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2019-2-15

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Kid’s Rule: House of Delegates Page Program Holds Annual Mock Debate

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By Emily Holter, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Before the General Assembly adjourned, critical issues like gun control and tax incentives were being debated in the House chamber. One smartly dressed young man proposed raising taxes to create a relief fund for counties with high unemployment. His colleagues raised questions about the idea: “Do you see this bill as anti-capitalist?”

But these weren't legislators holding the debate; they were legislative pages -- teenagers who run errands for lawmakers during their annual session. Toward the end of the session, the roles are reversed: The pages act as delegates for a mock debate while the elected delegates serve as pages and even pass out candy and water to the participants.

The General Assembly’s page program allows teen students to work with delegates and senators, taking on responsibilities that prepare them for future government roles.

In exchange for their hard work, the pages hold a mock General Assembly debate. They craft bills, act in committees and vote on legislation.

In their roles as delegates, pages voted on 19 mock bills that passed committees. They tackled controversial legislation on the environment and other issues.

Debating back and forth, pages asked questions and researched facts for and against proposed bills -- all while following formal House procedures.

Acting as a delegate,  Jakob Dean, a page from Chesterfield, proposed creating the relief fund for counties with an unemployment rate of 7 percent or worse. Funds would help with public resources such as infrastructure, schools and police and fire departments. Dean proposed a 5 percent tax increase to businesses that make more than $1 million in yearly profits.

“I see where $50,000 seems like a lot of money, but that’s only 5 percent,” Dean said. “These companies do not give any of the money to anything.”

The other mock delegates fired away with hard questions. “How would this affect businesses if they have to pay higher in taxes?” one asked.

Dean swayed the make-believe legislators, and his bill passed, 27-10.

Some mock bills failed. Del. Matthew Haske’s bill offering a tax incentive for military service did not pass in the House.

Greg Habeeb, the father of one of the pages and a former member of the House of Delegates, said the page program is a valuable experience for young people.

“These kids get to see the General Assembly in action for five weeks,” Habeeb said. “It’s interesting to see the different issues they bring to the table.”

Mary Jane B. Phillips

June 7, 1938 - February 14, 2019

Graveside Services

Monday, February 18, 2019, 11:00 a. m.

Independence United Methodist Church Cemetery

4438 Independence Church Rd, Emporia, Virginia

Mary Jane B. Phillips, 80, of Emporia, widow of Linwood N. Phillips, died Thursday, February 14, 2019. She was preceded in death by a son, Linwood “Buck” Phillips, Jr.

Mrs. Phillips is survived by a son, Kevin Scott “Scotty” Phillips; six grandchildren, Staci Phillips (Jason), Stephen Phillips (Christy), Heather Phillips, Amber Thompson, (Brandon), Kailee Phillips and J. R. Phillips; great-grandchildren, Logan Long, Amelia Collins, Leslie Phillips, Aliyah Collins, Cassidie Phillips, L. J. Phillips, Kaydence Schlosser, Ethan Otten and Brynlee Woodruff; two sisters, Martha Whatley and Juanita Johnson and a number of nieces and nephews.

The funeral service will be held graveside 11 a.m. Monday, February 18 at Independence United Methodist Church Cemetery.

Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com.

John Shepherd Has a Cool Job

John Shepherd’s job is cool because he practices the ancient art of farming using modern methods.  Recently, he and his wife, Lydia, of Nottoway County, were awarded third place in the 2019 American Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers & Ranchers Achievement Award.

According to the Virginia Farm Bureau news release, “The Achievement Award honors young farmers who are successful in production agriculture and provide leadership on and off the farm. State-level winners from Farm Bureaus across the nation compete for the award, and judges narrow the field to 10 finalists.”

The Shepherds called the recognition “pretty amazing” and said the competition had been an exciting process. The Shepherds serve on the VFBF Young Farmers Committee and raise wheat, rapeseed, corn and soybeans on their farm near Blackstone.

            John is a Southside Virginia Community College (SVCC) graduate who attended a full two years before transferring to Virginia Tech (VT) where he received a degree in Agricultural Science.  He received minors in Biology and Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences.  He planted his first crop in the fall of 2007 while finishing his last semester at VT. 

