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2017-2-3

John Walter Grizzard

John Walter Grizzard, 89, Army veteran of the Korean War, died January 31, 2017. He was preceded in death by his wife, Fairy Bryant Grizzard; a daughter, Carrie Razel and two brothers, Franklin and Conrad. Survivors include three step-children, Betty Baker of Smithfield, David L. Allen, Jr. and Joan Allen Ligon, both of Emporia; one brother, James Grizzard and a sister, Effie Sue McAlexander; 9 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren, 4 great-great-grandchildren and several nieces and nephews. A Celebration of Life will be held at 11am on Sunday, February 26, at Fountain Grove Baptist Church, Emporia. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Fountain Grove Baptist Church, Lifestar Ambulance, or Greensville Volunteer Rescue Squad. Condolences may be sent to www.Echolsfuneralhome.com

African-inspired art exhibit opens in Richmond

 

black_history_museum1

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – To kick off Black History Month, the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia is exhibiting four decades of work by Murry DePillars, an artist known for his vivid colors and geometric shapes as well as his political commentary and African-inspired patterns.

“Murry DePillars: Double Vision,” which features 37 pieces of artwork, opens Friday and runs through June 3 at the museum, 122 W. Leigh St. in Richmond. While DePillars did everything from crayon illustration to quilting, most of the exhibit shows off his acrylic paintings.

DePillars’ career spanned four decades, from the 1960s to the early 2000s. His early work, such as the illustration “Aunt Jemima,” deals with socio-economic and political commentary. Unlike his later work, those illustrations used little color. The drawings were created while DePillars was studying art in Chicago and later Pennsylvania.

DePillars was dean of the School of the Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University from 1976 to 1999. Tasha Chambers, director of the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, said DePillars was integral in turning VCU into one of the largest art schools in the country. He lived in Richmond until his death in 2008.

Even as a dean at VCU, DePillars continued his own artistic pursuit and travels. On his trips, he carried a suitcase full of art supplies so he could easily work on his art wherever he went. The suitcase he used and two unfinished paintings are featured in the exhibit.

DePillars’ late work contrasts with his early illustrations. Stepping into the upstairs gallery, visitors are greeted by an array of vivid colors and patterns that mimic traditional African beadwork. Within the mixture of geometric shapes are hidden figures and objects.

Chambers said DePillars did extensive research in creating his art and often looked at how Africa as well as the current environment influenced African-American traditions.

The exhibit takes its name from Michael D. Harris, an artist and art historian who applied the term “double vision” in describing the process by which black artists look back to Africa and compare its culture to that of contemporary society. Chambers said the museum also chose this name for the exhibit because it explores not only DePillars’ artistic career but also his role as an educator.

The exhibition coincides with a host of Black History Month events. Chambers said the museum is celebrating black Americans’ contributions to “life, love and liberty” – and also fighting for those values.

“We are celebrating,” Chambers said. But given the current political environment, “we are also still participating in the movement to bring awareness to these things that may now be in jeopardy.”

To find out more about the museum’s events for Black History Month, visit blackhistorymuseum.org.

Senator is ‘shocked’ to think money buys influence

By Maura Mazurowski, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Everybody at the state Capitol saw this coming: the death of a bill to prohibit Dominion, the single largest corporate donor in Virginia politics, from giving campaign contributions to legislators, the governor and other public officials.

Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, filed SB 1593 on Jan. 25 because, he said, state lawmakers shouldn’t take money from public utilities that are regulated by the General Assembly and other state agencies.

“Monopolies like Dominion or Appalachian Power have an undue influence on the political process,” Petersen said.

Because he introduced his bill after the filing deadline, Petersen needed the unanimous consent of the Senate to proceed. After two senators objected to the legislation, Petersen officially withdrew the proposal Tuesday. He plans to reintroduce the bill next year, according to Alex Parker, Petersen’s political director.

SB 1593 sought to forbid any candidate for the General Assembly or statewide office from accepting donations from “public service corporations” – such as power and telephone companies regulated by the State Corporation Commission.

