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January 2018

GREENSVILLE/EMPORIA DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES

LOCAL BOARD MEETING

The Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services Administrative Board will meet on Thursday, October 18, 2017, at 3:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services located at 1748 East Atlantic Street.  The public is welcome to attend.

  1. Hospitals update visitation policy during flu season

    Starting Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018, hospitals and health systems that are members of the Central Virginia Healthcare Coalition are updating their visitation guidelines to protect patients, visitors and health care providers during flu season. 

    VCU Health System facilities including VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital, Bon Secours, HCA Virginia, Southside Regional Medical Center, Centra Southside Community Hospital, and Southern Virginia Regional Medical Center are limiting visitors in patient care areas to include only healthy adults who are 18 years or older, and no more than two adults per patient at one time. The guidelines apply to visitors, and do not affect children who need to be hospitalized.

    In close collaboration with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), the limitations are implemented in years when the flu is a widespread concern. Signs at entryways to the health system facilities will alert the public of the limited-visitation policy.

  2. Greensville County School Board Announces Superintendent Search

    (January 31, 2018)—The Greensville County School Board announced today that it will begin the process of hiring a new superintendent by seeking public input on qualifications.

    The School Board has created a survey related to superintendent criteria, which is available at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/GreensvilleCountySearch and on the home page of the division web site. Hard copies of the survey will also be available at the school board offices, at each school, at the Greensville County Government Office’s reception desk, at the City Manager’s office, and at the Meherrin Regional Library.

    In addition to the survey, the Board will hold a public hearing at 6 pm on February 15, 2018 in the Greensville County High School Media Center.  

    “We want to include and involve as many stakeholders as possible in this process,” said School Board Chairman Rhonda Jones-Gilliam.  “This is a priority for the Greensville County School Board and the Board will work diligently to find the next leader of the school division.”

    The School Board selected the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) to assist the Board with the superintendent search.

  3. Improvement Association to Hold Community Forum “Speed Dating” Style Events

    Each year The Improvement Association conducts a series of community forum events. These forums are designed to seek community input for our Community Needs Assessment and bring valuable community resources to our residents. In fact, every initiative offered by the agency is guided by the Community Needs Assessment and it is a critical piece to provide much needed programs.

    The agency has partnered with area organizations to offer a Kids Corner where children can participate in various activities while parents participate in the forum. Additionally, the local sheriff’s departments will offer child identification kits for parents wanting to ensure the safety of their children.

    This year The Improvement Association will be conducting its community forum event in a speed dating style. Barbie Roundtree, Program Technician stated: “The ‘Speed Dating’ concept was adopted from a training I attended at the National Community Action Partnership Conference last summer. It was much more enjoyable than sitting in a session listening to one person speak. It is also an effective way to gather input from all in attendance.”

    “We’ve also invited several community partners to set up informational tables at the event,” said Steffan. “We realized there are several residents who aren’t aware of the available resources within the community. They may also have difficulty getting to the offices to apply for assistance. By having these community resources on hand, we’re enabling the residents to learn about various assistance programs and apply on the spot.” Some of the resources available include local Departments of Social Services, local Health Departments, areas banks, Southside Programs for Adult Continuing Education and Southside Virginia Community College, District 19, and more. “We’re really trying to focus on helping our residents become self-sufficient, and sometimes you need a bit of help for that.”

    The agency will be offering door prizes and raffle prizes for those in attendance. “We’ve been seeking donations from local businesses to help entice residents to attend. We’ve had great support and will have a variety of items to be given away during the event,” said Steffan. Some donations include gift certificates to local restaurants, bakeries, hair salons, nail salons, auto repair shops, museums, and more.

    All local residents and employees are welcome to attend their corresponding area events. Please RSVP no later than Feb. 16 by calling 434-634-2490 ext. 243 or by emailing lsteffan@impassoc.org. Please be sure to specify what area you will be attending. All events will be held from 6-8 p.m. at the following locations:

    March 1: Greensville/Emporia - 1750 E. Atlantic St. Emporia, VA 23847

    March 8: Sussex - 120 Coppahaunk Ave. Waverly, VA 23890

    March 15: Brunswick - Elm Acres, 100 Raney St. Lawrenceville, VA 23868

    March 22: Dinwiddie - Ragsdale Community Center, 20916 Old School Rd. McKenney, VA 23872

    March 29: Surry - Department of Youth & Family Resources, 11 Lebanon Rd. Spring Grove, VA 23881

  4. Women Call for Action to Help Black Community

    By Chelsea Jackson, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – A group of African-American women called for action Wednesday on issues burdening the black community, including gun violence, lack of health care and inadequate educational opportunities.

    Democratic Dels. Lashrecse Aird of Petersburg, Roslyn Tyler of Sussex and Delores McQuinn of Richmond were among those who discussed the needs of black neighborhoods, which McQuinn described as “without a shadow of a doubt in a state of crisis.”

    “We are demanding that our colleagues both in the party and across the aisle to begin to adopt policies that and legislation that promote equity and opportunity for all,” said McQuinn, a former Richmond City Council member.

    Tyler pointed to the growing number of gun-related deaths in predominantly African-American neighborhoods of Richmond like Creighton and Mosby courts, asking where the firearms are coming from.

    This legislative session, Tyler sponsored HB 721, which would have required a background check for any firearm transfer, including those at gun shows and online. The bill was killed in a subcommittee last week on a 4-2 vote. Tyler said it will be back next year.

    “Requiring background checks for all firearm purchases will keep firearms out of the hands of potential criminals and keep Virginia safe,” Tyler said.

    Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, addressed the issue of health care. She said many African-Americans lack access to quality care because Virginia has not expanded Medicaid coverage as neighboring states have done with incentives from the federal government.

    McClellan said lack of access affects whether people seek treatment for health problems.

    “You should not make a decision on whether or not to receive quality care based on whether or not you can afford it,” McClellan said.

    Aird said lack of funding for schools also is a problem. She is sponsoring a budget amendment that seeks an additional $64.2 million to help at-risk children.

    “If we do not provide our students with the resources that they need in the classroom,” Aird said, “we will not be able to move the dial on getting more credentials, more degrees and more training in the hands of our children.”

    Del. Marcia Price, D-Newport News, called for sisterhood and solidarity in fighting racial disparities and injustices.

    “We cannot continue to allow certain populations to be deprived the rights and privileges freely offered to others,” Price said. “Oppressive systems targeting black and brown Virginians must end.”

    Members of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women and the NAACP attended the news conference. They encouraged people to speak out about these issues.

    “When you are silent, folks in the community think you are complicit and that all is well,” said Roslyn Brock, chairman emeritus of the NAACP national board of directors. “And we know that all is not well in our communities.”

  5. Panel Kills Bill Giving Puerto Ricans In-State College Tuition

    By Zach Joachim, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – A House subcommittee has killed a bill that would have made residents of any U.S. territory hit by a major disaster – like Puerto Rico – eligible for in-state tuition at Virginia’s public colleges and universities.

    The Higher Education Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee took the action Monday by rejecting HB 46, proposed by Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax.

    Krizek urged the subcommittee to envision the devastation still evident in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria in September. It was one of the strongest storms ever to hit the island.

    “Our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico prepare for hurricanes every year,” Krizek said. “Five months after (Maria), the island is still struggling. The infrastructure damage is unimaginable.”

    He said that 38 percent of homes on the island still do not have electricity. As a result, many Puerto Rican college students have had their educational plans disrupted.

    President Donald Trump issued a Declaration of Major Disaster for the U.S. Virgin Islands on Sept. 7 and for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico on Sept. 21. Krizek’s bill would have made “Any resident of a United States territory for which a major disaster has been declared by the President of the United States in 2017” eligible for in-state tuition at Virginia’s public institutions of higher education. The proposal would have given such citizens a four-year window to apply for the adjusted tuition opportunity.

    “I’m sure these struggling students have good academic credentials and will seek to come here for educational opportunities. We can give them this helping hand up,” Krizek said. “Let’s support them in this time of need by allowing them – for the next four years – to apply as in-state students.”

    He added, “I’m sure if the shoe was on the other foot, Puerto Ricans would be giving us that same opportunity.”

    Anita Nadal, a U.S. citizen of Puerto Rican descent and Virginia resident for more than 17 years, spoke in support of the bill at Monday’s subcommittee meeting. Nadal is an assistant professor in the School of World Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

    “Education is an investment in our future,” Nadal said. “Many young (Puerto Rican) people are very eager to continue their education, and I know they would be more than happy to come to Virginia Commonwealth. The universities here would be a wonderful way to help our fellow citizens that are living a human crisis at this time.”

    The vote to have the Krizek’s bill “passed by indefinitely,” effectively killing it for the legislative session, split along party lines:

    ·       Five Republicans voted in favor of killing the measure: Dels. Nick Rush of Montgomery County, Steven Landes of Augusta County, Charles Poindexter of Franklin County, Christopher Stolle of Virginia Beach and Roxann Robinson of Chesterfield County.

    ·       Three Democrats opposed killing the bill: Dels. Luke Torian of Prince William County, Betsy Carr of Richmond and Cliff Hayes of Suffolk.

    Despite the final vote, Krizek’s office indicated that the subcommittee gave the matter due diligence and that opponents of the bill were concerned about its costs.

    “The House Appropriations Committee didn’t feel like there was enough money to be able to grant in-state tuition to Puerto Rican students over Virginian students,” Krizek’s legislative aide said. “But we think everybody was sympathetic to the cause.”

  6. State Legislators Ask Congress to Improve Interstate 81

    By Logan Bogert, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – More than a dozen members of the Virginia General Assembly urged their counterparts in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday to fund improvements in safety and congestion on Interstate 81, which runs from Tennessee to the Canadian border.

    The state lawmakers sent a letter to U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine as well as to U.S. Reps. Bob Goodlatte, Morgan Griffith and Barbara Comstock, whose congressional districts include I-81.

    The letter was signed by three state senators (Charles Carrico, Creigh Deeds and Mark Obenshain) and 14 state delegates, all from the western part of the state. Fifteen of the legislators are Republicans, and two are Democrats. They asked Congress to support several bills to improve I-81.

    “I have been and will continue to be a strong advocate for common sense solutions for our pressing safety problems on I-81,” Obenshain, a Republican from Harrisonburg, said in a press release. “We are coming together as a bipartisan group of Senators and Delegates urging our Congressional delegation to fight for funding for I-81.”

    Obenshain has two bills on this issue before the General Assembly:

    • Senate Bill 561 would direct the Department of Transportation to conduct a pilot program to establish zones on I-81 where tractor trucks would be required to travel in the right lane. SB 561 has been referred to the Committee on Transportation.
    • SB 971 would direct the Commonwealth Transportation Board to develop an I-81 Corridor Improvement Plan that may include tolling heavy commercial vehicles to finance the improvements. SB 971 has been referred to the Committee on Rules.

    Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Bristol, who also signed the letter, has proposed creating a joint subcommittee to study the possibility of adding lanes to I-81 between Wytheville and Bristol.

    “There are real safety problems that need real solutions,” Obenshain said, “and I am confident that these legislative proposals will present these solutions.”

  7. Latina Lawmaker Delivers Response to President’s Address

    By Ryan Persaud, Capital News Service

    One of Virginia’s first Latina lawmakers delivered the Democrats’ Spanish-language response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, saying he “has pushed a dark and extremist agenda that damages our national values and endangers national security.”

    Del. Elizabeth Guzmán, a first-term delegate representing Virginia’s 31st District, criticized the Trump administration for actions she considered discriminatory. Those actions included rescinding protections for certain young immigrants under the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program and, in Guzmán’s view, Trump’s lack of action in providing citizens in Puerto Rico with hurricane relief.

    “We should not accept nor normalize the atrocious and insulting way in which this president characterizes our communities,” she said in her nationally broadcast speech. “Doing so would mean giving in to a false and dangerous narrative.”

    Guzmán emphasized the need to serve middle-class families instead of supporting the wealthiest, as she claims Trump’s policies do.

    “Instead of fighting for the middle class, President Trump rolled back progress towards an overtime wage raise,” Guzmán said. “We, as Americans, deserve a leader that defends the interests of the middle class – not someone who helps the privileged and powerful step on everyone else.”

    Guzmán closed her speech by calling upon citizens to make their voices heard by voting and running for office.

    “I was told that Virginia wasn’t ready to elect a delegate with Latina roots - and look what happened,” said Guzmán, who was born in Peru and is a social worker in Prince William County. “We need candidates who worry about the fact that our children are at risk of inheriting a nation that no longer believes in equal opportunities for all.”

    Guzmán’s speech, which aired with English subtitles for non-Spanish speakers, followed one from Rep. Joe Kennedy III, a Massachusetts congressman and grandson of Robert F. Kennedy who was chosen to lead the Democratic rebuttal. Kennedy called for the unity of the American people while also pointing out the discriminatory nature of the Trump administration.

    "It would be easy to dismiss the past year as chaos, partisanship, politics, but it's far bigger than that," Kennedy said. "This administration isn’t just targeting the laws that protect us, they are targeting the very idea that we are all worthy of protection."

    The Democratic Party was responding to Trump’s first State of the Union address. In the address, the president reflected on his first year of office, citing tax cuts, the repeal of parts of the Affordable Care Act, and the creation of new jobs as major accomplishments for his administration.

    Trump focused on future plans for immigration reform, which included building a border wall, as well as ending programs such as the visa lottery and chain migration, which would strongly limit immigration sponsorships to family members.

    “In the age of terrorism, these programs present risks we can just no longer afford,” Trump said. “It’s time to reform these outdated immigration rules and finally bring our immigration system into the 21st century.”

  8. Year After Ruling, 1 in 6 Drivers Still Has Suspended License

    Manassas resident Greg Ballou was charged with a misdemeanor when he was 19. As a result, Ballou, 28, has had his driver's license suspended for nine years. (Photo courtesy of Greg Ballou)

    By Sophia Belletti, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Manassas resident Greg Ballou was charged with a misdemeanor for possession of marijuana when he was 19, and he didn’t have enough money to pay the fine. As a result, his driver’s license was suspended.

    Nine years later, Ballou, now 28 and working in construction, is thousands of dollars in debt, and his license has been permanently suspended.

    “Everything’s a barrier, and it’s incredibly impossible to have a life at all without a license,” Ballou said.

    Under Virginia law, when somebody is convicted of violating state or federal law and does not immediately pay the fine, the court suspends the defendant’s driver’s license.

    After he lost his license, Ballou said, life went “all downhill.”

    “What’s the point?” he asked. “I couldn’t find a job to keep me out of trouble, and from there, I was bored and had no money.”

    Ballou is one of more than 15 percent of Virginia drivers whose licenses have been suspended due to court debt, according to a report released last week by the Legal Aid Justice Center.

    It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

    Last year, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe asked the General Assembly to discard the automatic suspension plan, but legislators rejected his request. Last February, though, the Virginia Supreme Court required all courts to offer all defendants unable to pay court fines within 30 days deferred or installment plans before automatically suspending their license.

    Now Republican Sen. William Stanley Jr. from Franklin County is pushing SB 181 to eliminate such license suspensions.

    It would repeal “the requirement that the driver’s license of a person convicted of any violation of the law who fails or refuses to provide for immediate payment of fines or costs be suspended. The bill provides that the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles shall return or reinstate any person’s driver’s license that was suspended solely for nonpayment of fines or costs.”

    Stanley said he was seeing a lot of people lose their licenses – not because of driving violations but because they weren’t able to pay their fines.

    “And because of that, it was threatening their ability to work, take their kids to school or [travel for medical reasons], and they were getting arrested basically for trying to survive,” he said.

    Ballou said he has no choice but to be flexible in his line of work. He said he purposely designs his life to be able to walk to work and care for his family.

    “You really have to battle up hills,” Ballou said. “How the hell am I going to get to work? How the hell am I going to actually get a job that’s worth going to work for? How are you going to do all this without a license?”

    The Legal Aid Justice Center, a nonprofit group that provides legal services for low-income Virginians, reported that as of December, there were 974,349 suspended licenses in the state due at least in part to court debt. Almost two-thirds of the suspensions were solely for court debt.

    “What we can do is ramp up our collection efforts on these fines rather than continually hurting people who can’t drive and lose their job, and the next thing you know, they’re not going to be able to pay those fines,” Stanley said. “We’re perpetuating a cycle of nonpayment instead of encouraging payment or seeking payment.”

    The number of Virginians with suspended licenses due to court debt has not changed much in the past year despite the Supreme Court’s order. In September 2016, there were 977,891 suspended licenses in the state, according to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

    “It appears that these reforms have done little, if anything, to stem the breathtaking current of Virginians losing their licenses,” the justice center’s report said. It said that from November 2016 to last October, an average of 835 more driver’s licenses were suspended each day due to court debt.

  9. Groups Team Up to Count Richmond Area’s Homeless

    Organizations talk and offer service to homeless visitors at the free lunch program in St. Paul's Episcopal Church

    By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – As part of a statewide assessment, a nonprofit group is taking its annual census of the city’s homeless, aiding and aided by a coalition of outreach programs.

    The group, Homeward, began its 20th annual Winter Count last week. With a team of about 200 volunteers, the organization collected survey data for two days across several locations, from shelters throughout Richmond to lunch and dinner programs at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and First Baptist Church.

    Besides counting the number of homeless people, the volunteers cataloged where each person last slept as well as the participant’s race, gender and other information. That data is essential to Homeward’s goals of helping other outreach groups in the region, Executive Director Kelly King Horne said.

    “Homeward was created so that this could be a regional approach,” said Horne, who has worked in the 20-year-old organization for more than 14 years. She sees the Winter Count as an opportunity for outreach workers to “ground ourselves in conversations with people in crisis and understand directly from them what it would take to solve this crisis, what are the issues.”

    The census will help those involved to “really start to understand better what we’re seeing and what we need to do going forward,” Horne added.

    The count also is necessary to maintain a “continuum of care” for the homeless. The data collection is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Any state that fails to conduct the count within the last 10 days of January won’t receive federal funding.

    Homeward coordinates homeless services throughout Richmond, from Charles City County to Powhatan County and including Chesterfield, Henrico and Hanover counties.

    The census used voluntary survey forms, passed out to those 18 and older across five sites and events. In addition, assessments were conducted in smaller counties like Goochland and New Kent, where homeless individuals are less likely to gather in camps.

    This year’s census included some new techniques, as volunteers reached out to panhandlers and asked questions focused on elderly individuals.

    Homeward worked not only with its affiliated outreach programs but also with groups such as Spread the Vote, United Healthcare and the U.S. Social Security Administration. Elizabeth Graham, a social worker with Virginia’s Veteran Affairs office, called the collaboration “very successful.”

    “I think it’s wonderful,” Graham said. “I think it’s great to have all these resources in one place for folks to come to.”

    Those who work to end homelessness know that the endeavor comes with many difficulties. Vivian Bagby, who works with the Richmond Food Bank to feed the poor, said it is a “tragedy” that the city lacks centralized locations where the homeless can congregate and receive care. As a result, homeless people are scattered throughout the city.

    “They used to go to Monroe Park,” said Bagby, who now does her outreach near Abner Clay Park after Monroe was closed for construction last year. “And it’s far less than what would gather at Monroe Park. So I’m not sure where the homeless go now.”

    While lack of a central location and erratic weather patterns pose challenges in helping Richmond’s less fortunate, Horne said the biggest obstacle is the lack of investment in affordable housing for low-income families. The Richmond area also suffers from a lack of resources for emergency shelters, in her view.

    “As a community, as a state, as a country, it’s really difficult,” Horne said. “That’s always a challenge every day, regardless of everything else.”

    The completed data will be available in mid- to late February. Horne said she is confident the census will continue to serve the city well.

    “There’s so many great ways to connect to this issue,” she said. “Richmond’s really fortunate that we have so many awesome agencies working to end homelessness. Whatever your interests or passions are, there’s a way to connect and make a difference.”

  10. Proposal Would Boost Suicide Prevention Efforts in Schools

    By Caitlin Barbieri, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – While campaigning door to door, Del. Danica Roem met a constituent who had lost her only child to suicide. The mother had one request – make suicide prevention training available to all school employees.

    Now Roem, D-Manassas, has introduced HJ 138, a joint resolution that would request all Virginia school boards provide every employee with resources or training on how to identify students at risk of suicide.

    “This is something that is incumbent upon all of us at the General Assembly, regardless of party label, to make sure that we are working together to take care of our kids and working together to make sure that the caretakers of our children, from maintenance professionals all the way up to the principals, are able to see our kids for the lives they are living and identify the struggles that they have,” Roem said.

    Suicide is one of the leading causes of deaths for people age 10 to 18. In 2015, 1,097 people in Virginia died by suicide, and 35 of those suicides were carried out by children under 18, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

    While school districts would not be required to comply with the resolution, it is meant to motivate them to take steps toward suicide prevention.

    “This provides as much flexibility at the local level as possible,” Roem said. “This is allowing the people who are on the ground there to identify and figure out what works best for them.”

    The resolution would expand on SB 1250, a 1999 law that required all licensed school personnel to report a child they suspect might be suicidal. However, it did not require those professionals be trained on how to identify students at risk.

    When it was passed, SB 1250 also mandated that the Board of Education and Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services create a Code of Virginia Suicide Prevention Guidelines.

    “An ideal set of training and guidelines for suicide prevention incorporates many aspects of mental health and mental health awareness,” said Dr. Adam Kaul of the Psychiatric Society of Virginia. “Suicide itself is not a source of disease or a specific condition; it is often an end product of mental illness and distress.”

    HJ 138 has been assigned to a House Rules Subcommittee and is scheduled to be considered on Friday. Roem’s resolution is co-sponsored by 10 Democrats and one Republican – Del. Matthew Fariss of Appomattox County.

    “Anything that would make us smarter about suicide as a society, I think, is something we need to try to do,” Fariss said.

  11. Democrats Vow to Push for Gun Control Laws

    Del. John Bell talks about enforcing gun control laws in Virginia. (CNS photo by Aya Driouche)

    By Aya Driouche, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Democratic legislators said Tuesday they will continue to fight for gun control laws as Republicans continued to kill bills to restrict firearms.

    Six Democratic delegates held a press conference to discuss proposals such as banning weapons from public libraries. Del. Roslyn Tyler of Sussex County said gun violence has been endangering Virginians for years.

    “We cannot allow this problem to get worse,” Tyler said. “We cannot stay idle as gun violence leads to more and more empty seats at the dinner tables across the country.”

    Del. John Bell of Loudoun County touted his bill to require applicants for a concealed weapons permit to show in-person “competence with a handgun.” Currently, applicants can get a permit by completing a video or online training course.

    Bell called HB 91 a “very common-sense bill.” Last week, a House subcommittee killed it on a 4-2 vote.

    Bell, who served in the U.S. Air Force for more than 26 years, noted that he went through extensive training to be able to carry a weapon. He said civilians also should receive adequate training in front of a certified instructor before obtaining a concealed carry permit.

    “The current online training is far inadequate,” Bell said. “It doesn’t have eyes on from qualified instructors to know if that holster is properly fitted. You have to watch those things in real life, in real time.”

    Groups such as the National Rifle Association opposed Bell’s measure. He said they should support it.

    “I believe the groups like the NRA and the Virginia Citizens Defense League who oppose this bill are missing a tremendous opportunity to provide low-cost frequent training and to do a public good,” Bell said.

    “I believe in the Second Amendment. I’m a gun owner. But I think responsible gun ownership is important, and I believe every gun owner should have a background check and should show they were properly trained before they’re given a concealed carry permit.”

    So far this session, Republicans have defeated several gun control bills sponsored by Democrats, including one to require background checks on all gun purchases. On Monday, the Republican majority in the House rejected a resolution to ban firearms from the chamber’s gallery while delegates are in session.

    Shortly after the Democrats’ news conference, Republican legislators held one of their own. They argued that citizens should be able to carry weapons in places of worship.

    Virginia law prohibits guns in churches and other religious settings. But last week, the Senate voted 21-18 along party lines to repeal that law.

    Just as politicians are protected by armed security, members of a congregation should be allowed to arm themselves for self-defense, said Del. Dave LaRock of Loudoun County.

    He stood next to a poster of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam speaking to an interfaith group about gun violence at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church last week. LaRock pointed out that the governor’s security detail was nearby.

    LaRock said it is not fair that the governor gets treated differently than Virginia citizens who are barred from carrying weapons in places of worship. He said it appears to be a double standard.

    “The law that’s on the book says that weapons are prohibited in church without good and sufficient reason, which is vague,” LaRock said. “And we don’t believe laws that are vague should be on the books.”

    He said Northam signaled that he would veto SB 371, which would rescind that law, if it passes the General Assembly.

    “We pose the question,” LaRock said. “He deserves armed protection in church, but others don’t? We’re just asking him to fill in the blank and explain to us why.”

  12. Vondrenna Smithers Cool Job Helps Students Reach Career Goals

    Vondrenna Smithers’ job is cool because, in her own words, “I help potential students, both traditional and non-traditional, connect to the best training for their career goals at SVCC.” As Southside Virginia Community College’s (SVCC) Advanced Manufacturing Career Coach and Recruiter, she also gets to talk with high school students about Advanced Manufacturing jobs that they may not have considered.  

    Smithers became familiar with the great opportunities at SVCC during high school. As a native of Southside Virginia, Smithers attended Brunswick County Public Schools. There, she took college credit while still in high school through the SVCC Dual Enrollment Program.  By completing dual enrollment classes, Smithers was able to attend SVCC and to obtain her Associate’s degree in General Studies in just one year on campus before transferring to the University of Virginia to complete her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology.

    She came back to SVCC as an employee in 2009 and worked in various roles including Adjunct Instructor, Academic Advisor, Student Activities Coordinator and currently as the Advanced Manufacturing Career Coach and Recruiter. As the recruiter, she is able to use her personal experiences to help prospective students begin their path to success at SVCC. Working closely with students from six area high schools, she also helps them explore advanced manufacturing careers as well as academic and training opportunities.

    “I have the chance to meet one-on-one with students, provide classroom presentations, and expose students to various career possibilities through holding special events such as the Dream It Do It Advanced Manufacturing Camp we had this summer in Emporia,” she said. Through this 4-day summer camp, local middle and high school students participated in tours and guest lectures from local industry and learned about blueprint reading, 3D design, programming for CNC machines, and use of manual mill and lathe machines.

    A career highlight for Smithers at SVCC has been becoming the co-creator/advisor of the Student Ambassadors program. This group of students are tasked with representing the student body of the college at events and conferences, serving on various college committees and taking an active role in recruiting for the college.  

    Besides working diligently at the college, Smithers has been back to school herself.  She completed her Masters in Professional Counseling from Liberty University in December  Her husband, Quentin, has been busy with school as well and will complete his Master’s in Christian Leadership from Liberty University.

    Having had the opportunity to experience dual enrollment and attending SVCC as a student, Smithers has the experience and expertise to guide others to success…and a Cool Job like hers.

  13. Black Caucus, Bipartisan Group of Legislators Fighting ‘School-to-Prison Pipeline’

    By Kirby Farineau, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND -- The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus was joined Monday by a bipartisan group of state legislators supporting  bills to combat  the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

    Expulsion and suspension policies are the targets of several pieces of legislation, including a bill by Del. Jeffrey Bourne, D-Richmond. HB 1600 caps long-term suspension at 45 days instead of the current 364.

    “We cannot keep using access, or lack thereof, to education as a punishment and continue to expect positive results,” said  Bourne, a former Richmond School Board chairman.

    Bourne also endorsed legislation by Sen. William Stanley, R-Franklin, whose SB 170 prohibits expulsion and suspension for students between pre-kindergarten and third grade. Stanley said the reforms sought were a “human issue,” and not partisan.

    The Black Caucus said it wanted to highlight how legislators are crossing party lines on the issues. The process of separating students from their environment and ultimately sending them into the criminal justice system has come to be known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”  A 2015 Study from the Center for Public Integrity said that on average, Virginia refers more students to law enforcement than any other state.

    First-year Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Woodbridge,  described the problem as  “the No. 1 civil rights issue of our modern time.” She has introduced HB 445, which would allow school systems to discipline students who commit certain misdemeanors instead of being required to report those crimes to police.

    Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said she has proposed budget amendments  to support school programs for  at-risk students, and also to set aside almost $700 million to end a cap on state-funded school support positions.

    “If we don’t put our money where our mouth is we will lose an entire generation of students to the school-to-prison pipeline,” she said. “Policy is only one side of the coin.”

    Standing beside these legislators  was Stacey Doss, a mother of two boys in Lynchburg’s public school system. Her older son, who is autistic, drew national attention and the focus of the Center for Public Integrity after being charged with a felony in 2014 as an 11-year-old.

    He had struggled with a school resource officer who had grabbed him after he had left class with other students. The same officer had earlier accused him of  a misdemeanor for kicking a trash can. The charges were dropped after an outcry over the case.

    Doss said her 5-year-old has speech problems, and both sons have been ostracized and suspended.  The younger boy was currently under suspension for disorderly behavior, she said.

    “He asked me, ‘Why can’t I go to school? I really want to go to school. I miss my friends,’” Doss said. “He doesn’t understand what is happening, but he does know that he is being kept away from something he enjoys.”

  14. House Committee Unanimously Kills ‘Netflix Tax’

    By Lia Tabackman, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – A bill nicknamed the “Netflix tax” was unanimously defeated Monday in the House Finance Committee, ending the possibility of taxing streaming services in Virginia in 2019.

    Introduced by Del. Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, HB 1051 would have applied the state’s 5 percent communications sales and use tax not just to Netflix but to all online streaming services – among them Hulu, Spotify and HBO Go – that have skyrocketed in popularity, especially among millennials.

    While the current communications tax applies to cable TV, satellite radio, landlines, cell phones and even pagers, streaming services are not included.

    Watts said her bill was needed to modernize the state’s communications tax. “Obviously, the way we have continued to communicate has changed,” she said.

    Watts told the committee that her bill would apply equal taxes to all forms of communication. “The best we can hope for is a fair tax structure,” she said.

    According to the bill’s impact statement, the tax would generate nearly $8 million in revenue for the state – potentially allowing Virginia to become less dependent on other forms of taxes, like those collected through income and real estate levies.

    The bill is not the first of its kind: Pennsylvania and Florida have passed laws that tax internet transactions and digital streaming services. But the tax has faced opposition from taxpayers, streaming services and industry trade groups.

    The Finance Committee voted 22-0 against the bill. Watts voted against her own legislation, acknowledging that while the measure was not ready to be passed, she wanted to spur a larger conversation about Virginia’s tax structure.

    Republicans said they were opposed taxing the heavily used services.

    “Let’s be real clear in what we’re talking about here,” said Del. Tim Hugo, R-Fairfax, chairman of the House Republican Caucus. “This is a Netflix tax. This is a Hulu tax. If you’re under 30, this is a tax on how you get your information, how you watch your TV, how you consume everything every day.”

    Representatives from T-Mobile, Verizon and Sling TV attended the meeting and spoke against the bill, while the Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Association of Counties were in favor.

    Neal Menkes of the Municipal League commented that he had “yet to hear a pager go off,” echoing Watts’ sentiments about the need to modernize tax law around a quickly changing communications landscape.

  15. 1.4 Billion Stolen Credentials Uncovered by University

    By Scott Malone, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – During a security sweep, the University of Richmond’s information security staff discovered a website containing a list of stolen account credentials – a list with approximately 1.4 billion pieces of private account information such as email addresses and passwords.

    “From what we’re able to tell, it’s very, very deep within the web,” Cynthia Price, the university’s director of media and public relations, said of the recent discovery. “It’s a concealed website.”

    To put the list’s enormity into perspective, the largest internet-era data breach occurred in 2013 when 3 billion Yahoo users were affected by a hack, according to CSO Online, a technology news website. The next biggest was in 2014 when eBay asked 145 million users to reset their passwords after hackers accessed accounts through stolen information.

    According to the Richmond Journal of Law and Technology, a breach is defined as the “unauthorized acquisition of computerized data that compromises the security, confidentiality, or integrity of personal information.”

    The list on the website discovered by the University of Richmond may be related to previous data breaches.

    In an email to students and staff on Friday, the university wrote that the list was “compiled from several data breaches that have occurred over the past several years, such as LinkedIn®, Adobe®, Yahoo®, and other domains,” and that “included in the list were credentials associated with approximately 3,000 richmond.edu email accounts.”

    After university emails had been discovered on the list, UR sent its message to inform students and staff about the incident so they could check their accounts. Also attached was a video on creating strong passwords.

