as a contributor to the state’s health problems, saying that residents of areas without grocery stores often rely on local convenience stores that primarily sell sugary, fat-laden foods.

“Those are not as healthy as the opportunities in regular grocery stores,” Stanley said. “We have higher rates of diabetes. We have higher rates of those kind of chronic illnesses, which then puts pressure on our healthcare system, which is already under enough pressure.”

The Senate bill now heads to the House for consideration.

A similar House bill, HB 1858, sponsored by Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, was killed by a subcommittee Jan. 16.

Voting Along Party Lines, House Subcommittee Kills ERA

Proponents of the ERA react to the committee's vote to kill the resolution. Photo by Georgia Geen

By Georgia Geen, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — A House of Delegates subcommittee killed four bills to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment in a 4-2 party-line vote Tuesday amid verbal conflicts between the chairwoman and members of the audience.

The decision to “pass by indefinitely” HJ 577HJ 579HJ 583 and SJ 284 marks the end for efforts to pass legislation ratifying the ERA — a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution preventing sex discrimination — unless it is brought up in the full House Privileges and Elections Committee Friday.

“I think that with this type of attention that it’s getting, I think there’s an expectation that it will be brought to full committee on Friday,” said Del. Mark Sickles of Fairfax, one of two Democrats on the subcommittee.

The subcommittee’s chairwoman — Del. Margaret Ransone, R-Westmoreland — was vocal about her opposition to the ERA, sparking tensions with the crowd. Before the vote, Ransone asked those in support of the ERA to stand, and most people in the audience rose.

“This resolution has come after this committee year after year, meaning we are very aware of this resolution and it’s a thoroughly understood issue,” Ransone said. “I don’t need words on a piece of paper — God made us all equal.”

In her remarks, Ransone referenced Eileen Davis, co-founder of the pro-ERA group Women Matter and mother of U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, by name.

ERA supporters “have disrespected me year after year,” Ransone said. “And, Eileen, you have brought young people and young women to my office and told them that they’re not worthy. They are worthy.”

Ransone said that she is respected by the male members of the Republican Caucus and that women “deserve every opportunity in life that a man does.”

“Women deserve to be in the Constitution,” Davis said from the audience in response.

Ransone and fellow Republicans – Dels. Hyland “Buddy” Fowler Jr. of Hanover, Riley Ingram of Hopewell and John McGuire of Henrico – voted to kill each of the resolutions to ratify the ERA. Sickles and Democratic Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg of Henrico voted to keep the resolutions alive.

The ERA says, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

The amendment was first introduced by suffragette Alice Paul in 1923 but made little momentum until the 1970s when 35 states ratified it, three short of the 38 needed to make an amendment part of the U.S. Constitution. Efforts subsided after the ratification deadline imposed by Congress passed in 1982. However, the Constitution does not specifically give Congress the right to put a deadline on amendment ratification.

A campaign led by conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly is credited with halting the movement and resulting in five states rescinding their ratifications, a right not granted by the Constitution.

“Alice Paul said, 100 years ago, ‘Unless women are prepared to fight politically, they should be prepared to be ignored politically,’” Davis said. “And we’re not prepared [to be ignored] anymore; time is up on that.”

Supporters of ratifying the ERA had high hopes after the Senate passed SJ 284 on a 26-14 vote last week. Seven Republican senators joined the 19 Democratic members in voting to ratify the ERA.

But it was a different story when the issue moved to the House.

Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Stafford, who sponsored HJ 579, called the subcommittee vote “one of the most important … that we will take in our lifetime.”

“The same arguments that are being made are the arguments that were made for segregation,” Carroll Foy said. “We want to be on the right side of this issue.”

HERRING WARNS VIRGINIANS ABOUT SCAMS RELATED TO GOVERNMENT SHUT DOWN

RICHMOND (January 22, 2019) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring is warning Virginians who have been furloughed because of the government shutdown, or those who wish to help federal workers, to be vigilant and look out for scams related to the shutdown. Shutdown related scams could include fake employment offers for “side jobs”, predatory lenders taking advantage of temporarily unpaid Virginians, and fake charities that claim to be working on behalf of federal workers.
 
“As the government shutdown enters its fifth week, it is important for Virginians, especially those who work for the Federal Government, to be vigilant and pay close attention to potential scams,” said Attorney General Herring. “Unfortunately, individuals will capitalize on federal workers’ vulnerabilities and lack of income during this time and try and take advantage of them. People who are affected by the government shutdown have enough to worry about and should not also have to worry about a scammer preying on them. My consumer protection team and I will continue to do all we can to protect Virginians from getting ripped off and taken advantage of.”
 
