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2017-2-1

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Veterans Experience Action Center in Roanoke Rapids, N.C. to be Supported by the Department of Veterans Affairs

What: The Winston-Salem Veterans Affairs Regional Office along with the Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Center, local Veteran Support Agencies and  Veterans Service Officers will support the Roanoke Rapids Veterans Experience Action Center. 

When: February 10, 2017 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., February 11, 2017 from  8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Where:  Roanoke Rapids Theatre, 500 Carolina Crossroads Parkway (located off ext. 171, 1-95), Roanoke Rapids, N.C. 27870

Background:  During this event, Veterans will be able to get assistance with their VA Benefit questions.  This provides Veterans an excellent opportunity to talk to the VA, State, and local agencies face to face. We are encouraging all Veterans, especially Female Veterans, and Veterans not currently receiving  compenstion, pension or healthcare benefits to attend.

The VA is expanding Veteran Experience Action Centers as part of its national effort to improve the Veteran Experience. 

Governor McAuliffe Announces Construction of Virginia’s Largest Solar Farm

~New 100MW solar facility to be built in Southampton County~

RICHMONDToday Governor McAuliffe announced a new utility-scale solar facility to be built in Southampton County. The 100MW project, under development by Community Energy Solar, will avoid the release of 134,377 tons of carbon dioxide, 631 tons of sulfur dioxide, 315 tons of nitrogen oxides, and 12 tons of particulate matter annually.

“Once complete, the new Southampton facility will be the largest solar farm ever constructed in Virginia,” said Governor Terry McAuliffe. “The pace of solar deployment has increased exponentially in recent years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. With projects like this, we’re building both the new Virginia economy and a better future for our children.”

Since 1999, Pennsylvania-based Community Energy Solar has developed more than 1,500MW of solar and wind power. The developer’s past projects include, what was until this point, Virginia’s largest solar installation, the 80MW Amazon Solar Farm U.S. East in Accomack County. Amazon Web Services, a leader in the growing field of cloud computing, will purchase power from both facilities as part of their global effort to achieve carbon neutrality.

Community Energy Solar builds long-term relationships by delivering energy options that work for customers, investors and utilities. Their projects build on community trust and utility expertise to bring reliable, high-quality solar energy projects to market. Community Energy has a ten-year plus track record of renewable energy development, resulting in $1.5 billion of new energy investment.

"Amazon Web Services’ leadership and continued commitment to large scale solar energy is a key catalyst for this exciting new industry in Virginia.” said Brent Beerley, Executive VP of Community Energy Solar. “Community Energy Solar is thrilled to join forces again with partners AWS and Dominion for this second project, following the path created with Virginia’s first large scale solar farm - the Amazon Solar Farm US East in Accomack County.”

Democrats call for vote on redistricting reforms

By Tyler Hammel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Democratic delegates Tuesday called on Republican House Speaker William Howell to revive legislation that supporters say would help take politics out of redistricting.

The Democrats tried to put pressure on Howell a day after a Republican-dominated subcommittee voted to kill five redistricting proposals in one swoop with little discussion.

At its meeting Monday morning, the Constitutional Subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee ignored a request from a Democratic member to vote on the proposed constitutional amendments individually. The panel then tabled the redistricting measures on a single 4-3 vote.

Republican Dels. Randy Minchew of Leesburg, Mark Cole of Fredericksburg, Tim Hugo of Centreville and Jackson Miller of Manassas all voted to table the resolutions. Opposing the motion were Republican Del. Jason Miyares of Virginia Beach and Democratic Dels. Joseph Lindsey of Norfolk and Marcia Price of Newport News.

Democrats in the House of Delegates on Tuesday blasted the subcommittee’s action.

“In 2015, every single one of the General Assembly’s 122 incumbents who sought re-election won,” House Minority Leader David Toscano said in a news release.

“House Republicans have now killed every single redistricting amendment this session, including their own. We call upon the speaker to revive these amendments for a full floor vote, as Virginians deserve to know where their leaders stand on this issue.”

Del. Charniele Herring of Alexandria, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, said, “Gerrymandering has distorted election results and diluted the power of individual voters. A system in which incumbents can choose their voters and draw political opponents out of districts is undemocratic. We need a full floor vote on a redistricting amendment now.”

Brian Cannon, executive director of One Virginia 2021, an advocacy group, condemned the subcommittee’s decision to kill HJ 763, which was proposed by Del. Steve Landes, R-Augusta County.It sought to prohibit any electoral district from being drawn “for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring any political party, incumbent legislator, member of Congress, or other individual or entity.”