    UR’s information security staff confirmed that the website acquired the information from emails tied to external sites and made it clear that the school’s information system had not been compromised.

    “There is no breaching of our system whatsoever,” Price said, “but because (the website’s list) still contained emails linked to us, we wanted to make sure we alerted people to check their accounts.”

    This doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be concerned. The individuals who collected this information likely did so with ill intent. As Price explained, “unscrupulous people will collect that data and hold it in hopes that they can somehow use it elsewhere.”

    With more than 1.4 billion credentials to sift through, the extent of the list’s information isn’t yet fully known. Attempts were made to contact the Virginia Attorney General’s office for comment on whether an investigation was underway, but the office has not responded.

  16. Salamander Wriggling Its Way Into State Law

     

    By Sarah Danial and Yasmine Jumaa, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – A bill slithering through the legislative process would designate the red salamander as Virginia’s official state salamander. If the amphibious creature gets the honor, it can thank a group of young nature conservationists.

    The Salamander Savers is a 4-H Club based in Fairfax whose members, age 8 to 18, are determined to find solutions for environmental problems. The club started in 2015 when three children wanted to save salamanders from a local lake.

    “When our lake was dredged and my kids asked me questions that I could not answer, as a home-schooling mother, I made it my mission to try to find answers to their questions,” said Anna Kim, the club’s adult leader and mother of Jonah Kim, 14, the club’s president.

    Her children asked what would happen to the animals living in or near the lake. They were concerned to learn that dredging can disrupt their environment, which could eventually lead to possible extinction. Jonah’s mother recalled her son’s words.

    “He once told me that he wanted to give a voice to the animals who couldn’t speak for themselves,” Anna Kim said.

    As a result, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, is sponsoring HB 459, which would add the red salamander (officially, Pseudotriton ruber) to the state’s list of official designations. The list currently includes 35 items, from the official beverage (milk) and rock (Nelsonite) to the official television series (“Song of the Mountains,” a PBS program showcasing Appalachian music).

    Filler-Corn hopes her bill will inspire the 4H Club members to get involved politically.

    “I am excited to introduce these bright young activists to the civic process,” Filler-Corn said. “It is my hope that this is just the beginning of their engagement with government and that they will continue their advocacy for years to come.”

    The bill was approved by a subcommittee on a 6-2 vote last week. The House General Laws Committee is scheduled to consider the bill Tuesday.

    Jonah Kim and his fellow 4-H’ers thought carefully about which salamander species should represent Virginia.

    “We chose the red salamander because it lives in a variety of different habitats throughout Virginia,” he said. “We thought it was easily recognizable and would be interesting to people who have never seen a salamander.”

    He said the club hopes the legislation will help raise awareness of salamanders, a species less tolerant of environmental disruptions than frogs and other amphibians. The Salamander Savers are encouraging the public to write a letter to their legislators stating their support.

     

    How Well Do You Know Virginia’s Official State Animals?

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  17. Republicans Kill Top-Priority Bills Sought by Women’s Advocates

    By Jessica Wetzler, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND -- Women’s rights advocates are disappointed after legislative panels this week killed bills on some of their top-priority issues -- mandating equal pay, reducing restrictions on access to abortion and requiring employers to provide paid medical leave.

    The votes, called “anti-woman” by one advocacy group, continued on Friday with  a House Courts of Justice subcommittee defeating the Whole Woman's Health Act. Sponsored by Del. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax,  HB 1231   stated that, “A pregnant person has a fundamental right to obtain an abortion.”      

    The subcommittee also killed a bill by Del. Debra Rodman, D-Henrico, to remove what Democrats see as  medically unnecessary barriers to abortion access. HB 450 sought to repeal the statutory requirements that a physician obtain a woman’s written consent and perform a transabdominal ultrasound before an abortion.

    On Thursday, a House Commerce and Labor subcommittee voted 5-3 along party lines against advancing Boysko’s HB 1089, which required equal pay for equal work, regardless of sex.

    Voting to kill the bill were Republican Dels. Kathy Byron of Bedford; R. Lee Ware, Chesterfield; Israel O’Quinn, Grayson; Margaret Ransone, Westmoreland; and Michael Webert, Culpeper. Supporting the bills were Democratic Dels. Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax; Lamont Bagby, Henrico; and Michael Mullin, James City.

    “By voting against equal pay for equal work, the message to Virginia women is loud and clear: Our lawmakers in Richmond do not consider us first-class citizens,” said Patsy Quick, co-president of the American Association of University Women of Virginia.

    “Unfortunately, the reality is that in 2016, Virginia women working full time made 80 cents for every dollar made by men—a pay gap of 20 percent. As bad as this is, it is even worse for women of color,” Quick said.

    For every dollar earned by a white man, black women make  about 63 cents, Latinas 54 cents and white women 78 cents, according to a news release from Progress Virginia, a liberal advocacy group.

    Progress Virginia and other advocates also criticized lawmakers for killing two bills introduced by Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun:

    • SB 709, which sought to eliminate such requirements as a waiting period and an ultrasound before undergoing  abortions.  The Senate Health and Education Committee killed the bill last week at the sponsor’s request -- a move sometimes made when a bill has little or no chance at passage.

    • SB 421, which would have required private employers with 50 or more workers to give full-time employees paid medical leave. The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee killed the bill Monday on an 11-4 party-line vote.

  18. Propelled by #MeToo, Groups Seek to Remove ‘Tampon Tax’

    By Tianna Mosby, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – With momentum from the #MeToo movement, several women’s rights groups are supporting legislative calls to remove the sales tax on feminine hygiene products.

    Planned Parenthood, the Virginia Menstrual Equity Coalition and other organizations have been posting on social media, circulating petitions and attending General Assembly meetings to show their support for the idea.

    “It’s frustrating that such common-sense legislation is struggling to survive,” said Holly Seibold, a member of the coalition.

    Three bills before the General Assembly would exempt products such as tampons, menstrual cups and sanitary napkins and pads from the sales tax:

    • HB 152, introduced by Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax
    • HB 24, sponsored by Del. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, who dubbed it “The Dignity Act”
    • HB 448, filed by Del. Debra Rodman, D-Henrico

    Boysko also is sponsoring HB 25, which would add menstrual supplies to Virginia’s three-day, back-to-school “sales tax holiday” each August.

    Kory said she believes women should not have to pay taxes for a necessity item. All of the bills have been referred to the House Finance Committee.

    This is not the first time a “tampon tax” bill has appeared in the General Assembly. But the issue may have more momentum in light of the national conversation about sexual harassment, gender equity and other issues. Moreover, the House of Delegates now has 28 women members – up from 17 last year.

    Those factors have generated optimism that the General Assembly may remove the sales tax on feminine hygiene products.

    “This is a fairness issue,” Boysko said. “These products need to be more affordable.”

    Last year, she introduced a similar measure – HB 1593. In 2016, Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, also sponsored a bill to remove the “tampon tax” – HB 952. Each year, the proposal was tabled by a subcommittee of the House Finance Committee.

    Opponents of the legislation worry that it will cost government coffers millions of dollars.

    The sales tax rate is 6 percent in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads and 5.3 percent elsewhere in the state. Many retail items – including medicine, eyeglasses and firewood – are exempt from the tax.

    With stores charging up to $9 for a box of 36 tampons, women will spend more than $2,000 on feminine hygiene products during their lifetimes. Removing the sales tax would save Virginia women at least $100. However, it would cost the state at least $4.5 million the first year and more than $5.5 million in 2024, the Virginia Department of Taxation said.

    According to the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit think tank, 14 states do not tax feminine hygiene products. Nine specifically exempt them – Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Connecticut will join this list July 1. The other five – Alaska, Delaware, New Hampshire, Montana and Oregon – do not have a sales tax.

    Making Tampons Available in Schools and Prisons

    The sales tax isn’t the only concern regarding feminine hygiene products. Legislators have introduced bills to address these other issues:

    • HB 1434, sponsored by Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, would ensure that students in grades six through 12 have access to free tampons and pads in school.
    • HB 83, sponsored by Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, would provide feminine hygiene products to female prisoners and inmates for free.

    On Wednesday, supporters of those proposals met with legislators. Holly Seibold, a member of the Virginia Menstrual Equity Coalition, said the meeting was “well received with bipartisan support.”

    But school officials expressed concerns about HB 1434. Officials of Fairfax County Public Schools fear the requirement would cost the district $500,000 a year, Seibold said.

  19. William Martin “Marty” Mozingo

    William Martin “Marty” Mozingo, 66, passed away Thursday, January 25, 2018. He was a son of the late Durwood and Martha Mozingo and was also preceded in death by two brothers, Durwood Mozingo, Jr. and Gene Victorin and sister, Minnie Sue Mozingo. Marty is survived by his wife, Deborah H. Mozingo; son, Martin Mozingo, Jr. and wife, Carol, son, Brian Mozingo; grandchildren, Samantha Mozingo and Courtney Mozingo; mother-in-law, Betty Harrell; sisters-in-law, Pam Whitehead and husband, Jerry, Tammy Harrell, Sharon Otten and Beulah Mozingo and a number of nieces and nephews. A memorial service will be held 2 p.m. Saturday, January 27 at Owen Funeral Home, 303 S. Halifax Rd, Jarratt, Virginia where the family will receive friends 1-2 p.m. prior to the service. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made to the Emporia-Greensville Humane Society, 113 Baker St., Emporia, Virginia 23847. Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com.

  20. Senate Republicans Reject Medicaid Expansion

    By Chris Wood, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Republicans in the Virginia Senate on Thursday tabled legislation that would have expanded Medicaid coverage to hundreds of thousands of lower-income residents of Virginia.

    Voting along party lines, the Senate Education and Health Committee indefinitely postponed action on the proposal. The eight Republicans on the panel voted to kill the measure; the seven Democrats voted to keep it alive.

    The federal Affordable Care Act encouraged states to expand Medicaid. Democratic Sen. Richard Saslaw of Fairfax noted that Virginia’s neighboring states – including West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky – have done so.

    Saslaw said the federal government has promised to pay most of the costs of Medicaid expansion.

    “If someone came up to me and said, ‘Saslaw, we’ll pick up 90 percent of your medical insurance costs if you pay the other 10, and we think we have a way around that 10,’ I would have to be a lunatic to turn down that offer,” Saslaw said.

    However, Republican senators said they fear that Medicaid expansion would put a hole in the state budget.

    “The federal level, they can just raise the debt ceiling,” said Sen. Amanda Chase of Chesterfield County. “We can’t do that at the state level.”

    She said the state has limited resources. As Medicaid takes up more of the state budget, others services would have to be cut back, Chase said.

    “It doesn’t take long to see we have major infrastructure needs,” Chase said. “We have bridges in my district that you can’t even drive ambulances over or fire trucks over because of the crumbling infrastructure.”

    A fellow Republican, Sen. Richard Black of Loudoun County, said Medicaid costs are escalating out of control.

    “I think it’s premature to move forward on this and potentially get ourselves stuck in a situation where we’ve expanded, and all of a sudden we’re having to do this thing on our own dime,” Black said.

    The legislation at hand was SB 572, sponsored by Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger of Augusta County. A similar measure – SB 158, filed by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke – had been folded into Hanger’s bill.

    Democrats, including newly elected Gov. Ralph Northam, have made Medicaid expansion a top priority. It was also a priority for many of the people who attended Thursday’s committee meeting. They included Julien Parley, who has a son with autism. She said Medicaid expansion would help mothers like her.

    “There was a time that I worked three jobs, and I couldn’t afford to go to the doctor,” Parley said. “I resorted to going to the emergency room, which racked up bills and it also was a hardship on my credit.”

    People without health coverage often resort to the emergency room, said Julie Dime of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association.

    “Countless Virginians that don’t have access to health care find their only option to be the hospital emergency room,” Dime said.

  21. Editorial - Why don't we Expand Medicaid?

    In the Capital News Service article above this Editorial, Republicans in a Senate Committee killed Medicaid Expansion. It is no surprise that this has happened - it has happened in each of the four years that I have been publishing Emporia News.

    This year one of the bills to Expand medicaid was offered by a Republican, and the committee still killed it. Also this year one Republican, Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) cited the need to repair our crumbling infrastructure. Our infrastructure does need work. We have a great many rural communities that have insufficient Broadband Access; we have roads and bridges that need repaired; All interstate highways in the Commonwealth could use a few more lanes in places; Exit 11 is horrible, and needs to be colmpetely reworked to include acceleration and deceleration lanes (lets face it, getting from I-95 south to US58 East is sometimes a quite harrowing experience). With all of these needs, seemingly no major bills or budget amendments have deen offered. Infrastructure is a bit of an arbatrary term when speaking of legislation, but a quick glance at the LIS website shows no major bills of budget amendments for Transportation and the only place where Broadband Communications Infrastructure is mentioned seems to be a bill about how to mark highways during construction of those projects. Even with as random as the term infrastructure is, none of the bills where Senator Chase is listed as Chief Patron or Co-patron will have any impact on crumbling infrastructure.

    Here is the impact of Medicaid Expansion in Colorado, my home state: "A new report examining the economic and budgetary impact of Medicaid expansion in Colorado reveals that, in the two years since implementation, expansion in the state has had a significant positive effect on the economy at no expense to the General Fund. According to the preliminary independent analysis, 'Assessing the Economic and Budgetary Impact of Medicaid Expansion in Colorado: FY 2015-16 through FY 2034-35,' Colorado has added 31,074 jobs, increased economic activity by $3.8 billion and raised annual household earnings by $643 due to the state Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. By fiscal year (FY) 2034-2035, Colorado is projected to add a total of 43,018 new jobs, increase economic activity by $8.5 billion and raise average annual household earnings by $1,033."

    The Affordable Care Act included the funding to expand Medicaid, and by not accepting that funding, the hard-earned money of Virginia Taxpayers is being used to fund Medicaid Expansion in all the other states that have expanded their program.  Virginians gave states like New York 5 MILLION DOLLARS EACH DAY ($2,839,000,000 - that is Two Billion, Eight-Hundred Thirty-Nine Million Dollars) in the first year alone. Those losses in tax dollars are in addition to the lost economic activity mentioned in the preceding paragraph.

    Expanding Medicaid in Virginia, which the Federal Government would pay for (100% now, 90% after 2020), would bring that money back to the Commonwealth, help rural hospitals and help poor families live better lives. Expanding Medicaid is the only Fiscally Responsible - the only Fiscally Conservative - option available to the General Assembly.

    Don't read too much into my opinion here. I am not calling for completely re-inventing our current system, I am not saying that we need our own National Health Service like the one in the United Kingdom. All I am saying in this Editorial is that medicaid Expansion would be good for the Virginia Economy. By providing care via Medicaid we are, not only, helping our friends and neighbors get the care that many of them need but helping the Economy. Virginia has a larger population than Colorado (by about 3 Million people), so we stand to benefit even more than Colorado.  Even if there were only 100-150 jobs created in Emporia-Greensville and our economy were to expand by $10-15 Million, our community would be better off with Medicaid Expansion.

    At a Town Hall Meeting here in Emporia, hosted by Senator Louise Lucas, a representative from Southampton Memorial Hospital, whose parent company also owns SVRMC, said that Medicaid Expansion would be a good thing for hospitals like SVRMC and that every hospital in the Commonwealth was in favor of Medicaid Expansion. At that August, 2014, meeting it was said that CHS would lose $1.7 Million over two years between Southampton Memorial and Southside Virginia RMC and would most likely see cuts in staffing and services - both of which we are seeing now. Monies that the Federal Government used to Expand Medicaid came from other indigent care programs. Without Expanding Medicaid, hospitals now absorb the cost of that indigent care, raising the cost of care for everyone else in the community, cut back services like birthing centers and surgical care - even sending patients to other hospitals for those services, or close up completely for lack of positive cash flow.

    Expanding Medicaid would help more people than you think. In the spirit of full disclosure, I would, most likely) be one of them, as would anyone that makes less than $16,000 each year. Medicaid Expansion would help the "working poor" like those Restarurant Servers (who make $2.13 per hour, plus tips). Perhaps that fear the Republicans have, that feeling that the Federal Government would renege and suddenly stop paying for Medicaid stems from the fact that Republicans in the General Assembly did just that to every locality with a State Prison. The General Assembly agreed to a program called "Payment in Lieu of Taxes" to help those localities that lost parts of their property tax base (since the Commonwealth of Virginia does not pay Real Property Tax); The Republicans in the General Assembly broke their word to those communities (including Greensville County, Southampton County, Sussex County, Brunswick County, Nottoway County and Mecklenburg County) and stopped making those "Payments in Lieu of Taxes" after only one year.

  22. Democrats Tout Bills They Say Would Help Workers

    By Ahniaelyah Spraggs, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Democratic lawmakers are urging passage of legislation to boost wages paid on state construction projects, increase overtime pay for public and private employees, and prohibit employers from asking job applicants about their salary history.

    Those proposals were among a slew of bills discussed at a news conference held by the Virginia House Democratic Caucus. Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, said the bills concern “one of the core issues that defines us as Democrats – our commitment to jobs and the people who need those jobs, who man those jobs.”

    He is sponsoring HB 667, which would require contractors and subcontractors on public works projects to pay the “prevailing wage” set by the federal government. He said the measure would increase the supply of apprenticeships and skilled workers and keep jobs in the community.

    Many Republicans oppose laws mandating prevailing wages on government-funded projects. They say such requirements inflate construction costs. Krizek disputed that, saying higher wages are usually offset by greater productivity, better technologies and other employer savings.

    Krizek’s bill is pending in the House Rules Committee.

    Also at the news conference, Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, discussed his bill to prohibit employers from requiring job applicants to disclose their salary history. Under HB 240, an employer could not obtain an applicant’s pay history from current or previous employers, either.

    Rasoul said employers use applicants’ salary histories to lowball the salaries they offer. “Both young workers and those workers that are in a career transition are experiencing real discrimination because of this,” he said.

    Under his proposal, Rasoul said, employers could ask applicants their minimum salary requirement but not how much money they previously earned. The bill has been assigned to the House Commerce and Labor Committee.

    That committee also is considering legislation by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, to increase overtime pay for workers in Virginia. Under HB 1109, employees would be entitled to twice their regular pay in certain circumstances. That is more than what the U.S. Department of Labor requires.

    “This bill ensures that workers are fairly compensated for overtime if they work more than 12 hours a day, 40 hours a week or 7 consecutive days a work week,” Tran said.

  23. Virginia Republicans Announce Election Review Panel

    By Chelsea Jackson, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – In the wake of a tied contest and other issues in last fall’s elections, Republican leaders in the General Assembly announced Thursday that they will form a panel to address such situations at the polls in the future.

    “There were numerous questions raised during the 2017 elections,” said House Speaker Kirk Cox, who made the announcement alongside Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment. “This subcommittee will have the ability to broadly review these questions and determine what, if any, steps should be taken.”

    Cox and Norment said the joint subcommittee will deal with concerns such as absentee ballots, the assignment of voters in split precincts and recount law and procedures.

    “These issues are not about who wins or loses elections but about the confidence of the public in our elections,” Norment said. “We never go through an election without a contentious result in a closely fought contest. Citizens expect us to protect and ensure the integrity of the process.”

    The subcommittee will be co-chaired by two Republicans – Del. Mark Cole of Spotsylvania County and Sen. Jill Vogel of Fauquier County. Cole chairs the House Privileges and Elections Committee, and Vogel chairs the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.

    “We need to examine these issues comprehensively, using a process that takes all viewpoints into account,” Vogel said.

    The announcement did not include how many Democrats would be on the subcommittee. Republicans hold a slim majority in both the House and Senate.

    Some Democrats have their own ideas how to address the election issues. Backed by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, Del. Marcia Price, D-Newport News, introduced a bill that called for a special election in the case of a tie vote.

    A House subcommittee killed that proposal, HB 1581, on a 4-2 vote early Thursday morning. The panel was split along party lines, with Republicans in favoring of killing the measure and Democrats against.

  24. Gun Control Bills Die in Virginia House of Delegares Subcommittee

    The Militia, Police and Public Safety subcommittee of the Virginia House of Delegates considering and killing the banning of bump-stocks and training for carriers of concealed carry permits, both of which are supported by a majority of Virginians, including Republicans.

     

    By Deanna Davison, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – A House subcommittee shot down multiple gun control bills Thursday despite a tear-filled statement from a survivor of last fall’s Las Vegas shooting who urged legislators to ban bump stocks.

    Cortney Carroll of Henrico County was one of several citizen lobbyists who attended the meeting of the Militia, Police and Public Safety subcommittee. She urged delegates to support HB 41, which aimed to ban the sale of bump stocks, devices that significantly increase the number of rounds that can be fired per minute.

    Carroll had been at the country music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 when Stephen Paddock, using rifles fitted with bump stocks, killed 58 people and injured about 550.

    “I believe in guns, but I just don’t think these are necessary,” Carroll said. “Think of your children, your family, your friends. Please don’t let [Las Vegas] happen again, not in our state.”

    The subcommittee chairman, Republican Del. Thomas Wright of Amelia County, said that while he empathized with Carroll’s perspective, he did not think banning bump stocks was the answer.

    “Until the evil in people’s hearts changes, the laws we pass cannot fix that,” he said.

    The subcommittee also heard from supporters of HB 602, which would have required people applying for concealed carry permits to demonstrate competence with a gun in person. Applicants can currently complete National Rifle Association or state-certified online courses.

    Jonathan Romans, a local gun safety activist, said the training could reduce accidents, which he called a public safety issue.

    “Having training for people who want to carry outside the home is not an infringement on constitutional rights,” Romans said. “Gun activists have called this a gun-grabbing scheme, but that’s just not the case.”

    Lori Haas, Virginia’s state director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, also urged the committee to support the bill.

    “We require law enforcement to undergo hundreds of hours of training,” Haas said. “The average citizen could certainly benefit from this training.”

    Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, countered: “But we’re not police officers. We don’t need the same amount of training to carry a gun.”

    The subcommittee also rejected HB 596 and HB 927, which would have prohibited the sale or transfer of certain magazines and firearms. Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, said she introduced the bill because her constituents were concerned by the abundance of gun violence in their communities.

    All of the bills were killed on 4-2 party-line votes.

  25. Meet the Democratic Socialist Who Ousted a Top Republican from the House

    By Brandon Celentano, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – In 2015, Lee J. Carter, an information technology specialist from Manassas, was shocked by 245 volts during a work assignment in Peoria, Illinois, when an electrician had incorrectly wired a panel.

    He wound up injuring his back; for the next three months, he could not walk more than 50 feet at a time. Yet Virginia rejected Carter’s claim for workers’ compensation, and his employer cut his hours after he got better. That ordeal inspired Carter to run for the Virginia House of Delegates.

    Few people thought he stood a chance of carrying the 50th House District, which includes Manassas and part of Prince William County. He was a little-known outsider challenging a powerful incumbent – Republican Del. Jackson Miller, the House majority whip. Though running as a Democrat, Carter said he did not get a lot of formal support from the state Democratic Party.

    But on Nov. 7, Carter shocked the naysayers: Like David against Goliath, he won the House race by nine points, unseating Jackson, who had represented the district since 2006.

    How did he pull off the upset? For almost two years, Lee said, he went into the community and talked to residents all day, every day. In the end, they decided they wanted him to come to Richmond and represent them.

    Carter is a member of the Democratic Party, but he describes himself as a democratic socialist. He is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America; the group endorsed him in his 2017 election.

    “One of the things I came to understand very early in the campaign is, if you’re to the left of Barry Goldwater, they’re going to call you a socialist anyway,” Carter said. “So I figured there is no point in hiding it. I am who I am. I believe worker-owned businesses are better for the community than investor-owned businesses.”

    Still, the word “socialist” can raise eyebrows in Virginia politics. Scott Lingamfelter, another Republican who lost his House seat last fall, used the label in his final newsletter to constituents on Jan. 5.

    “Last November, the state took a sharp turn to the left, electing people who truly do support a socialist agenda. Republicans were routed, including me,” wrote Lingamfelter, who was beaten by progressive Democrat Elizabeth Guzman in the neighboring 31st House District, which includes parts of Prince William and Fauquier counties.

    “I believe that in the months and years to come, Virginians will conclude that this election of far-left candidates was not helpful to families, small businesses, and constitutional governance, the things I stood for when I served in the House.”

    Carter, who served five years in the U.S. Marines, said he will look out for workers – and that is why he won by such a large margin.

    “I just went out there with the help of hundreds of volunteers with a message of ‘I’m a working-class guy,’ and I’m going to go there [Richmond] and represent working-class issues. We knocked on tens of thousands of doors and brought that message directly to people at their homes,” he said.

    Since the election, Carter has been deluged with phone calls from constituents and supporters with requests and ideas. He said the constant flood has continued to this day.

    One of Carter’s supporters, and the top individual donor to his campaign, is Karl Becker, who works in the defense industry in the Washington area. Becker worked with Carter on Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

    “Lee is very passionate about the inability of the government to serve folks,” said Becker, who contributed $6,750 to Carter’s House campaign.

    “He experienced a workplace injury and discovered that workers’ compensation was not working for people. That got him involved in looking into other aspects of politics, and he is very much of the opinion that he can make a difference.”

    Becker said he admires both Carter and Sanders for supporting universal health care, also known as “Medicare for all.” Carter is sponsoring a resolution to have state officials study the cost of implementing such a system. The resolution has been referred to the House Rules Committee.

    Also this session, Carter introduced legislation to more than double the sales tax on watercraft and to provide more protection for workers in the workers’ compensation system – an issue “near and dear to my heart.” One of his bills was aimed at covering Virginia workers who are injured out of state, as Carter was.

    All of his workers’ compensation measures, as well as his sales tax proposal, were killed at the subcommittee level in the House.

    For his House race, Carter put together a coalition of groups, including Let America Vote, which fights gerrymandering; the Sierra Club, an environmental organization; the Sister District Project, a Democratic effort focusing on swing districts; and Swing Left, a support group for progressive candidates.

    Carter said the Democratic Party is in the midst of change.

    “I think right now, it is a party that is torn between two visions of what it is supposed to be,” he said.

    “I view it as a party that is supposed to be advocating for the issues of working people exclusively. There are a lot of people at the same time who view the party as one that should advocate for compromise between the interests of working people and the interests of their employers.”

    Carter, who graduated from the Sorensen Institute of Political Leadership at the University of Virginia, said having a party of compromise would be fine in a political system with multiple parties.

    “But in our current system, you have the Republican Party, which is unabashedly for the interests of the big corporations. So you need a party that is unabashedly for the workers to balance that out. Otherwise, things don’t function.”

    Carter quoted former Lt. Gov. Henry Howell, an independent Democrat nicknamed “Howlin’ Henry” for his progressive populist views: “‘An eagle can’t fly with two right wings.’ We need a left wing.”

  26. Virginia Lawmakers Stir the Pot on Brunswick Stew Day

    By Katie Bashista, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Carroll Tucker stuck the long, wooden stirring paddle into the 85-gallon pot of stew. He let it go, and it didn’t move.

    “Do you know what it means if the paddle can stand up by itself?” said Tucker, longtime friend of this year’s Brunswick stewmaster and member of the “stew crew.”

    “It’s ready.”

    Senators, delegates and hungry residents lined up outside a tent on the Capitol grounds Wednesday to get a taste of this year’s stew. Legislators declared the fourth Wednesday of January Brunswick Stew Day nearly 20 years ago, and it’s the county’s most celebrated tradition.

    “It’s been a cherished endeavor for many years,” said Tracy Clary, this year’s stewmaster. “The first Brunswick Stew was cooked in 1820 in Brunswick County right on the banks of the Nottoway River.”

    Clary has lived his entire life in the county, which borders North Carolina, and has participated in the Taste of Brunswick Festival for years. Of the seven years he’s competed in the cook-off, he’s placed in the top four six times, winning for the first time in October.

    The winning dish, which Clary served again Wednesday, is a chicken-based stew with pork, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, butter beans, corn and a seasoning consisting of just four ingredients – salt, sugar, black pepper and ground red pepper.

    Clary and his crew cooked the mixture from midnight until the last spoonful of the 340 to 350 quarts of stew was served just before noon.

    “Once you start the pot to get cooking, you’ve got to constantly stir it so it doesn’t burn,” said Tucker, a member of the crew. “We’re constantly adding ingredients, sitting around talking, just having good fellowship and cooking the stew.”

    The long hours tending the pot were rewarded when around 10:30 a.m. senators, representatives and other lawmakers lined up to grab a bowl. By 11 a.m., the stew was running low.

    “The governor’s not going to have anything to stir if he doesn’t come down here soon,” said a member of the stew crew.

    Shortly after, Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Del. Roslyn Tyler, who is from Brunswick, made their way to the tent just in time to get their fix. They gathered around the steel pot, which was almost as tall as the stewmaster himself, to take pictures with Clary and the stew crew. Then they took turns stirring the pot.

    “It’s like paddling my boat,” Northam called out as he grasped the paddle and stirred the remaining stew.

    Brunswick County administrator Charlette Woolridge said she hasn’t missed a Stew Day in the 11 years she’s held the position. She said Stew Day is an important event in the county’s history because it’s an opportunity for locals to showcase Brunswick County, interact with elected officials and Virginia residents and share their beloved stew.

    “We’re just happy and proud to host this event annually,” she said. “We get great enjoyment and fulfillment out of this, and we look forward to doing this for years to come.”

  27. 2018 Flu Season

    VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital is currently receiving a higher than usual volume of patients in the Emergency Department.  This is causing extended wait times and in some cases diversion to other area hospitals.  This is not just an issue for VCU Health CMH, but for other hospitals across central Virginia.  A principle reason for the high volume is from a very active flu season that is occurring in Virginia and all across the United States.

    Gayle Sutton, RN, BSN, CIC, Infection Preventionist at VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital, stated, “I think it is important first for the public to understand the difference between the flu and a cold. A cold often presents with a sore throat that lasts up to 48 hours, followed by a runny nose, cough and congestion.  Fever is not usual in adults but more common in children.  The symptoms usually last about a week and the person is contagious for the first three days.”

    She continued, “Flu also presents with a sore throat, but other symptoms include fever, head and muscle aches, congestion and cough.  Vomiting and diarrhea are also associated with some strains of flu.  These symptoms usually improve after a few days, but the person may feel a general malaise for some time.  Flu can be dangerous for people who have a weakened immune system or people who are very young or elderly. It also poses a risk for people with pulmonary or heart problems.”

    Sutton recommends people who expect they may have flu to follow up with their primary care physician first and as soon as possible.  Sutton explained that if they come through the Emergency Department at VCU Health CMH, they are put on droplet precaution. The flu is a wet molecule that travels three feet and drops, so anyone entering their room is required to wear a mask. 

    Hospital visitation is discouraged if a family member or friend has the flu.  Masks are available upon entry into the Hospital/Emergency Department as well as hand sanitizer.  VCU Health CMH's incidence of flu admission this year has been high. 

    She recommends people who believe they have the flu should stay home, get plenty of rest and follow physician orders regarding returning to work, resuming school, etc. 

    Good hand washing is still considered the most important defense against the flu; while the vaccine has been proven to have only 10% effectiveness against the strains this season it is still recommended and takes at least two weeks to be effective.  It is still not too late to receive a flu shot. The CDC recommends vaccination prior to the flu season in October, but states that it’s not too late and urges people to receive the vaccine through January.

  28. SRMC FIRST IN TRI-CITIES TO OPEN AN ELECTROPHYSIOLOGY LAB

    New Technology Supports Less Invasive Treatments for Patients

    Petersburg, VA– Doctors at Southside Regional Medical Center are now able to use an advanced digital X-ray imaging system to see extremely detailed, real-time images of patient anatomy during procedures that require exacting precision.

    They just opened their Electrophysiology Laboratory this December. This new equipment will help electrophysiologists and cardiologists at Southside Regional Medical Center treat a variety of medical disorders including diseases of the heart and blood vessels like heart arrhythmias and bradycardia as well as implanting devices to combat heart failure.

    The advanced digital X-ray imaging system provides advanced capability for visualizing delicate procedures, such as placing a tiny wire mesh tube (stent) in a patient’s artery to sustain or recover blood flow.

    “It is critical for our medical staff to see the anatomy very clearly while guiding catheters, stents and other medical devices to areas needing treatment,” says Debbie Nelson RN, MSN/MHA, EP Lab Director. “Because the new system produces high quality images our staff can perform delicate procedures like balloon angioplasty and blood vessel interventions with accuracy and confidence.”

