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2017-2-27

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J. Aubrey Harrison

J. Aubrey Harrison, 70, of Jarratt, passed away peacefully surrounded by his family on Saturday, February 25, 2017. He was the son of the late Walter T. and Kathleen Sanford Harrison and was also preceded in death by a sister, Doris K. Harrison. Aubrey is survived by his wife, Judy Allen Harrison, son, Chris Harrison and wife, Sue; daughter Kaye Dawn Harrison Newsome; grandchildren, Madilyn Harrison, Dalton Harrison and Chandler Newsome; brother, Tommy Harrison and wife, Betty Cooke Harrison; niece, Nicole Coker and nephew, Brian Harrison. Aubrey retired as General Manager of Sadler Auto Centers after 35 years of service. His greatest joy was to spend time with his beloved grandchildren and family. Truly a “people person”, he was an active member of Lebanon United Methodist Church and an active leader and coach with the Jarratt Recreation Association. He was an avid hunter and longtime president of Owen Hunt Club where he furthered his leadership abilities and served as mentor to many. The family will receive friends Monday, Feb 27 at his home 2-4 p.m. and at Owen Funeral Home, 6-8 p.m. where the funeral service will be held 2 p.m. Tuesday, February 28. Interment will follow at High Hills Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made to Lebanon United Methodist Church, c/o Lou Harrell, 25123 Blue Star Highway, Jarratt, Virginia 23867 or to Jarratt Recreation Association, P.O. Box 631, Jarratt, Virginia 23867 or to The Hermie and Elliott Sadler Foundation, P.O. Box 32, Emporia, Virginia 23847. Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com.

McAuliffe suggests lowering fine for left-lane dawdlers

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe wants the General Assembly to reduce from $250 to $100 the fine in legislation that would punish motorists for driving too slowly in the left lane on Virginia highways.

Under current Virginia law, driving in the left lane at less than the normal speed of traffic is illegal except when passing or when it is deemed “otherwise impractical,” but there is no fine for failing to obey the law. House Bill 2201, sponsored by a bipartisan team of legislators including Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Bristol, Del. Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church, and Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, would change that.

O’Quinn said “left-lane bandits” have become a “particularly pervasive and ever-growing problem” on Virginia roadways. Supporters of the bill say fining drivers for abusing the left lane would help decrease traffic congestion on Virginia’s highways and reduce accidents and road rage incidents.

The bill, which specified a fine of $250, was passed by both chambers of the General Assembly and sent to the governor for approval. Rather than sign or veto the legislation, McAuliffe recommended Friday that lawmakers amend the bill by lowering the fine from the $250 to $100.

On Saturday, the House voted 89-8 to adopt the governor’s recommendation. The Senate is expected to act on the matter when legislators return to the Capitol for a one-day session on April 5.

If the amendment fails to receive a majority vote in the Senate, the bill would return to the governor with the $250 fine, and he could sign or veto it.

Pranks ensue on Senate floor on last day of session

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The floor of the Virginia Senate is notorious for its strict rules. Even in the state Capitol’s remote viewing room, a sign warns “No Food or Drink.” However, the end of the legislative session was more like the last day of a school year.

Upon entering the Senate floor on Saturday, you could tell something was amiss. It was probably the stuffed dog at the desk of Sen. William Stanley of Franklin County. Around its neck was a sign that said “Senate hunting dog” – a reference to dog-hunting legislation that Stanley had opposed.

During a break in the proceedings on Saturday, Senate Clerk Susan Clarke Schaar brought down a large stuffed rabbit to play-fight with Stanley’s dog.

“This is why they say ‘idle hands are the devil’s plaything,’” Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel of Fauquier said with a laugh.

As per usual, the speaker’s gavels had been stolen from the podium. This year, they ended up in the desk of Sen. Mark Peake of Lynchburg, who was elected on Jan. 10 – the day before the General Assembly convened. Peake accused Stanley of placing the gavels in his desk.

“If he did not see me place them there, how can he accuse me of placing them there?” Stanley asked in defense. “Possession is nine-tenths of the law.”

