The Emporia Police Department has received what they are calling a "Credible Threat" of violence at this year's Virgninia Peanut Festival. The EPD, assisted by other law enforcement agencies, will have multiple tents and an increased presence. Festival attendees are asked to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings. If you see something, say something.

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2018-2-2

Herring Joins 11 State Attorneys General in Opposing Offshore Drilling

By George Copeland, Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Twelve attorneys general, including Virginia’s Mark Herring, called on the federal government Thursday to halt its plans for gas and oil drilling off their coasts.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, the attorneys general said the offshore drilling proposal “represents disregard for vital state interests, economies, and resources.”

Drilling off Virginia’s coast would pose a risk to the state’s marine environment, industries, revenue and military assets, Herring said.

"The Commonwealth of Virginia and our coastal communities have made it abundantly clear that we are not interested in putting our economy and citizens at risk as part of President Trump's giveaway to oil and gas companies," Herring said in his statement accompanying the letter.  “The federal government should not force this risk upon us.”

The letter follows Gov. Ralph Northam’s call last month that Zinke exempt Virginia from the drilling plans.  Like Herring, Northam, a fellow Democrat, cited ecological and financial costs.  Northam also noted that Zinke had exempted Florida at the request of that state’s Republican governor,  Rick Scott.

The language used by the attorneys general is more forceful, promising to challenge the proposal “using appropriate legal avenues.”

In addition to Herring, the letter was signed by attorneys general from North Carolina, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Oregon.

The letter also follows comments made by Herring and five other attorneys general to the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement on Monday.  The group criticized the proposed revisions to the Interior Department’s regulation of safety systems for offshore gas and oil production.  

These regulations were put in place in 2016 after the 2010 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig led to the deaths of 11 people and the spilling of 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Stafford High School Athlete Playing in Super Bowl

By Kyle Melnick, Capital News Service

BLOOMINGTON, Minnesota — When playing with wide receiver Torrey Smith for the Baltimore Ravens between 2011 and 2012, wide receiver Anquan Boldin encouraged Smith to teach his teammates everything he’d learned, so his peers wouldn’t commit the same mistakes.

At the time, that message wasn’t that ingrained in Smith’s mind. He was in the prime of his career after entering the NFL from the University of Maryland, notching at least 840 receiving yards in his first three professional seasons and helping the Ravens win the 2013 Super Bowl.

But as Smith’s production decreased, he transitioned into a leadership role.

Smith has set the example and served as the vocal catalyst for the Eagles’ receiver corps this season. So, after enduring the three worst statistical years of his career, he appreciates playing in the Super Bowl more than he did five years ago, and he’s realized his biggest contributions may come from teaching.

“You want to give (your teammates) everything you have, but work hard so they don’t take your job,” Smith said. “I go out there and bust my tail each and every day. I try to set the tempo. I’ve had some experiences they’re going to learn from, experiences that they will go through.”

Smith starred on all of his teams growing up. He was the best player in almost every game when he played quarterback for Stafford Senior High School in Falmouth, Virginia. He was so explosive that coach Chad Lewis would substitute the backup quarterback into the game during third and long situations, just so Smith could line up at wide receiver and use his speed for a first down.

Colleges recruited Smith at wide receiver because of his athleticism, and Smith was an All-ACC selection as a wide receiver and kick returner his sophomore and junior seasons at Maryland. He recorded 1,055 receiving yards and 12 receiving touchdowns in 2010 before leaving for the NFL Draft, when the Ravens selected him in the second round.

Smith’s success continued with the Ravens, but he didn’t receive the same role he had in Baltimore when the 49ers signed him in 2015. The Richmond, Virginia, native recorded a combined 930 receiving yards and seven receiving touchdowns in a combined 28 games in San Francisco, which won just seven games during that span.

“You know how much goes into your heart to be ready for a game and to work the way you do and to not have that type of success? It’s stressful,” Smith said. “I see why a lot of guys struggle with mental issues.”

While searching for his football identity when he joined a crowded Eagles receiving corps in March, Smith focused on Boldin’s message from a few years back. While he would play behind Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor, Smith told his counterparts what tactic he’s used to be successful while fostering a positive atmosphere.

Smith notices how his teammates can improve their route-running during film sessions and practices, pulling them aside individually to provide tips.

Off the field, Smith has also set an example for his teammates.

He leads the Torrey Smith Family Fund, which provides resources to children in low-income areas. He performs community service in Baltimore and Philadelphia on off-days and was one of four players who penned a letter to league Commissioner Roger Goodell to ask for league support on social activism.

Smith has always been that outgoing, Lewis said, spending time with his most popular and shy classmates in high school.

“I can call him at two in the morning,” Eagles wide receiver Mack Hollins said, “and if it came down to it, he’d help me out."

Smith’s advice has been especially crucial during the postseason, since he’s the only Eagles wide receiver who has played in the Super Bowl.

Smith has handed out tips on staying in the moment, telling his teammates it’ll feel like a regular game once the players finish media availabilities Thursday. He’s brought up the aggressive mindset of the Baltimore receivers when former Ravens wideout Jacoby Jones caught a 70-yard touchdown pass in the final minute of the 2013 AFC Divisional Round to send their game against Denver Broncos into overtime and ultimately a victory.

The 6-foot, 205-pound receiver also explained the butterflies and happiness that come from winning the Super Bowl, motivating his teammates to desire that same emotion.

“He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever been around,” Jeffery said. “He wants to see the best in you, whatever it is.”