    The new system has a large digital detector, 12 inches square for excellent anatomical coverage. This gives doctors the potential to see more anatomy in a single exam, and as a consequence, complete studies with fewer X-ray images, less X-ray dose and fewer injections of contrast dye than with smaller detectors.

    “We are very excited about adding the advanced X-ray system to our technology offering at Southside Regional Medical Center,” says Ms. Nelson.  “By putting this advanced system in the hands of our medical experts, it helps us make significant improvements in the patient care in the communities we serve.”

  29. Bill Calls for a Special Election if a Recount Ends in a Tie

    By Ahniaelyah Spraggs, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus on Wednesday called for a law requiring a special election if an election recount ends in a tie – as it did in the state’s 94th House District last fall.

    That tied election in Newport News between Republican David Yancey and Democrat Shelly Simonds was decided by a lottery – film canisters pulled out of a bowl. That is what prompted Del. Marcia Price, D-Newport News, to propose House Bill 1581.

    “When it was announced that the winner of the 94th District House race was to be determined by lot – by drawing a name out of a bowl – there was an instant reaction,” Price said at a news conference attended by the caucus chair, Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, and other legislators.

    Yancey, the incumbent delegate, won the lottery held by the State Board of Elections on Jan. 4. Price said that regardless of party, Virginians deserve a better way of settling deadlocked elections.

    Price said she was holiday shopping for her nephew in December when both Republican and Democratic residents of the 94th House District approached her about the upcoming lottery. Price recalled one man saying, “I know we don’t agree on much, but tell me you agree that this just isn’t right.”

    “So HB 1581 takes into account the feelings of disenfranchisement and serves as a fix. It says if the court finds that each party to the recount has received an equal number of votes, it shall issue a writ promptly ordering a special election be held to determine which candidate is elected to office,” Price said.

    The proposed rule would apply to all elected offices except governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. The Virginia Constitution says the General Assembly must settle any tied election for those statewide offices.

    Price’s idea to hold a special election received support at the news conference from Dawnn Wallace, who lives in the 94th House District.

    “I was one of the 23,891 people who cast a vote on Nov. 7, 2017, in the House of Delegates election for the 94th District,” Wallace said. In that election, after a recount and a court hearing, officials determined that Yancey and Simonds each got 11,608 votes, with the rest going to a Libertarian and write-in candidates.

    Wallace said she makes sure to vote in every election. When she learned that her state delegate would be chosen by picking a name out of a bowl, she said she was flabbergasted.

    “Many of my family members, neighbors and friends who live in the 94th District felt the same way,” Wallace said. “And our immediate concern moved from who would prevail to how that person was going to win.”

    As a sports fan, Wallace said it was like having a football game decided by a coin flip. Just as games tied at the end of regulation go into overtime, Wallace said a recount that ends in a tie should be decided by a special election.

    A subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee is scheduled to hear Price’s bill on Thursday.

  30. Bill Would Exempt Trade Secrets from FOIA

    Delegate Roxann Robinson, R - Midlothian, before the General Laws subcommittee, reading her proposed bill creating general rules exempting trade secrets from Freedom of Information Act requests (photo by Adam Hamza)

    Delegate Roxann Robinson, R - Midlothian, before the General Laws subcommittee, reading her proposed bill creating general rules exempting trade secrets from Freedom of Information Act requests (photo by Adam Hamza)

    By Adam Hamza, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Open government and environmental advocates are once again battling bills they say that would limit public-information access by creating a Freedom of Information Act exclusion for trade secrets.

    HB 904 by Del. Roxann Robinson, R-Chesterfield, would create general exclusions from FOIA for trade secrets submitted to a public body. It passed its initial hearing in a House General Laws subcommittee Tuesday.

    The bill is similar to four others Robinson introduced last year that would have allowed FOIA exemptions for chemical names and concentrations used in hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking. All failed to pass.

    The new bill is supported by the Freedom of Information Advisory Council. Alan Gernhardt, the council’s executive director, said the bill simplifies the way FOIA treats trade secrets.

    He said that over the past few years, FOIA exemptions have been issued based specifically on the type of record as well as the agency. This means each time an exception is sought, an individual exemption must be crafted.

    “The problem is more and more agencies are holding or receiving trade secrets, and so they’re asking for more exemptions every year,” Gernhardt said. “We want to get the one general exemption everybody can use and remove the language that’s specific for each agency.”

    Opponents of the bill countered that the exclusions are too broad and carry significant unintended consequences – mainly, keeping more information from citizens.

    Emily Francis, representing the Southern Environmental Law Center, criticized what she termed a sweeping exemption. She said the legislation doesn’t address the center’s concerns from Robinson’s earlier bills, including the need to provide public access to the names of chemicals used in fracking.

    “The public would like access to this information. As of today, they do have access to this information, and they would like (continued) access to that information,” she said.

    Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, expressed objections similar to those of the law center.

    “We do want to point out that, yes it has been worked on for four years, and the bill that came – nobody was happy with it,” Rhyne said.

    Corrina Beall, political director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, and Daria Christian, assistant director of the Friends of the Rappahannock, also spoke in opposition.

    Trade secrets in the legislation are based on the definition in Virginia’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act, according to the bill summary.

    A trade secret, according to the act, “means information, including but not limited to, a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process, that: 1. Derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by, other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use, and 2. Is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.”

    The subcommittee voted 5-3 along party lines to send the bill to the full committee:

    • Republican Dels. Keith Hodges of Middlesex, Hyland Fowler of Hanover, James Leftwich of Chesapeake and Jason Miyares and Glenn Davis of Virginia Beach voted for the bill.
    • Democratic Dels. Betsy Carr of Richmond, Patrick Hope of Arlington and Kathleen Murphy of Fairfax voted against it.
  31. Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, Civil Rights Giant, Dies

    By Thomas Jett, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – The Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, a civil rights icon who worked closely with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., died Tuesday morning at an assisted-living facility in Chester, south of Richmond.

    Numerous public officials, including Virginia’s two U.S. senators, expressed their condolences over the death of Wyatt, whoraised heaven as pastor at Gillfield Baptist Church in Petersburg and hell as a civil rights activist.

    “The Commonwealth and our country are a better place because of his leadership in the struggle for civil rights,” Sen. Mark Warner said. Sen. Tim Kaine called Wyatt “a man I’ve known and admired for many years.”

    Wyatt’s death at age 88 was announced by the Rev. Al Sharpton, who described him as “atrue giant and irreplaceable leader.”

    Added the Rev. Jesse Jackson: “One of the tallest trees of the civil rights movement has fallen.”

    Walker was born to the Rev. John Wise and Maude Pinn Walker, both graduates of Virginia Union University, on Aug. 16, 1929, in Brockton, Massachusetts. He grew up in a home full of books but struggling with poverty during the Great Depression.

    In 1950, Walker followed his parents’ path to Virginia Union University, receiving Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1953. Soon after, he moved to Petersburg.

    During his seven-year tenure at Gillfield Baptist, Walker vitalized the struggle for civil rights in that city south of Richmond. He served as president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded the Petersburg Improvement Association and sued the city in federal court for access to the public but segregated swimming pool in Lee Park. The city responded by temporarily closing the pool rather than integrate it.

    For his efforts, Walker was arrested 17 times. He had many notable achievements, including the desegregation of lunch counters at restaurants at the bus terminal.

    In 1958, Walker co-founded the Congress of Racial Equality and served as its state director.

    In 1960, Walker moved to Alabama at King’s behest. Serving as the executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from 1960 to 1964, he improved the organization’s fundraising, structure, strategy and publicity.

    Discussing his leadership in the SCLC, Walker once described himself as someone “who didn’t care about being loved to get it done – I didn’t give a damn about whether people liked me, but I knew I could do the job.’’

    After resigning from the SCLC in 1964, Walker became vice president and then president of the Negro Heritage Library, a publishing venture aimed at increasing black history and literature in public school curriculums. He also became pastor of Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Harlem.

    King spoke to Walker’s congregation in 1968, describing him as ‘‘a tall man – tall in stature, tall in courage.’’

    At the church in Harlem, Walker hosted numerous African leaders active in opposing apartheid and colonization of the continent, including Nelson Mandela.

    Walker was no stranger to danger. He braved constant threats campaigning for civil rights in the Jim Crow south and continued daring death in Harlem, campaigning and preaching against the drug trade. The mobster Frank Lucas once allegedly put a bounty on Wyatt’s head.

    After suffering a stroke in 2004, Walker left Canaan Baptist and moved back to Virginia to live near relatives. Walker is survived by his wife of 68 years, Theresa Edwards Walker; his daughter, Patrice Powell; three sons – Robert, Earl, and Wyatt Jr.; his sister, Mary Holley; and two granddaughters.

  32. Workers’ Compensation Bills Die in Subcommittee

    By Caitlin Barbieri, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — Legislation aimed at protecting and improving employees’ worker compensation rights were struck down Tuesday by a House subcommittee.

    Freshman Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, proposed three bills in an effort to reform the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act after he was inspired by his own experience filing a claim. All three bills were passed by indefinitely by a subcommittee of the House Commerce and Labor Committee, effectively killing them for the session.

    One of the bills, HB 460, would have prevented employers from firing someone based on the belief that the employee had filed or was planning to file a claim for workers compensation. Currently, Virginia law only protects employees from being fired solely because they have made or are planning to make a claim. However, this bill would have protected employees from being fired for any reason that was motivated by the knowledge or belief that the employee was planning to file a claim.

    Ryan Dunn from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce said the bill was too general.

    “This is really a golden ticket to allow somebody, even after they are fired for due cause or decide to quit, (that) they can at any point come back and say that this was related to their workers’ comp claim that they put in in 1985,” Dunn said.

    The second measure, HB 461, known as the timely notice bill, would have required employers to respond to a workers’ compensation claim within 10 days of the initial claim and explain why it was denied. The bill would cut employers’ response time in half; Joe Leahy of the Independent Insurance Agents of Virginia said that is not enough time to investigate a claim.

    Carter’s third bill, HB 462, would have ensured that Virginia employees injured while working outside the state could still file for compensation from their employer in Virginia, increasing their employers’ liability.

    Again this bill was met with opposition. Subcommittee Chairman Gregory Habeeb, R-Salem, agreed with Carter that “our system is not super-claimant friendly,” but disagreed with the proposed solution.  

    “I believe that there are some changes that Virginia could make to the benefit of the claimants that would be more than reasonable,” he said. “I just don’t think this is one of them.”

    Carter was not available for comment after the subcommittee meeting.

  33. Stricter Seat-Belt Laws Shelved for 2018 Session

    By Irena Schunn, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND -- Virginia legislators have rejected all bills expanding seat-belt requirements in privately owned vehicles this session. The last two bills, requiring back-seat passengers to wear seat belts, were dismissed by a House subcommittee vote Tuesday.

    “With the demise of this year’s major seat-belt bills, it is clear that Virginia lawmakers don’t have an appetite for advancing the single most effective measure to reduce crash-related deaths and injuries,” said Kurt Erickson, the president and CEO of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program and an advocate for expanding seat belt requirements in Virginia.

    Expanding seat belt laws to include rear-seat passengers could save several lives each year. In 2017, at least 94 Virginia lives might have been saved if vehicle occupants had been buckled up, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Back-seat passengers in general are three times more likely to die when unfastened during a collision, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

    Drivers under the influence and teens are some of the least likely to wear seatbelts. In 2013, 68 percent of drivers who had been drinking and died in a car accident were not wearing a seat belt, according to a report from the National Transportation Safety Board. In the same year, 49 percent of teens under the influence involved in a fatal crash were unrestrained. Even without alcohol, teens are particularly careless when it comes to wearing seat belts. In 2015, more than half of all teens who died in a crash were unbuckled during the collision, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    During Tuesday’s subcommittee meeting, questions were raised over whether the driver would be responsible for the ticket if a rear-seat passenger remained unbuckled. As services like Uber and Lyft gain in popularity, the answer is especially pertinent for ride-sharing drivers.  Neither HB 1272 sponsored by Del. Vivian Watts, D-Annandale, nor HB 9 sponsored by Del. Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria, guarantees any protection for taxi drivers or ride-sharing services.

    Last week, a Senate committee rejected a similar bill that additionally would have made failing to wear a seat belt a primary offense. Current Virginia law only requires front-seat passengers to wear seat belts, and dictates that a seat-belt violation can be ticketed only when the driver is pulled over for a separate traffic violation. Currently, the penalty for not wearing a seat belt is a $25 fine.

  34. Delegates Tout Bills to Improve Prison Workers’ Jobs

    By Yasmine Jumaa and Brandon Celentano,Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Correctional officers from across Virginia watched Tuesday as a state lawmaker urged support for legislation aimed at reducing turnover among prison guards and making it easier for them to get workers’ compensation.

    “I think currently we have a tremendous injustice going on,” said Del. John Bell, D-Loudoun. “Out of the 14 [categories of] peace officers in Virginia, the only peace officer who does not get the presumption of disability is our correctional officer.”

    Bell is sponsoring House Bill 107, which would add correctional officers to the list of public safety employees entitled to receive workers’ compensation under the presumption that hypertension, heart disease and other ailments may stem from their stressful jobs. Bell said some correctional officers develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

    “The stress levels on officers is very high, which could lead to a variety of different heart diseases over prolonged periods of time,” Bell said. “It’s a tough and hazardous job where officers have been measured with PTSD that far exceeds combat veterans.”

    Bell has also introduced HB 108, which would require the Virginia Department of Corrections to conduct an exit survey of correctional officers who quit. The survey would ask them about work conditions and other concerns that may contribute to high turnover.

    Del. Roslyn Tyler, D-Sussex, said low salaries may be a factor.

    “You have to work two, three jobs sometimes to address your needs and your family’s because your salaries aren’t up to par to make a living,” said Tyler, who is co-sponsoring the two bills. “That is just totally unreasonable.”

    According to the Department of Corrections, 1,164 DOC employees, including 698 correctional officers, have salaries so low that they may be eligible for food stamps under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

    A 2017 study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission said correctional officers’ difficult jobs and low salaries may hurt attracting and retaining employees. Virginia prison guards had a 17 percent turnover rate over the past two years, and 16 percent of the positions have been vacant, the study said.

    HB 107 has been assigned to a subcommittee of the House Commerce and Labor Committee. On Tuesday, the subcommittee voted 4-3 to recommend approval of the bill.

    HB 108 has been assigned to a subcommittee of the House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety.

  35. While Governor Decries Gun Violence, Senate OKs Guns in Church

    By DeForrest Ballou, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Lamenting the fact that more than 900 Virginians were killed by guns last year, Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday that the state should do more to restrict the proliferation of firearms.

    “We do not need these weapons on our streets and in our society,” Northam told a multi-faith congregation at St. Paul’s Church.

    The governor spoke at an event organized by the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. Just hours later, however, the Senate passed a bill allowing people to bring guns and knives to churches and other places of worship.

    Split along party lines, senators voted 21-18 in favor of SB 372, sponsored by Republican Sen. Ben Chafin of Russell County.

    Currently, state law provides that “If any person carry any gun, pistol, bowie knife, dagger or other dangerous weapon, without good and sufficient reason, to a place of worship while a meeting for religious purposes is being held at such place he shall be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.”

    SB 372 would repeal that prohibition against bringing weapons to a house of worship. Supporters of the bill say congregants may need weapons to defend themselves from an attack. They point to incidents such as the mass shooting at a Baptist church at Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5, when 26 people were killed by a gunman.

    Officials of the Virginia Interfaith Center issued a news press release saying they are “absolutely opposed” to the bill.

    Northam did not specifically address SB 372 in his remarks at St. Paul’s, where the center was holding its “Day for All People,” an occasion for residents from across Virginia to come to Richmond and meet with legislators.

    Rather, the Democratic governor discussed his concerns about gun violence. He recalled the shooting in Las Vegas, where 58 people were murdered by a gunman during a country music festival on Oct. 1. In less than 50 hours after the shooting, 58 more Americans would die from gun violence, Northam said.

    “It took 49 hours – 58 more Americans lost their lives, but you never heard about them, did you? Nor did I,” Northam said. “When are we, as a society, going to stand up and say enough is enough?”

    After graduating from Virginia Military Institute, Northam attended Eastern Virginia Medical School. Afterward, he served eight years in the Army as a doctor. Northam has seen the effects of firearms firsthand.

    Northam began practicing pediatric neurology after the Army. As a children’s neurologist, he has treated young victims of gunshot wounds.

    Northam said he supports the Second Amendment but is willing to think outside the box. “We have ‘smart gun’ technology; this is 2018,” the governor said. “So I will do everything I can to address that issue.”

    In an interview, Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, questioned Northam’s statistics on gun deaths in 2017. He said the numbers include tragedies such as suicides.

    Van Cleave said he would support “smart guns” – weapons that fire only if held by an authorized user – if the technology were 100 percent effective. However, he said, it currently is not reliable. Someone who is bleeding or wearing gloves may not be able to fire a “smart gun” in self-defense, Van Cleave said.

  36. Businesses May Get Tax Credits to Train High School Students

    By Deanna Davison, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Juniors and seniors in Richmond City Public Schools would receive paid apprenticeships and training with local businesses, and participating employers would get tax credits from the state, under legislation filed by a bipartisan pair of lawmakers.

    Republican Sen. Glen Sturtevant and Democratic Del. Jeffrey Bourne, who both represent the city in the General Assembly, are seeking to establish a pilot program for the 2018-19 or 2019-20 academic year.

    Under the program, up to 25 Richmond students would receive “competitive compensation” while being trained in high-demand fields.

    Sturtevant and Bourne say it is important to help students who do not pursue traditional college degrees prepare for the workforce.

    “This pilot program will provide a great opportunity for bright and hardworking students to get hands-on experience,” Sturtevant said.

    Participating local businesses would receive a $2,500 tax credit per student per semester. Student compensation would equal “no less than the value” of that credit. The total tax credits awarded by the state could not exceed $125,000 a year under the legislation.

    Sturtevant and Bourne previously served together on the Richmond School Board for four years.

    The lawmakers have submitted companion bills to create the apprenticeship program. Sturtevant has introduced SB 937 in the Senate; Bourne is carrying HB 1575 in the House. Both measures are awaiting committee hearings.

  37. ‘Beltway Sniper’ Lee Boyd Malvo Seeks Re-sentencing

    By Logan Bogert, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – A three-judge federal appeals court panel heard arguments Tuesday on whether Lee Boyd Malvo, who was convicted of murder in the Beltway sniper attacks in 2002, is entitled to a new sentencing under a U.S. Supreme Court decision that made life without parole unconstitutional for juveniles.

    The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges listened to arguments from Malvo’s lawyer, Craig Cooley, and Virginia’s deputy solicitor general, Matthew McGuire.

    “There are real serious considerations in re-sentencing dangerous criminals – which no one can argue Mr. Malvo isn’t,” McGuire said in court.

    Malvo was 17 when he and John Allen Muhammad, then 41, killed 10 people in Virginia, Maryland and Washington during September and October of 2002.

    Muhammad was sentenced to death and executed in Virginia in 2009. Malvo was given four life terms and is an inmate at Red Onion State Prison in Wise County.

    In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that a juvenile could not be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, except in the rarest of cases. Even then, a sentencing judge must make an individualized and focused evaluation before sentencing, the high court said.

    Last year, citing the Miller decision, U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson of Norfolk ordered a new sentencing for Malvo, now 32.

    The state of Virginia appealed Jackson’s ruling. As a result, lawyers for both sides presented arguments to 4th Circuit Judges Paul Niemeyer, Robert King and Albert Diaz.

    Cooley argued that in Malvo’s case, when given the option of life without parole or death, the jury voted unanimously to sentence him to life without parole – the lowest sentencing option at that time.

    “It is possible, given the option, that they would have gone lower than life without parole,” Cooley told the court.

    McGuire presented his counterargument.

    “Lee Boyd Malvo is a serial murderer,” one of his documents states. “Lee Boyd Malvo and John Muhammad terrorized people living along the I-95 corridor between Virginia and Maryland for nearly a month in the fall of 2002, randomly killing 10 innocent people going about their daily activities and wounding numerous others, including a child.”

    The appeals panel did not indicate when it might rule.

    Malvo has been convicted and given life sentences in Maryland as well. Last year, a judge ruled that he will not receive a new sentencing hearing there.

  38. Winnifred Lee Everett Reid (Winnie)

    Winnifred Lee Everett Reid, (Winnie), 95, of Emporia, passed peacefully January 19, 2018 at Lucy Corr Village surrounded by loving family.

    She was born at Cedar Dell Farm, Newsoms, VA on February 10, 1922 to the late Caleb Roy Everett, Sr. and Thelma Eley Everett. She was the Valedictorian of the class of 1939, Newsoms High School and received her BS in Home Economics Education in 1943 from Madison College. She was a teacher in Southampton County and Greensville County Schools until her marriage to the late Charles Alexander Reid, Jr. in 1949.

    Winnie was a very active member of Main Street Methodist Church in Emporia, serving in many capacities. She especially enjoyed teaching the third grade Sunday School class for many years. She was the leader of Girl Scout Troop 30, a substitute teacher in Greensville County Public Schools, member of the Riparian Woman’s Club and the Hicksford Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

    In addition to her parents and husband, she was preceded by brothers, Rev. Caleb Roy Everett, Jr., Joseph Leslie Everett, and sister Anne Everett Mish.

    She is survived by a daughter, Sara Eley Reid Gordon and husband Morris of Chesterfield, VA; grandchildren; Kenneth Bryce Gordon of Midlothian, VA, Anna Elizabeth Faris of Chesterfield, VA, and Thomas Reid Gordon of New York; great grandchildren, Harper Elise Gordon and Alyssa Michelle Faris. The family would like to thank the staff at Lucy Corr Village and The Crossings at Bon Air for their loving care of Winnie during her last years.

    A celebration of her life will be held at 12 noon Wednesday, January 24, at Main Street United Methodist Church with Rev. Tom Durrance officiating. Visitation will be from 11 AM until the time of the service. Burial will follow in Emporia Cemetery.

    Memorial donations may be to Main Street United Methodist Church, 500 S Main St, Emporia, VA 23847 or the Alzheimer’s Association.

    Online condolences may be left at echolsfuneralhome.com

  39. New Beginnings

    By Dr. Al Roberts

    Many people usher in the New Year with a fist full of resolutions and renewed determination to start afresh toward achieving personal goals. Surveys done by various news outlets report that some of the most common resolutions deal with exercising, losing weight, managing money, changing habits, strengthening personal relationships, volunteering, reading more, and engaging in spiritual practices. Some folks prioritize learning new skills, seeking a better job, and even embarking on a new career.

    Southside Virginia Community College offers a myriad of resources to support people with resolutions focused on education and workforce training. These people include high school students making decisions about their futures, unemployed and underemployed workers looking for improved opportunities, veterans returning to civilian life, mid-career professionals seeking fresh challenges, and retirees who want to try something new.

    If you find yourself plotting a path or adjusting your course, SVCC’s counselors can help you discover which career areas are most compatible with your interests, attitudes, and values. They can also teach you how to look for a job, prepare a resume, navigate an interview, and negotiate a salary.

    The quickest way to launch a new career may be through one of Virginia’s new FastForward credentialing programs. SVCC and more than 20 other workforce training centers around the state offer 145 different programs in areas such as logistics and transportation, healthcare, welding and manufacturing, skilled trades, and information technology. Statistics show that people with workforce credentials are twice as likely to be hired as applicants who lack a credential. Furthermore, credentialed workers typically earn more than their noncredentialed counterparts.

    Other career pathways start with a more traditional, academic base. For example, Associate of Applied Sciences (AAS) degrees prepare students for entry into a wide variety of occupations in fields such as agriculture, business, public safety, and health. Just one example is the Administration of Justice program, which prepares graduates for roles in law enforcement agencies or correctional facilities.

    Still other career pathways involve educational journeys that culminate with baccalaureate or advanced degrees. After spending their first two years of study at SVCC, graduates with Associate of Arts and Sciences (AA&S) degrees generally transfer to a four-year institution with junior class standing. One popular program is the Education Major. It provides core classes that serve as a solid foundation for students who plan to pursue careers in teaching.

    So, if your dreams for 2018 include developing and expanding your skills and knowledge, I invite you to contact SVCC at 434-949-1000. A career counselor can advise you about academic, vocational, and technical programs and explain the array of support services available to help you stay focused on your goals. Let this be the year your successes begin.

    Dr. Al Roberts is president of Southside Virginia Community College, an institution of higher learning that provides a wide variety of education opportunities to a diverse student population within a service area that spans ten counties and the city of Emporia. He can be reached via email at al.roberts@southside.edu.

  40. Disappointed by Norment bill, marijuana law reform advocates refocus agenda

    By Fadel Allassan and Siona Peterous, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Marijuana law reform advocates are refocusing their agenda after Virginia’s Senate majority leader introduced a bill that eliminates jail time for first-offense possession but falls short of decriminalization — a concept he earlier said he would support.

    Under the bill by Sen. Thomas Norment Jr., R-James City, first-time marijuana possession offenders would be fined but also have a chance to have their records expunged. It isn’t the decriminalization bill Norment told The Virginian-Pilot he supported last November. But a spokesperson for the majority leader now says such a bill, which could have made first-time possession a civil offense, would have little chance of passing the House of Delegates.

    “It’s a disappointment to thousands of Virginians and particularly to his constituents, who were looking for him to be the leader on this issue.” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, a marijuana reform advocacy group.

    Reform advocates, who gathered at the Virginia 2018 Cannabis Conference in Richmond on Sunday and Monday, said they support the bill despite it not going far enough, but are now focusing their attention on legislation including a measure by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, that would expand the use of medical cannabis in Virginia.

    Decriminalization, however, isn’t dead yet in the assembly, and advocates said they support legislation including SB111 by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, and HB 1063 by  Del. Steve Heretick, D-Portsmouth. But the bills face an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled legislature. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has said he favors decriminalizing simple first-possession charges.

    In Virginia, people charged with pot possession as a first offense are typically eligible for a probationary program that gives the chance for a judge to dismiss the charge. Norment’s legislation would make that practice law and instead of dismissal, allow expungement.

    “We were expecting a bill that was more analogous to decriminalization, but instead what we see is an expungement bill,” Pedini said.

    On another front, advocates said they support Dunnavant’s bill, which would allow medical practitioners to issue certifications to allow patients to use cannabis oil. It has been assigned to the Education and Health Committee and has the backing of the legislature’s Joint Commission on Health Care.

    “Those health care decisions should be made by a licensed practitioner, not senators and delegates in Richmond,” Pedini said.

    Last year, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed into law a bill that allows pharmacies to make and sell cannabis oils for treating intractable epilepsy. Dunnavant’s bill allows health care professionals to determine which illnesses can be treated.

    Advocates at the conference – which was organized by the advocacy groups Virginia NORML, Cannabis Commonwealth and Virginia Cannabis Group – are also making phone calls and lobbying against a bill that would allow law enforcement officers to strip search people at traffic stops if there is reasonable cause to believe they may possess controlled substances.

    The law is intended to battle opioid and fentanyl possession, Pedini said, but could trap  those who legally use marijuana to treat epilepsy.

    “What we don’t want to see is a mother and her child driving home to be stopped and strip searched,” Pedini said.

  41. Gov. Northam Calls for Raising Teachers’ Salaries

    By DeForrest Ballou, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Gov. Ralph Northam told the Virginia School Boards Association on Monday that the state needs to raise teacher pay to attract and keep top talent in the commonwealth’s public schools.

    Speaking to the association’s annual Capital Conference, Northam said the state’s teachers make $7,500 less than the national average.

    “There are some things that I think need attention, and some of them sooner than later,” he said. “The first is, we need to be able to recruit and retain the best talent out there to teach our children.”

    The governor said he also wants to close the skills gap by reaching children earlier in their development. Northam said one way to do that is to build on the STEM acronym of science, technology, engineering and mathematics by adding art and health care.

    Northam drew on his experience as a child neurologist when discussing the need to evaluate school start times. He said he understands that adolescents go to sleep later and wake up later than adults.

    “We’re asking our teenagers – we’re not asking them, we’re telling them – to start school at 7, 7:30 in the morning. So, if you talk about issues like conduct problems or attention problems or learning disabilities, a lot of those can be related to not getting enough sleep at night,” he said.

    The VSBA’s conference represented an early opportunity for the governor to meet with Virginians involved in education.

    “I think what’s important with this particular group is you have superintendents as well as school board members,” said Jared Cotton, the superintendent of schools in Henry County, on the North Carolina line.

    An educator from another rural area said his region faces different economic challenges than populated areas that make up much of the state’s school spending.

     “When you are living in a rural county, there is not a great deal of economic development with business and industry to help offset,” said Christopher Smith, a member of the Southampton County School Board for more than 32 years. “I think one of the main issues confronting most localities is, how can the state help especially rural areas to develop economically?”

  42. More than 100 Rally for Women’s Rights

    By Chelsea Jackson and Jessica Wetzler, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – On the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a landmark case that legalized access to abortion, more than 100 people, including top state officials, gathered at the state Capitol in support of a woman’s right to choose.

    The Virginia Women’s Equality Coalition kicked off its lobby day with a rally to support reproductive freedom and address issues women still face such as the wage gap and the stigma of abortion.

    Amy Hagstrom Miller, the founder and president of Whole Woman’s Health, said women are still fighting many battles for justice.

    “We have the #MeToo campaign and the Black Lives Matter movement, and we have powerful Democratic leadership in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Miller said.

    That leadership attended the rally in full force, as Gov. Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax spoke at the event.

    “We are going to win this fight,” said Fairfax, who presides over the Virginia Senate. “I will bang that gavel in favor of progress and in favor of women for the next four years.”

    Herring agreed, saying President Donald Trump’s administration threatens reproductive freedom.

    “In 2016, we got knocked down,” Herring said. Referring to Democratic victories in last fall’s races for the Virginia House, he added, “In 2017, though, we got up and we stood taller and stronger than ever before … becoming a brick wall for women’s rights.”

    Northam emphasized the importance of voter turnout by women. He said a group of legislators, most of whom are men, should not tell women what to do with their bodies.

    The rally followed the anniversary of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington, one of the largest protests in U.S. history. It also came one week after a Senate committee killed a series of Democratic bills aimed at expanding abortion rights.

    One of the measures would have allowed women to waive any mandatory waiting periods before receiving an abortion. In arguing against the measure, Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun, said such laws would “invite fraud in using state funds in order to fund elective abortions.”

    Last year, when Republicans held a 66-34 majority in the House, they passed a resolution calling the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade a “Day of Tears.”

    This year, as the GOP majority in the House has shrunk to 51-49, Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler, a Democrat from Virginia Beach, sponsored a resolution to mark Jan. 22 as a “Day of Women.” It has been referred to the House Rules Committee.

    “We will not be silenced; we will not be shamed,” Convirs-Fowler told Monday’s gathering.

    At the rally, several lawmakers discussed their legislative goals:

    ●       Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, is carrying a bill to ensure that insurance policies cover a woman’s reproductive health needs.

    ●       Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William County, is co-sponsoring legislation to end the sale tax on feminine hygiene products.

    Some of those proposals already are finding success. On Monday, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee unanimously approved a bill by Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun, to require equal pay for equal work, regardless of sex.

    Statistics show that working women in the United States are paid less than men.

    “Latinas earn only 54 cents for every dollar a white man makes. Black women earn about 63 cents, and white women earn 78 cents,” said Margie Del Castillo of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

    “In 2018, that is beyond unacceptable.”

  43. Senators Suggest Charging Tolls on Trucks on I-81

    By Ahniaelyah Spraggs, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Two state senators are calling for a study on the feasibility of imposing tolls on large trucks using Interstate 81.

    The potential toll revenue would fund safety improvements on the highway, according to Republican Sens. Mark Obenshain of Rockingham and Bill Carrico of Grayson, who filed a bill Friday to launch such a study.

    “We need to focus our efforts and money on improving I-81. It has been overlooked for too long, and Virginians in Southwest Virginia and the Valley deserve better,” said Carrico, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee. “This bill is an innovative approach, and I look forward to seeing the results of this study.”

    Kansas and Rhode Island have similar truck-tolling programs. In 2017, revenue from commercial vehicle tolls in Kansas totaled $48 million. In Rhode Island, such tolls may generate $60 million in annual revenue for transportation needs, according to an economic impact study.

    I-81 runs 855 miles from Tennessee to the Canadian border. The Virginia segment is 325 miles long, from Bristol to Winchester.

    Obenshain said that I-81 carries nearly half of statewide truck traffic and that about a fifth of the traffic collisions on the interstate involve a heavy truck.

