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2019-1-17

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MARCH OF DIMES AWARDS GRANT TO CMH WOMEN’S HEALTH SERVICES

JOINING IN THE FIGHT FOR THE HEALTH OF ALL MOMS AND BABIES IN SOUTHSIDE VIRGINIA

(SOUTH HILL, VA, DECEMBER 2018) – March of Dimes Virginia has awarded a grant to CMH Women’s Health Services, a practice of VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital, to support Centering Pregnancy Group Prenatal Care, aimed at serving maternal and child health needs here in Southside Virginia. This program will serve pregnant women in our area by providing prenatal care in a group setting that facilitates interaction and discussion and allows women to be more involved in their care. Centering Pregnancy has been shown to have an array of benefits for moms who participate, including lowering the occurrence of preterm birth and low birth weights.

This grant is one of many that March of Dimes awards in pursuit of its mission to lead the fight for the health of all moms and babies.  This grant is made possible through a partnership with Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation.

“We will use the March of Dimes grant to help meet our objective to expand our Centering program, which allows us to offer quality group prenatal care to expecting moms in our area,” said Terry Wootten, Certified Nurse Midwife at CMH Women’s Health Services.  “We are grateful to those in our community who support March of Dimes by participating in events like March for Babies and who donate in other ways.  That participation and those donations make this grant possible,” she said.

CMH Women’s Health Services reinstated the CenteringPregnancy program in January of 2017. In November of that same year, we moved to a brand new hospital with a Labor and Delivery unit and, since then, have delivered more than 170 babies. It is our goal to provide the women in our area with the support they need to have a healthy pregnancy and birth experience.

Immigrant Advocates Bash Bill Blocking ‘Sanctuary Cities’


Two years ago, immigrant rights activists held a rally to urge Richmond to designate itself as a "sanctuary city." (File photo by Jessica Nolte of Capital News Service)

By Jayla Marie McNeill, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Immigrant rights groups were outraged after a Senate committee advanced a bill to prohibit localities from restricting federal enforcement of immigration laws.

The Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted 8-6 Monday for SB 1156, which states, “No locality shall adopt any ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws.” Opponents say the measure would require local police officers to work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities.

“We feel this bill would create havoc for families and first responders by giving ICE agents free rein to continue inflicting psychological and other cruelties against immigrant communities throughout the commonwealth without accountability,” said Vilma Seymour, the president of the Richmond chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

SB 1156, introduced by Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun, is awaiting a vote this week by the full Senate. To become law, the bill must also pass the House and secure the governor’s signature. Gov. Ralph Northam vetoed a similar bill last year.

According to Black, the bill would not require localities to assist federal immigration law enforcement. However, it would preclude localities from enacting laws that restrict the “traditional” cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities.

“Throughout law enforcement, there is a sort of customary interaction on all levels,” Black said at Monday’s committee meeting. “Most of these cooperative agreements arise, not out of statute … but local comity between organizations that are concerned about similar things.”

Also present was the Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights, representing 12 organizations that oppose the bill, including the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations.

Leonina Arismendi Žarković from the Latino coalition offered a prayer before the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.

“Dear Lord ... I thank you for every single person in this room speaking power to people that most need it right now,” Žarković began. “I ask you, Lord, to please touch Sen. Black’s heart … Ask him to drop this right now. We know that you have brought every single person to these shores, and we know that you have a plan for each and every one of them.”

“This bill, if it goes forward,” she added, “is going to be a complete stumbling block onto your people. And that is not what I want.”

Black’s bill is viewed as an attempt to prevent “sanctuary cities” in Virginia — localities that limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement activities. Some jurisdictions in California, for example, have refused federal requests to detain people for deportation from the U.S.

Proponents of sanctuary cities say they foster good relations between local police and immigrants living illegally in the U.S. Such immigrants often are afraid to report crimes, for instance, if they know local police cooperate with ICE, immigrant rights advocates say.

Panel Kills Bill to Shield Older Kids from Secondhand Smoke

By Rodney Robinson and Kal Weinstein, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- A legislative subcommittee has killed a bill intended to shield older children from the effects of secondhand smoke.