Virginians are encouraged to remember the following tips during the Federal Government shutdown:
 
Fake Employment Offers
  • Be wary of emails that appear to be from major retailers offering positions at local stores unless you've applied for a position, use caution when proceeding.
  • Cross reference any emails with the company's website to see if they have openings.
  • Watch out for imposters using the names of real employees at legitimate businesses.
  • Be wary of interviews conducted through Hangouts, Skype, or Facetime.
  • If using sites like Craigslist to find a job, use the "too good to be true" rule of thumb. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Here are a few warning signs to look for:
  • High pay rates for simple tasks
  • Receiving a Job offer without an interview
  • Requesting up-front payments and personal information
  • Contact information and address are missing and an online search doesn't turn up the company's name   
  • Never provide your Social Security number or personal information unless you are certain the company and job offer are legitimate.
  • Most legitimate companies do not ask for personal information over email or by unsolicited phone call.
  • Never reply to a suspicious email or provide personal information to an unsolicited phone call.
 
Predatory Lending
  • Familiarize yourself with the risks associated with small-dollar loans including payday, auto title, open-end, and online loans, and understand your rights when taking out one of these potentially risky loans.
  • Payday Loans
  • Limitations on interest and other fees—Interest on a payday loan is generally capped at 36% annually. Lenders may not charge more than 20% of the loan proceeds as a loan fee, and may only charge a $5 verification fee for checking the state’s payday loan database prior to issuing a loan. For a one-month loan of $500, the total APR will be 288%.
  • Length of loans—The term of a payday loan must be at least twice the borrower’s pay cycle so they have a better chance of repaying it. After that time, lenders cannot charge interest of more than 6% per year.
  • Loan amount—Lenders cannot loan more than $500 to a borrower. 
  • Number of loans—Lenders cannot issue more than one loan at a time to a borrower.
  • Number of loans in a 180-day period—If a borrower receives and pays off 5 payday loans in a 180-day period, there is a mandatory 45-day cooling off period when a lender cannot issue another loan to that borrower.
  • Loans to military personnel—Lenders cannot make a payday loan to a borrower who is a member of the armed forces or one of his or her dependents.
  • Auto Title Loans
  • Interest—Title lenders can charge interest based on the following sliding scale:
  • 22% per month on the first $700 in principal;
  • 18% per month on any amount above $700 up to $1,400; and
  • 15% per month on any amount above $1,400.  
  • For a one-month loan of $500, the total APR of the loan will be 264%.
  • Length of a loan— The loan term must be between 120 days (four months) and one year. 
  • Number of loans—Only one loan may be issued at a time to each borrower, or on each title.
  • Amount of loan—The amount loaned cannot exceed 50% of the value of the vehicle. 
  • Post-repossession protections—After default, a lender generally may only repossess the vehicle. They cannot continue to charge interest on the loan.
  • Loans to military personnel—Lenders cannot make a title loan to a borrower who is a member of the armed forces or one of his or her dependents.
  • Open-End Credit Plan Loans
  • Lenders are increasingly exploiting a loophole and steering borrowers towards open-end credit plans that afford borrowers very few consumer protections and can expose borrowers to unlimited interest rates.
  • These loans can be offered by both online and brick-and-mortar lenders, often using phrases like “line of credit” and “cash advance.”
  • While open-end credit loans might look like more traditional loans, open-end credit lines can stay open for an unlimited amount of time and lenders can often charge unlimited interest.
  • One of the few consumer protections in this area is a 25-day “grace period” during which the borrower has an opportunity to pay off the loan without interest or other finance charges, but once the 25-day grace period expires, a lender can charge an unlimited interest rate.
  • Online Loans
  • Online loans are generally subject to Virginia’s “usury statutes” which limits them to a 12% interest rate. If the interest rate is higher than 12% you should avoid taking out a loan and report the lender to Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section.
  • Be wary of closed-end installment lenders that operate online and make loans to Virginia consumers because they are not required to be licensed by the SCC under current law.
  • Alternatives to Predatory Loans
  • Before obtaining a potentially predatory loan from a non-traditional lender, consumers should consider their other alternatives.
  • Traditional lenders—See if you can meet your needs through a traditional lender such as a bank, credit union, or consumer finance company, which typically will have a longer term and lower interest rates. Even if it is a small amount, a community bank or credit union may be willing to loan you the money you need.
  • Credit card cash advance—If you have a traditional credit card with remaining credit available, obtain a credit card cash advance, which will often have a lower interest rate than that offered by a payday or motor vehicle title lender.
  • Negotiation with creditors and companies—If you need money because you are having temporary trouble keeping up with routine bills, speak with your creditors, explain the financial difficulties you are having, and see if they will let you enter into a payment plan to take care of what you owe them.   
  • Personal connections—Consider whether you can get a temporary loan from family, friends, your congregation or place of worship, or a local charity.
  • Military options—If you are in the military, check with the applicable military aid society to see if they have any financial assistance programs that could be of use.
  • Authorized overdraft—Some banks will allow an authorized overdraft that may be preferable to taking out a risky loan that could saddle you with debt for months or years. If you utilize this option, be sure you understand the associated limitations, rates, or penalties.
 