    “With over 2,000 crashes per year, and 30 crashes a year with a clearance time greater than six hours, we must be willing to look at creative methods to find substantive solutions to this problem,” Obenshain said.

    The bill would set several stipulations for the proposed tolling program. Under the stipulations, the Commonwealth Transportation Board would:

    • Identify how to improve specific parts of I-81.

    • Develop a tolling policy that minimizes effects on local traffic and the diversion of truck traffic from I-81.

    • Use all funds generated by the tolls for the benefit of I-81.

    No matter what the study might find, tolls on I-81 may be a long way off. Any tolling program on the highway would require approval from the General Assembly, Obenshain noted.

    “I believe that a willingness to explore innovative and unconventional funding sources can be a part of a bipartisan solution to the problems faced by those who travel Interstate 81 every day,” he said.

    Obenshain has filed another bill aimed at truck safety on I-81. SB 561 calls for the Virginia Department of Transportation to conduct a pilot program requiring tractor trucks to travel in the right lane only.

  44. VCU Health CMH Team Member of the Month

    Photo Caption: (Left to Right) W. Scott Burnette, CEO, VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital presented Rick Clary, Pharmacy Director, the VCU Health CMH STAR Service Team Member of the Month Award for December.  There to congratulate Rick was Todd Howell, VP of Professional Services.

    Rick has been employed at VCU Health CMH for 32 years.  When asked about his time at VCU Health CMH Rick said, “I started here as a pharmacy technician working for Mr. Berryman in 1985, he hired me as a pharmacist when I graduated from VCU-MCV College of Pharmacy in 1986.”  He was my mentor in my earlier years and shaped me into the person I am today.  I have been so grateful for the opportunities that I have been given by Community Memorial Hospital.  The administrative team at CMH has been very supportive of me over the years and I feel they really care about me as a person.”

    The nomination form submitted on his behalf stated, “Rick served as co-chair for the facility move committee.  He worked with Christy Reese to help coordinate the team meetings with our consultant and at the same time had to work to coordinate the installation of a new medication dispensing system for both acute and long-term care.  All this while planning to move the entire pharmacy operation and all medications in a 48-hour window before opening the new hospital.  His performance was invaluable in effecting the smooth transition to the new CMH.” 

    In addition to the award certificate, Rick 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.

    Rick resides in Bracey, VA.

  45. Thousands Celebrate Anniversary of Women’s March in D.C.

    By Logan Bogert and Aya Driouche, Capital News Service

    WASHINGTON – On the anniversary of the 2017 Women’s March, thousands of women and their allies took to the streets of D.C. on Saturday to make a statement – march to the polls in November.

    “March on the Polls,” the theme of the follow-up demonstration to what some have called the largest single-day protest in U.S. history, featured speakers including U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, state Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler of Virginia Beach and Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters.

    “One year ago, millions of women and the men and children that have their backs marched to send the message that women deserve to be heard, women deserve to be respected, women deserve to lead,” Kaine told the crowd.

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also addressed the gathering. She urged women to show up not only the day of the march “but in town halls.”

    Speakers urged women to get involved politically. It was a message epitomized by Convirs-Fowler, who defeated Republican incumbent Ron Villanueva to become one of the first Asian-American women elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.

    “Last year I marched, then I ran – then I won,” Convirs-Fowler said.

    Saturday’s demonstration began in front of the Lincoln Memorial and marched to the White House. While much smaller than the 2017 Women’s March, thousands still participated. Many demonstrators displayed signs with messages like “The Blue Wave is Here” and “I’m With Her.”

    The attendees included Hanover resident and Virginia Commonwealth University alumna Susan Stokes. She said it was important to march “so we can all understand that we are large in number and that we’re not fighting the fight alone, and we can accomplish things when we stick together.”

    In addition to the anniversary march in D.C., sister marches were held in cities across the country. The official 2018 Women’s March will be held in Las Vegas on Sunday.

    D.C. resident Amanda Quemore said the demonstrations represented “a collective movement of people coming together saying we need to do better, and we need to work together.”

    “I think marches are a first good start,” Quemore said. “But I do think there needs to be some better organization around the issues so that way we can make sure that action is actually taken.”

    Alexis Wing of Boston, who also participated in last year’s march, was upbeat as she returned to Washington on Saturday.

    “There were a lot more people last year because last year, (the official march) was in D.C.,” Wing said. “This year, it feels great to be back out here with a bunch of other badass women.”

  46. More than 1,000 Attend Women’s March in Richmond

    By Ryan Persaud and Alexandra Sosik, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Demonstrators took to the streets of Carytown on Saturday for the second annual Women’s March, recalling the demonstrations a year ago when hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Washington and cities around the world to protest President Donald Trump’s inauguration and the GOP’s stance on issues such women’s rights and immigration.

    Hundreds of demonstrators held up signs that ranged from mocking the president to promoting equality. They chanted phrases such as “This is what democracy looks like,” “Women’s rights are equal rights” and “Coexist.”

    Kim Young, a demonstrator who missed the Women’s March last year due to health issues, said she was excited to attend Saturday’s event.

    “It’s about freedom, choice, ‘Love is Love,’ [and] showing the president that not all Americans in the United States are in agreement with him,” Young said.

    The Richmond demonstration was one of many across the country Saturday. Brigette Newberry, a demonstrator who attended last year’s Women’s March in D.C. and a counterprotest against the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue in September, said it is necessary to resist the current administration.

    “I feel like it’s important that women unite together,” Newberry said.

    Kathe Wittig, a retired Virginia Commonwealth University faculty member who participated in anti-war protests in the 1970s, said she worries that Trump’s policies will set society back decades.

    “We have to let the world know that we’re not going to sit back,” Wittig said. “He is a disaster.”

    Gov. Ralph Northam also joined event organizers in leading the march. Northam helped carry a banner that read, “Women’s March RVA.”

    Mary Leffler, one of the organizers of the event, attended the 2017 Women’s March in D.C. As the anniversary approached, she looked for whether others locally were commemorating that demonstration.

    “I sought out to see if there was already a march happening, and there wasn’t. So I made a few phone calls, called the city manager’s office, helped decide this location and then just started spreading the word,” Leffler said.

    Leffler said she was surprised at the size of the crowd.

    “We’ve had estimates of a little over 3,000 – some more like 1,500,” Leffler said. “We’re thrilled.”

    Mark Loewen, a children’s book author, brought his family with him, including his 5-year-old daughter.

    “We talked about girls can do anything that boys can do, and that girls should be making the same amount of decisions that boys make,” Loewen said. “We’re so excited about women’s voices getting stronger, and we need them to be stronger.”

    Members of the National Organization for Women, which advocates for equality for all women, were also in attendance. Andrea Lancaster, president of NOW’s Richmond chapter, said she was pleasantly surprised by the event’s turnout.

    “A few of our board members, me included, went up to the march in D.C. last year, which was overwhelmingly huge, so we didn’t know what to expect from Richmond,” Lancaster said. “It’s exciting to see how much momentum the movement still has.”

    NOW and other groups are urging the Virginia General Assembly to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The ERA would explicitly state that women have the same rights as men in the U.S.

    ERA supporters believe that if two more states ratify the amendment, it will be added to the Constitution. There is a legal debate about that because the deadline to ratify the ERA has passed.

    According to Lancaster, Virginia has become a focus of ERA proponents because Democrats have gained power in the General Assembly. Last fall, the Democratic Party picked up 15 seats in the House; however, Republicans still hold a 51-49 majority.

    Lancaster said there is a need for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women equal rights.

    “If you ask a lot of people in the streets, they think we already have that,” Lancaster said. “But we don’t, and there is no constitutional protected equality.”

  47. Bill Would Bar Asking Job Applicants About Criminal History

    By Tianna Mosby, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – State government could not ask most job seekers criminal history questions on employment applications under a bill passed by the Virginia Senate.

    The Senate approved the “ban the box” bill Friday on a 23-16 vote. All of the Democrats in the Senate voted for SB 252; they were joined by four Republicans.

    Until recently, job applications forms used by state agencies included a box that asked whether the applicant had ever been arrested, charged or convicted of a crime.

    In a 2015 executive order, Gov. Terry McAuliffe had those questions removed from the form. SB 252 essentially would make the executive order a state law. It also would authorize local governments to follow the same policy.

    The bill would not apply to law-enforcement agencies and jobs with criminal history inquiry requirements.

    SB 252 would allow state agencies to ask prospective employees about previous arrests, charges and convictions after a conditional job offer has been made. The agency could withdraw the offer if the convictions relate directly to the job.

    Democratic Sens. Rosalyn Dance of Petersburg, Adam Ebbin of Alexandria and Jennifer McClellan of Richmond sponsored the bill.

    Dance said the criminal history questions on job application forms hurt the employment prospects of people who have run afoul of the law.

    “Every Virginian should have the peace of mind of knowing that their application will not be rejected based off of a past mistake,” Dance said.

    She said the bill is “about getting people back to work” and reducing recidivism rates for people who have been convicted of crimes.

    Ebbin said the measure “gives everyone a fair chance at employment.”

    “Those people who have paid their debts to society should be given a second chance,” Ebbin said.

    SB 252 now goes to the House for consideration. Two Democratic delegates are sponsoring companion bills in the House: HB 600, by Del. Betsy Carr of Richmond; and HB 1357, by Del. Lashrecse Aird of Petersburg. Those bills have been referred to the House General Laws Committee.

    Last year, the General Assembly considered two “ban the box” bills – HB 2323 and SB 1171. Both died in the House General Laws Committee.

  48. Bill Would Boost Minimum Wage for Restaurant Workers

    By Caitlin Barbieri and Lia Tabackman, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – The unstable nature of relying on tips to make a living is reflected in the paychecks of restaurant servers like Connor Rhodes, who has been serving Richmond’s restaurant goers for four years and says it’s not unusual for his paycheck to be zero dollars.

    That’s because he earns $2.13 an hour – a “subminimum wage” – which, after taxes, can result in an empty wallet if tips are weak and shifts are sparse.

    “Depending on business, there’s no guarantee that we’ll get shifts that can pay the bills,” Rhodes said, explaining that servers typically have to save their wages from peak seasons to survive during the slower months.

    But two state legislators have proposed a bill, HB 1259, that would do away with the “subminimum wage,” which is paid to workers like Rhodes who are exempt from receiving the federal minimum.

    That $2.13 an hour, along with tips, makes up the entire income of these workers. As long as the federal minimum wage of $7.25 is met through tips received, employers are not required to pay their employees more than the subminimum.

    If customers neglect to tip their server after their meal, it can end up costing the server money to have served the table at all.

    “At the end of the night, the servers have to tip out the food runners, the bartenders and the bussers based on our food and alcohol sales. So say someone orders $50 bottle of wine; I tip the bar 5 percent of that $50. I need at least $2.50 to break even from taking care of a customer, and sometimes the costs can go a lot higher. It’s rare that the restaurant will compensate us,” Rhodes said.

    According to a 2014 report by the Economic Policy Institute, the median hourly wage for U.S. restaurant workers, tips included, was $10 an hour – compared with $18 an hour for workers in all other industries. After accounting for demographic differences, the report said restaurant workers earned 17 percent less than similar workers in other industries.

    Under HB 1259, servers and certainother employees who are exempt from the minimum wage would no longer have to rely on the generosity of others, through tips, in order to meet the minimum wage.

    HB 1259 was introduced by Dels. Paul Krizek and Jennifer Boysko of Fairfax. Eight other Democrats are co-sponsoring the measure. The bill would also make it illegal for employers to pay laborers in certain service industries traditionally held by African-Americans – like shoe-shiners and doormen – less than minimum wage.

    Krizek said the legislation would “put everybody on the same minimum-wage playing field.”

  49. Bill Seeks to Repeal ‘Racist’ Wage Law

    By Caitlin Barbieri and Lia Tabackman, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – More than half a century after the end of Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in the South, legislators are finding remnants of racism in Virginia law.

    The Code of Virginia makes it legal for employers to pay less than minimum wage to “newsboys, shoe-shine boys, caddies on golf courses, babysitters, ushers, doormen, concession attendants and cashiers in theaters.”

    The common thread among those professions? When the law was written in 1975, they were all considered low-income, low-skill jobs overwhelmingly occupied by African Americans who were systematically denied advanced employment opportunities.

    Now, two members of the Virginia House of Delegates – Paul Krizek and Jennifer Boysko, both Democrats from Fairfax – are sponsoring legislation to delete such outdated language from state law.

    “This is a list that has Jim Crow written all over it,” Krizek said. “There’s a lot of old language that was obviously aimed at African Americans who were in these service jobs because those were the jobs they could get at the time.”

    The language was originally pulled verbatim from North Carolina’s legal code, which was written a decade earlier, in 1965.

    “There is some fairly widespread agreement and research supporting the conclusion that a lot of these exemptions were based on race,” said Ann Hodges, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.

    The wage discrimination doesn’t stop at race. Virginians with mental, intellectual and physical disabilities also may receive subminimum wage because their “earning capacity is impaired,” according to the state code.

    According to Hodges, at the time the law was written, many people believed that individuals with intellectual, physical and mental disabilities could not be as productive and generate as much labor as able-bodied workers.

    “There was a sense that if you couldn’t pay them less, they probably wouldn’t be employed at all,” Hodges said.

    Under HB 1259, it would no longer be legal in Virginia for employers to pay laborers in certain service industries less than minimum wage. (The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, and Virginia has not adopted a higher level. However, Krizek, Boysko and other Democrats are pushing to raise it to $9 an hour this year and to $15 an hour by 2022.)

    The bill would affect other employees, such as restaurant servers, in addition to the positions the sponsors say are directly connected to race.

    “While doing research for a $15 minimum wage bill, I was angry and disappointed to learn that the Virginia Code includes exceptions to its minimum wage law that are clearly racist, meant to exclude jobs that have been mostly held historically by minorities,” Boysko said.

    “As we continue to build our new Virginia economy, we must ensure that all people are treated fairly and have the same opportunities.”

    HB 1259 has been assigned to the House Committee on Commerce and Labor.

  50. Panel OKs Bill Targeting Child Abusers in School

    By Yasmine Jumaa, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – In 2013, a loophole allowed an Arlington County teacher accused of sexual abuse to find a job as an assistant principal in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where he worked for more than three years before his license was revoked last May.

    In hopes of closing that loophole, a committee in the Virginia House of Delegates has unanimously approved legislation aimed at identifying alleged sex offenders who have worked in the state’s public schools so they can’t move to another school system.

    “Unfortunately, what happened during the summer revealed that there were several gaps in Virginia law,” said Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, who sponsored the measure. “As a result, the person was able to hold on to his teaching license for another four years without anybody realizing that there was a problem.”

    Under existing law, local departments of social services must notify the relevant school district of any founded allegations of child abuse or neglect against a current school employee.

    But that didn’t happen in Arlington because the teacher resigned before Child Protective Service agents finished their investigation, according to a report by the News4 I-Team at the NBC4 television station in Washington. As a result, the teacher’s license wasn’t challenged – and he went on to land a job at Thomas Johnson Middle School in Prince George’s County, the station reported.

    So Bulova filed HB 150, which would require child protection officials to notify school authorities even if the subject of the investigation is no longer employed by the school district. Moreover, such notification must be made “without delay,” the bill says.

    “What the current law says is, at the time that the local child protective services determines that an incident is a founding case for child abuse, then they let the school system know if the person involved is employed as a teacher,” Bulova said. “In this case, because the person had already resigned, that didn’t happen.”

    The Virginia Commission on Youth brought the issue to Bulova’s attention.

    “The Commission on Youth pulled together information on the process of child abuse reporting as it relates to teachers and education,” said Amy Atkinson, the agency’s executive director. “We presented related findings and recommendations at our November meeting, and in December, our commission voted on those recommendations, and one of them was Del. Bulova’s bill.”

    Bulova also is sponsoring HB 196, which would limit how many extensions somebody accused of child abuse or neglect by a local department of social services could get during the appeals process.

    The bill says accused individuals can request to extend their hearing twice for a total maximum of 90 days. After that, they would have to provide good cause to the hearing officer before being granted more extensions.

    “It makes sure that you’re not dragging this out for a long time,” Bulova said.

    He said the bills would help ensure that information flows smoothly during a child abuse or neglect investigation and that licensure issues are taken care of in a timely manner.

    “The great vast majority of teachers are absolutely wonderful people and do extraordinarily beautiful jobs,” Bulova said. “These are really ways to go ahead and tighten up the code so you don’t have outliers that will fall through the cracks. And while they are few and far between, they’re a big deal for the families and children that have to deal with them.”

    On Thursday, the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions voted 22-0 in favor of both bills. They now go to the full House for consideration.

  51. Advocates to Lobby for Marijuana Legalization

    By Siona Peterous, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Advocates for marijuana policy reform will come to Richmond for a conference on Sunday and Monday to push for legislation that would decriminalize simple possession of marijuana by adults as well as expand medical access to the drug.

    The Virginia 2018 Cannabis Conference is organized by Virginia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, as well as Cannabis Commonwealth and Virginia Cannabis Group.

    Jenn Michelle Pedini, president of NORML’s Virginia chapter, stated in an email that the organization works to reform all marijuana laws so that responsible use by adults is no longer subject to penalty.

    Pedini will open the conference Sunday morning at the Marriott Richmond Downtown, 555 E. Canal St. The program, which runs from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., will feature a series of speakers.

    The keynote speaker will be John Hudak, author of “Marijuana: A Short History.” Hudak is deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution.

    Closing remarks will be made by Del. Ben Cline, a Republican from Rockbridge County, and by NORML’s national outreach director, Kevin Mahmalji.

    The speakers will prepare the attendees for a day of lobbying at the state Capitol on Monday. The marijuana legalization advocates will hold meetings with legislators in the morning and then attend the sessions of the Senate and House.

  52. Legislators Push for Workforce Development

    By Chelsea Jackson, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – A group of Democratic legislators on Thursday urged the General Assembly to approve a package of bills aimed at helping small businesses and training young people for good-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree.

    At a news conference led by Del. Matthew James of Portsmouth, the lawmakers discussed several bills relating to workforce development and job creation in Virginia.

    “Our No. 1 goal for this 60-day legislative session is to help improve the lives of all Virginians,” James said. “We’re here to help people get better jobs; we’re here to help small businesses get skilled workers.”

    The House members said their bills would help small businesses grow and workers develop vocational skills:

    • HB 306, introduced by Del. Vivian E. Watts of Fairfax, would assist businesses that participate in the Virginia Registered Apprenticeship program, which provides on-the-job training. Under the measure, state agencies could give extra consideration to such businesses in awarding contracts for goods and services.
    • HJ 17, filed by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax, calls for a study on how to expand experiential learning and workforce development opportunities for high school students in high-demand fields.
    • HB 632, sponsored by Del. David L. Bulova of Fairfax, would require Virginia schools to offer courses and other activities in which students explore different careers, including in trades and technical fields.
    • Under HB 1407, introduced by Del. Jeion A. Ward of Hampton, the state would set a goal to award 42 percent of its procurement orders and contracts to small businesses and microbusinesses. In addition, state agencies could set aside certain contracts that only small businesses or microbusinesses could bid on.

    Current law defines a small business as having 250 or fewer employees. Ward’s bill would define a microbusiness as having up to 25 workers.

    James and Bulova said high-salary jobs in Virginia are going unfilled because there aren’t enough trained and skilled workers.

    “We need to have those welders; we need those electricians,” Bulova said.

    James said he hopes the legislation will“help Virginians ease their financial insecurities so they can sleep better and their kids can dream.”

  53. Senate Panel Rejects Stricter Seat-Belt Law

    By Irena Schunn, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Split along party lines, the Senate Transportation Committee has killed a bill that would have made failing to wear a seat belt a primary offense – a violation that could draw an immediate ticket from a police officer.

    The legislation, SB 744, also would have required safety belts for rear-seat passengers.

    “This would certainly save a lot of lives if we had these updated laws in effect here,” Sen. George Barker, D-Alexandria, said before the committee voted 7-4 Wednesday to shelve his bill.

    Current Virginia law says that only people in the front seat of a motor vehicle must wear seat belts and that failure to do so is a secondary offense, meaning they can get ticketed for a seat-belt violation only if an officer has stopped them for another traffic violation. The penalty for not wearing a seat belt is a $25 fine.

    Virginia is one of 16 states where the seat-belt requirement is not a primary law.

    Federal studies show that seat-belt use is higher in states that have primary seat-belt laws. In 2017, 89 percent of drivers nationwide reported wearing a seat belt; in Virginia, the figure was only 79 percent, according to a report by the National Transportation Safety Board.

    “All the surrounding states have primary seat belt laws – North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia. Every single one of them has a primary seat-belt law,” Barker said. “We are the anomaly by not having that right now, and it certainly is having an impact on the death toll and the seriousness of injuries that occur here.”

    Wearing a seat belt is the single most effective thing you can do to protect yourself in a crash, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Of the people who died in vehicle-related accidents in 2015, 48 percent were not wearing seat belts.

    At the Senate Transportation Committee’s meeting, George Bishop, deputy commissioner of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, said back-seat passengers are three times more likely to die than front-seat passengers.

    Advocates for Barker’s bill included the National Transportation Safety Board, the American Automobile Association and the Washington Regional Alcohol Program. No one spoke in opposition to the measure during the hearing.

    All seven Republican members present at the Transportation Committee’s meeting voted to have the bill “passed by indefinitely” – meaning it likely is dead for this session. The four Democratic committee members present voted to keep the bill alive.

  54. NEW YEAR WELCOMES NEW LEADERSHIP WITHIN VIRGINIA STATE POLICE

    New Superintendent & Bureau Director Fill Leadership Roles

    RICHMOND – On Thursday, January 18, 2018, Lt. Colonel Gary T. Settle was sworn in as Superintendent of the Virginia State Police. Settle replaces retiring Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, who served the past 14 years as the State Police Superintendent upon his appointment to colonel in 2003 by then-Governor Mark R. Warner. Lt. Colonel Tracy S. Russillo will continue serving as Deputy Superintendent and Major Timothy D. Lyon will take the position of Director of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, as vacated by Settle’s promotion.

     

    As Superintendent, Colonel Settle leads and manages all aspects of the Department of State Police including the Office of Performance Management and Internal Controls (OPMIC), Office of Internal Affairs, Public Relations Office, Executive Protective Unit, Bureau of Administrative and Support Services (BASS), Bureau of Field Operations (BFO), and Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI). State police has an authorized workforce of 2,118 sworn and 848 civilian personnel, and an authorized $340-million general-fund, operating budget for fiscal year 2018. Settle is the Department’s 13th Superintendent since T.K. Sexton was appointed to the position in 1932.

    “I am most humbled and grateful for this extraordinary privilege awarded me by Governor Northam,” said Col. Settle. “As Superintendent, I am committed to not only continuing the Department’s proud traditions and esteemed reputation, but to also prepare and advance our personnel, programs, policies, technologies, training, and equipment to sustain and meet the demands of an ever-changing society. I acknowledge these challenges and will accept nothing less of myself than to serve this Commonwealth and the proud men and women of the Virginia State Police with valor, service, pride, and integrity.”

    During his 32 years of service in law enforcement, Settle has served the Commonwealth of Virginia at the state and local levels in a myriad of public safety capacities. He was appointed to Director of BCI in January 2017 and had served as its Deputy Director since July 2015. The Rappahannock County native graduated from the Virginia State Police Academy in 1986 as class president of the 78th Basic Session. His first patrol assignment was in Frederick and Clarke counties in the State Police Culpeper Division. During his tenure with State Police, he has served as a Tactical Team supervisor, narcotics special agent, firearms instructor, and served on the State Police Honor Guard. His assignments have included the State Police Culpeper and Wytheville Divisions. In addition to his progression through the supervisory ranks of State Police, Settle also has the invaluable, administrative experience of having served as Sheriff for Rappahannock County from 1996 to 2000. He earned a Master’s degree in Homeland Security and Defense from the Naval Postgraduate School and a bachelor’s degree in Administration of Criminal Justice from Bluefield College. He is also a graduate of the FBI Executive Management Course and the National Criminal Justice Command College of the UVA School of Continuing and Professional Studies.

     

    Effective Jan. 10, 2018, was the appointment of Major Lyon to Director of BCI. Lyon was appointed Deputy Director of BCI in February 2017 from his position as the BCI commander for the State Police Salem Field Office. Lyon began his career with the State Police upon graduation from the Academy in February 1986. His first assignment as a trooper was in the Wytheville Division and upon his promotion to special agent in 1989, he transferred to the BCI Chesapeake Field Office. During his tenure with State Police, Lyon has progressed through the BCI ranks at the Salem Field Office as a special agent, narcotics task force coordinator, first sergeant and lieutenant in both the General Investigations and Drug Enforcement sections. In 2011, he was appointed to Captain and has served as the commander of both the BCI Appomattox and Salem Field Offices. The Carroll County native graduated from Eastern Kentucky University with a bachelor’s degree in Police Administration. He is also a 2004 graduate of the FBI National Academy and completed a six-month fellowship with the FBI’s Police Executive Fellowship Program where he served on the National Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). Lyon is a founding member of the Eastern Kentucky University’s Association of Security/Loss Prevention. He earned the Virginia State Police Superintendent’s Award of Merit for his superior response and leadership during the April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech massacre and criminal investigation.

  55. Richard Bland To Induct Brian Poarch '92 Into Athletics Hall of Fame

    SOUTH PRINCE GEORGE, Va. --Richard Bland College will induct one new member into its Athletics Hall of Fame on Saturday afternoon, January 20, in Statesman Hall.  The school's fifth class inductee is Brian Poarch '92, a member of the men's basketball team from 1990-92.  Poarch will be honored prior to the scheduled 3 p.m. tip-off of the Statesmen game against Wake Technical (N.C.) Community College. 

    "Brian Poarch was an exceptional player for the Statesmen," said Director of Athletics Chuck Moore.  "He is deserving of this honor and he is joining an elite group of former Richard Bland Men's Basketball players.  Not only was he successful on the court as a player, he has become a coach himself while also becoming a successful businessman.  Brian makes the Richard Bland Family very proud and I'm proud to be a part of his induction in our Hall of Fame"

    Poarch led Richard Bland in both scoring and rebounding during 1990-91, averaging 17.6 points and 8.3 rebounds, while named the Team Most Valuable Player.  He led the Statesmen to a record of 14-14, shooting 49% from the field, including 59% on three-point field goals, and 82% at the free throw line.  Poarch led the team in scoring during 1991-92, as well, averaging 17.7 points, while second with his 6.8 rebounds.  He led the Statesmen to a record of 13-15, shooting 43% from the field, including 49% on three-point field goals, and 77% at the free throw line.  Poarch completed his two years with the Statesmen totaling 971 points and 415 rebounds.

    "It was a real pleasure coaching a player as talented as Brian," said Cham Pritchard, his head coach at Richard Bland.  "He possessed a tremendous work ethic.  Brian would spend hours after practice working on his shot after all the other team members had left the gym.  Sometimes the only way to get him to leave would be to cut out the lights and I mean that in a positive way.  I am so proud of Brian as he is being inducted into the Richard Bland College Athletics Hall of Fame, an honor he truly deserves."

    Among his greatest memories at Richard Bland, Brian mentioned a Statesmen victory against Louisburg (N.C.) College during 1991-92, his scoring 42 points during a win past Northern Virginia College with the Christopher Newport University coaching staff in attendance as a sophomore and Richard Bland playing in the Dean Dome during both seasons as a lifelong University of North Carolina fan … making it truly unforgettable.

    The Emporia native continued his collegiate career at Christopher Newport where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Fitness Management.  He is currently the Vice President of Operations for Sadler Brothers Oil Company in Emporia.

    Poarch will join previous Hall of Fame selections Cham Pritchard (2014), Brandon Coles Sr. (2015), Fred Gray (2015), Ron Harris (2016), John Thomas (2016), Dr. Eric Cunningham (2017) and Michael Gray (2017).

  56. Democrats Roll Out Voting Rights Agenda

    By Thomas Jett, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Democratic legislators are pushing for a package of bills to make it easier for Virginians to vote, including proposals to let people register on Election Day and to cast an absentee ballot for any reason.

    Del. Debra Rodman of Henrico County has introduced House Bill 449, which would repeal the deadline for registering to vote before an election. Instead, eligible voters could register at any time, including the day of the election.

    “I am critically proud for this opportunity, all of these opportunities, that will allow Virginians true access to the ballot,” Rodman said. “Knowledge and access are imperative to the evolution of our democracy.”

    So far, Democrats in the House and Senate have filed about 45 bills and a half-dozen constitutional amendments to expand voting rights. They include:

    • HB 835, introduced by Del. Lamont Bagby of Henrico County. It would eliminate the requirement to state a reason in order to vote absentee in person. A registered voter still would have to provide a qualified excuse, such as illness or a long work schedule, to vote absentee by mail.
    • HB 1079, by Del. Delores McQuinn of Richmond. It would repeal the requirement that voters show a photo identification at the polls to get a ballot. Democrats say that requirement is an obstacle for low-income, elderly and minority voters.
    • HB 944, by Del. Alfonso Lopez of Arlington. It would let 16- and 17-year-olds pre-register to vote. “Helping young Virginians and Americans register to vote increases the odds that they will make a lifelong habit of electoral participation,” Lopez said.

    House Joint Resolution 33, a constitutional amendment proposed by Del. Sam Rasoul of Roanoke. It would let 16- and 17-year-olds vote in local elections.

    On some voting-related issues, Democrats and Republicans share common ground. Members of both parties, for example, want to make it easier for members of the U.S. military to vote.

    Del. Steven Landes, a Republican from Augusta County, has introduced HB 1139, which would create a pilot program for military personnel who are registered to vote in Virginia and are deployed overseas to cast an electronic ballot.

    Del. Kathy Tran, a Democrat from Fairfax, has a similar measure – HB 1058.

    “This is a very valuable and worthwhile investment for the people on the frontlines defending our values and right to vote,” said Tran, whose brother, David, serves in the U.S. Marine Corps.

    But generally, Republicans are more focused on ballot security and voting integrity. Many Republican lawmakers believe that voter fraud is a serious problem.

    Sen. Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg is sponsoring Senate Bill 523, which would require the state to create electronic poll books with photos of registered voters. Poll workers would use those books to verify who can vote. The General Assembly passed such a bill last year, but then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed it.

    Moreover, Sen. Ben Chafin of Russell County has filed SB 834, which would require the Virginia Department of Elections to identify people who are registered to vote not only in Virginia but also in another state.

    Democrats may face an uphill battle advancing their agenda in the General Assembly, where Republicans hold a majority in both chambers.

    On Tuesday, the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee killed several Democratic proposals.

    On a party-line vote, the committee spiked SB 452, an attempt by Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, to rescind the requirement to show a photo ID at the polling place. All eight Republicans on the panel voted to shelve the bill; all six Democrats voted to keep it alive.

    Also, the committee killed two proposed constitutional amendments to automatically restore the voting rights of nonviolent felons who have served their time. One of the amendments was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth; the other was by Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger of Augusta County.

  57. After a Paws, Delegate Is Back With Pet Protection Bill

    By Katrina Tilbury and DeForrest Ballou, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – As temperatures across Virginia plunged to the single digits, many pets no doubt have been left in the cold.

    The frigid weather in recent weeks prompted Assistant Attorney General Michelle Welch to send a memo instructing animal control officers how to respond to calls regarding animals left outside. Pet owners have three options: They can bring the animal inside the house, surrender it to the animal control officer indefinitely or let the officer take temporary custody of the animal.

    “They don’t get to let their dogs freeze to death,” Welch said in the memo.

    Del. John Bell, D-Fairfax, has introduced a bill to clarify when pet owners could tie up an animal outside. His legislation would prohibit tethering pets outdoors when the temperature drops to 32 degrees or below or rises to 85 degrees or above. The restrictions would not apply to farm animals.

    Bell, a dog owner whose wife, Margaret, is an avid animal rescuer, said he worked with more than 20 groups, including agricultural and farm bureaus, to find a solution that works for everyone, including farmers, who traditionally keep their working animals outside. The result was House Bill 646, which he filed on Jan. 9.

    Last year, Bell introduced a similar bill that was shot down in the General Assembly for being too strict. Planning for this session’s bill began last April when animal advocate Gary Sweeney started a petition on Change.org to introduce a bill that would specify when the weather is considered too extreme for dogs to be left outside.

    Sweeney launched the petition after he reported a short-haired dog left outside in Henrico County and was told by Henrico County Animal Control that the pet owner was not breaking the law.