Subcommittee No. 1 of the House Courts of Justice Committee voted 5-3 to indefinitely postpone consideration of HB 2091, which sought to outlaw smoking in a motor vehicle containing minors under age 16. Currently, it’s illegal to smoke in a car if there are passengers under 8.

The five Republicans on the subcommittee voted in favor of killing the measure; the three Democrats on the panel voted against killing it.

The bill was sponsored by Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Prince William.

“As a mother, it was of great surprise to me to learn that children over the age of 8 can be exposed to secondhand smoke in vehicles,” Guzman said in a press release when she introduced the bill on Jan. 7. “Virginia needs to update its code to reflect the evidence-based results of medical studies.”

According to the American Lung Association, secondhand smoke is the cause of more than 41,000 deaths per year, and about 37 percent of children in the U.S have been exposed to such smoke.

Guzman’s bill would have applied not only to tobacco smoking but also to vaping.

“Children under the age of 16 should also be protected from the smoke originated from vaping,” she said. “It is so popular right now in high schools.”

Current state law does not address protecting minors from nicotine vapor emitted through the use of electronic cigarettes.

As a social worker and a mother of four, Guzman said protecting children is her No. 1 priority. She said teenagers 16 and older can speak up or remove themselves from a car where the driver or passengers are smoking. However, younger children do not have that power, Guzman said.

Other states have changed their laws on secondhand smoke.

In Kansas, it’s illegal to smoke in a vehicle with minors under 14, and in Louisiana, under 13.

Changing the law could reduce smoking, she said.

“In Kansas, for example, in 2011, 27 percent of adults say that they were smoking,” Guzman said. “In 2016, after this law passed, the amount of adults smoking reduced to 23 percent.”

Guzman said smokers “need to understand that secondhand smoke is the most dangerous part. And it is not fair that children are voiceless, that they cannot do anything to protect themselves.”

Although Guzman’s bill is likely dead for the session, Virginia legislators will have another chance to consider the issue. Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, is sponsoring a bill similar to Guzman’s.

Rasoul’s proposal, HB 1744, would make it illegal to smoke in a motor vehicle in the presence of minors under 18. It also has been assigned to Subcommittee No. 1 of the House Courts of Justice Committee.

Virginia Legislators Seek Refund for Utility Customers

 

By Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. — Democratic lawmakers have introduced a bill to return millions of dollars to Virginia residents who they say have been overcharged by the state’s utility companies.

Bill sponsors say Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, the largest energy providers in the state, are charging residents more than they should for utility costs.

“Virginia consumers have suffered long enough,” said Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke. “My constituents have said their utility bills are too high, and we need to have a strong group advocating for consumers to ensure that ratepayers are not being taken advantage of.”

Rasoul is the chief sponsor of the "Ratepayers Earned these Funds, Not Dominion" (REFUND) Act. He said it seeks to compensate ratepayers for years of excess spending by utility companies.

The bill comes a month after Clean Virginia, an environmental advocacy group, issued a report that claimed Virginia utility companies Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power use ratepayer money for nonessential spending like political contributions, advertisements and excessive executive compensation.

“Energy bills in Virginia have stopped reflecting the fundamental principle that ratepayers should only pay for the underlying cost of their energy and its delivery,” the report said.

It alleged that most Virginia residents are being overcharged by an average of $250 on their utility bills every year due to nonessential spending by utility companies — an excess payment that Clean Virginia has dubbed the “Dominion tax.”

The proposed legislation aims to refund that money as a credit on customers' bills over a period of six to 12 months.

“It ensures that we as ratepayers do not pay for Dominion’s lobbying activities,” said Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William. “These nonessential costs should never be subsidized by ratepayers, and refunding this money ensures ratepayers get back every cent that is rightfully theirs.”

Under the proposed legislation, the State Corporation Commission would conduct annual proceedings to determine whether each electric public utility used revenue collected from its customers to pay for nonessential expenditures and would determine the amount and type of expenditure found to be improper.

