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January 2019

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  1. Wilbur Eugene “Gene” Thomas

    Visitation Services

    Friday, February 1, 5-7 pm

    Williams Funeral Home

    410 Windosr Avenue

    Lawrenceville, Virginia

    Saturday, February 2, 11:00 a.m.

    Edgerton United Methodist Church

    92 County Pond Rd.

    Lawrenceville, Virginia

    , age 85, of Lawrenceville, VA passed away January 30, 2019.  He is the son of the late Wilbur A. and Bessie O. Thomas and was born and raised in Brunswick County.  He is a Graduate of the University of Richmond and a U. S. Army Veteran.  He was the owner of Brunswick Insurance Agency and was a member of the Independent Insurance Agents of Virginia.  Gene loved his community and served on many boards such as the Old Brunswick Foundation; the Local Board of Southside Virginia Community College; the SVCC Foundation Board; Lawrenceville Brick Board of Directors; Sovran Bank; the Brunswick County Industrial Development Authority; and the Greensville Memorial Hospital Board of Directors.  Mr. Thomas also served as president for the Brunswick County Chamber of Commerce, the Lawrenceville Jaycees and the Lawrenceville Rotary Club.  He was a member of Edgerton United Methodist Church where he taught Sunday school, was a Lay Leader and Finance Chair; served as Chairman of the Administrative Board and on the Petersburg District Council.  Gene was a proud Red Cross 8 gallon blood donor and a member of the Spider Club.  He is survived by his sons, Michael Thomas and wife Stacey and Ray Thomas and wife Pam; six grandchildren, Ashley, Brooke, Alec, Ariel, Katie and Ellie; six great grandchildren; his sisters, Betty Davis and Lois Clary; and his brother, Ran Thomas.  A graveside service will be held 11:00 a.m. Saturday at Edgerton United Methodist Church, Lawrenceville, VA.  The family will receive friends Friday from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. at Williams Funeral Home, Lawrenceville.  Memorial contributions may be made to Brunswick Academy, 2100 Planters Rd., Lawrenceville, VA; University of Richmond Spider Club, 28 Westhampton Way, Richmond, VA  23286; Edgerton United Methodist Church, 92 County Pond Rd., Lawrenceville, VA  23868; or the Gene and Mary Alice Thomas Scholarship Fund, 109 Campus Drive, Alberta, VA  23821.

  2. Esther Allen

    Visitation Services

    Friday, February, 1, 6-8 pm

    Owen Funeral Home

    303 S. Halifax Rd., Jarratt, Virginia

     

    Saturday, February 2, 2:00 pm

    Greensville Memorial Cemetery

    Emporia, Virginia

     

    Esther Allen, 81, of Emporia, widow of Bubba Allen, passed away Wednesday, January 30, 2019. She is survived by a special friend, Bob Morris; son, Lawrence Allen, Jr.; daughter, Marilyn Lagiglia and husband, Rick; granddaughter, Brandy Ogburn and husband, Eddie; grandson, Jamie Willis and wife, Margie; great-grandchildren; Dylan, E. J. and Jackson Ogburn and Aiden Willis and numerous nieces and nephews. The family will receive friends 6-8 p.m. Friday, February 1 at Owen Funeral Home, 303 S. Halifax Rd., Jarratt, Virginia. The funeral service will be held graveside 2 p.m. Saturday, February 2 at Greensville Memorial Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made to a favorite hospice group. Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com.

  3. Charles M. "Chuck" Rullman

    Visitation Services

    Saturday, February 2, 1 pm

    St. John the Baptist Lutheran Church

    1351 West Atlantic St., Emporia, VA

    Saturday, February 2, 2 pm

    St. John the Baptist Lutheran Church

    1351 West Atlantic St., Emporia, VA

     

    Charles (Chuck) M. Rullman, Jr., of Emporia, entered into the life beyond, January 29, after a brief illness. He is survived by his beloved wife, Debbie; daughter Leah (fiancé Brian) of Hoboken, NJ; sister Peggy (husband Bob) of North Huntington, PA; and brother Don (wife Debbie) of Johnstown, PA.

    A native of Johnstown, he was the son of the late Charles M. Rullman Sr. and Anna Moskal Rullman.  Chuck graduated from Westmont Hilltop High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. He also earned a Master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

    Chuck recently retired from the Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services. He was a member of St. John the Baptist Lutheran Church and a board member of the Boys and Girls Club of Emporia for many years.

    Chuck loved volunteering and helping people, was an avid gardener and steadfast Steeler fan, and greatly enjoyed his two Jack Russells and cats.

    Funeral Services will be held Saturday, February 2, 2019 at St. John the Baptist Lutheran Church at 2:00 P.M. with Rev. Stephen Bocklage officiating. Burial will follow in the Church Cemetery. The family will receive friends from 1:00 P.M. until service time at the Church.

    In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to St. John the Baptist Lutheran Church, 1351 West Atlantic St., Emporia, VA 23847

    Online condolences may be left at echolsfuneralhome.com.

  4. Michelle Ashby – VCU Health CMH STAR Service Team Member of the Year

    Getting a really big surprise twice in one year at your workplace can be disconcerting, just ask Michelle Ashby.

    Michelle was named the Team Member of the Month in October 2018 and was shocked then, but was even more surprised to learn she was named the VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital Star Service Team Member of the Year for 2018.

    Michelle’s work as a home health nurse earned her the distinction thanks to her interaction with a patient over many weeks.

    “I’ve been in home health for 20 years and it’s great to enjoy what you do and to be honored like this, I just want to thank the patient who nominated me,” she said.

    Her patient was glowing in praise for Michelle’s knowledge, friendliness and efficiency.

    The patient said, “I am an extreme introvert. The thought of someone I don’t know coming into my home was not a good feeling for me. Add to that, not feeling well and just having been through a traumatic emergency surgery and you can guess how apprehensive I was. But we needed help and I could not have had a better experience.”

    She continued, “I never felt like she was rushing to her next home visit even when my questions kept her with me longer than normal. And speaking of normal, she put me at ease many times over my expectations of how long my healing was taking versus how I thought it SHOULD be going. I could ask her absolutely anything health related and knew I would get an honest answer and helpful suggestions.”

    Michelle’s supervisor, Megan Gardner, agreed with the patient about Michelle. “In her short time here at VCU Health CMH, Michelle has touched the lives of many patients within our community. She is always thinking ahead on how to improve organizational processes and is more than willing to go that extra mile for her patients. Michelle is an integral part of our home health and hospice team and our organization as a whole is better because she is a part of it.”

    By earning the Team Member of the Year Award, Michelle received a special gift from VCU Health CMH, a gift certificate for $200 to spend on a getaway and $300 in spending cash. The patient who nominated Michelle learned about her selection as the Team Member of the Year and said, “I’m extremely happy that she received this well-deserved honor.”

    Michelle has been with VCU Health CMH for just over a year. She was recently married to Mike Thomas and Michelle has two children, Daleigh, an RN herself, and Hunter.

    She’s a graduate of Lenoir College in Kenston, NC and resides in the Bracey, VA area.

    Michelle has experienced a major health issue herself. She broke her neck in two places nearly 10 years ago and understands the impact healthcare can have on a person and how the treatment a patient receives makes such a huge difference in their life.

    Other nominees considered for 2018 VCU Health CMH Star Service Team Member of the Year were: Erin Davis, Lovellah Ballesteros, Brian Jones, Laure Gill, Bertha Evans, John Watson, Megan Llewallen, Ashley Wray, Patricia Urda, Mildred Waye and Linda Wilkins.

  5. Bill Would Allow ‘Medical Aid in Dying’ for Terminally Ill

    By Rodney Robinson, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, has firsthand experience witnessing a loved one battling a terminal illness: her father.

    Kory said she wants to give patients and their families options to deal with the harsh realities of a terminal sickness. She said that is why she has introduced a bill that she calls the “Death with Dignity Act.”

    Under the measure, an adult “who has been determined by the attending physician and consulting physician to be suffering from a terminal condition and has voluntarily expressed his wish to die may request medication for the purpose of ending his life in a humane and dignified manner.”

    “The ability for an individual to decide when suffering becomes unbearable should be a basic human right,” Kory said. “We should respect the wishes of terminally ill adults who have weeks or days to live.”

    Kory filed HB 2713 on Jan. 15. The bill has been referred to the House Courts of Justice Committee. However, that panel has not assigned the bill to a subcommittee or scheduled a hearing on it. If the proposal does not win approval from the House of Delegates by Tuesday, it will be dead for the legislative session.

    Under Kory’s bill, a terminally ill patient’s request for life-ending medication must be given orally on two occasions and in writing, signed by the patient and two witnesses. The patient also must have an opportunity to rescind the request.

    Such laws are called “medical aid in dying” statutes. Currently, MAID is legal in seven states and Washington, D.C.

    At Kory’s request, the Joint Commission on Health Care, a study group created by the Virginia General Assembly, looked at how MAID is working in those states. According to the commission’s research, MAID has had a small impact on the total number of deaths.

    For example, Oregon had 37.2 MAID deaths per 10,000 total deaths in 2016. That is about one-third of 1 percent of all deaths.

    Oregon and the neighboring state of Washington each have had fewer than 200 MAID deaths per year.

    For Virginia, “it is likely that the number of people requesting MAID would be quite small for the first few years, gradually increasing to approximately 242 individuals dying from MAID medications,” the health care commission’s study said.

    Jud Richland, Kory’s legal assistant, said the legislator is a “strong believer that people have a right to decide themselves how to address their own pain and suffering in their final days.”

    MAID laws have stirred controversy. Opponents equate them with assisted suicide and say the laws can be abused, resulting in the deaths of people who are not terminally ill.

    The Virginia Catholic Conference, which represents the Diocese of Richmond and the Diocese of Arlington on public-policy matters, strongly opposes assisted suicide or euthanasia.

    Jeff Caruso, the conference’s executive director, said he believes that if the General Assembly approves a MAID law, Virginians will be more inclined to think of suicide.

    On Nov. 7, after receiving nearly 3,000 public comments, the Joint Commission on Health Care voted 10-6 to take no action concerning physician-assisted suicide, according to Caruso. Comments against assisted suicide outnumbered those in favor 8 to 1, he said.

    “Government should prevent — not promote — suicide,” Caruso said. “The purpose of the medical profession is to heal lives, not end them.”

  6. Legislators and Victims Plead for Expansions on Distracted Driving Bill

    Katja Timm, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND -- Teary-eyed parents and supporters of legislation to curb distracted driving filled a small room at the Capitol, some wearing neon yellow traffic vests in solidarity as they offered emotional testimony.

    Others held framed pictures of loved ones who died in distracted driving crashes. The press conference was to advocate for HB 1811, introduced by Del. Christopher Collins, R-Frederick. Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland, is sponsoring a companion bill, SB 1341, in the Senate.

    On Wednesday, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee approved Stuart’s bill on a 13-2 vote with bipartisan support. A co-sponsor of that measure, Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, also attended Thursday’s press conference.

    Jennifer Smith, whose mother died in a traffic accident caused by a distracted driver, was among the speakers. Smith tearfully read a letter aloud from another mother whose young son was killed when a driver ran over his stroller.

    “Every day, I watch drivers too busy on their smartphones to pay attention to their surroundings,” Smith read from Mindy Schulz’s letter. “Each time I see them, I feel the impact of that SUV ripping my son’s stroller out of my hand as I was helpless to stop one from killing my baby.”

    Other stories shared were from a father who suffered brain trauma in a crash and a mother who lost her 19-year-old son.

    Collins’ bill would expand current state laws regulating the use of a handheld device while driving. The current law prohibits only the reading of any email or text message and manually entering letters or text in the device as a means of communication, according to a summary by the Legislative Information System.

    The legislation promotes a “hands-free” approach and would make it illegal for a driver to use any handheld device while operating a vehicle unless the device is specifically designed to allow hands-free and voice operation, such as using the speaker option on a cellphone. The measure would also require driver’s license examinations to include questions on distracted driving.

    “As a former police officer, what’s so hard about enforcing the laws we have now is that I don’t know if you’re texting or Facebook-ing,” Collins said. “I can’t write you for Facebook-ing, but I can write you for texting.”

    Advocates encouraged members of the House and Senate to pass the legislation in order to “defend and protect” Virginians.

    A subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee last week recommended approval of Collins’ bill. The full committee has scheduled the measure for consideration Friday.

    Stuart’s bill may go to the Senate floor on Monday.

    If neither bill wins approval in the Senate or House by Tuesday, the issue likely will be dead for the legislative session.

  7. Republicans, Democrats Clash Over ‘Disturbing’ Abortion Bill

    By Kathleen Shaw and Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND -- Virginia Republicans voiced outrage Thursday to a failed proposal by Democrats that would have expanded abortion rights -- even moments before birth -- as one GOP legislator shed tears and another called the proposal “extremely disturbing.”

    “I didn't quite arrive on time, but I lived. Had this legislation been in place, who knows how things could have turned out,” said Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk.

    Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, sponsored HB 2491, which would have eliminated certain requirements before undergoing an abortion, such as approval from three physicians and an ultrasound. At Monday’s subcommittee hearing on the bill, a Republican lawmaker asked Tran whether the bill would allow for an abortion to occur when a woman is in labor and about to give birth; Tran said yes. The subcommittee voted 5-3 to table the measure.

    On Thursday, Tran corrected herself. “I should have said: ‘Clearly, no because infanticide is not allowed in Virginia, and what would have happened in that moment would be a live birth.’”

    Republicans seized on Tran’s initial comments -- and Gov. Ralph Northam’s support for a woman’s right to choose an abortion -- as evidence that the Democrats would allow infanticide.

    In an unorthodox move on Monday, House Speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican from Colonial Heights, stepped down from the House chamber dais to speak in opposition to Tran’s legislation. Cox, who has advocated anti-abortion legislation since 1990, said 61,012,997 abortions have been performed since 1973.

    “It was extremely disturbing that essentially you have legislation that does not protect the unborn at all, that you can have an abortion up to the point of birth. And I guess what truly disturbed me was that the other side almost seems to be celebrating that position,” Cox said.

    Originally, 23 Democrats co-sponsored Tran’s bill, but some, including Del. Dawn Adams of Richmond, said they would pull their support. The controversy has made national headlines and drawn widespread condemnation from Republicans. President Donald Trump criticized Northam for speaking in favor of Tran’s bill.

    Northam and Democratic legislators held a press conference of their own Thursday to respond to the Republicans and to reiterate support for abortion rights.
    “We believe legislators, most of whom are men, should not be making decisions about women’s choices for their reproductive health,” Northam said. “We can agree to disagree on this topic, but we can be civil about it.”

    Northam said some Republicans were attempting to use the issue to score political points.

    Attorney General Mark Herring, who also spoke at the press conference, called Republican efforts to discredit Democrats “desperate” and “ugly.”

    “Their political games have exposed a member of the House of Delegates to violent personal threats,” Herring said. “And now, Kirk Cox has taken his caucus completely off the deep end accusing Gov. Northam of supporting infanticide.”

    The House minority leader, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax, said Virginia women wouldn’t be intimidated by House Republicans’ scare tactics.

    “House Republicans have used their majority to try to shame women -- to try to bully and dictate to women what we can and cannot do with our bodies,” Filler-Corn said. “Virginia women are watching, and Virginia women are paying attention.”

    Abortion rights groups such as the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws and Progress Virginia continue to support Tran. Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, said that Tran was a champion for women and that Republican legislators are taking her remarks out of context.

    “We trust women to make decisions about their health care needs. Shame on politicians like Todd Gilbert and Kirk Cox for trying to distract us from the real issue here: getting politics out of the doctor’s office,” Scholl said.

    Del. Gilbert, a Republican from Shenandoah County, is the House majority leader. At the Republicans’ press conference, he equated abortion to murder. Gilbert said Democrats would allow late-term abortions out of concern not just for a woman’s physical health but also for her mental health.

    “It has nothing to do with saving a woman's life. A mental health concern could include anything that you can name that has an identifiable mental health issue -- depression, anxiety, feelings that one gets when one is about to have to care for a child,” Gilbert said.

    Brewer co-chairs the Foster Care Caucus and is an outspoken advocate for improving Virginia’s adoption and foster care systems. She received a tissue and support from Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford, while tearing up at the news conference. Brewer said her birth-mother could have chosen to abort her but instead saved her life and fulfilled the life of her adoptive parents.

    “61,012,997. How many of those were delegates that never had a chance to serve? How many of those were precious children who would’ve made an adoptive parent like mine -- a first-time mom or dad?” Brewer said.

  8. New VMFA Exhibit Looks Closely at 17th-Century Life

    By Madison Manske, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND, Va. -- An exhibit opening Saturday at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts boasts an American collection of 17th-century acclaimed artist Wenceslaus Hollar – that rivals only four other collections worldwide.

    The exhibit, Hollar’s Encyclopedic Eye: Prints from the Frank Raysor Collection, is free of charge and will run from Feb. 2 to May 5. Displayed in the Evans Court Exhibition Gallery are over 200 Hollar prints that were acquired and donated by Frank Raysor - a longtime friend and patron of the VMFA.

    “I’ve been collecting works by Hollar for over 40 years,” Raysor said. “My relationship with the VMFA goes back to the fifth grade when I took Saturday art classes there.”

    The exhibit is organized in five sections to follow Hollar’s life and highlights his work through Prague, England and Antwerp.

    After entering the exhibit, museum visitors will use a magnifying glass to better see the details drawn by Hollar. The prints range in size from a postage stamp to three-foot long panoramic prints.

    Visitors can expect a variety of prints by Hollar with varying themes of science, nature, historical events and geography. The exhibit also offers an opportunity to learn more about Hollar’s printmaking process - specifically his focus on etching copper plates.

    According to VMFA Director Alex Nyerges, the exhibition is one of the most significant collections of Hollar prints in the world.

    “We are delighted that visitors from across Virginia will have the opportunity to see life in 17th-century Europe through the eyes of Wenceslaus Hollar,” Nyerges said. “He was an amazing talent and obviously particularly well-known and respected during the Baroque era.”

    The exhibit was curated by both Dr. Mitchell Merling, VMFA’s former Paul Mellon curator and head of the department of European art, and Dr. Colleen Yarger, VMFA’s curatorial assistant for European art and also the Mellon collections and interim head of the department of European art.

    “Hollar is almost an exact contemporary of rhetoric and artists that if you open up a 17th-century survey textbook he’s undoubtedly in there, in sometimes great depth,” Yarger said. “But if you flip back to the index, rarely ever will you see Hollar’s name appear and so that is something that we are trying to change with this exhibition.”

    According to Yarger, the VMFA now has 10 percent of the 2,500 prints in Raysor’s Hollar collection - making the museum one of the world’s five major Hollar repositories.

    “It’s very heartening to know that there’s a good home for my stuff,” Raysor said.

    Raysor’s accumulation of prints rivals four other collections located in the British Museum in London, the print room at Windsor Castle, the Fisher Library at the University of Toronto and the National Gallery in Prague.

    Along with the exhibit, the VMFA will offer classes, talks and workshops centered on Hollar’s 17th-century European art. For information on dates and ticket prices, visit: https://www.vmfa.museum.

  9. Legislators Shift Gears to Test Drive ‘Green’ Vehicles

    By Kathleen Shaw, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — Midway through this bustling General Assembly session, legislators shifted gears from cruising through bills to testing out electric vehicles on Conservation Lobby Day.

    Drive Electric RVA and the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter hosted the second annual Electric Vehicle Ride & Drive event at the Capitol, where the fleet featured EVs like the Nissan LEAF, Chevrolet Volt and Tesla Model X.

    Del. David Reid, D-Loudoun, took a joyride Wednesday in a Tesla Model 3. Last session, he proposed a bill offering tax credits to EV drivers. Reid said such legislation would benefit both the environment and the economy.

    “I believe there’s opportunity for Virginia to demonstrate that we are electric vehicle friendly, and that can be done through a tax credit and installing the infrastructure. I’d like us to be a destination for manufacturers,” Reid said. “Really one of the main objectives is to create new electric vehicles jobs here in Virginia.”

    Currently, only private entities can charge for the electricity to power EVs. Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, introduced House Bill 1934 to encourage electricity sales by any state agency, which he said would help normalize EV driving.

    “The industry is ready to grow significantly, and we need to make sure they are able to do that, so we can let market forces get out there and spawn the innovation,” Bulova said.

    Robin Mackay, an Arlington resident, has owned Tesla EVs since June 2015. The latest eco-friendly ride is equipped with radar and visual sensors for the Tesla’s Autopilot feature. Mackay said he enjoyed the transition from his 14-year-old Nissan pickup truck to the Tesla Model S.

    “It was like going from Sputnik to the space shuttle; I get in my car and I love to drive,” Mackay said.

    Those who oppose the EV industry say the vehicles are no more environmentally conscious than fuel-dependent vehicles because the electricity to power them may be generated from burning coal.

    Mackay said nuclear power stations and coal plants run constantly regardless of any changes in demand, so increases in overnight charging for EVs — while average consumption is lower — could actually be environmentally efficient. With a deal from Dominion, EV drivers receive discounted electricity during off-peak hours, which Mackay said allows him to fuel his car on 90 cents per day.

    “To encourage people to absorb demand in the middle of the night when there’s not much load from, like, residential or industrial customers, they put electricity on sale. They sell me electricity at half price,” Mackay said.

    Advocates want an increase in EV sales because large-scale production would lower the cost per unit. Standard market price for a Tesla Model 3 is $44,000, but manufacturers hope to reduce the price to $35,000 and make it a more feasible option for all income brackets.

    HB 1934 awaits the House floor after receiving approval from the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday on an 18-4 vote.

    “I’m very happy that we have a strong coalition of environmental groups but also industry groups that are coming together and making sure that we remove barriers to electric vehicles,” Bulova said.

  10. Bill Allowing Removal of Confederate Monuments Dies In House

    By Rosemarie O’Connor, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — Tension filled the room Wednesday as a House subcommittee voted to kill a bill that would have let localities decide whether to remove or modify Confederate monuments in their jurisdictions.

    Del. David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, introduced House Bill 2377, which sought to change the current law that makes it illegal to disturb or interfere with war monuments. His bill would have given cities and counties authority to remove Confederate or Union monuments. This is the second year Toscano has sponsored such legislation.

    “We give localities the ability to control the cutting of weeds. But we haven’t yet given them the control over monuments that might have detrimental effects on the atmosphere and the feeling of the community,” Toscano said. “If you weren’t in Charlottesville in August of 2017, it would be hard to understand all of this.”

    He said people across Virginia want the ability to decide what to do with the monuments in their towns.

    Toscano said the monuments were erected during the “lost cause” movement, which viewed the Confederacy as heroic and the Civil War as a conflict not over slavery but over “states’ rights.”

    He addressed a subcommittee of the House Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns. The subcommittee’s chair, Del. Charles D. Poindexter, R-Franklin, gave those on each side of the debate five minutes to state their case. With a packed audience filling the small committee room, each person had little more than one minute to speak.

    Supporters of Toscano’s legislation held up blue signs with messages such as “Lose The Lost Cause” and “Local Authority for War Memorials” printed in black ink.

    Lisa Draine had tears in her eyes as she spoke of her daughter, Sophie, who was severely injured when a white supremacist, James Alex Fields Jr., drove his car into a crowd of people demonstrating against racism in Charlottesville.

    Fields, who was sentenced to life in prison last month for killing Heather Heyer, was part of the “Unite the Right” rally protesting the city’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a local park.

    “I couldn’t imagine that a statue had brought this to our town,” Draine said. “My daughter could have been your daughter.”

    A member of the Charlottesville City Council, Kathy Galvin, spoke in favor of the bill, citing the need for local legislators to have authority over the monuments.

    Matthew Christensen, an activist from Charlottesville, said it was an issue of “basic human decency” and the right of local governments. “They own the land, they own the statue, they should be able to decide what to do with it,” he said.

    Ed Willis, an opponent of Toscano’s bill, said it violates provisions in the Virginia Constitution prohibiting discrimination. “It’s painfully clear discrimination based on Confederate national origin is the basis of this bill,” he said.

    Like other opponents, Willis said his ancestors served in the Civil War. Some spoke of their families’ long heritage in Virginia and opposed what they felt was the attempt to sanitize or alter their history.

    Frank Earnest said he blamed the “improper actions” of the Charlottesville city government for the mayhem that took place in August 2017.

    “Just like the other socialist takeovers,” Earnest said, “it’ll be Confederate statues today, but don’t think they won’t be back next year to expand it to another war, another time in history.”

    The subcommittee voted 2-6 against the bill. Dels. John Bell and David Reid, both Democrats from Loudoun County, voted to approve the bill. Opposing that motion were Democratic Del. Steve Heretick of Portsmouth and five Republicans: Dels. Poindexter, Terry Austin of Botetourt County, Jeffrey Campbell of Smyth County, John McGuire of Henrico County, and Robert Thomas of Stafford County.

    Supporters of the bill met with Toscano in his office after the meeting. He said he knew the bill’s defeat was a “foregone conclusion.” HB 2377 was heard last in the meeting, giving little time for debate or discussion.

    People who want to remove the monuments asked Toscano, “How do we make this happen?”

    Toscano picked up a glass candy dish from his desk and placed a chocolate coin wrapped in blue foil in each person’s hand. This represented his desire for a Democratic majority in the House of Delegates, where Republicans hold 51 of the 100 seats.

    Toscano said he fought for years to get from 34 Democratic delegates to the 49 now serving. He urged the group to vote for those who share their concerns this November.

    “It’s all about the General Assembly,” he said.

  11. Legislative Proposals Address Costs of College

    By Adrian Teran-Tapia, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND -- Since 2007, tuition at Virginia’s public colleges and universities has increased an average of 80 percent, with schools like Virginia Commonwealth University and the College of William & Mary more than doubling their tuition.

    The rising cost of a college education prompted Del. David Reid, D-Loudoun, to file a bill to cap increases in tuition and mandatory fees at state institutions. Reid, the first college graduate in his family, which has lived in Virginia since the 1700s, said he is worried about young people and their future.

    “I want to make sure that college remains affordable for other students and they have the same opportunities,” Reid said. “I know that having a college degree was instrumental in breaking the cycle of poverty that my family had lived in for generations.”

    Reid’s bill, HB 2476, would prohibit tuition increases by schools that have raised their tuition more than the state average over the preceding 10 years. At other schools, tuition could not increase more than the inflation rate. The House Education Committee approved Reid’s measure and sent it to the House Appropriations Committee for a look at the financial impact.

    That proposal is among about 20 bills filed this legislative session to hold down the cost of college for students in general or for specific groups of students or to ensure that Virginians have more notice about proposed tuition increases.

    Republican Sens. Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach and Glen Sturtevant of Richmond both filed measures like Reid’s to limit tuition increases. And Sen. William Stanley, R-Franklin, proposed that public colleges and universities be required to set a four-year fixed tuition rate for incoming freshmen.

    Those Senate bills all have been shelved, but still alive are proposals to require schools to give more notice and take public comment about tuition increases. That is the focus of legislation introduced by Del. Jason Miyares, R-Virginia Beach, and Del. Steven Landes, R-Augusta.

    Miyares’ bill, which the House unanimously approved on Tuesday, would require the governing board of each public institution of higher education to establish policies for the public to comment during a board meeting on any proposed increase in undergraduate tuition or mandatory fees.