    “I went back and read the existing laws thoroughly; I realized that there was nothing in place in Virginia’s law that had anything to do with extreme weather,” Sweeney said. “It does have an adequate shelter provision – but it doesn’t specify by what type of (dog) house is adequate enough.”

    The Humane Society of the United States caught wind of Sweeney’s petition after tens of thousands of supporters quickly signed it. The Humane Society worked with Sweeney and Bell to draft something similar to the delegate’s 2017 bill.

    Robin Starr, CEO of the Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said this bill is a measured approach to a subject that has long troubled animal welfare advocates.

    “It is, I think, impossible to disagree with the idea that people should not tether dogs outside in severe weather conditions,” she said.

    Midlothian resident Jamie Ericksen’s neighbors know to call her when they encounter an animal in need. Recently, she reunited a family with their cat that had been missing for two years. Currently, she said she is trying to help a dog that is left outside at all hours in a small pen.

    “I just hope that this bill gets passed because I know that the animals suffer,” Ericksen said. “It’s hard to understand how someone can leave their animal outside in extreme temperatures and think that they’re OK or they enjoy it.”

    HB 646 has been assigned to a subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources – the same panel that killed Bell’s legislation last year. The committee is also considering HB 889, introduced by Del. Robert Orrock, R-Caroline. Instead of establishing a statewide law, Orrock’s bill would empower local governments to restrict tethering dogs outside.

    The subcommittee is scheduled to meet Monday afternoon.

  58. Tangier Island Recovers From Icy Grip

    By Sophia Belletti and Katie Bashista, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — As temperatures on the Chesapeake Bay dropped as low as 9 degrees early this month, a barricade of ice up to 10 inches thick formed around Tangier Island, preventing boats from bringing groceries, medicine and other supplies to the 722 residents on that speck of Virginia off the Eastern Shore.

    Fortunately,  a variety of agencies came to the rescue —  the U.S Coast Guard out of Maryland, the Virginia National Guard and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources organized emergency ice-breaking operations to free Tangier Island.

    Nearly two weeks after the snowstorm, regular activity on the waters around Tangier resumed Wednesday, and the mail delivery ferry went out to Tangier’s residents for the first time Thursday morning.

    “We’re happy to help with what is really life-saving work,” said Gregg Bortz, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

    Tangier is located in the Chesapeake Bay and consists of three villages — Ewell, Tylerton and Rhodes Point. The island depends on boats for mail and shipments, and single-digit temperatures and thick ice made that impossible.

    Tangier Island falls within the Coast Guard’s 5th District, which includes Maryland and Virginia.

    “The Coast Guard has a history of providing assistance to Tangier,”  said Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald Hodges. “The organizations that responded to Tangier Island were based on the availability of assets with ice-breaking capabilities.”

    Then the Virginia National Guard flew in from Richmond, making two trips to deliver additional food.

    Island officials sought assistance from the Coast Guard, which sent the cutter Chock on Jan. 3. The ship conducted ice breaking and supply delivery until Jan. 5, Hodges said.

    “The Chock had to be redirected to break ice in another area, and second request was submitted to the Coast Guard by Tangier for assistance,” Hodges said. “The Coast Guard was unable to facilitate the request, and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management took over relief duties.”

    According to Bortz, a 100-foot Maryland icebreaker, the J. Millard-Tawes, was brought in from Crisfield, Maryland, 13 1/2 miles from Tangier.

    Clearing a path, he said, was “the primary goal.”

    The Maryland DNR was called to the island last in 2015. Bortz said the U.S. Coast Guard primarily responds to Tangier while Maryland DNR focuses on helping nearby Smith Island, Maryland.

    Capt. Eddie Somers of the J. Millard-Tawes was part of the rescue team that met trucks of supplies at the city docks in Crisfield and took the two-hour journey to Tangier.

    Besides the Tawes, the Maryland DNR has three ice-breaking vessels -- the  John C. Widener in Annapolis, A.V. Sandusky in Kent Narrows and Big Lou on the Choptank River.

    Tangier Mayor James Eskridge said the island hasn’t experienced ice like this in many  years. The community, he added, always pulls together.

    “Some 40 years ago, folks would have bonfires and go ice skating,” he said. “This was the closest to an ice storm we’ve had since then.”

  59. 10 a.m. Update on VSP Response in Winter Snow

    Highways across much of western and central Virginia continue to be impacted by the falling snow in those regions.

    As 10:15 a.m., Wednesday (Jan. 17), Virginia State Police troopers are responding to 61 traffic crashes and 6 disabled vehicles statewide:

    Division I–Richmond (Metro Richmond/Northern Neck/Tri-Cities)

    Traffic Crashes= 7

    Division II–Culpeper (Fredericksburg/Culpeper/Warrenton/Harrisonburg/Winchester)

    Traffic Crashes=6

    Division III-Appomattox (Charlottesville/Waynesboro/Staunton/Lynchburg/South Boston/South Hill)

    Traffic Crashes=16

    Division IV-Wytheville (Wytheville/Dublin/Galax/Bristol/Vansant/Wise)

    Traffic Crashes=8

    Division V-Chesapeake (Hampton Roads/Tidewater/Eastern Shore/Williamsburg/Franklin/Emporia)

    Traffic Crashes=2

    Division VI-Salem (Lexington/Clifton Forge/Roanoke/Blacksburg/Bedford/Martinsville/Danville)

    Traffic Crashes=17

    Division VII-Fairfax (Prince William/Loudoun/Arlington/Alexandria/Fairfax)

    Traffic Crashes=3

    The majority of the traffic crashes reported only involve damage to vehicles.

    For road conditions, Virginians are reminded to use the VDOT 511 system. Please do not call 911 or #77 to ask about road conditions, as these are emergency numbers and need to remain open to emergency calls.

    Those who do have to travel today are advised to…

    • Make sure all windows and lights are clear of snow before heading out.
    • Always buckle up – driver and all passengers.
    • Drive distraction free – put down the phone and coffee and keep both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
    • Slow speed for conditions.
    • Use headlights to increase your visibility and to help other drivers see you better.
    • Share the road responsibly with VDOT vehicles and emergency vehicles.
  60. Virginia House End Secrecy in Committee Votes

    By Adam Hamza, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Advocates for government transparency are applauding the Virginia House of Delegates for ending its practice of allowing committees and subcommittees to kill legislation on unrecorded voice votes.

    In adopting rules for the legislative session that began Wednesday, the House voted unanimously to require panels to record who votes how.

    “A recorded vote of members of a committee or subcommittee shall be taken and the name and number of those voting for, against, or abstaining shall be taken upon each measure,” according to the chamber’s new rules, introduced by Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah.

    In addition to recorded votes, the new rules provide for more proportional representation on committees and require live-streaming and archiving of committee hearings.

    In the past, many bills were approved or rejected at the committee and subcommittee level on voice votes alone. This made it was impossible to know which delegates voted against or for a particular bill.

    Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, and Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, who founded the Virginia Transparency Caucus, praised the rule change as a major step forward for Virginia.

    “This is a victory for transparency and open government for the people of the commonwealth,” Chase said. Levine agreed.

    “By having these votes recorded, members will now be responsible for all legislative actions they take. No more will bills be killed in secret without any accountability,” he said.

    Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, commended the move. After the change was announced, Rhyne wrote in an email: “Good work from the House leadership!”

    Betsy Edwards, executive director of the Virginia Press Association, echoed that sentiment. “Everyone needs to know how decisions are made,” she said.

    Democrats blamed Republicans for the past secrecy.

    “For years, House Republicans have killed critical pieces of progressive legislation through unrecorded voice votes,” House Democratic Leader David Toscano of Charlottesville and Caucus Chair Charniele Herring of Alexandria said in a joint statement. “That era is over, and we welcome a new era of accountability and governance that is more reflective of last year’s election results.”

    Democrats picked up 15 House seats in November. As a result, Republicans have only a 51-to-49 majority in that chamber.

    Republican leaders acknowledged that the makeup of the House was a factor in changing the rules.

    Gilbert said the new rules “reflect the new composition of the House chamber, as well as several new transparency initiatives we are proud to champion.”

    Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge, said he is proud that the House changed the rules.

    “The work we do as public servants should always be open and accessible to an informed citizenry,” he said. “I have always advocated for recorded votes.”

    Last year, Cline sponsored a bill to require recorded votes in committees and subcommittees. It died in the House Rules Committee – on an unrecorded vote.

  61. Activists Protest Gov. Northam’s Position on Pipelines

    By Brandon Celentano, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – About 25 environmental activists demonstrated at Gov. Ralph Northam’s inauguration Saturday to protest his refusal to oppose two natural gas pipelines that energy companies want to build across Virginia.

    The demonstrators unveiled a banner saying “our water > pipelines” and waved other signs as they chanted “water is life” through megaphones.

    The protesters were with Virginia River Healers and a coalition called “Water is Life. Protect it.” They were demonstrating against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would cut across the western part of the state.

    The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would carry natural gas 600 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina, and the Mountain Valley Pipeline would run more than 300 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia. Dominion Energy and other companies that have proposed the pipelines say they are important for meeting the region’s energy needs and will create jobs.

    Tom Burkett, the lead organizer of Saturday’s protest, complained that the pipelines would carry gas extracted from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The technique involves injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals into the ground – a process that opponents say damages the environment.

    “In doing this, there is a lot of water contamination concerns because of the millions of gallons of chemicals that the process uses,” Burkett said. “There is also the concern that with these pipelines being constructed, the fracking companies will have a better infrastructure and will then get a business incentive to continue fracking even more.”

    Burkett noted that Northam has accepted campaign contributions from Dominion Energy. He said he wished politicians would pledge to not accept money from energy companies that have a stake in pipelines.

    Northam has given mixed signals on whether he approves of the pipeline projects.

    During the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Northam avoided taking a firm stand for or against the pipelines – drawing criticism from his opponent, Tom Perriello, and environmentalists.

    Northam has said he supports the pipelines if they can be constructed in an environmentally safe way and the rights of property owners are not violated. Last week, Northam said he supports U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine’s proposal that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reconsider its vote to approve the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

    About 10 of the demonstrators at Northam’s inauguration were immigrants’ rights supporters. Wearing their signature orange beanies, they were showing their support for undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers, who were brought to the United States as children.

    Dreamers had been protected against deportation by an Obama administration policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. President Trump has indicated he may end that policy.

  62. Cold Temperatures Fail to Deter Inauguration Crowd

    By Logan Bogert and Caitlin Barbieri, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND –  Virginians had a lot of reasons to endure biting cold temperatures Saturday to witness Ralph Northam's inauguration as governor. Some of the estimated 5,000 spectators came with a plea of help. Some wanted to witness democracy in action. And others had dedicated themselves to the Northam campaign.

    “I’m here to celebrate our way ahead,” Christine Payne of Williamsburg said, referring to Northam’s inaugural theme. “I worked hard for him since his primary, and I am here to continue that support. I hope to see his campaign promises come to fruition, from the environment all to the economy.”

    Sophin Sok, a Richmond resident from Cambodia, said she came to the inaugural ceremony in hopes of getting Northam’s attention to pardon her fiance, who has been detained for three months and faces deportation.  

    “He  came here at the age of 3, and he’s the biological father to three of my kids.” Sok said. “About a decade ago, he plead guilty to a charge, but he served his time, paid his debt to society and he turned his life around and pretty much put his family as a priority.

    “They didn’t prepare him for anything, they just took him. They didn’t allow us to prepare ourselves -- so now it’s kind of hard for me because he is the main provider also and he’s a great father,” Sok said.

    Sok said she and her fiance have children ages 1, 2 and 6. They  want Northam to write a pardon letter so he can come home and get a second chance to stay in America.

    For Kevin Miller of Danville, the inaugural parade brought a special family meaning. He came to watch his son perform with the George Washington High School marching band. “It’s a great honor for them and an opportunity for them to do something they don’t get to do very often,” Miller said.

    The ceremony and parade showcased Virginia's diversity.

    The day opened with the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Boy and Girl Scouts from the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center. And it closed with the blessing of the grounds by representatives of Virginia's Indian tribes.

    Universities from across the state took part in the parade, as did such groups as Equality Virginia, the Cultural Center of India and the Charlottesville Cardinals Wheelchair Basketball Team.

  63. Inauguration Attendees: ‘I’m Proud of My State’

     

     

     

     

     

    By Adam Hamza and Christopher Wood, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Traveling from all parts of the state, thousands of Virginians came to watch Ralph Northam take the gubernatorial oath of office on Saturday. Many traveled to show their support for the new governor – and others to reflect on what the future holds.

    ‘I’m proud of my state’

    Mark and Elizabeth Martin drove 85 miles from Stanardsville to see their son march in the parade with the Virginia Military Institute. Before Northam’s inaugural address, Mark Martin said he believed Virginia was regressing in its politics.

    “In the 2016 election, we had the backlash of nationalism and small mindedness, and this was a move in the other direction,” he said.

    Both Mark and Elizabeth said they believe Northam will have a progressive impact in Virginia.

    “I’m proud of my state for doing the right thing,” Elizabeth Martin said. “Partisan politics aren’t the way to go; we need to look at each issue individually and see what’s best for everyone.”

     

    First-time to attend an inauguration

    Jaylen Green, a student at the University of Virginia, said she and a friend came to support other friends who had worked for Northam’s campaign. She said she has seen how politics affect people locally, and that she voted for Northam in the gubernatorial primary elections.

    “Neither of us had been to an inauguration before,” Green said.

    Jill Caiazzo of Arlington attended the inauguration for the first time as well.

    “I’m just excited to see Ralph Northam inaugurated. I think he’s going to do great things for this state,” she said.

     

    A supporter of women’s rights

    Northam’s inaugural address covered a range of issues including Medicaid expansion, gun regulation, women’s rights and the need to end partisan politics.

    Elizabeth Martin, a pro-choice supporter, said she thought it was important that the new governor specifically mentioned women’s rights.

     

     

    “I’m so happy he hit on women’s rights and is stressing that, and rights for all people,” she said.

     

     

    A focus on other issues

     

     

    Some attended to voice their causes and gauge what Northam’s goals are. Sheba Williams is the executive director of Nolef Turns, a charity that helps men and women who have been convicted of a felony. She said she went to the inauguration to better understand the direction the administration is taking.

     

     

    “We just want to see what the goals are for this administration, and see who they will be focusing on,” Williams said.

     

     

    Sam Barker, a student at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, said he came to the inauguration to see a friend, Justin Fairfax, take the oath of office as the state’s lieutenant governor. He said he hopes Northam keeps a strong stand on his environmental policy.

     

     

    In the past, Northam has worked to preserve water quality and management in the Chesapeake Bay. He has also rejected the idea that environmental regulation and economic growth are mutually exclusive.

     

     

    “I just really hope he puts a stop to offshore drilling in Virginia,” Barker said, referring to a recent action by President Trump. “Trump has reinstated offshore drilling on the East Coast, which has been banned since at least the ’70s.”

  64. Virginia Swears In Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General

    By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – A new voice formally joined Virginia’s government Saturday afternoon as Justin Fairfax was sworn in as lieutenant governor, and a familiar figure, Mark Herring, took the oath of office to continue his role as attorney general.

    The two, alongside newly instated Gov. Ralph Northam, headlined an inaugural ceremony attended by approving guests.

    Rita Williams, who had worked with Fairfax’s campaign when he lost the Democratic nomination for attorney general to Herring in 2013, said she was proud of his accomplishments.

    “He is a very, very intelligent young man, a gifted young man, and he will make an excellent lieutenant governor,” she said.

    Fairfax is the second African-American elected to a Virginia state position, following Douglas Wilder as governor in 1989. He was sworn in by former U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee. Before retiring, Lee oversaw a number of high profile cases, including the convictions of Brian Patrick Regan for espionage and Ahmed Omar Abu Ali for conspiracy to assassinate then-President George W. Bush.

    Thomas Horne, a former judge and commonwealth’s attorney from Loudoun County, returned to administer the oath of office for Herring as he had done four years ago. Herring spent his previous career as a lawyer in Horne’s Loudoun County courtroom.

    Mia Masten, director of advocacy and professional relations for Pfizer in Washington, D.C., attended the event. She said she was unfamiliar with the two politicians but was enthusiastic about Virginia’s future with “the new influx of new energy, new blood, new excitement.”

    Charles Cockrell, communication and business director at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, was also optimistic.

    “I think we have great leadership in Virginia,” he said.“We see a lot of progress in technology and what we’ve done to foster economic growth in the Commonwealth. We look forward to seeing that continue in the next administration.”

  65. Northam inaugural ball showcases Virginia regions

    By Siona Peterous and DeForrest Ballou, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND -- Temperatures in the 20s didn’t deter a steady stream of hundreds of people dressed in fine suits and glamorous gowns from arriving at Main Street Station for Gov. Ralph Northam’s inaugural ball.

    The ball opened its doors at 8 p.m. Saturday and was the first event held in the station’s newly renovated 47,000 square-foot and 500-foot long train shed.

    “I’m happy to see the renovations are done and this is such a great, exciting event. It makes politics a little more fun, you know,” said Margaret Clark, a Henrico resident who teaches high school and works with a local non-profit.

    The ball featured a Motown-influenced funk band, Mo’ Sol, whose high-energy twists on classics by Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and dozens more helped create a lively crowd that danced in the 90 minutes between when doors opened and the governor and first lady of Virginia, Pamela Northam, appeared on stage for their first dance.

    In keeping with the theme of the Motown glory days, the couple’s first dance was to Otis Redding’s, “A Change is Gonna Come.”

    Foods and drinks distinct to the Commonwealth's regions were featured at tables set against the hall’s massive glass windows. Diners could sample coastal Virginia’s raw bar, pot pie from the Blue Ridge, charcuterie from Northern Virginia and an apple dessert from the Shenandoah Valley.

    The ball’s open bar included a specially made beer, Inaugural-ALE from the  Ashland-based Center of the Universe Brewing Company.

    “By brewing this beer with 100-percent Virginia grown ingredients, we hope to show the synergy between the Virginia craft beer manufacturers and our Virginia agricultural partners,” company founder Chris Ray said in a news release.

    According to Laura Bryant, who campaigned with Northam, the focus on Virginia’s agriculture is  in line with the new governor’s promise to continue former Gov. Terry McAuliffe's work on showcasing regions outside of the economic powerhouses of Northern Virginia.

    “As you can see there is a celebration of areas outside of NOVA -- Southwest Virginia, Blue Ridge Virginia and Richmond,” Bryant said. “I’m just excited because there are voices represented that would usually not be present in an inaugural setting.”

  66. Bills Seek to Disrupt ‘School-to-Prison Pipeline’

    By Kirby Farineau, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Ryan Turk was an eighth-grader in Prince William County when a misunderstanding with a school resource officer over a 65-cent carton of milk escalated to theft charges.

    The incident happened in May 2016 when Turk said he forgot his carton of milk that came with his school-issued free lunch. The police said Turk tried to “conceal” the carton of milk. When Turk separated himself from the resource officer, the incident ended with a suspension from school and a summons to juvenile court.

    A year ago, the charges against Turk were dropped, but he remains a prime example of what critics call the “school-to-prison pipeline” – a trend to charge students as criminals for what might once have been detention-worthy transgressions. According to a 2015 study by the Center for Public Integrity, Virginia charges students more often than any other state.

    This trend has triggered a push in the General Assembly to reform criminal justice across the board. One of the latest and most vocal opponents of the pipeline is Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Woodbridge.

    Carroll Foy, who won an open House seat in November, spoke about the problem at an NAACP reception in Richmond last week.

    “We send more students from the classroom to the courtroom than any other state in the country,” Carroll Foy said. “Now we lock them up early, and we lock them up at large.”

    Carroll Foy plans to sponsor more than 10 criminal justice reform bills this legislative session. They include House Bill113, which would increase the threshold for grand larceny in Virginia from $200 to $1,000.

    Virginia’s threshold for that felony crime is one of the lowest in the country and hasn’t changed since 1980. As a result, someone accused of stealing a cellphone or bicycle can be charged with a felony.

    Increasing the threshold might protect children who make bad decisions and prevent them from becoming convicted felons, Carroll Foy told the NAACP leadership.

    “The punishment should fit the crime,” she said. “Felonies should be reserved for some of the most egregious crimes in the commonwealth of Virginia, and that’s not happening.”

    Carroll Foy is carrying legislation that might address cases like that of Ryan Turk, who initially was charged with a misdemeanor after the altercation at Graham Park Middle School in the town of Triangle in Prince William County. Carroll Foy’s district includes parts of Prince William and Stafford counties.

    She has introduced HB 445, which would eliminate the requirement for principals to report certain misdemeanor incidents to police. Carroll Foy is not the only one concerned about the “school-to-prison pipeline.” So is the advocacy group Voices for Virginia’s Children.

    Allison Gilbreath, the organization’s policy analyst, said other bills before the General Assembly seek to disrupt the pipeline.

    For example, HB 296, sponsored by Del. Dickie Bell, R-Staunton, and Senate Bill170, by Sen. William Stanley, R-Franklin, would prohibit suspending or expelling students in preschool through third grade except for drug offenses, firearm offenses or certain criminal acts.

    “One in five kids who are suspended in our public schools are pre-K through fifth grade,” Gilbreath said. “We want to really focus on the underlying problems that they’re experiencing.”

  67. Proposals Seek to End Gerrymandering in Virginia

    By Zach Joachim, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – An assortment of bills designed to revise standards for drawing Virginia’s electoral districts could be the beginning of the end for gerrymandering in the commonwealth, according to redistricting reform proponents.

    Gerrymandering, the practice of politicians redrawing electoral districts to gain an advantage, has drawn attention and disdain in recent years. North Carolina’s congressional map was declared unconstitutional last week by a panel of federal judges, who ruled legislators had drawn it with “invidious partisan intent.”

    House Bill 276, proposed by Democratic Del. Sam Rasoul of Roanoke, would create a Virginia Redistricting Commission. The commission would determine the criteria for remedial redistricting plans if a court declares any congressional or legislative district unlawful. Under the current system, the legislators themselves determine the criteria for redrawing these lines.

    District lines are redrawn every 10 years in accordance with the U.S. census, but a number of federal court cases have the potential to require immediate redistricting in certain Virginia localities.

    “I think it favors both parties to be able to make sure that we have the body and the rules available by which we would be able to draw lines should a court case come down a certain way,” Rasoul said. “I look forward to being able to work with Republicans and Democrats to get this done.”

    Rasoul said redistricting reform hinges upon a “fundamental question of fairness” that he believes the majority of Virginians agree upon, regardless of party affiliation.

    So far this session, legislators – both Democrats and Republicans – have introduced about 20 bills that would affect how political districts are drawn. They include:

    • HB 205, which would establish criteria for remedial redistricting.
    • HB 158, which would authorize the General Assembly to make technical adjustments to existing redistricting standards.
    • Senate Bill 106, which would create a size limit for congressional and state legislative districts.

    Additionally, lawmakers have proposed eight constitutional amendments. The amendments – which require approval from the General Assembly this year and next, then approval by voters – would fully prohibit gerrymandering.

    But this session, legislators must craft the state budget for the next two years, and it’s not realistic for them to approve a constitutional amendment as well, according to advocates of redistricting reform such as Brian Cannon of OneVirginia2021.

    However, Cannon is optimistic that measures such as Rasoul’s proposed commission can be steps toward ending gerrymandering. Cannon said support for the initiative is widespread, suggesting “70-some” percent of Virginians desire redistricting reform.

    “This could be a dry run for setting up a commission, letting them do their work under good rules and a transparent process,” Cannon said. “By this time next year, if the process is good, we can adopt it; if it needs tweaks, we can do that, too.”

    Cannon believes the election of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam and an influx of new Virginia legislators reflect a “good-government wave.” Cannon said the political climate is not conducive to incumbent protection schemes like gerrymandering.

    “There’s definitely reason for optimism. This is not a nerdy little issue anymore. This is the ethical issue in politics,” Cannon said. “The overall goal here is a constitutional amendment for Virginia so that we can take it out of the hands of the politicians, have good clear rules about keeping communities together and have transparency in the process.”

    Although advocates such as Cannon are enthusiastic about the prospects of redistricting reform in Virginia, political experts are more skeptical.

    Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, noted that officials elected under the current redistricting system are not likely to support changes such as interim commissions, much less a constitutional amendment in 2019.

    “Despite strong public opinion in favor of redistricting reform, the elected officials who benefited from the current system have so little enthusiasm to change it,” Rozell said.

    “Further, not everyone is convinced that a reformed system will do any better than the one that we have now. Public opinion may be in favor (of redistricting reform), but this is not an issue that generates much citizen passion. With no strong public passion on the issue, there isn’t a lot of pressure on elected officials to push major reforms.”

    Nevertheless, Rasoul believes there is bipartisan support for tackling gerrymandering in Virginia and establishing new ways to draw political districts.

    “What we need is not Republicans or Democrats fighting as to who’s going to draw the unfair lines,” Rasoul said. “It’s once and for all creating rules and boundaries so that districts are drawn fairly given population, political boundaries, common communities of interest, the Voting Rights Act and a number of different criteria that need to be considered.”

    Cannon is confident that the bills before the General Assembly can act as stepping stones toward the goal of eliminating gerrymandering in the commonwealth.

    “We have a big opportunity this session to have this conversation in preparation for getting the final product ready to go this time next year,” Cannon said. “The reason they’ve been able to get away with this is it’s a dirty deed done once a decade that they think we all forget about. We’re not forgetting anymore.”

  68. Virginians Disagree on Prohibiting Protests

    By Alexandra Sosik, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Virginians are split almost down the middle about whether they would ban high school athletes from participating in protests during the national anthem, according to a poll released Tuesday by Virginia Commonwealth University.

    The poll by VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs found that 50 percent of the respondents said they were against having a rule to forbid protests, while 45 percent said they would support such a rule. The others were undecided.

    In 2016, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice and police brutality. That sparked a nationwide movement in which countless athletes have either kneeled or sat during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

    Robyn McDougle, director of the Wilder School’s Office of Public Policy Outreach, said no legislature or rule against protests during the national anthem has been suggested in Virginia. But such a rule would be contentious if proposed, the 2017-18 Winter Policy Poll indicates.

    “The national debate on the issue led us to measure public opinion on the hypothetical question,” McDougle said. “And it shows that any such proposal would be controversial, especially in Northern Virginia and for nonwhite Virginians.”

    The statewide poll involved a random sample of 788 adults. They were interviewed by landline and cellular phones between Dec. 8 and 26. The poll’s margin of error is about 3.5 percentage points.

  69. Senate Panel Rejects Bill Banning Utility Campaign Donations

    By George Copeland, Jr., Capital News Service

    RICHMOND -- A senator’s repeat attempt to prohibit campaign donations from Dominion Energy and other regulated monopolies was struck down by a Senate committee Tuesday.

    Senate Bill 10 would have banned candidates from soliciting or accepting donations from any public service corporation, and any political action committees those corporations created and controlled.  The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee effectively killed the bill by Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, on a 12-2 vote.  Sens. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, and Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, opposed.

    Petersen’s bill, co-patroned by Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, was nearly identical to legislation the Fairfax lawmaker filed last year.

     "Sen. Petersen will continue the fight to keep monopoly money out of Virginia politics," said Alex Parker, the senator’s political director.

    In his statement to the committee, Petersen said he sought the ban because of the electricity-rate freeze approved by the General Assembly in 2015 that resulted in “transferring several hundred million dollars in wealth from rate-payers to the profits, the shareholders of these companies.” On Monday, Petersen's attempt to roll back the freeze, which applied to Dominion and Appalachian Power Co., also failed in committee -- though the issue could be pushed in legislation by other lawmakers this session.

     “I felt like one of the root causes why my legislation was not successful, why we passed these underlying bills, was money had corrupted the process,” Petersen said.

    Petersen didn’t name any specific corporations during his statement, but the legislation’s largest impact would have been on the role of Dominion, the largest corporate donor to Republican and Democratic legislators, governors and other elected officials in Virginia.

    Several committee members critiqued Petersen’s bill and its potential effects.  Petersen himself admitted the bill wasn’t perfect, and was resigned to its failure. But he also made clear that he believed the legislation had broad public support.  Recalling a 2017 town hall meeting where he discussed the bill, Petersen said, “It remains the only time that I’ve been in politics, 20 years, that I’ve gotten a standing ovation.”

    He added, “Until you take the money from public service corporations out of this body, you will continue to get flawed legislation like the rate freeze.”

  70. January 16 & 17 Winter Storm Closings and Delays

  71. Immigrant-Rights Supporters Protest at Inaugural Ball

    By Siona Peterous, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND -- About a dozen immigrant-rights supporters protested outside Gov. Ralph Northam’s inaugural ball, calling on Virginia politicians to back federal legislation protecting many undocumented young adults from deportation.

    The protesters urged U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner to support a bill to help immigrants who qualified for protection under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. President Trump has indicated he will end the DACA policy unless Congress acts.

    The demonstrators shouted their pleas Saturday night outside Main Street Station, where Northam’s inaugural ball was being held.

    The protests were organized by CASA in Action, a nonprofit organization operating in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The organization says it has more than 96,000 members and is the largest electoral organization focused on immigrant rights in the mid-Atlantic region.

    The president of CASA in Action, Gustavo Torres, said that the protests focused on pressuring Kaine and Warner to require a “clean” DACA bill as part of congressional negotiations over the federal budget. Such a bill would allow DACA recipients, known as Dreamers, to stay in the United States.

    The activists have been following Kaine and Warner at various events to protest their previous votes against putting the DACA law in the budget legislation. Congress must take budget action by Friday to avert a government shutdown.

    The fate of DACA protections has become a critical issue in reaching a bipartisan deal on a federal budget. Many Democratic leaders have announced they will not support a budget without guaranteeing the security of DACA recipients, Torres said.

    “We are still very optimistic based on people’s reactions against the deportation of DACA recipients,” Torres said. “But we have to do our homework. Doing our homework is knocking on doors; it's talking to people. They (Kaine and Warner) say they are our friends, but right now we need them to be our champions. There is a strong difference.”

    Luis Aguilera, a DACA recipient and an immigrant rights activist, said it’s not surprising that DACA is under attack.

    “Using immigrants is a convenient political tool; however it’s not just Trump,” Aguilera said. “So we are asking Sen. Kaine and Sen. Warner to back up their claims that they are supporters of DACA.”

    Though the conversation about DACA is heavily focused on Latinos, Dreamers of other nationalities also are affected.

    Esther Jeon, a DACA recipient, is an immigrant rights fellow with the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium.

    “I don't think many people know how many Asian Americans are affected by DACA. One in six in our Korean-American community have DACA,” Jeong said.

     “We’re all here to let the government know how widespread the effects (of ending DACA protections) are -- because it’s not just Latinos, it’s Asians, and there is even a number of undocumented black immigrants in this country as well.”

    As the protest was being held at the inaugural ball, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced some good news for DACA recipients: On Saturday evening, the department said it would continue to process DACA renewals in light of a ruling last week by a federal judge in San Francisco. However, that does not mean DACA is protected for the long term.

  72. Senate Panel Votes to Ban Bump Stocks

    By Aya Driouche, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – A survivor of the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas helped persuade a Virginia Senate committee Monday to approve a bill outlawing bump stocks, a device that allows a rifle to mimic an automatic weapon.

    After hearing from Henrico County resident Cortney Carroll, who was at the country music concert where 58 people were killed and 546 injured, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted 11-4 for SB 1. It would prohibit Virginians from making, selling or possessing “any device used to increase the rate of fire of any semi-automatic firearm beyond the capability of an unaided person to operate the trigger mechanism of that firearm.”

    Carroll, 40, recalled being at the Route 91 Harvest music festival when Stephen Paddock opened fire on 22,000 concertgoers. “The only way I could describe it is, it sounded like a machine gun,” she said. That’s because Paddock, who later killed himself, had fitted his rifles with bump stocks to fire at a rate of nearly 10 rounds per second.

    “When I found out that just a regular person had changed a semi-automatic rifle into essentially a machine gun, it really hit me hard,” Carroll, who lives in Short Pump, said in an interview. “I had no idea that those things (bump stocks) even existed. So that’s when I knew that I needed to take a stand. I believe that I was saved for a reason, and I need to make a difference.”

    Carroll, a mother of two, comes from a family of Republicans who enjoy hunting and support Second Amendment rights.

    “I grew up in a household with hunters. My boyfriend’s a hunter. I have no problem with guns. I’m a Republican; I support gun rights,” she said. “Prior to this, I didn’t really know anything about bump stocks.”

