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2018-3-19

International rugby to make history in Washington in June

By JUAN HERRERA, Capital News Service



WASHINGTON — South Africa and Wales are set to face off in a historic rugby match at RFK Stadium this spring, highlighting the growth and popularity of the sport in the nation’s capital.

The one-off match is scheduled for June 2 and is part of a trio of test matches South Africa and Wales will play during the month across North and South America.

According to World Rugby’s most recent rankings, South Africa is the fifth-ranked team in the world, while Wales is seventh. This will be the first time RFK Stadium has ever hosted a rugby match between two international powerhouses.

Gregory O’Dell, the president and CEO of Events DC, the company that owns and manages RFK Stadium, said the venue has already started working closely with USA Rugby, the national governing body of the sport in the United States, ahead of the match.

The two sides have collaborated to coordinate the grassroots market outreach for the match by contacting local rugby teams, restaurants and the diplomatic community.

“As DC’s first showcase of international rugby, the Wales versus South Africa match will provide an engaging and memorable experience for attendees,” O’Dell said. “Not only will this epic match-up grow our region’s rugby fan base, but it will also inspire future rugby athletes, both youth and adults, to participate.”

While rugby is still a long way from reaching the popularity of sports like basketball and football in the District, O’Dell said he believes the sport has already grown significantly in the area over the years at nearly every level.

“In terms of USA Rugby membership alone, the greater Washington, D.C. metro area is the second-largest region, per capita, in the country,” O’Dell said. “D.C. itself is home to 23 USA Rugby clubs, but there are 230 total clubs in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area, making our region both the No. 1 metropolitan area for growth in women's rugby and the No. 2 area for overall adult participation.”

Joe Chapman, the team captain of the division III side of the Washington Renegades, a men’s rugby union football club, has played rugby in the District since 2013. The Renegades player said he has personally seen the number of players on the team growing.

Along with a rise in participation, Chapman also believes the leagues in the area have developed well. The Renegades are part of the Capital Rugby Union that Chapman said has put together some really competitive sides nationally.

Chapman attributes much of this growth and development to USA Rugby. The Renegades player believes the organization has taken the right steps by creating a professional rugby league in the United States and promoting it across the country.

“While we don’t have one of the new Major League Rugby teams,” Chapman said. “I really think that the D.C. area is primed to sort of explode onto the rugby scene in the U.S.”

With the South Africa-Wales match coming up in the spring, Chapman said he and his teammates on the Renegades are excited to see such a high-profile match in the nation’s capital. Chapman also mentioned that he and his teammates are planning on buying a block of tickets. He hopes the other rugby teams in the area will do the same.

“We’ve had folks travelling to Philadelphia and Chicago in the past to see matches, so to have one in our own backyard is just fantastic.”

Virginians Rally Statewide Against Pipeline Construction

By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND — A coalition of activist groups throughout Virginia rallied Thursday against natural gas pipelines scheduled for construction across the western part of the state, North Carolina and West Virginia.

While rallies were held in Blacksburg, Floyd, Roanoke and Franklin County, 10 members of the coalition made their presence known outside the gates of the Executive Mansion on Capitol Square, singing songs and chanting. They were led by Jessica Sims and Stacy Lovelace of the Virginia Pipeline Resisters.

Sims described the rally as a way of showing “solidarity with those communities being affected by the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines as tree felling has begun.”

The two pipelines would span multiple state lines, carrying natural gas to public utilities in the three states. The protesters focused on the West Virginia activists sitting in trees, blocking the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s 300-mile clearing efforts in the Peters Mountain area of Monroe County. The tree dwellers intend to stall the clearing efforts because if the tree felling isn’t completed by March 31, construction will be delayed until November to accommodate the local bat population, buying activists more time to halt the projects.

Saying the tree sitters were “doing the work” federal and state organizations hadn’t done, Lovelace called on West Virginian law enforcement to refrain from arresting the activists or property owners “under threat of charges of trespassing for being on their own land.”

The Richmond protest was part of the group’s continued efforts to sway Gov. Ralph Northam’s position on the pipelines. While Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has openly opposed their construction, Northam remains undecided.

“He didn’t really say yea or nay; he said he’d rely on the science,” Sims said, “and if that’s the case, he shouldn’t be supporting them.”

While the full scope of the pipelines’ environmental effects aren’t known yet, similar construction has led to complications. State regulators ordered those installing the Rover Pipeline, also running through West Virginia, to stop construction on Tuesday, following multiple water pollution violations. That same day, the Norfolk City Council voted to let the Atlantic Coast Pipeline run under two Suffolk reservoirs containing most of the city’s water supply.