About his SVCC experience, he said, “I am excited that SVCC now offers Agribusiness as part of the curriculum.  The community college helped me to mature and prepare for a four-year school.  Also, I saved a bunch of money and I would recommend community college to everyone.”

The Shepherd’s started their farm from scratch and said in the VFB article, “the fact that we built from the ground up without inheriting a farm” helped them place so high in the national competition. 

After graduating from VT, he was working full-time as a seed and fertilizer representative when he began buying land for his future farming career.  Shepherd serves on the Nottoway Country Farm Bureau board of directors and Lydia teaches at Kenston Forest School in Blackstone.  They were recipients of the 2011 VFBF Young Farmers Environmental Stewardship Awards and the 2012 Bayer Crops Science Young Farmer Sustainability Award.  The couple uses conservation practices in their farming business.

The Shepherd’s truly are a farm family as their days are spent raising crops and three children!!

Database Chronicles 400 Years of Virginia House of Delegates

By Rosemarie O’Connor, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — A singer crooned “La Paloma” as a Norfolk crowd showered two “legislative debutantes” with flowers and sent them off to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1924. Sarah Lee Fain and Helen T. Henderson were the first women elected to the General Assembly. To celebrate, the Democratic Women’s Club organized a bon voyage party at Roane’s Old Colonial Tea Room in Norfolk.

Virginians can now explore the history of who has served in the House, which is marking its 400th anniversary as America’s first law-making body. The House Clerk’s Office has launched an online database dubbed DOME (Database of House Members), chronicling the people elected to the House of Delegates or its predecessor, the House of Burgesses, over the past four centuries.

Set against today’s national conversation over gender equality, the database shows a stark disparity: It contains more than 9,000 men — but just 91 women.

Database reflects state’s political players

The ambitious, years-long project offers biographical and legislative information on every delegate as well as information on House speakers, clerks, legislative sessions and Capitol locations.

From 1619, when the House of Burgesses met in Jamestown, until 1923, the legislative body was all-male. Since Fain and Henderson joined the House in 1924, the number of female delegates didn’t crack double digits until 1983, when there were 11 women in the House. The number stayed in the teens through 2017.

But that year, a record number of women were elected to the General Assembly, taking 11 seats formerly held by men. As a result, 28 women currently serve in the 100-member House.

Glass ceilings, then color barriers

Sixty years after Henderson and Fain shattered the glass ceiling, Yvonne Miller of Norfolk broke the color barrier. She became the first African-American woman elected to the House in 1984 and the first elected to the Senate four years later. Miller died in office in July 2012.

In an interview with the Library of Virginia, Miller said other legislators initially thought she was a maid and told her as much. She said she realized those delegates who offended her were “operating on their history.” Miller said she had to figure out how to interact with those who did not respect her simply because of her race.

Miller called her time in the General Assembly exciting and said she thoroughly enjoyed politics. “I have enough wins to keep it interesting,” she said. “I have a lot of losses to keep me humble.”

‘Long overdue’ project may inspire more research

Laura van Assendelft, a professor of political science at Mary Baldwin University in Staunton, Virginia, called the DOME project “long overdue.”

“The typically limited and inconsistent availability of data at the state and local levels is such a source of frustration for scholars in the state and local subfield,” she said. Van Assendelft said she believes the database will inspire more research into the history of women in Virginia’s government.

Brian Daugherity, a U.S. history professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said that when completed, DOME will help citizens “see the ways in which participation in the state’s decision-making processes has expanded over time — a reminder of the importance of ensuring access for all.”

G. Paul Nardo, the clerk of the Virginia House of Delegates, said he welcomes contributions from the public to help write the “ongoing history of the House of Delegates and those who have been elected to serve in it.” He said the database will be officially released this spring.

More women and more diversity in the House

The history of women in Virginia politics is still being written.

“But if I do anything worthwhile in the General Assembly,” Fain declared in 1924, “to the women will belong the credit.”

In 2017, the House of Delegates saw an increase not only in the number of women but also in other diversity.

Danica Roem of Prince William County became Virginia’s first transgender legislator. Hala Ayala and Elizabeth Guzman also won House seats in Prince William County, becoming the first Latinas elected to the House.

Kathy Tran’s win in Fairfax County made her the first Asian-American woman to serve in the Virginia General Assembly. And Dawn Adams of Richmond was elected as the first openly lesbian legislator.

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