    Under Landes’ measure, which won a unanimous endorsement Wednesday from the House Education Committee, governing boards would have to explain the reasons for a proposed tuition increase and take comments at a public hearing at least 30 days before voting on whether to raise tuition.

    Sen. J. Chapman Petersen, D-Fairfax, also has a bill stating that “the governing board of each public institution of higher education shall permit public comment on the proposed increase at a meeting.” His legislation has been approved by the Senate Education and Health Committee and is before the Senate Finance Committee.

    Also moving forward are bills to offer reduced tuition to students from the Appalachian region who are enrolled in the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, is sponsoring this legislation in the House, and Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson, has a companion bill in the Senate.

    Kilgore’s measure, HB 1666, passed the House unanimously and has been assigned to the Senate Finance Committee. Carrico’s bill is awaiting action by the Senate Education and Health Committee.

    Miyares also proposed a bill to give tuition grants to students coming from the foster care system. A subcommittee unanimously endorsed the bill, and it is pending before the House Appropriations Committee.

    A bill by Del. Paul Krizek, D- Fairfax, would offer in-state tuition for foreign service officers and their dependents. It has passed the House unanimously and been sent to the Senate.

    In addition, several bills were filed to offer in-state tuition to college students who are in the process of applying for permanent residency in the United States. The House bills on this issue -- by Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, and by Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington -- were killed in a subcommittee. But a Senate bill by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, is still alive. It’s awaiting a decision by the Senate Education and Health Committee.

  12. Virginia Sports Betting Bills Advance

    By Andrew Gionfriddo and Ben Burstein, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND -- The odds of Virginia legalizing professional sports betting are improving as bills to authorize sports gambling are advancing in the Virginia General Assembly.

    However, legalizing online sports betting may need a little push from companies that wish to bring their business to the commonwealth.

    Senate Bill 1238, which would establish the Virginia Sports Betting Department and authorize sports betting, cleared the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology on Tuesday and is now heading to the Senate Finance Committee.

    Also making its way to the Finance Committee is Senate Bill 1356, which would change the name of the Virginia Lottery Board to the Virginia Lottery and Sports Wagering Commission. The department would be allowed to accept sports betting wagers.

    SB 1238 would prohibit betting on youth and collegiate sports, while SB 1356 would allow betting on youth and collegiate sports outside of Virginia.

    The Virginia Sports Betting Department established in SB 1238 would allow for betting entities to apply for a three-year license if a locality votes to approve gambling facilities.

    The Virginia Lottery and Sports Wagering Commission of SB 1356 would operate its own facility. While SB 1356 would create an online platform operated by the Lottery, neither bill would legalize private online sports betting.

    Still, the push for online sports betting remains alive and well.

    Last week, sports betting websites FanDuel and DraftKings lobbied the General Assembly to legalize mobile gambling in addition to sports betting, saying the move would generate millions in tax revenue and help curb illegal gambling in Virginia. Mobile gambling is done on a cellphone, tablet or a remote device with a wireless internet connection.

    Sarah Koch, director of government affairs for DraftKings, and Cory Fox, counsel for policy and government affairs for FanDuel, detailed the benefits of sports betting to the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology on Jan. 18.  

    Both companies currently operate mobile and web-based fantasy sports, allowing the sites to operate legally as a game of skill, not chance. That’s an important distinction in Virginia, where there’s more flexibility built into the Code of Virginia for games of skills than games of chance. Since there are a number of facets for players to consider, such as statistics or injuries, the operators contend that fantasy sports gambling is more about finesse than luck.

    If online and mobile gambling were legalized, DraftKings and FanDuel would be able to open up their sportsbook facets of their websites and apps in Virginia. Both FanDuel and DraftKings sportsbooks act as traditional Vegas style gambling entities and operate in all states where sports betting is legal.

    According to Koch, legalizing mobile gambling would help curb illegal sports gambling in the commonwealth.

    “Mobile betting allows for advanced age and identity verification, tracking of bet activity, and the ability to restrict or exclude bettors to a greater degree,” Koch said.

    Supporters also said the state could get a financial boost if such laws are passed. Fox said Virginia could match New Jersey’s success. He said over $94 million in revenue was generated in the first six months since electronic and in-person sports betting was legalized in New Jersey.

    SB 1238 states that 50 percent of the revenue would go to the locality in which it was generated, whereas in SB 1356, 95 percent of the revenue generated from sports gambling would go into the state’s general fund.

    Fox said fair tax rates could also assist in the decrease of illegal betting.

    “Reasonable tax rates also help attract illegal betters to legal platforms because it allows the operators access to a viable marketplace, while also providing bettors more favorable payouts, further dis-incentivizing betting on illegal platforms,” he said.

    Those who oppose sports betting, such as the Family Foundation, have voiced concerns about gambling addiction and collegiate sports betting. Both SB 1238 and SB 1356 aim to mitigate fears of facilitating gambling addiction by funding programs to help compulsive gamblers.

    A study was recommended to be completed prior to the passing of any gambling bills. Virginia Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne spoke about the study last week, stating it would be about the public policy and regulatory structure of such bills.

    “We have significant questions to answer regarding financial impacts,” he said. The study would look into the revenue sharing between state and local governments and what social impacts legalizing such gambling could bring.

  13. Panel OKs Rules for Using ‘Dangerous’ Room Dividers at Schools

    By Saffeya Ahmed, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — On an afternoon last spring, Wesley Lipicky, a third-grader at Franconia Elementary School in Fairfax County, was helping his teacher in the gymnasium when he became caught between a motorized room partition and a gym wall. The 9-year-old boy suffered traumatic head injuries and died that night.

    On Monday, a legislative subcommittee unanimously approved a bill calling for additional safety measures on using mechanized room dividers in public schools in hopes of preventing similar accidents in the future.

    “Children’s lives are precious, and we as a society must do everything in our power to protect them,” said Kathy Cole, who runs a business that specializes in gymnasium equipment for schools. “These tragic situations can and must be prevented.”

    House Bill 1753 would require schools across the commonwealth to take precautions when using motorized room partitions. These mechanisms, also called electronic partitions or doors, are used in schools to divide rooms into smaller spaces. They are heavier and larger than garage doors and most commonly used in school gymnasiums.

    Sponsored by Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax, HB 1753 would give public schools that use motorized room partitions one of two options:

    • Install safety sensors that automatically stop the partition if a body passes between the partition and the edge of the wall

    • Or operate the partition only when there are no students in the building

    Wesley’s death prompted Sickles to sponsor the legislation.

    “These dangerous dividers that are in a lot of our schools,” Sickles said, “need to have technology applied to them that will prevent this kind of thing from occurring.”

    A subcommittee of the House Education Committee voted 8-0 in favor of the bill. It now goes to the full committee and then to the House of Delegates for consideration.  

    Putting safety sensors on a motorized room partition could cost $3,000 to $6,000, Sickles estimated. He said such sensors would be a useful investment for partitions that must be used multiple times a day, such as in the gymnasium.

    Mindful of the costs, the subcommittee suggested that schools have the option of using the partitions only when students aren’t around.

    The legislation also would require annual training for school employees on operating the room dividers.

    Wesley’s death on May 18 is not the sole case of a student or teacher killed by an electronic partition.

    “Unfortunately, this kind of thing has happened before,” Sickles said, citing deaths in 1973, 1991 and 2001, as well as several injuries caused by partitions.

    New York is the only state that requires safety devices on motorized room partitions and training for school staff to operate the doors. That state passed its law after two deaths caused by electronic partitions.

    “History has taught us that these accidents happen more frequently than most people realize,” Cole said. “No parent should have to lose his or her beautiful son or daughter due to this safety error ever again.”

  14. Northern Virginia Road Projects Get $1 Billion Investment

    By Owen FitzGerald, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — Virginia and private partner Transurban will invest over $1 billion in four transportation projects in Northern Virginia andFredericksburg, state officials announced Tuesday. The projects are designed to reduce traffic congestion and improve connectivity on Interstates 495 and 95.

    “Creating opportunity for all Virginians no matter who they are or where they live depends on having a safe, reliable transportation network,” Gov. Ralph Northam said. “People need good transportation — be it road, transit or other options — to get to work and businesses need it to move goods.”

    Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine said the projects include a two-and-a-half mile extension of the express lanes of I-495 north to the American Legion Bridge and the Maryland border. The Capital Beltway Express Lanes Northern Extensions, or Project NEXT, will require no public funding from the state, Valentine said.

    She said the project will address one of the “worst bottlenecks in the region” and reduce cut-through traffic in nearby McLean neighborhoods.

    Valentine, who oversees the Virginia Department of Transportation, said Project NEXT will connect Virginia to Maryland by creating direct access to the American Legion Bridge, the George Washington Parkway and the Dulles Toll Road.

    Officials also announced a new auxiliary lane that would seek to reduce bottleneck traffic on the Occoquan Bridge.

    “The I-95 bottleneck at the Occoquan Bridge has been a source of personal frustration and time stuck in traffic—valuable time that could be spent with family,” said Sen. Jeremy McPike of Prince William County. “With funding now in place, VDOT will begin the design and construction that our community has sought for years.”

    The Occoquan Auxiliary Lane will connect the southbound Route 123 ramp onto I-95 with the westbound off-ramp of Prince William Parkway.

    Also announced was the addition of a new reversible ramp that would improve access Potomac Mills and Sentara Virginia Medical Center. The ramp would connect existing I-95 express lanes directly to Opitz Boulevard where the facility is located.

    Lastly, a plan was finalized to extend the I-95 express lanes in Fredericksburg — a 10-mile extension expected to increase the highway’s capacity by 66 percent during peak hours. The Fredericksburg Extension Project, or Fred Ex, was initially announced in January 2018. Construction will begin later this year and is expected to be finished by the fall of 2022.

    Transurban President Jennifer Aument spoke about her company’s long history working with Virginia to solve “major transportation challenges.”

    “With expanded capacity and new connections to commuter routes and commercial centers,” Aument said, “we are committed to delivering transportation solutions that keep travelers moving faster and safer throughout Northern Virginia.”

  15. ERA Supporters to Protest Daily After Resolutions Killed in Va.

     

    By Kaytlin Nickens, Capital News Service

     

    RICHMOND — Women’s rights advocates started a daily protest Tuesday at the Capitol, urging Republican legislators to change their minds and ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

    Inside the Capitol, members of the group VA Ratify ERA began their protest by standing “silent sentinel.” The organizers said they will do this daily starting at 10:45 a.m.

    A leader of VA Ratify ERA, Kati Hornung, said all is not lost despite resolutions to ratify the ERA having been killed.

    The women’s rights advocacy group adopted Friday the plan to hold a daily protest, after the House Privileges and Elections Committee followed  the subcommittee recommendation to kill resolutions to ratify the ERA. The proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution would guarantee equal rights regardless of sex. 

    Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy,  D-Prince William, said Virginia must continue efforts to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, even if that means getting new legislators in office. “If we can’t change their minds, we will change their seats,” Carroll Foy said.

    Del. David E. Yancey, R-Newport News, supported the ERA in a floor meeting Monday. “Like my mother, there are so many women in my district who all want a level playing field,”  Yancey said. “It’s time we stand up and fight for all women struggling to raise a family and make ends meet.”

    If Virginia becomes the 38th state to ratify, the ERA would hit the requirement of having three-quarters of states onboard, for the amendment to become part of the U.S. Constitution.

     

    Dana Hawkins, an advocate for the ERA, said that this is a cornerstone of many things.  “The message that’s sent to woman in this country that they are not worthy of the Constitution equality is awful,” Hawkins said. “Treating women fairly can solve so many of the issues we have in this country.”

    Hawkins, like many others --  mostly women -- came to the Capitol Tuesday, protesting and holding signs on the stairway of the Capitol gallery. Many ERA advocacy groups stood alongside VA Ratify ERA in the protest.

    Hawkins said she thinks it’s important that women equality is written into the Constitution and reflected in laws.

    “This is an ongoing effort, so today is just another day in the fight,” Hawkins said. “I think everybody knows how important we feel about constitutional equality for women.”

  16. Timothy Scott Rice

    Timothy Scott Rice

    A Memorial Service will be held on Wednesday, January 30, 2 pm at Calvary Baptist Church in Emporia.

    Timothy Scott Rice, loving Husband, Father, Son, and Papa, died Saturday January 26.  He was 56.

    A United States Air Force Veteran, Tim was born in Petersburg, the son of James Riley and Elsie W. Rice.  A friend to all he met, Tim was an avid golfer and fisherman,  a devoted driver for Life Star, driving dialysis patients and others for appointments, but mostly he cared for “His Girls”.

    In addition to his parents, Tim is survived by “His Girls”, his loving wife of 33 years Joy Clary Rice, daughter Jenny R. Johnson and her husband Cecil, grandchildren, Olivia Spence, Jax Newton, and Lily Johnson, brother Steve Rice and his wife Wendy, and sister Terri Anderson and her husband Todd, numerous aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and very special lifelong friends.

    Services will be announced at a later time.

    Online condolences may be left at www. echolsfuneralhome.com.

  17. State Lawmakers Kill Legislation to Protect Student Journalists

    By Saffeya Ahmed, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — A legislative panel rejected a bill protecting student journalists from administrative censorship on a tie vote Monday.

    House Bill 2382, sponsored by Del. Chris Hurst, D-Montgomery, would have protected free speech for student journalists in public elementary, middle and high schools, as well as public institutions of higher education.

    A subcommittee of the House Education Committee deadlocked 3-3 on the bill after hearing testimony from students and faculty advisers from high schools and colleges across the commonwealth.

    Kate Carson, a former writer and editor for The Lasso, the student newspaper at George Mason High School in Falls Church, said her school’s administration censored several controversial topics the publication attempted to cover, including bathroom vandalism, absence policy abuse and a sexting scandal.

    “As student journalists, we were perfectly positioned to report on these issues and separate fact from rumor,” Carson said. “Instead, The Lasso was censored when we attempted to cover the vandalism and policy abuse. We didn’t even attempt to cover the sexting scandal.”

    One teacher told the panel how her students’ paper was shut down and she was removed as adviser after the students published an article about renovating the school.

    “We have seen an increasing number of censorship cases in the commonwealth,” Hurst said. Hurst said the bill seeks to reapply the Tinker standard to student free speech, which was established in a 1969 Supreme Court case. This standard requires administrators to have reasons for censoring content, Hurst said.

    In 1988, the Tinker standard was overruled in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, which laid out that school administrations have the right to censor school-sponsored media if they wish.

    “All this bill does is protect against what we call the ‘making-the-school-look-bad censorship,’ the image-motivated censorship,” said Frank LoMonte, former executive director of the Student Press Law Center and head of the New Voice Initiative, a campaign network for anti-censorship laws. “Anything a school can stop you from saying on a T-shirt or ball cap, they can stop you from saying in a newspaper.”

    Two people voiced concerns with the legislation, saying the protections should not apply to school-sponsored speech or to young student journalists.
    “We’re not talking about an 18- or a 19-year-old; we’re talking about possible a 14- or 15-year-old writing a story,” said Thomas Smith with the Virginia Association of School Superintendents. “There are many instances in the code where they treat college students and post-secondary students different from secondary students.”

    The legislation would have protected “school-sponsored media,” which includes any material “prepared, substantially written, published or broadcast” by student journalists and is distributed or available to the student body. The bill prohibited administrative censorship or disciplinary action unless content:

    • Is libelous or slanderous material
    • Unjustifiably invades privacy
    • Violates federal or state law
    • Creates or incites students to create a clear and present danger

    If HB 2382 had passed, Virginia would have been the 15th state to provide protections for high school or college journalists. Half of the states that have passed similar legislation to Hurst’s bill did so in the last four years. Five other states introduced bills in 2019 to protect student journalists.

    Here is how the House Education subcommittee voted on HB 2382:

    01/28/2019 House: Subcommittee failed to recommend reporting (3-Y, 3-N)

    YEAS — Davis, Tyler, Bagby — 3.

    NAYS — Bell, Richard P., Helsel, Bulova — 3.

  18. Amid Protest, Legislators Announce 5% Pay Raise for Teachers

    By Corrine Fizer, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — As hundreds of teachers and supporters from around the state marched to the Virginia Capitol to call for higher salaries and more funding for public schools, legislative leaders announced Monday that they would include a 5 percent pay raise for teachers in the state budget.

    Armed with red coats, scarves and signs, participants of all ages gathered in Monroe Park for a small rally. Then they marched to the Capitol as a girl riding in the back of a small red wagon used a microphone and handheld speaker to lead their chants.

    The marchers gathered on the Capitol grounds to hear community leaders protest what they see as inadequate funding for public education.

    Rodney Robinson, Virginia’s Teacher of the Year, said Amazon will receive nearly $3.5 billion in public subsidies from New York, Virginia and Tennessee to locate facilities in those states. Virginia’s state government and Arlington County offered more than $570 million in direct subsidiesand about $220 million in transportation improvements to entice Amazon to put an East Coast headquarters near Reagan National Airport in Crystal City.

    Robinson said the money Amazon will get could “pay for more teachers, counselors and 21st-century school buildings that are not infested with roaches, rats and mold.”

    The Virginia Education Association, which represents the state’s teachers, organized the “Red4Ed” rally. The VEA says Virginia ranks 34th among the states in teacher pay. The average annual teacher salary in Virginia is $51,265 — more than $9, 200 below the national average, according to the association.

    According to the Richmond School Board, 1 in 5 educators must take a second job to make ends meet.

    Liz Holmes, a second-grade teacher at Greenville Elementary School in Warrenton, said she has not had a raise in 11 years. Holmes came to the march to express her frustration over the lack of “fair compensation” in her workplace.

    “We are losing qualified teachers every year to surrounding counties that pay higher wages,” Holmes said, holding a picture of her and her students. “Enough is enough.”

    As the teachers held their demonstration, Republican lawmakers who control the House of Delegates announced that they would include a 5 percent raise for teachers in the state budget they plan to release on Sunday. Del. Steve Landes, R-Augusta, made the announcement in a speech on the House floor.

    “Virginia has some of the finest teachers in the country and that has led to Virginia students consistently outperforming nationwide peers on standardized tests, college admissions, and graduate rates,” said Landes, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “To maintain that success we must ensure our teachers are fairly compensated and know the hard work they do each and every day is greatly appreciated.”

    The committee’s chairman, Republican Del. Chris Jones of Suffolk, said the proposed budget would increase teachers’ salaries without raising taxes. “Under conservative leadership in the House of Delegates, this will be the fourth teacher pay raise in the last six years,” he said.

    “I am proud of Chairman Jones and Vice Chairman Landes for the hard work and dedication they have shown to ensuring our teachers know how much they are appreciated in the Commonwealth,” said House Speaker Kirk Cox, a retired high school government teacher.

    “As a public school teacher for 30 years, I know how hard teachers work to educate Virginia’s future leaders. We must make it a priority to keep great teachers in the classroom and that starts with making sure our teachers a fairly compensated.”

    Democrats are already on board with the 5 percent pay raise for teachers. In the two-year budget adopted by the General Assembly in 2018, teachers were scheduled to receive a 3 percent salary increase on July 1. In his proposed revision of the budget, Gov. Ralph Northam recommended awarding teachers an additional 2 percent raise.

    Northam, a Democrat, reiterated that proposal at a meeting of the Virginia School Board Association last week, calling it “the largest one-time pay raise for teachers in over 15 years.”

    But Virginia teachers say that their salaries are more than 10 percent below the national average — and that the planned raise does not close the gap.

    “It’s a start,” Holmes said. “But it’s not enough.”

  19. Senate OKs Bill to Boost IT Jobs in Southwest Virginia

    By Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND, Va. -- More information technology jobs could come to rural Virginia under a bill unanimously passed by the state Senate on Monday.

    SB 1495 is a Republican effort that would provide $600,000 beginning in 2020 to establish an apprenticeship program for small technology businesses in rural southwest Virginia.

    The program would provide IT workers on-the-job, mentored training at a company with guaranteed job placement at the end of the 18-month apprenticeship.

    The bill’s co-sponsor, Republican Sen. Amanda Chase of Chesterfield County, said the program aims to provide IT job opportunities in rural southwest Virginia.

    The bill would target the counties of Alleghany, Bland, Buchanan, Carroll, Craig, Dickenson, Giles, Grayson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, Wise and Wythe and the cities of Bristol, Danville, Galax, Martinsville and Norton.

    “If you look at southwest Virginia, they have great institutions of higher education training our young people in information technology,” Chase said, “but it’s really hard for them to find meaningful employment after they graduate.”

    According to Chase, the region’s young IT workers are currently drawn to areas of the commonwealth with more job opportunities, especially northern Virginia.

    The apprenticeship program, Chase said, would provide an incentive for them to “stay in the community they grew up in instead of leaving southwest Virginia to move to another place where they can actually find work.”

    The bill would create a fund in the state treasury to award grants to small, rural information technology businesses to employ IT workers in the region.

    The General Assembly would provide $600,000 to the program starting in 2020.

    Businesses that receive a grant from the program would be eligible for funding for up to five years or until the business employs 100 individuals. The amount of money given to a business to employ an apprentice wouldn’t exceed the entry-level salary of an IT worker.

    The bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Ben Chafin of Russell County, said that the program would be housed at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Virginia, and coordinated with area community colleges.

    David Matlock, executive director of the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center, was optimistic that the program would help meet the employment needs in the region.

    “Southwest Virginia is always looking for ways to enhance our workforce,” Matlock said. “We want to keep our graduates here, and we want to help these new businesses and attract more businesses like them.”

    The Senate bill now heads to the House for consideration.

  20. Panel Kills Ban on Gender-Based Pricing at Dry Cleaners

    By Caitlin Morris, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — Kinsey Liebsch asked state legislators a question often raised by women who take their clothes to a dry cleaner or laundry service.

    “Given that a woman’s long sleeve blouse isn’t much different from a man’s shirt, why am I being charged more than two and half times the amount just because the buttons are on the opposite side?” she asked a legislative subcommittee. Liebsch said dry-cleaning and laundry services can charge more to clean women’s clothing than comparable men’s clothing.

    Liebsch initially took her concerns to her local legislator — Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria. Then Levine filed a bill to ban gender-based price discrimination by apparel-cleaning services.

    “Every woman I’ve talked to about this bill has said it was necessary,” Levine said. “Every man I’ve talked to about it didn’t realize it was an issue. And to be fair, I didn’t realize it was an issue until Kinsey brought it to me.”

    But last week, Levine’s legislation was hung out to dry: Subcommittee No. 2 of the House Courts of Justice Committee voted unanimously to table HB 2423.

    Liebsch and two other women testified before the subcommittee in support of the bill.

    One of the women was Dr. Elizabeth Hendricks, an Alabama native who moved to Virginia two years ago. She recalled her experience getting a dress-suit cleaned at an Alexandria dry cleaner.

    Hendricks described the article of clothing as a “dress and jacket that matched as a suit.” The price listed for a suit cleaning was $13.50, but Hendricks was charged $22 because her dress was not considered “short.”

    “Slacks and a suit are not short either,” said Hendricks, who stands 5 feet, 2 inches tall.

    HB 2423 would have ensured that prices for cleaning services for similar items do not vary because of a person’s gender. The bill said price differences are acceptable if one item takes longer to clean or poses more difficulty than another.

    “Everyone understands that a wedding dress is going to cost more to clean than a groom’s tux,” Levine said.

    The Virginia Retail Federation opposed the bill and said apparel-cleaning services do not base their prices on a customer’s gender.

    “They base their pricing on material,” said Kate Baker, the federation’s director of government affairs. “Our members feel like they should be able to determine their own prices.”

    The all-male subcommittee voted 6-0 to kill Levine’s bill. It happened the day after a proposal to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment died in the House of Delegates. Levine said his bill was “just one tiny example of why we need the ERA.”

  21. National Film Festival Makes Stop in Richmond

    By Madison Manske, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — Richmonders piled into the Science Museum of Virginia Thursday evening for a night of films hosted by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and emceed by Richmond City Councilman Parker Agelasto.

    Over 200 people attended the “Wild & Scenic Film Festival,” an event launched 17 years ago by California-based environmental activists working to protect the South Yuba River. Closer to home, the alliance is a regional nonprofit organization that focuses on streams and rivers in Virginia, while working cooperatively with regional partners to protect the Chesapeake Bay.

    The 13 short films were screened simultaneously where other alliance offices are located: Annapolis, Md.; Lancaster, Pa; and District of Columbia.

    “So it’s not just a Richmond Wild & Scenic — it’s the Chesapeake Bay Wild & Scenic. And we just thought that that was such a great way to engage the public more and our mission to restore the rivers and streams that float in the bay,” said Nissa Dean, the director of the alliance’s Virginia office.

    In 1983, grassroots environmental activists in Nevada City, California, formed the South Yuba River Citizens League to protect the river from dams. The “Wild & Scenic Film Festival” starts each year with a five-day flagship event in Nevada City before spreading out to various cities; it’s how the citizens league hopes to “inspire activism across the globe.”

    It’s the largest environmental film festival in North America, according to organizers.

    Each of the short films screened focused on different areas of conservation, though a common theme throughout was the need to protect land across the Earth for future generations.

    “The Salmon Will Run” showed the Winnemem Wintu tribe and their journey to bring salmon back to Winnemem’s ancestral watershed — which is currently being blocked by the 70-year-old Shasta Dam.

    Another film, “The Nature of Maps,” took viewers through the Chilean mountains of Parque Patagonia where two modern-day pioneers roamed and mapped the entire park — which eventually led the park to open as a public domain.

    Tickets to see the films projected onto the massive Dome screen sold for $30 and included a drink ticket. Vendors filled the lobby, and raffle tickets were available for purchase. Every raffle ticket bought went directly to the alliance and its efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

    “I would say in terms of an event like this, it’s more socially focused rather than restoration focused,” Dean said.

    Councilman Agelasto urged the audience to do their part in conserving the planet.

    “We need to be doers for our future,” Agelasto said.

    He said Richmond was the first locality in Virginia to develop a single permit system, meaning residents can obtain a storm-water permit, wastewater permit and drinking-water permit under one application.

    “It’s a big accomplishment to get that, and it’s largely due to the collaborative work with nonprofits like the alliance,” Agelasto said.

    The alliance announced its recent partnership with Richmond and RVA H2O, an initiative of the city’s Department of Public Utilities. The alliance received a $1 million grant to develop a Green Infrastructure Master Plan with the focus of reducing stormwater pollution into the James River. The project will last three years, according to Dean.

    “We all live on this enormous planet, but we’re individuals and even the smallest hands can contribute to the future of our Earth,” Agelasto said.

  22. Care Advantage Hiring Event to be Held on February 7th

    Care Advantage locations, simultaneously across the Commonwealth, are hosting a Hiring Event and Job Fair on Thursday Feb, 7th from 10am-2pm.

    Looking for a new job? Know someone who might need personal care at home? Learn about all our services and training opportunities in one day! Recently voted the BEST Homecare Provider by over 3000 readers of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Care Advantage is the largest privately owned home care provider in the state of Virginia.

    Since we began in 1988, we have ensured our clients have the care and support they need to remain safe, healthy, and happy in their home environment. “Care Advantage is growing and we need to hire amazing caregivers to fulfill the needs in our local communities. We hope to engage our local counties, cities and towns in the Commonwealth to let them know in these tough economic times, we are here for you. Our senior community is growing fast and they need care, we are ready to provide them with compassionate, excellent caregivers so they can age in place with dignity.” Said CEO, Tim Hanold.

