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2017-1-25

GREENSVILLE/EMPORIA DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES

LOCAL BOARD MEETING

The Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services Administrative Board will hold its regular meeting Thursday, July 18, 2019, at 3:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services located at 1748 East Atlantic Street.

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Gifted Students Invited to Apply for Meherrin Summer Regional Governor's School

The 2017 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 10-13 and 17-20, 2017.  Participating counties include Greensville, Mecklenburg, Brunswick, Southampton, and Sussex.  For more information, contact the local gifted education coordinator.  Application Deadline – February 17, 2017

Legislators Seek to Curb ‘Distracted Driving’

By SaraRose Martin, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A coalition of Democrats and Republicans called Tuesday for new laws to discourage Virginia motorists from using their cellphones while driving.

The legislators unveiled several bills targeting “distracted driving,” which they said caused thousands of traffic accidents and killed 175 people in the state last year.

HB 1834, sponsored by Del. Rich Anderson, R-Woodbridge, would make it illegal for drivers to “manually select multiple icons or enter multiple letters or text” in a handheld device – meaning they couldn’t check Facebook, send a tweet or view a video on YouTube. Current state law prohibits drivers only from sending emails or text messages.

Anderson’s bill also would create a new offense called distracted driving in the Code of Virginia.

“In partnership with law enforcement, we can make this happen, and that’s what this collective effort is all about,” Anderson said. “This is a bicameral, bipartisan effort.”

Existing law against texting while driving applies only when the vehicle is moving. Anderson’s bill would extend the ban to when the vehicle is stopped on the roadway. It would not apply when the vehicle is legally parked.

Anderson’s bill would not affect drivers using a GPS navigation system or accessing a name or number stored on their cellphone to make a call.

“The real reason we’ve got to do this is simply because, based on reports from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 of 2016, 175 Virginians died on our highways as a result of distracted driving,” Anderson said. “On top of that, 14,700 Virginians were injured.”

Del. Ron Villanueva, R-Virginia Beach, and Del. Tag Greason, R-Potomac Falls, have introduced legislation to educate young people about the dangers of distracted driving.

Under Villanueva’s proposal, HB 2015, people who use the E-ZPass electronic toll collection system could make a voluntary contribution to the DRIVE SMART Virginia Education Fund. The fund sponsors training and activities to promote roadway safety.

Greason’s bill, HB 1763, would authorize the issuance of special license plates for supporters of highway safety, including awareness of distracted driving. For each plate sold, $10 would be used to promote safe driving.

Greason suggested that the plates be designed by high school students.

“High school students said something interesting to me: ‘You might pass a new law, you might create a new impaired-driving statute, you might increase the penalties, but that’s really not going to make an effect,’” Greason said.

“‘Somehow, you have to get us engaged in the process.’”

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, introduced legislation that would deal with injuries caused by distracted driving. SB 1339says a person who operates a motor vehicle in a careless or distracted manner and causes serious injury to a pedestrian or bicyclist would be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. The driver’s license would be suspended.

As a lawyer, Surovell said he dealt with this kind of personal injury first hand. He recalled representing a family whose son was killed by a distracted driver.

“That collision opened my eyes to how dangerous texting while driving can be,” Surovell said. “The individual in that case was never convicted of anything.”

A study by Virginia Tech found that 80 percent of all crashes are from driver inattention three seconds before the accident, according to Janet Brooking, executive director of DRIVE SMART. She said texting while driving makes a person 2,300 times more likely to be in a crash.

Dana Schrade, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, said the legislation would help clarify, educate and enforce safe driving.

“What we are talking about is something that has become an accepted practice, and that’s that we can multitask. When you get behind the wheel, driving is a full-time job,” Schrade said.

“The more we make a clear message through our legislation with the help of these legislators, the more we put forth a clear message about how this is a No. 1 danger in driving today.”

School Security Gun Bill Passes House

By Tyler Woodall, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – School security officers could carry firearms in schools under a bill passed Tuesday by the House of Delegates.