“This amendment represents the core component of redistricting reform. It is simple: If you think politicians should be able to carve out their political opponents, then you are for gerrymandering and the elimination of competition in our elections,” Cannon said.

“This was particularly disappointing given that Delegate Minchew has previously supported redistricting reform and today he cast the deciding vote in his subcommittee to kill even the most modest efforts to stop gerrymandering.”

Minchew opened Monday’s subcommittee meeting by saying there would be no testimony on the 28 items on the agenda, unless there was a question from a committee member. He noted that the subcommittee had held a three-hour meeting the previous week.

When the redistricting proposals came up, Price requested to have them voted on separately. She was denied.

Then, with one vote, the subcommittee killed:

  • Landes’ resolution and a similar proposal (HJ 581) sponsored by Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Arlington.
  • Three resolutions to create an independent redistricting commission. Those measures were HJ 628, sponsored by Del. Ken Plum, D-Fairfax County; HJ 651, sponsored by Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond; and HJ 749, sponsored by Del. John Bell, D-Loudoun County.

Group hopes to curb DUIs on Super Bowl Sunday

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

To many Americans, Super Bowl Sunday means football, partying and plenty to eat and drink. For the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, it means an increase in traffic deaths caused by drunken driving.

From 2011 through 2015, according to federal data, 37 percent of all fatal crashes on the day of and morning after the Super Bowl involved driving under the influence.

“With over a third of all U.S. traffic deaths being caused by drunk drivers during Super Bowl Sunday, it’s important to have a game plan to beat this opponent,” said Kurt Gregory Erickson, president of WRAP, a nonprofit group that advocates safe driving.

WRAP has a list of tips to prevent drunk driving. It includes assigning a designated driver, using a taxi or ride-sharing service, drinking and serving non-alcoholic beverages, and wearing your seat belt.

“Wearing a seat belt may not be widely viewed as a tool in this effort, but the wearing of a seat belt may be your best defense against a drunk driver,” Erickson said. “The routine wearing of seat belts is the single most effective measure to reduce crash related deaths and injuries.”

The Falls Church-based organization also encourages people to report suspected drunken drivers they see to the police. Dialing “#77” on a mobile phone will connect you to the Virginia State Police.

For more information and tips on how to prevent drunken driving, visit the organization’s website, www.wrap.org.

To combat drunken driving on Sunday, the Virginia State Police is having a “Trooper Bowl” – a traffic safety enforcement campaign.

“Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is never a smart play, which is why our troopers will be out specifically patrolling for impaired drivers,” said Craig Worsham, commander of the Virginia State Police Appomattox Division.

Panel OKs bill to defund Planned Parenthood

By Megan Corsano and Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill seeking to defund Planned Parenthood cleared a House subcommittee Tuesday on a 4-1 vote.

HB 2264, introduced by Del. Ben Cline, R-Amherst, “would prohibit the Virginia Department of Health from granting funds or entering into contracts with certain health care providers that perform abortion.”

More specifically, it would cut off Title X funding for Planned Parenthood, which supportsfamily planning services, long-term contraception and educational programs.

“It’s just another effort to cripple the organization,” said David Timberline, director of communications for the Planned Parenthood League of Virginia.

Planned Parenthood has clinics in Richmond, Virginia Beach, Hampton, Charlottesville and Roanoke. Timberline said most people come to the clinics for family planning, cancer screening and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Last year, 18,000 people visited Planned Parenthood clinics in Virginia.

Timberline believes that many of the people who oppose Planned Parenthood think that once it is shut down, other clinics can pick up providing the family planning services that the organization provides. “That is completely false,” he said.

Supporters of the bill said it would ensure that taxpayer money is spent on “fully comprehensive health clinics” to provide services to women. Addressing the subcommittee of the House Committee of Health, Welfare and Institutions, Cline said the legislation “ensures that hospitals, federally qualified health clinics and rural health clinics are funded prior to abortion centers.”

He said the bill would give priority to more than 140 federally qualified and rural health clinics in Virginia. Cline said the bill would make sure that money is sent to “health clinics that meet the needs of those populations they serve in the most comprehensive manner possible,” instead of to clinics that provide abortions.

Cline introduced an identical bill in the 2016 legislative session. It passed both the House and the Senate but was vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The House was one vote short of overriding the governor’s veto.