    Care Advantage is looking for a variety of positions in all aspects of home health care including RNs, CNAs, PCAs, LPNs, office support staff, sales support and more. Please contact your local office or stop by one of our branches to get more information.

    All locations will be hosting a Career Fair & Open House on February 7, 2019 from 10a-2p. Stop by - we'd love to meet you! Or apply online today at https://careadvantageinc.applicantpro.com/jobs/. You can also engage with our facebook event: https://business.facebook.com/events/551061325362380/

    Office locations include:

    Alexandria, Charlottesville, Chesapeake, Colonial Heights, Emporia, Franklin, Fredericksburg, Harrisonburg, Mechanicsville, Midlothian, Newport News, Portsmouth, Richmond, Roanoke,  and Staunton, Virginia

     

     

     

     

  23. Mary Hardin – VCU Health CMH’s New VP of Patient Care Services

    Sometimes you just know what you’re going to do for a career very early on. For Mary Hardin, that job was nursing.

    Mary has been named the new Vice President of Patient Care Services/ Chief Nursing Officer at VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital, replacing the retiring Ursula Butts. Mary took over for Ursula in December.

    Mary comes from a family of nurses.  Her mother, Joyce Tudor, was a nurse at CMH and area doctor’s offices for years, her brother is a nurse practitioner and her aunt is a nurse. Mary was encouraged by her mom to enter the field and after helping her mom take care of her ill grandmother, Mary knew what she wanted to do.

    “I entered the Brunswick- Lunenburg-Mecklenburg Practical Nursing program at CMH in September 1986,” Mary said. “While in the LPN program, CMH hired nursing students to become nursing assistants and I was hired May 1987 as a nursing assistant on Lower West, aka Skilled Care.”

    Mary was a Licensed Practical Nurse after graduating from the CMH program in 1987 – the program’s 25th class.  Her mother graduated from the very first class. Mary started her additional educational road to becoming a registered nurse in 1989 with Barton College. Mary has a master’s degree in nursing from Walden University.

    Mary was born at the original CMH and is from Bracey, VA. She attended LaCrosse Elementary and then Park View Junior and Senior High Schools.

    She has held quite a few jobs at CMH through the years. She was a nursing assistant on Lower West for five months and once she graduated as an LPN, she worked five years on West, before earning her Bachelor’s Degree in 1992. Mary has been a charge nurse, team leader and a staff nurse through the years, as well as patient care coordinator, nursing supervisor for two years, education coordinator for three years and for the past 20 years, she was the Director of Oncology at the Hendrick Cancer & Rehab Center. Mary even found time to be an adjunct nursing instructor at Southside Virginia Community College for two years. Hard work has never bothered Mary.

    Mary’s varied experience at CMH made her an ideal candidate for the Vice President of Patient Care Services.

    “We had several qualified candidates for this position, but Mary’s vast experience, demonstrated leadership attributes and the respect she garnered from her co-workers and colleagues made her stand out as our top choice,” said W. Scott Burnette, CEO of VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital.

    Mary has a message for the citizens of Southside Virginia and Northern North Carolina. “I want the citizens of the community to be able to trust in our care.”  She continued, VCU Health CMH’s nursing mission is to  “deliver safe, effective care that produces outcomes in a manner that allows nurses to leave at the end of the day proud of what they have accomplished, knowing their care has made a difference.”

    And making a difference is very important to Mary Hardin.

    “I can make a difference in serving our patients and families, by inspiring and engaging team members by operating with transparency to sustain our culture of excellence in care,” she said.

    Mary’s management style is that of a servant leader. “I want to be a role model as a leader,” she added.

    Mary feels her last 20 years at CMH have helped prepare her to be an empathetic leader. “I have learned such valuable lessons about life from the oncology patients and their families.  They keep me humble to know life is precious and how important people and relationships are to us.  I have also learned throughout my journey in oncology how important spirituality and faith is for me and for others,” she said.

    There is an adage in health care that the only constant is change, and Mary can cite many examples of change in her career.

    “When I entered into nursing, I wore white uniforms and a cap.  However, it was short lived and transitioned to colored uniforms by 1992.  Wearing gloves to bathe a patient was considered offensive to a patient and of course now our nurses wear gloves for most patient interactions.  So much has changed in 30 years as patients have shorter lengths of stays and the focus is now more on the patient experience,” she added.

    Mary foresees many challenges and changes moving forward as well with reduced government reimbursements, staffing challenges and addressing the nationwide shortage of nurses.

    But one thing is clear, Mary Hardin is ready to face those challenges with a smile and a kind word.

    Mary has been married to Jimmy for the past 26 years and they have twins, Jon and JoBeth. She will be gaining a daughter-in-law this June. In her spare time, Mary enjoys singing and dancing, although she claims not to be a good dancer – just a dancer who enjoys dancing. She’s an active member of South Hill United Methodist, where she is in the choir and leads the children’s music ministry and helps with a teen Bible study.

  24. Virginia Legislators Consider Letting Governors Seek Re-election

     

    By Rosemarie O’Connor, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — Virginia is the only state where a governor cannot serve two consecutive terms. But if voters think their governor is doing a good job, why shouldn’t he or she be re-elected?

    Democrats, who have won the past two gubernatorial elections, generally support allowing governors to succeed themselves. Republicans generally oppose it. Political experts say Virginia’s one-term policy for governors is rooted in history.

    Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, called the policy, which is enshrined in the Virginia Constitution, a “detriment to the commonwealth.” She is sponsoring House Joint Resolution 608, which would let governors elected after 2021 serve two terms in a row.

    “Now is the time we should look to pass a constitutional amendment for consecutive but limited governor terms,” she said.

    Last week, the Senate defeated an identical amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 250, on an 18-22 vote. Fifteen Democrats and three Republicans voted for the measure, and 18 Republicans and four Democrats voted against it.

    On Monday, Adams’ resolution is scheduled for a vote by a subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee. The panel also plans to consider HJ 627, an identical proposal by Del. Mark Levine, D-Arlington.

    Similar resolutions have been introduced since 2013 in the General Assembly but have never made it out of committee — which is why supporters were happy that SJ 250 even made it to the Senate floor. They say limiting the governor to one term doesn’t make sense given that Virginia operates on a two-year state budget.

    Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment, a Republican from James City County, voted against the amendment. In urging his colleagues to do the same, he mentioned two past governors — Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Jim Gilmore — whom he wouldn’t have wanted in office for more than four years.

    “I would very succinctly and ecumenically say two words: Gilmore and McAuliffe,” Norment said, drawing laughter from some fellow legislators.

    Norment said the term restriction balances the governor’s executive power to amend and veto bills, appoint officials and order a special legislative session.

    Supporters of amending the constitution compare term limits on the governor to a business that gets a new boss every four years.

    “What real challenge can any company overcome when its leader is but a blip on the trajectory of an employee’s career?” Adams asked.

    Under Virginia’s biennial budget system, each new governor begins under the predecessor’s budget. The governor must wait until the second legislative session before proposing a budget that covers the second and third years in office. In the fourth year, the governor submits a plan for another two-year budget that a successor might or might not endorse but has little power to change.

    Adams said the lack of continuity in leadership has led to “inefficiency, waste, duplication of services, low morale and low productivity.”

    Opponents of changing the constitution note that while governors cannot seek re-election, they can still serve nonconsecutive terms. However, only one governor has done that since the Civil War. Mills Godwin Jr. was elected as a Democrat in 1965 and again as a Republican in 1973.

    Virginia’s prohibition on governors serving consecutive terms has survived more than 160 years. Virginians did not directly elect their governor until 1851, according to the Encyclopedia of Virginia. Before that, the state constitution held the General Assembly responsible for choosing a governor.

    Virginia’s anxiety over a powerful executive branch has roots in the American Revolution. The first Constitution of Virginia was enacted in conjunction with the Declaration of Independence. After declaring war on one king, Virginia was not eager to create another in the form of a powerful governor.

    Matt Pinsker, a professor of constitutional law at Virginia Commonwealth University, said it all comes down to “tradition.” He said that although Virginia’s current system is “a unique anomaly among the states,” he believes it provides a well-functioning government.

    Pinsker said that even if the amendment passes, it would likely make little difference in the day-to-day operations of Virginia government or the policies being pushed by the governor’s office.

    That is because Virginia’s governors have typically used the position as a stepping stone for higher office, Pinsker said. Both of Virginia’s U.S. senators — Mark Warner and Tim Kaine — first served as governors.

    “Our historical ties do have an impact,” said Robyn Diehl McDougle, director of the Center for Public Policy at VCU’s Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.

    McDougle said the General Assembly is reluctant to give up power to the executive branch, especially when partisan politics come into play.

    “If I’m in the party opposite of who’s in the Governor’s Mansion, I’m less likely to vote for the possibility of their re-election,” she said.

    Republicans control both the House and Senate, and Gov. Ralph Northam is a Democrat. Of the dozen legislators sponsoring HJ 608 and HJ 672, just one is a Republican: Del. Mark L. Cole of Fredericksburg. That could spell trouble for those measures to make it out of committee.

    “I’m not saying it’s impossible,” McDougle said, “but I am saying it is an uphill battle.”

  25. Panel OKs Bill Seeking Data on Solitary Confinement

    By Saffeya Ahmed, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — A House committee voted unanimously Friday to require reports on solitary confinement in prisons across Virginia.

    House Bill 1642 would require the Virginia Department of Corrections to submit semiannual reports to the General Assembly and governor detailing the DOC’s use of solitary confinement.

    The House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety approved the bill, 21-0. The panel sent the measure to the House Appropriation Committee for a look at its financial impact before it goes to the House floor.

    Also referred to as “restrictive housing,” solitary confinement is defined as isolation in a cell for 22-24 hours of the day with little to no human interaction. The DOC does not currently report statistics on the number of inmates held in restrictive housing.

    Sponsored by Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, the legislation would provide the state legislature and governor statistics on the department’s use of restrictive housing in correctional facilities. The information would also be posted online.

    The semiannual report would include:

    • Demographics such as age, race, ethnicity and status of mental health
    • The average daily population held in restrictive housing
    • The number of offenders placed in and released from restrictive housing
    • Documentation of self-harm and suicide incidents or attempts
    • The number of days each offender spent in confinement
    • The number of full-time mental health staff

    The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia called on Gov. Ralph Northam in May to ban solitary confinement and limit its use to rare and exceptional cases. The ACLU said inmates should remain in restrictive housing for no more than 15 consecutive days, which aligns with international human rights standards. Currently, Virginia inmates placed in restrictive housing spend an average of 2.7 years in confinement, according to a 2018 ACLU report.

    Nationally, about 88,000 inmates — or approximately 5 percent of all prisoners — are held in solitary confinement, according to a study done at Yale Law School.

    Virginia has implemented reforms for restrictive housing before. The number of inmates held in solitary confinement at Red Onion — a maximum-security prison in Wise County — dropped 85 percent in the last decade. The facility, known for its use of restrictive housing, currently houses about 70 inmates in solitary confinement compared to 500 at the start of the decade, according to a Washington Post article.

    The House Appropriations Committee could address HB 1642 as soon as Monday.

    In the Senate, two Fairfax Democrats have offered similar legislation. Sen. David Marsden has proposed SB 1085, and Sen. Richard Saslaw has filed SB 1777.

    On Friday, the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee folded Marsden’s bill into Saslaw’s and then unanimously approved SB 1077.

  26. Panel Wants Prisons to Modify Tampon Ban

    By Saffeya Ahmed, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — The Virginia Department of Corrections would have to modify its official but unenforced policy of barring women from wearing feminine hygiene products when they visit a state prison, under a bill approved Friday by a House committee.

    The House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee voted 19-1 in favor of House Bill 1884 and sent the legislation to the full House of Delegates for approval next week.

    HB 1884 would require the DOC to modify the policy it announced in September for visitors wearing menstrual cups and tampons.

    The rule banned the feminine products in an attempt to prevent people from smuggling contraband into facilities.

    “If someone chooses to visit a Virginia Department of Corrections inmate, he or she cannot have anything hidden inside a body cavity,” a DOC spokeswoman told the Richmond Times-Dispatch at the time. “There have been many instances in which visitors have attempted to smuggle drugs into our prisons by concealing those drugs in a body cavity, including the vagina.”

    Soon after the announcement, Brian Moran, Virginia’s secretary of public safety and homeland security, suspended the policy until further review.

    The bill, sponsored by Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, would require the DOC to rewrite the restrictions. As amended by the committee, the measure would require the DOC to:

    • Notify visitors about the policy prohibiting menstrual cups and tampons ahead of their visit.
    • Provide visitors the option of removing any prohibited menstrual product and replacing it with a state-issued one in order to have a contact visit with an inmate.
    • Allow visitors who do not want to remove prohibited menstrual products the option of a no-contact visit with an inmate.
  27. Benjamin “Bubba” T. Grizzard, Sr.

    Visitation Services

    Saturday, January 26, 6-8 pm

    Owen Funeral Home

    303 S. Halifax Rd, Jarratt, Virginia

    Sunday, January 27, 2 pm

    Owen Funeral Home

    Interment will follow at Greensville Memorial Cemetery.

    Benjamin “Bubba” T. Grizzard, Sr., 82, passed away Thursday, January 24, 2019. He was preceded in death by a son, Timothy Grizzard; longtime devoted companion, Teny Jones; and brothers, Earl, Elmer, Pete and Frank Grizzard.

    Mr. Grizzard is survived by three sons, John Grizzard (Angela), Benjamin Grizzard, Jr. (Rose), and Kenneth Grizzard; two daughters, Tammy Butler and Kathy Anne Grizzard; nine grandchildren, Nathaniel, Bryanna and Nicholas Grizzard, Ashley and Damon Butler, Joshua and Jason Grizzard, Lara Ellis and Mark Goldsworthy and a number of great-grandchildren; daughter-in-law, Linda Grizzard and six sisters, Ethel Vick, Alease Braswell, Polly Proctor, Barbara ‘Bobbie” Grizzard, Willie Mae Harris and Diane Smith; sisters-in-law, Grace Grizzard and Earline Grizzard and numerous nieces and nephews.

    The family will receive friends 6-8 p.m. Saturday, January 26 at Owen Funeral Home, 303 S. Halifax Rd, Jarratt, Virginia where the funeral service will be held 2 p.m. Sunday, January 27. Interment will follow at Greensville Memorial Cemetery.

    In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributionss be made to Kindred Hospice, 595 Old Wagner Rd, Petersburg, Virginia 23805.

    Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com

  28. Virginia Redistricting Amendment Advances to the Senate

    By Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — A constitutional amendment aiming to create an independent redistricting commission in Virginia has reached the Senate floor and may come up for a vote next week.

    Under the amendment, an independent commission — instead of legislators — would redraw districts for the U.S. House of Representatives, Virginia Senate and House of Delegates in 2021 after the U.S. Census Bureau releases new population and demographic data.

    Sen. George Barker, D-Alexandria, who is sponsoring the amendment, said SJ 306 would reduce the influence that politicians have in the redistricting process and would limit their ability to draw racially and politically gerrymandered districts.

    “It doesn’t give the legislature the type of control in the process that it has now and that it’s had for many years,” Barker said.

    During the 2011 redistricting process, the General Assembly redrew several districts in the House of Delegates and U.S. House of Representatives that have since been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court because they diluted the voting power of African-American voters. Those racially gerrymandered districts had to be redrawn by a court-appointed expert.

    Barker said Virginia needs an independent redistricting commission to ensure that this won’t happen again.

    “I think that’s critical for making us the most effective General Assembly that we can be,” Barker said.

    The 16-member commission would consist of eight legislative members and eight citizen members.

    Of the eight legislative members, four would come from the Senate, and four would come from the House, with equal representation given to each political party.

    The eight citizen members would be chosen this way: First, a committee of five retired judges of the circuit courts of Virginia would nominate 16 people — four Democrats, four Republicans and eight independent voters. Then, House and Senate leaders would pick eight names from the list to be on the commission — two Democrats, two Republicans and four independents.

    Any plan drawn up by the commission would have to be agreed upon by at least six of the eight legislators and six of the eight citizen members. The plan would then be sent to the General Assembly for an up-or-down vote. The General Assembly would not be able to make any amendments to the plan.

    The commission would be required to submit its plans for the Senate and House of Delegates districts within 45 days of the release of census data and plans for the U.S. House of Representatives within 60 days.

    If the commission fails to submit a plan by its deadline, the General Assembly fails to adopt a plan by its deadline or the governor vetoes a plan, districts would be decided by the courts.

    “We think this a fair and balanced approach,” Barker said. “We think it provides a lot of protections, and there are a lot of checks and balances in there to get to the best decision for the commonwealth.”

    Barker’s proposal faces a long road to be added to the Virginia Constitution. Constitutional amendments must pass in two legislative sessionsand then be approved by voters in a statewide election.

    A similar amendment, SJ 274, was killed in committee earlier this week. That amendment also would have created an independent redistricting commission, but the makeup of the commission differed slightly from Barker’s amendment.

    SJ 274, proposed by Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger of Augusta and Democratic Sen. Mamie Locke of Hampton, would have required a 10-member commission of citizens to establish legislative and congressional districts following a 2020 census. No legislators would serve on the commission.

    The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee voted 9-5 to kill the proposal.

    Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said they support redistricting reforms, and an advocacy group called One Virginia 2021 has pushed for a nonpartisan approach to redistricting.

    Brian Cannon, executive director of One Virginia 2021, said it was disappointing that SJ 274 wouldn’t move forward, but he was excited that Barker’s amendment had made it to the Senate.

    “If passed, this amendment could significantly change the way districts are drawn in Virginia,” Cannon said.

    In a speech Thursday at the University of Virginia, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe called gerrymandered congressional districts one of the “worst things to happen to democracy.”

    “I support all 50 states having independent, nonpartisan commissions draw these lines,” McAuliffe said.

  29. William G. Batte, Sr., Ph.D.

    William G. Batte, Sr., Ph.D.

    Graveside Service Memorial Service

    Saturday, January 26, 2019 11 am

    High Hills Cemetery

    Friday, February 9, 2019, 9:30 am

    WindsorMeade, Williamsburg, Virginia

    Another from the Greatest Generation has passed: Jan 21, 2019, William G. Batte, Sr., Ph.D., at age 91 in Williamsburg, VA, following a brief illness. Known to his friends while growing up in Jarratt, VA, as "Billy-Gid", and otherwise known as William or Bill to others, he was an accomplished pianist and musician from an early age. William organized performing swing bands during his high school years, known as "Billy Batte and his Wings of Rhythm", which carried over into his college years at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI, now Virginia Tech). Obtaining BS degrees in Electrical Engineering and Industrial Engineering, with recognition in the Phi Beta Kappa honorary society, graduate studies in Electrical Engineering were performed at the University of Virginia and subsequently earned his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering (Computer Circuitry design) from Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio. William's notable professional career began at NASA as he was actively recruited to head a team to design and implement satellite tracking stations worldwide in anticipation of project Mercury and putting a man in space. William subsequently became division chief of the Data Reduction computer facility at NASA Langley. After leaving NASA, William became a full professor in Electrical Engineering for computer circuitry design at the University of Virginia. The final phase of his professional career was devoted to his technical consulting company and real estate interests.

    At a personal level, Bill was known to his friends as always the quintessential polite Southern gentleman, kind and gentle, who maintained his wit and dry sense of humor to his final days. He is survived by his son, W. Granville Batte, Jr., M.D., daughter Sharon Kay Batte, and preceded by his wife of nearly 50 years, Nancy Parker Batte, also of Jarratt, VA, brother, John Feild Batte, Jr., and sister Hazel Batte Nelson. Bill and his music will be deeply missed by all who have known and loved him. May he rest in peace.

    Funeral arrangements are through Owen Funeral Home in Jarratt, VA with a graveside service to be held at High Hills Cemetery on Saturday, January 26 at 11 a.m. There will be a memorial service held at WindsorMeade in Williamsburg on February 9 at 9:30 a.m.

    Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com.

  30. Senate Panel Rejects Ban on Offshore Oil Drilling

    By Serena Fischer, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — A bipartisan bill to ban oil drilling off Virginia’s coast was shot down on a 9-6 vote in a Senate committee Thursday.

    The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources killed SB 1573, which sought to prohibit permits for oil and gas exploration or drilling “in the beds of any waters of the Commonwealth.”

    The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, also would have repealed a section of the Code of Virginia that supports federal efforts for natural gas exploration up to 50 miles offshore. Current law allows for the authorization of oil and gas leases on state-owned bottomlands (subaqueous lands within three miles of the shore).

    “We rely on having clean beaches,” DeSteph said.

    The bill was co-sponsored by two Democrats — Sens. Monty Mason of Williamsburg and Lionell Spruill Sr. of Chesapeake.

    DeSteph and several speakers, including small-business owners and environmental lobbyists, said offshore drilling impacts more than just Virginia’s wildlife. They said Virginia Beach’s two biggest industries, tourism and the military, could be threatened by pollution and unsightly oil rigs.

    Virginia Beach hotel owner Diana Burke said offshore drilling could hurt her business.

    Groups such as the Virginia Petroleum Council and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce voiced opposition to DeSteph’s bill.

    A spokesperson for the petroleum group called the legislation “premature” and suggested that state officials “wait until more information can be gathered.”

  31. Governor Calls Bipartisan Effort to Clean Coal Ash ‘Historic’

    By Kathleen Shaw, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND -- Virginians could see an additional $5 charge on their power bills after Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox and a bipartisan group of legislators announced an agreement Thursday to clean up large ponds of toxic coal ash throughout the state.

    The $3 billion plan is to remove coal ash -- the residue from power plants -- from sites near Virginia’s waterways within 15 years. Democratic Sens. Scott Surovell of Fairfax and Amanda Chase of Chesterfield began the team effort to address the problem three years ago. Chase, Surovell and Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, are sponsoring legislation to close the coal ash sites, clean them up and prohibit further construction.

    Surovell’s Senate Bill 1533 specifically targets the ponds in Prince William, Chesterfield  Fluvanna counties and the city of Chesapeake. Dominion Energy, which operated the coal-fired power plants responsible for the ash, would pass along the cost of the cleanup to customers. The company would be required to use local labor and resources when practical to remove the material.

    Chase has filed two bills -- SB 1009 and SB 1743 -- prohibiting coal ash ponds in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and requiring the closure of existing ponds. She said she is excited to work with her colleagues to solve this problem.

    “Clean water is a bipartisan issue,” Chase said. “If you think of the cost of cancer and compare it to $5 a month, that's nothing.”

    If the legislation becomes law, that amount would begin appearing on Dominion customers’ bills starting in 2021.

    Virginia has been storing coal ash in ponds since the 1930s. Dominion Energy’s website states that it has 11 coal ash ponds and six coal ash landfills totaling about 27 million cubic yards of coal ash statewide. The plan requires the power company to recycle a minimum of 7 million tons by the 15-year mark.

    In a statement, Dominion Energy representative Dan Genest said the company “supports the comprehensive agreement reached by the Governor, legislative leaders, and members of the General Assembly that accomplishes clean closure, minimizes truck traffic, and prudently manages customer costs for the closing of ash ponds at our power stations.”

    Northam described the bipartisan agreement as historic and said the plan is a breakthrough in protecting the people and environment of Virginia.

    “Our effort will ensure we are disposing of coal ash in the safest, most environmentally responsible way. As they exist now, we run the risk that they could contaminate the drinking water supply, our tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay,” the governor said. “I think the environmental impact far outweighs those costs.”

    Northam said 25 percent of the coal ash must be recycled into concrete, asphalt or other construction materials. Coal ash that isn’t recycled would be moved to landfills certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or into modern pits at the site of power plants whose lining will prevent contamination.

    Democratic Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy lives near the Possum Point Power Station, which has four coal ash ponds, in Prince William County. She said she commends her colleagues, constituents and the power company for compromising on a solution.

    “Coal ash is something that's very personal to me, having Dominion’s coal ash pond in my backyard,” Foy said. “Arsenic, lead and mercury needed to be removed from the community so it would not disturb and have poison in our playgrounds and lead in our water.”

    The bills addressing the issue have been referred to the Coal Ash Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor.

  32. New Redistricting Maps Favor Democrats

    By Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — Democrats could have a better shot picking up seats in this year’s legislative elections under a redistricting map that a U.S. District Court has selected for the Virginia House of Delegates.

    If enacted, the new map would place at least five Republican delegates in districts where a majority of voters chose Democrat Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election — including the 66th House District represented by Republican Speaker of the House Kirk Cox.

    Democratic districts affected by the maps appear less likely to change hands based on those election results.

    In a statement issued shortly after the court’s decision, Cox said that the maps chosen by the court aimed to give Democrats an advantage.

    “The [maps] selected by the Court target senior Republicans, myself included, without a substantive basis in the law,” Cox said.

    In 2012, 37 percent of voters in Cox’s district voted for Obama. Under the new map, that number is much higher — 53 percent.

    The new maps would affect a total of 25 districts primarily in the eastern part of the state between Richmond and Hampton Roads and could present favorable conditions for Democrats to gain control of the House in 2019.

    Currently, Republicans hold a slim majority in the House, 51-48. All 100 seats are on the ballot in this year’s election.

    Democrats have not had a majority in the House since 1998.

    Under the new map, the 94th House District, a majority-blue district represented by Del. David Yancey, R-Newport News, would become even more Democratic. The 2017 election between Yancey and Democrat Shelly Simonds ended in a tie, and Yancy was awarded the seat after his name was drawn from a bowl.

    Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, would also see his district become more Democratic. In 2012, 44 percent of the voters in Jones’ 76th House District voted for Obama. That number is 58 percent under the proposed redistricting map.

    The U.S. District Court’s decision is the latest in a years-long redistricting case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017. The high court ruled that 11 districts in Virginia had been racially gerrymandered by the 2011 General Assembly to dilute the voting power of African-American voters.

    The court has asked the “special master” appointed to oversee the redistricting process to integrate the new districts into the statewide map and to submit the final plan by next Tuesday.

    Republicans have appealed the U.S. Supreme Court ruling and asked the court to delay the redrawing until it hears their appeal later this spring. The Supreme Court denied that request, giving the U.S. District Court the green light to complete the redistricting process before this year’s election.

    On Wednesday, the Virginia NAACP issued a statement in support of the maps selected by the court.

    “While we think the court could have done more to fully remedy the effects of the 2011 unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, we are overall pleased that voters will have fairer maps when they vote later this year,” NAACP spokesman Jesse Frierson said.

    “We are pleased that the court sees the need to incorporate another district where voters of color will be able to elect a candidate of their choice.”

    The District Court’s map selection will impact only the 2019 election. District lines will be redrawn statewide after the U.S. Census Bureau releases new demographic data in 2020.

  33. Ruth Weimer Tillar

    Ruth Weimer Tillar (1923-2019)

    Visitation Services

    Friday, January 25, 6-8 pm

    Echols Funeral Home, Emporia

    Saturday, January 26th at 2 pm

    First Presbyterian Church of Emporia

    Reseption to follow in Fellowship Hall

    Ruth Weimer Tillar, 95, of Emporia, VA passed away on January 21, 2019 at the Eugene Bloom Retirement Center. She was married for 57 years to the late Thomas Cato Tillar, Sr. and is survived by her son Thomas Cato Tillar, Jr. of Blacksburg, VA and daughter Elizabeth Kennedy Tillar of Tamworth, NH. Ruth was a devoted mother, grandmother, aunt and friend.