In a speech on the Senate floor Monday, Petersen said those corporations use political donations to influence legislative decisions.

“I happen to believe that public policy should be decided on the merits and not based on donations,” he said.

But the bill stood little chance from the start. Attempts to alter Virginia’s campaign finance system, which allows unlimited donations from people and corporations as long as politicians publicly disclose the contributions, have been unsuccessful.

The closest the state has come to ethics reform was in 2015 when the General Assembly passed legislation to put a $100 limit on gifts and travel from lobbyists or those with business before the state.

Petersen filed SB 1593 after losing a fight over another bill (SB 1095) to increase regulation of electric utilities in Virginia.

Until 2015, the State Corporation Commission conducted biennial rate reviews of power companies. If the SCC found that a company was making excessive profits, it could order the utility to lower its rates.

But in 2015, the General Assembly passed legislation to suspend the rate reviews for Dominion and Appalachian Power for five years because the companies said they were facing uncertain costs of complying with the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which ordered states to cut carbon emissions.

Because of a lawsuit, the Clean Power Plan was never implemented, and the Trump administration intends to dismantle it.

SB 1095 sought to roll back the 2015 legislation and let the State Corporation Commission resume conducting rate reviews of Dominion and Appalachian Power.

“I think rate review will show that utilities have made a financial windfall off the legislation we passed in 2015,” Petersen said.

His rate review bill died on Jan. 16 on a 12-2 vote in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

The bill’s defeat prompted Petersen to file his measure to prohibit legislators from taking campaign donations from regulated monopolies – and to deliver a “personal privilege” speech on the Senate floor.

“Now I know, and in one of those ‘gambling at Rick’s’ moments, I decided, or some people mentioned to me, that maybe donations made within this body or any body, does have some impact on public policy,” Petersen told his colleagues.

“Now I know, I’m shocked myself to hear that, but I thought it was worth putting forward legislation that would limit, if not prohibit, donations made by public service corporations, which are the very same monopolies that were subject to the jurisdiction of the State Corporation Commission in setting their prices, that would limit and prohibit those donations, to not only members of this body, but also to the third floor, and public officials that sit in judgment of those bodies.”

The “third floor” was a reference to the governor’s office.

Dominion has given more than $1.3 millionto Virginia political campaigns since 2015 and about $14.4 millionsince the late 1990s, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.

Supporters of the 2015 legislation suspending the rate reviews say it was a good deal for consumers. Under that law, Dominion agreed to freeze its base rates, which make up over half of customers’ electric bills, for five years.

Dominion officials have criticized Petersen’s proposal to ban the company from making political donations, saying it would violate free speech rights. They also have criticized Petersen’s stand on other energy-related issues.

“Not only has Sen. Petersen introduced legislation to roll back advancements in solar energy and payment assistance for low-income families, but now he’s against the First Amendment,” said Dominion spokesman David Botkins.

“Our 16,200 employees – 9,000 of whom work in Virginia – are proud of the role we play in helping the commonwealth grow and improve. We believe our democracy works best when all participate, not when government chooses who can speak and who cannot.”

According to VPAP data, the 12 members of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee who voted to kill the bill to resume reviewing Dominion’s rates received a total of more than $729,000 in donations from the company.

The two committee members who voted against killing the bill also received contributions from Dominion, totaling about $30,000.

Petersen himself has accepted $22,519in campaign donations from Dominion since 2001, according to VPAP.

“If Dominion makes a written demand – in writing – I’ll write a check and give back the money,” Petersen said.

Dominion donations to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee

Here are the 12 senators who voted to kill SB 1095, which sought to resume reviewing Dominion's electric rates.