The companies behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — Dominion Energy, Duke Energy and Southern Co. — have stressed the economic benefits the pipeline could bring to the three states. Calling it a “game changer,” they estimate that construction of the project will generate 17,000 temporary jobs and over $2 billion in “economic activity.” They also say the pipeline would help with service shutoffs caused by high demand during cold weather, and lower electricity costs overall.

However, independent research from the Applied Economics Clinic disputes these promises. Locals affected have also criticized the contractor chosen for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Spring Ridge Constructors, because it consists of companies based in states outside of the American Southeast. Another analysis from industry expert Gregory Lander, given to the State Corporation Commission, used Dominion’s own data to project a $2.3 billion increase in customer billing because of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Calling the company’s estimates “greenwashing” and “a falsehood,” Sims said, “even by their own commissioned reports, the number of permanent jobs is less than 100.”

Dominion has worked to ease the process of construction in affected communities since 2014, three years before any public hearings or formal documentation about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. These efforts have included grants totaling $2 million to various towns in the pipeline’s 600-mile path, and using eminent domain — typically a government power — to force landowners into allowing trees on their property to be removed. The developers have also hinted that the pipeline mayexpand into South Carolina.

The Virginia Pipeline Resisters plan to continue their efforts to raise awareness of this issue every Wednesday from10 to 10:45 a.m. behind the Office of the Governor, and Sims urged the public to voice their concern to legislators.

“Let them know that you’re concerned about Virginia’s water and you want them to act in the best interest of Virginia.”

Cancer Center Would Honor ‘Immortal’ Henrietta Lacks

 

By Yasmine Jumaa, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The year was 1951. The place: Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where Henrietta Lacks, a native of Halifax County, Virginia, sought treatment for cervical cancer.

Doctors made a remarkable discovery about Lacks’ tumor: The cells remained alive and multiplied outside her body, creating the first immortal cell line. Since then, her cells have helped researchers develop the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, in vitro fertilization and other medical breakthroughs.

Lacks was never compensated for her contribution to science. She died in 1951 and was buried in an unmarked grave in her hometown.

Now, Virginia plans to recognize Lacks by establishing a cancer research and treatment center in her name in Halifax County. The General Assembly recently approved legislation authorizing the project to honor the woman who gave the medical world the immortal HeLa cell line.

It is a fitting tribute, said Adele Newson-Horst, vice president of the nonprofit Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group.

“Her cells were and continue to be an astronomical asset to the scientific and medical world,” Newson-Horst said. “The significance of her contribution to the world – not Virginia, not just Maryland, but the world – cannot be overstated.”

The General Assembly unanimously passed two bills – House Bill 1415 and Senate Bill 171 – to create the Henrietta Lacks Commission, which will have nine members, including state officials, representatives of the Lacks family and local officials from Halifax County.

The commission’s goal will be to establish a public-private partnership to create the Henrietta Lacks Life Sciences Center in Halifax County. The center would use biodata tools to conduct cancer research, provide cancer treatment to rural Southside Virginia and incubate biotech businesses in the region.

Del. James Edmunds, R-Halifax, and Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, sponsored the legislation at the request of the Halifax Industrial Development Authority. Edmunds called the project “a great economic driver for Halifax County” and said it “will hopefully bring some answers as to why the cancer rate is so high.”

“I would love to see new technology and techniques developed in a new center here,” Edmunds said.

Science has advanced significantly since Lacks’ treatment at Johns Hopkins. In recent years, attention has focused on the ethics surrounding her case: Cells were taken from her body without her consent. Some said that was wrong; others said it reflected medical ethics of the time. Moreover, Lacks was an African-American woman from a poor family, and some wondered whether race was a factor.

Those issues were explored in a 2010 book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” the basis for an HBO movie that came out last year. Last week, The New York Times published a belated obituary about Lacks, who the newspaper said had been overlooked when she died 66 years ago.

Belated recognition is what the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority had in mind when it proposed the Henrietta Lacks Life Sciences Center.

“She left Halifax County … in the 1940s because of the lack of economic opportunities for African-American women. We’re trying to change that and bring her legacy back,” said Matt Leonard, the authority’s executive director.

He said the agency ran the idea by two of Lacks’ grandchildren and members of her legacy group.

“We got an immediate, very positive response from the family which we’re absolutely and imminently grateful for, because without their support, their championing this to their family and to other members of the community, we couldn’t do this project,” Leonard said.

Henrietta Lacks’ granddaughter Jerri Lacks said the family wholeheartedly supports the effort.

“Words can’t explain how excited I am just to be part of the commission and to know that our grandmother is being honored in such a great way,” Lacks said. “What I hope it will accomplish is that people will be more aware of her contributions to science, and her legacy can continue to give people hope for a better life.”