If any nonessential expenditures are found, the commission would have the authority to order the company to refund an equal amount to its customers.

Additionally, if a utility company is found to have used ratepayer money to pay for any advertisements, the company would be required to refund customers 10 times the cost of the advertisement. Exceptions would be made for advertisements that promote conservation or more efficient use of energy.

Dominion Energy has denied charging their customers for any nonessential expenses and maintains that the average bill for its customers is more than 20 percent below the national average.

“Our customers never pay for our lobbying, political contributions or most of our advertising,” Dominion Energy spokesperson Rayhan Daudani said. “They are getting a great value on their power bills and have been for years.”

The REFUND Act is one of several bills targeting Dominion on environmental and regulatory issues this year:

  • A bill introduced by Del. David Reid, D-Loudoun, seeks to limit Virginia’s reliance on fossil fuels for energy.
  • Bills sponsored by Carroll Foy and Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Midlothian, would require the closure and cleanup of Dominion’s coal ash landfills in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Legislators Introduce Journalist Protections

By Saffeya Ahmed, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Two delegates, both former journalists, introduced legislation Monday to protect student journalists from censorship and shield reporters from having to disclose confidential sources.

Dels. Chris Hurst, D-Montgomery, and Danica Roem, D-Prince William, urged the General Assembly to pass such legislation.

“Journalism matters. Facts matter,” Roem said. “We have to get this right.”

Sponsored by Roem, House Bill 2250 — introduced for the second year in a row — would protect members of the press from being forced by courts to reveal the identity of anonymous sources.

“The whole point of the shield law is to protect reporters from being jailed for protecting confidential sources,” said Roem, a former reporter with The Prince William Times.

In 1990, Roem’s former editor Brian Karem served jail time  for withholding the names of anonymous sources while reporting in Texas.

“He did it to protect his sources’ confidentiality,” Roem said, “and to keep his word.”

Virginia is one of 10 states that does not implement shield protections for members of the press; Roem also pointed out that a federal shield law does not exist. HB 2250 includes a clause requiring sources to be revealed when there is an “imminent threat of bodily harm,” Roem said.

In addition to shield laws, Hurst said it’s urgent the legislature also pass HB 2382, which he is sponsoring. The bill would safeguard the work of student journalists from administrative censorship.

If the bill passes, Virginia would join 14 other states in providing protections for high school or college students. Half of the states with current protections for student journalists passed legislation in the last four years.

“Thorough and vetted articles and news stories in student media shouldn’t be subject to unnecessary censorship by administrators,” Hurst said.

Hurst has advocated for measures close to his heart since election to office in 2017. A former anchor and reporter for WDBJ 7 news in Roanoke, Hurst was dating Alison Parker, a fellow WDBJ reporter who was fatally shot on live TV in 2015, along with photojournalist Adam Ward.

The bill would create the freedom for student journalists to publish what they please without fear of administrative retaliation.The institution would be allowed to interfere only if  content violates federal or state law, invades privacy unjustifiably, creates clear danger or includes defamatory speech.

While the current legislation focuses on implementing protections for student reporters in public schools and universities, Hurst said he wants the protections to eventually encompass private institutions. He said the legislation was “something that would, as fast as possible, put protections in place for student journalists at our public schools, our public colleges and universities.”

These pieces of legislation come at a time when professional journalists are increasingly targets of violence. A 2018 report by Reporters Without Borders — a nongovernmental organization that promotes journalistic free speech worldwide — found nearly 350 journalists were detained, 80 killed and 60 held hostage by November. More than 250 reporters globally were jailed in 2018, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Bill Would Exempt Mentally Ill from Death Penalty

By Jayla Marie McNeill, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- A Senate committee has agreed to advance a bill that would protect individuals with a severe mental illness from the receiving the death penalty.

On a 8-6 vote Monday, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee approved SB 1137, which states that “a defendant in a capital case who had a severe mental illness as defined in the bill, at the time of the offense is not eligible for the death penalty.”

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Barbara A. Favola, D-Arlington, is being considered by the full Senate this week.