 

Senator

Total donations from Dominion

Since

Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Russell County

$10,500

2013

Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake

$23,150

2001

Sen. Rosalyn R. Dance, D-Petersburg

$25,692

2001

Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth

$34,450

1998

Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover

$47,250

2001

Sen. Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg

$107,740

1998

Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg

$51,000

2003

Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax

$298,008

1998

Sen. William Stanley, R-Franklin County

$19,500

2011

Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland

$20,750

2009

Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Midlothian

$4,000

2016

Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach

$86,985

1997

Total

$729,025

 

 

The two senators who voted against killing the bill are:

 

Senator

Total donations from Dominion

Since

Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun

$9,750

1999

Sen. Stephen Newman, R-Bedford

$20,500

1999

House panel shelves bill to help ‘suitcase children’

By Amy Lee, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – They call them the “suitcase children” – youngsters who are shuttled back and forth between their parents’ homes amid messy divorce and custody battles. Regardless of which parent finally emerges victorious in court, the child loses time with friends, involvement in school activities and a sense of stability at home.

Two Chesterfield residents, with support from Del. Riley Ingram, R-Hopewell, have been fighting for a new law to protect these “suitcase children.” Roy Mastro and Stella Edwards drafted a bill that would amend the state code and hold guardians ad litem to greater accountability.

Attorneys who are appointed guardian ad litem in child custody cases are responsible for crafting a report on the child’s circumstances, including parent interviews and home and school visits. Sometimes, custody courts are manned by substitute judges – and when this happens, that report is the only information the court consults to decide a child’s fate.

HB 1957 would have required the guardian ad litem to complete a certification checklist and collect signatures of interviewed parties to be submitted alongside the report.

The bill is dead for this legislative session. The House Civil Law Subcommittee, which reviewed the bill, has decided to wait for a Supreme Court of Virginia work group study that will review the policies and procedures for a guardian ad litem.

“They keep bringing that up every year. Every year that we’ve brought this up, here comes that work study group,” said Mastro, who backed a similar bill that also failed to pass last year.

“I worked for Honeywell for 40 years, and my boss, when they had a study group or something, he said they spend too much time studying and not enough time with action. And that’s what you find, and Riley [Ingram] feels the same way.”

Mastro and Edwards don’t plan to stop fighting for children caught in parental court battles.

Edwards chairs the legislative committee of the National Parent Teacher Association. Besides being a PTA leader, she is a radio host on WVST-FM, where she speaks about civic engagement. Edwards says the evidence of trauma on “suitcase children” is becoming more and more evident.

“Folks see things, but they don’t say anything till someone else brings it to light, and then they jump on the bandwagon and say, “Yes, I can attest that this is happening.’ Teachers are broken-hearted seeing it every day in their classrooms and not being able to really do anything,” Edwards said.

“In many cases, even when a guardian ad litem is supposed to talk to a teacher or a guidance counselor, they don’t do that.”

It’s a sore subject for many parents, Mastro says, but not an uncommon story. He’s seen friends spend upward of $200,000 to challenge custody rulings that have placed their child with an unfit parent. Such money and time could be saved and children would be safer, he says, if guardians ad litem did their jobs right.

For now, Mastro, Edwards and fellow advocates are waiting for the Supreme Court of Virginia study, which is expected to be completed this May. Their priority is making sure a guardian ad litem certification checklist is included in the study. If it’s not, they’re ready to return to the General Assembly session next year with a fresh bill in hand.

“We’ll have to keep following this issue and putting it in the paper, and make sure people are aware of what’s happening,” Edwards said. “Otherwise, these are the kind of things that will very easily fall through the cracks. Whatever we can, we will continue to do.”

Senate OKs bill allowing warrantless inspections of farms

By Jesse Adcock, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill approved by the Senate would allow state inspectors to carry out warrantless inspections of hundreds of Virginia produce farms to ensure compliance with federal regulations.

“It’s one of those bills you don’t like, but someone’s got to carry it,” said the legislation’s sponsor, Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland County. He said that if the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services doesn’t conduct the inspections, “then the federal government will come in and do it for us.”

But some farming representatives argued that the inspections would violate their constitutional rights. “If the government has free access to your property, that’s in violation of the Fourth Amendment,” Richard Altice of the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association told legislators. “You are mandated to kill this bill.”