Several women addressed the subcommittee in opposition to the bill. They included Dr. Serina Floyd, an obstetrician and gynecologist from Northern Virginia. Floyd said the bill would harm tens of thousands of Virginians who rely on Planned Parenthood’s comprehensive services.

“The fact is that Virginians, particularly low-income Virginians, need more access to health care and not less,” she said. “Hospitals that provide abortions have been exempted from the bill, which means that only health centers like Planned Parenthood are being targeted.”

Supporters of the bill include the Family Foundation of Virginia. According to its website, the group believes that “human life, from fertilization until natural death, is sacred, and the right to life is fundamental to all other rights.”

Anna Scholl, executive director of the organization Progress Virginia, believes the bill would violate the rights of women.

“It is none of Delegate Cline’s business where a woman decides to get her health care. Every woman in Virginia deserves access to safe, high-quality health care at a family planning clinic of her choice,” Scholl said.

“Defunding Planned Parenthood means that the full range of family planning options will be unavailable to the individuals, families, and communities that are most medically underserved in the commonwealth.”

Timberline plans to continue to rally community support to fight attacks on Planned Parenthood.

“We’re trying to get the word out that people who are fired up about what’s happening on the national level can have their voice heard on the local,” Timberline said. “They can speak at community hearings. That’s what we did this morning, and that’s what we plan to do with anything that comes along that tries to deny the services that we provide to our patients.”

The bill will advance to the full House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions. The panel will consider the legislation on Thursday.

Committee kills bill meant to close wage gap

By Jesse Adcock, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill intending to remedy wage discrimination by prohibiting employers from asking interviewees for their salary history was killed Tuesday by the House Commerce and Labor Committee.

“There is convincing evidence that sex discrimination in the workplace continues to be a problem,” said Leslie Tourigny, vice president of public policy for the Virginia branch of the American Association of University Women. “That’s not a myth – that’s math.”

HB 2190was introduced by Democratic Del. Jennifer Boysko of Herndon. The bill proposed to make it illegal for employers to require applicants to disclose past salaries. It sought to make obtaining an employee’s salary history from previous employers illegal as well.

Each violation would have been punishable by a civil penalty of up to $100 per violation.

Boysko said employers should base the salary of prospective employees on their ability and knowledge rather than what they’ve made in the past. This would be a valuable step in closing the pay gaps that exist between demographics, said the delegate, who represents the 86th House District, which includes parts of Loudoun and Fairfax counties.

“Women of color, older women and moms experience an even larger pay gap,” Tourigny said. “It doesn’t just impact women – it impacts families, it impacts business, and impacts the economy.”

According to the AAUW, women in Virginia made 78 percent of what men made in 2015. A recent study by the AAUW found that one year after graduation, women who were working full time made 7 percent less than their male counterparts.

In April 2016, the Joint Economic Council found that at the current rate, the gender pay gap will not close until 2059.

According to Tourigny, using prior salary to calculate future pay only compounds the problem, hurting women and people of color.

“If we rely on salary history to set future salary, that assumes prior salaries were fairly established in the first place,” Tourigny said. “It just continues bias and discrimination.”

Opponents of the bill said it would backfire and hurt employees.

“We think employers ought to have flexibility to ask these questions. Particularly for small business owners, it helps to understand the market for the position they’re trying to fill,” said Nicole Riley, Virginia director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

According to Riley, this would lead to employers lowballing the salaries of new employees.

“To make it a one-size-fits-all, I think you carry with it unintended consequences,” said Del. Kathy Byron, R-Forest, the vice chair of the House Commerce and Labor Committee. “What can happen is, by demanding things out of business you can put us at a disadvantage for getting hired.”

The committee tabled the bill on a voice vote.

Legislation similar to Boysko’s is being considered in other states and at the federal level.

Last year, Massachusetts adopted such a law. It will take effect in 2018.

In September, H.R. 6030, called the “Pay Equity for All Act of 2016,” was introduced in Congress by U.S. Rep. Eleanor Norton Holmes, who represents Washington, D.C. It would make it illegal at the federal level for employers to ask for salary histories.

Virginia takes legal action against Trump’s immigration order

By Mary Lee Clark and Tyler Hammel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Attorney General Mark Herring, flanked by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, announced Tuesday that Virginia is taking legal action against President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Herring called the order “unconstitutional and unlawful.”

He said Virginia is already being hurt by the immigration ban. Herring said it affects the state’s businesses, schools and communities. He said the executive order prevents students who have visas to study at American universities from continuing their education.