Virginia Will Offer New Specialty License Plates

By Tianna Mosby, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginians are likely to see a handful of new specialty license plates this summer, including one aimed at those who support an end to gun violence.

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, sponsored the bill authorizing the plate with the legend “Stop Gun Violence.” House Bill 287, which bounced between the House and Senate before legislators reached an agreement, is waiting for Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature.

Northam has already signed into law speciality license plates for supporters of Virginia’s electric cooperatives, theAlzheimer’s Association and the Virginia Future Farmers of America Association.

Last year, the Virginia FFA Association was given the opportunity to have its own plate available for purchase if it could get 1,000 people to register for the plate by the end of the year. Although the organization did not receive enough applications for the plate, its members still have hope; Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, proposed Senate Bill 446 to give the group another chance this year.

“I look forward to having the FFA Commemorative License Plate on my car and seeing them on cars in our great commonwealth,” Scot Lilly, former chair of the state’s FFA Association, said in a press release.

During their 2018 session, legislators in Virginia considered 15 new specialty plate bills. The state Department of Motor Vehicles website already offers more than 310 choices. Beginning July 1, motorists can order the newly approved plates. The plates will then be permanently available if they reach the 1,000-plate registration minimum before the year ends.

Specialty plates generally cost $25 above the regular vehicle registration fee. The DMV then gives $15 of that amount to the nonprofit group or cause associated with the plate.

About 14 percent of Virginians have a specialty plate. Virginia offers four categories of plates — special interest, college and university, military and other.

Although the “other” classification has the fewest number of plate options, its scenic plate has led the past two years with 214,332 total purchases.

Of the collegiate plates, Virginia Tech’s athletic “Go Hokies” plate is the most purchased with a total of 7,530 plates registered as of 2017.

The General Assembly carried over until its 2019 session proposed specialty plates for Parents Against Bullying, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (focused on increasing the elk population and advocating for hunters), supporters of Virginia’s women veterans, and the American Legion, another veteran organization.

VCU Gun Violence Panel Gets ‘Beyond the Politics’

By Deanna Davison, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Addressing gun violence in America often leaves gun control supporters and Second Amendment advocates at an impasse, a panel of experts said at a town hall-style discussion of the issue at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Unfortunately, the U.S. Constitution doesn’t come with an operating manual; there is no guide to how amendments should be interpreted,” said John Aughenbaugh, a VCU political science professor. “Reasonable regulations are allowed by the government, but it gets complicated: What is a reasonable regulation?”

Aughenbaugh was joined on Friday’s panel by Lori Haas, Virginia’s director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence; Jessica Smith, former public safety initiatives coordinator at the Office of the Attorney General and a doctoral candidate at VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs; and Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League.

About 50 students and others attended the event, which was organized by the VCU Student Media Center and The Commonwealth Times, the student newspaper. The title of the discussion was “Beyond the Politics.”

The idea behind the panel was that even in times of harsh partisan discourse, citizens with differing perspectives should be able to have civil discussions about public issues and work toward solutions. Panel moderator Fadel Allassan, the paper’s managing editor, reminded attendees that although gun violence is a tense and emotional issue, this was not a debate; it was a respectful discussion.

Panelists agreed that discussing gun violence, and particularly mass shootings, can get muddied because of the terminology involved.

Haas said that while some public health experts may disagree, the FBI defines a “mass shooting” as four or more people killed in a single incident.

Part of what makes implementing public policy on mass shootings so difficult and unique to the U.S. is the Second Amendment, which protects the right to keep and bear arms.

“I think it’s a part of the American identity that being able to own and carry guns is a right we have,” Smith said.

But people often disagree on what exactly that means and how it should be regulated.

Van Cleave said gun control regulations are often unfair and give the government too much power. He said while he worries about guns ending up in the wrong hands, he believes individuals should be able to defend themselves, their families and their homes.

“I was a deputy sheriff for six years,” Van Cleave said. “I was able to see the importance of people protecting themselves before we could arrive.”

“When we can identify people at risk of violent behavior and we do nothing to disarm them, I think we are culpable,” said Haas, whose daughter survived the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. “I don’t think it’s about legal gun ownership at all.”

Panelists agreed on the struggles of moving forward on addressing gun violence without a clear universal goal, which makes it even more difficult to reach consensus on what solutions look like.

Smith said it is important for people on all sides of the issue to keep it in perspective.

“We are a system based on incrementalism,” Smith said. “If we pass regulations, that doesn’t mean everyone’s guns will be taken away, but it also doesn’t mean all gun violence will stop.”

“A complete and utter victory is not going to happen,” Aughenbaugh said. “Policy-making requires compromise. Listen to what the other side wants. We’re not going to have a conversation if we’re not willing to listen to each other.”

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