The scandal ended with Peake returning the gavels to Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the Senate’s presiding officer, while various senators chanted “shame” at Peake.

Sen. Lionell Spruill of Chesapeake made a short speech thanking his colleagues for their kindness. Spruill served in the House of Delegates from 1994 until 2016 before being elected to the Senate.

“At the House, you have a lot of fun and can act crazy, but you can’t be crazy over here most of the time,” Spruill said. He said he told himself, “‘Lord, you have to help me have some fun over here.’ Sen. Stanley was my savior. He pops up and I say, ‘thank God.’”

The fun did not stop Saturday’s session from ending promptly before noon. Senators were told to make sure all food was removed from their desks – “especially cookies.” Hugs were exchanged, photos taken and so ended the 2017 meeting of the Senate of Virginia.

McAuliffe vetoes bill to disclose refugee records

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a bill Friday that would have required the state Department of Social Services to publish non-identifying information for refugees resettled across Virginia.

“Many individuals and families placed in Virginia through the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program are fleeing governmental oppression, persecution, and violence,” McAuliffe said in his veto statement.

“Many leave their countries because they are targeted by their home country’s government, often for helping to further American interests. Disclosing such information in this political climate not only sends a message of discrimination and fear, but it also poses a real danger to many of our newest Virginians.”

House Bill 2002, introduced by Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Franklin County, would have required immigrant resettlement agencies, such as the Catholic Diocese and the U.S. State Department, to report demographic information on refugees, including the total number of refugees, the localities in which they have been placed and other facts, to Virginia’s Department of Social Services. Those reports would then be forwarded to other government agencies, including the General Assembly and the governor’s office.

Supporters of the bill argue these reports would give government officials the ability to plan for benefits, health care and other related social costs, as well as lay out education-related expenses that would allow children of refugees to enroll in Virginia public schools.

McAuliffe said those requirements would instead put undue stress on the organizations in charge of resettling refugees.

“House Bill 2002 would create an unnecessary burden for already overworked nonprofit organizations and would limit these organizations’ ability to accomplish their mission of safely settling refugees in the commonwealth,” McAuliffe said.

The governor added that the regulations would also discourage those wanting to relocate from tenuous circumstances in foreign countries to the commonwealth.

“Refugees are in the United States legally,” he said. “They undergo a more rigorous screening process than anyone else allowed into the United States. Creating a publicly available list of these individuals would send a message of exclusion to people looking for the chance to rebuild their lives free of tyranny and oppression.”

“As Virginians, we know the many benefits and contributions that refugees bring to our communities and Virginia’s economy,” McAuliffe added. “House Bill 2002 sets us on the wrong path. It does not reflect Virginia’s values.”

The bill will now return to the General Assembly, where supporters will face an uphill battle in overriding the governor’s veto. In order to successfully countermand McAuliffe’s ruling, supporters would need to gather a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers.

With three Republican delegates already opposing the bill in the House and a 21-19 party-line split in the Senate, supporters would have to persuade more than a dozen legislators to flip their vote in order to enact the legislation.

Assembly passes bill to help dyslexic students

By Dai Ja Norman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia school districts would have to have reading specialists trained in helping students with dyslexia under a bill passed by the General Assembly as its 2017 session drew to a close.

The Senate and House on Friday both voted unanimously in favor of SB 1516, sponsored by Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun. The legislation now goes to Gov. Terry McAuliffe for his signature.

The bill requires that if a local school board employs reading specialists, at least one must have expertise in identifying and teaching students with dyslexia or a related disorder. That expert then would serve as a resource for other teachers in the school district.

Experts say about one in 10 children may have dyslexia – a disorder that makes it difficult to learn to read or interpret words, letters and other symbols. To a child with dyslexia, for example, the words “Read this” might look like “Raed tihs.”

Virginia school divisions are not required to employ reading specialists, but most do. Lynn Smith, for example, is a reading specialist for the Henrico County Public Schools. She said students who have dyslexia face significant challenges.

“Reading really is that foundational skill, and students who struggle to read struggle across all academic subjects,” Smith said.