The GOP-controlled House voted 78 to 19, with several Democrats joining Republicans in support, to pass HB 1392. This is the second time in as many years that a version of the bill has made it past the House and into the Senate.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed the measure last year.

The bill, introduced by Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, would allow school districts across the commonwealth to employ security officers to carry firearms in school if they meet requirements spelled out in the bill.

According to those requirements:

  • The school employee must be a law-enforcement officer who retired or resigned in good standing.
  • The employee has met additional training and certification requirements set by the state Department of Criminal Justice Services.
  • The local school board solicits input from the locality’s chief law-enforcement officer regarding the employee’s qualifications.
  • The local school board grants the employee the authority to carry a firearm while on duty.

The bill would also require the DCJS to develop firearms training and certification requirements for school security officers who intend to carry a firearm.

In a statement, Lingamfelter said that he was happy that his bill had passed with bipartisan support. He called it “a common-sense measure to protect our children and teachers from the unthinkable.”

The bill faces another round of hearings in the Senate, which approved the measure last year and has enough Republican votes to pass it on to McAuliffe.

In vetoing similar legislation last April, McAuliffe said he feared that school security officers “do not receive training regarding firearms or the appropriate use of force with juveniles.”

“Allowing additional firearms in schools without appropriate training would create an environment that is less, rather than more, secure,” the governor wrote.

House of Delegates OKs ‘Tebow Bill’

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia House of Delegates approved a bill Tuesday that would allow home-schooled students to participate in high school sports and other extracurricular activities.

HB 1578, commonly known as the “Tebow Bill” after former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, passed by a 60-38 vote on the House floor Tuesday. The bill will now move to the Senate for consideration.

The proposal, introduced by Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, would eliminate a statewide ban prohibiting home-schooled students from participating in high school athletics and other interscholastic activities.

Bell has introduced similar legislation, which is based on laws from other states, perennially since 2005. In 2015 and 2016, Bell’s legislation passed both the House and Senate but was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Opponents say home-schoolers don’t have to meet the same academic standards as public school students, so it wouldn’t be right to let them play alongside regular students in high school sports.

McAuliffe cited that rationale when he vetoed Bell’s legislation last spring.

“Opening participation in those competitions to individuals who are not required to satisfy the same criteria upends Virginia’s extracurricular framework and codifies academic inequality in interscholastic competition,” the governor wrote in his veto message.

Bell counters that this is not the case with his latest iteration of the bill.

Under the legislation, students who want to participate in their local high school’s athletic programs would have to pass standardized tests and demonstrate “evidence of progress” in their academic curriculum for at least two years. Bell said the home-schoolers also would have to meet the same immunization standards as their public school counterparts.

Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, shared her concerns about the bill on the House floor Tuesday.

“As a former school board member and parent of a child who spent a significant number of years in private school, I’m always hesitant to see us move in this direction,” McQuinn said.

“Take my nephew, for instance. As a star basketball player, he says he has sacrificed and put many years and extraordinary determination into reaching his current playing level. Yet if a home-schooling (student) is granted the same exposure and resources, it goes without saying that they reap the same benefit after investing a highly disproportionate amount of time.”

Bell argued that his bill simply allows home-schooled students who might not fit the typical public school mold the same freedoms as all other students.

“If you are a parent and your kid doesn’t fit into the public school curriculum right now, you can go private or you can go home-schooling – except many places, including a county I represent, have very limited private school options,” Bell said. “Yet we’re forcing parents to say, ‘You can have football, or you can have the education that you want.’”

McQuinn said the bill was not a matter of equality, but rather the opposite.

“What message does this send to public school parents and students?” she asked. “One of fairness or favorability? While public schools present their own unique challenges, some more difficult than others, I believe the passing of this bill would add another dimension of complication to the public school system.”

Bell said that was not the case. Under the legislation, the decision to allow home-schoolers to participate in high school sports would come down to the local school district. Each individual school board would be able to decide for itself.