    Ruth was a 1945 graduate of the College of William & Mary and a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority. She was an avid alumna of the College who served as President of the Olde Guarde Alumni Board, established the Ruth Tillar Student Prize, and received recognition for her service with the Alumni Service Award, the Distinguished Service Award, and the William & Mary Alumni Medallion. She was also active with recognition societies at Virginia Tech and Colonial Williamsburg.

    Ruth was a longtime member of the First Presbyterian Church of Emporia where she served in various leadership roles. Her many community activities included the Emporia Book Club, the Beta Sigma Phi Sorority, Emporia Rotary, Riparian Women’s Club and National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Her civic involvement further included the Southern  Regional Medical Center, the Emporia Industrial Development Authority, the Regional Airport Commission, the Civic Center Foundation, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Village View Foundation. Earlier in her career she taught high school in Blacksburg and Greensville County, Virginia.

    The family will receive friends from 6-8 pm on Friday, January 25th at Echols Funeral Home in Emporia. A funeral service will be held the following day on Saturday, January 26th at 2 pm at the First Presbyterian Church of Emporia, followed by a reception in the Fellowship Hall.

    In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions in her honor are encouraged to the College of William & Mary Foundation, Williamsburg, VA 23187.  

    Online condolences may be sent to the family at: www.echols funeralhome.com

  34. Instead of Cooking Up Laws, Politicians Enjoy Stew

    Capital News Service Reporter Arianna Coghill struggles to stir 85 gallon pot of stew.

    By Arianna Coghill, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND, Va. --  The rich aromas of Brunswick’s famous stew pour from the tent, tempting passing legislators to poke their heads inside Wednesday, eager for Stew Day to begin. But they’re shooed away like children peeking under the tree on Christmas Eve.

    When Stew Day begins, it’s a hustle of activity. Long lines of clerks and lawmakers stretch and wrap around corners. Legislative pages -- the smartly dressed boys and girls who run errands for members of the General Assembly -- scurry out of the tent to deliver containers of stew to legislators who couldn’t make it but desire a little taste of Brunswick.

    Usually, politicians are hungry for change, but today, they’re hungry for stew.

    Besides legislators, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring dropped by, happily cradling their own steaming cups of stew. Even Gov. Ralph Northam took a turn stirring the pot.

    “It’s a great tradition. Wonderful people,” Fairfax said. “We’re huge fans of not only the stew but the people of Brunswick.”

    Brunswick Stew -- named for Brunswick County, along Virginia’s border with North Carolina -- traces its origin to a hunting party in 1828. In 2002, the General Assembly passed a resolution officially designating the fourth Wednesday of each January as Brunswick Stew Day. The resolution called the stew a "gastronomic miracle" and "celestial sustenance.”

    “Brunswick stew is a big thing in the rural areas,” Del. Thomas Wright, who introduced the legislation back in 2002, said, “It was something that I thought deserved recognition.”

    Most of the people in the tent where the stew was being served Wednesday could recite the dish’s history.

     

    Inside the tent, four burly men stood around an elevated, 85-gallon cauldron overflowing with a hearty stew so thick that the paddle used to stir it sticks straight up at attention. The men pushed that paddle around as if it were second nature. And to most of them, it was.

    It took five cooks to make the stew, starting at midnight. They cooked all the way through the morning until 8:30 a.m. At the helm of it all was Tracy Clary, the stewmaster.

    Clary was the 2017 winner of the Brunswick Stew Cook-Off, a competition ordinarily held each October to determine which recipe of Brunswick stew would reign supreme. The winner is crowned “Stewmaster” and provides the stew for Brunswick Stew Day at the Virginia Capitol in January.

    Unfortunately, last October’s cook-off was canceled due to inclement weather. But luckily, Clary was there to step in.  

    Making stew has been in Clary’s family for generations. He had started making soup as a teenager with his grandmother, who was steadfast in her recipe that she kept on a 3-by-5 index card. As he has grown older, Clary has confessed to tweaking her recipe just a bit to suit his own tastes.

    Now he cooks for his community, making about 600-800 quarts at a time.  “We make money for a lot of civic organizations. I cook for churches, individuals. We raise a lot of money,” Clary said.

    He hopes his 12-year-old grandson will carry on the tradition.

    “We have to keep the tradition alive. Twenty-five years from now, no one’s going to know how to cook Brunswick stew,” Clary said, his eyes beginning to tear up. “And that’s bad.”

  35. Young Republicans National Federation Chooses Virginia for National Meeting

    By Arianna Coghill, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — The Young Republicans National Federation’s national meeting will be held April 5-7 in Richmond -- the first time the group will gather in Virginia.

    “In the YRNF’s 88-year history, Virginia has never before hosted, and it is fitting that this first-ever national meeting will take place in 2019, concurrent with the critical Virginia legislative elections,” said Jason Emert, the federation chairman.

    All seats in the Virginia General Assembly are up for election Nov. 5. Republicans have a 51-49 majority in the House and 21-19 edge in the Senate.

    “Our mission as an organization is to recruit, train and elect Republicans. To serve that mission, we have to go where we will make the biggest difference,” Emert said. “There is no state where we can make a bigger difference this year than in Virginia. We are committed to working with Republicans in Virginia to win elections across the state.”

    About 400 young Republicans between the ages of 18 and 40 are expected to attend the April meeting.

    The organization will showcase local and regional culture, as well specific events that signify the beginning of the 2019 election cycle, including meet and greet events with elected officials and a joint luncheon with the Young Republican Federation of Virginia.

  36. Panel OKs Qualifying Drug Offenders for Food Stamps

    By Saffeya Ahmed, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — A legislative subcommittee voted 6-4 Tuesday in favor of a bill that would make food stamps available to people convicted of drug-related felonies.

    The panel recommended that the full House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee approve House Bill 1891, which would expand eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or food stamps, to any drug offender.

    “We are a nation of second chances,” said Del. Matthew James, D-Portsmouth, who sponsored the bill. “This is an issue we need to think about … repealing the lifetime ban on food stamps.”

    Under current law, only people who are convicted of drug possession felonies can be eligible for food stamps and temporary assistance, if they comply with the court and complete a substance abuse treatment program.

    James said the legislation serves as a “safety net for felons who have done their time, paid their prices.”

    In 2018, more than 4,000 SNAP applicants were denied food stamps because of drug-related charges, according to the bill’s impact statement. If passed, HB 1891 would provide SNAP to more than 600 new Virginians who do not reside in SNAP homes and are not currently eligible for SNAP because of drug-related crimes.

    Eighteen states have dropped the restrictions prohibiting drug offenders from receiving SNAP, and 26 states — including Virginia — have reduced prohibitions by offering benefits if specific requirements are met. Virginia requires compliance with criminal court and Department of Social Services obligations, and the completion or active engagement in a substance abuse treatment program. Only three states implement a full lifetime ban on SNAP for drug offenders, James said.

    “I could have a felony as serious as homicide and be eligible for SNAP benefits,” said Pamela Little-Hill, director of social services for the city of Portsmouth. “There is something incredibly wrong with that.”

    James’ proposal would modify Virginia law to include any drug-related felonies, not just those related to possession. It also sought to remove the additional requirements for drug offenders to meet — court compliance and drug rehabilitation — in order to be eligible. But the subcommittee amended the bill to keep the requirements.

    Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, sponsored legislation similar to James’ food stamp bill. HB 2397 would prohibit denying Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, to individuals who have been convicted for drug-related felonies as well. The subcommittee voted 4-5 to reject Lopez’s legislation.

    “Parents re-entering their communities after incarceration routinely require public benefits to reunite their families, pay rents and buy food, clothing and other necessities,” Lopez said. “Denying access to such families as they attempt to rebuild their lives is counterproductive. Family members who are innocent of any wrongdoing are being punished for the crime of a parent.”

    TANF is a federal welfare program that provides monthly cash assistance to families to help meet basic needs. Lopez’s TANF bill would assist more than 100 families across the commonwealth, he said, and provide approximately $79 a month to each household.

    “Through this process, we’re going to be helping families, helping stabilize communities,” Lopez said.

    Both HB 1891 and 2397 focus on re-incorporating drug offenders into society and reducing recidivism, or offenders relapsing into a continuous cycle of crime.

    “These bills seek successful re-entry,” said Salaam Bhatti, attorney with the Virginia Poverty Law Center. “Studies show that 91 percent of people who are leaving prison don’t have access to food. This will help. Eligibility for these programs significantly decreases recidivism.”

    The House Health, Welfare and Institutions committee might consider HB 1891 when it meets Thursday.

    How they voted

    Here is how the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee voted on HB 1891 (Food stamps; eligibility, drug-related felonies.)

    01/22/2019 House: Subcommittee failed to recommend reporting (6-Y, 4-N)

    YEAS — Stolle, Edmunds, Hope, Aird, Rasoul, Rodman — 6.

    NAYS — Bell, Robert B., Pogge, Hodges, Head — 4.

    Here is how the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee voted on HB 2397 (TANF; eligibility, drug-related felonies.)

    01/22/2019 House: Subcommittee failed to recommend reporting (4-Y, 6-N)

    YEAS — Hope, Aird, Rasoul, Rodman — 4.

    NAYS — Bell, Robert B., Pogge, Stolle, Hodges, Edmunds, Head — 6.

  37. Panel OKs Bill to Move Virginia Away From Fossil Fuels

    By Emily Holter, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — On a split vote, a legislative committee has approved a bill to halt the construction of power plants that use fossil fuels and pipelines that carry such fuels after 2020 and to develop a plan for Virginia to rely totally on renewable energy for generating electricity by 2036.

    The House Commerce and Labor Committee voted 9-7 on Wednesday in favor of HB 1635, which would place a moratorium effective Jan. 1, 2021, on issuing permits for electrical generating facilities that use fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas. The moratorium also would apply to pipelines, refineries and other facilities associated with fossil fuels.

    Moreover, the bill mandates that beginning in 2036, all electricity sold by public utilities in the state must be generated from clean energy resources.

    “It challenges Virginia to come up with an aggressive 100 percent renewables plan in the next 15 years,” said the measure’s sponsor, Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke. “We clearly have heeded the warning that we are in an environmental crisis that could lead to an economic crisis.”

    There are more than 97,000 jobs in the solar, wind and other renewable-energy industries in Virginia, Rasoul said. He said the bill would create more jobs and boost the economy, especially in impoverished areas, while helping to mitigate the effects of climate change.

    But the bill’s opponents argue that the timetable to switch electricity production from fossil fuels to renewable energy is too short.

    Del. Tony Wilt, R-Harrisonburg, said that he supports renewable energy but that the plan would have negative consequences on the state.

    “People are reading too much into the tea leaves,” Wilt said. “Moving from A to Q in a short amount of time could be devastating.”

    Rasoul’s bill initially called for imposing a moratorium on the construction of fossil-fuel power plants, pipelines and other facilities on Jan. 1, 2020. The House Commerce and Labor Committee changed the date to 2021 before voting on the legislation.

    Republican Del. Tim Hugo of Fairfax joined eight Democrats on the committee in voting for the bill. Five Republicans and two Democrats voted against the measure. Six committee members — all Republicans — did not vote.

    In an interview Wednesday, Rasoul acknowledged that it would be difficult for the bill to pass the full House of Delegates. But he said that he is glad people are talking about moving away from fossil fuels — and that he is hopeful for his proposal in the long term.

    “It is time for Virginia to be bold if we want to move in the right direction,” Rasoul said.

    How they voted

    Here is how the House Commerce and Labor Committee voted Wednesday on HB 1635 (Fossil fuel projects moratorium; clean energy mandates).

    01/22/19 House: Reported from Commerce and Labor with amendment (9-Y 7-N)

    YEAS — Hugo, Ward, Keam, Filler-Corn, Kory, Bagby, Toscano, Mullin, Bourne — 9.

    NAYS — Kilgore, O’Quinn, Ransone, Wilt, Head, Lindsey, Heretick — 7.

    NOT VOTING — Byron, Ware, Marshall, Bell, Robert B., Yancey, Webert — 6.

  38. Bill Offering Tuition Refunds for Unhealthy Veterans Gets Revised

    By Katja Timm, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND -- The House Committee on Education recommended an amended bill Wednesday that would refund tuition for veteran students who need to withdraw during a semester due to a medical condition.

    Legislators requested an amendment to HB 2113, sponsored by Del. Kathleen Murphy, D-Fairfax, to make its provisions more specific. The bill did not originally state what kind of medical condition and what causes would make a veteran eligible for reimbursement for a leave of absence.

    “They can withdraw for the first time due to a service-connected medical condition,” Murphy said. “We wanted to clarify that.”

    Qualifying medical conditions include PTSD-related trauma along with physical ailments, according to Murphy.

    Additionally, student veterans must have their condition “certified in writing to the institution by a physician licensed to practice medicine,” according to a summary by the Legislative Information System.

    The amended bill requires the institution to reimburse the student veteran for the semester tuition, along with any mandatory fees. The student veteran can only qualify for a tuition refund the first time they withdraw due to a medical condition.

    The refunded tuition would go back to the student’s GI Bill benefits, Murphy said.

    Carrie Ann Alford, the policy director of the Department of Veterans Services in Virginia, said the department supports the bill.

    The withdrawal would not affect the student's ability to re-enroll at the institution, according to the bill summary.

    The House Education Committee passed the bill with an 20-1 vote, the only nay vote being the Committee Chairman R. Steven Landes, R-Albemarle.

    The amended bill was referred to the Committee on Appropriations.

  39. Northam Details Budget Proposals to Boost Education

    Gov. Northam signs his proclamation recognizing February 2019 as School Board Appreciation Month while VSBA President R. Tyrone Foster looks on.

    By Benjamin West, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — Gov. Ralph Northam outlined his budgetary proposals to educators Wednesday: for a 5 percent teacher pay increase, expanded broadband internet, funding for school resource officers and counselors, and a major bump in the state’s rainy day fund.

    “There is power in every child out there, and every child needs the same opportunity, and that is access to a world-class education,” Northam said.

    Seated at circular tables with their district’s name printed neatly on a card, elected members of school boards from around the state listened to speakers discuss the budget and policy proposals at the 2019 Virginia School Board Association Capital Conference.

    VSBA President R. Tyrone Foster said it’s important for attendees “to meet with your local legislators to make sure that we advocate for our children.” On Thursday, the second day of the event, members will do just that — meeting face to face with their representatives at the Capitol.

    Northam identified fields in which Virginians will find the “jobs of the 21st century.” He named science, technology, engineering, the arts, math and health care and fields such as cybersecurity, biotechnology, data analysis and artificial intelligence.

    “How do we educate our children so that they can be on a pathway for those exciting job opportunities and careers?” the governor asked.

    He said Virginia’s growing economy is giving the commonwealth funds that can be put toward educational goals. Northam said changes in the federal tax code and a proposed internet sales tax will contribute to the increase in government revenues.

    “The question is: What will we do with it?” he said.

    Northam highlighted the importance of the rainy day fund, which he said accounted for $500 million of last year’s budget.

    “Our economy right now is doing well, but you never know what it’s going to do next year,” he said.

    Northam said he hopes to save 8 percent of the budget by the end of his administration.

    For current taxpayers, the governor addressed his plans for a fully refundable earned income tax credit “for those making $54,000 or less” and a raise in the Virginia standard tax deduction.

    Lastly, Northam addressed the future.

    “We really are at a unique opportunity here to be able to invest some of this revenue into the future of Virginia,” Northam said.

    His financial proposals include:

    • $50 million per year over five years “to make sure that everybody across Virginia has access to broadband.” The governor said, “If our children are working on a computer at school during the day and then have an assignment at night, and they don’t have access to broadband, their hands are literally tied.”
    • A 2 percent pay raise for teachers on July 1 in addition to the 3 percent already planned. “That will be the largest one-time pay raise for teachers in over 15 years,” Northam said.
    • $36 million per year for “hiring and supporting” school counselors. “Our children are exposed to a lot of different things these days. They rely heavily on their counselors,” he said.
    • Several million dollars for school resource officers. “I really don’t think it’s a good idea for our teachers to be law enforcement officers,” Northam said. “We pay them to teach, not to be law enforcement.”
    • $80 million for school renovations and new construction.

    According to press secretary Alena Yarmosky, the budgetary proposals were based on recommendations from the Children’s Cabinet, “a diverse group of stakeholders focused on enhancing school safety and ensuring the well-being of Virginia’s students,” established by executive order last year.

  40. VIRGINIA VEHICLE INSPECTION STICKERS REDESIGNED

    New Safety Approval Sticker Promotes “Move Over” Safety Message

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

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

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

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

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

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

    By Jayla Marie McNeill, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How they voted

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

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

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

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

  42. Panel Takes Step Toward Legalizing Casino Gambling

    By Alexandra Zernik, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How they voted

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

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

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

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

    ABSTENTIONS--DeSteph--1.

  43. Senate Passes Bill To Address Virginia Food Deserts

    By Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Senate bill now heads to the House for consideration.

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

  44. Voting Along Party Lines, House Subcommittee Kills ERA

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

    By Georgia Geen, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  45. HERRING WARNS VIRGINIANS ABOUT SCAMS RELATED TO GOVERNMENT SHUT DOWN

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

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

  46. Event Promotes Racial Reconciliation on Virginia’s 400th Anniversary

    By Kaytlin Nickens, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  47. Citizens Advocate for Gun Control from Both Sides at the Capitol

    KING_Gun Violence

    Use the controls to click through this slideshow.

    By Evie King, Capital News Service

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

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

    Virginia Citizens Defense League Rally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Gun Violence Vigil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    By Maryum Elnasseh, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How They Voted

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

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

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

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

  49. Jackson-Feild Promotes Johnnie McKeller

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

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

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

     

     

     

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

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

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

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

    Erin resides in Henrico, NC on Lake Gaston.

  51. Lobbying ‘Day of Action’ Brings Hundreds to Richmond

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

    By Caitlin Morris, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  52. Virginia Senate committee votes to legalize guns in churches

    By Jayla Marie McNeill, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  53. School Safety Bills Are Up for Final Approval in House

    By Benjamin West, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The bills, which delegates tentatively approved Monday, are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

  54. Alvin Lear Lucy

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

    By Corrine Fizer, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  56. Senate Votes to Repeal Racist "Jim Crow" Wage Law

    By Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Senate on Friday passed a bill to repeal a Jim Crow era-law that legalized wage discrimination against many African-Americans.

    The Senate voted to rescind the law that allows employers to pay less than minimum wage to “newsboys, shoe-shine boys, ushers, doormen, concession attendants and theater cashiers” — jobs to which many African-Americans were relegated decades ago.

    The Senate voted 37-3 for SB 1079, which removes those exemptions from the list of jobs not covered by the Virginia Minimum Wage Act.

    On the Senate floor, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, said the exemptions were rooted in Virginia’s history of discrimination against African-Americans.

    “There is no reason for the workers in these professions to be paid below the minimum wage,” Spruill said. “It’s time to end these Jim Crow laws.”

    Spruill’s bill also eliminates the minimum wage exemption for babysitters if they work more than 10 hours per week.

    Two similar bills are pending before the House Commerce and Labor Committee: HB 2001, sponsored by Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, and HB 2473, introduced by Del. Marcia Price, D-Newport News.

    In 2018, Del. Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria, carried a bill with the same intent, and it died in committee. Krizek said the minimum-wage exemptions were “obviously aimed at African Americans who were in these service jobs because those were the jobs they could get at the time.”

  57. Senate Agrees Not to Ask Job Applicants About Criminal History

    By Corrine Fizer, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND —  After two decades of pleas from criminal justice reform advocates, the Virginia Senate voted 24 to 16 on Friday to “ban the box” -- to remove the checkbox on state employment application forms that asks applicants about their criminal history.

    Democratic Sens. Rosalyn Dance of Petersburg and Jennifer McClellan of Richmond sponsored the bill, SB 1199. Supporters included the advocacy group New Virginia Majority, which aims to “build power in working-class communities of color.”

    Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of the group, said the bill could provide more opportunities to people who have committed crimes but served their time.

    “Fair-chance policies like this benefit so many families and employers throughout the commonwealth. This bill is a step forward in establishing more equitable hiring practices that we want to see,” Nguyen said. “Employers should consider a candidate’s qualifications first without the stigma that comes with checking that box.”

    Bobby Lee, a member of New Virginia Majority, said he is “overjoyed” with the Senate’s action.

    “I got clean in 2007 and I have been on the right path ever since, but that box has held me back from being able to help other people,” Lee said. “I am a certified mental health and substance abuse professional. I got my voting rights back, I finished school, I was hopeful. And then job after job would never call me back.”

    Lee said he applied to be a “peer recovery specialist” two years ago.

    “When I interviewed for the job, I was told that I would’ve been hired on the spot if it weren’t for a conviction I received when I was 17 years old,” he said.

    SB 1199 would prohibit state agencies from asking applicants if they have ever been convicted of a crime early in the application process. Agencies could pose such questions only after the applicant has received a conditional offer of employment; the offer then could be withdrawn “if the applicant has a conviction record that directly relates to the duties and responsibilities of the position.”

    The legislation would not apply to law enforcement jobs or certain other positions that require background checks.

    The bill now heads to the House of Delegates, where it has failed in the past.

    How They Voted

    Here is how the Senate voted on SB 1199 (Public employment; inquiries by state agencies and localities regarding criminal convictions, etc.)

    Floor: 01/18/19  Senate: Read third time and passed Senate (24-Y 16-N)
    YEAS -- Barker, Boysko, Dance, Deeds, Dunnavant, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Howell, Lewis, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, McPike, Petersen, Ruff, Saslaw, Spruill, Stanley, Sturtevant, Surovell, Vogel-- 24.

    NAYS--Black, Carrico, Chafin, Chase, Cosgrove, DeSteph, Hanger, McDougle, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Peake, Reeves, Stuart, Suetterlein, Wagner -- 16.

  58. Democratic-Socialist Lawmaker Wants to Repeal Right-to-Work Law

    By Rodney Robinson, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — The General Assembly’s self-described socialist member is sponsoring legislation to repeal the state’s right-to-work law, which says employees can’t be forced to join a labor union.

    Del. Lee Carter, a democratic socialist inspired by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, has filed House Bill 1806, which could force workers in Virginia to become union members and pay union dues as a condition of their employment.

    Virginia is among 27 right-to-work states — a fact that business leaders often point to with pride. Carter’s bill aims to change that.

    “Repealing it is bigger than just the actual technical changes that it would make,” said Thomas McIntire, Carter’s legislative aide. “It sends a signal to workers in Virginia saying that your voice matters.”

    In right-to-work states, a workplace where employees are represented by a union is considered an “open shop”: People can work there without joining the union, and they can cancel their union membership at any time.

    Critics of right-to-work laws say this allows freeloading: Non-union employees don’t pay union dues, but they benefit from the collective bargaining agreements and higher salaries that the union negotiates.

    Carter ran as a Democrat in winning the 50th House District seat representing Manassas and part of Prince William County in 2018. He wants to repeal the state law that says, “No person shall be required by an employer to become or remain a member of any labor union or labor organization as a condition of employment or continuation of employment by such employer.”

    HB 1806 would allow “agency shops” or “union shops,” where all employees must pay the union either dues or a service fee.

    “A collective bargaining agreement may include a provision establishing an agency shop or a union shop,” the bill says. “If such a provision is agreed to, the employer shall enforce it by deducting from the salary payments to members of the bargaining unit the dues required of membership in the labor union, or, for nonmembers thereof, a fee equivalent to such dues.”

    McIntire said the fees would help the union provide better support to employees in the workplace.

    Supporters of right-to-work laws say they are good for the economy.

    States without such laws tend to have higher unemployment and a higher cost of living, said Scott Mayausky, commissioner of the revenue in Stafford County, Virginia. That’s because compulsory union membership drives up the cost of goods and services, he said.

    In such situations, a company’s costs can increase — and that worries Mayausky the most.

    “Statistically, if you look at a lot of the Rust Belt states that are big union states, those are the ones that have been struggling economically, and a lot of their companies are leaving,” Mayausky said.

    Mayausky had two grandfathers who were coal miners, so he understands the good that unions can bring. But he believes this isn’t the time for repealing the right-to-work law in Virginia.

    “We’re doing very well,” Mayausky said. “I don’t understand the push to change the right-to-work law when things seem to be headed in the right direction.”

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Virginia has about 176,000 union members — approximately 4.6 percent of wage and salary workers in the state.

    McIntire said it was important for Carter to file the bill, which is pending before the House Rules Committee.

    “This is at the core of what Del. Carter stands for when it comes to worker rights,” McIntire said. “It’s important to get this in now as early as possible.”

  59. Apply Now for meherrin Regional Governor's School

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

  60. Governor and Others Vow to Protect Women’s Reproductive Rights

    By Arianna Coghill and Emily Holter, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND, Va. -- Dozens of women packed into the state Capitol Thursday to stand beside Gov. Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring and General Assembly members who issued a statement in solidarity with women’s reproductive rights.

    Representatives of several advocacy groups, including the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, joined public officials, all Democrats, to discuss abortion rights and promote better access to comprehensive reproductive health care.

    “I’m going all the way to the Supreme Court if I have to in order to protect Virginians’ health care,” Herring said.

    Meanwhile, two bills calling for greater reproductive health rights failed to leave the Senate Committee on Education and Health. Committee members voted 8-7 twice, along party lines, not to advance the bills.

    Public officials and advocates who support abortion rights promised to remember Thursday’s votes at the next election.

    “When we can’t change people’s minds, we change seats,” Northam said.

    Herring added, “As saw in committee this morning, in order to really truly protect women's rights and their reproductive rights, we need a pro-choice majority in the General Assembly.”

    SB 1637, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, sought to establish a woman’s reproductive choice as a right. Also called the Virginia Human Right Act, the bill stated, “Every individual who becomes pregnant has a fundamental right to choose to carry a pregnancy to term, give birth to a child, or terminate the pregnancy.”

    Boysko expressed concerns that the current political climate could jeopardize women’s reproductive rights.

    “We must codify our national rights into Virginia state law,” she said, “to ensure that the reproductive rights of Virginians are dependable, secure, and no longer in danger from changing political tides.”

    SB 1451, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, also failed in committee. The bill would have eliminated the state’s requirements women get an ultrasound before an abortion, that a second trimester abortion must be performed in a hospital and that two doctors are needed to certify a third-trimester abortion.

    “It’s time we stop criminalizing a woman’s choice and expand access to care for all Virginians,” McClellan said.

    When McClellan served in the House of Delegates, she was the first member to give birth while in office. She said pregnancy opened her eyes to the scope of women affected by current regulations and prompted her to submit her bill.  

    “One [woman] who had a hole in her heart, who was on birth control but got pregnant anyway, had to make the terrible decision to terminate that pregnancy or risk her life,” McClellan said. “I have always been pro-choice. This took on extra passion for me because so many people have told me in the grocery store, ‘That’s my story.’”