Despite such protests, the Senate voted 25-15 Wednesday to pass SB 1195, which would give state inspectors free access at all reasonable hours to any farm subject to regulation under the federal Food Safety Modernization Act. The inspectors could seize any produce they suspect may be in violation of federal regulations or state law.

Any farmer found out of compliance with the regulations would be subject to a civil fine of up to $1,000.

In September, the U.S. Drug and Food Administration awarded Virginia funding to implement the Produce Safety Rule, part of theFood Safety Modernization Act  signed into law in 2011 by President Barack Obama.

Under the rule, states were given the choice to enforce the regulations themselves or have the FDA do it.

“It’s a question of whether we do the inspections or the FDA,” said Sandra Adams, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Adams said there would be no inspections during the first two years of the state law’s implementation. Instead, VDACS will focus on education and outreach to the farmers affected by the federal rules to help them come into compliance.

“We know we are going to have to comply with this law,” said Kevin Kirby, a fourth-generation farmer from Mechanicsville. “We’d much prefer VDACS – when we get involved with the FDA, all we get is a hammer thrown at us.”

Katie Frazier, president of the Virginia Agribusiness Council, criticized the FDA’s enforcement procedures. She said the FDA has put a stop-sell order on a suspect farmer’s produce, only to lift it days later, leaving what was good produce rotted and unfit for sale.

The federal rule sets standards for sanitation, processing and transportation of produce. The standards do not apply to farmers who grow only produce that is rarely consumed raw, such as asparagus, black beans and potatoes.

Moreover, farmers who grow produce exclusively for their own consumption, or have made less than $25,000 from produce sales during the preceding three years, are exempt from the federal rule.

“Of the 2,300 produce farmers in Virginia, only 400 would be affected by this legislation,” Frazier said.

FDA officials say the federal regulations will help prevent people from getting sick from eating produce.

“The Produce Safety Rule, along with other FSMA-mandated rules to regulate food production, importation and transportation, will better protect consumers from foodborne illness,” the FDA’s website states.

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Republican Sen. Richard Black of Leesburgopposed Stuart’s state inspections bill. He noted that California and other states had opted out of instituting their own inspection programs.

“The bill doesn’t say when the Department of Agriculture can come onto their (farmers’) property,” Black said. “They’d have rights to come onto their farm daily if they wanted. There’s no due process for the farmers. There’s no protection.”

The bill was recommended for approval by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources.

During a committee hearing, Altice said the state inspections law may be unnecessary because the Trump administration likely will withdraw the Produce Safety Rule along with other federal regulations. During his successful presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged to roll back regulations by what he called the “FDA food police.”

According to Stuart’s bill, if federal funds to enforce federal regulations are cut, the state inspections program would be, too.

“If the current administration decides to eliminate the law, this program will cease as well,” Stuart said.

Bill to defund Planned Parenthood advances

By Megan Corsano and Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Planned Parenthood clinics in Virginia could lose their federal Title X funding under a bill that cleared the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee on Thursday.

HB 2264, introduced by Del. Ben Cline, R-Amherst, was reported by the Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions in an 11-7 vote. It happened during the committee’s final meeting before “crossover day” – Tuesday’s deadline for bills to clear their chamber of origin. Cline’s proposal now goes to the full House of Delegates.

The committee’s swift decision was accompanied by no comments from Cline or members of the audience about the bill.

The bill would “prohibit the Department of Health from spending any funds on an abortion that is not qualified for matching funds under the Medicaid program or providing any grants or other funds to any entity that performs such abortions,” according to a summary by the Legislative Information System.

Title X funding is vital to organizations like Planned Parenthood because it is the only federal program that provides grants for reproductive and family planning services. Republicans on the state and national level have been trying to stop Planned Parenthood from receiving this fund because the organization provides abortions.

Planned Parenthood officials say abortions make up about 3 percent of the group’s services. Most of its services are for testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, contraception and cancer screening and prevention.

During a subcommittee meeting earlier in the week, Cline said his bill would give priority to more than 140 federally qualified and rural health clinics in Virginia. He 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.