The bill would establish procedures for determining mental illness (such as expert evaluators), would require judges and juries to take illness into account in sentencing procedures and would mandate that it is the responsibility of the defendant to prove his severe mental illness by a “preponderance of evidence.”

Under current Virginia law, the jury can take mental illness into consideration when deciding to apply the death penalty.  This bill aims to remove the option of the death penalty for those with a proven severe mental illness.

“This is really a sentencing bill,” Favola. “It doesn’t say that the person would have to be ruled not guilty.”

Thirty states have the death penalty. According the  Death Penalty information Center, Virginia carried out the second highest number of executions, 113, since 1976, coming in second to Texas, which carried out 558 executions.

In 2017, Virginia executed two inmates and has three prisoners on death row.

“The U.S Supreme Court over time has issued decisions that really talk about culpability and the fact that the death penalty should only be applied when an individual has full understanding of his actions and consequences,” Favola said.

In the 2002 case of Atkins v. Virginia, the court maintained that the legal execution of defendants with intellectual disabilities was unconstitutional. In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled in Roper v. Simmons that applying the death penalty to defendants 18 years of age or younger was “cruel and unusual punishment” and therefore prohibited by the U.S Constitution.

However, there is no federal law or ruling that extends that protection to individuals who have been deemed to have a severe mental illness, despite pressure from medical associations and human rights groups.

Mental illness “is a whole category that has never really been dealt with by the courts and needs to be dealt with by this legislation,” Sen. John Edwards, D–Roanoke, told the Courts of Justice Committee. “I think this is an important bill.”

Organizations supporting the legislation included the Virginia Catholic Conference, the National Alliance of Mental Illness, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, Mental Health America of Virginia and the Disability Law Center of Virginia.  

Speaking in opposition to the bill was John Mahoney of the Virginia Association of Commonwealth Attorneys. Mahoney said the measure is equivalent to “attacking the death penalty from the sides” and would “take things out of the hands of the jury.”

“We see this as making cases unendable,” Mahoney said. “The whole focus, then, is going to be mental health and what is a mental illness.”

Democrats’ Priorities: LGBT Rights, Environment, $15 Minimum Wage

House Democratic Leader Del. Eileen Filler-Corn gives her opening statement at the House Democratic Caucus press meeting Tuesday. She spoke about past party victories and new challenges in the 2019 session. (Photo Benjamin West)

 

By Benjamin West, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — LGBT rights legislation, environmental protection and a push for a $15 minimum wage are among the goals House Democrats have for the 2019 legislative session.

Members of the House Democratic Caucus held a press conference Tuesday to outline their priorities for the session, which runs until Feb. 23.

House Democratic Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, a delegate from Fairfax, celebrated the party’s recent victories at the polls, including the election of 15 new Democratic delegates in 2017 and two consecutive Democratic governors. Filler-Corn said she hoped her colleagues would keep pushing forward.

“There is so much more that we can do, and that’s why we are here today,” she said. “If we are to successfully pass this legislation, we’ll continue to move Virginia forward.”

The list of policy priorities is not “comprehensive or exhaustive,” Filler-Corn said, noting, for example, that it did not include gun safety legislation.

But she said the goals would help workers, children, teachers, the middle class and other groups. Filler-Corn said she hoped her Republican colleagues would join her “to successfully pass some of these bills.”

Speakers at the news conference included:

·         Democratic Caucus Chair Charniele Herring, a delegate from Alexandria, who said the party would push for no-excuse absentee voting and other changes in voting laws. “No right is more fundamental to our democracy than the right to vote, yet that right is under attack across the country,” Herring said.

·         Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy of Woodbridge, who discussed legislation to protect the LGBT community from discrimination. “Virginia has been on the wrong side of history too many times,” Foy said. “We have fought against interracial marriage, women's right to vote, women being able to receive a higher education. We fought against desegregation. And now it’s time for us to be on the right side of history.”

·         Del. Jeion Ward of Hampton, who touted bills to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour and to help firefighters suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. “We cannot strengthen our economy without strengthening our neighbors,” Ward said.