Smith still has made crucial plays, such as the flea flicker touchdown he caught in the Eagles’ 38-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship. But the 29-year-old finished the regular season with his second-fewest receiving yards of his seven-year career (430).

Much has also changed off the field for Smith since he last played in the Super Bowl. He’s had two kids, and he’s traded his dreadlocks for a buzz cut.

The challenges he’s overcome in both areas of his life left him smiling Tuesday when discussing how he’ll feel as he again takes football’s biggest stage.

“This time around,” Smith said, “it’s just way sweeter.”

Schools May Get Authority to Open Before Labor Day

By Chelsea Jackson and Katie Bashista, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Summer vacation may be cut short for some Virginia students after two bills rescinding the so-called “Kings Dominion law” – which restricts schools from starting before Labor Day – passed the House this week.

House Bill 372 and HB 1020 would allow school districts to decide whether classes start before or after Labor Day. The difference between the two measures is that HB 372 would require districts to give students a four-day Labor Day weekend. Delegates approved both bills on split votes Tuesday.

Democratic Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg of Henrico, a co-sponsor of HB 36, which also sought to give school districts that authority, said there are academic benefits to starting school before Labor Day.

“We lose roughly two weeks of the school year that other localities get for things like advanced placement testing,” said VanValkenburg, who has been teaching for 12 years and is currently at Glen Allen High School.

Under the current law, school districts are required to start after Labor Day unless they obtain a waiver from the Virginia Department of Education.

To get a waiver, school districts must have been closed an average of eight to 10 days per year during any five of the last 10 years because of weather or other emergency situations.

According to the department, 86 public school districts in Virginia have the waiver and already start before Labor Day. They include Virginia’s largest school district, Fairfax County, and most districts in the western part of the state. Other large school districts in Virginia, such as Virginia Beach and Richmond, do not have a waiver to adopt a pre-Labor Day start date.

Opponents of the bill include members of the tourism industry who argue an earlier start date takes away from their business. A later start date means a longer season for attractions like Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens. Both theme parks employ teenagers who would have to quit if school began earlier.

The “Kings Dominion law” was put in place in 1986 and has been challenged several times. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe supported the law and opposed an earlier start date to the school year. Gov. Ralph Northam has yet to take a position on the topic.

“We support the ability of local school boards to determine the start date and the end date of the school year,” said Andy Jenks, director of communication and public relations for Henrico County Public Schools.

Jenks said that while he does support bills that give them this authority, the next step is to consult with the community to see what opening school date will work best for them, a process Jenks said could take up to a year.

HB 372 passed by a vote of 76-22. HB 1020 passed 75-24. The legislation will move to the Senate for consideration.

GOP Lawmaker Wants Governor’s Support to Ban ‘Sanctuary Cities’

By Fadel Allassan, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- A Republican lawmaker is trying to get the Democratic governor’s support on a bill that would ban “sanctuary cities” in Virginia — a topic that was at the forefront of last year’s gubernatorial election.

Earlier this month, Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge, introduced a bill that would stop localities from not fully enforcing federal immigration laws.  During a subcommittee hearing Wednesday, Cline said he won’t move forward with the bill until he reaches out to Gov. Ralph Northam to see whether  the governor could support a version of the bill.

Northam, however, has expressed doubts over whether such legislation is needed without evidence of any sanctuary cities in Virginia.

While there is no agreed-upon classification for what makes a city a sanctuary, the term is generally used to label localities that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities. No Virginia localities have tried to adopt such policies.

Cline delayed his bill after a back-and-forth with a Northam aide who represented the administration before a House Courts of Justice subcommittee hearing Wednesday.

The delegate asked Northam’s aide to clarify the governor’s position on sanctuary cities in light of an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch less than a week before November’s election. Northam said he would support a sanctuary cities ban if any Virginia localities tried to adopt the status.

“My understanding is that if there were sanctuary cities, whatever they are, that he would work with you all to address that issue,” said Jae K. Davenport, deputy secretary of public safety and homeland security.

Cline asked Davenport whether the governor would support legislation if a locality tried to adopt sanctuary city policies.

“I think you’re trying to get into specifics,” Davenport said. “All I can tell you is that the administration opposes this bill.”

When Del. Robert Bell, R-Albemarle, asked Davenport if the governor had any suggestions on how the bill could be changed to get his support, the deputy secretary indicated the bill’s language was too broad.

The administration would have to work with Cline to “address a problem if it does exist,” Davenport said.

“I accept,” Cline responded, before asking the committee to give him until next Wednesday to speak with Northam.

Cline struck portions of his proposed bill that would have allowed the state to reduce funding to localities that were found to not fully enforce federal immigration laws.

Sanctuary cities became a hot-button issue last year when Northam’s GOP opponent, Ed Gillespie, said a vote the Democrat cast as lieutenant governor proved he would not crack down on MS-13, a criminal gang with roots in El Salvador.

When a bill to ban sanctuary cities came before the Senate last year, Republican Majority Leader Thomas Norment, R-James City, broke with his party to oppose the legislation, forcing Northam to cast a vote to snap  a 20-20 tie. Northam voted against the bill to kill it.

When a similar bill came back to the Senate for another vote, Norment voted with his GOP colleagues to pass the legislation. The bill was then vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat.  

Less than a week before last November’s election, Northam told a Norfolk TV station he would sign a bill to ban sanctuary cities if a Virginia locality tried to become one. But if no localities tried to do so, Northam later said to The Times-Dispatch, he would veto such legislation.

“It’s just bad legislation for the state to tell the cities what they should do,” said Linda Higgins, an advocate representing the Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights at a news conference Wednesday.

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