    HB 2491, sponsored by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Springfield, is identical to McClellan’s bill and currently sits in the House Courts of Justice committee. Tran said the current medical requirements are unnecessary and impact low-income Virginians and women of color.

    “For women seeking reproductive care, the additional costs and obstacles imposed by existing regulation could potentially include unpaid time off from work, hospital fees and other emotional distress,” Tran said. “These restrictions harm women and have disproportionate effects on low-income women and women of color in Virginia.”

  61. Bipartisan Group Launches Initiative for Racial Reconciliation

    Richmond City Mayor Levar Stoney speaking before fellow members of Virginians for Reconciliation at a press conference Wednesday.

    By Benjamin West, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — Four centuries after enslaved Africans were brought to Virginia, a diverse group of public officials, business executives and religious leaders has opened a yearlong dialogue about racial justice and healing.

    The group, Virginians for Reconciliation, detailed its plans at a press conference Wednesday afternoon with words from Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam; his Republican predecessor, Bob McDonnell; and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.

    The goals are straightforward: “To get people to know, respect and care for one another, to break down racial barriers of prejudice and mistrust, and build a stronger basis to solve problems for the common good,” McDonnell said. “But talk is cheap, and results matter.”

    The initiative comes as the Virginia General Assembly marks its 400th anniversary, which began when the House of Burgesses convened in Jamestown in 1619 — the first European legislative body in the American colonies.

    Northam said Virginians must reflect on the grim part of history as well.

    “Talk about what was good about our history — the pursuit of liberty — and what was not good — the pursuit of enslavement,” said the governor, who recently proclaimed 2019 the Year of Reconciliation and Civility.

    “This is an opportunity for us to review that and move forward together.”

    The organization has proposed more than 20 activities, including encouraging Virginians to read “The Color of Law,” which shows how government contributed to racial segregation.

    “Slavery didn’t end, it just evolved,” said David Bailey, quoting the lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson.

    Bailey is executive director of Arrabon, a Christian group promoting reconciliation. He said the Christian faith community has an important role to play in racial reconciliation because much of slavery was carried out “in the name of Jesus.”

    As part of a clergy pulpit exchange, Virginians for Reconciliation will encourage pastors to preach at “churches of different faiths/races.” The group also will urge Virginians — including members of the General Assembly — to walk the Richmond Slave Trail, which includes sites where slaves were imprisoned, bought and sold.

    “The physical chains are gone,” Stoney said. “But we all know that many people of color today are still bound by the chains of poverty, inadequate access to health care and shut out from opportunity by the criminal justice system.”

    At the news conference, McDonnell was asked whether Virginians for Reconciliation would address difficult issues such as Confederate monuments that are prevalent throughout Virginia.

    McDonnell said the group was focused on building relationships but might “begin recommending some of these policy changes” after a civil dialogue has taken place.

    “This is a start,” McDonnell said. He said the organization’s work could “hopefully be a model for America.”

  62. Some Energy Donors Gave Democrats More Than Republicans

    By Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — In a break from past years, some large energy-related political donors gave more money to Virginia Democrats than to Republicans in 2018, according to campaign finance reports posted Friday by the Virginia Public Access Project.

    For example, United Co., a coal mining company in Bristol, Virginia, contributed $130,000 to Democrats and $121,000 to Republicans in 2018, the VPAP numbers show. That was the only time in the past 10 years that United gave Democrats more than Republicans. In 2017, for example, United gave more than $102,000 to Republicans and nothing to Democrats.

    Dominion Energy, the largest energy-related donor, contributed mostly to Republicans last year — more than $207,000, vs. about $160,000 to Democrats (including $30,750 to the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and $25,000 to the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus). Over the past decade, Dominion has usually given Republicans more than Democrats.

    Donations by Thomas Farrell, Dominion’s CEO, are tabulated separately from the company’s contributions. Every year from 2008 through 2017, Farrell donated more to Republicans than to Democrats. But that changed last year: In 2018, Farrell gave Democrats $38,500 and Republicans $27,000.

    Farrell donated $5,000 each to five Democratic senators: Rosalyn Dance of Petersburg, Mamie Locke of Hampton, Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, Richard Saslaw of Fairfax and Lionell Spruill of Chesapeake. His largest single donation, $15,000, went to the Colonial Leadership Trust PAC, a political action committee created by Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox.

    Stephen Farnsworth, director of University of Mary Washington’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies, said energy companies may be reacting to the shifting political landscape in Virginia.

    “It’s clear that Dominion and many other energy industries are trying to win more friends in the Democratic Caucus,” Farnsworth said. “This is particularly important in 2019 because there may be Democratic majorities in the House and Senate next year.”

    Another energy-related donor that changed its pattern of political donations was EQT Corp. The Pittsburgh-based company is involved in the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would deliver natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia.

    Last year, EQT Corp. donated more than $43,000 to Democrats and less than $35,000 to Republicans in 2018. Every year from 2008 through 2017, EQT gave Republicans more than Democrats. In 2017, for instance, EQT contributed $60,000 to Republicans and $31,500 to Democrats.

    Similarly, Clyde E. Stacy, former head of Rapoca Energy, had given mostly to Republicans over the past decade. But in 2018, he donated $125,000 to Democrats and $102,500 to Republicans. Stacy is currently CEO of Par Ventures in Bristol, Virginia. He and United Co. are hoping to build a casino in Bristol — an issue before the General Assembly.

    Like Dominion Energy, several large energy-related donors continue to contribute mostly to Republicans.

    William Holtzman, head of a heating oil company and father of Republican Sen. Jill Vogel of Fauquier County, gives exclusively to Republicans, including $192,000 last year.

    Appalachian Power donated more than $76,000 to Republicans and $46,500 to Democrats in 2018, according to VPAP, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that shines a light on money in politics.

    And Virginia Natural Gas contributed $55,500 to Republicans and $38,500 to Democrats. But that was more than Virginia Natural Gas donated to Democrats in past years. The company gave Democrats $30,000 in 2017 and $21,000 in 2016.

    “This year will likely be a very expensive year for a lot of interests in Richmond,” Farnsworth said. “They basically have to donate to Republicans and Democrats, not knowing which party is going to be in control next year.”

    All seats in the General Assembly are up for election in November.

  63. Senate Panel Kills Stricter Seat-belt Law

    By Adrian Teran-Tapia, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — Virginia will continue to have one of the weakest seat-belt laws in the country after a Senate committee killed a bill to require rear-seat passengers in a motor vehicle to wear safety belts and to make violating the state’s seat-belt law a primary offense.

    The Senate Transportation Committee voted 6-5 Wednesday to “pass by indefinitely” SB 1282, which sought to expand Virginia’s seat-belt requirements. Currently, only the driver and front-seat passengers must wear a safety belt (or children must be secured in a child restraint device). Violations are a secondary offense, meaning officers cannot pull drivers over and ticket them simply for not wearing a seat belt.

    Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, who introduced the bill, shared his concerns over passenger safety with the committee.

    “After years of decline in traffic fatalities, we are now seeing an increase number of traffic fatalities — to some extent related to distracted driving issues,” Barker said. “This bill is something that can help address that and something we need to do to help ensure the safety of those riding a vehicle in Virginia.”

    Since 2014, Virginia has seen a 20 percent increase in traffic-related fatalities and a 20 percent increase in fatalities related to unrestrained passengers and drivers, according to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. In 2017, the latest year for which data are available, 308 unbelted drivers and passengers died in crashes.

    Traffic safety groups supported Barker’s bill calling for primary enforcement to seat-belt usage for both front and rear passengers.

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that states with primary seat-belt enforcement laws “consistently have higher observed daytime belt use rates and lower fatality rates than secondary law states.” Virginia is among 16 states where seat-belt violations are a secondary offense. If someone is ticketed for the offense in Virginia, the fine is $25.

    The Senate Transportation Committee split along party lines over the bill. The six Republicans on the panel voted to kill SB 1282; the five Democratic committee members voted to keep the bill alive.

    Republican Sens. Amanda Chase of Chesterfield and John Cosgrove of Chesapeake questioned how police officers would enforce the seat-belt statute as a primary law.

    After the vote, Georjeane Blumling, vice president of public affairs for AAA Tidewater Virginia, said she was disappointed but not surprised that the committee killed the bill.

    “We knew that moving to a primary enforcement law was going to be a challenge,” Blumling said. “It has been [a challenge finding] balance between personal liberty and public safety for many years, and we appreciate Sen. Barker putting forth a bill to try to increase that safety by making seat belts both in the front and back required and a primary offense.”

    Kurt Erickson, president of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, which promotes traffic safety, said he would continue to push for stronger seat-belt laws. “The bottom line is that the routine wearing of seat belts is the single most effective measure to reduce crash-related deaths and injuries,” Erickson said.

    Erickson and Blumling will now wait for the House of Delegates to decide on a similar bill proposed by Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax.

    Krizek’s bill, HB 2264, calls for primary enforcement of the seat-belt requirement for drivers and front-seat passengers but secondary enforcement for rear-seat passengers. The measure has been assigned to a subcommittee of the House Transportation Committee.

    How They Voted

    Here is how the Senate Transportation Committee voted Wednesday on SB 1282 (Safety belt systems; use by rear passengers):

    01/16/19 — Senate: Passed by indefinitely in Transportation (6-Y 5-N)

    YEAS — Carrico, Cosgrove, DeSteph, Chase, Suetterlein, Peake — 6.

    NAYS — Deeds, Marsden, Favola, Edwards, McClellan — 5.

  64. New Takeout Food Concept in Scott’s Addition

    BIG KITCHEN

    By Madison Manske, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — A renovated diesel engine repair shop is home to a new food concept in Scott’s Addition. The Big Kitchen opened its takeout and delivery-based business on Wednesday, with the vision of creating meals from scratch that people can enjoy at home.

    Restaurant co-owner Susan Davenport said they’ve been working on the space for a little over a year now.

    The renovations include a storefront where customers can come in and pick up their order, as well as a walk-in cooler and a smokehouse in the back.

    “This was the original bay where the semis would come through and drop their engines to be repaired,” Davenport said.

    Customers can choose to drive through the covered garage to pick up their order from an employee or peruse the storefront options inside.

    The menu offers a variety of items ranging from nacho kits and wood-fired frozen pizzas to bottles of wine and packs of beer.

    “We have a really great team of chefs behind it,” Davenport said. “We have a lot of great sourcing with local purveyors, whether it’s our cheese or our meats, or especially in the growing season, the farms that we work with.”

    The four partners behind The Big Kitchen formed Big Kitchen Hospitality, a local group that also operates Tazza Kitchen in the West End along with an outpost in Scott’s Addition.

    The group said it has a staff of more than 300 employees working in its six full-service restaurants, three which are located in the Carolinas. Davenport said the online ordering technology and experienced food staff distinguishes The Big Kitchen from other carry-out concepts.

    “You can order ahead and order several meals for a few days or some sides or frozen pizzas, and when you select your time for it to be ready, all you have to do is pull into our bay and we bring your order out,” Davenport said.

    The Big Kitchen plans to launch food delivery service next month and will use refrigerated vans to keep the food fresh. Each item comes with heating instructions on the top label.

    Jeff Grant, a BKH partner, said numerous people were involved in many trial runs to test recipes, along with the process of packaging and heating the prepared meals.

    “Wood-fired cooking is still prominent, and we’ve included a few Tazza favorites, but we are excited about the new dishes and flavors that this team has put together,” Grant said.

    Davenport said The Big Kitchen will offer customers the option to bring back used packaging for the staff to compost.

    “I hate plastic, and so most of our packaging is compostable, and we actually compost everything organic here at this kitchen,” Davenport said. “Every month, we compost almost two tons of materials.”

    The grab-and-go style market in the storefront offers freshly prepared items including sandwiches, smoked meats and salads. Storefront hours are 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 2:30-6:30 p.m. on Sunday. The Big Kitchen is located at 1600 Altamont Ave.

  65. Panel OKs Bill to Restrict Tethering Animals

    By Caitlin Morris, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — A House committee Wednesday advanced a bill requiring Virginians who tether dogs outside to give the animals more room to move.

    It was one of three animal welfare bills the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources sent to the full House of Delegates for consideration.

    All three measures were sponsored by Del. Robert Orrock, R-Caroline. Last year, Orrock unsuccessfully sponsored legislation authorizing local governments to restrict how long animals can be tethered outside and to prohibit tethering during freezing weather.

    Under current law, if an animal is tethered outside, the rope or chain must be at least three times the length of the animal as measured from nose to tail. HB 1827 would make the requirement four times the length of the animal or 15 feet, whichever is longer. Moreover, the tether could not weigh more than one-tenth of the animal’s body weight.

    The measure would not apply to a leash used in taking an animal on a walk.

    The committee voted 19-2 in favor of the bill.

    Also, the panel unanimously approved a proposal to change the legal definition of “adequate shelter for animals” in the Code of Virginia.

    Currently, adequate shelter is defined as a space that protects animals from “the adverse effects” of heat or cold. HB 1625 would change the definition to specify protection “from exposure to” heat or cold.

    “A very simple, three-word change,” Orrock said. “But I think it gives significant additional powers to animal control to intervene before the suffering of an animal occurs.”

    At the suggestion of the state attorney general’s office, Orrock is also sponsoring HB 1626, which takes aim at cockfighting. The bill says that when animal control officers find domesticated birds, such as roosters, tethered, they can presume that the birds are being used for animal fighting.

    Del. Debra H. Rodman, D-Henrico, raised concerns about farmers who may tether fowl.

    “Are we sure tethering is when people are cockfighting?” Rodman asked when the bill was discussed during a subcommittee meeting Monday. “I had chickens in Guatemala … and you tether your chickens on the way to market.”

    The bill would allow Animal Control to investigate at their discretion, said Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach. A court hearing would take place within 10 days, and the animal would be released to its owner if no evidence of animal fighting was found. This may help protect the rights of farmers while giving animal control officers more authority in animal fighting investigations, legislators said.

    The committee approved the bill, 16-2.

  66. Poor People’s Campaign Delivers Demands to Legislators

    By Maryum Elnasseh, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — The Virginia Poor People’s Campaign, a revival of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 campaign to tackle poverty, gathered Wednesday at the Capitol, urging state and federal lawmakers to expand voting rights, raise the minimum wage, promote renewable energy and curb military aggression.

    About 25 people attended the meeting, delivered demands regarding issues they said are rarely represented in the political arena.

    “It’s very important for us to understand the power of voting and to not be manipulated into thinking our votes are insignificant,” said Carroll Malik, a representative from the Muslim Chaplain Services of Virginia.

    Malik said one of the most inspiring moments of his life was when his voting rights were restored 27 years after he was released from prison.

    “We are not useless. We are not worthless. We can do something,” Malik said.

    The group’s demands include restoration and expansion of the federal Voting Rights Act, an end to gerrymandering in drawing legislative districts, fully funded welfare programs, free tuition at public colleges and universities, more public housing, a ban on assault rifles and an immigration system that prioritizes family reunification.

    Community organizers spent the morning discussing issues and strategy, and then participants spent the afternoon delivering letters to their elected representatives.

    For the 2019 General Assembly session, the Poor People’s Campaign voiced support for several pieces of legislation:

    • HB 1902, sponsored by Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, promotes renewable energy. It would make “$1 billion in grants available over three years to religious institutions, public schools, institutions of higher education, and localities” to help finance the installation and operation of solar energy systems, according to a summary by the Legislative Information System.
    • HB 1651, sponsored by Del. Cliff Hayes, D-Chesapeake, would raise from $500 to $750 the threshold for a theft to be considered grand larceny.
    • SB 1200, sponsored by Del. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021.

    The group stated it “vigorously opposed” SB 1156, a bill introduced by Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun, to prohibit “sanctuary cities” for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

    “We have come together because Virginia is in a moral crisis,” the Poor People’s Campaign stated. “We will continue to organize, mobilize and educate residents across this state around our Moral Agenda, until all our demands are satisfied.”

  67. Richmond Public Schools Rallies Community with Advocacy Training during GA session

    By Evie King, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND -- Amidst fast paced agendas that can be inundated with political rhetoric and obscured by legislative processes, the General Assembly often remains an enigma to many Virginians. Even to some Richmonders, who dwell within the same city limits of the Capitol building, the first months of the year dedicated to the state's legislative system can pass by in a blur of headlines.

    Matthew Stanley’s job is to bring that fuzzy grasp of public understanding into a civically energized focus.

    As Richmond Public School’s Director of Advocacy and Outreach, Stanley held three public meetings in January, training over 40 community members how to advocate and interact with their legislative body for the betterment of Virginia’s public education.

    Stanley asked the handful of community members gathered at the Peter Paul Development Center gym Tuesday night, “In what ways have you already advocated in your life?”  

    Cheryl Burke, RPS School Board member of the Seventh District, said she has advocated for Richmond’s East End children for over 40 years, “as an educator, and as a parent.”

    Taikein Cooper said his advocacy roots date back to middle school, with the uncomfortable onslaught of puberty. After feeling mistreated by his teachers, Cooper reached out to his parents for guidance.

    When they set up a meeting to sort out the grievance, Cooper said it went differently than he expected. “I thought [my parents] were going to advocate for me,” Copper said to two roundtables of listeners. “But instead they let me advocate for myself. They gave me a platform and empowered me to use my voice.”

    Now in his early 30s, Cooper is executive director of Virginia Excels, an education advocacy platform for communities across Virginia. He said he came to the meeting in support of the RPS mission to encourage community advocacy in the 2019 General Assembly session.

    As a liaison between the worlds of educational priorities and legislative bureaucracy, Stanley presented a condensed slide show that bulleted a tangible step-by-step process for citizen involvement.

    “The most important people for you to communicate with are your representatives, you have a delegate and a senator, and you’re their constituent,” Stanley said, outlining the basis of the political relationships at hand. “What you say to them matters. Your voice does matter.”

    Subsequent slides listed resources for finding legislators, and tips for contacting them via phone or email. There were also suggestions for navigating personal, face-to-face conversations with politicians: "be confident," "stay positive," assertive-not aggressive."

    "And be excited," Stanley said. "Really, advocacy is being excited about helping people."

    That's the word Holly Jones used when asked how she felt about starting her new job as a mental health professional at Armstrong High School next week. "I'm excited," Jones said, smiling and shrugging her shoulders.  

    Just 25 years old, and newly graduated in 2017 with a master’s degree in social work, Jones said she is bringing a lot of energy into her position. "There are a lot of challenges to overcome, but... yeah, I'm excited," she said again.

    Stanley said one of those challenges is the counselor to student ratio in public schools. The state currently funds a ratio of one school counselor to every 425 students, nearly double the nationally-recommended best practice of one to 250 students.

    Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has proposed a three-year strategy with a $36 million investment to eventually reduce the state's ratio to the national best practice.

    House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, released a memo in November with priority recommendations from the House Select Committee on School Safety, which included realigning school counselor's responsibilities so that "the majority of their time [is spent] providing direct student services." This would not, however, decrease the ratio.

    Del. Roxann Robinson, R-Chesterfield, introduced HB 1735, which would review the current ratios and consider whether such a proposed alignment "is improving schools' ability to provide counseling services to students."

    “It's a lengthy list… nobody has the answer to fix everything," Stanley said of the district’s list of priority recommendations and its "hashtaggable" goal to secure "more money to make better schools for stronger students."

    Stanley handed out postcards at the end of the event and encouraged participants to write and begin fostering relationships with their legislators.

    In white script on a red and blue background, some cards read “I support your position,” while others, in a more dissenting tone, read, “I disagree with your position.”  

  68. Senate Panel Kills Bill Designating Election Day as a Holiday

    By Maryum Elnasseh, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — A Senate bill to designate Election Day as a state holiday in Virginia is dead for this legislative session.

    On a 5-7 vote Monday, the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology defeated SB 1291, which also would have removed Lee-Jackson Day as a state holiday so that the number of holidays would stay the same.

    Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, sponsored the bill seeking to make Election Day — the Tuesday after the first Monday in November — a state holiday.

    “There have been cases where voters had to leave polls before casting their votes, simply because they had to return to work,” Lucas said. “Making Election Day a state holiday would make it easier for Virginians to vote.”

    In November, voters in Chesterfield County said they waited more than two hours in line to vote — a situation that occurred throughout the nationResearch shows that the U.S. has lower voter turnout than most developed countries — many of which hold elections on weekends or designate the day as a national holiday.

    In Virginia in November, voter turnout was below 60 percent.

    “This legislation will help protect and expand the right to vote,” Lucas said.

    Asif Bhavnagri, Gov. Ralph Northam’s assistant secretary of administration, said the administration supports the bill. There were no comments from the public in opposition to the bill.

    Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Clarksville, who chairs the committee, questioned why Lucas proposed removing Lee-Jackson Day as a state holiday. That holiday, which marks the birthdays of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, is observed on the Friday immediately before Martin Luther King Jr. Day (the third Monday in January).

    “People who are used to getting four-day holidays that particular weekend, with Lee-Jackson on a Friday and King on Monday — don’t you think they would be a little upset?” Ruff asked.

    “Well, I’m sure they would,” Lucas said. “But Mr. Chairman, I think this goes a long way towards helping to expand the number of voters, and that’s more significant to me than having a long weekend.”

    Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun, also voiced concerns about removing Lee-Jackson Day as a holiday.

    “I have unease about the movement to erasing history,” Black said. “Maybe next time, it’ll be Martin Luther King. I would be opposed to erasing something in his honor.”

    Lee-Jackson Day is observed only in Virginia. Various localities, including Richmond, Charlottesville, Fairfax and Norfolk, do not observe the holiday.

    Lucas’ bill is not the only legislative attempt to declare Election Day as a holiday. In the House of Delegates, Del. Joseph Lindsey, D-Norfolk, has filed a similar proposal – HB 1984. It is awaiting action by a House subcommittee.

    In 2016, Donald McEachin — then a state senator and now a member of Congress — also introduced a bill to designate Election Day as a holiday instead of Lee-Jackson Day. The Senate General Laws and Technology Committee defeated McEachin’s bill on a 7-8 vote, with seven Democrats in favor of the bill and eight Republicans opposed to it.

    Six of those Republican senators, with the addition of Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, voted against Lucas’ bill Monday afternoon, while five of the same Democratic senators — once again — voted for it.

    “As expected,” Lucas said, as her bill was defeated. “But I’ll see you again next year.”

    How They Voted

    Here is how the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee voted Monday on SB 1291 (Legal holidays; Election Day).

    01/14/19 Senate: Failed to report (defeated) in General Laws and Technology (5-Y 7-N)

    YEAS — Locke, Barker, Ebbin, Surovell, McPike — 5.

    NAYS — Ruff, Vogel, Black, Reeves, DeSteph, Suetterlein, Dunnavant — 7.

  69. Bipartisan Support Behind Bills to Curb Distracted Driving

    By Evie King, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — For Roxanne Gabel and Tabitha Clark, advocating for “hands-free driving” in Virginia is about more than statistics; it’s a family memorial effort.

    In November 2017, Gabel’s 21-year-old daughter, Lakin Ashlyn, was killed in a traffic accident when she was using Snapchat on her phone while driving, Clark, the young woman’s cousin, said at a Wednesday press conference held by the group Drive Smart Virginia.

    Distracted by social media while heading to work, Lakin Ashlyn drove off the road and lost control of her vehicle, according to authorities. The young woman was not wearing her seat belt, and when she overcorrected, her car overturned several times. She was ejected and killed, leaving behind her 3-month-old son, who was not in the car.

    Roxanne Gabel stood by the podium, tearfully holding the last Snapchat image her daughter took before the accident. Lakin Ashlyn’s eyes were large and round with a set of bear ears and a nose superimposed on her face by a Snapchat filter.

    “What she was doing was not illegal. Snapchatting is not illegal, Facebook is not illegal,” said Del. Chris Collins, R-Fredrick. He and Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Stafford, are leading a legislative effort to prohibit cellphone use while driving.

    Under current law, only texting while driving is a primary offense in Virginia. It can draw a fine of $125 for first offenders and $250 for recurring offenses.

    HB 1811 and its companion SB 1341 would make any interaction with a cellphone while driving a primary offense, with the same fines applied.

    “Traditionally I’ve resisted these [bills], I’ll be honest with you,” Stuart said at the press conference. “But it has come to the point where people are so totally engrossed in their phones that they are almost oblivious to the world around them, and that’s just a really dangerous recipe on a highway.”

    The House and Senate bills have bipartisan support: They are co-sponsored by Del. Michael Mullen, D-Newport News, and Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax.

    Legislators said the rising number of distracted driving fatalities shows the need for such legislation.

    According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, there were 208 distraction-related traffic fatalities last year, an 18 percent increase compared with 2016. During the same time frame, alcohol-related traffic fatalities fell more than 5 percent.

    “In some respects, driving with a phone in your hand can be just as dangerous as driving with a .15 blood alcohol level,” Collins said. “When this is something that law enforcement takes seriously and something the courts take seriously, people will change their behavior.”

  70. Bill Seeks Insurance Coverage for More Virginians with Autism

    By Kathleen Shaw and Madison Manske, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND, Va. — Legislation introduced by Del. Robert Thomas, R-Stafford, would expand autism insurance coverage to nearly 10,000 Virginians and lift the cap that excludes those over the age of 10.

    Under current law, individuals with autism can get insurance only from ages 2 through 10. Autism is the only medical condition that has an age-based coverage limit, Thomas said. His bill, HB 2577, would eliminate the restriction.

    “No other health impairment including asthma, diabetes or cancer has such age limits imposed on them,” Thomas said Tuesday at a press conference about the bill. “And we believe that coverage for all of these health conditions is based on medical necessity, and autism should be treated no differently.”

    House Speaker Kirk Cox joined Thomas at the event and expressed his support for the bill.

    “This announcement has been a long time coming in Virginia,” Cox said. He noted that according to estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “autism impacts 1 in 59 children in our country. This number is growing 15 percent a year.”

    A 2013 report from the Autism Center of Excellence at Virginia Commonwealth University said that on average, children are diagnosed as having autism at 6 or 7 years old. As a result, those families have only about four years of access to affordable insurance.

    After a child with autism turns 11, individuals can access affordable care only if they receive a “Developmentally Disabled Waiver” from the state. But there aren’t enough waivers to meet the demand, parents say.

    The “Fighting Fletchers,” a Midlothian family with three autistic sons, joined advocates from the Virginia Autism Project at the press conference. Kate Fletcher, the boys’ mother, said the Developmentally Disabled Waiver waitlist of nearly 13,000 has left her family feeling abandoned by the state.

    “All three of my boys are on that waitlist. Matthew’s been in the most urgent category for seven years now,” Fletcher said. “If we can’t access waiver supports, and we can’t access insurance past the age of 10, the state has effectively shut doors in our face the whole way.”

    Individuals with autism who can get the insurance receive pharmaceutical, psychological and therapeutic care.

    “Our children did not choose to be born with autism, and we feel that we should do everything we can to continue to learn about the causes of autism, but more importantly, to provide the treatment that we know is having a meaningful effect for these children regardless of their age,” Thomas said.

    State officials estimate that it would cost about $237,000 a year to extend autism insurance coverage to nearly 10,000 more people. But advocates said the future benefits far outweigh the costs.

    By having insurance and receiving treatment, a person with autism will require less in social services later on. The insurance “will save the state $1-2 million per person covered over their lifetime,” Fletcher said.

  71. MARCH OF DIMES AWARDS GRANT TO CMH WOMEN’S HEALTH SERVICES

    JOINING IN THE FIGHT FOR THE HEALTH OF ALL MOMS AND BABIES IN SOUTHSIDE VIRGINIA

    (SOUTH HILL, VA, DECEMBER 2018) – March of Dimes Virginia has awarded a grant to CMH Women’s Health Services, a practice of VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital, to support Centering Pregnancy Group Prenatal Care, aimed at serving maternal and child health needs here in Southside Virginia. This program will serve pregnant women in our area by providing prenatal care in a group setting that facilitates interaction and discussion and allows women to be more involved in their care. Centering Pregnancy has been shown to have an array of benefits for moms who participate, including lowering the occurrence of preterm birth and low birth weights.

    This grant is one of many that March of Dimes awards in pursuit of its mission to lead the fight for the health of all moms and babies.  This grant is made possible through a partnership with Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation.

    “We will use the March of Dimes grant to help meet our objective to expand our Centering program, which allows us to offer quality group prenatal care to expecting moms in our area,” said Terry Wootten, Certified Nurse Midwife at CMH Women’s Health Services.  “We are grateful to those in our community who support March of Dimes by participating in events like March for Babies and who donate in other ways.  That participation and those donations make this grant possible,” she said.

    CMH Women’s Health Services reinstated the CenteringPregnancy program in January of 2017. In November of that same year, we moved to a brand new hospital with a Labor and Delivery unit and, since then, have delivered more than 170 babies. It is our goal to provide the women in our area with the support they need to have a healthy pregnancy and birth experience.

  72. Louise Harrell “Bootsie” Grant

    Louise Harrell “Bootsie” Grant, 93, of Jarratt, passed away Tuesday, January 15, 2019. She was preceded in death by her husband of 63 years, J. Linwood Grant and her brother, Edward “Pete” Harrell. Mrs. Grant taught fourth grade for 41 years with the Sussex County School System and she considered all of her students “her babies”. She was a longtime member of High Hills Baptist Church serving in many capacities including teaching Sunday School for over 30 years. She and Linwood worked together through the years in numerous civic organizations and countless projects to better the community.

    Mrs. Grant is survived by a sister-in-law, Peggy Harrell; nieces, Rhonda Harrell, Alison Reickard, Alice Whitby (Dennis), Suzanne Ivey, Alicia Milam (Bob) and Ann Marie Taylor; nephew, Curtis Barnes (Sherry) and several great-nieces and great-nephews.

    The family will receive friends 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday, January 17 at Owen Funeral Home, 303 S. Halifax Rd, Jarratt. The funeral service will be held graveside 1 p.m. Friday, January 18 at High Hills Cemetery.

    In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made to Jarratt Volunteer Fire Department, P.O. Box 562, Jarratt, Virginia 23867 or to Greensville Volunteer Rescue Squad, P.O. Box 108, Emporia, Virginia 23847.

    Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com.

  73. Immigrant Advocates Bash Bill Blocking ‘Sanctuary Cities’


    Two years ago, immigrant rights activists held a rally to urge Richmond to designate itself as a "sanctuary city." (File photo by Jessica Nolte of Capital News Service)

    By Jayla Marie McNeill, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — Immigrant rights groups were outraged after a Senate committee advanced a bill to prohibit localities from restricting federal enforcement of immigration laws.

    The Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted 8-6 Monday for SB 1156, which states, “No locality shall adopt any ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws.” Opponents say the measure would require local police officers to work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities.

    “We feel this bill would create havoc for families and first responders by giving ICE agents free rein to continue inflicting psychological and other cruelties against immigrant communities throughout the commonwealth without accountability,” said Vilma Seymour, the president of the Richmond chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

    SB 1156, introduced by Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun, is awaiting a vote this week by the full Senate. To become law, the bill must also pass the House and secure the governor’s signature. Gov. Ralph Northam vetoed a similar bill last year.

    According to Black, the bill would not require localities to assist federal immigration law enforcement. However, it would preclude localities from enacting laws that restrict the “traditional” cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities.

    “Throughout law enforcement, there is a sort of customary interaction on all levels,” Black said at Monday’s committee meeting. “Most of these cooperative agreements arise, not out of statute … but local comity between organizations that are concerned about similar things.”

    Also present was the Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights, representing 12 organizations that oppose the bill, including the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations.

    Leonina Arismendi Žarković from the Latino coalition offered a prayer before the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.

    “Dear Lord ... I thank you for every single person in this room speaking power to people that most need it right now,” Žarković began. “I ask you, Lord, to please touch Sen. Black’s heart … Ask him to drop this right now. We know that you have brought every single person to these shores, and we know that you have a plan for each and every one of them.”

    “This bill, if it goes forward,” she added, “is going to be a complete stumbling block onto your people. And that is not what I want.”

    Black’s bill is viewed as an attempt to prevent “sanctuary cities” in Virginia — localities that limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement activities. Some jurisdictions in California, for example, have refused federal requests to detain people for deportation from the U.S.

    Proponents of sanctuary cities say they foster good relations between local police and immigrants living illegally in the U.S. Such immigrants often are afraid to report crimes, for instance, if they know local police cooperate with ICE, immigrant rights advocates say.

  74. Panel Kills Bill to Shield Older Kids from Secondhand Smoke

    By Rodney Robinson and Kal Weinstein, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND -- A legislative subcommittee has killed a bill intended to shield older children from the effects of secondhand smoke.

    Subcommittee No. 1 of the House Courts of Justice Committee voted 5-3 to indefinitely postpone consideration of HB 2091, which sought to outlaw smoking in a motor vehicle containing minors under age 16. Currently, it’s illegal to smoke in a car if there are passengers under 8.

    The five Republicans on the subcommittee voted in favor of killing the measure; the three Democrats on the panel voted against killing it.

    The bill was sponsored by Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Prince William.

    “As a mother, it was of great surprise to me to learn that children over the age of 8 can be exposed to secondhand smoke in vehicles,” Guzman said in a press release when she introduced the bill on Jan. 7. “Virginia needs to update its code to reflect the evidence-based results of medical studies.”

    According to the American Lung Association, secondhand smoke is the cause of more than 41,000 deaths per year, and about 37 percent of children in the U.S have been exposed to such smoke.

    Guzman’s bill would have applied not only to tobacco smoking but also to vaping.

    “Children under the age of 16 should also be protected from the smoke originated from vaping,” she said. “It is so popular right now in high schools.”

    Current state law does not address protecting minors from nicotine vapor emitted through the use of electronic cigarettes.

    As a social worker and a mother of four, Guzman said protecting children is her No. 1 priority. She said teenagers 16 and older can speak up or remove themselves from a car where the driver or passengers are smoking. However, younger children do not have that power, Guzman said.

    Other states have changed their laws on secondhand smoke.

    In Kansas, it’s illegal to smoke in a vehicle with minors under 14, and in Louisiana, under 13.

    Changing the law could reduce smoking, she said.

    “In Kansas, for example, in 2011, 27 percent of adults say that they were smoking,” Guzman said. “In 2016, after this law passed, the amount of adults smoking reduced to 23 percent.”

    Guzman said smokers “need to understand that secondhand smoke is the most dangerous part. And it is not fair that children are voiceless, that they cannot do anything to protect themselves.”

    Although Guzman’s bill is likely dead for the session, Virginia legislators will have another chance to consider the issue. Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, is sponsoring a bill similar to Guzman’s.

    Rasoul’s proposal, HB 1744, would make it illegal to smoke in a motor vehicle in the presence of minors under 18. It also has been assigned to Subcommittee No. 1 of the House Courts of Justice Committee.

  75. Virginia Legislators Seek Refund for Utility Customers

     

    By Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND, Va. — Democratic lawmakers have introduced a bill to return millions of dollars to Virginia residents who they say have been overcharged by the state’s utility companies.

    Bill sponsors say Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, the largest energy providers in the state, are charging residents more than they should for utility costs.

    “Virginia consumers have suffered long enough,” said Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke. “My constituents have said their utility bills are too high, and we need to have a strong group advocating for consumers to ensure that ratepayers are not being taken advantage of.”

    Rasoul is the chief sponsor of the "Ratepayers Earned these Funds, Not Dominion" (REFUND) Act. He said it seeks to compensate ratepayers for years of excess spending by utility companies.

    The bill comes a month after Clean Virginia, an environmental advocacy group, issued a report that claimed Virginia utility companies Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power use ratepayer money for nonessential spending like political contributions, advertisements and excessive executive compensation.

    “Energy bills in Virginia have stopped reflecting the fundamental principle that ratepayers should only pay for the underlying cost of their energy and its delivery,” the report said.

    It alleged that most Virginia residents are being overcharged by an average of $250 on their utility bills every year due to nonessential spending by utility companies — an excess payment that Clean Virginia has dubbed the “Dominion tax.”

    The proposed legislation aims to refund that money as a credit on customers' bills over a period of six to 12 months.

    “It ensures that we as ratepayers do not pay for Dominion’s lobbying activities,” said Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William. “These nonessential costs should never be subsidized by ratepayers, and refunding this money ensures ratepayers get back every cent that is rightfully theirs.”

    Under the proposed legislation, the State Corporation Commission would conduct annual proceedings to determine whether each electric public utility used revenue collected from its customers to pay for nonessential expenditures and would determine the amount and type of expenditure found to be improper.

    If any nonessential expenditures are found, the commission would have the authority to order the company to refund an equal amount to its customers.

    Additionally, if a utility company is found to have used ratepayer money to pay for any advertisements, the company would be required to refund customers 10 times the cost of the advertisement. Exceptions would be made for advertisements that promote conservation or more efficient use of energy.

    Dominion Energy has denied charging their customers for any nonessential expenses and maintains that the average bill for its customers is more than 20 percent below the national average.

    “Our customers never pay for our lobbying, political contributions or most of our advertising,” Dominion Energy spokesperson Rayhan Daudani said. “They are getting a great value on their power bills and have been for years.”

    The REFUND Act is one of several bills targeting Dominion on environmental and regulatory issues this year:

    • A bill introduced by Del. David Reid, D-Loudoun, seeks to limit Virginia’s reliance on fossil fuels for energy.
    • Bills sponsored by Carroll Foy and Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Midlothian, would require the closure and cleanup of Dominion’s coal ash landfills in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
  76. Legislators Introduce Journalist Protections

    By Saffeya Ahmed, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — Two delegates, both former journalists, introduced legislation Monday to protect student journalists from censorship and shield reporters from having to disclose confidential sources.

    Dels. Chris Hurst, D-Montgomery, and Danica Roem, D-Prince William, urged the General Assembly to pass such legislation.

    “Journalism matters. Facts matter,” Roem said. “We have to get this right.”

    Sponsored by Roem, House Bill 2250 — introduced for the second year in a row — would protect members of the press from being forced by courts to reveal the identity of anonymous sources.

    “The whole point of the shield law is to protect reporters from being jailed for protecting confidential sources,” said Roem, a former reporter with The Prince William Times.

    In 1990, Roem’s former editor Brian Karem served jail time  for withholding the names of anonymous sources while reporting in Texas.

    “He did it to protect his sources’ confidentiality,” Roem said, “and to keep his word.”

    Virginia is one of 10 states that does not implement shield protections for members of the press; Roem also pointed out that a federal shield law does not exist. HB 2250 includes a clause requiring sources to be revealed when there is an “imminent threat of bodily harm,” Roem said.

    In addition to shield laws, Hurst said it’s urgent the legislature also pass HB 2382, which he is sponsoring. The bill would safeguard the work of student journalists from administrative censorship.

    If the bill passes, Virginia would join 14 other states in providing protections for high school or college students. Half of the states with current protections for student journalists passed legislation in the last four years.

    “Thorough and vetted articles and news stories in student media shouldn’t be subject to unnecessary censorship by administrators,” Hurst said.

    Hurst has advocated for measures close to his heart since election to office in 2017. A former anchor and reporter for WDBJ 7 news in Roanoke, Hurst was dating Alison Parker, a fellow WDBJ reporter who was fatally shot on live TV in 2015, along with photojournalist Adam Ward.

    The bill would create the freedom for student journalists to publish what they please without fear of administrative retaliation.The institution would be allowed to interfere only if  content violates federal or state law, invades privacy unjustifiably, creates clear danger or includes defamatory speech.

    While the current legislation focuses on implementing protections for student reporters in public schools and universities, Hurst said he wants the protections to eventually encompass private institutions. He said the legislation was “something that would, as fast as possible, put protections in place for student journalists at our public schools, our public colleges and universities.”

    These pieces of legislation come at a time when professional journalists are increasingly targets of violence. A 2018 report by Reporters Without Borders — a nongovernmental organization that promotes journalistic free speech worldwide — found nearly 350 journalists were detained, 80 killed and 60 held hostage by November. More than 250 reporters globally were jailed in 2018, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

  77. Bill Would Exempt Mentally Ill from Death Penalty

    By Jayla Marie McNeill, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND -- A Senate committee has agreed to advance a bill that would protect individuals with a severe mental illness from the receiving the death penalty.

    On a 8-6 vote Monday, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee approved SB 1137, which states that “a defendant in a capital case who had a severe mental illness as defined in the bill, at the time of the offense is not eligible for the death penalty.”

    The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Barbara A. Favola, D-Arlington, is being considered by the full Senate this week.

    The bill would establish procedures for determining mental illness (such as expert evaluators), would require judges and juries to take illness into account in sentencing procedures and would mandate that it is the responsibility of the defendant to prove his severe mental illness by a “preponderance of evidence.”

    Under current Virginia law, the jury can take mental illness into consideration when deciding to apply the death penalty.  This bill aims to remove the option of the death penalty for those with a proven severe mental illness.

    “This is really a sentencing bill,” Favola. “It doesn’t say that the person would have to be ruled not guilty.”

    Thirty states have the death penalty. According the  Death Penalty information Center, Virginia carried out the second highest number of executions, 113, since 1976, coming in second to Texas, which carried out 558 executions.

    In 2017, Virginia executed two inmates and has three prisoners on death row.

    “The U.S Supreme Court over time has issued decisions that really talk about culpability and the fact that the death penalty should only be applied when an individual has full understanding of his actions and consequences,” Favola said.

    In the 2002 case of Atkins v. Virginia, the court maintained that the legal execution of defendants with intellectual disabilities was unconstitutional. In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled in Roper v. Simmons that applying the death penalty to defendants 18 years of age or younger was “cruel and unusual punishment” and therefore prohibited by the U.S Constitution.

    However, there is no federal law or ruling that extends that protection to individuals who have been deemed to have a severe mental illness, despite pressure from medical associations and human rights groups.

    Mental illness “is a whole category that has never really been dealt with by the courts and needs to be dealt with by this legislation,” Sen. John Edwards, D–Roanoke, told the Courts of Justice Committee. “I think this is an important bill.”

    Organizations supporting the legislation included the Virginia Catholic Conference, the National Alliance of Mental Illness, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, Mental Health America of Virginia and the Disability Law Center of Virginia.  

    Speaking in opposition to the bill was John Mahoney of the Virginia Association of Commonwealth Attorneys. Mahoney said the measure is equivalent to “attacking the death penalty from the sides” and would “take things out of the hands of the jury.”

    “We see this as making cases unendable,” Mahoney said. “The whole focus, then, is going to be mental health and what is a mental illness.”

  78. Democrats’ Priorities: LGBT Rights, Environment, $15 Minimum Wage

    House Democratic Leader Del. Eileen Filler-Corn gives her opening statement at the House Democratic Caucus press meeting Tuesday. She spoke about past party victories and new challenges in the 2019 session. (Photo Benjamin West)

     

    By Benjamin West, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — LGBT rights legislation, environmental protection and a push for a $15 minimum wage are among the goals House Democrats have for the 2019 legislative session.

    Members of the House Democratic Caucus held a press conference Tuesday to outline their priorities for the session, which runs until Feb. 23.

    House Democratic Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, a delegate from Fairfax, celebrated the party’s recent victories at the polls, including the election of 15 new Democratic delegates in 2017 and two consecutive Democratic governors. Filler-Corn said she hoped her colleagues would keep pushing forward.

    “There is so much more that we can do, and that’s why we are here today,” she said. “If we are to successfully pass this legislation, we’ll continue to move Virginia forward.”

    The list of policy priorities is not “comprehensive or exhaustive,” Filler-Corn said, noting, for example, that it did not include gun safety legislation.

    But she said the goals would help workers, children, teachers, the middle class and other groups. Filler-Corn said she hoped her Republican colleagues would join her “to successfully pass some of these bills.”

    Speakers at the news conference included:

    ·         Democratic Caucus Chair Charniele Herring, a delegate from Alexandria, who said the party would push for no-excuse absentee voting and other changes in voting laws. “No right is more fundamental to our democracy than the right to vote, yet that right is under attack across the country,” Herring said.

    ·         Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy of Woodbridge, who discussed legislation to protect the LGBT community from discrimination. “Virginia has been on the wrong side of history too many times,” Foy said. “We have fought against interracial marriage, women's right to vote, women being able to receive a higher education. We fought against desegregation. And now it’s time for us to be on the right side of history.”

    ·         Del. Jeion Ward of Hampton, who touted bills to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour and to help firefighters suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. “We cannot strengthen our economy without strengthening our neighbors,” Ward said.

    ·         Del. Wendy Gooditis of Clarke County, who called for environmental legislation that she said would benefit both urban and rural Virginians. “Constituents on both ends of my district need clean drinking water,” she said. “We all need fresh air. We all want a healthy future for our children.”

    Gooditis said Democrats want laws to make sure the state’s electric utilities are investing in clean energy and to ensure that all residual coal ash from power plants is recycled.

    “Farmers need green space and thriving waterways,” Gooditis said. “Parents want clean air and water so their children can flourish. Communities want prosperous local economies. The people of Virginia want us to move energetically toward a new, greener way of life.”

    In her closing words at the news conference, Del. Vivian Watts of Fairfax said the House Democratic Caucus would work for the “the dignity of the individual.”

    “We are determined to make this House the house for all Virginians,” she said.

  79. Lawmakers Call for Improvements in Foster Care


    Delegate Emily Brewer (R) and Senator Monty Mason (D) chaired the first-ever Foster Care caucus. Photo by Madison Manske.

    By Kathleen Shaw and Madison Manske, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND, Va. — The first-ever bipartisan foster care caucus convened Tuesday to provide legislators the opportunity to learn about the various demanding issues in child welfare.

    Nine bills and two budget amendments before this year’s General Assembly session seek to improve Virginia’s foster care services. The co-chairs of the caucus — Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk, and Sen. Montgomery ‘Monty’ Mason, D-Williamsburg — said the group is committed to putting the commonwealth’s children first.

    “It’s going to be a long-term solution through legislation, through advocacy and working through partnership groups to make sure that we’re making every single Virginia foster care youth have the most normalized experience, achieving normalcy as part of our goal,” Brewer said.

    The urgent focus on Virginia’s foster care system comes after a report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, the General Assembly’s research arm, ranked the state’s social service policies as among the worst nationally. Virginia spends $500 million annually on the 5,300 children in foster care. The budget amendments call for another $3 million, which sponsors believe would reduce the number of youths in the Virginia Department of Social Services system by encouraging families to take over guardianship after children are removed from their primary home.

    In terms of legislation, Brewer is sponsoring measures such as HB 2208, which would make it easier for relatives to adopt children. AndMason has introduced SB 1678 and SB 1679, which would align the Code of Virginia with the federal Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018.

    Some legislators have personal ties to the issue: Brewer and Del. Christopher Collins, R-Frederick, were adopted; and Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince Williams, is a foster parent. Carroll Foy has filed HB 2162, which would ensure that families are notified when a child enters the Virginia Department of Social Services system.

    “Virginia has one of the lowest kinship placements of only 6 percent while nationally it’s 30 percent,” Carroll Foy said. “And we all know that when a child is placed with family, that lessens the amount of trauma and instability that that child has to encounter.”

    When children are removed from their first familial residence, their options include foster care or going to a relative in a practice called kinship divergence. HB 2162 is a move toward increasing familial guardianship. Kinship divergence in Virginia is at a low because the families do not receive any financial assistance, while foster families receive a maintenance payment of $700 a month.

    The Family First Prevention Services Act was adopted last year as part of the federal Bipartisan Budget Act. The law’s goals are keeping children safe, strengthening families and reducing the urgency for foster care when needed. Virginia would be the first state to implement the act.

    Voices for Virginia’s Children is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group concerned about the foster care system. The group conducted a kinship care tour across Virginia last year to hear what kind of issues foster care families encounter.

    “We learned that the majority of children who are going to live with a relative are doing so because of substance abuse,” said Allison Gilbreath, a policy analyst for the organization. “I know that we see the statistics, but it was one thing to see almost every single family that raised their hand said that their child was using opioids.”

    Youth in foster care face various obstacles, including financial assistance, mental health services and legal restrictions such as access to an attorney. It can be difficult, for example, for young adults in foster care to get a driver’s license — a problem Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, hopes to address with her bill, SB 1139.

    “We want our children when they age out of foster care to be able to have a normal experience and to have opportunities for jobs and education, and part of that is really gaining a driver’s license,” Favola said.

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

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

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

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

  81. Virginia Lawmakers Eye Paid Family Leave

    By Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND, Va. -- Democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation that would provide Virginia workers up to three months of paid family and medical leave every year.

    The bills would create a paid leave program, effective Jan. 1, 2022, for workers who are new parents, family of active duty military personnel, have serious medical conditions, or care for family members with serious medical conditions.

    Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, sponsor of House Bill 2120, made her case for paid family and medical leave in Virginia at a press conference Monday.

    “Spending time with a dying relative, giving birth to a child, caring for a sick parent, these should not be privileges reserved just for wealthy Virginians,” Carroll Foy said. “Hard-working, middle-class Virginians deserve to spend time with their families like everyone else does.”

    Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Herndon, sponsor of an identical bill in the Senate, spoke about the economic benefits of paid leave for businesses.

    “Paid leave programs have been shown to benefit businesses, making it more likely that employees will return to work, ready to work, rather than struggling financially,” Boysko said.

    Under the paid leave program workers would be eligible to receive up to 70 percent of their average weekly wage, without exceeding $850 per week. Self-employed workers would also be provided the option of participating in the program.

    The maximum combined amount of paid leave per year for qualifying workers would be 12 weeks.

    In order to qualify for paid leave benefits, an employee would need to meet the administrative requirements in the bill, the requirements laid out in the state’s benefit eligibility conditions, and submit an application to the Virginia Employment Commission.

    Funding for the proposed program would be provided by a family and medical leave insurance fund established by the Commission and financed through payroll taxes.

    Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, is sponsoring a related bill that would provide a parental leave tax credit to small businesses that would begin in 2021. SB 1376 aims to create an income tax credit for a portion of the salary or wages paid by small businesses to full-time employees while on leave for the birth or adoption of a child.

    The bill requires small businesses to provide full-time employees with at least eight weeks of paid parental leave.

    In June, Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive order offering eight weeks of leave at full pay to state employees for the birth or adoption of a child.

    Del. Roxann Robinson, R-Chesterfield, introduced HB 2234 last week to increase the amount of paid parental leave for state employees to 12 weeks.

    During the press conference, advocates for paid family leave spoke about the importance of the proposed legislation for working families in Virginia. Carroll Foy shared a personal account of the hardship she experienced in the absence of paid leave.

    “I’m standing here as a middle-class, working mother, and I implore all Virginians to support this,” Carroll Foy said. “It’s not only an economic issue. It is a human rights issue.”

  82. Minimum Wage Boost, Backed by Women’s Groups, Passes Committee

    Organizations at rally included Progress Virginia and the Campaign for a Family-Friendly Economy. Below left: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam spoke in favor of paid family and medical leave. Photo by Georgia Geen.

    By Georgia Geen, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — After dozens of women rallied at the Capitol on Monday, a legislative committee passed one of their key priorities — a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in Virginia.

    SB 1200 would take effect July 1, initially raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour, then to $13 an hour in 2020 and $15 an hour in 2021. The bill, which passed the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on a 6-4 vote, will advance to the full Senate for a vote.

    Currently, the minimum wage in Virginia is the federal minimum — $7.25 an hour. Raising the minimum wage was one of a number of legislative items — including access to reproductive health and paid family and medical leave — supported by the women’s advocacy groups at the rally.

    Tara Gibson, Virginia director of the Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy, said at the rally that raising the minimum wage would benefit women and their families.

    “How many of you work multiple jobs just to provide for your families, or worry whether you can afford to put food on the table or make next month’s rent?” Gibson asked. “We’re all better off when everyone has the tools to build a good life.”

    In most states, including Virginia, women make up more than half of minimum wage workers. Nationally, women consist of 47 percent of the workforce as of 2017. Across all races, women make up a larger portion of minimum wage workers than men.

    To Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia — one of the groups present at the rally — supporting an increase in the minimum wage contributes to a “holistic” approach to gender equality.

    “We know all of those things are important for women and families to thrive,” Scholl said.

    Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam spoke briefly at the rally in favor of paid medical and family leave. SB 1639 would allow state employees 12 weeks of family and medical leave per year. The benefit amounts to 70 percent of the employee’s wage, capped at $850 per week. Last year, a bill passed in Virginia granting state employees two months of parental leave.

    “We want to make sure all Virginians have access to parental leave,” Northam said. “There is nothing more important than for a mother and father to be able to stay home with their new baby, or if there is an adoption or a foster child involved.”

    Advocates also supported two bills that would prevent insurance companies from discriminating based on gender identity or transgender status. SB 1287 and HB 1864 are awaiting a vote at the legislative committee level.

    Rebecca Barwick, a transgender woman who attended the rally, said the bills would help her get both prostate care and breast care. Currently, she said, her gender is listed as male on her insurance because if it were changed, she might be denied prostate care if she needed it in the future.

    “However, having this marker set to male puts me at risk of being denied breast health if I ever need that,” Barwick said.

    Barwick also discussed the difficulties she experienced when undergoing hormone treatments in 2015. There weren’t any nearby health centers offering hormone therapy that accepted her insurance, requiring her to make a three-hour trip to Washington, D.C. every three months. Then, the Planned Parenthood location in her city began offering hormone treatments.

    “This changed my travel for health care from three hours to 10 minutes,” Barwick said.

  83. Rally Urges Legislators to Reinstate Parole in Virginia

     The Virginia Prison Justice Network advocated on Saturday in favor of legislation that would instate criminal justice reform.

    By Georgia Geen, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — Dozens turned out for a rally hosted Saturday at the Capitol in support of bills introduced to the General Assembly that would reinstate parole for some incarcerated Virginians.

    Virginia ended discretionary parole in 1995, but those sentenced before the law went into effect are still eligible. HJ 644, introduced by Del. Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, would direct a study into the reinstatement of discretionary parole, which releases an offender before he/she completes his/her sentence.

    The study is a start, said Lillie Branch-Kennedy, founder of Resource, Information, Help for the Disadvantaged and Disenfranchised, a statewide support group for prisoners and their families. But she says she doesn’t want to see it stop there.

    “We don’t want it to go to a study and just die away, go away, fade away,” Branch-Kennedy said.

    A portion of the rally addressed the “Fishback” cases, incarcerated Virginians who were sentenced after the abolishment of parole but before a Supreme Court ruling that jurors had to be made aware that their sentences would be carried out fully.

    “The jurors were not told that parole was abolished [prior to the ruling], thereby giving them sentences thinking they would be eligible for parole,” Branch-Kennedy said.

    SB 1437, introduced by Democratic Sen. Jennifer McClellan of Richmond, would make those prisoners eligible for parole. Branch-Kennedy said this would apply to about 300 incarcerated people in Virginia.

    Other bills supported by the Virginia Prison Justice Network — which organized the rally — address data collection on solitary confinement and the reinstatement of felon voting rights. On Wednesday, a Senate committee killed two measures to amend the Virginia Constitution to give people convicted of a felony the right to vote, but a similar bill remains. SJ 283 would reinstate voting rights for felons that made restitution and completed their sentences.

    “The biggest part [of getting legislation passed] is going to be trying to get people to show up for the committee meetings,” said Joseph Rogers, an organizer for the Virginia Prison Justice Network.

    Rogers noted the rally’s increased attendance from a similar event last year, despite Saturday’s forecast of a late-afternoon winter storm.

    “I am hoping that we do get the opportunity to have people testifying at the General Assembly committee meetings,” Rogers said. “Just as we saw how powerful these statements from prisoners impacted the crowd here, we can only imagine how much that can actually impact the legislators.”

    Del. Joseph Lindsey, D-Norfolk, is sponsoring HB 1745, which would make people in prison for crimes they committed as juveniles eligible for parole after having served 25 years of their sentences.

    James Braxton, who spoke at the rally, is a director for juvenile justice reform group RISE for Youth.

    “But today, I’m speaking with you as someone who was formerly incarcerated,” Braxton said.

    Braxton, whose charges included attempted robbery, was one of several formerly incarcerated people to speak at the rally, and representatives read statements from prisoners serving sentences in facilities throughout the state.

    Braxton recalled his experience in prison. He said that upon entering, he was given a bucket with two small bars of soap, a toothbrush and a little bit of toothpaste meant to last months. He said when he left prison, he was given few resources — similar to his situation prior to being incarcerated, when he “barely” graduated high school and found himself without a support system.

    “I had to start from scratch [upon release], sleeping on my grandmother’s floor,” Braxton said. “It wasn’t until an opportunity was offered to me that changed my life. But it had nothing to do with the system, and the system had the opportunity to do that. That has to change.”

  84. Lawmakers Tout Plan for Casinos in Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth

    State Legislators from Bristol, Portsmouth and Danville, during a Monday morning press conference, introduced a plan to build casinos in the hopes of creating new jobs and improving past economic problems.

    By Kathleen Shaw, Arianna Coghill and Katja Timm, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — Members of the General Assembly from Bristol, Portsmouth and Danville urged their colleagues Monday to approve legislation to allow casino gambling in those cities. They said the plan would create jobs and boost the economy.

    Sen. Charles Carrico, R-Bristol, and Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, joined delegates from each locality at a news conference to push for a state law authorizing casinos. They said that in seven years, such gambling operations could generate a total of nearly $100 million in local revenue and create about 16,000 jobs.

    Under the legislation, a referendum would be held in each of the cities, and voters would have to agree whether to allow casinos to be built.

    “This is an opportunity for not only us but for southwest and Danville to join forces and give the citizens a choice,” said Del. Matthew James, D-Portsmouth. “A choice to bring a revenue streak, to help pay for schools, give teachers raises and do the things we need to do.”

    Republicans and Democrats from Bristol, Portsmouth and Danville have partnered on the legislative initiative, saying their cities face similar financial problems.

    “We’re struggling, and our economies are struggling,” Carrico said. “And for me, I want to see Bristol do well. But I also see that Sen. Lucas and Del. Marshall are struggling as well.”

    The median annual household income is about $49,000 in Portsmouth, $38,000 in Bristol and $35,000 in Danville — far below the statewide median of $69,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In contrast, the average household income in Fairfax County is more than $117,000.

    “The city of Danville had two Fortune 500 companies that at one point had 60,000 jobs. We’ve had to close four schools in the area due to the lack of population,” Marshall said. “But Danville is working hard to rebuild, and we are having some successes.”

    Four bills to authorize casino gambling have been introduced for this legislative session. They are SB 1126, sponsored by Lucas; SB 1503, proposed by Carrico; HB 1890, filed by James; and HB 2536, carried by Del. Israel D. O’Quinn, who represents Bristol and surrounding counties.

    While casino gambling bills have failed in the past, Lucas and Carrico said requiring community input through a referendum gives this year’s legislation the advantage needed to pass the General Assembly.

    In a Q&A session, officials were asked about potential issues that could come from introducing casino gambling, such as crime and addiction. They said authorities would use tax revenues from casinos to address public needs like school facilities, law enforcement and social services.

    “We’re going to appoint so much money to addiction abuse and public safety and keep it a safe, industrial way to produce revenue,” Carrico said. “This is a tightly regulated industry.”

    At the news conference, legislators also were asked about religious objections some citizens have to casinos. The lawmakers said their proposals would impose regulations on the industry to safeguard the community.

    Carrico, a religious man himself, met with pastors and said they were open to the suggestion of casinos. The religious leaders appreciated the ability to vocalize their concerns in the public referendum, the senator said.

    Two Bristol businessmen plan to fund construction of the casino in the city.

    Jim McGlothlin, CEO of the United Company, and Clyde Stacy, owner of Par Ventures, are long-time partners and coal barons. At the news conference, McGlothlin said the project will not need government funding. McGlothlin said the region’s economic problems are significant and need a ‘big, bold’ project to compete with neighboring states.

    As a result, the legislation needs only to pass the General Assembly and garner majority support in a local referendum for the dice to start rolling.

    Lucas said casinos are the most efficient way to pull Portsmouth, Danville and Bristol out of an economic rut.

    “We just want to create economic development in these three parts of the state,” Lucas said. “It’s plain and simple.”

  85. General Assembly to Consider Legalizing Sports Betting

    By Andrew Gionfriddo and Ben Burstein, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — Virginia would become the ninth state to legalize sports betting under legislation being considered by the General Assembly this session.

    Lawmakers have introduced three bills to legalize sports betting, license betting operations and tax their revenues. Under the proposals, people would be able to bet only on professional sports; betting on college and youth sports would be prohibited.

    Many legislators seem to agree that legalized sports betting is inevitable after the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down a federal law prohibiting such gambling in most states.

    “Sports gaming is going to be legal across the United States. There is no reason to keep it illegal, when our neighboring states are already moving to legalize,” stated Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, sponsor of SB 1238.

    Petersen’s measure would create the Virginia Sports Betting Department to regulate betting operations, which would be located only in localities that agree to allow gambling.

    Under SB 1238, operators would pay an application fee of $5,000 and a tax of 10 percent of adjusted gross revenues. The department would keep 2.5 percent of the tax revenue to defray its administrative costs and help problem gamblers. The remaining money would be split between the locality where it was generated and a fund to help community college students.

    Two Democratic delegates from Fairfax County also have filed bills to legalize sports betting.

    Under HB 1638, sponsored by Del. Mark Sickles, the Virginia Lottery would regulate sports betting. Betting operators would pay a $250,000 application fee and a 15 percent tax on adjusted gross revenues. The lottery would retain 2.5 percent of the revenues to cover administrative costs and assist problem gamblers. The rest of the money would go toward a new initiative called the Virginia Research Investment Fund.

    Besides sports betting, Sickles’ bill also would authorize the Virginia Lottery to sell tickets over the internet — a practice now prohibited.

    The third bill allowing sports betting is HB 2210, by Del. Marcus Simon. It would direct the Virginia Lottery to regulate electronic sports betting (and, like Sickles’ legislation, to sell lottery tickets over the internet). Simon’s bill would impose a 10 percent tax on the gross adjusted revenue of operations that receive a permit to conduct sports betting. The lottery would keep 3 percent of the tax receipts; the rest would go into a fund to help problem gamblers.

    HB 2210 would provide protections for people who may be susceptible to compulsive gambling. For example, people could voluntarily add themselves to a list of individuals who are excluded from engaging in electronic sports betting or buying lottery tickets.

    Simon’s bill includes a section on “Sports Bettors Rights” and details procedures to ensure that people who win their bets receive their money, to intervene in instances of problem or at-risk bettors, to protect bettors’ privacy and to provide “transparency of sports betting,” such as the odds of winning a bet.

    “I am introducing a Sports Bettors Bill of Rights to make sure that consumers and participants are part of that conversation from the very beginning,” Simon stated.

    His “bill of rights” includes provisions to prohibit underage betting and prevent marketing sports betting to minors. Under all of the legislative proposals, sports betting would be limited to Virginians 21 and older — unlike the legal age to purchase lottery tickets, which is 18.

    Simon’s bill has been applauded by an organization of sports fans.

    “This bill is the most consumer-friendly sports betting bill the Sports Fans Coalition has seen at any level of government,” stated Brian Hess, the group’s executive director. “It is the only piece of legislation that hits all five of our Sports Bettors’ Bill of Rights.”

    The coalition’s five principles are “integrity and transparency; data privacy and security; self-exclusion; protection of the vulnerable; and recourse.”

    The U.S. Supreme Court opened the door to legalized sports betting in May when it overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992. That federal law prohibited sports betting except in states like Nevada that had previously permitted such gambling.

    Besides Nevada, sports betting is legal in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New Mexico and Mississippi.

  86. Live-Streaming Fosters Transparency in the General Assembly

    By Owen FitzGerald, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — As legislators gather in Richmond for the 2019 General Assembly session, citizens in the far corners of the commonwealth might feel distanced from their elected representatives. But any computer or cellphone user with internet access can watch live and recorded video of state lawmakers in action.

    The House and Senate each live-stream their committee meetings and floor sessions. And the advocacy group Progress Virginia broadcasts subcommittee meetings over the internet.

    ProgressVA launched its Eyes on Richmond project in 2017 before the legislative session. Initially, the program live-streamed both committee and subcommittee meetings — because at the time, the House and Senate provided video only of their floor sessions. Since then, state officials have started live-streaming the committees; so ProgressVA now focuses on subcommittees.

    The importance of public access to subcommittee meetings cannot be overstated, as many important pieces of legislation are often killed at that level. Anna Scholl, executive director at ProgressVA, said the results of subcommittee votes would often remain unknown to the public.

    “When we started Eyes on Richmond,” Scholl said, “it was standard for bills to pass or fail on unrecorded voice votes, and it was often impossible to know how a particular legislator voted on important bills unless you were in the room when it happened.”

    That is why ProgressVA has put “legislative fellows” – college interns – in the room, equipped with a cellphone and tripod to provide live online video of government meetings.

    Program Director Ashleigh Crocker said live-streaming the subcommittee-level meetings allows citizens to engage with their representatives as they decide the fate of legislation.

    “We thought it was really important that citizens from across the Commonwealth be able to know how legislators were voting when they were coming to Richmond to represent them,” Crocker said.

    In its first year, the Eyes on Richmond program won the Virginia Coalition for Open Government’s Laurence E. Richardson’s Citizen Award. The coalition, along with ProgressVA, is a part of Transparency Virginia, a collection of advocacy groups and nonprofit organizations assembled to promote transparency in the General Assembly on every level.

    Both the House and Senate began recording and archiving committee meetings during the 2018 session in response to a bipartisan effort from the Virginia Transparency Caucus, co-founded by Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, and Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield. Likewise, the House of Delegates began recording subcommittee votes in 2018 following a push from the Transparency Caucus.

    Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said the General Assembly has done a commendable job retrofitting meeting rooms to allow for the recording and streaming of committee meetings. But the work of ProgressVA to give citizens insight into subcommittee meetings has been vital to the cause of transparency in the state government, Rhyne added.

    “General Assembly transparency is important because it is the work of the people,” Rhyne said. “They are making decisions that affect us as individuals and as workers and as members of various organizations and groups.”

    How to watch the General Assembly online

    House floor sessions:

    https://virginiageneralassembly.gov/house/chamber/chamberstream.php

    House committee meetings:

    https://publications.virginiageneralassembly.gov/display_publication/209

    Senate committee meetings and floor sessions:

    https://virginia-senate.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=3

    Subcommittee meetings covered by ProgressVA:

    https://eyesonrichmond.org/

     

  87. Dual Enrollment Opens Diverse Doors

    By Dr. Al Roberts

    At the end of the last school year, in addition to their high school diplomas, 741 graduating seniors received credentials from Southside Virginia Community College. Awards included 287 Associate Degrees, 300 Career Study Certificates, and 154 other Certificates documenting the completion of job readiness training. These achievements were made possible through collaborative dual enrollment partnerships with 14 public and private high schools across SVCC’s service region.

    Dual enrollment programs offer students an opportunity to get an early start on postsecondary education pursuits. For students in transfer associate degree programs or enrolled in courses designed to satisfy general education requirements at senior institutions, dual enrollment credits can shorten the time required to complete a bachelor’s degree, resulting in tuition cost savings. For students with plans to enter the workforce in technical areas, dual enrollment offers a chance to receive training necessary to pursue more advanced opportunities, enter apprenticeships, and embark on career pathways with family-sustaining earnings.

    Standards adopted by the Virginia State Board for Community Colleges safeguard the quality and rigor of college courses offered to high school students. These rules ensure that high school students meet the same academic challenges faced by on-campus college students and that the students be held accountable to the same criteria of achievement. In addition, instructors who teach college-level courses to high school students must hold the same qualifications as instructors who teach older college students.

    Brent Richey, Chair of the Mecklenburg County School Board, says “The dual enrollment partnership between Mecklenburg County Schools and Southside Virginia Community College offers our students a wide range of higher education opportunities. Some students will complete a degree, certificate, or industry-recognized certificate that they can use to move immediately into the workforce, while others take their credits with them as they matriculate at a university. It also provides the rigor needed to give Mecklenburg County a talented and well-qualified workforce, which helps us attract new industries to our area.”

    Shanley Childress Dorin, a dual enrollment (DE) instructor at Kenston Forest School, says her work with college-bound students equips them for success. “As an instructor I try to prepare my students for college life. Students leave a DE class with college credits and a glimpse into meeting college deadlines, learning various teaching styles, and mastering time management.”

    The Commonwealth of Virginia first opened the door to dual enrollment opportunities in 1988. Since that time, course offerings have expanded to provide young adults with multiple pathways to achieve wide-ranging academic goals. SVCC’s most recent Annual Report highlights the diverse successes made possible through collaborative partnerships between the college and regional high schools. For more information about dual enrollment or to view the Annual Report, visit the college’s website at http://southside.edu/parallel-pathways-svcc-annual-report

    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.

  88. Herring Chastises Panel for Rejecting Hate Crime Bill

    By Jayla Marie McNeill, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring expressed disappointment Monday after a legislative committee rejected a bill to expand Virginia’s definition of hate crime to include gender, sexual orientation, disability and gender identity.

    “The General Assembly has sent a clear message to those who feel vulnerable to hate and mistreatment that they will not take the measures needed to protect them,” Herring stated after the Senate Courts of Justice Committee defeated the bill with a vote 8-6 along party lines, with Democrats supporting the measure and Republicans opposing it.

    “The update to Virginia’s hate crimes definition is long overdue and would have offered needed protections for women, the LGBT community and Virginians with disabilities. I am disappointed to see this commonsense bill die in a party line vote. At a time when communities in Virginia and around the country are confronting a rise in hate crimes and hateful rhetoric, the General Assembly has sent a clear message to those who feel vulnerable to hate and mistreatment that they will not take the measures needed to protect them" - Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, Commonwealth of Virginia

    Currently, the Code of Virginia refers only to individuals or groups targeted on the basis of race, religion, ethnic background or national origin as being victims of hate crime.

    SB 1375, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, sought to expand that definition to include other marginalized groups. Herring called it a “common sense” bill and said he was disheartened that it was defeated on a party-line vote.

    The bill would have brought Virginia closer to the federal definition of a hate crime, which includes “gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.”

    Virginia State Police said bias-motivated crimes in the commonwealth rose from 137 in 2016 to 202 the following year.

    The statistics for 2017, the most recent year available, include 89 incidents related to race, 44 to religion, 20 to ethnicity, 38 to sexual orientation and 11 to disability.

    Virginia’s statistics reflect a larger national trend that shows a rise of hate crimes in the U.S. According to the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, 7,175 hate crimes were reported nationwide in 2017. That is an increase of more than 1,000 reports from 2016.

    Despite the defeat of the hate crimes bill, Herring remains optimistic about legislation that aims to impede activity by white supremacist militias and similar militant groups.

    SB 1210, sponsored by Sens. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, and Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, was approved by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee by a 7-6 vote and referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

    The measure, which died in committee last year, was first introduced following the “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. During that event, James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd protesting the rally, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of other counter-demonstrators.

    SB 1210 “provides that a person is guilty of unlawful paramilitary activity if such person assembles with another person with the intent of intimidating any person or group of persons by drilling, parading, or marching with any firearm or explosive or incendiary device or any components or combination thereof,” according to a summary by the Legislative Information System.

    Such unlawful paramilitary activity would be punishable as a Class 5 felony, under the bill.

    “Referring it to the Senate Finance Committee is a step in the right direction,” Herring stated. “It is time for the General Assembly to take action to protect Virginians and make sure that we prevent the kind of paramilitary activity that we saw in Charlottesville from ever happening again.”

  89. Advocates Seek More Access to Medical Marijuana

    By Madison Manske, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND, Va. -- As other states have relaxed their laws against marijuana, citizens across Virginia gathered here Saturday to discuss how to persuade the General Assembly to legalize medical and recreational marijuana in the commonwealth.

    About 150 people, including health care providers and attorneys, attended the Virginia 2019 Cannabis Conference, held by the Virginia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

    Virginia NORML advocates decriminalizing possession of marijuana and regulating medical and recreational-use production and sales of the substance.

    Members of NORML are hopeful after Gov. Ralph Northam voiced support for decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana during his State of the Commonwealth speech on Wednesday, the first day of the General Assembly’s 2019 session.

    “We want to keep people safe. But we shouldn’t use valuable law enforcement time, or costly prison space, on laws that don’t enhance public safety,” the governor said in his speech. “Current law imposes a maximum 30 days in jail for a first offense of marijuana possession.”

    So far, lawmakers have proposed six bills to decriminalize simple marijuana possession. For example, HB 2371, sponsored by Del. Steve Heretick, D-Portsmouth, and HB 2373, by Del. Lee Carter, D-Prince William, would legalize marijuana for Virginians 21 and older and have the state operate retail marijuana stores. Under such proposals, Virginians under 21 who are caught with marijuana would have to pay a civil penalty.

    Most attendees at the conference, held at the Delta by Marriott hotel, seemed particularly interested in medical marijuana and how to access it without traveling to another state.

    Lorene Davidson of Richmond works in anesthesia as a nurse practitioner. She came to the conference because of her ongoing struggle with antidepressants, which she found were bad for her liver.

    “I’m looking mostly for a way to find out more about getting a medical card and furthering getting that taken care of,” Davidson said.

    As a speaker at the event, Melanie Seifert Davis of Richmond shared the story of her 10-year-old daughter Madison, who was diagnosed with ependymoma brain cancer in 2014.

    “Although I’m not new to the world of cannabis, I’m brand new to the world of cannabis reform,” Davis said.

    Madison is on four different cannabis-based products including CBD, THC, THCA and FECO (full extract cannabis oil) to help with seizures and the cancer itself, Davis said.

    “Today and for every tomorrow I’m given, I will fill seven capsules with high doses of four different cannabis medications and watch as Madison swallows each one,” Davis said. “Science, research and experience in my heart all know that it can and will and has helped her.”

    At the conference, Davis said the family recently received good news about Madison’s cancer: Four of the five tumors were gone.

    “Cannabis is an important and essential part of why she is still here and still her, five years into this battle for her life,” Davis shared. “Cannabis is why she has never, not even once, suffered from the nausea, vomiting or seizures that are expected side effects of her chemo.”

    Not only does Davis’ daughter suffer from cancer, but her son, Aiden, has Crohn’s disease. Aiden also uses cannabis to ease the pain of everyday life, Davis said.

    “I fight because when I told my son about today, the first thing he said with legitimate fear in his voice was, ‘Mom, you can’t tell them those things. You can’t tell them about Maddie’s medicine. Cannabis is illegal. I need you; you can’t go to jail,’” Davis said.

    Madison has been on cannabis products since June 2017. Davis said she gets Madison and Aiden’s cannabis from a licensed doctor in California.

    Jenn Michelle Pedini, the executive director for Virginia NORML, said progress had been made in getting the state to expand access to medical cannabis.

    According to the Virginia Board of Pharmacy, patients and their legal guardians can register to obtain such products if they have a certification issued by a physician.

    “In 2016, we passed a bill that let us go forth and write a regulatory program that was based on Connecticut’s then-program, which was also low-THC, extraction-based products only and served to a small set of patients,” Pedini said.

    In 2018, the General Assembly passed a law allowing practitioners to issue certifications for the use of cannabis-based products to alleviate symptoms “of any diagnosed condition or disease determined by the practitioner to benefit from such use.”

    The Board of Pharmacy has given approval to pharmaceutical companies to open five dispensaries across the state where CBD and THC-A oils will be sold to authorized patients.

    Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, has filed a bill (HB 2245) to double the number of medical cannabis dispensaries.

  90. Hundreds March For Women and Minority Rights in Richmond

    By Saffeya Ahmed and Corrine Fizer, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — Hundreds of social justice advocates, community members and students marched for women’s rights Saturday in Richmond.

    The two-mile reprise of the 2017 Women’s March began at 9 a.m. at the Arthur Ashe Jr. Athletic Center as participants holding brightly decorated signs walked toward the intersection of West Broad Street and North Boulevard.

    “What do want? Equal rights. When do we want them? Now,” demonstrators chanted in support of both women and minority rights.

    Demonstrators made their way back to the Arthur Ashe Center around 10:30 a.m. for an expo where speakers urged reform, marchers danced to empowering music and dozens of vendors sold handmade products and spread awareness about social justice movements.

    “I often times get asked … where is this surge of energy from women coming from?” said Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, who spoke at the expo. “I like to tell them, it’s always been in us.”

    Carroll Foy sponsored legislation to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment — which prohibits sex-based discrimination — in efforts to make Virginia the 38th and final state necessary to include the ERA in the U.S. Constitution.

    “We now know we must have a seat at the table,” Carroll Foy said. “We have to be where the decisions are being made and where the laws are being written.”

    After marching to and from the Arthur Ashe Center, participants gathered to hear social justice advocates and elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., and state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond.

    “Every issue is a woman’s issue,” McClellan said. “We’ve had a long, complicated history. And now we fight and we march today to make sure our voices are heard.”

    Spanberger thanked the work of “strong women” who helped send a total of 126 women to Congress during the 2018 midterms.

    “For anyone who needs something to show their daughters or young people or anyone else,” Spanberger said, “look at who’s in Congress. Look at what we have happening in Congress.”

    Spanberger — who beat Republican Rep. Dave Brat in one of Virginia’s most hotly contested races of the 2018 midterm elections — represents Virginia’s 7th District in the most diverse Congress to step foot in Washington.

    “We have women from all over the country,” Spanberger said. “We have our first Muslim women. Our first Native American women in Congress. We have our youngest woman ever in Congress.”

    Nearly a quarter of the 116th Congress is made up of women, the most in U.S. history, according to Pew Research.

    “I love seeing women in power,” said 11-year-old Natalie Rodriguez, who participated in the march, “because I know that when my grandma was growing up, it wasn’t like that.”

    Several speakers also addressed immigrant rights. Some expressed frustration with the now-longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history. The U.S. entered the shutdown Dec. 22, 2018, stemming from a deadlock over President Donald Trump’s $5 billion funding request for a U.S.-Mexico border wall. 
    “By shutting down the government, that’s sort of like saying, ‘I’m not going to reopen until you give me my wall,’” said march organizer and local activist Seema Sked. “It’s very childish.”

    As a Muslim woman, Sked focuses her advocacy efforts toward fighting Trump’s travel ban, fighting Islamophobia and creating equity for immigrants. She recently traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, to help asylum seekers with the interview process.

    “Just to see the conditions that folks are in, and to see the children, and how everyone’s so desperate to find a better life and a safe place,” Sked said, “that’s really, really important to me because I look at that and think that could be me.”

    Several marchers supported immigrant rights similar to Sked, holding up signs that read “immigrants are not enemies” and “make America kind again.”

    This is the second year that Women’s March RVA has held an event after having been inspired by the National Women’s March held annually in Washington. The march took place a week earlier than the organization’s sister marches, giving Richmond residents the opportunity to partake in one or both events.

    The National Women’s March will take place in Washington at 10 a.m. next Saturday.

  91. Database Chronicles 400 Years of Virginia House of Delegates

    By Rosemarie O’Connor, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — A singer crooned “La Paloma” as a Norfolk crowd showered two “legislative debutantes” with flowers and sent them off to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1924. Sarah Lee Fain and Helen T. Henderson were the first women elected to the General Assembly. To celebrate, the Democratic Women’s Club organized a bon voyage party at Roane’s Old Colonial Tea Room in Norfolk.

    Virginians can now explore the history of who has served in the House, which is marking its 400th anniversary as America’s first law-making body. The House Clerk’s Office has launched an online database dubbed DOME (Database of House Members), chronicling the people elected to the House of Delegates or its predecessor, the House of Burgesses, over the past four centuries.

    Set against today’s national conversation over gender equality, the database shows a stark disparity: It contains more than 9,000 men — but just 91 women.

    Database reflects state’s political players

    The ambitious, years-long project offers biographical and legislative information on every delegate as well as information on House speakers, clerks, legislative sessions and Capitol locations.

    From 1619, when the House of Burgesses met in Jamestown, until 1923, the legislative body was all-male. Since Fain and Henderson joined the House in 1924, the number of female delegates didn’t crack double digits until 1983, when there were 11 women in the House. The number stayed in the teens through 2017.

    But that year, a record number of women were elected to the General Assembly, taking 11 seats formerly held by men. As a result, 28 women currently serve in the 100-member House.

    Glass ceilings, then color barriers

    Sixty years after Henderson and Fain shattered the glass ceiling, Yvonne Miller of Norfolk broke the color barrier. She became the first African-American woman elected to the House in 1984 and the first elected to the Senate four years later. Miller died in office in July 2012.

    In an interview with the Library of Virginia, Miller said other legislators initially thought she was a maid and told her as much. She said she realized those delegates who offended her were “operating on their history.” Miller said she had to figure out how to interact with those who did not respect her simply because of her race.

    Miller called her time in the General Assembly exciting and said she thoroughly enjoyed politics. “I have enough wins to keep it interesting,” she said. “I have a lot of losses to keep me humble.”

    ‘Long overdue’ project may inspire more research

    Laura van Assendelft, a professor of political science at Mary Baldwin University in Staunton, Virginia, called the DOME project “long overdue.”

    “The typically limited and inconsistent availability of data at the state and local levels is such a source of frustration for scholars in the state and local subfield,” she said. Van Assendelft said she believes the database will inspire more research into the history of women in Virginia’s government.

    Brian Daugherity, a U.S. history professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said that when completed, DOME will help citizens “see the ways in which participation in the state’s decision-making processes has expanded over time — a reminder of the importance of ensuring access for all.”

    G. Paul Nardo, the clerk of the Virginia House of Delegates, said he welcomes contributions from the public to help write the “ongoing history of the House of Delegates and those who have been elected to serve in it.” He said the database will be officially released this spring.

    More women and more diversity in the House

    The history of women in Virginia politics is still being written.

    “But if I do anything worthwhile in the General Assembly,” Fain declared in 1924, “to the women will belong the credit.”

    In 2017, the House of Delegates saw an increase not only in the number of women but also in other diversity.

    Danica Roem of Prince William County became Virginia’s first transgender legislator. Hala Ayala and Elizabeth Guzman also won House seats in Prince William County, becoming the first Latinas elected to the House.

    Kathy Tran’s win in Fairfax County made her the first Asian-American woman to serve in the Virginia General Assembly. And Dawn Adams of Richmond was elected as the first openly lesbian legislator.

  92. Library hosts National Seed Swap Day Event

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

  93. Before Legislative Session, a Serving of Eggs and a Prayer for Civility

    By Evie King, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — As legislators, faith leaders and others tucked into their scrambled eggs and fresh fruit cups, two slideshow screens at the front of the room rotated Bible verses speaking to the theme of the 53rd annual General Assembly Prayer Breakfast: civility and reconciliation.

    Politicians who packed the ballroom at the Greater Richmond Convention Center reflected on familiar Bible verses such as Luke 6:27: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

    Republicans and Democrats alike sat next to one another Wednesday morning, amicably asking about family members and the past holiday season while sipping orange juice or coffee. There was little hint of the potential political drama or partisanship of the impending legislative session.

    Former Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly acted as master of ceremonies for the event. Bringing the room to attention with a chime of her glass, she blessed the food — "in Jesus’ name we pray" — and then introduced Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.

    Taking the stage, Northam emphasized the importance of unity among state legislators, working toward the common goal of the good of the commonwealth.

    "We are a state that supports our veterans, embraces diversity and inclusion, and attracts visitors from all over the world," Northam said, addressing the sea of gray, navy and black business suits. "I spent my career as a child neurologist. Over the years, I saw thousands of patients and their families and never once did they ask me if I was a Republican or a Democrat, nor did I ask them. All they wanted was for me to help them."

    As inspiration for his work as both a doctor and politician, Northam shared his favorite scripture, Matthew 25:40: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

    "I believe it is our duty as elected officials to ... help the least of our brothers. It is our duty to help the Virginians who need it the most," Northam said, citing the expansion of Medicaid as an example of that doctrine. Referencing his "tremendous friends" on both sides of the aisle, Northam ended with a blessing for the room and the commonwealth.

    Three prayers followed: for children and families, led by first lady Pamela Northam; for public safety and military officials, led by Attorney General Mark Herring; and for those in need, led by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.

    Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, shared a moment in his life when he personally experienced the Golden Rule, or Muslim Hadith: "None of you truly believes until he wishes for others what he wishes for himself."

    When attempting to pass his first bill on the House floor years ago, Rasoul said he received a note from Del. Chris Peace, R-Hanover, with a tip on how to revive his dying legislation. "I believe we can both be very passionate about what we believe in and at the same time pass notes to each other on the House floor," Rasoul said.

    The two keynote speakers both held positions in the White House for faith-based initiatives. Jedd Medefind worked under President George W. Bush, and Michael Wear under President Barack Obama. The two men delivered thoughtful speeches about the importance of civility in the world and the power of attentiveness.

    As the breakfast broke up at 10 a.m., the room quickly emptied out. Legislators headed to Capitol Square for the session's first day, with a wish and a prayer or two.

  94. Conservative Activists Urge Lawmakers to Reject ERA

    The Family Foundation and other groups that oppose abortion urge Virginia legislators to oppose ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They say the ERA, which is currently before the full Senate, is anti-women, anti-American and "a smokescreen for abortion." Photo by Kathleen Shaw.

    By Kathleen Shaw, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND, Va. — The Family Foundation and other groups that oppose abortion are urging Virginia legislators to oppose ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They say the ERA, which is currently before the full Senate, is anti-women, anti-American and "a smokescreen for abortion."

    Conservative activists held a news conference and met with legislators this week to voice concerns about the ERA, which they refer to as the “Everything Related to Abortion Act.” They said the proposed constitutional amendment uses women as pawns to push forward an abortion-rights agenda.

    Patrina Mosley, director of a group called Life, Culture and Women’s Advocacy, criticized the amendment with a tongue-in-cheek reference to the feminist movement.

    “The ERA is really a smokescreen for abortion,” Mosley said. “This is not really about women. Women are continually used as a prop to push an agenda, and the ‘Time’s Up’ on that.”

    On Wednesday, the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee voted 8-6 in favor of SJ 284, which would add Virginia to the 37 states that have already ratified the ERA. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the resolution next week.

    The resolution, sponsored by Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond, would then need approval from a House committee and a House of Delegates majority. ERA supporters hope that with ratification by Virginia, they would have the three-fourths majority of the states needed to amend the U.S. Constitution.

    But some experts say it’s too late to ratify the ERA because Congress set the original ratification deadline to 1982.

    Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, is sponsoring what she views as an alternative to the ERA -- SJ 275, or the  Equal Rights Affirmation. Chase’s resolution “reaffirms that all persons residing in Virginia are afforded equal protection under the law. The resolution cites numerous guarantees of equality that currently exist in both federal and state law while refuting the necessity, utility, and viability of the Equal Rights Amendment,” according to a summary by the Legislative Information System.

    The ERA declares that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.” Chase said that wording is vague and could have unexpected repercussions.

    “It's concerning to me that the ERA treats women identically to men, not equally to men -- lending to it the current fad of gender-fluidity,” Chase said. “Until you change that word to female, then I cannot support this legislation.”

    Tina Whittington, executive vice president of Students for Life of America, said the ERA isn’t needed because women are already treated as equals in laws and courts. Further, Whittington said prohibiting gender bias would affect previously passed federal laws and be harmful to women.

    “Many protections designed specifically for women, for mothers, would be impacted,” Whittington said.

    Some women who spoke against the ERA at Thursday’s press conference said they’ve had a hard fight against the measure. Eva Scott, the first woman elected to the Virginia Senate, voted against the ERA in the 1970s as a delegate and senator. Scott said feminists do not need a constitutional amendment to be successful and rise to power.

    “Women are really selling themselves short,” Scott said. “All these women really need is to embrace the truth that equality is already theirs and the whole world is at their -- and our --  fingertips.”

  95. General Assembly Members Ask DOT for Toll Freeze for Federal Workers Affected by the Government Shutdown

    By Kaytlin Nickens, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — Del. Karrie Delaney, D-Fairfax, and 14 other members of the Virginia General Assembly sent a letter Friday to state Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine and other officials requesting toll relief for federal workers commuting without pay during the federal government’s shutdown.

    “These residents are still going to work every day to ensure our nation’s operations continue, but they are not receiving a paycheck,” Delaney said. “They are trying to figure out how they are going to make ends meet, and here we have an opportunity to provide some relief from the tolls they incur during their commute.”

    More than 34,000 workers in the commonwealth are affected by the three-week federal shutdown, caused by an impasse between Democrats and President Donald Trump over funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. In terms of federal workers, Virginia is the sixth-most affected state.

    The letter requests that furloughed workers who can prove their employment status have their E-ZPass deactivated temporarily. It also seeks refunds for workers who pay highway tolls while working without pay during the shutdown.

    “Those who are traveling the Greenway, I-66 and other tolled roads in Virginia to get to a job where they are not receiving a paycheck should not be further financially strained for simply fulfilling their duty as a public servant,” the letter says.

    “We cannot undo the financial burdens and hardships this federal shutdown has brought to the homes of thousands of Virginians, but we can help alleviate it.”

  96. Wayne E. Wilson

    Wayne E. Wilson, 53, passed away Friday, January 11, 2018. He was preceded in death by a grandson, Stryker Cole Wilson, Special Father, Willis Ray “Punk” Walton and his brother, Charles Wilson.

    Wayne leaves behind to celebrate his life: his wife of 37 years, Melanie; daughter, Ashley; son, Anthony (Rachel); granddaughter, Camilla; Special Mother, Shirly Walton; sister-in-law, Melinda Greene (Marty) and a number of nephews and cousins.

    Wayne worked as a millwright and crane operator with Fulghum Fibres/Price Fibres. He was a loyal “Company Man” and thought of his co-workers as family. Though he didn’t have a long life; he lived it to the fullest and loved the simple, old ways. He enjoyed just cooking a hog on the grill and spending time with his family and friends enjoying good food and sitting around the fire shooting the breeze. Wayne loved farming; watching things grow and caring for God’s creation; talking about his Lord and giving away Bibles to people he thought the Word would help. Everything Wayne did was for his wife and children.

    The funeral service will be held 2 p.m. Wednesday, January 16 at Owen Funeral Home, 303 S. Halifax Rd, Jarratt, Virginia where the family will receive friends one hour prior to the service.

    In accordance with his wishes, a private interment will follow the chapel service and a celebration of life will be held in the spring.

    Memorial contributions may be made to the Johns/Manville Clubhouse Project, P.O. Box 336, Jarratt, Virginia 23867. Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com.

  97. Lawmakers Have Mixed Reactions to Governor’s Address

    Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam gives his second State of the Commonwealth Speech before 140 members of the 2019 General Assembly, on Jan. 9. (PHOTO: Livestream)

    By Corrine Fizer, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND, Va. – From attracting high-tech businesses to improving access to health care services, Gov. Ralph Northam’s State of the Commonwealth speech touted wins and legislative proposals that both parties celebrated, though Republicans blasted his ideas on taxes and budget spending.

    The 2019 General Assembly session marks Northam’s second year in office and the 400th anniversary of the House of Burgesses, the first democratically elected legislative body in the British American colonies. His speech didn’t shy away from acknowledging the state’s “long and complex history” while connecting several of the session’s proposals to health and safety.

    “In 2017, 1,028 Virginians died of gun-related causes,” Northam told a joint meeting of the General Assembly at the end of the first day of the 2019 legislative session. “That’s more deaths due to gun violence than the 956 Virginians who died due to vehicle accidents.”

    Fellow Democrats said the governor set the right tone.

    “It is clear that the commonwealth is coming into 2019 in a strong position. Our economy is thriving, we are attracting major businesses and job creators like Amazon, and the Medicaid expansion we passed last year will boost state revenues and provide hundreds of thousands of Virginians with access to healthcare,” House Democratic Leader Eileen Filler-Corn and Caucus Chair Charniele Herring, said in a joint statement.

    In the Republicans’ official response to Wednesday night’s speech, Del. Robert Thomas Jr. of Stafford and Sen. Stephen Newman of Bedford called for Virginia to balance its books, maintain low taxes and help Virginians reduce high health insurance deductibles.

    “Republicans are committed to stopping Governor Northam’s tax hike on the middle class,” Thomas said. “Our tax reform plan will return the tax windfall resulting from the federal tax cuts along to taxpayers, while providing targeted tax relief to middle- and low-income Virginians and protecting our coveted AAA bond rating.”  

    Republicans also voiced opposition to Northam’s proposals regarding guns.

    The Democratic governor called on the General Assembly to approve an “extreme risk law” -- a legal way for law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from someone who has shown dangerous behavior or who poses a risk to themselves or others. This idea has passed Republican-led legislatures in other states and been signed by Republican governors, such as Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott.

    In his response to the speech, Thomas, a father of eight, said improving the safety of public schools is more important than hashing out possible firearm regulations.

    “Our goal is to employ every means available to keep dangerous individuals out of our schools,” he said.  

    Echoing the recommendations of a legislative committee, Thomas proposed using threat prevention technology and improving mental health services.  Northam and Thomas both advocated for improving safety training for school personnel and safety officers. Currently, only grant-funded resource officers go through training approved by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.

    Northam addressed criminal justice reform.  For the third year in a row, Virginia has had the nation’s lowest prison recidivism rate, and Northam said he hopes to maintain that record.

    He also plans to end the practice of suspending driver’s licenses over failure to pay court costs, fees, and non-driving offenses. “When we take away people’s driver’s licenses, we make it harder for them to get to work, and thus make it even more difficult for them to pay their court costs,” Northam said. “We shouldn’t be punishing people for being poor.”

    Moreover, Northam called for making simple possession a civil penalty to ease overcrowding in jails and prisons. Current law imposes a maximum of 30 days in jail for a first offense of marijuana possession.

    In his speech, Northam celebrated a budget he had signed in May that expanded Medicaid coverage to 400,000 Virginians.

    He also discussed using tolls to fund improvements on Interstate 81 in the western part of the state. The interstate has seen a 12 percent increase in traffic and a 55 percent increase in delays, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

    In a speech that included the word “together” 32 times, the governor concluded his address by encouraging unity among members of the General Assembly.

    “I hope that as we go through the next 46 days together, we give consideration to each other, and to our ideas. It can be tempting to retreat to our corners and shout at each other,” Northam said. “But I believe we all have that internal moral compass, the one that guides us toward the right thing to do. I hope we all follow it this session.”

    Republican and Democratic lawmakers will consider more than 2,000 bills between now and their scheduled adjournment, Feb. 23.

  98. Amendment to Restore Felon Voting Rights Dies Along Party Lines

    By Katja Timm, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND, Va. -- For now, Virginia will remain among a trio of states -- joining only Kentucky and Iowa -- with a lifetime ban on voting rights for people convicted of a felony.

    On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections killed an attempt to allow Virginians who have been convicted of a felony to vote.

    Currently, the Virginia Constitution says felons cannot vote unless their civil rights have been restored by the governor or other authorities. Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, proposed a resolution -- SJ 261 -- to delete that passage from the state Constitution.

    On an 8-6 vote at the committee’s meeting on Wednesday, Locke’s proposed constitutional amendment was “passed by indefinitely,” meaning that it likely is dead for this legislative session. The vote was split down party lines on the 14-member committee, with all eight Republicans voting to kill the measure.

    Besides SJ 261, the panel on Wednesday considered a similar proposal (SJ 262) by Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth. The committee folded Lucas’ measure into Locke’s before killing the proposed amendment.

    The resolutions proposed by Locke and Lucas sought to establish just four requirements to vote in Virginia: Voters would have to be U.S. citizens, be at least 18, live in the commonwealth and be registered. The proposed amendment “removes from current constitutional qualifications to vote not having been convicted of a felony and not having been adjudicated to be mentally incompetent,” according to the Legislative Information System.

    The amendment had support from representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters of Virginia. Former inmates who had lost the right to vote because of felony convictions also offered emotional testimony.

    Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the Virginia ACLU, encouraged Virginia legislators to follow in the footsteps of Florida, which recently restored voting rights to more than 1.4 million people. In November, more than 60 percent of Florida supported the ballot initiative.

    “That leaves Virginia, Kentucky and Iowa as the only states left -- the only states left in which you have a lifetime ban of voting if you get convicted of a felony,” Gastañaga said.

    Gastañaga urged state leaders to look at themselves in the context of history. She said the right to vote should belong to the people instead of those who govern them.

    Another supporter of the proposed amendment was ex-convict Wayne Keaton, whose voting rights were restored two years ago.

    “I was incarcerated, and I have been fighting since 2010. The governor gave me my rights back in 2016,” Keaton said, referring to an executive order by then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 convicted felons.

    Several senators raised questions about the proposed constitutional amendment. Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Fauquier, asked if someone who is adjudicated to be mentally incompetent should still be allowed to vote under the proposal.

    “It might be appropriate to say that somebody doesn’t have the capacity to participate in the process, but that should be an individualized decision, not an institutional one,” Gastañaga responded.

    Although SJ 261 and SJ 262 may be dead for the session, at least one similar proposal is pending before the General Assembly. SJ 283, sponsored by Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, seeks to automatically restore the voting rights of felons who have completed their sentences and made restitution. It is awaiting a hearing by the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.

    Supporters of such proposals said they won’t give up.

    “This is something we’re committed to for the long haul,” said Bill Farrar, director of public policy and communications for the Virginia ACLU. “We’re going to see it through.”

  99. Faculty Members Lobby Legislators on Higher Education Issues

    By Emily Holter and Madison Manske, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — Faculty members from colleges and universities across Virginia converged on the Capitol on Thursday, urging legislators to provide more funding for higher education and ensure affordable college degrees for future generations of students.

    Higher Education Advocacy Day drew professors like Brian Turner, who chairs the political science department at Randolph-Macon College. He noted that the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia has developed a plan to guide the colleges and universities in the commonwealth.

    “The Virginia Plan for Higher Education’s goal for Virginia is to be the best-educated state by 2030,” Turner said.

    To make that a reality, faculty members asked members of the General Assembly to allocate money for salary increases, boost tuition assistance and increase student access to higher education.

    In December, Gov. Ralph Northam proposed amending the state budget by giving $1 billion to higher education, including increasing tuition aid. Many public institutions in Virginia are hoping that with higher salaries, they will be able to offer a higher-quality education to students.

    Low salaries make it hard to compete for prominent faculty members with other well-known institutions, Turner said.

    As a group, Virginia’s college and university faculty members said they support a bill by Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, to increase transparency on gifts that public institutions receive from donors that are subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

    Turner said House Bill 2386 would help ensure that donations enhance the curriculum and provide more accountability on how institutions spend their money.

    Speaking with delegates and senators, some faculty members also expressed their concerns over Title IX policies. Some have questions about legislation sponsored by Del. Joseph Lindsey, D-Norfolk, pertaining to accusations of sexual violence on campus.

    Lindsey has introduced two bills (HB 1830 and HB 1831) that would allow students to have attorneys present at any campus disciplinary hearing or sexual assault hearing.

    Another higher education issue is a bill proposed by Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, that would prohibit public colleges and universities from asking student applicants about their criminal history. Under HB 2471, schools could not “deny admission to any applicant on the basis of any criminal history information.”

    “Your criminal history should not be deterring you from being able to pursue education. And in my bill, there’s a line that says this is really about the application,” Aird said. “If they do get admitted and let’s say, for some instance, you have a student that wants to live in on-campus housing, the institution can then request their criminal history.”

    In making the rounds at Capitol Square, participants in Higher Education Advocacy Day spoke with Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Fredericksburg, about his bill to give students a voice on tuition increases.

    Under SB 1204, “No increase of undergraduate tuition or mandatory fees approved by a governing board of a public institution of higher education shall take effect unless such increase receives an affirmative vote of at least two-thirds of undergraduate students enrolled in such institution.”

    Faculty members fear that would make it impossible to raise tuition.

    “I don’t think you could round up two-thirds of the student body to vote for free beer,” Turner said.

    -30-

  100. Lawmakers Seek Information on Prisoner Segregation

    By Kathleen Shaw, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — Lawmakers and prison reform advocates are pushing three bills through the General Assembly that would force the Virginia Department of Corrections to track and share records of inmates in solitary confinement.

    Virginia is one of seven states that do not require record keeping for segregated prisoners. Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, has introduced a bill that would require DOC to annually submit data reports to the General Assembly and governor regarding the length of confinement, inmate demographics and disability treatment. Hope said the bill would increase transparency and improve inmate mental health care.

    “We need to make sure as policymakers we have all the information we can possibly have in order to deal with solitary confinement and make sure those in there are not suffering needlessly,” Hope said.

    The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia published a report in 2018 revealing that more than 800 Virginian inmates live in restrictive housing, for an average of 2.7 years, where they are isolated in their cells for 22-24 hours each day. After a Washington Post article published last month highlighted Virginia’s lack of prisoner data filings, human rights advocates are demanding justice.

    Rhonda Thissen, executive director of the National Alliance of Mental Illness of Virginia, said prolonged segregation of prisoners can cause deterioration of mental health. Without facilities tracking the data on segregated prisoners, Thissen said, there is minimal chance of healthy recovery and release.

    “The reality is, for people with existing mental illness, it exacerbates their mental illness, and people who have no pre-existing mental illness develop symptoms of mental illness,” Thissen said. “We would like to know the status of these individuals so we know their needs are being appropriately addressed.”

    The DOC has stated that solitary confinement is not widely used in Virginia prisons. However, ACLU-VA and NAMI Virginia advocates said at a press conference Thursday that prisoners can be detained in solitary confinement for years. Moreover, they said the Administrative Segregation Step Down Program that inmates go through after being in restricted housing is biased against inmates.

    At the news conference, David Smith said he served 16½ months in solitary confinement in the Norfolk city jail for child pornography. Smith recalled meeting an inmate who had been placed in solitary confinement for having too many stamps, which were considered contraband. Another inmate went into restrictive housing for defending himself from sexual assault, Smith said. Without records of these inmates, Smith said, their truths are buried.

    “These are just anecdotes. Without the numbers, how do we know the truth? That’s the point of this legislation, just so we can get that understanding of what’s happening in our prisons and what we can do better,” Smith said.

    State Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, visited Red Onion State Prison in Wise County in 2011 to evaluate the correctional facility and said the conditions for solitary confinement were miserable.

    Ebbin and Hope said passing legislation to reduce segregating inmates has been difficult because of the constantly changing language: It can be called segregation, solitary confinement or restrictive housing.

    Ebbin said choosing one term and sticking to it is important in crafting legislation, helping current inmates and improving the prison system.

    “We want to know how we’re doing in Virginia with an eye toward moving into punishment that is not overly punitive and not one that leads to mental illness even more for those who are incarcerated,” Ebbin said.

  101. Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS)

    Community Out-Reach Education

    South Hill – Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) is all about improving patient outcomes and speeding up recovery following surgery.  Having an operation can be both physically and emotionally stressful.  After hip and knee replacement, the enhanced recovery program at VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital helps to make sure patients receive the right education before surgery while getting them up and moving shortly after their operation so that they can retain their independence and recover more quickly.  What is ERAS?  How can ERAS help after surgery?

    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 about ERAS.

    This FREE program will be on Thursday, January 24th at 4:00 p.m. in the VCU Health CMH Education Center inside the C.A.R.E. Building located at 1755 N. Mecklenburg Avenue in South Hill.

    The speaker for the program with be Dr. Niraj Kalore.  Dr. Kalore is an Orthopedic Surgeon that specializes in joint replacement and preservation, arthroscopic and minimally invasive treatments of sports injuries and other problems involving hip, knee, ankle, shoulder, elbow and wrist joints.  Dr. Kalore practices at CMH Orthopedic Services, located in the C.A.R.E Building at VCU Health CMH.

    Reservations are not required for this program; however, they are recommended.  For more information or to register to attend, please call (434) 447-0917 or visitwww.vcu-cmh.org. All attendees with have a chance to win door prizes!

  102. December 2018 SVCC Truck Driving Graduates

    Southside Virginia Community College celebrated another successful class at the Pickett Park site in Blackstone on December 13, 2018.  They are (Front Row: L-R) Martin Ahrens (Midlothian), Warren Branch (Church Road), Gregory Brown (Cullen), Melvin Cabrera (Meherrin), Tim Reavis (Blackstone). (Back L-R)  Doug Kemerer (Instructor), Christopher Kennon (Farmville), James Baskerville (Lawrenceville), Reggie White (Instructor) and Duncan Quicke, Truck Driver Training School Coordinator.

  103. Teachers Highlight School Funding as Priority for Legislators

    Richmond teachers light up the Bellevue Overpass with their top priority for the 2019 General Assembly.

    By Evie King, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — On highway overpasses on Interstates 95 and 64, more than a dozen teachers signaled to members of the Virginia General Assembly their top priority by holding up 14 foam boards with Christmas lights spelling out “fund our schools.”

    Educators from Richmond Public Schools and a statewide coalition called Virginia Educators United displayed the signs Tuesday night ahead of the legislative session that started Wednesday.

    “Legislators are coming into the city tonight to start session tomorrow, and we want to make sure they know, as they come in, what it is we care about,” said Sarah Pedersen, a history teacher at Binford Middle School in Richmond.

    Pedersen said she and her husband, both public school teachers, truly love their work, but living on teacher salaries has put a lot of strain on the couple’s family planning.

    Now raising their 1-year-old daughter and envisioning having more children, Pedersen said it’s hard to imagine how her family could grow with their current salaries.

    “It breaks my heart to think that my daughter might end up being an only child because we cannot afford to have the family that we always dreamt we would,” she said.

    According to the Virginia Department of Education, the average teacher salary in Virginia is $56,861, falling short of the national average by nearly $2,000. Starting pay for Richmond Public Schools teachers with a bachelor’s degree is about $45,000, according to the school division.

    Holding the sign for an “o” in the word “school,” fellow RPS teacher Aaron Garber said he looks forward to working only one job instead of two to make ends meet. After a full day of teaching preschool at Linwood Holton Elementary, Garber said he often works construction and home repair jobs in the evenings or on the weekends.

    “Which if I actually switched to full-time, I would make more money than I do as a teacher,” Garber said. “But I just love teaching. I love working with kids. It’s as simple as that.”

    Gov. Ralph Northam’s 2019 budget proposal includes $268.7 million in new educational funding, $88 million of which would go toward a 5 percent teacher pay increase. Northam said the pay raise would help curb teacher turnover rates and improve retention. If approved, it would be the largest single-year pay increase in 15 years.

    Keri Treadway, a teacher at William Fox Elementary in Richmond, said she is optimistic about Northam’s K-12 proposals but thinks there is room for further legislative action. “Vote yes, but find the rest,” Treadway said, smiling as she summed up the group’s energy with a pithy catchphrase.

    With crumbling facilities, teacher vacancies and accreditation issues plaguing schools in Richmond and many other localities, Pedersen echoed the optimism for the governor’s proposals. But she said the issues were more expensive than what Northam’s proposal would cover.

    “I don’t know how to give that soul transplant for a legislator who doesn’t understand that their constituents want a fully funded future for our kids,” Pedersen said. “But we are prepared to make that picture much brighter and much more clear in November. We will vote [lawmakers] out.”

    Virginia Educators United plans to march to the Virginia Capitol on Jan. 28.

  104. ERA Clears Senate Committee, Faces Uncertainty in House

    Supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment gather to greet legislators Wednesday afternoon

    By Georgia Geen and Alexandra Zernik, Capital News Service

    RICHMOND — An 8-6 vote by a Senate committee Wednesday brought the federal Equal Rights Amendment one step closer to passing the General Assembly — which could make Virginia the 38th and final state necessary to add the ERA to the U.S. Constitution.

    The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee voted to approve a resolution that Virginia ratify the ERA, which was proposed by Congress in 1972 and would prevent federal and state governments from passing laws that discriminate on the basis of sex.

    The six Democrats on the committee were joined by two Republicans — Sens. William DeSteph of Virginia Beach and Jill Holtzman Vogel of Fauquier — in voting for the resolution. The other six Republicans on the panel voted against it.

    The resolution — SJ 284 — was sponsored by a bipartisan group of 15 senators and three House members.

    The committee’s decision will send the resolution to the Senate floor for a vote. While supporters are optimistic about bipartisan support in the Senate — which has passed similar proposals five times since 2011 — the same isn’t true in the House.

    A co-sponsor of the resolution, Del. Hala Ayala, D-Prince William, said it will face Republican opposition. If it clears the full Senate, SJ 284 would go to the House Privileges and Elections Committee, where such resolutions have traditionally died.

    Every Democrat on the House panel has signaled support for ratifying the ERA, but no Republican has followed suit. The lack of GOP support in the House committee represents the biggest hurdle for the resolution, said Candace Graham, co-founder of Women Matter, a group dedicated to ratifying the ERA.

    “We