“The commonwealth is compelled to intervene in the case pending in the Eastern District of Virginia challenging that executive order,” Herring said.

The case, Aziz v. Trump, was filed Saturday by Tareq Aqel Mohammed Aziz, Ammar Aqel Mohammed Aziz, Aqel Mohammed Aziz and John Does 1-60 as a civil action after the individuals were detained at Dulles International Airport.

The plaintiffs believe they were targeted because they are Muslim. They are alleging denial of due process and violation of constitutional rights regarding religion as well as a breach of the Immigration and Nationality Act and other laws.

“We have been working around the clock since Friday to examine this executive order before reaching this conclusion,” Herring said. “This is not an action I take lightly, but it is one I take with confidence in our legal analysis, and in the necessity of intervening to both protect the commonwealth’s own sovereign interests and vindicate its residents’ civil rights.”

McAuliffe said many companies have told him they are worried about their employees not being able to return to the U.S. He said he supports Herring’s legal action because of the commonwealth’s belief in religious freedom.

On Friday, Trump signed the executive order barring immigration from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. The president said he took the action to protect the nation from potential terrorists. Trump’s order prevents citizens from the seven countries from entering the U.S. for three months.

In addition, Trump said the U.S. would not admit any refugees for four months. He suspended the entrance of refugees from Syria indefinitely.

After signing the order, Trump said it was not “a Muslim ban.”

“You see it in the airports, you see it in security. It’s working out very nicely,” Trump said. “We’re going to have a strict ban, and we’re going to have extreme vetting, which we should have had in this country for many years.”

The action has sparked protests across the United States.

On Saturday, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema issued a temporary restraining order blocking the enforcement of portions of the executive order. The restraining order allowed permanent residents of the U.S. being detained at Dulles access to lawyers and prevented them from being deported.

However, the restraining order was ignored by the Customs and Border Protection Agency and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, according to advocates for the detainees. They said customs and airport authorities refused to give the detained individuals access to lawyers.

Protesters want Richmond to be a ‘sanctuary’

By Jessica Nolte, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – With a spirited demonstration and an online petition, opponents of President Donald Trump are urging Richmond to designate itself as a “sanctuary city” for immigrants.

About 300 protesters gathered outside the Federal Courthouse on Monday night to send that message.

“We are here to defy the white supremacist regime that is in the White House,” said Justice Valentine, one of the organizers. The rally was called ICE Out of RVA – a reference to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

“To me, a sanctuary city looks like communities forging their own livelihood and deciding what safety and security looks like for them,” Valentine said.

A sanctuary city is also a place without prisons so people are not locked up unconstitutionally or for reasons rooted in stereotypes based on a person’s skin color or socioeconomic class, Valentine said.

Protesters are circulating an online petitionto present to Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney at City Hall next Monday.

“Tell our mayor and city council to stand up to Trump and take action that doesn’t just symbolically defend immigrants, but transforms our city’s policies to stop targeting us for imprisonment, risk of removal and state violence at the hands of police and aggressive immigration agents,” the petition states. By Tuesday afternoon, it had garnered about 1,200 signatures.

Last week, Trump issued an executive order to cut federal funding to cities that have declared themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants.

The demonstrators also criticized Trump’s order banning people traveling from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Trump said his action will keep Americans safe from terrorists; the protesters disagreed.

On a 10-year average, the number of Americans killed annually by Islamic jihadist immigrants is two, compared to 737 killed by falling out of bed, said Nora Ramadan, who spoke at the rally.

“People from Yemen, Sudan, Iran and Middle Eastern countries are not our enemies,” Ramadan said. “You can’t possibly go with the mindset that these people are terrorists.”

Many people at the two-hour rally carried signs, while several cars drove by honking their horns and cheering out the window to offer their support. Between speakers, the demonstrators joined in chanting:

“No borders. No walls. Trump has got to go.”

“Tell me what democracy looks like…” “This is what democracy looks like.”

“No hate. No fear. Immigrants are welcome here.”

One of the speakers was Antonio Espinoza, an associate professor of Latin American studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“I am not here officially for VCU, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that many of my colleagues and me are extremely concerned,” Espinoza said.

He said he is particularly concerned for young people who have been protected from deportation under former President Barack Obama’s order called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Trump has said he would revoke the DACA policy.

During the rally, the news broke that acting Attorney General Sally Yates had instructed the Justice Department’s lawyers not to defend Trump’s immigration executive order. The news was met with roaring cheers and applause from the crowd.

Trump quickly fired Yates.

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