    Carroll said she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety from the massacre. The first thing she does when she enters a room is to identify the exits – and ponder where she would hide if someone started shooting. Carroll said large crowds make her uncomfortable.

    On the evening of Oct. 1, Carroll and her aunt were singing along to Jason Aldean when the first shots rang out. Everyone assured her they were fireworks. But seconds later, Carroll recalls hearing the rat-tat-tat sound of “machine gun fire you hear in movies.”

    Carroll and her aunt crouched down and huddled closely, covered by other people who were attending the concert. Carroll recalls thinking, “This couldn’t happen to me – not now.”

    After five rounds of shooting, as Paddock was reloading his weapons, Carroll said she and her aunt got up and ran. As they tried to find a path to safety, they hit a dead end. At that moment, Carroll’s aunt was grazed by a bullet above her eye. Seeing her aunt’s face dripping with blood is something that Carroll said still haunts her today.

    Carroll’s boyfriend attended the Senate committee meeting to offer his support. Carroll had a small orange ribbon pinned to her shirt, symbolizing mass shooting awareness.

    All six Democrats on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, along with five Republican members, voted for SB 1. Four Republican senators voted against the bill.

    SB 1, which was introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, now goes to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.

    Also at Monday’s meeting, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee defeated:

    • SB 2, which would have made it illegal to carry a loaded firearm while under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs.
    • SB 5, which would have required a background check for any firearm transfer. Currently, no checks are necessary for sales at gun shows and between private individuals.
    • SB 112, which would have added disability, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation to the state’s definition of a hate crime. Now, only offenses “motivated by racial, religious, or ethnic animosity” are considered hate crimes.

    All six of the Democrats on the committee voted in favor of those bills, and all nine Republican members voted against it.

    Afterward, Democratic senators criticized the Republican committee members for voting against background checks.

    “We know that if we enact universal background checks, fewer law enforcement officers will be shot and killed, fewer intimate partners will be shot and killed, and there will be fewer gun-related suicides,” said Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun. “Gun violence is an epidemic, and the time has come to act if we are going to keep our communities safe.”

  73. Dueling Gun Rallies Held at Virginia Capitol

    By Christopher Wood and Adam Hamza, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Demonstrators for and against gun control held rallies on the Capitol grounds Monday, highlighting an issue that has sharply divided Republicans and Democrats.

    U.S. Rep. Dave Brat and several fellow Republicans held a rally in the morning in support of the Second Amendment and the expansion of gun rights.

    “I’m not going to take away your Second Amendment rights,” said Dick Black, a state senator and Vietnam veteran from Loudoun County, “when I’m standing here alive because I had a rifle when I needed it.”

    A few hours later, Democratic officials delivered a different message, advocating what they call “common-sense” gun control proposals.

    “Over 1,000 individuals lose their lives each year in Virginia to gun violence and accidents – more than will die in motor vehicle accidents,” said newly inaugurated Gov. Ralph Northam. “Why don’t we all stand up and say ‘enough is enough?’”

    Virginia Citizens Defense League rally

    The Virginia Citizens Defense League started its rally at about 11 a.m. at the Bell Tower on Capitol Square. One of the attendees was Cesar Inong, Jr., a mortgage loan assistant from Springfield in Northern Virginia.

    Inong said he thinks restrictions on guns should be loosened for law-abiding citizens to protect themselves from muggers and other attacks.

    “Over years and years, gun laws have become stricter and stricter, but the issues that coincide with anti-gun laws are increasing – issues including shootings,” Inong said.

    At the rally, several Republican politicians, including Del. Dave LaRock of Loudoun County, spoke in support of gun rights.

    Philip Van Cleave, president of Virginia Citizens Defense League, criticized bills before the General Assembly that would restrict gun rights.

    “There’s a bill that if somebody swore an oath that if you were a danger to yourself, before you go to court or anything they can come in your house and take your guns away for a couple of weeks,” Van Cleave said. “You’re guilty before you’re innocent.”

    Speakers at the rally said restrictions on obtaining a concealed weapons permit hurt minorities and lower-income residents who may live in high-crime neighborhoods. Another vulnerable group is victims of domestic violence.

    Elizabeth Baran, a nurse from Maryland, said she was nearly beaten to death by her ex-boyfriend.

    “I called the police when he would break into my home. They could do really little other than writing a report,” Baran said. “After a failed suicide attempt on his part, he came to my home and broke in and decided that was the day I was going to die.”

    She described being raped and beaten and having her head slammed repeatedly into the cement, leaving her with a brain injury that would end her career as an emergency room nurse.

    “After a very long and difficult process in Maryland, I was able to obtain my unrestricted wear-and-carry permit in Maryland,” Baran said. “I want people to be able to understand that being able to own and carry a firearm can sometimes be truly a life-and-death situation.”

    Virginia Center for Public Safety vigil

    In the afternoon, the Virginia Center for Public Safety held a vigil for victims of gun violence and then met with legislators, urging them to support bills such as one requiring background checks before all gun purchases.

    The center’s rally was held only hours after Republicans on a Senate committee killed that bill and 19 other proposals to restrict firearms.

    At the vigil, Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring reaffirmed their commitment to gun safety laws. They were joined by religious leaders and activists to send one message: The fight is not over.

    “This morning, the legislature had an opportunity to take some concrete steps to make our communities safer, to make our families safer, by passing better laws,” Herring said. “And what happened? They were all defeated partially, if not all of them, on a party-line vote.”

    Herring left the crowd with a clear promise: “We’re not going to stop. We’re not going to give up.”

    Fairfax echoed Herring’s commitment to continue fighting for gun control and reducing gun violence.

    “We are not going to allow what happened today in the legislature deter us,” he said. “I promise you this … we will win this fight.”

    Northam told the crowd that his concerns about the proliferation of firearms come from his experience as a physician in the Army.

    “I served in Desert Storm. I saw firsthand what weapons of war do to human beings,” he said. “We do not need them on the streets. We do not need them in our society.”

    Kris Gregory, 58, from Falls Church, attended the event. She organized a traveling vigil made of T-shirts representing the 32 victims killed at the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. She said she liked what the legislators had to say about the future of gun regulation in Virginia.

    “[I’m] delighted to have strong advocacy for sensible gun laws,” Gregory said. “We knew it was not going to be easy. This is a marathon, not a sprint, but we have a great deal of hope and the country is with us.”

  74. Governor Northam Emphasizes Democratic Priorities, Diversity

    By Ryan Persaud, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – In an address Monday night to members of the General Assembly, newly inaugurated Gov. Ralph Northam outlined his vision for the legislative session, calling on lawmakers to expand Medicaid, protect abortion rights, increase funding for education and pass gun control measures.

    “If we take these steps, we will answer the charge our voters gave us to make Virginia work better for everyone – no matter who they are or where they are from,” Northam said.

    The governor called attention to the diversity of his cabinet – which contains more women than men – and to the growing diversity of the House and Senate. Twelve women were elected to the House last fall.

    “This cabinet is led by women,” Northam said. “And like this new General Assembly, it is also one of the most diverse in our history … When people say, ‘We can’t find enough women or enough diverse candidates for leadership roles,’ I say — you’re not looking hard enough.”

    Northam also touched on expanding voting rights, such as no-excuse absentee voting, restoring the voting rights of felons who have served their time and raising the threshold for felony larceny.

    “There is no excuse for the criminal act of theft,” Northam said. “But a teenager who steals one used iPhone or a pair of boots should not have her entire life defined by that one mistake.”

    Democratic issues – such as Medicare expansion, abortion rights and gun control – were met with applause and standing ovations by Democrats, while Republicans largely remained seated and silent during the address.

    Despite focusing on partisan issues for most of his speech, Northam cited the need for bipartisanship and for both parties to work together.

    “Bipartisanship has been the watchword of the first few days of this session,” Northam said. “For that I am thankful.”

    The Republican response to Northam’s address was delivered by newly elected Del. Emily Brewer of Suffolk and Sen. Glen Sturtevant of Chesterfield.

    They emphasized the GOP’s priorities of crafting a balanced budget, fixing what they see as a broken health-care system, and improving education in the state.

    “Virginia Republicans are committed to a cooperative and collaborative approach to considering legislation and passing a responsible budget,” Sturtevant said. “We will continue our long-standing emphasis on fiscally responsible, conservative budgeting, looking for cost savings and efficiencies to ensure your family gets the greatest possible value out of every tax dollar you send to Richmond.”

    Brewer highlighted the need to deliver practical economic solutions to meet citizens’ needs.

    “From measures that will protect and provide for the women and men who serve in law enforcement, to long-overdue changes that will grant family leave to state employees who adopt a child,” Brewer said, “we will be advancing changes that will make the commonwealth an even better place to live, to work and to raise a family.”

  75. Gender Equality Film Coming to the Byrd

    By Chelsea Jackson, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Groups pushing for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution will screen a film Tuesday night at the Byrd Theatre about gender discrimination and its impact on American society.

    The film, “Equal Means Equal,” is a documentary directed by Kamala Lopez, who has spent several years studying the topic. She heads an organization also called Equal Means Equal.

    “I believe that the addition of a gender equality clause to the United States Constitution is not only the first necessary action to fix the problem, but the ONLY single action that will effectively begin to address what is a systemic and institutional crisis,” Lopez has written.

    If added to the U.S. Constitution, the ERA would guarantee that “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 screening of “Equal Means Equal” will take place at the Byrd Theatre, 2908 W. Cary St., at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets can be purchased in advance through Eventbrite.

    The ERA has a long history. It was originally written by suffragist Alice Paul and introduced in the U.S. Congress in 1923. In 1972, Congress approved the amendment and sent it to the states.

    A constitutional amendment requires ratification by 38 states. But only 35 approved the ERA before the deadline (originally 1979 and later extended to 1982).

    However, ERA supporters say there’s a legal basis for waiving the deadline. The Nevada Legislature ratified the amendment last year, and groups like Women Matter hope Virginia will follow suit.

    Katie Hornung from Women Matter said many people are unaware that the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee equal rights for women.

    “With women just getting really engaged politically all of a sudden in ways they haven’t been, there has been a push for education about what rights are and aren’t in the Constitution,” Hornung said.

    The fight to ratify the ERA may have gained momentum with the national discourse about sexual harassment and gender equity and social media campaigns such as #metoo and #yesallwomen.

    Three resolutions have been introduced before the 2018 General Assembly to have Virginia ratify the ERA:

    A similar proposal by Surovell was killed in the Senate Rules Committee last year. His legislative assistant, Philip Scranage, said Surovell believes the amendment has a better chance this time around.

    His optimism stems partly from the election of 12 additional women to the Virginia House of Delegates, bringing hopes of change for this legislative session.

  76. KAINE, WARNER, MCEACHIN, CONNOLLY, BEYER, SCOTT ASK TRUMP ADMINISTRATION TO LISTEN TO LOCAL VOICES AGAINST OFFSHORE DRILLING

    Legislators: You said “’Local voice matters.’ We couldn’t agree more.”

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and U.S. Representatives Donald McEachin, Gerry Connolly, Don Beyer, and Bobby Scott sent a letter to the Trump Administration requesting that Virginia be exempted from its offshore drilling proposal, citing local concerns over the risks to tourism, the watermen’s industry, and the country’s Naval operations.

    The Virginia legislators cited Secretary Zinke’s announcement that drilling off the Florida coast was taken “off the table” after listening to “local and state” voices, and asked that the Trump Administration take similar concerns from Virginians just as seriously. Virginia’s coastal leaders -from the Democratic mayor of Norfolk to the Republican mayor of Virginia Beach and the current Governor and Governor-elect of Virginia - have all voiced opposition to drilling off of the Virginia coast.

    “As Members of Congress from Virginia, we request you remove the Virginia offshore area from your proposed 2019-2024 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. We note your willingness to listen to local voices in Florida with grave concerns over the risks of offshore drilling there. We ask that you likewise consider local opposition in Virginia’s coastal communities as well as opposition from its Governor, Senators, and House members to a new five-year plan at this point,” the group said.

    The full text of the letter appears below.

    Dear Secretary Zinke:

    As Members of Congress from Virginia, we request you remove the Virginia offshore area from your proposed 2019-2024 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. We note your willingness to listen to local voices in Florida with grave concerns over the risks of offshore drilling there. We ask that you likewise consider local opposition in Virginia’s coastal communities as well as opposition from its Governor, Senators, and House members to a new five-year plan at this point.

    The statement from your office announcing the removal of the Florida offshore stated, “Local voice matters.” We couldn’t agree more.

    While many states have long histories of energy production, states like Florida and Virginia have robust economies based on other sectors like tourism, aquaculture, outdoor recreation, deepwater port commerce, and especially Department of Defense infrastructure. Florida is home to some 20 DOD installations, while Virginia’s coastal area alone has more than a dozen across every service branch, including Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest naval installation. While it is within DOD’s mandate to work with Interior, any look at a map displays vast offshore areas in which drilling could conflict with military activities. In a time of relatively stable prices and booming oil and gas production elsewhere, the risks outweigh the benefits.

    Opposition to offshore drilling is an opinion broadly shared by communities on the Virginia coast, including by the Democratic mayor of Norfolk and the Republican mayor of Virginia Beach. In fact, the city council of Virginia Beach (Virginia’s most populous city) actively voted to shift its prior support for offshore drilling from supportive to neutral, then from neutral to opposed.

    We hope you will take opposition from Virginia coastal communities as seriously as you took the concerns from Florida residents and elected officials.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Sincerely,

  77. Hundreds Celebrate Legacies of Dr. King, VUU

    By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin, Gov.-elect Ralph Northam and hundreds of other people gathered Friday morning for Virginia Union University’s 40th Annual Community Leaders Breakfast, praising the school’s mission and legacy while urging Virginians toward acts of public service.

    Along with figures including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, state Sen. Jennifer McClellan and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, the event also celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which has its 50th anniversary on Monday.

    Despite the heavy rain outside the Marriott Hotel, guests were in high spirits about Virginia Union – founded in 1865 to serve newly freed slaves – and the future of the state in general. Corshai Williams, president of the VUU Student Government Association, was honored at the event, while the school’s choir performed.

    “I think it’s an awesome reflection on the legacy of Martin Luther King,” said Joseph L. Lyons, associate director of career services for Virginia State University, a historically black school in Petersburg. “I think the fusion of educators and persons in the community, as well as students together will continue the dream.”

    Pamela Tolson Turner, director of communications for VSU, agreed.

    “I look forward to this event each year,” she said. “It’s just a wonderful opportunity to honor the legacy of such a great man, a man that stood for all.”

    Former Varina High School teacher Reginald Bassette Sr. was enthusiastic about the state’s prospects in the coming year: “I think Virginia is moving forward in more ways than we know. The good things that are happening are generally overshadowed by the things that are not as positive as they could be.”

    Less positive topics nonetheless found their way into the celebration through the speakers’ remarks. Among the topics was last year’s neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville.

    Northam condemned the “white supremacists” responsible for the event, which led to the death of activist Heather Heyer and two Virginia State Police officers. Northam promised support for “inclusivity and diversity” throughout the state under his administration.

    McEachin made repeated references to President Donald Trump’s administration when talking about King’s philosophies and the opposition he faced.

    “The trouble that we have now is because we have leaders who do not keep the needs of the people holy,” McEachin said. He listed such developments as the failed attempts to expand Medicaid in Virginia, Congress’ failure to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and passage of a federal tax bill that many believe will hurt the poor.

    McEachin summarized his thoughts on the current state of the country with: “Indeed, these are troubled times.”

    But the speakers and guests made an effort to keep the breakfast centered on a more positive outlook.

    Accepting an MLK Lifetime of Service award from the group he helped create, the Rev. Taylor C. Millner Sr. of Morning Star Holy Church said, “This breakfast is not just about Trump. This breakfast is also reminding you that when you go out of that door at 9 o’clock, you have to live the dream. You have to fight for justice. You have to make an opportunity for everyone else. Go after the gold, but also serve somebody!”

    Mr. Lyons, when asked for his thoughts on Richmond and Virginia’s place in 2018, said “I think we are survivors, I think we persevere, I think we move forward. So regardless of the climate, regardless of the political outlook, I think we’re always going to move forward and be optimistic.”

  78. Gov. Northam Delivers Message of Hope in Inaugural Address

    By Deanna Davison and Sarah Danial, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Ralph Northam took office as Virginia’s 73rd governor on Saturday and urged citizens to maintain the strong “moral compass deep in our hearts” to help guide the state forward.

    In his inaugural address to a crowd of about 5,000 outside the state Capitol on a day of stinging cold, Northam reflected first on his childhood on the Eastern Shore, the time he spent fishing and crabbing on the Chesapeake Bay and the advice he received from his father.

    “If things get dark or foggy, if you can’t find your way,” his father said, “keep your eye on the compass. It’ll always bring you home safely.”

    Northam, 58, said Virginians can likewise rely on their inner compass.

    “We all have a moral compass deep in our hearts, and it’s time to summon it again, because we have a lot of work to do,” said the former lieutenant governor and state senator.

    Northam also spoke about transparency and the need for government officials to bridge the political divides. His core policy platforms as governor, he said, are those he believes are nonpartisan: expanding health care, reducing gun violence and ensuring equal access to education.

    “Virginians didn’t send us here to be Democrats or Republicans,” Northam said. “They sent us here to solve problems. The path to progress is marked by honest give and take among people who truly want to make life better for those around them.”

    Northam was sworn in after fellow Democrats Justin Fairfax took the oath as lieutenant governor and Mark Herring was sworn in for a second term as attorney general.

    The inauguration drew a pair of demonstrations: About two dozen people protested the controversial natural gas pipelines, shouting “water is life” during a moment of silence. A smaller group, United We Dream, demonstrated on behalf of immigrants.

    Capitol Square officially opened to the public at 9:30 a.m., and by 11:30 a.m., the stands were full. Spectators came prepared with heavy coats and gloves to brave the cold. Hot apple cider was served in blue Northam cups that said, “The Way Ahead.”

    After the swearing-in ceremonies, representatives of Virginia’s Indian tribes gave a “Blessing of the Ground” for the new administration. Then the inaugural parade began, featuring dozens of groups from across the commonwealth. Cadets from Northam’s alma mater, Virginia Military Institute, marched across the grounds, saluting the new governor.

    Northam’s first executive order was signed immediately after the parade. It “prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, political affiliation, or against otherwise qualified persons with disabilities in Virginia state government.”

    Among the parade participants with a connection to Northam was the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters. Northam served as a pediatric neurologist at the Norfolk hospital for 25 years. He said the lessons he learned there, including the importance of hope, will stay with him during his four years as governor.

    “I have recognized the incredible power of hope and my responsibility to preserve it in the people I serve,” Northam said. “Hope is not just a source of comfort for the afflicted – it is a wellspring of energy to fight for a better tomorrow, no matter the odds. I am committed as your governor to fight every day for the hope that tomorrow will be better – for all of us, not just some of us.”

  79. Annual Point In Time Count to Assess Homeless Population in Crater Area Community support and volunteers needed to assist with the count in multiple locations

    The Crater Area Coalition on Homelessness (CACH) will conduct a census of people experiencing homelessness throughout the Crater area on Thursday, January 25, 2018, from 4:00 a.m. until 2:00pm   The Point In Time (PIT) count covers the CACH localities of Petersburg, Colonial Heights, Hopewell, Emporia, Greensville, Dinwiddie, Sussex, Price George and Surry.  CACH will collaborate with local police, departments of social services, food pantries, libraries, schools, and numerous other service providers to identify count sites.

    Since 2007, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has required Continuums of Care to conduct an annual count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals.  Results of the PIT directly impact federal funding awarded to regional service providers, and provide direction for future development of services.

    The PIT will not only determine how many are homeless, but who is homeless and what factors led to their homelessness.  It will include and count homeless youth and young adults.

    Volunteer support is needed during the PIT to collect information on the homeless population in the Crater region, using paper survey forms to ask people about their housing situation and what services they use.  If you are aware of unsheltered sleeping sites or encampments in the community, please describe exact location in an email to esingleton@impassoc.org so that we can try to count those people.

    CACH will host volunteer training on January 18, 2018 from 11:30am to 12:30pm at the Hopewell Public Library.  Refreshments will be provided. To register, please contact Erica Singleton at esingleton@impassoc.org or call 434-637-3038.  Volunteers interested in helping with this count must attend the training.

    More than 400 Continuums of Care across the nation will call on volunteers to cover 3,000 cities and counties, and will report their findings to HUD.  The 2017 Point In Time Count revealed that, on a single night, 6,067 individuals in Virginia were experiencing homelessness.

  80. Jackson-Feild Re-Accredited by the Council on Accreditation

    Jackson-Feild Behavioral Health Services received a three=year re-accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA).  COA is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Founded in 1977, its mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

    Reaccreditation is a noteworthy achievement that demonstrates that Jackson-Feild is recognized as a residential treatment provider who successfully implements high performance standards and delivers high quality services to its children. 

    Accreditation provides an objective and reliable verification that instills confidence and provides credibility to Jackson-Feild’s parents, donors, board members, community partners and stakeholders. 

    The accreditation process involves a detailed self-study that analyses both administrative operations and service delivery practices.  You are “measured” against national standards of best practice. The standards examine Jackson-Feild’s operations and practices to ensure they are accessible, appropriate, responsive, evidence-based and outcomes-oriented.  It confirms that services are provided by a skilled and supportive workforce and that children are treated with dignity and respect.  Accreditation is conferred on the entire organization and not just one specific program or service with the intent to inspire confidence, credibility, integrity and achievement in Jackson-Feild Homes.

    Jackson-Feild submitted a comprehensive self-study in which it addressed every standard. A site team of two reviewers spent three days on campus in September interviewing board members, staff and children. They submitted their report which was reviewed by COA and granted re-accreditation.

    Tricia Delano, President & CEO, noted that “This is a wonderful milestone.  A great deal of time and hard work went into this process but it is well worth the investment of time, energy and effort. I salute our dedicated staff members who made re-accreditation happen especially Tanyah Jones who coordinated accreditation efforts.

  81. Virginia Lewis Buckner Wrenn

    Virginia Lewis Buckner Wrenn, widow of Arthur W. Buckner, Sr. died on January 10, 2018. She was a native of Greensville County, Virginia and the eldest daughter of the late Thomas Edward and Lillian Anderton Lewis of Emporia. She was preceded in death by; her daughter, Carolyn Taylor, son Glen Thomas Buckner, Sr.; and two sisters, Dorothy Taylor and Phyllis Beasley.

    She is survived by; two daughters, Lois B. Rook and husband James of Roanoke Rapids, N.C., Kay B. Lynch and husband R.B. of Emporia; son, Arthur W. Buckner, Jr. and wife Susan of Emporia; three sisters, Frances Leonard of Midlothian, VA, Mabel Gillam of Jarratt, VA, and Nancy Castellow of Roanoke Rapids, N.C.; Ten grandchildren; numerous great grandchildren; aunt, Mary Moore of Emporia; and a number of nieces and nephews.

    She was former member of St. Andrews United Methodist Church and current member of Independence United Methodist Church. She also attended Main Street Baptist Church in the later years with her second husband, Thomas H. Wrenn, Sr.

    She was a life member of “The Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary” and “The National Americans Ex-Prisoners of War”. She was also a member of “The American Ex-Prisoners of War of The Commonwealth of Virginia”, American Legion Auxiliary, Bella Unit 46 of Emporia, The Woodmen of The World, Lodge 287 of Emporia.

    Services will be held in the chapel of Echols Funeral Home on Friday, January 12, 2018 at 2:00 P.M. with Rev. Jeaux Simmons officiating. Burial will follow at Greensville Memorial Cemetery. Visitation will held in the chapel of Echols Funeral Home on Thursday, January 11, 2018 from 7:00 P.M.-8:30 P.M.

    Contributions may be made to the Greensville County Volunteer Rescue Squad or the Emporia Fire Department.

    Online condolences may be left at www.echolsfuneralhome.com.

  82. Albert F. “Hammer” Justice

    Albert F. “Hammer” Justice, 84, of Emporia, passed away Wednesday, January 10, 2018. He was preceded in death by his wife, Sally J. Justice and a brother, Joseph Justice. Hammer is survived by three sons, Albert F. Justice, Jr. “Phil” and wife, Rose, Kenneth C. “Kenny” Justice and wife, Brenda and Clayton Justice and wife, Renee’; six grandchildren, Carson Justice (Becky), Philip Justice (Elizabeth), Kendra Floyd (Brent), Justin Justice, Hunter Justice (Katelyn) and Blake Justice three great-grandchildren, Cameron Justice, Caleb Justice, Bensen Floyd; two brothers, George “Doc” Justice and wife, Faye and Bernie Justice; three sisters, Polly Wyatt and husband, Walter, Annie Justice and Betty Phillips and husband, Buck and a number of nieces and nephews. The funeral service will be held 2 p.m. Saturday, January 13 at Fountain Creek Baptist Church where the family will receive friends one hour prior to the service. Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com.

  83. Jean Lambert

     

     

     

     

     

    Jean Lambert, 75, of Emporia, passed away Thursday, January 11, 2018. She is survived by her husband, Roy Lambert; two sons, George C. Holloway, III “Skeeter” and wife, Stacy, and James Keith Holloway and wife, Karla; daughter, Randi Fajna; three grandchildren, Kaitlin Holloway, Kelsey Joyner and James Fajna; and a brother, Floyd Hobbs, Jr. . The funeral service will be held 2 p.m. Sunday, January 14 at Owen Funeral Home, 303 S. Halifax Rd, Jarratt where the family will receive friends one hour prior to the service. Interment will be private. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions be made to Grace Anglican Church. Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com.

  84. WARNER & KAINE SECURE FINAL PASSAGE OF BILL GRANTING RECOGNITION OF VIRGINIA INDIAN TRIBES

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner secured final passage of the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2017. Once signed by the President, the legislation will grant federal recognition of six Virginia tribes: the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, the Monacan, and the Nansemond. Many of these include descendants of Pocahontas’ Virginia Powhatan tribe. Kaine and Warner worked with Democratic and Republican colleagues to ensure that the bill made it through to final passage. These tribes had received official recognition from the Commonwealth of Virginia, but had not received federal recognition, which will grant the tribes legal standing and status in direct relationships with the U.S. government.

    U.S. Senators and members of the House of Representatives from Virginia have pushed for federal recognition since the 1990s, with Senators George Allen and John Warner first introducing this legislation in the Senate in 2002. Kaine and Warner introduced this legislation in the Senate in the 113th and 114th Congresses, and Warner had introduced it in prior Congresses.

    “This is about Virginia tribes that were here and encountered the English when they arrived in [Jamestown] in 1607, the tribes of Pocahontas and other wonderful Virginians. They are living tribes, never recognized by the federal government for a series of reasons. . . . It's a fundamental issue of respect, and fairly acknowledging a historical record, and a wonderful story of tribes that are living, thriving and surviving and are a rich part of our heritage. This is a happy day to stand up on their behalf,” Senator Kaine said on the Senate floor ahead of passage.

    “We and some of the folks who are in the gallery today were not sure this day would ever come, but even here in the United States Congress and the United States Senate, occasionally we get things right. And boy, oh, boy, this is a day where we get things right on a civil rights basis, on a moral basis, on a fairness basis, and to our friends who are representatives of some of the six tribes who are finally going to be granted federal recognition, we want to say thank you for their patience, their perseverance, their willingness to work with us and others,” Senator Warner said on the Senate floor ahead of passage.

    This version, which originated in the House of Representatives and was introduced by Virginia Congressman Rob Wittman, passed in the House unanimously in May.

    Congressman Wittman said, “Today we have taken a critical step forward in correcting the Federal Government’s failure to recognize the ‘first contact' tribes of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Decades in the making, federal recognition will acknowledge and protect historical and cultural identities of these tribes for the benefit of all Americans. It will also affirm the government-to-government relationship between the United States and the Virginia tribes, and help create opportunities to enhance and protect the well-being of tribal members. I want to thank Senators Kaine and Warner for their support to give these tribes the recognition they have long deserved.”

    Once signed by the President, federal recognition will allow Virginia’s tribes legal standing and status in direct relationships with the U.S. government. Further, it would allow tribes to:

    • Compete for educational programs and other grants only open to federally recognized tribes;
    • Repatriate the remains of their ancestors in a respectful manner. Many of these remains reside in the Smithsonian, but without federal status there is no mandate to return the remains; and
    • Provide affordable health care services for elder tribal members who have been unable to access care.

    These tribal leaders were in attendance in the Senate Gallery for the vote:

    • W. Frank Adams, Chief, Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe
    • Stephen R. Adkins, Chief, Chickahominy Indian Tribe
    • Wayne B. Adkins, Chair of VITAL
    • Dean Branham, Chief, Monacan Nation
    • Lee Lockamy, Chief Nansemond Indian Tribe
    • Frank Richardson, representing Chief Anne Richardson, Rappahannock Tribe
    • Gerald A. Stewart, Assistant Chief, Eastern Chickahominy Indian Tribe
  85. 3 Legislators Call for Stricter Pipeline Standards

    By Zach Joachim, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Three Democratic legislators from western Virginia said Thursday they would fight for stricter environmental standards if authorities allow the construction of two natural gas pipelines across the state.

    Dels. Sam Rasoul of Roanoke and Chris Hurst of Blacksburg joined Sen. John Edwards of Roanoke at a news conference to discuss their concerns about the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, which many environmentalists and rural Virginians oppose.

    “We cannot authorize the building of pipelines, but we sure have the right to protect our water,” Rasoul said. He hopes the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will come out against the projects.

    “To us it’s clear that we are going to be able to make the case to DEQ moving forward that these pipelines are not safe,” Rasoul said.

    Hurst said the Atlantic Coast Pipelines and Mountain Valley Pipeline are not done deals.

    “There are still several ways for these pipeline projects to be stalled, delayed or canceled altogether,” Hurst said. “My feeling all along has always been what we need is more rigorous data collection.”

    The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would carry natural gas 600 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina, and the Mountain Valley Pipeline would run 303 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia. The companies that have proposed the pipelines say they are important for meeting the region’s energy needs and will create jobs.

    The Federal Environmental Regulatory Commission approved the pipeline projects in October, but opponents are continuing efforts to block them.

    The Roanoke-area legislators expressed concerns over water-quality standards and procedures that FERC and DEQ applied to the proposed pipeline projects in Virginia.

    Hurst has introduced HB 1188, which would require ground-water testing and monitoring of all pipelines of a certain size.

    “It would apply to the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” Hurst said. “That means we’re going to need daily monitoring of these pipelines to make sure that if anything does go wrong, we can put a stop to the transmission of that gas until we fix things.”

    The three legislators are optimistic that fellow Democrat Ralph Northam, who will be sworn in as governor on Saturday, will work with them to address concerns about the pipelines. Edwards called Northam an environmentalist who shares their stance on the issue.

    “We call on Gov. Northam and the DEQ to immediately take and appreciate the full authority we have as a state to protect our water resources,” Rasoul said. “We think it is very clear, other states have done so, and we need to do the same.”

    Rasoul said legislators can’t stop the construction of pipelines but they can erect a firewall of environmental standards to mitigate the potential impact of such projects in the commonwealth.

    Hurst said the issue isn’t just about the collective environment but also about the property rights and safety of Virginia citizens.

    “What we’re focused on is ensuring that landowners’ rights are protected, and what we can do to try and stave off any potential negative consequence or catastrophe that could happen if these pipelines are constructed.”

  86. Religious Leaders Call for Expanding Health Care

    By DeForrest Ballou, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – A statewide group of religious leaders urged the General Assembly on Thursday to expand Medicare and Medicaid.

    Organized by the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, the team of multi-denominational and multi-religion officials represented 850 faith leaders from across Virginia. They said their goal is to bring health care to the 300,000 Virginians who would benefit from expansion of Medicare and Medicaid.

    Expanding access to health care would help alleviate the opioid crisis and create 15,000 jobs in hospitals and clinics, the center said.

    “It is not a matter of charity to extend health care to people who do not have access to health care. It is a basic moral law and act of human decency,” said Imam Ammar Amonette of the Islamic Center of Virginia.

    Health care in the state has been a hot topic in recent weeks. During a public hearing on the proposed state budget for 2018-2020, over half of the more than 80 speakers supported expanding programs like Medicaid.

    Gov. Terry McAuliffe urged the General Assembly to do so during his State of the Commonwealth speech Wednesday. And Virginia House and Senate Democrats announced Thursday that Medicaid expansion is their top goal for this legislative session.