While Cline’s bill is moving forward, Democratic-sponsored bills regarding women’s health care have been having a hard time even getting heard, Del. Jennifer Boysko, D-Herndon, said at a press briefing held by the Women’s Equality Coalition on Thursday.

One such bill is HB 2186, called the Whole Woman's Health Act, which Boysko filed to give women easier access to abortions services.

Boysko’s bill was assigned to the House Courts of Justice Committee, chaired by Del. David Albo, R-Fairfax. The panel has not held a hearing on HB 2186.

Albo wrote a letter to Boysko saying the committee had only one meeting left before crossover. “The Committee historically kills bills associated with liberal politics,” the letter said. “If we did spend effort in hearing these bills, then we would have much less time to review the bills that actually have a chance to become law.”

Many speakers at the news conference were outraged that Albo didn’t let the bill have a hearing.

“Quite frankly, it is ridiculous and it is offensive for Del. Albo or any legislator to claim that they are simply too busy to do the job,” said Anna Scholl, executive director for Progress Virginia.

“Del. Albo wasn’t too busy to spend many hours of this legislature’s time regaling us with his tails of trying to resell his Iron Maiden tickets, and insisting that the legislature find time to fix that particular problem of his,” Scholl said. “If Del. Albo can find time to write laws to make sure he can resell his concert tickets, he can certainly find the time to hold a hearing on issues that impact more than half of the population.”

Margie Del Castillo, associate director of community mobilization for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, also criticized Albo.

“Virginia women are workers. We sometimes hold down multiple jobs, we raise families, we take care of elderly family members, and we’re active members of our society,” Castillo said. “Women already do so much with the 24 hours that we have in a day. Our legislators here in Richmond are here full time … It seems that Del. Albo and the House GOP leadership could take a lesson from the women in Virginia on time management.”

Presidential candidates won’t have to release tax returns

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill to require presidential candidates to release their tax returns to get on the ballot in Virginia died in a legislative subcommittee Thursday.

Democratic Del. Mark Levine of Alexandria submitted HB 2444after Donald Trump refused to make his tax returns public during the Republican nominee’s successful presidential campaign last fall. It had been a tradition for presidential hopefuls to disclose their tax returns; candidates had done so for 40 years.

“It had been done not as required by law, but because the presidential candidates felt that the voters had a right to know,” Levine said.

Under his bill, in the paperwork to get on the ballot on Virginia, a presidential candidate would have had to “attach a statement, signed under penalty of perjury by the person seeking the nomination, that he has disclosed (i) his federal tax returns from each year of the 10-year period immediately preceding the general election and (ii) any payments or remuneration exceeding $1,000 received from any foreign source during the 10-year period immediately preceding the general election.”

The bill was considered Thursday morning by a subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee.

When no one stood to speak in favor or opposition the bill, Del. Nick Rush, chairman of House Subcommittee on Campaigns, expressed his disapproval of the legislation.

“I’ll have to say Del. Levine, you had a very good bill this morning at Appropriations,” said Rush, a Republican from Montgomery County. “It was well thought out; it would help your constituents and help the commonwealth. This bill is not that. This bill is partisan in nature; it’s really wasted this committee’s time.”

Despite such feelings, Levine says polls show most Americans, including Republicans, believe the president’s business interests are important to know about.

Trump, a Republican, has been under pressure to disclose his tax returns because critics say that his business enterprises may present a conflict of interest. Some think Trump has avoided releasing his tax returns to hide certain business interests – in Russia, for example.

On ABC’s “This Week,” Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, said Trump is “not going to release his tax returns. We litigated this all through the election. People didn’t care. They voted for him,” she said.

A petitionposted on the White House website suggests that some people do care about the issue. The petition, which asks Trump to release his tax returns, has received more than 475,000 signatures.

Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg,said he believed Levine’s bill addressed an issue the U.S. Congress should deal with. In fact, such a bill is pending before Congress.

The hearing on Levine’s bill lasted only about three minutes before the subcommittee decided on a voice vote to kill it.

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