·         Del. Wendy Gooditis of Clarke County, who called for environmental legislation that she said would benefit both urban and rural Virginians. “Constituents on both ends of my district need clean drinking water,” she said. “We all need fresh air. We all want a healthy future for our children.”

Gooditis said Democrats want laws to make sure the state’s electric utilities are investing in clean energy and to ensure that all residual coal ash from power plants is recycled.

“Farmers need green space and thriving waterways,” Gooditis said. “Parents want clean air and water so their children can flourish. Communities want prosperous local economies. The people of Virginia want us to move energetically toward a new, greener way of life.”

In her closing words at the news conference, Del. Vivian Watts of Fairfax said the House Democratic Caucus would work for the “the dignity of the individual.”

“We are determined to make this House the house for all Virginians,” she said.

Lawmakers Call for Improvements in Foster Care


Delegate Emily Brewer (R) and Senator Monty Mason (D) chaired the first-ever Foster Care caucus. Photo by Madison Manske.

By Kathleen Shaw and Madison Manske, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. — The first-ever bipartisan foster care caucus convened Tuesday to provide legislators the opportunity to learn about the various demanding issues in child welfare.

Nine bills and two budget amendments before this year’s General Assembly session seek to improve Virginia’s foster care services. The co-chairs of the caucus — Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk, and Sen. Montgomery ‘Monty’ Mason, D-Williamsburg — said the group is committed to putting the commonwealth’s children first.

“It’s going to be a long-term solution through legislation, through advocacy and working through partnership groups to make sure that we’re making every single Virginia foster care youth have the most normalized experience, achieving normalcy as part of our goal,” Brewer said.

The urgent focus on Virginia’s foster care system comes after a report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, the General Assembly’s research arm, ranked the state’s social service policies as among the worst nationally. Virginia spends $500 million annually on the 5,300 children in foster care. The budget amendments call for another $3 million, which sponsors believe would reduce the number of youths in the Virginia Department of Social Services system by encouraging families to take over guardianship after children are removed from their primary home.

In terms of legislation, Brewer is sponsoring measures such as HB 2208, which would make it easier for relatives to adopt children. AndMason has introduced SB 1678 and SB 1679, which would align the Code of Virginia with the federal Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018.

Some legislators have personal ties to the issue: Brewer and Del. Christopher Collins, R-Frederick, were adopted; and Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince Williams, is a foster parent. Carroll Foy has filed HB 2162, which would ensure that families are notified when a child enters the Virginia Department of Social Services system.

“Virginia has one of the lowest kinship placements of only 6 percent while nationally it’s 30 percent,” Carroll Foy said. “And we all know that when a child is placed with family, that lessens the amount of trauma and instability that that child has to encounter.”

When children are removed from their first familial residence, their options include foster care or going to a relative in a practice called kinship divergence. HB 2162 is a move toward increasing familial guardianship. Kinship divergence in Virginia is at a low because the families do not receive any financial assistance, while foster families receive a maintenance payment of $700 a month.

The Family First Prevention Services Act was adopted last year as part of the federal Bipartisan Budget Act. The law’s goals are keeping children safe, strengthening families and reducing the urgency for foster care when needed. Virginia would be the first state to implement the act.

Voices for Virginia’s Children is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group concerned about the foster care system. The group conducted a kinship care tour across Virginia last year to hear what kind of issues foster care families encounter.

“We learned that the majority of children who are going to live with a relative are doing so because of substance abuse,” said Allison Gilbreath, a policy analyst for the organization. “I know that we see the statistics, but it was one thing to see almost every single family that raised their hand said that their child was using opioids.”

Youth in foster care face various obstacles, including financial assistance, mental health services and legal restrictions such as access to an attorney. It can be difficult, for example, for young adults in foster care to get a driver’s license — a problem Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, hopes to address with her bill, SB 1139.

“We want our children when they age out of foster care to be able to have a normal experience and to have opportunities for jobs and education, and part of that is really gaining a driver’s license,” Favola said.

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