A misconception about dyslexia is that the students with the disorder lack intelligence. In fact, Smith said, “Often those children are extremely bright.” The problem, she said, is “that they’re really struggling with breaking down that code on the page.”

Donice Davenport, director of exceptional education for Henrico schools, said support goes a long way for these students.

“It is important for students with dyslexia to receive targeted instruction directly related to their disability needs,” Davenport said.

“Since dyslexia exists along a continuum of severity and complexity, each student may require a different level of support and service. Many students with dyslexia do well within the general education classroom with only a small level of support. Some students require additional systematic, explicit instruction provided in a multi-sensory way in order to learn to read and make progress in reading.”

Groups laud Virginia for outlawing female circumcision

By Haley Winn, Capital News Service

RICHMOND –International groups that work to combat violence against women and girls are praising the Virginia General Assembly for approving legislation that makes female genital mutilation a crime.

“Passing a law that explicitly outlaws the practice sends a clear message that this is human rights abuse and is not acceptable in the U.S.,” said Amanda Parker, interim executive director of the AHA Foundation. The group, based in New York, was founded by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a women’s rights activist who was subjected to FGM while growing up in Somalia.

According to the AHA Foundation, 24 states have laws criminalizing FGM. Virginia is poised to join the list after lawmakers approved SB 1060. Under the bill, it would be a Class 1 misdemeanor to perform a circumcision or infibulation of the labia majora, labia minora or clitoris of a minor – or for parents or legal guardians to consent to the procedure for a girl in their care.The crime would be punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

The bill passed unanimously in the House on Wednesday and the Senate on Thursday. It now goes to Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

“I would like to see (this legislation) in all 50 states,” said Shelby Quast, policy director for Equality Now, an advocacy group for gender equality.

SB 1060, sponsored by Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun, was one of two bills this legislative session calling for the criminalization of FGM. The other was SB 1241, introduced by Republican Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, an obstetrician in Henrico County. During the committee process, the two bills were merged and went forward as SB 1060.

No law in Virginia bans the specific practice of FGM. The offense falls in the category of malicious wounding, which is a felony.

Black and Dunnavant originally proposed that performing or allowing a female circumcision be a felony punishable by at least five years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.

However, incarcerating someone costs money, and the General Assembly has been trying to close a budget shortfall. Because of the fiscal impact of making FGM a felony, the bill’s supporters feared it might fail, according to Mallory McCune, Dunnavant’s legislative assistant. So they agreed to reduce the penalty to a misdemeanor.

Quast said she wished SB 1060 “matched the federal penalty,” which calls for five years in prison. However, she noted that still can happen under Virginia law.

Under the legislation, Quast said, a person charged with performing a female circumcision could also be charged with malicious wounding, resulting in harsher penalties than a misdemeanor conviction allows. “It makes it very clear that this law that has just been passed does not preclude prosecution under any other statute,” she said.

Parker isn’t so sure. She said the legislation is a step in the right direction, but Virginia would have the weakest penalty of any state to outlaw the practice of FGM.

But a criminal charge isn’t the only action that can be taken under SB 1060. The bill allows a girl who has been circumcised to sue the person who did it. McCune said Virginia will be one of only two states where victims of FGM have civil recourse. Quast said that is significant.

“It allows the victim of FGM, up to 10 years after her 18th birthday, to actually sue those that subjected her to FGM or did the cutting,” Quast said. “It gives more rights to somebody who may not recognize the violation at the time.”

FGM is common in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It is also prevalent in some immigrant communities in North America, Europe and Australia.

A report last year by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that more than 513,000 females in the United States – including 169,000 minors – were at risk of or have experienced FGM.

“Educating communities about the lifelong psychological and health consequences associated with this practice, as well as its illegality, is needed,” Parker said.

Parker and Quast said teachers, doctors, law enforcement officers and social service providers need training on how to recognize and respond when girls have been subjected to female circumcision.

“We see the law more as a prevention tool than a prosecution tool with regard to FGM,” Quast said.

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