    In past years, Republicans have blocked the idea, fearing it would be a financial burden on state government. But this year may be different, said Kim Bobo, executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

    “We believe that Medicaid expansion is an opportunity and that we have a great chance to make it happen this year. The legislators on both sides of the aisle are interested in the issue. So we just need to get enough people to say yes,” Bobo said.

    Her group has been working to achieve that goal – by circulating petitions, writing letters and meeting with legislators. The Interfaith Center will hold its annual advocacy day on Jan. 23.

    “I’m a little worried that we are going to not be able to hold all of the people because so many people want to come and be a part of this,” Bobo said.

  87. Higher Ed Advocates Lobby Legislators

    By Katie Bashista, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND -- College educators and students across Virginia took to the offices of state legislators Thursday to make their case on Higher Education Advocacy Day. Participants met with lawmakers to discuss the importance of higher education and the need for support from the General Assembly.

    Justin Moore, a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University studying chemical life sciences and engineering, was among the participants. He met with legislators to remind them to think of college students when they’re “making decisions on the floor.”

    “I’ve spoken to representatives about the importance of continuing to finance state institutions to a degree in which it’s affordable for students to pursue higher education and degrees that come along with that,” Moore said.

    Representatives came armed with statistics that they handed out to legislators. From 2008 to 2017, they said, spending per student in Virginia decreased by $1,069, putting a greater financial burden on students.

    While the advocates generally support Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s proposed budget regarding higher education, they are seeking a salary increase of at least 2 percent for faculty.

    The citizen lobbyists argued that more benefits would attract and help maintain top faculty members. Participants urged lawmakers to support a bill by Del. Debra Rodman, D-Henrico, to provide tuition waivers for dependent students of faculty members.

    The event drew representatives from universities across the state, including Randolph-Macon College, George Mason University and VCU. They handed out position papers to senators, delegates and their assistants and spoke to them about the issues at hand. The students said they wanted to  put a face on the issue of funding higher education.

    The Virginia General Assembly has just begun the 2018 session, so it was difficult for those lobbying to meet directly with a lawmaker. Advocacy Day participants often had to go through an aide or assistant to communicate their positions.

    Jennifer Moon, legislative assistant to Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Winchester, met with a group from VCU: Moore, Ph.D. biochemistry student Briana James and faculty members Sarah Golding and Joyce Lloyd. Lloyd is a professor in the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics at VCU as well as the director of training programs for the Center of Health Disparities. She said having students in attendance helped the message get across.

    “I want to make sure legislators are keeping in mind that higher education is suffering a little bit and that we need some attention at this moment,” she said.

    Golding is a professor of biology and works for the Center of Health Disparities. She said  students have suffered because of VCU’s tight budget.

    “We’re at a point where that cannot go on,” she said. “We need our students to be able to pay off their loans, and we also need to be able to retain our best faculty.”

  88. Virginia Grocery Investment Fund Seeks to End ‘Food Deserts’

    By Jessica Wetzler, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND -- A ​bipartisan group of public officials urged the General Assembly on Thursday to create a Virginia Grocery Investment Fund to help attract supermarkets to food deserts in the state.

    Virginia first lady Dorothy McAuliffe was joined by senators and delegates at a news conference in support of legislation to create the fund.

    Outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe included $7.5 million in his proposed 2018-20 budget to establish the grocery fund within the Department of Housing and Community Development.

    Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, and Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, have joined to sponsor SB 37, which would provide funding to build or expand grocery stories in underserved communities.

    “I have carried many bills,” Stanley said, “but not as important as this one.”

    In the House, HB 85 is being sponsored by Dels. Dickie Bell, R-Staunton, and Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond.

    “It’s 2018, terms like ‘food desert’ should not be part of our vocabulary, but it is. We should not have hungry Virginians, but we do,” Bell said.

    More than  1.7 million Virginians, including 480,000 children, live in low-income areas with limited supermarket access. These areas are often called food deserts -- communities where residents are unable to access fresh produce, lean meats and other nutritious food.

    “It’s not a political issue, it’s a human issue,” Stanley said.

    Through the fund, private-public partnerships leveraging state dollars with private money will be made to provide one-time, low-interest loans or small grants. The objective is to encourage such food retailers as grocery stores or innovative food retail projects to open or renovate  markets in underserved communities. Supporters say that would also provide new jobs.

    The investment fund would have a goal of working with more than 15 healthy food retail projects, with an average of 40 new and retained jobs per grocery store.

    New and existing businesses in at least 18 localities have confirmed interest in seeking low-interest loans and grants to expand and create new healthy food retail operations, supporters said.

    District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a similar program in October that would bring new grocery options through the Neighborhood Prosperity Fund. The $3 million investment is to begin in September.

    “We’ve worked for four years to expand food access across Virginia, and this legislation will move us forward,” Dorothy McAuliffe said on Twitter after the news  conference.

    “It’s a right for all Virginians and Americans.”

  89. Like Florida, Virginia Seeks Offshore Drilling Exemption

    By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Gov.-elect Ralph Northam asked Thursday that Virginia be exempt from the Trump administration’s plan to open almost all of America’s offshore waters to drilling.

    In a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Northam cited his childhood growing up on the Eastern Shore as testament to the region’s worth to Virginia and the country at large.

    “The Chesapeake Bay and the Commonwealth’s ocean and coastal resources are every bit as ecologically and economically valuable as those of Florida,” Northam said.

    Last week, Zinke proposed allowing offshore oil and gas drilling in nearly all coastal waters of the United States. But on Tuesday, following objections from Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Zinke said Florida would be exempt from the plan.

    Northam’s letter asked “that the same exemption be made for the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

    The letter follows Northam’s previous statement condemning the Trump administration’s drilling proposal. Governors of other East Coast states – including Maryland and North and South Carolina – have also voiced objections.

    Northam said offshore drilling would pose financial risks to Virginia. He said he was concerned about military assets in Hampton Roads, which account for “nearly half” of the region’s economy, and about the tourism and seafood industries. Northam said Virginia is “the leading seafood producer on the East Coast, the third largest producer in the country, and the national leader in hard clam aquaculture.”

    Zinke has called the drilling plan part of “a new path for energy dominance in America.” In a press release last week, he said oil and gas drilling would have vast financial benefits, providing “billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks.”

    The Trump administration will take public comment on its proposals from Jan. 16 through March 9.

    Northam called on the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to hold public hearings in Hampton Roads and on the Eastern Shore. He noted that the bureau has scheduled a public meeting for the proposal in Richmond, “nearly 100 miles from the coastal communities that would most feel its impacts.”

  90. Outgoing Governor Urges Lawmakers to ‘Work Together’

     By Chelsea Jackson and Jessica Wetzler, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe delivered his farewell State of the Commonwealth Address on the opening day of the General Assembly’s 2018 session, making a final plea for legislators to expand Medicaid and saying the state is in good hands as he passes the baton to a fellow Democrat, Ralph Northam.

    With a smile, McAuliffe took the podium Wednesday night before a joint session of the House and Senate as he announced his pleasure to address the General Assembly “one final time.” The Republican side of the chamber appeared silent while Democratic lawmakers stood, cheered and banged their desks in appreciation.

    Once again, McAuliffe urged the General Assembly to expand Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for low-income Americans.

    “The chief issue that demands your attention is making a clear statement that, in a new Virginia economy, health care is not a privilege for the few – it is a right for all,” McAuliffe said. “Put the politics aside. It’s time to expand Medicaid in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

    In his address, McAuliffe said that at his inauguration, he promised to maintain the state’s reputation for strong fiscal management, to make Virginia the greatest place in the world for veterans, military service members and their families, and to be a brick wall to protect the rights of women and LGBT Virginians from discrimination.

    “Four years later, we have kept those promises,” McAuliffe said. “And we are a Commonwealth of greater equality, justice and opportunity for all people as a result. That is a legacy we can all be proud of.”

    McAuliffe spoke not just to legislators but to everyday Virginians as he recited progress the state had made during his term.

    “In the coming years, I hope you will build on that foundation by using your voices and your votes to make Virginia more equal, more just and more prosperous for all people, no matter whom they are, where they live or whom they love,” McAuliffe said.

    He took notice of political battles, such as Republicans suing him for contempt when he attempted to restore, in one fell swoop, the voting rights of about 200,000 felons who had completed their sentences.

    McAuliffe established the record for the most bills vetoed during his time in office – a total of 120.

    “I absolutely hated having to veto a record 120 bills – but those bills took Virginia in the wrong direction,” McAuliffe said. “They attacked women’s rights, equality for LGBT people and access to the voting booth. They hurt the environment, and they made Virginia less safe. I honestly wish they’d never made it to my desk.”

    McAuliffe received several standing ovations during his address, but perhaps the loudest followed his statements regarding Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman who was killed protesting a rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville in August. Everyone on the floor took the moment to stand and applaud for the remarks about Heyer.

    McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was elected governor in November 2013, defeating Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli.

    During his term, Republicans had a two-thirds majority in the House of Delegates, making it difficult for McAuliffe to pass his key priorities, such as expanding Medicaid. But Democrats made big gains in last fall’s elections. As McAuliffe leaves office, the GOP holds a slim margin in both the House and Senate.

    “Virginia is a different place than it was four years ago, and for that we should all be proud. But there is still more work to do,” McAuliffe said.

    He later added, “As I look across this room, I see many new faces. The people of Virginia, in their wisdom, have made significant changes to the composition of this General Assembly with a simple message in mind: work together to get things done.”

    In their response to McAuliffe’s speech, Republicans took issue with his rosy assessment of the state’s economy. They said that Virginia has been eclipsed by other states and that McAuliffe has neglected rural areas, especially the coalfields of Southwest Virginia.

    “With fierce competition between states to attract and retain businesses,” said Del. Benjamin L. Cline, R-Rockbridge. “Virginia simply cannot afford to stagnate. Our past achievements will not sustain a prosperous future.”

    Sen. A. Benton Chafin, R-Russell, said McAuliffe put Virginia at a competitive disadvantage with other energy-rich states.

    “The last four years has seen some very pitched and contentious battles here in Richmond,” Chafin said. “Gov. McAuliffe began his term by initiating and championing a nearly four-month-long budget stalemate. Now, he is concluding his term by advancing the very same proposals that nearly resulted in our first-ever government shutdown.”

  91. A Last-Minute Guide to Governor’s Inauguration

    By Christopher Wood and Irena Schunn, Capital News Service

    Richmond is buzzing in anticipation of the gubernatorial inauguration that will take place Saturday at the Virginia Capitol.

    The swearing-in of Ralph Northam as the commonwealth’s 73rd governor is a historic event with a turnout predicted in the thousands. Though tickets for special seating are no longer available, attending the inauguration is free and open to the public.

    Here’s a guide to help you get in on the action or simply to better prepare for what the day might bring.

    Schedule of Saturday’s events

    9:30 a.m. – Gates open to the public at Capitol Square.

    Noon – The inauguration ceremony begins on the South Portico of the Virginia State Capitol, as Northam takes the oath of office. Also, Justin Fairfax will be sworn in as lieutenant governor, and Mark Herring will take the oath of office for a second term as attorney general.

    1 p.m.– The inaugural parade begins. The parade route will move east from Grace Street and will circumnavigate Capitol Square.

    2-4 p.m. – Open House at the Executive Mansion. Pamela Northam said the first family is “looking forward to welcoming Virginians into our new home for the first time.”

    8 p.m.– The inaugural ball will begin at Main Street Station (ticket required).

    What to expect

    About 4,000 people are expected to attend the inauguration and parade, according to the Northam Inaugural Committee. If you don’t plan on attending, stay away from the Capitol as several streets will be closed starting Friday.

    For attendees, several portable toilets will be placed in various locations on the Capitol grounds.

    Where to take in the action

    The last chance to get tickets for the inauguration was Tuesday, but you can still get a good view of the event. Capitol Square – southeast of Ninth and Broad streets – will be open to the public. Two screens streaming the event will be set up on either side of the Capitol.

    About the parade

    The parade will feature organizations from across Virginia including NASA, SemperK9 Assistance Dogs, Virginia Teachers of the Year, Charlottesville Cardinals Wheelchair Basketball Team, the Crooked Road Heritage Music Trail Fiddlers and Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters (where Northam, a native of the Eastern Shore, is a pediatric neurologist).

    The Corps of Cadets from Virginia Military Institute, the incoming governor’s alma mater, will march in the parade as well.

    There’ll even be a national and international star: Deborah Pratt, Virginia’s fastest oyster shucker who again will represent the U.S. in the International Oyster Opening Championship in Ireland.

    Weather

    The bad news is that it’s supposed to rain on Saturday. The good news is that the National Weather Service predicts the rain will end by 8 a.m., giving way to partly sunny skies and highs in the mid-50s.

    Security

    When gearing up to go the Capitol, pack light. Security screenings will be set up at each of the two entrances to Capitol Square. Though most prohibited items come as no surprise, some banned objects, such as umbrellas or plastic bottles, are not so obvious.

    Although it probably won’t rain during the event, if you want to come prepared for wet weather, opt for a raincoat – not an umbrella.

    Here is a list from the inaugural committee’s websiteof items banned from the event: weapons of any type, hazardous materials, pepper spray or mace, umbrellas, glass or plastic bottles, coolers, laser pointers, tripods, sticks or poles, aerosol containers, air-horns, tools, scissors, needles, razor blades and fireworks.

    Traffic, transportation and parking

    Parking for the inauguration will be open to the public at the parking decks at 14th and Main streets, Seventh and Franklin streets, and Seventh and Marshall streets.

    A complimentary shuttle service provided by the Northam Inaugural Committee will be available for public use. The shuttle will run from the Quirk, Omni and the Jefferson hotels directly to Eight and Broad streets. The shuttle will drop off passengers every 10 minutes between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. After the parade, the shuttle will reroute, taking passengers from the drop-off point back to the hotels.

    Road closures might pose a problem for motorists trying to drive through downtown. Ninth Street and Bank Street bordering the Capitol grounds will be closed from 7 p.m. Friday through 6 p.m. Saturday. West of the Capitol, about 10 blocks will be closed from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. The closures include Grace and Franklin streets from Eighth Street to Adams Street.

  92. Pastor Preaches Forgiveness at Legislative Breakfast

    By Alexandra Sosik, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Eric Manning, pastor of the Charleston, S.C., church where white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine parishioners in 2015, delivered a message of reconciliation and unity Wednesday at the 52nd annual Commonwealth Prayer Breakfast.

    Republican and Democratic legislators were joined by their families, lobbyists and constituents at the Greater Richmond Convention Center for a time of community and devotion to kick off the opening day of the 2018 General Assembly session.

    Gov. Terry McAullife provided opening remarks and a prayer for Gov.-elect Ralph Northam, who will be sworn in Saturday.

    “Thank you for the honor, privilege and support over the past four years,” McAullife said, adding that serving as governor was the “privilege of my life.”

    Northam encouraged legislators to work together during the 2018 legislative season.

    “We all have good intentions, and those are to serve our constituents and to serve this great commonwealth,” Northam said. “My prayer to all of you today is that we could root for each other, that we could work together and make Virginia a little bit better today than it was yesterday.”

    Among public officials and community members who spoke were Attorney General Mark Herring, who said a prayer for the armed forces and safety personnel, and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who gave tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Local music group Urban Doxology also performed a rendition of “Be Thou My Vision.”

    It was the Rev. Manning, however, who delivered the main message in which he emphasized forgiveness, repentance and reconciliation as the recipe for a successful General Assembly session.

    “When you forgive, something happens,” Manning said. “No longer do you have animosity, no longer do you strive against that person, but you do the best you possibly can do to help that person along the way. Because when you begin to help someone, then you are making a difference.”

    Manning urged the legislators to practice forgiveness with each other the same way parishioners of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were able to forgive Roof after he murdered nine people at a Bible study session on June 17, 2015. The church, often called Mother Emanuel, was founded in 1816 and is one of the oldest black congregations in the South.

    During a court hearing shortly after the slayings, relatives of the murder victims told Roof they were praying for his soul. “I forgive you,” said Nadine Collier, whose mother was killed by Roof. “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”

    Manning challenged the legislators to turn toward what binds them together rather than turning attention to their differences.

    “My prayer would be that when they are discussing or debating, or whatever bills they’re working for, just pause for a moment,” Manning said. “In that most high point of the debate, let us learn how to walk together. Let us remember to walk together, to help someone along the way. Because when that happens I believe that the commonwealth becomes that place where God would have them walk together.”

  93. Legislative Black Caucus aims to help disadvantaged

    By George Copeland, Jr., Capital News Service

    RICHMOND -- Members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus pledged their commitment Wednesday to legislation that would help underprivileged Virginians by bringing improvements in education, health care, the economy and the criminal justice system. 

    Outlining their agenda on the first day of the 2018 General Assembly session, caucus members said at a news conference that increased Democratic representation in the House of Delegates and the election of Justin Fairfax as lieutenant governor were a boon for the group’s goals.

    “We are in a great position to pass some legislation that will benefit all Virginians,” said Sen. Rosalyn R. Dance, D-Petersburg, who presented the caucus’ policies for health care.  “Not only is Medicaid expansion the right thing to do, but it will save Virginians money. Right now, we have the opportunity to be on the right side of history.”

    Newly elected  Del. Jennifer D. Carroll Foy, D-Woodbridge, announced 10 criminal justice bills stemming from her experience as  a public defender to ensure a state that was “smart on crime” rather than punitive.

    Del. Delores L. McQuinn, D-Richmond, emphasized the importance of  healthy and affordable food for marginalized communities.She pledged the caucus’ support for the Virginia Grocery Investment Fund, which she said would also create jobs in the private sector.

    “We know that it works; it has worked across the country,” said  McQuinn, “and we are pushing this as one of the ways of bringing economic prosperity and wellness to the various communities.”

    Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, summarized the caucus’ slate of education policies. She said caucus members “would fight any legislation that diverted public school funds to private schools.”

    Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, said caucus-backed voting rights bills would make voting a constitutional right for non-violent felons and lower the voting age to 16 for local elections. The caucus is also supporting redistricting reform, and said that ballot confusion in the 28th District led to an “injustice” in the defeat of Democratic hopeful Joshua Cole.

    “We want to ensure something like that doesn’t happen again, said Del. Rasoul.  “We firmly believe that voting is not a privilege, rather that it’s our due as Americans and Virginians.”

    Near the start of the conference, new Caucus Chair Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, introduced Lt. Gov.-elect Fairfax as the “21st member” of the caucus.  Fairfax highlighted the caucus’ part in the November Democratic victories and described his future role in the Senate as “breaking ties in favor of progress.” Fairfax said he was looking forward “to working with every single one of these brave leaders.”

  94. Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s Official Portrait Unveiled

    By Scott Malone, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Look closely at Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s official portrait and you’ll spot an alligator.

    The new painting that will hang in the state Capitol carries a subtle reference to a part of the governor’s colorful political history.

    “As far as I know, Gov. McAuliffe is the only American governor who has ever wrestled an alligator,” Gavin Glakas, who painted the portrait, said when it was unveiled Wednesday at the Executive Mansion.  “So you have to be looking for it, but there’s a little alligator.”

    The portrait will be displayed among those of McAuliffe’s predecessors on the third floor of the state Capitol.

    Glakas, who paints and teaches at the Yellow Barn Studio in Glen Echo, Maryland, spoke before a crowd that included Gov.-elect Ralph Northam and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. Glakas said he began painting the portrait in April, working off and on until he finished on Friday.

    As to the alligator, it’s a reference to a fund-raising stunt by the governor when he worked for President Jimmy Carter’s unsuccessful re-election campaign in 1980.

    When it came to the overall setting of the portrait, however, McAuliffe went traditional -- he wanted the painting to show him at work, Glakas said.

    “We could’ve set (the portrait) at Monticello, with the setting sun in the background,” said Glakas, whose paintings also hang in the U.S. Capitol and other prestigious locations. “But the governor wanted to talk about work—he wanted to be at work. So I knew we had to set it in his office.”

    In the portrait, McAuliffe stands behind his desk with his right hand over documents on “the restoration of rights,” Glakas said. During his term as governor, McAuliffe restored the voting rights of about 170,000 felons who had served their prison time

     “I did get sued twice by the Virginia General Assembly for my restoration of rights,” McAuliffe joked, turning to Northam. “I’m the first governor to get sued for contempt of court. I’m not sure, but I’m hopeful you will, because you’re leaning in on those issues.”

    Glakas described the governor’s expression as “relaxed and in charge.” However, it might also be seen as slightly stiff. “This is not something, if you know my personality, that I’m really into,” McAuliffe said. “A portrait, really?”

  95. WARNER, WARREN INTRODUCE LEGISLATION TO HOLD CREDIT REPORTING AGENCIES LIKE EQUIFAX ACCOUNTABLE FOR DATA BREACHES

    ~ Bill would establish cybersecurity inspections, impose mandatory penalties, and compensate consumers for stolen data ~

    WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced today the Data Breach Prevention and Compensation Act to hold large credit reporting agencies (CRAs)—including Equifax—accountable for data breaches involving consumer data. The bill would give the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) more direct supervisory authority over data security at CRAs, impose mandatory penalties on CRAs to incentivize adequate protection of consumer data, and provide robust compensation to consumers for stolen data.

    In September 2017, Equifax announced that hackers had stolen sensitive personal information – including Social Security Numbers, birth dates, credit card numbers, driver’s license numbers, and passport numbers – of over 145 million Americans. The attack highlighted that CRAs hold vast amounts of data on millions of Americans but lack adequate safeguards against hackers. Since 2013, Equifax has disclosed at least four separate hacks in which sensitive personal data was compromised.

    “In today’s information economy, data is an enormous asset. But if companies like Equifax can’t properly safeguard the enormous amounts of highly sensitive data they are collecting and centralizing, then they shouldn’t be collecting it in the first place,” said Sen. Warner. “This bill will ensure that companies like Equifax – which gather vast amounts of information on American consumers, often without their knowledge – are taking appropriate steps to secure data that’s central to Americans’ identity management and access to credit.”

    “The financial incentives here are all out of whack – Equifax allowed personal data on more than half the adults in the country to get stolen, and its legal liability is so limited that it may end up making money off the breach,” said Sen. Warren. “Our bill imposes massive and mandatory penalties for data breaches at companies like Equifax – and provides robust compensation for affected consumers – which will put money back into peoples’ pockets and help stop these kinds of breaches from happening again.”

    The Data Breach Prevention and Compensation Act would establish an Office of Cybersecurity at the FTC tasked with annual inspections and supervision of cybersecurity at CRAs. It would impose mandatory, strict liability penalties for breaches of consumer data beginning with a base penalty of $100 for each consumer who had one piece of personal identifying information (PII) compromised and another $50 for each additional PII compromised per consumer. To ensure robust recovery for affected consumers, the bill would also require the FTC to use 50% of its penalty to compensate consumers and would increase penalties in cases of woefully inadequate cybersecurity or if a CRA fails to timely notify the FTC of a breach.

    The Data Breach Prevention and Compensation Act is supported by cybersecurity experts and consumer groups:

    “U.S. PIRG commends Senators Warren and Warner for the Data Breach Prevention and Compensation Act. It will ensure that credit bureaus protect your information as if you actually mattered to them and it will both punish them and compensate you when they fail to do so,” said U.S. PIRG Consumer Program Director, Ed Mierzwinski.

    "This bill establishes much-needed protections for data security for the credit bureaus. It also imposes real and meaningful penalties when credit bureaus, entrusted with our most sensitive financial information, break that trust," said National Consumer Law Center staff attorney, Chi Chi Wu.

    "Senator Warner and Senator Warren have proposed a concrete response to a serious problem facing American consumers,” said Electronic Privacy Information Center President, Marc Rotenberg.

    "This bill creates greater incentive for these companies to handle our data with care and gives the Federal Trade Commission the tools that it needs to hold them accountable,” said Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy at Consumer Federation of America, Susan Grant.

    Sen. Warner has been a leader in calling for better consumer protections from data theft. Following the Equifax data breach, Sen. Warner asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to examine whether credit reporting agencies such as Equifax have adequate cybersecurity safeguards in place for “the enormous amounts of sensitive data they gather and commercialize.” He slammed the credit bureau for its cybersecurity failures and weak response at a Banking Committee hearing with Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Jay Clayton last year. Similarly, in the aftermath of the 2013 Target breach that exposed the debit and credit card information of 40 million customers, Sen. Warner chaired the first congressional hearing on protecting consumer data from the threat posed by hackers targeting retailers’ online systems. Sen. Warner has also partnered with the National Retail Federation to establish an information sharing platform that allows the industry to better protect consumer financial information from data breaches.

    To view a fact sheet about the legislation, click here. The bill text can be found here

  96. Celebrating Our Nation’s Diversity

    By Jacqueline Weisgarber, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in Richmond, Virginia

    January 15 is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a federal holiday and a day of remembrance. Martin Luther King, Jr. dedicated his life to creating and fostering equal rights for African Americans, and he died during his efforts to make his dream a reality.

    Diversity of skills, knowledge, and perspective is what you want when putting together a strong team. In a way, America is a super team of diverse members, all of whom dream of prosperity and success. Many people honor Martin Luther King, Jr. for dedicating his life to showing us that diversity is a strength.

    Social Security’s “People Like Me” website has custom information for preparing for your future. Our diverse country is made up of countless backgrounds, ethnicities, and nationalities, yet we all want the same thing — a secure future. You can see the many diverse people we serve at www.socialsecurity.gov/people.

    Younger people need to know that the earlier you start saving, the more your money can grow. Our website for young workers at www.socialsecurity.gov/people/youngpeople/saving.html has many resources that can help you secure today and tomorrow.

    Veterans and wounded warriors, as well as their families, sometimes face unique obstacles when saving for their future. Our website has great resources and information at www.socialsecurity.gov/people/veterans.

    Social Security values your diverse skillset and knowledge. That’s what makes our country a world leader. Now you can take the lead and show your friends and family what Social Security has to offer.

  97. Incoming and Outgoing Governors Outline Priorities

    Gov.-elect Ralph Northam

    Gov.-elect Ralph Northam (CNS photo by Lia Tabackman)

    By Lia Tabackman, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – As a priority for the legislative session that begins Wednesday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Gov.-elect Ralph Northam are calling for universal background checks for gun sales.

    “These measures are crucial for the safety of our communities,” McAuliffe said, citing a 51- percent increase in gun homicides in Virginia over the past five years.

    Currently, only federally licensed firearms dealers must administer background checks. Under the proposed legislation, the background check requirement would be expanded to all dealers, including gun shows and private sales.

    The Democrats held a joint press conference Tuesday to outline their priorities for the 2018 session of the General Assembly, in which Republicans have a narrow majority in both chambers.

    Northam, who will be inaugurated as governor on Saturday, urged lawmakers to approve “no excuse” absentee voting. Under the proposed legislation, any registered voter could cast an absentee ballot, in-person, within 21 days of Election Day.

    “Why would we make it more difficult for people to vote on Election Day?” McAuliffe asked. He called the proposal non-partisan and said it would simplify the voting process and decrease lines and waiting times on Election Day.

    Northam and McAuliffe also advocated expanding access to Medicaid for 400,000 Virginians currently without health coverage. The two officials expressed support for language in the 2018-20 budget to provide Medicaid to Virginians who make too much to qualify under the program’s current income limits but can’t afford private health care.

    During the 60-day legislative session, Northam also plans to pursue proposals to:

    • Ensure that campaign contribution funds donated to candidates and elected officials cannot be spent for personal use.
    • Raise the threshold for felony larceny from $200 to $1,000.
    • Implement a Borrower’s Bill of Rights and create a state ombudsman for student loans.
    • Have Virginia join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a market-based program to reduce carbon emissions. Virginia would be the first Southern state to join RGGI.

    Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, called the RGGI proposal “historic.”

    “This announcement is likely the boldest single legislative commitment ever made by a Southern governor in the fight to reduce global warming pollution,” Tidwell said. “It marks a new era for Virginia and the nation. Even as federal efforts tragically shrink on climate change, state efforts are heroically growing – and Ralph Northam is now proof of that.”

  98. Senate Democrats Announce Legislative Plans

    By Deanna Davison, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – Senate Democrats said Tuesday they are excited to work with Gov.-elect Ralph Northam and continue Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s progress in this year’s General Assembly session.

    Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Mamie Locke of Hampton said Virginia generated more than 200,000 new jobs and has enjoyed a “thriving economy” under McAuliffe.

    “Virginians want economic security,” Locke said. “We must keep trends moving in the right direction. It is incumbent upon us to ensure no Virginian is left behind.”

    She spoke at a telephone press conference during which the caucus outlined its agenda for the 2018 legislative session, which begins Wednesday. The agenda’s theme is “building safe, secure communities.”

    Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, said the Democrats plan to continue to push to expand Medicaid, the health care program for low-income people funded by the federal and state governments.

    Barker said that under Medicaid expansion, Virginia’s savings would outweigh the state’s share of the cost.

    Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, emphasized the Democrats’ commitment to improving conditions for working women and families by fighting to close the gender pay gap and achieve paid family leave.

    “Parents should never have to choose between caring for a sick child and earning a day’s wages,” Ebbin said. “Access to paid family leave is not only the right thing to do – it makes good business sense.”

    Sens. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth and Rosalyn Dance of Petersburg highlighted issues like ensuring quality education and voting rights and decreasing the incarceration recidivism rate. Lucas emphasized the achievement gap for students of color and disabled students. The Democrats said they plan to fight for universal pre-K and 21st-century job training, giving more Virginia students the opportunity to succeed.

    Dance said the Democrats will continue McAuliffe’s efforts to restore voting rights to released inmates who served their sentences. She also mentioned implementing “no excuse” absentee voting, especially for the elderly.

    “Every Virginian should have an opportunity to succeed, regardless of mistakes they have made in the past,” Dancesaid. “These people need to know their votes matter. Voters should choose their politicians, not the other way around.”

    The senators also discussed plans to reform mental health and substance abuse treatment, citing long wait times. Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, said Virginia must reform the system and ensure quality, affordable services for those who need help.

    “We have to do these things this year, and I am confident we will,” Barker said.

  99. New Immigrant Rights Legislation Aims to Protect Undocumented Virginians

    IMG_3346

    Margie Del Castillo, associate director of community mobilization at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. (CNS photo by Adam Hamza)

     

    By Caitlin Barbieri and Adam Hamza, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – The Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights called on the General Assembly Tuesday to pass legislation to provide driver's licenses and in-state college tuition to certain undocumented immigrants

    Coalition members and student supporters spoke at a news conference advocating for legislation that would improve the lives of undocumented immigrants. Del. Jennifer Boysko, D-Herndon, attended to show her support.

    “While Virginia cannot create a path to citizenship for undocumented students, Virginia does have the power to create opportunities for them,” Boysco said. 

    Boysco plans to propose legislation that will give undocumented immigrants access to a state driver’s license. Virginia resident Gustavo Angels spoke at the meeting to express his support for such a bill.

    “Drivers will be more likely to stay at the scene of an accident, aid police or other emergency workers and exchange insurance information with other drivers,” he said. “It would allow many community members to feel more comfortable reporting a crime or involving the police when they need help.”

    Jung Bin Cho is a recent Virginia Tech graduate and registered as an undocumented immigrant through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in 2012. Because of DACA, he was able to work and go to school as an undocumented immigrant. Cho said his own access to a driver's license allowed him greater access to jobs. 

    “It’s important [to have a driver's license] in Virginia because, I think, you need that to be successful,” Cho said.

    Boysco has proposed HB 343, which expands eligibility for in-state tuition to students who have applied for legal residence or intend to apply.

    “All Virginians benefit when each of our young people fulfill their greatest potential,” Boysko said.

    “There are thousands of unfilled jobs in Virginia that require an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. We need an educated workforce to continue to build a new Virginia economy. These students are our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers, and family. I believe in building a more just and inclusive Commonwealth.”

    When asked about the obstacles to the bill, Boysko said, “Some members of the House of Delegates believe that undocumented immigrants should not benefit from in-state tuition.  Clearly there are those at the federal level of government who hold those views.

    “I hope that in Virginia we can do better.  The economic benefits of an educated workforce and the moral imperative of treating all of our young people fairly is the right choice for Virginia.”

  100. Women’s Equality Coalition Releases Legislative Agenda

    By Sarah Danial and Brandon Celentano, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND -- The Women’s Equality Coalition is supporting  a legislative agenda focusing on issues  ranging from Medicaid expansion and birth control to redistricting and no-excuse absentee voting.

    Coalition representatives from Progress Virginia, Community Mobilization for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and their supporters called on lawmakers to advance rights and programs for women and families. 