Charitable Donations
  • Only give to charities and fundraisers you can confirm are reliable and legitimate. Scrutinize charities with consumer advocates or friends and find out how much of your donation will go to the charity's programs and services.
  • Be especially cautious if you do not initiate the contact with the charity.
  • Do not be pressured into giving. Legitimate organizations will not expect you to contribute immediately.
  • Ask for written information about the charity, including name, address, and telephone number. Legitimate organizations will give you materials about the charity's mission, how your donation will be used, and proof that your contribution is tax-deductible. Just because a "charity" has a tax identification number does not mean your contribution is tax-deductibl
  • Avoid cash donations. Make checks payable to the charitable organization and not to an individual collecting a donation. For security and tax record purposes, you may wish to pay by credit card.
  • If a charity is soliciting contributions in Virginia, verify its registration with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs (OCRP) at (804) 786-1343, or by searching OCRP's Charitable Organization Database online: http://cos.va-vdacs.com/cgi-bin/char_search.cgi
  • While a legitimate charity should be registered with OCRP to solicit contributions in Virginia, registration alone does not mean that the organization will be effective in aiding people affected by the government shutdown.

 
Many localities in Northern Virginia have centralized resources for residents who are impacted by the Federal Shutdown.
 
Since 2014, Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section has recovered more than $273 million in relief for consumers and payments from violators. Following a major reorganization and enhancement in 2016, the OAG’s Consumer Protection Section has been even more effective in fighting for the rights of Virginians.
 
If you think you have been a victim of a scam, you should contact Attorney General Herring's Consumer Protection Section to file a complaint or to get additional information about any consumer protection related matter:

Event Promotes Racial Reconciliation on Virginia’s 400th Anniversary

By Kaytlin Nickens, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — With art, music, dance and spoken word, a national organization that fights injustice is holding a two-day event in Richmond to reflect on the history of slavery in Virginia and to promote racial reconciliation.

The organization, Initiatives of Change USA, partnered with more than 30 nonprofits, businesses, artists and social justice activists to host “Something in the Water” at Studio Two Three in Richmond. The event began on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and will conclude Tuesday — the National Day of Racial Healing.

“This year is 2019, and it’s the 400th year of observance in Jamestown,” said Sionne Neely, the group’s director of marketing and communications. But she noted that it also is the 400th anniversary of enslaved Africans being brought to Jamestown — the first slaves in what would later become the United States.

Slavery has left rifts in American society, and events like “Something in the Water” can help heal them, Neely said. “There are a lot of different perspectives being shown here,” she added, describing them as “portals, opportunities to experience something new and different.”

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation helped create Initiatives of Change USA and establish the National Day of Racial Healing to celebrate humanity, acknowledge racial division and increase understanding and communication among all ethnic groups.

Richmond is one of the 14 cities to receive a grant from Initiatives of Change USA to achieve those goals.

Sarah Workman, the organization’s program development coordinator, said she is concerned with how to change the narrative of Richmond, where slaves were once bought and sold. “I felt a certain heaviness that I really didn’t understand,” she said.

Workman left Richmond at the age of 18 and didn’t return until almost 16 years later. She said it was important for her to come back and understand what the people of color she grew up with went through.

“A big part of what racial healing means to me is finally unearthing that empathy and understanding,” Workman said. She said she is “trying to figure how I can be in this community using my privilege — my whiteness — to help this community.”

Also at Monday’s event was Eleazer Afotey Allnice, a native of Ghana and student at the University of Richmond. He said there is beauty in color.

“It helps us to reflect on the past and how to make our society a better place,” Allnice said. “Everyone is important.”

Christina Hairston, a local artist, also attended “Something in the Water.”

“I think people need something that just uplifts their spirits in these times but is also informative — even for the kids here,” Hairston said.

Amanda Barnes is the graphic designer and social media liaison for Initiatives of Change USA. She said she hope that each person at the event gains individual voice and power.

“There are people who aren’t aware that this is the 400th year that Africans were brought over,” Barnes said. “This is kind of a reflection point of where we are as a society and what changes should happen.”

Citizens Advocate for Gun Control from Both Sides at the Capitol

KING_Gun Violence

Use the controls to click through this slideshow.

By Evie King, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- People on both sides of the gun control debate rallied at the Capitol on Monday to advocate for their stances on firearms in Virginia.

The Virginia Citizens Defense League held a Second Amendment rally at the Bell Tower at Capitol Square in the morning. The Virginia Center for Public Safety followed with an afternoon vigil that honored lives lost to gun violence.

Virginia Citizens Defense League Rally

An hour before the Capitol Bell struck noon, over 50 VCDL members congregated, clad in winter coats and wearing hunter-orange stickers that read "Guns save lives." Demonstrators gathered to listen to speeches from gun rights activists and legislators sympathetic to their cause, including Sen. Dick Black, R-Loudoun, and Del. Dave LaRock, R-Loudoun.

The Virginia state and American flags blew in the frigid wind as VCDL President Philip Van Cleave introduced the speakers.

"I don't think there's been a year in the legislature that I have not introduced a gun bill," said Black, who plans to retire from the General Assembly at the end of the year.

Decrying Gov. Ralph Northam's proposed gun control measures as "California-style restrictions," Black expressed his support of  VCDL advocacy efforts.

"Thanks to ... all of you and the work that you're doing and the pressure that you put on the legislators, we are killing those bills and killing them fast," Black said.

Van Cleave said he hopes the General Assembly passes SB 1024, sponsored by Black. It would legalize concealed weapons in places of worship in Virginia. A Senate committee approved the bill Monday on a 7-6 party-line vote.

Nikki Goeser addressed the crowd and advocated for the right to bear arms in the spirit of self-defense. Her husband was murdered in 2009 at a restaurant in Tennessee, where it is illegal to carry a firearm in an establishment that serves alcohol.

"Not a day goes by that I don't ask myself, what I could have done if I had my weapon," Goeser said.

Kristi Horton said self-defense was also her primary reason for showing up to the rally. As a victim of sexual assault and a former law enforcement employee, Horton said she looks to legislators to protect her right to bear arms.  

"The result of my work help put people away in jail … sadly, I still get death threats …  to me, anything that makes it more difficult for me to obtain a firearm to defend myself hurts me, because there are people who really do want to hurt me," Horton said.

A group of teachers, mothers and their children marched near the gun rights advocates and protested the VCDL meeting, specifically the group's president, Van Cleave. He endorsed arming kindergartners with stuffed animal decorated guns in a controversial video orchestrated by actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen.

Alsuin Preis led the group and called Van Cleave's ideas about arming children "insane" and "ludicrous." Preis said the fear that motivates members of the VCDL is unfounded.

"It's all based on a lie ... It's a fake premise that we're all under attack. We're not. There needs to be sensible gun laws. There needs to be common-sense gun laws," Preis said.

The  VCDL rally ended with a coordinated group cheer of "guns save lives," which Second Amendment supporters yelled upward toward the sky as the bell tolled noon.

Gun Violence Vigil

Two hours later, the Bell Tower courtyard repopulated with a noticeably different crowd. Where the predominately white male, gun rights activists previously stood, a diverse crowd of families, students and faith leaders gathered to honor the more than 1,000 Virginians lost to gun violence in 2017.

Among them was Shana Turner, who traveled to the vigil from Hampton Roads in honor of her  25-year-old son. Turner held a poster in one hand and a framed picture of her son Shaquille in the other. She said her son's murder inspired her advocacy. According to police reports, Shaquille Turner was killed by a co-worker in a murder-suicide on Dec. 12, 2017.

"I'm not taking away anyone's Second Amendment, but let's be clear, people that have guns in their home aren't actually using them to protect themselves. They're using it for suicide [or for] domestic violence," Turner said.

Prayers from three local faith leaders were followed by speeches from prominent Democratic politicians. Attorney General Mark Herring said the Virginia legislature is not doing everything it could to make sure gun violence is stopped, "Not with a week like last week."

More than a dozen gun control bills were killed in committee last week on party-line votes by the Republican majority. Among them was HB 1763, referred to as a "red-flag" bill that would allow law enforcement officers to ask a judge to take away and prohibit the purchase of firearms by any person who "poses a substantial risk of injury to himself or others."

Aimed at preventing suicides and mass shootings, "red flag laws" have seen recent bipartisan support in other states such as Maryland and Florida.  

Northam echoed the sentiments of the bright yellow stickers demonstrators wore on their jackets that read "background checks save lives."

"Folks on the other side of the aisle continue to defeat what we know as common sense legislation to promote gun safety, things like universal background checks," Northam said. "They're more than willing to talk about how we make our streets and highways safer  ... but why can't we have a dialogue about how we ... as Virginians can address [gun control] issues."

Northam said he is interested in having conversations with legislators on both sides of the aisle, "but if we can't change people's minds, we need to change their seats," he said to a cheering crowd.

Northam celebrated the 2017 election results, which flipped 15 seats in the House of Delegates from Republican to Democrat, and the 7th Congressional District victory in November by U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who attended the rally.

"We need to keep that energy going in 2019. ... We will see you all out here next year, and we will have the majority in the House and Senate, and we will finally get things done for the Commonwealth of Virginia," Northam said.

"Change is coming once again," musician Crys Matthews sang, accompanied by her acoustic guitar, as the gathering dispersed.

Senate Kills Bill to Raise Minimum Wage in a Party-Line Vote

More than two dozen advocates gathered outside of the Capitol on Monday morning to rally in support of SB 1200, a bill to raise the minimum wage in Virginia.

By Maryum Elnasseh, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- A Senate bill that would have raised Virginia’s minimum wage is dead -- much to the dismay of more than two dozen advocates who braved the cold to rally for the bill Monday morning.

Introduced by Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, SB 1200 would have increased the minimum wage to $10 on July 1 and eventually to $15 in July 2021. It was defeated Monday afternoon in a 19-21 party-line vote.

“It’s been 10 years since Virginia workers received an increase in wages,” Dance said. “Meanwhile, the price of everyday goods continues to go up. In 2009, the average price for a gallon of gas in America was $1.78 -- today, it’s $2.41.”

There are 30 states with a minimum wage higher than Virginia’s $7.25 -- which is the federal minimum wage.

Speaking in opposition of the bill, Sens. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, and Thomas Norment, R-James City, argued that SB 1200 would hurt businesses and working Virginians.

Norment voted last week in the Committee on Commerce and Labor to advance the bill, but voted against it Monday. He said that raising the minimum wage to $12 would cost Virginia 24,000 jobs.

“If we raise the minimum wage in the manner described in this bill, those jobs, opportunities and learning experiences are gonna disappear,” Obenshain said. “And we’re not gonna be able to provide that to the kids graduating from high school, people entering the workforce. We’re gonna hurt an awful lot of businesses that depend on providing those opportunities to those just entering the workforce.”

Countering Obenshain’s view, Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, said there is a misconception that the majority of workers who earn less than $15 an hour are teenagers working part-time jobs.

“In fact, many of these workers are adults working full time, trying to earn enough to support their families and their futures,” McPike said. “Without the opportunity to earn a living wage, these workers have to work two and three jobs to make ends meet. That means time away from their kids.”

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average age of workers who would be affected by a minimum wage increase is 35 years old.

McPike was one of 10 Democratic senators who spoke in favor of the bill, sharing stories of their constituents who are unable to meet their needs, as well as research conducted on states with higher minimum wages.

            Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, said that a recent study shows that Arizona raised its minimum wage but did not lose any jobs.

Before the Senate convened Monday afternoon to vote on the bill, constituents rallied outside the Capitol in support of HB 1200. Organized by the labor union SEIU Virginia 512 and the organization New Virginia Majority, the rally drew more than two dozen people.

“You can’t survive on 7.25,” the group chanted, as senators passed by to enter the Capitol.

There are several other bills this session that would also increase the minimum wage:

  • HB 1850 would raise the minimum wage to $9 on July 1 and eventually to $15 in 2023.
  • HB 2157 would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 in 2020.
  • SB 1017 would raise the minimum wage to $8 on July 1 and eventually to $11.25 in 22.

How They Voted

Here is how the Senate voted Monday on SB 1200 (Minimum wage; increase to $10 per hour effective July 1, 2019):

01/21/19 — Senate: Defeated by Senate (19-Y 21-N)

YEAS — Barker, Boysko, Dance, Deeds, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Howell, Lewis, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, McPike, Petersen, Saslaw, Spruill, Surovell — 19.

NAYS — Black, Carrico, Chafin, Chase, Cosgrove, DeSteph, Dunnavant, Hanger, McDougle, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Peake, Reeves, Ruff, Stanley, Stuart, Sturtevant, Suetterlein, Vogel, Wagner — 21.

Jackson-Feild Promotes Johnnie McKeller

Jackson-Feild Behavioral Health Services (JFBHS) is pleased to announce that Johnnie C. McKeller has been named Director of Education for the Gwaltney School effective January 17, 2019. McKeller began teaching at the Gwaltney School in 2009, and had been serving as the acting director since July 1, 2018.

A resident of Franklin, McKeller earned his undergraduate degree from Longwood University, and his Master’s degree from Cambridge College.  He has been an educator since 2005 in a variety of capacities with several school divisions in North Carolina and Virginia. He also has been a coach for baseball, football, wrestling, track & field, and basketball.

McKeller is well liked and respected by the students as well as his colleagues, and his promotion has been well-received. With infectious enthusiasm, McKeller is a visionary who constantly seeks to improve himself and the Gwaltney School.

 

 

 

VCU Health CMH Team Member of the Month for December, 2018

Todd Howell, VP of Professional Services, VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital presented Erin Davis, Registered Nurse in Acute Care, the VCU Health CMH STAR Service Team Member of the Month Award for December.  There to congratulate Erin was Mary Hardin, Vice President of Patient Care Services and Mellisa Black, Acute Care Nursing Director.  Erin has been employed at VCU Health CMH for three and a half years.  Her dedication and work ethic are just two of the qualities that make her a wonderful asset to VCU Health CMH.   

The nomination form submitted on her behalf stated, “Erin has completed an extensive amount of work in the field of palliative care and her passion for this area of work is evident.  She has collaborated with the VCU Palliative Care Department to search out the feasibility of a palliative care program at VCU Health CMH.”  “Erin is all about patient care and this is just another example of that.”

In addition to the award certificate, Erin received a STAR Service lapel pin, letter of commendation from Administration, a $40 gift certificate, and a parking place of her choice for the month.

Erin resides in Henrico, NC on Lake Gaston.

Lobbying ‘Day of Action’ Brings Hundreds to Richmond

Political Activists attending Monday's Day of Action march down Fifth Street on their walk to the capitol, where they plan to lobby for legislation to increase the minimum wage.

By Caitlin Morris, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Hundreds of political activists from across Virginia gathered in Richmond on Monday to lobby in favor of driving rights for immigrants, a higher minimum wage and voting rights for felons.

The New Virginia Majority, a civic engagement group that focuses on marginalized communities, held its fifth annual Day of Action event on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

A diverse group of activists assembled at the Hotel John Marshall for presentations on the organization’s legislative priorities before marching to the Capitol where they lobbied lawmakers.

“We are actually working and tracking and advocating in support of over 200 pieces of legislation,” said Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of the New Virginia Majority.

The group’s lead political organizer, Monica Hutchinson, coached activists and community members before they set out to lobby legislators.

“They need to put a face and a story to that bill,” Hutchinson said.

Faces like Robert Davis, who lobbied for voting rights legislation, including bills that would restore rights to felons who have completed their sentences. Davis had his right to vote restored in 2016, after almost 30 years of disenfranchisement.

“I always wanted to vote, but I couldn’t vote because of my background,” Davis said. “I’m still a convicted felon.”

Virginia is one of three states that permanently disenfranchise people with felony records. The law affects over 500,000 Virginians, over half of whom are African American, according to the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization focused on criminal justice reform.

“It affects all of us,” Davis said. “But the minority, it hurts.”

The first marchers of the day left to rally for SB 1200, a bill before the Senate on Monday that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next two years. That’s more than double the current wage of $7.25.

“The plan is to make my money, save my money, plan for the future, plan for retirement,” said Thomasine Wilson, a home-care worker from Richmond.

Wilson said people can’t save for the future if they have to work two or three jobs just to get by. “I can’t go on vacation. I can’t even go to the grocery store.”

SB 1200 was defeated Monday on a 19-21 vote.

The vote didn’t stop New Virginia Majority from meeting with legislators on other key issues such as paid medical leave for all, redistricting reforms, no-excuse absentee voting and in-state college tuition and driving privileges for Virginia residents despite their immigration status.

“We’re fighting to get the privilege of driving,” said Elena Camacho, an activist for immigrants’ rights.

HB 2025 would grant driving privileges to Virginia residents who meet certain criteria, even if they have been living in the United States illegally.

“The benefits would be security on the streets,” Camacho said. “People would know who is driving, and they can know the record of the people.”

After marching to the Capitol, activists spent the afternoon meeting in small groups with legislators, sharing personal stories and discussing legislative proposals.

“If they say no today, that doesn’t stop us tomorrow,” Hutchinson said.

Virginia Senate committee votes to legalize guns in churches

By Jayla Marie McNeill, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Republicans voted Monday to advance a bill that would legalize concealed weapons in places of worship in Virginia.

The Senate Courts of Justice committee voted 7-6 along party lines to advance SB 1024. The bill would repeal a Virginia law that makes it a Class 4 misdemeanor to carry or conceal “any gun, pistol, bowie knife, dagger or other dangerous weapon without sufficient reason, to a place of worship.”

Introduced by Sen. Robert Black, R-Loudoun, the bill is designed to address the “ambiguous” Virginia laws on the use of guns in places of worship, Black previously told the Loudoun-Times Mirror.

“I believe Virginians have the right to protect themselves,” Black stated on his website. “I support the right of competent, law abiding citizens to own arms to defend themselves and their families.”

The bill recalls President Donald Trump’s assertion in October that armed guards would have prevented the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“If there was an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop him,” Trump said to reporters.

Eleven were killed during the attack, which was called the “most deadly anti-Semitic hate crime in American history” by the Anti-Defamation League.

Last year, an identical bill was endorsed by Sen. A Benton Chafin Jr., R-Russell. Chafin’s bill successfully passed the Senate, but died in the House.

Some congregations nationally already allow concealed weapons, including The River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida. The church’s decision came in response to the 2017 shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, which left 26 dead.

As a means of “warning” individuals, the congregation put up a sign stating that the property is “heavily armed.”

“Yes we are a church,” the sign reads, “and we will protect our people.”

Supporters argue that allowing concealed weapons in places of religious worship is a necessary form of preparation against potential threats. Critics maintain that stricter gun laws would better prevent attacks.

SB 1024 awaits a vote from the full Senate before moving to the House.

School Safety Bills Are Up for Final Approval in House

By Benjamin West, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — The House of Delegates on Tuesday is expected to pass the first five bills in a package of legislation to improve school safety — proposals drafted by a special committee after the mass shooting last year at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

House Speaker Kirk Cox, a high school teacher for 30 years, and other Republican delegates held a news conference Monday to urge support for the bills, which would help schools improve security, require them to have emergency response plans and ensure that counselors spend most of their time with students.

“I know firsthand how much students and teachers deal with on a daily basis, and the last thing they need to do while learning is to be worried about their safety,” said Cox, who chaired the Select Committee on School Safety.

The select committee was formed shortly after 17 students and staff members were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland last February.

Cox described the committee as a bipartisan effort — it included 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats — but only Republican members were present at the press conference.

According to GOP officials, the panel issued 24 priority recommendations in December, resulting in 10 pieces of legislation. Five of those bills have cleared House committees and are up for final consideration Tuesday in the House.

“These proposals on the House floor this week will span topics that range from school counseling, mental health, to building codes and security enhancements,” said Del. Daniel Marshall III, R-Danville. “Taken together, we have laid out a multiyear blueprint for improving school safety that we can draw from as we move into the legislative process.”

The bills, which delegates tentatively approved Monday, are:

  • HB 1725, which would require local officials to have a plan that all security enhancements in school buildings comply with building and fire codes.
  • HB 1729, requiring school counselors to spend at least 80 percent of their staff time “in direct counseling,” rather than in administrative tasks.
  • HB 1732, to require elementary and secondary schools to host at least one general emergency drill a year along with standard fire, tornado and earthquake drills.
  • HB 1733, which would ensure that school resource officers understand their roles on school grounds as defined by the local law enforcement agency.
  • HB 1738, which says that an architect trained in crime prevention must approve any school building or renovation plans, focusing on “corridors, open spaces and floor plans through the lens of school safety.”

After final approval by the House, the bills then would go to the Senate for consideration.

House Democrats have criticized the select committee for declining to consider policies concerning firearms. So they created a study group called the Safe Virginia Initiative.

“Unfortunately, despite requests from House Democrats, the decision was made that the Select Committee would specifically exclude any exploration of gun safety proposals as well as the role that access to guns contributes to the multiple incidents of carnage,” the initiative’s report states.

Headed by two Fairfax Democrats — House Democratic Leader Eileen Filler-Corn and Del. Kathleen Murphy — the initiative recommended that the state require background checks on all gun buyers, the reporting of lost or stolen firearms, and in-person training for concealed handgun permits, rather than video training. The Safe Virginia Initiative also called for reinstating the state’s limit of one handgun purchase per month.

Last week, a House subcommittee killed more than a dozen of the Democrats’ bills.

Alvin Lear Lucy

Alvin Lear Lucy, age 91, of Dolphin, VA passed away January 20, 2019.  He is the son of the late Elbert and Grace Lucy.  He was a U.S. Navy Veteran and a Brunswick Stew Master.  He was also a member of the Central Ruritan Club for years.  He is preceded in death by his wife, Jane Johnson Lucy; his son, Alvin Earl Lucy; Baby Boy Lucy; his son-in-law, Freddie Reekes; and his brother, Harold Lucy.  He is survived by his daughter, Peggy L. Reekes; his son, Michael Lucy and wife Susan; seven grandchildren; nine great grandchildren; and his brother, Carlton Lucy.  Funeral services will be conducted 2:00 p.m. Wednesday at Williams Funeral Home, Lawrenceville with interment at Liberty Church Cemetery.  The family will receive friends Wednesday from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m., prior to the service, at the funeral home.  Memorial contributions may be made to Liberty Church c/o Jean Browder, 3827 Planters Rd., Lawrenceville, VA  23868 or Liberty Church Cemetery Fund, c/o Dorothy Lucy, 6062 Liberty Rd., Dolphin, VA  23843. 

Spotlight on Jobs by the Virginia Employment Commission

Tractor Trailer Truck Driver: Will drive tractor trailer flatbeds, vans, and reefers hauling various items. Home very weekend.  Company covers 48 states. Clean DMV/DAC record for past 3 years.  Regional, dedicated and over-the-road. Job Fair: Monday, February 4, 2019 at the Virginia Employment Commission 1300 Greensville County Circle Suite C Room 105 Emporia Va. 23847 from 9:00 am until 2:00 pm. JO#1551479

Mechanic: Must have 3-5 years experience. Must be able to work on cutters, skidders, loaders, logging equipment and Kenworth log trucks. Duties include changing the oil, breaks, break drums and conducting general maintenance and mechanic skills. Having your own tools is a plus.  JO#1551586

Bus Driver, School or Special Client: Transport students to and from school.  May also need assistance with afterschool activity bus routes (ie.. to and from ball games). Ensure adherence to safety rules. May assist passengers in boarding or exiting. JO #1551773

Night Shift Forklift Driver: Operates electric, gasoline, or diesel-powered forklift trucks with rated lifting capacity of less than 10,000 lbs. Inspect the vehicle at the beginning of the shift. Report any defects to your supervisor immediately. Only qualified and designated employees are permitted to operate vehicle. No one except the operator is permitted to ride on such vehicles. JO#155113

         THESE AND ALL JOBS WITH THE VIRGINIA EMPLOYMENT COMMISSION CAN BE FOUND ONLINE AT

www.vawc.virginia.gov

Thousands March on Washington Despite Controversy

By Corrine Fizer, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON — Waving signs and chanting loudly, hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets of the nation’s capital. The crowd, drawn from across the country, made its way to the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue to march for the rights of women and minorities.

The event — a reprise of the Women’s March protesting the inauguration of President Donald Trump in 2017 — began with a gathering in front of the rally stage in Freedom Plaza. Equipped with colorful and often humorous signs, marchers of all ages and backgrounds came together to address various issues surrounding women’s reproductive rights, sexism and racial injustice.

The march was not without controversy. It started after Tamika Mallory, co-president of the event, posted an Instagram photo of her with Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, calling him the “greatest of all time.” Farrakhan has been widely criticized in the past for anti-Semitic remarks.

Mallory declined to condemn Farrakhan’s statements and instead said that the Women’s March does not align with Farrakhan’s beliefs regarding the Jewish people. While some protested the march after Mallory’s comments, others came to march in solidarity with the Jewish community.

Sarah Boxer, a student from George Washington University, was one of those who showed support. Boxer, surrounded by her friends, held up a blue sign with the message: “I am a Jewish woman and proud.”

A seasoned marcher, Boxer said she was hesitant to come to the third annual Women’s March after hearing Mallory’s remarks. She said it’s important to remember that Mallory is just one person in a large organization.

“I have a lot of great women around me to support me,” Boxer said. “I’m proud to be a woman. I’m proud to be Jewish. I shouldn’t have to choose either side of who I am because of the controversy.”

Boxer added that she feels it is imperative for members of minority groups to show up and speak out.

“I think in order to have a successful women’s march, it’s important to recognize the impact that all women have, and I think it’s important that Jewish women especially talk about how they’re feeling,” Boxer said. “It’s important not to stay silent.”

Ahead of the third Women’s March on Washington, organizers unveiled what they called a “bold and visionary” policy platform — the Women’s Agenda. The plan serves as the organization’s “roadmap” to extending its advocacy year round.

The agenda calls for reproductive rights, racial justice, LGBT rights, immigrant rights, economic justice, civil liberties, disability rights and environmental justice. The group is calling for “universal health care / Medicare for all,” ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and an end to war.

Apply Now for meherrin Regional Governor's School

The 2019 Meherrin Summer Regional Governor’s School sponsored by the Virginia Department of Education for identified gifted students in the General Intellectual Aptitude area in current grades 4-7 will be held at the Greensville County High School on July 8-11 and 15-18, 2019. Participating counties include Greensville, Mecklenburg, Brunswick, Southampton, and Sussex. For more information, contact the local gifted education coordinator, Brenda Matthews at Greensville Elementary 434-336-0907 Application Deadline – February 22, 2019

Lake Gaston Booker’s Club Donates Books To Jackson-Feild

For eighteen of their thirty years in existence, members of the Lake Gaston Bookers Club have been donating books to Jackson-Feild.  Last month, just in time for the holidays, the members donated a number of books to the Gwaltney School at Jackson-Feild Behavioral Health Services (JFBHS).

At the request of the Bookers Club, faculty and staff at JFBHS provided a list of titles that appeal to the residents.  Several members of the Bookers Club visited the JFBHS campus and presented the books to school staff. The books are housed in the school library, and are available to students through a typical library check-out system.

Over the years, the Bookers Club has hosted other events and activites depending upon the needs and interests of the children. The Gwaltney School students enjoy reading, and are most grateful to the club members for their kindness in donating books that satisfy their reading appetites.

Library hosts National Seed Swap Day Event

Is one of your resolutions to eat healthier? How would you like to grow your own vegetables and herbs, maybe even just plant some new flowers? The Meherrin Regional Library will be kicking off its brand new Seed Exchange Library Program with a celebration of National Seed Swap Day. Visit the Brunswick or Richardson Library  to register for the program, pick out your seeds, and speak to Master Gardeners about how to start your very own garden. Planting and harvesting information will be available for the seeds that the library currently has to offer. You can even bring your own seeds to share with others. This event is open to all ages. Crafts will be available for younger participants. The event will be held at the Richardson Memorial Library on Saturday, January 26th from 10:00 am-12:00 pm and at the Brunswick County Library on Monday, January 28th from 6:00 pm -8:00 pm. Visit www.meherrinlib.org or call  434-634-2539 or 434-848-2418 to learn more.

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