McQuinn countered that allowing the localities to decide brings its own set of problems.

“There are implications with making this a local school board issue as well,” she said. “If a school division allows home-schooled students and another does not, there would be cases where teams would have to make a decision to forfeit a game. This kind of policy breeds division, brings fairness into question and creates inconsistencies across individual schools.”

Virginia Legislators Sound off on Trump Inauguration

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Several members of the Virginia House of Delegates spoke out Monday in regards to the events surrounding the inauguration of Donald Trump over the weekend.

Members from both sides of the aisle made their voices heard, both in support and opposition of the 45th president and the activities that engulfed his inauguration weekend.

Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, alluded to the events as a teachable moment for America’s youth.

“As a government teacher … I had a real passion for my students to understand what an incredibly unique representative democracy this was,” Cox said on the House floor Monday. “I thought of that on Friday when we saw one of the things I think is one of the greatest things we do, and that’s the transition of power.”

However, Cox was quick to voice his displeasure over both Trump’s Democratic opposition and those who took to the streets of Washington, D.C., to protest over the weekend.

“I’d be less than candid if I didn’t say I was disappointed in the 67 Democratic congressmen that did not attend,” Cox said. “I was probably even more disappointed with some of the violent protests I saw. I thought that it was bad for the country and, frankly, probably kept some of those good folks from various parts of the country from attending.”

Cox also used his platform as a call to action for his colleagues on both sides of the aisle. He referred to recent remarks delivered by Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News.

“I was reflecting on a speech that Del. Price gave last week,” he said. “I think we all need to look at other people’s perspectives, and I really took to heart when she said that for her, her grandmother and, I think, for so many others, what President Obama’s presidency meant. I thought that was very well said. And so, having said that, I think it’s crucial that whether you did or did not support President Trump, that he’s our president and we need to pray for his success, success for Americans and Virginia’s success.”

Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, agreed with Cox’s call to support the new president but warned against doing so blindly.

“I, too, share (Del. Cox’s) support for the notion of a smooth transition of political power in this country. I think that’s what distinguishes our country from many other countries around the globe,” Toscano said.

But he added, “Be careful before you walk down the road with President Trump. He is our president, and we have an obligation to support him, but we also have an obligation to tell him he is wrong when he is wrong.”

Toscano cited the administration’s stances on repealing the Affordable Care Act and a reported freeze on federal government hiring as two examples where Americans need to remain vigilant.

“In these two instances – ACA and freezes on federal employment – he is wrong, and we should stand up for those principles,” he said.

Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpepper, was quick to address Toscano’s claims.

“I actually agree with some of the comments from (Del. Toscano),” Freitas said, “and I have to say that if President Trump accomplishes nothing more than once again reinvigorating the Democrats’ passion for the Fourth, Fifth, Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution, he will achieve more than I ever thought possible in my lifetime.”

Freitas, like Cox, also expressed his disdain over the weekend’s protests.

“As I looked at the violent riots that broke out – probably by a bunch of people with ‘coexist’ bumper stickers on their cars – at the inauguration, I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “These are some of the same people that are constantly lecturing us on tolerance and diversity and getting along, and the moment there’s an election result they don’t like, we’re setting things on fire and throwing bricks through windows.”

Freitas compared the protesters with what he characterized as the oppressive regulations of his opponents across the aisle.

“When it comes to things like Obamacare and when it comes to a lot of these other government-imposed programs that don’t require voluntary cooperation, they use coercion. If it’s such a good idea, why does it always require government force to implement on an otherwise free people?” Freitas asked.

“I think that’s a fair question to ask, because at the end of the day, coexistence is not a bumper sticker you put on your car. Coexistence is resisting the urge to coerce those whom you can’t convince. I think we need to be a little bit more cognizant of that.”

However, Freitas concluded by reiterating Toscano’s point on holding government accountable.

“I, for one, hope this administration will rely more on free people to resolve their problems through voluntary association as opposed to a top-down Washington, D.C., approach for everything,” he said. “I commit to holding the administration, even though it’s my party, accountable to that end.”

Senate Panel OKs Bans on LGBT Discrimination

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND –Legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in public employment and housing cleared a Senate committee on Monday and now will go to the full Senate for consideration.

SB 783, sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, would prohibit public employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identification. The Senate General Laws and Technology Committee voted 12-3 in favor of the bill.

SB 822, filed by Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Leesburg, would prohibits public housing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identification. The committee approved the proposal, 11-3.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, praised the committee’s approval of the bills.

“No Virginian should be pushed out of their home or their job because of who they are or who they love,” Northam said. “I applaud the Senate committee for advancing policies to ensure Virginia is open and welcoming to all.”

Organizations in support of the bills included Equality Virginia, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Northern Virginia Technology Council and the Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia.

Organizations in opposition to the bill were the Family Foundation and the Virginia Catholic Conference. They argued that the bills would infringe on people’s religious freedom.

John Hetzler, legislative counsel for the Family Foundation, said SB 783 was unnecessary because there were only 12 complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation reported since 2009.

In response, Ebbin said, “To those 12 people, there’s an issue, and further to LGBT members of the state workforce. Personally, as someone who’s been discriminated against in employment because of my sexual orientation, it does happen, and it’s not only people who report it, but people who keep silent about it.”

SB 783 seeks to codify as state law an executive order issued by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Executive Order 1 prohibits discrimination “on the basis of race, sex, color, national
origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, political affiliation, or against otherwise
qualified persons with disabilities” in state employment.

Similarly, the Virginia Fair Housing Law already protects individuals from being discriminated against because of race, ethnicity, country of origin, familial status and religion. SB 822 would simply add sexual orientation and gender identification to the list.

Helen Hardiman, policy director for HOME, defended SB 822. She said that HOME did testing in three areas of the state, sending a gay couple and a straight couple to search for housing. In 44 percent of the cases, the straight couple was treated better, Hardiman said.

Bills like SB 822 have come before the General Assembly in the past but have failed.

James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, said he expected the bills to win approval from the Senate this year. The legislation is more likely to get voted down in the House of Delegates.

How They Voted

Here is how the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee voted on SB 783 (“Public employment; prohibits discrimination on basis of sexual orientation or gender identity”).

01/23/17 Senate: Reported from General Laws and Technology (12-Y 3-N)

YEAS – Locke, Barker, Vogel, Ebbin, Wexton, Surovell, DeSteph, McPike, Suetterlein, Dunnavant, Sturtevant, Mason – 12.

NAYS – Ruff, Black, Reeves – 3.

Here is how the committee voted on SB 822 (“Virginia Fair Housing Law; unlawful discriminatory housing practices, sexual orientation and gender”).

01/23/17 Senate: Reported from General Laws and Technology (11-Y 3-N)

YEAS – Locke, Barker, Vogel, Ebbin, Wexton, Surovell, DeSteph, McPike, Dunnavant, Sturtevant, Mason – 11.

NAYS – Ruff, Black, Reeves – 3.

Animal Tethering Bill Tabled By Subcommittee

By Ashley Luck, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill to prohibit the tethering of dogs and other animals was rejected Monday by a subcommittee of the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.

HB 1802, filed by Del. John J. Bell, D-Chantilly, would have allowed tethering only if the owner of the animal were outside and within sight of the pet.

The meeting of the committee’s Agriculture Subcommittee brought out both supporters and opponents of the tethering bill.

Supporters included representatives from the Richmond SPCA and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Daphna Nachminovitch, senior vice president of the cruelty investigations department for PETA, said the organization sees many mistreated dogs tethered on chains.

“We’re in support of the bill because we see thousands and thousands of dogs in the commonwealth who are trapped 24/7 at the end of a chain, without any love, companionship or respect – oftentimes without the very bare minimums of life necessities,” Nachminovitch said.

“Man’s best friend deserves better than that.”

Speaking in opposition to the bill, Alice Harrington, a representative of the Virginia Federation of Dog Clubs and Breeders, said there were plenty of reasons to safely tether an animal.

“It should be tabled -- that’s what we wanted,” said Harrington. “Tethering is a tool that has been used for thousands of years to keep animals safe. When these kinds of bills come forward, most of them don’t tie to anything having to do with the condition of the dog.”

“There’s all sorts of reasons why people need to tether an animal -- like escape artists, whether they dig under the fence or go over,” Harrington said.

“Something you do when you have dog shows and field events with hunting dogs, the method of containing them is to tether them. You can’t enforce this stuff, especially where it says you have to stand in sight of your dog,” she said.

HB 1802 stated, “No companion animal shall be tethered outdoors unless the owner is outdoors within sight of the animal.” An initial violation would have been a Class 4 misdemeanor, subject to a fine of up to $250. A second offense would have been a Class 3 misdemeanor, with a fine up to $500.

Bell’s legislation would have amended section 3.2-6503 of the Code of Virginia, in relation to the care of companion animals. The code says owners must provide adequate feed, water, properly cleaned shelter, adequate space for the type of animal and veterinary care when needed.

The provisions of HB 1802 would have applied to anyone who owns or provides foster care to a companion animal, including animal shelters, dealers, pet shops, exhibitors, kennels, groomers and boarding establishments.

Most localities in Virginia do not have restrictions on the tethering of animals. The city of Richmond and a few others have prohibited it.

After hearing testimony for and against the tethering bill, the subcommittee voted to table it on a 7-1 vote.

School Security Officer Gun Bill Gains Ground

By Tyler Woodall, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The House of Delegates voted Monday to advance to third reading a bill that would allow school security officers to carry firearms.

Under the legislation, school districts could employ security officers to carry a firearm in the performance of their duty if they meet certain requirements.

Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, told House members that HB 1392 addresses the concerns Gov. Terry McAuliffe raised when he vetoed a similar bill last year.

“In his veto message as I recall, he was worried about the vetting process: Are we going to be picking people who are well vetted to do this important work?” Lingamfelter said.

The bill is expected to receive the House’s final approval later this week.

Under HB 1392, school security officers could carry a firearm if:

  • The school employee is a law-enforcement officer who retired or resigned in good standing.
  • The employee has met additional training and certification requirements set by the state Department of Criminal Justice Services.
  • The local school board solicits input from the locality’s chieflaw-enforcement officer regarding the employee’s qualifications.
  • The local school board grants the employee the authority to carry a firearm while on duty.

The bill would also require the DCJS to establish firearms training and certification requirements for school security officers who carry a firearm.

House Republicans said the bill is needed because law enforcement officers need more time to respond to emergencies in rural areas of the commonwealth.

“None of us want to contemplate the unthinkable that something horrible can happen in a school,” Lingamfelter said. “Law enforcement, particularly in rural areas, who have to travel greater distances, might be delayed in getting there to stop a calamity, and that is my motivation.”

Del. Michael J. Webert, R-Fauquier, backed the argument by speaking of his own district: “They don’t have a lot of resources, and this is another alternative for that locality to protect their children utilizing their resources.”

Webert said his district faces the struggle of having only one school resource officer to cover three schools. The resource officers are members of police or sheriff’s departments.

House Democrats opposed the bill. Citing grim statistics on teen gun violence, Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax said, “School resource officers are sufficient. We don’t need to expand the class of folks that can bring guns into our schools.”

Webert replied, “I don’t understand why the gentlemen would be against protecting children and giving localities the ability to protect our children.”

‘Ditch Dirty Fuels Rally’ Urges Support for Clean Energy

By Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Waving signs declaring “No Fracking Way” and “Beyond Coal,” more than 50 environmentalists gathered Monday for a Ditch Dirty Fuels Rally near the state Capitol, encouraging Virginia legislators to embrace clean energy alternatives.

The Sierra Club sponsored the event, which coincided with Conservation Lobby Day.

“We are here today because we know that climate disruption is already negatively impacting our families and communities here in Virginia,” said Kendyl Crawford, conservation program manager for the Sierra Club. “It’s time for our leaders to get serious about clean energy and take advantage of this exciting opportunity for both public health and our environment.”

Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, attended the rally and expressed his support for alternative, renewable energy sources. Keam spoke about his experiences on the House Special Subcommittee on Energy, where he said too many of his colleagues base their decisions on party politics.

“Unfortunately, we have a lot of members in the General Assembly who just say anytime it’s coming from the industry, they automatically support it – anytime it’s coming from the environment, they automatically oppose it,” Keam said.

“I’m trying something that we haven’t done in a long time, which is to get members from both sides of the aisle to come together, talk reasonably and see if there’s a way we can come together on core values – values such as clean water.”

Keam recently proposed a bill (HB 2112) that would require the State Corporation Commission to adopt rules for community renewable projects.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, such projects allow customers who don’t have solar panels or other renewable resources of their own to buy or lease a portion of a shared renewable energy system. The money that customers make from these clean energy sources is then credited to their electricity bill, as if they had solar panels on their own roof or a wind turbines in their backyard.

“We don’t want it to just go to the private sector so that they can create more business opportunities. We want it to actually go to the regular folks,” Keam said.

He said his legislation “probably won’t go this year because it’s a new idea, but I think it’s the kind of idea that we need to start talking about so that everyday folks will benefit from the new solar energy, not just businesses.”

Besides supporting renewable energy proposals, the rally also served as a protest against bills sought by fossil fuel interests.

One such bill is HB 1678, which would exclude from public disclosure information about chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Essentially, the legislation would make oil and gas companies exempt from reporting the chemicals they pump into fracking wells.

Keam pledged to vote against any bills that would allow more fracking in Virginia.

“Nobody should hide behind our public interest laws and freedom of information laws to be able to prevent us from finding out what their plans are,” he said.

At the rally, representatives of environmental organizations from across the state spoke in support of sustainable energy alternatives and called on Gov. Terry McAuliffe and other elected representatives to protect the environment.

“Both Gov. McAuliffe and the General Assembly has declared solar energy in the public interest – let’s hold them to it,” said Amory Fischer, business development coordinator for Secure Future Solar.

Renewable energy has been growing rapidly in the United States, reducing pollution and creating jobs, advocates say. Moreover, the cost to install solar panels has dropped more than 60 percent over the past decade, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Many states have invested heavily in solar energy – notably California, which last year generated 16,507 megawatts of solar power. In contrast, Virginia generated just 10 megawatts of solar energy in 2015.

Dr. Samantha Ahdoot, a pediatrician from Alexandria, said she supports clean energy on behalf of the next generation.

“Our children deserve to inherit the same beautiful state – its fields, its farms, its mountains with their tops – that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington loved and nurtured at the birth of our country,” said Ahdoot, who also was the lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement on climate change and children’s health.

“Our children deserve clean air, our children deserve clean water, our children deserve a safe and stable climate, and our children deserve an affordable and reliable energy.”

The rally was originally scheduled to take place at the Bell Tower on the Capitol grounds, but weather conditions forced participants to relocate indoors to the St Paul’s Episcopal Church.

“I was a little sad that the rain did happen today,” Crawford said.“But I still think that we made sure our message is heard, our voices getting out there.”

Take Politics Out of Redistricting, Citizens Say

By Megan Corsano, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Citizens demanding an end to gerrymandering packed a legislative subcommittee hearing Monday as lawmakers and members of the public all voiced concerns over the influence of politics on redistricting.

Critics say the current system, in which the General Assembly redraws the boundaries for legislative districts, allows politicians to choose their constituents instead of the other way around. As a result, many legislators run unopposed in districts that are heavily Republican or heavily Democratic.

The Constitutional Subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee held a 7 a.m. meeting on sixproposed constitutional amendments aimed at addressing the problem. The subcommittee is scheduled to vote on the proposals next week.

Much of the focus was on HJ 763, introduced by Republican Del. Steven Landes of Augusta County. It would “prohibit any electoral district from being drawn in order to favor or disfavor any political party, incumbent legislator, member of Congress or other individual entity.”

Most of the people filling the seats in the subcommittee’s meeting room were from One Virginia 2021, a nonpartisan organization “advocating for fair redistricting of the Commonwealth of Virginia.” (2021 refers to the next time redistricting will happen – after the 2020 census.)

Members of the group wore stickers declaring “I’ve Been Gerry-Mandered!” A total of 17 members of the organization testified before the subcommittee about Landes’ constitutional amendment, all of them in favor of the idea.

Gerrymandering refers to drawing electoral districts to favor one political party over the other. Both Republicans and Democrats have been guilty of this practice. Many say gerrymandering undermines democracy.

“It’s all about fairness,” said Jay Brock, a member of One Virginia 2021. “We talk a lot about equality and the other values that the country was founded on. For me, the most operative way to put that into practice is through fairness, and the current system is patently unfair.”

Brittany Shearer, a volunteer with One Virginia 2021 from Norfolk, was one of the 17 people who spoke in favor of HJ 763.

“Something that I am working really hard on is improving access, particularly among young people, to the democratic system,” Shearer said. “When gerrymandering takes place, we see the furthest extremes of both political parties hold office in order to keep out any challengers.”

One Virginia 2021’s attendance at the subcommittee meeting was part of its “Lobby Day 2017.” Almost 200 members of the group came to the General Assembly Building to lobby for redistricting reform, said Brian Cannon, the organization’s executive director.

At a press conference, Cannon said the biggest challenge in addressing the problem is helping people understand how a complex process like redistricting affects them.

“People aren’t satisfied with the rigged system of our elections,” Cannon said, noting that presidential candidates Barrack Obama in 2008 and Donald Trump in 2016 both targeted this dissatisfaction and called for systematic change. “I think we can do better. I know we can do better.”

The press conference included a screening of the organization’s video “A Message from Jerry Mandering,” a comedic explanation of the issue.

Redistricting reform measures usually pass the Virginia Senate but die in the House, Cannon said. He and the six state delegates proposing different constitutional amendments to control gerrymandering hope that doesn’t happen this year.

Cannon said he believes the redistricting process should be taken out of the hands of the General Assembly and given to an independent entity, such as a redistricting commission.

In his testimony, Landes said his proposal would put in the Virginia Constitution “language that would make more objective our process related to redistricting.” However, Landes said he does not support efforts to establish a redistricting commission, such as HJ 628, proposed by Democratic Del. Ken Plum of Reston.

Del. Tim Hugo, R-Centreville, noted that it is the prerogative of the General Assembly to draw district lines. “Political favoritism is in the eye of the beholder,” he said – a sentiment that suggests objectivity is hard to prove or disprove.

While testifying for his own proposal, Plum urged the subcommittee to approve at least one of the constitutional amendments on redistricting so it can go to the House floor for a vote.

The Constitutional Subcommittee plans to vote on the proposed constitutional amendments at its next meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. on Jan. 30.

If a constitutional amendment reforming the redistricting process passes this session, implementation would be a long way off. The General Assembly would have to approve the amendment again in 2018, and then it would be placed on a statewide ballot that November.

House Gives ‘Tebow Bill’ Preliminary Approval

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia House of Delegates gave tentative approval Monday to a bill that would allow home-schooled students to participate in high school sports.

HB 1578, widely known as the “Tebow Bill” after former University of Florida and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, would give home-schoolers the ability to participate in high school sports and other interscholastic activities. The bill is on the House calendar for final approval Tuesday.

Sponsored by Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, the bill is modeled after laws in other states. Bell has perennially introduced the legislation since 2005. In 2015 and 2016, Bell’s bills passed the General Assembly and were sent to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who vetoed them.

Virginia High School League rules currently prohibit home-schoolers from participating in high school sports after eighth grade. Bell said he wants to change that.

Bell described his bill as a “chance to try out” the idea. If passed, the law would “sunset” on July 1, 2022, thus requiring the General Assembly to revisit the issue in five years.

Under the proposal, local school boards would get to decide whether to allow home-schoolers to participate in their school’s athletic programs. School districts would not be required to do so.

In addition, Bell said his bill contains several provisions that would prevent it from being abused to circumvent academic ineligibility.

First, students would be required to play for the school in their home district; they could not choose where to play.

Students who want to participate in their local school’s athletics would be required to pass standardized tests and other requirements for at least two consecutive years. They also would have to meet all immunization requirements necessary to play high school sports.

Schools would be allowed to charge students “reasonable fees” to cover the costs of participation, thereby easing the burden on taxpayers, Bell said.

The issue rose to national prominence in 2007 when ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” featured Tebow and several other home-schooled students across the country seeking access to high school athletics.

Thanks to legislation passed in his home state in 1996, Tebow was allowed to play football at Jacksonville’s Trinity Christian Academy and, later, at nearby Allen D. Nease High School, where he was eventually named a high school All-American.

Since then, Tebow and former NFL defensive end Jason Taylor, who also played high school football while being home-schooled in Pennsylvania, have campaigned across the country to advocate for laws allowing home-schoolers to play for their local high schools.

In 2008, Tebow received the Quaqua Protégé Award as an “outstanding home-education graduate” for his work.

Senate Defeats Bill Opposed by ACLU

By Mary Lee Clark,Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia Senate on Monday rejected a bill to increase the penalty for protesters who remain at the scene of a riot or unlawful assembly after being told to leave.

The legislation, proposed by Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland, was defeated on a 14-26 vote, as several Republicans joined Democrats in opposing it. The American Civil Liberties Union said the bill was an overreaction to civil disobedience.

Under Senate Bill 1055, anyone who “remains at the place of any riot or unlawful assembly after having been lawfully warned to disperse” would have been guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months of jail time and a $2,500 fine. Currently, this offense is a Class 3 misdemeanor, which can draw a fine up to $500 but no jail time.

Stuart said he submitted the bill at the request of the Sheriff’s Department in Westmoreland County.

“As a representative of an area, when you have constituents who ask you to bring bills, we are their vehicle to do that,” Stuart said. “So I typically do.”

The legislation drew opposition from Democratic senators. Many of them cited demonstrations from the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement and Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington.

“I find it ironic that Senate Bill 1055, which increases the penalty for unlawful assembly, was passed on the holiday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an individual who understood the power of nonviolent direct protest and the power of marching,” said Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton. It was on Jan. 16 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day – that the Senate Courts of Justice Committee approved the bill and sent it to the full Senate. The committee’s vote was 8-4, with all Republican members voting yes and all Democratic members voting no.

Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, called SB 1055 “one of the worst bills” he has ever seen.

“This is contrary to what we believe in as Americans, what we believe in as Virginians. I think Thomas Jefferson would roll over in his grave if he thought we were considering something like this,” Edwards said.

A fellow Democrat, Sen. Barbara Favola of Arlington, agreed.

“This bill exacerbates the divide that already exists among individuals that are trying to express themselves in a peaceful way and our police departments and our police forces,” Favola said. “We should encourage peaceful demonstrations.”

Several Republican senators spoke in support of the bill.

“When demonstrations become riot and become violent, I think we need to have the tools to deal with them,” said Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun.

Stuart said his bill applied only to riots (although the language also included “unlawful assembly”).

“This has nothing to do with peaceful protest,” Stuart said.

The ACLU of Virginia strongly opposed the legislation.

“In Virginia and in a lot of communities, we are supposed to be moving away from putting more people in jail and more people in prison for typically non-violent crimes, and this is the opposite direction,” said Charlie Schmidt, a public policy lawyer for the ACLU.

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