    Coalition members said they are focusing on three umbrella issues in legislation they hoped to see filed and considered this session -- women’s health, economic justice and democratic participation.

    In addition to Medicaid expansion, no-cost birth control and ensuring a right to abortion, the group supports workplace and economic reforms. It backs legislation to raise  the minimum wage in Virginia to $15 an hour, establish pay equity  and combat employment discrimination. The group additionally wants improvements in paid family and medical leave.

    The coalition also supports the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

    At its news conference Monday, the group also called for non-partisan redistricting reform and no-excuse absentee voting.

    ‘“Every citizen has the right to make their voice heard, but in too many parts of Virginia, women don’t have a say in choosing their representatives because the election outcome has already been rigged,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia.

     “Non-partisan redistricting reform and no-excuse absentee voting would allow women to more fully participate in our democracy and give responsible Virginians across the Commonwealth the ability to have their voice heard, even if they can’t make it to the polls on Election Day.”

    Joyce Barnes,  a home health care worker and a member of the Service Employees International Union, spoke in support of the coalition.

    “I work for minimum wage, and I currently have two jobs. I don’t get home until 10 p.m.and I miss time with my family and friends. I never get a vacation or time off  because I have to put food on my table and pay my rent,” she said. “We need to pass these bills so that women like me can live like everyone else and get the compensation they deserve.”

    Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, noted that Virginia is one  of 19 states that has not expanded Medicaid. Gov.-elect Ralph Northam has said that Medicaid expansion will be a priority in the coming legislative session.

    Keene said legislation that would confirm abortion as a fundamental right and prioritize birth control said it is “a common sense bill which makes Virginia lives better.”

    Republicans hold a narrow majority in the Virginia General Assembly. A spokesman for the Senate Republican Caucus declined to comment on the coalition’s goals. Requests for comment to the Family Foundation, which seeks to “empower families in Virginia by applying a biblical worldview” to public policy. were not returned.

    More information about the Women’s Equality Coalition and its legislative agenda is at vawomensequalitycoalition.org.

  101. Transportation Secretary Defends Tolls on I-66

    By Ryan Persaud and Yasmine Jumaa, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – A month after the fury over what many drivers considered excessive tolls on Interstate 66, Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne defended the tolls, saying they are necessary for increasing the flow of traffic on the highway in Northern Virginia.

    The tolls, which vary based on demand and amount of traffic, have reached as high as $44 for a 10-mile drive since they were implemented on Dec. 4.

    “I would’ve anticipated that happening a lot lower than the $44, but it did not,” Layne said. “People chose to pay it, but it was a choice. Our other option is we could just limit the road when it reaches a certain level [to] HOV users. The issue with that is that we’re taking away that choice for the people who want to pay it.”

    Layne spoke Tuesday to the General Assembly’s Joint Commission on Transportation Accountability. His report came a month after Del. Tim Hugo of Fairfax, who chairs the House Republican Caucus, called the I-66 tolls “exorbitant” and “unacceptable.”

    The tolling is in effect weekdays only, during rush hours and in the peak direction, on about 10 miles of I-66, from Route 29 in Rosslyn to Interstate 495.

    Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, said the high tolls are a result of a lack of state funding for road projects.

    “This is all symptomatic of not having enough money to begin with to build the highways,” Wagner said. “We’re having to do these unique types of programs to build these highways.”

    Del.-elect Danica Roem, a Democrat from Manassas, told Layne about constituents hit hard by the tolls. They included a combat veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who must drive by himself as a part of his treatment. The constituent said that avoiding the tolls added 45 minutes to his commute.

    Layne insisted that commuters can take alternate routes such as Route 50 and the George Washington Memorial Parkway. But another constituent Roem spoke to said he commutes from Manassas Park to Georgetown and cannot take any alternate pathways. The driver stated that he does not know how to budget his money due to the varying tolls.

    “That’s the beast of the dynamic tolling process: You don’t know what it’s going to be each day until the time you get there because it’s basically volume control,” Roem said. “He [the constituent from Manassas Park] had a number of concerns with this.”

    Layne said the revenue from the tolls goes toward funding other transportation projects.

    “They will help pay for the road construction; they will help pay for multi-modal transportation and operation of the road,” Layne said.

    After monitoring the corridors surrounding I-66 and alternative routes, Layne said that so far the data indicated no significant change in travel time on those routes.

    “We need to continue to monitor this, and it may require that we do adjustments, but as of right now we do not see any significant impact to these parallel corridors,” Layne said.

    Last month, Hugo released a statement criticizing Layne and Gov. Terry McAuliffe on the toll rates.

    “Governor McAuliffe has gone on TV several times this week saying $40 toll prices are the way ‘it’s supposed to work.’ I could not disagree more,” Hugo said. “The hard-working people of Northern Virginia should not be forced to get a part-time job to be able to afford to drive to their full-time job.”

    These are Layne’s final days as the commonwealth’s secretary of transportation. Gov.-elect Ralph Northam has appointed former Lynchburg lawmaker Shannon Valentine to the position.

  102. CApital News Service Returns for 2018

    Now that the General Assembly is back in session, the VCU Capital News ServiceThe Capital News Service allows Emporia News readers to follow the highlights of the Virginia General Assembly.

    Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South. This year there are 28 Student Journalists and new advisors.

    CNS operates as a three-credit course (formally listed as MASC 475) during spring semesters, when the General Assembly is in session. Each CNS student is assigned to serve one or more clients. Students must devote substantial time outside class to CNS — at least 10 hours a week. The students in MASC 475 meet twice a week to discuss and plan stories and work on reporting and writing skills.

    During the fall semesters, the CNS system occasionally is used to distribute stories students do for other courses, such as MASC 404 (Specialized/Projects Reporting). Throughout the year, CNS can help newspaper editors find VCU students who can do freelance stories, internships and other assignments.

    Wilma Wirt, who has since retired from the mass comm faculty, established CNS in 1994 for two reasons:

    • To give VCU’s journalism students an opportunity to actively cover and write about the Virginia General Assembly.
    • To give the state’s weekly, twice-weekly and thrice-weekly newspapers better access to the legislature — something Wirt deemed important in the everyday lives of all Virginians.

    All stories sent by CNS will be published by Emporia News, but not all will be promoted to the front page. To read the stories that do not make the front page, click on the Capital News Service link in the top menu.

  103. Learning to live well with Osteoarthritis

    Community Out-Reach Education

    South Hill – Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting over 27 million people worldwide. Symptoms can usually be effectively managed, although the underlying process cannot be reversed. If you have osteoarthritis, there are a number of things you can do to manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life. How does Osteoarthritis affect your life?  How can you slow joint deterioration?  Can osteoarthritis be prevented?  How can osteoarthritis be treated?

    If you are seeking answers to questions like these you should attend January’s C.O.R.E. (Community Out-Reach Education) Program at VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital to learn more about how to live with osteoarthritis.

    This FREE program will be on Tuesday, January 23rd at 4:00 p.m. in the VCU Health CMH Education Center; now in the C.A.R.E. Building located at 1755 N. Mecklenburg Ave, South Hill, Virginia.

    Dr. Rupal Patel will be the speaker for the program.  Dr. Rupal Patel received his medical degree and orthopedic residency education from MS University and Medical College of Baroda, India. He completed preceptorship in sports medicine at Andrews Institute, Gulf Breeze, Florida. He also has completed fellowship trainings in adult hip and knee reconstruction at Methodist Hospital, Houston, Texas and Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia. He is also an assistant professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Medical College of Virginia.  Dr. Rupal Patel practices at VCU Health CMH Orthopedic Service currently located at 140 East Ferrell Street in South Hill, VA. (This practice will move to the C.A.R.E Building on February 12, 2018.)

    Reservations are not required for this program; however, they are recommended.  For more information or to register to attend, please call (434) 774-2550 or visit www.vcu-cmh.org.

    Tags: 

  104. Irene Dianis Shimko

    Irene Dianis Shimko, 92, of Emporia, passed away Monday, January 8, 2018. She was the widow of William J. Shimko and also was preceded in death by her older five brothers and three sisters; a great-granddaughter, Avery Drew Swenson and sons-in-law, Jeffrey Z. Swenson and Frank K. Parker. She is survived by four daughters, Martha S. Swenson, Dorothy S. Bobbitt (Ernest), Marilyn S. LeGrow (Wynne) and Lois S. Parker; seven grandchildren, Jeff Swenson, Kevin Swenson, Scott Swenson, William Bobbitt, Ashley B. Rook, Victoria Powell and Hannah Parker; nine great-grandchildren; sister-in-law, Margaret Dianis and a number of nieces and nephews.

    The family would like to express their heartfelt gratitude to the staff and residents of the Greensville Health and Rehab for their considerate care and loving attention shown to Mrs. Shimko during her time there.

    The family will receive friends 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, January 9 at Owen Funeral Home, 303 S. Halifax Rd., Jarratt, Virginia. The funeral service will be held 2 p.m. Wednesday, January 10 at St. John Lutheran Church with interment to follow in the church cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to St. John Lutheran Church. Online condolences may be made at www.owenfh.com.

  105. Happy 50th Anniversary

    Please join in the 50th Wedding Anniversary Celebration of former Emporia residents Bruce and Phyllis Campbell who were married on February 3, 1968, in Derry, Pennsylvania.  Bruce and Phyllis are both retired teachers from the Corry Area School District in Corry, Pennsylvania.  They have one daughter and son-in-law,  Debbie and Roger Craft. Bruce and Phyllis now reside in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Help us to celebrate this special day by sending a card or note to include a memory or to simply express your good wishes. Cards of congratulations may be sent to 3606 Magnolia Street, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, 29577.

  106. Charles E. Bottoms

    Charles E. Bottoms, 85, passed away Sunday, January 7, 2018. He is survived by his wife, Ellen M. Bottoms; two daughters, Vickie B. Taylor and husband, Rowland “Bucky” and Jackie B. Barnes and husband, Billy; three grandchildren, Nikki T. Parker and husband, Brett, Chip Taylor and wife, Meredith and Kyle Barnes and wife, Megan; five great-grandchildren, Brody, Logan and Knox Parker and Easton and Kendley Taylor; brother, Gene Bottoms and wife, Jean. A memorial service will be held 11 a.m. Saturday, January 13 at Emmanuel Worship Center. The family will receive friends at church following the service. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made to Emmanuel Worship Center. Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com.

  107. Blizzard hits Hampton Roads; freezing temperatures across Va.

    By Christopher Wood, Capital News Service

    A “bomb cyclone” brought blizzard conditions to Hampton Roads and left frigid temperatures across Virginia on Thursday as it moved up the East Coast.

    The storm dumped up to 12 inches of snow in southeastern Virginia localities, forced the closure of the Port of Virginia and cut power to more than 26,000 Dominion Virginia Power customers in the region. Service to all but a few thousand was restored late Thursday, the utility said on its website.

    Snowfall amounts ranged from 4 to 8 inches in the Williamsburg area and 2 to 3 inches around Richmond, according to the National Weather Service.

    Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency Wednesday afternoon in advance of the storm that struck a broad swath of eastern, central and Northern Virginia.

    As the storm moved up the East Coast it brought blizzard conditions to New England. Boston appeared to record its highest tides in nearly 40 years.

    The Virginia Department of Transportation reported that more than 630 roads were affected by storm and urged caution as wind-chill temperatures from zero to 5 below could make pavements dangerously slick. The National Weather Service issued a wind chill advisory for storm-stricken areas.

    Motorists were urged to check www.511virginia.org or call 511 before traveling.

    Virginia State Police in the Chesapeake and Richmond divisions responded to 356 crashes and 409 disabled vehicles. No fatalities or serious injuries were reported.

    The Virginia Department of Emergency Management advised caution during the continuing cold weather. Before the storm there were at least three weather-related deaths in Virginia, the agency said.

    Citizens in need of assistance were asked to call 211. Those with hearing impairments can call 711 for the Virginia Relay Center and then call 800-230-6977. Out-of-state or videophone users may also dial that number.

  108. VSP Winter Storm Update 4:30 pm

    As temperatures are now on the steady decline and winds are kicking up, State Police are still advising motorists to delay any unnecessary travel into the evening and overnight hours…especially in the Hampton Roads, Tidewater, Eastern Shore, Northern Neck, Middle Peninsula, Southside Virginia and the Metro-Richmond regions.

    Drifting snow continues to be a serious hazard in the impacted areas, as well as slick, slushy roadways – which will refreeze overnight. Fortunately, there are still no reported traffic deaths and the majority of the crashes continue to only involve only damage to vehicles and no injuries.

    State police in the impacted field divisions – Richmond and Chesapeake - will extend shifts as necessary through Thursday afternoon and evening to ensure the availability of personnel to continue to respond to incidents. Combined, State Troopers assigned to these two divisions responded to 902 calls for service, to include 356 traffic crashes and 409 disabled/stuck vehicles.

    VA State Police Senior Trooper A.D. Montross’ view this morning while responding to a vehicle stuck in a snowdrift on Route 13 along the Eastern Shore. Trooper Montross reported white-out conditions and 50 mph winds.

    VA State Police Trooper C.D. Compton spent his day responding to crashed and stuck vehicles – just like this one- along Interstate 64 in the James City County/Williamsburg area.

    From 8:00 p.m. Wednesday (Jan. 3) through 4:00 p.m. Thursday (Jan. 4), the most traffic crashes and disabled vehicles calls for service have occurred within the Virginia State Police Chesapeake Division:

    Division I–Richmond (Metro Richmond/Northern Neck/Tri-Cities)

    • Traffic Crashes=218
    • Disabled Vehicles=121
    • Total VSP emergency calls for service responded to: 429

    Division V-Chesapeake (Hampton Roads/Tidewater/Eastern Shore/Williamsburg/Franklin/Emporia)

    • Traffic Crashes=138
    • Disabled Vehicles 288
    • Total VSP emergency calls for service responded to: 473

    As of 4:30 p.m., Thursday:

    Richmond Division troopers are responding to 11 reported traffic crashes and 1 disabled vehicle call.

    Chesapeake Division troopers are responding to 3 reported traffic crashes and 12 disabled vehicle calls.

    We want to remind Virginians to please call 511 or go to www.511virginia.org for road conditions and not 911 or #77. We need to keep emergency lines open for emergency calls.

    We are still asking Virginians to delay their travel until later today. But, if you MUST travel…then please take the following safety precautions:

    • Clear off ALL snow and ice from your vehicle – windows, roof, trunk and lights            
    • Add extra time to reach travel destination
    • Slow speed for road conditions
    • Increase driving distances between vehicles for increased stopping distance
    • Buckle up and don’t drive distracted
    • MOVE OVER for all stopped emergency vehicles, highway vehicles and tow trucks.
  109. Elmer Levi Grizzard

    Elmer Levi Grizzard, 90, of Emporia passed away on January 3, 2018. He was preceded in death by his wife of 63 years, Vera Lee Pearson Grizzard. He was also preceded in death by brothers, Earl M. Grizzard, Frank E. Grizzard, and Jessie K. “Pete” Grizzard.

    He is survived by his son, Ronnie L. Grizzard and wife Penny; daughter, Sharon K. Morton and husband Mark; grandchildren, Jessica Vick Dunn and husband Cody, Ashley Lauren Grizzard and husband Justin Gibson, Brian “Kirk” Grizzard and friend Stephanie Perez; great-grandchildren, Mackenzie Dunn, Arylee G. Dunn, Adyson K. Dunn, Michael C. Dunn, Jr., and Vera Madison Burke; brother, Benjamin T. “Bubba” Grizzard and sisters, Ethel L. Vick, Polly Grizzard, Willie Mae Harris, Barbara Grizzard, Alease Braswell, and Diane Smith.

    A church service will be held at Calvary Baptist Church on Saturday, January 6, 2018 at 3:30 P.M., with a graveside service immediately following in Emporia Cemetery. The family will receive friends at Calvary Baptist Church at 3:00 P.M prior to the service.

     In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Calvary Baptist Church Youth Department or the Calvary Baptist Church Shoe Box Ministry.

    Condolences may be sent to www.Echolsfuneralhome.com

  110. Dominion Energy to Restore All Customers by 5:00 p.m. Friday; 90 Percent Customers to be Restored Late Today

    ♦More than 75 percent of customers impacted by the storm have been restored

    90 percent restored by 11:00 p.m. today

    Restoration workers from around the state concentrated on hardest-hit areas

    RICHMOND, Va. – Dominion Energy Virginia and North Carolina restoration workers and contractors from across the state are out in force today to restore power by 5:00 p.m. Friday to all customers impacted by the high winds and snow impacting customers through Thursday morning, primarily in the eastern part of Virginia and North Carolina.

    90 percent of customers impacted by this event will have power restored by 11:00 p.m. tonight. Customers in Virginia Beach and a few customers in Outer Banks, North Carolina where coastal flooding has limited crew accessibility will be restored tomorrow.

    As of 4:00 p.m., more than 75 percent of the nearly 90,000 customers impacted across our system have been restored after crews performed repairs at 550 damage locations. Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Norfolk in Virginia and Outer Banks and Elizabeth City in North Carolina were the hardest hit areas.

    Crews continue to work around the clock to complete repairs. 

    “Being without power during this extreme cold weather can be an exceptional hardship for our customers and we are intensely focused on getting the lights back on as safely and quickly as possible,” said Ed Baine, senior vice president-Distribution, Dominion Energy. “Please stay clear of downed lines which may be partially buried by snow and use extra caution on the slippery roads and to be on the alert for crews working near roadways.” 

    Travel by crews has been impacted by ice and snow, but crews are concentrated in the hardest-hit areas to speed restoration.

    The highest priority for power restoration is always given to public safety and critical facilities such as hospitals, emergency 911 call centers, and municipal water pumping stations; 90 percent of those have been restored.

    We continue to work closely with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, local officials and the Virginia Department of Transportation to ensure an efficient restoration.

    If you lost power:

    • Do not rely on your neighbors to report your outage. Contact us from any mobile device and report outages at dom.com/outages or call us at 1-866-DOM-HELP (1-866-366-4357).
    • Additional storm restoration information is available online at https://www.dominionenergy.com/outage-center/report-and-check-outages. Information also is available on the Dominion Energy Facebookpage.
    • When reporting an outage, whether online or via phone, enter a phone number where you can best be reached in case we need more information or to provide an update.
    • Leave a light on so you will know when power is restored.
    • Also, leave a porch light on. This will help our crews patrolling your neighborhood know if your electricity has been restored.

    Safety first:

    • Stay at least 30’ away from downed wires and debris—they could be energized and dangerous. Call 1-866-DOM-HELP to report downed wires.
    • If you are using portable or camp-type stoves or lanterns for cooking and lighting, make sure the area is adequately ventilated.
    • Follow safe operating procedures for generators. Never operate one inside your home, in crawl spaces or in an enclosed space, such as a garage. Exhaust fumes contain carbon monoxide and can be deadly, so run your generator outside with proper ventilation. Store the fuel for your generator safely.
    • Do not hook portable generators directly to the electrical system of your home. Electricity could flow backward onto Dominion Energy’s power lines and endanger lives. Either have a qualified electrician perform the work or plug appliances directly into the generator with the proper-sized extension cords.
    • Visually inspect the area around your electric meter. If you detect or suspect any damage, call us at 1-866-DOM-HELP (1-866-366-4357).
  111. VSP Winter Storm Update - 8:45 AM

    Virginia State Police continue to advise motorists to stay off the highways as VDOT crews continue to treat and clear highways across Southside Virginia, Hampton Roads, the Eastern Shore, Tidewater, Middle Peninsula, Northern Neck and Metro-Richmond regions. Virginia State Police troopers in these impacted regions have remained busy over the past 12 hours responding to 466 total emergency calls for service – to include 226 traffic crashes and 171 disabled vehicles. There continue to be no reported traffic fatalities, and the majority of traffic crashes have only involved damage to vehicles.

    The view for Virginia State Police Area 36 First Sergeant A.D. Williams as he travels Route 10 in Surry County right now.

    From 8:00 p.m. Wednesday (Jan. 3) through 8:00 a.m. Thursday (Jan. 4), the most traffic crashes and disabled vehicles calls for service continue to occur within the Virginia State Police Chesapeake Division:

     Division I–Richmond (Metro Richmond/Northern Neck/Tri-Cities)

    • Traffic Crashes=108

    • Disabled Vehicles=50

    • Total VSP emergency calls for service responded to: 193

    Division V-Chesapeake (Hampton Roads/Tidewater/Eastern Shore/Williamsburg/Franklin/Emporia)

    • Traffic Crashes=118

    • Disabled Vehicles = 121

    • Total VSP emergency calls for service responded to: 273

    As of 8:45 a.m., Thursday:

    Richmond Division troopers are responding to 19 reported traffic crashes and 11 disabled vehicle calls.

    Chesapeake Division troopers are responding to 26 disabled vehicle calls – vehicles that have gotten stuck (i.e. by sliding off the road) but don’t qualify as a crash.

    We want to remind Virginians to please call 511 or go to www.511virginia.org for road conditions and not 911 or #77. We need to keep emergency lines open for emergency calls.

     We are still asking Virginians to delay their travel until later today. But, if you MUST travel…then please take the following safety precautions:

    Clear off ALL snow and ice from your vehicle – windows, roof, trunk and lights…and use your headlights to make yourself more visible to other motorists

    Add extra time to reach travel destination

    Slow speed for road conditions

    Increase driving distances between vehicles for increased stopping distance

    Buckle up and don’t drive distracted

    MOVE OVER for all stopped emergency vehicles, highway vehicles and tow trucks.

  112. VSP Winter Storm Update - 6:15 AM

    As the winter storm moves across the eastern, central and northern regions of the Commonwealth, Virginia State Police troopers have remained busy throughout the overnight and early morning hours. Fortunately, no traffic fatalities have been reported as of 6 a.m., and the majority of crashes have involved only damaged vehicles and few injuries. However, disabled vehicle calls are increasing…these are vehicles that get stuck or slide off a road but do not qualify as a “crash.” So…we still have vehicles attempting to drive in adverse and treacherous road conditions.

    From 8:00 p.m. Wednesday (Jan. 3) through 5:00 a.m. Thursday (Jan. 4), the most traffic crashes and disabled vehicles calls for service have occurred within the Virginia State Police Chesapeake Division:

    Division I–Richmond (Metro Richmond/Northern Neck/Tri-Cities)

    Traffic Crashes=72

    Disabled Vehicles=22

    Total VSP emergency calls for service responded to: 123

    Division V-Chesapeake (Hampton Roads/Tidewater/Eastern Shore/Williamsburg/Franklin/Emporia)

    Traffic Crashes=101

    Disabled Vehicles 74

    Total VSP emergency calls for service responded to: 212

    As of 6:15 a.m., Thursday:

    Richmond Division troopers are responding to 21 reported traffic crashes and 9 disabled vehicle calls.

    Chesapeake Division troopers are responding to 6 reported traffic crashes and 18 disabled vehicle calls.

    We want to remind Virginians to please call 511 or go to www.511virginia.org for road conditions and not 911 or #77. We need to keep emergency lines open for emergency calls.

    We are still asking Virginians to delay their travel until later today. But, if you MUST travel…then please take the following safety precautions:

    Clear off ALL snow and ice from your vehicle – windows, roof, trunk and lights            

    Add extra time to reach travel destination

    Slow speed for road conditions

    Increase driving distances between vehicles for increased stopping distance

    Buckle up and don’t drive distracted

    MOVE OVER for all stopped emergency vehicles, highway vehicles and tow trucks.

  113. SNOW AND HIGH WINDS TO AFFECT TRAVEL

    Motorists cautioned against driving during winter storm expected to hit eastern and central Virginia

    RICHMOND, Virginia – Motorists in eastern and central Virginia should plan for slick road conditions and poor visibility as snow and high winds are expected to move into those regions beginning this evening. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) recommends keeping a close watch on your local weather forecast and staying off roads during this weather event.

    The precise timing of precipitation and accumulation will vary depending on where you are. Snow will likely continue through late Thursday and high winds are expected to persist through Friday night. Due to the nature of the storm, blowing snow may reduce visibility to less than a quarter mile at times in some areas creating dangerous travel conditions.

    VDOT crews have been pretreating roads where appropriate and are mobilizing today to monitor and treat roads as necessary throughout the storm.

    The latest road conditions are available at www.511virginia.org, through the free mobile app or by phone. You can track the location of most snow plows at VDOT’s Snow Plow Tracker. The tracker is activated once snow reaches two inches or more. 

    If you must travel, make preparations ahead of time. With temperatures expected to remain below freezing for the next few days, make sure your emergency winter driving kit is properly stocked and includes items to keep you warm. Allow extra time for the trip, drive at a low speed and stay at a safe distance from other vehicles. If you encounter slow-moving equipment such as snow plows, slow down and give them the right of way.

  114. Winter Weather Advisory

    WINTER STORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM 7 PM THIS EVENING TO 1 PM EST THURSDAY…

    * WHAT…Heavy snow expected. Plan on difficult travel conditions, including during the morning commute on Thursday. Total snow accumulations of 4 to 6 inches, with localized amounts up to 8 inches, are expected.

    * WHERE…Portions of southeast Virginia and northeast North Carolina, including the City of Emporia and Greensville County.

    * WHEN…From 7 PM this evening to 1 PM EST Thursday.

    * ADDITIONAL DETAILS…Be prepared for significant reductions in visibility at times.

    PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

    A Winter Storm Warning for snow means severe winter weather conditions are expected. If you must travel, keep an extra flashlight, food and water in your vehicle in case of an emergency. The latest road conditions for the state you are calling from can be obtained by calling 5 1 1.

    *Please take precautions to protect yourself, family and bring your pets inside. 

    *If you have pipes that are prone to freezing, open the cabinets around those pipes or leave a small stream/heavy drip of water running.

    *If you must be out of doors, dress appropriately.  More thinner layers of clothing will keep you warmer than one thick layer.  Don't forget the caps, gloves and scarves.

    *When shoveling snow, take it easy and do not over-exert yourself.

  115. Winter Storm Closings and Delays

    Last updateFriday at 5:30 pm

    Carolyn's Creations - Closed Saturday Due to Poor Road Conditions

    For full lists of Closings see:

    WWBT NBC 12, WTVR CBS 6, or WRIC ABC 8

  116. Governor Declares Emergency As Snowstorm Nears

    By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – State officials on Wednesday urged Virginians to prepare for a winter storm that could dump up to a foot of snow on parts of the commonwealth over the next few days.

    Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency at 2:20 p.m. Wednesday, authorizing state agencies, including the National Guard and Virginia State Police, to assist local governments in responding to the storm, which may impact roads and bridges.

    The sudden cold snap follows temperature drops across the Southeastern United States, including a rare snowfall in South Carolina. Parts of Eastern Virginia, including Hampton Roads, the Northern Neck and Eastern Shore, are expected to receive the most snowfall – up to 12 inches.

    “With this forecast in mind, all Virginians should take the necessary precautions now to ensure they are prepared for the travel disruptions, power outages and other threats to health and safety that could arise during this significant weather event,” McAuliffe said in a press release.

    The Virginia Department of Transportation is already at work, according to Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne.

    “VDOT has already taken measures to pre-treat roads and preposition equipment, crews and materials to treat roads in advance of the storm and will work throughout the storm to plow roads,” Layne said. “Driving conditions during the storm are expected to be hazardous, and motorists are urged to stay off the roads until the storm passes.”

    State officials encouraged residents to keep track of road conditions by accessing the 511virginia.org website, using the free VDOT 511 mobile app or calling 511. VDOT also has a Snow Plow Tracker that shows the location of most plows.

    Other help and assistance during the storm can be reached by dialing 211 or #77 on mobile phones for vehicular emergencies. Virginians with hearing impairments can call 711 for the Virginia Relay Center and then 1-800-230-6977.

  117. Mrs. Rae Doyle Webb

    Mrs. Rae Doyle Webb, 88, a longtime resident of Emporia, died Tuesday, January 2, 2018 at her home.  She was born in Greensville County, VA and was the daughter of the late Edgar G. Doyle and Mary Phillips Doyle. She was preceded in death by her husband, Carroll Ashby Webb, who died on June 29, 2017. In addition to her parents and husband, she was preceded in death by three sisters, Betty Dunn, Bertha Delbridge, and Celia Grizzard.

    She is survived by; her daughter, Pam Low and her husband Ed, son David D. Webb and his wife Sandy; four grandchildren, Stephanie Whittington and her husband Rick, Stephen Low, Lauren Ashley Collins, and Dylan Allen; two great grandchildren, Abby Whittington and Andrew Whittington; special nieces, Kay Bryant and Debbie Mashburn, and nephew, Barry Grizzard.

    She was a homemaker, and a member and past Deacon of Main Street Baptist Church in Emporia. Services will be held in the chapel of Echols Funeral Home on Friday, January 5, 2018 at 3:00 P.M. with Rev. Dr. Ricky Hurst officiating.  Burial will follow at Greensville Memorial Cemetery. The family will receive friends at her residence, 307 Echols St. Emporia, VA, on Thursday, January 4, 2018 from 6:30 P.M. - 8:00 P.M.

    Online condolences may be left at www.echolsfuneralhome.com.

  118. Virginians Urge Legislators to Expand Medicaid

    By DeForrest Ballou and Adam Hamza, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND – A procession of health-care advocates urged state legislators Wednesday to expand Medicaid and increase funding for Virginians with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

    At a hearing on the state budget that the General Assembly must craft this spring, dozens of speakers expressed support for expanding Medicaid – an idea advocated by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Gov.-elect Ralph Northam and other Democrats but opposed by most Republican lawmakers.

    The speakers included Nichole Wescott Hayes, a volunteer for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network.

    “ACS-CAN is part of a larger coalition of health-care-related agencies, Healthcare for All Virginians. And we are trying to expand Medicaid so that we can cover the gaps of the 300-some-thousand individuals who are without coverage at this time,” Hayes said.

    “The whole ‘Virginia is for Lovers’ is not just about tourism; it’s about helping each other. That’s kind of the bedrock of what Virginia is about.”

    Medicaid, which is funded by the federal and state governments, provides health care for low-income Americans. The federal Affordable Care Act encouraged states to expand Medicaid and promised that the federal government would pay for it. But most Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly fear that the state would be stuck with the bills if it expands Medicaid.

    Health care was the dominant topic at the hearing. Of the 82 speakers, roughly half addressed that issue.

    For instance, Kelly Brookes of Henrico County has a daughter with cerebral palsy. She advocated for more equitable education.

    “My child should not have to prove that she is capable of learning, which she absolutely is,” Brookes said. “She should be able to receive the same education as other kids.”

    Rachel Deane, who works for a nonprofit group called the Legal Aid Justice Center, said it’s important to attend events like hearings on the state budget.

    “I think it’s always just a good opportunity for us to be at a budget hearing and to talk directly to members of the General Assembly about what funding we need for youth to be successful,” Deane said.

    The center provides legal representation for low-income individuals. Deane is the legal director for the group’s program serving children.

    Her goal at the hearing was to ask for funding of programs that could keep children out of the correctional system. She sat alongside a group wearing tan shirts with the words, “Guide us, don’t criminalize us.”

    Mark Strandquist also addressed the legislative panel. Strandquist is the creative director for ART 180, another program run by the Legal Aid Justice Center. During his presentation, he played a recording of children who have been helped by ART 180.

    “We literally view our role as being a megaphone for youth whose voices have been silenced. That’s why I literally played audio recordings made by the youth over the microphone,” Strandquist said.

    The General Assembly will convene next Wednesday for a 60-day session. The major item on the agenda is to write the state budget for the next two years.

  119. Southern Virginia Regional Medical Center Transitioning to a Free Senior Circle Program

    Emporia, VA – Southern Virginia Regional Medical Center (SVRMC) is transitioning its Senior Circle program from a paid membership to a FREE Senior Circle program, beginning in 2018.

    The hospital has sponsored a local chapter of the national Senior Circle Association since 1999. The national organization is closing at the end of 2017, so there will be no national affiliations beginning in 2018.

    “We’re committed to helping seniors in our community live a healthy, active lifestyle and excited to carry on this mission by transitioning to a free Senior Circle program,” said Matt Tavenner, Chief Executive Officer at Southern Virginia Regional Medical Center. “Our free membership program will continue to focus on supporting adults age 50 and older, except that now more seniors will have access to the education and activities, since there will be no dues.”

    Tracy Mitchell, Senior Circle Advisor stated the hospital’s future Senior Circle program will include most of the activities and events members have enjoyed: