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2018-2-7

Bipartisan Senate Committee OKs Anti-tethering Bill

By Katrina Tilbury and DeForrest Ballou, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – On a 9-5 bipartisan vote, a Senate committee Thursday endorsed a bill specifying when an animal can be tethered outside. The bill, SB 872, is the companion to HB 646, which was killed in a House subcommittee Monday.

The Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee voted in favor of SB 872, sending it to the full Senate for consideration.

Matthew Gray, Virginia state director of the Humane Society of the United States, said changes had to be made to the Senate version for the legislation to pass. The Senate bill removed previous requirements that prohibited tethering between10 p.m. and 6 a.m. or when the owners aren’t home. Additionally, exemptions were added for animals actively working in the agricultural field and dogs actively engaged in hunting activities.

Now the bill focuses on preventing tethering animals in certain weather conditions – namely, when the temperature is below 32 degrees or above 85 degrees.

“My wife and I foster rescue dogs, and have seen time and time again how tethering [in cold weather] hurts and sometimes kills perfectly innocent animals,” Del. John Bell, D-Loudoun, who introduced HB 646, said after his bill was killed Monday. A subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources voted 5-3 to shelve the measure for this legislative session.

“I carried HB 646 because I believe that the voiceless animals need a voice in the Virginia General Assembly, and I will continue this fight until animals are protected.”

Kimberly Hawk, who attended both hearings on the issue, is a volunteer for the Houses of Wood and Straw Project, a nonprofit serving nine counties in central Virginia. The group provides wooden housing to outside dogs in the region, as well as straw and bedding.

Hawk said she was relieved that the committee approved the Senate bill. She said the legislation would help save the lives of animals, like one dog that she said froze to death last week after it got tangled in its chain and wasn’t able to reach its shelter.

However, organizations like the Virginia Federation of Dog Clubs and Breeders are wary of new pet laws. Alice Harrington, their legislative liaison, said the animal neglect laws in place are sufficient.

Harrington said one problem with more laws is that animal control officers can’t effectively enforce them because they receive insufficient training. Officers in Virginia are required to meet 80 hours of training, including 24 hours are basic law enforcement unrelated to animal care. Harrington said more training would be necessary for officers to learn the complexities surrounding what type of shelter is considered adequate for different breeds in various weather conditions.

“I’ve been doing this work for over 10 years; I haven’t seen a whole lot accomplished by law,” Harrington said.

But Hawk said she thinks the added limitations on tethering in weather below 32 degrees and above 85 degrees would be easier to enforce than existing animal cruelty laws that can be vague.

“We believe that it’s going to help the animal control officers be able to enforce the law better because it’s very tangible,” Hawk said.

Harrington disagreed. She said organizations like the HOWS Project have already figured out the solution by helping pets without separating them from their owners. She said she fears the enforcement of new laws would flood animal shelters.

Next, SB 872 will be heard by the full Senate. If it passes, the bill will be sent to the House subcommittee that killed HB 646.

C.A.R.E. Building Opens on February 12th

With the generous donations from the people in our community, employees, and the financial commitment from VCU Health, we are pleased to announce that VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital’s C.A.R.E. Building will open its doors to the public on Monday, February 12, 2018. 

The name C.A.R.E. reflects the services offered in this modern comprehensive medical center; Clinics, Administration, Rehabilitation and Education.

The C.A.R.E building will be home to the following VCU Health CMH physician practices:  CMH Cardiology Services; CMH ENT & Pulmonology Services; CMH Family Care Center; CMH Orthopedic Service; CMH Pain Management Services; CMH Surgical Services; CMH Urological Services; and CMH Women’s Health Services.  The new facility will also house a new family dental clinic that is set to open late 2018.

The C.A.R.E. Building is adjacent to the new hospital which is located at 1755 N. Mecklenburg Avenue in South Hill, VA.

Providers of the eight practices that are moving will begin seeing patients in the C.A.R.E. Building on February 12th; the practices’ previous locations will be closed.  The new phone number for each practice will be (434) 584-CARE (2273).

An open house event is scheduled for Tuesday, March 6, 2018 from 4:00 – 6:00PM.  Attendees will get the opportunity to tour the new facility, meet the providers and staff, enjoy refreshments, receive giveaways and register for door prizes.  There will be two door prizes given away, one an Apple iPad and the other a photo session with Robert Harris Photography including one 16x20 Gallery Canvas Portrait valued at $895.00 (once registered, you do not have to be present to win).

House Panel Rejects ‘Net Neutrality’ Bill

By Ryan Persaud, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill to prohibit internet service providers from prioritizing or blocking certain websites based on content or hosting platform was killed Tuesday in a House subcommittee.

The House Commerce and Labor subcommittee voted 5-0 against the bill, with one abstention.

HB 705 was introduced by Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, who argued that Virginia should maintain the principle of net neutrality despite a recent decision by the Federal Communications Commission to reverse such rules.

“The internet, since its inception, has been run by agreement as content neutral,” Carter said. “In 2015, the federal government set in place regulation to codify what was already being done, and those were overturned in December.”

Del. Greg Habeeb, R-Salem, chair of the subcommittee, argued that the bill would prompt broadband providers to pull out of Virginia.

“We are so desperate in parts of the area that I represent to get broadband, that any barrier to entry in that market that we impose is a risk to prevent them from coming,” Habeeb said. “I can’t imagine supporting a bill that may lead to a broadband provider not considering entering the Craig County market, for example.”

Carter disagreed that net neutrality would discourage internet service providers from providing services to Virginia residents.

“If the broadband providers are willing to forego 8.5 million customers because they can’t impose additional charges on services rather than offering all-inclusive packages,” Carter said, “that would greatly surprise me.”

Habeeb also argued that the FCC ruling would override the bill, restricting Virginia’s ability to create its own net neutrality law. Carter disagreed, saying that instating net neutrality rules is within the state’s purview.

“This is not dealing with interstate commerce,” Carter said. “We are discussing explicitly the point of sale, and the point of sale is between a Virginia resident and a Virginia company offering broadband service.”

Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union and GreenSmith Energy Management Systems, as well as a few private citizens, told the subcommittee they supported Carter’s bill. They said it will prevent corporations from deciding what online information Virginians receive.

The bill was opposed by representatives of internet service providers such as T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless as well as the Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

“This bill will increase cost to consumers,” said Ray LaMura, president of the Virginia Cable of Telecommunications Association. “It will stifle investment in new technologies, and it will stifle investment in rural telehealth, which will also chill investments to unserved areas of the commonwealth.”

House Panel Rejects Suicide Prevention Resolution

By Caitlin Barbieri, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. – A resolution urging Virginia schools to increase their suicide prevention efforts has failed as Republicans on a House Rules subcommittee defeated the proposal in a 3-4 vote.

HJ 138, introduced by Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, would have asked all school boards to offer every employee resources or training on how to identify students at risk of committing suicide.

Roem told the subcommittee she had two reasons for making the resolution a request instead of a requirement. “One, we don’t have to (have) concern for it being an unfunded mandate” – a state-imposed cost that Republicans frequently oppose on principle.

“And second, we make sure this provides as much flexibility at the local level as possible,” Roem said. “This is allowing the people who are on the ground there to identify and figure out what works best for them.”

However, Republican Del. Gregory Habeeb of Salem, a member of the subcommittee, voted against the resolution because he said it doesn’t go far enough.

“This resolution doesn't do anything to force school boards to train their teachers,” Habeeb said. “We need to find a vehicle to actually do it.”

Virginia law requires that teachers and faculty members report any student they suspect to be at risk of committing suicide, but it does not require that school employees be trained on how to identify such students.

A mother whose child committed suicide, Emily Fleming of Manassas, spoke in support of Roem’s resolution. She said training of school employees could have saved her son’s life.

“I’ve heard many times from teachers and friends that they noticed something was wrong with David, but they thought he just wanted to be alone so they left him alone,” Fleming said. “Now imagine if anyone on the staff had recognized those silent signs. My son might still be here today.”

Del. Kenneth Plum, D-Fairfax, another member of the subcommittee, voted for the resolution at the panel’s meeting last week. He thought it was killed in an effort to keep government small.

“I don’t think we should just willy-nilly get involved in people's lives,” Plum said. “But there are sometimes things that relate to an individual that are bigger than that single person – that have an impact on society – and I think suicide is one of them.”

Bill to Remove ‘Tampon Tax’ Clears First Hurdle

By Tianna Mosby, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Women’s rights advocates are applauding a legislative panel for advancing a bill that would remove the sales tax on pads, tampons and menstrual cups.

The House Finance subcommittee voted 7-1 Tuesday to recommend approval of HB 24 and sent it to the House Appropriations Committee for consideration. Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford, voted against the bill.

“It should be part of a tax reform package,” she said.

Byron said she supports removing the sales tax; however, she would not consider feminine hygiene products eligible under the tax code. Virginia law states that medical products used to treat or prevent diseases can be tax-exempt. Byron said feminine hygiene products do not fall into that category.

Del. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, who sponsored the bill, said it’s not fair that both menstrual products and anti-dandruff shampoo are classified as medical supplies by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but only the shampoo receives a tax exemption. Byron noted that menstruation is not a disease, but psoriasis – which anti-dandruff shampoo is used to prevent – is.

Still, the committee recommended that the bill advance after removing the line naming it “The Dignity Act” and changing its potential start date from July 31 to Jan. 1.

The sales tax is 6 percent in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads and 5.3 percent in the rest of the state. Removing the tax on feminine hygiene products, as nine other states have done, would cost the commonwealth about $5 million in lost revenues annually, officials say.

The House Finance subcommittee has yet to act on two other bills to remove the so-called “tampon tax”: HB 152 andHB 448. Nor has the panel voted on HB 25, which would include menstrual supplies among the items exempt from taxes during Virginia’s three-day, back-to-school “sales tax holiday” each August.

On Friday, a House Education subcommittee considered HB 1434, which would have required schools to provide students with feminine hygiene products for free. A motion to approve the bill failed on a 5-5 vote.

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