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2019-2-6

ATTN: GREENSVILLE COUNTY TAXPAYERS

Greensville County Business, Professional and Occupational Licenses for 2019 are now due.  To avoid penalties, please secure your 2019 license from the Commissioner of the Revenue’s Office on or before March 1st.  We are located in the Greensville County Government Building at 1781 Greensville County Circle, Rm 132 on Highway 301 North – Sussex Drive.  Our office hours are from 8 to 5 Monday thru Friday.


Martha S. Swenson
Master Commissioner of the Revenue
Greensville County, Virginia

City Council Votes to Continue Funding Greensville-Emporia Transportation System

After a great many public comments at the last City Council meeting, the Council reconsidered the decision to pull out of the GET System at their meeting on Tuesday, February 5, 2019.

The bus service was necessitated by the move of nearly all shared services to the Greensville County Government Center. The SVCC Education center was put on 301 North even though the Tobacco Commission thought the best place for it was the vacant schools on Main Street (thay have since been demolished). All county business that is not Social Services or court related is transacted at the Greensville County Government Center. The project to move the Department of Social Services has already begun, and the current building in the City will be vacant when the move occurs.

Without the transportation system, anyone in need of the Department of Social Services will have difficulty getting to the office. Given that the people in need of Social Services are likely to hot have access to transportation, the GET System is a major step in that relocation of shared services to the County Government Center.

After the motion was made and seconded, only Council Members Jim Saunders and F. Woodrow Harris had comments.

Council Member Saunders started with the numbers. The budget for the system is $160,000. Of that, $79K is supplied by the Federal Government, $19K comes from the Commonwealth of Virginia and $33K is paid by the Department of Social Services. The City of Emporia and Greensville County both contribute to the system as well, and the portion that the City was expected increased dramatically last year. That dramatic increase was the reason for the City's desire to cease funding the system.

Only $5,000 is generated by rider’s fares.

Saunders hoped that the motion could be amended to allow the City to pull out of the system within 60 days, instead of 12 months, should any of the major funding sources be reduced or stop. The motion was never amended.

Council Member F. Woodrow Harris started his comments by stating the he felt that the “small handful of people that utilize” the transportation was not likely to increase. In a reference to the comments made by citizens at the last meeting, he said that understood that one of the speakers had a bit more cash in her wallet at the end of the month by not needing to take a cab to the grocery store. He did not think that fact was enough to justify the lightening of the “wallets of the tax-payers of the City.” Harris also lamented that Emporia was the “land where bad ideas never die,” and did not want to “hasten our departure from common sense to nonsense” by funding this system.

Ultimately, both Saunders and Harris voted against continued funding while Council Members Mercer, Temple, Threat and Hines voted in favor. Council Member White was absent.

City Council will have their retreat on March 30th at the airport.

There were some vacancies on boards and commissions. Cora Hines was reappointed to the Board of Zoning Appeals. Marva Jo Dunn resigned from both the Board of Zoning Appeals and the Redevelopment and Housing Authority on January 16, 2019 and no one was nominated to fill the remainder of her unfinished terms.

Ms. Dunn is also the City’s appointee to the Greensville County School Board, an appointment that was illegal given her membership on the Board of Zoning Appeals membership, organization, etc1. She was re-appointed to the School Board at a special meeting of the City Council on December 27, 2018. Her appointment to the RDHA was also illegal for the same reason. The Code of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in regard to Boards of Zoning Appeals, states that “Members of the board shall hold no other public office in the locality except that one may be a member of the local planning commission” (Code of Virginia, Title 15.2. Counties, Cities and Towns, Chapter 22. Planning, Subdivision of Land and Zoning,  § 15.2-2308. Boards of zoning appeals to be created). Ms. Dunn’s resignation from the BZA and RDHA does nothing to negate the fact that her appointment to the School Board is illegal.

During public comments Deacon Cornell Hines invited the members of City Council to the dedication of Habitat for Humanity’s tenth home in Emporia-Greensville. There are currently five in Greensville County and the fifth in the City of Emporia will be dedicated soon.  Deacon Hines

The Council adjourned to closed session to discuss a matter related to the acquisition of real estate.

Upon the return to regular session, Assistant City Manager Dr. Ed Daley explained that the City had combined five lots to make four. Of those, two have been given to habitat for Humanity. A previous arrangement specified that upon the completion of the houses on the first two lots, the additional lots would be transferred to habitat for Humanity.

(Editor's Note: This article was updated on Thursday, February 7, 2019 to include a citation for the quote from the Code of Virginia as found on the Virginia Legislative Information System, to fix some style errors and to include the name of the Assistant City Manager that had been omited.)

General Assembly Bans Holding Cellphones While Driving

By Andrew Gionfriddo, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — The Virginia Senate and House of Delegates on Tuesday each passed bills prohibiting motorists from touching their cellphones while driving.

The Senate approved SB 1341 on a vote of 34-6, and the House passed HB 1811, 69-27. The bills would explicitly ban using a hand-held communication device, unless it is in hands-free mode, while operating a vehicle.

State law currently prohibits only reading email or text messages or manually entering letters or text in a hand-held personal communications device while driving. The legislation would extend that ban to using the device for making phone calls, checking social media and other purposes.

“It is unlawful for any person, while driving a moving motor vehicle on the highways in the Commonwealth, to hold a handheld personal communications device,” the bills state.

Drivers would still be able to operate their phones if they are lawfully parked or stopped or are reporting an emergency.

The legislation passed five days after Bartley King, who was severely injured in a distracted driving accident in 2007 when he was a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University, spoke to senators in favor of the proposals.

In a Facebook post, King recalled his car hitting a tree at 55 mph while he was texting. The crash put him in the VCU Medical Center and left him in a coma for 28 days. He then spent 16 months in a wheelchair relearning to walk.

“I can’t give up and allow others to be hurt as badly as I was,” King wrote. “I made my beloved mother cry and I owe it to her to protect all the other mothers from having to cry for their babies the way that mine did.”

The chief sponsors of the House bill were Republican Dels. Christopher Collins of Frederick County and Michael Webert of Fauquier County and Democratic Del. Michael Mullin of Newport News.

Speaking as a former police officer, Collins said the existing law needed improvements.

“Our current texting while driving statute has just not been enforced,” he said. “The enforcement numbers went way down during the last several years.”

The penalty for a first offense is a $125 fine that rises to $250 for a second or subsequent violation.

“This is going to be straight up — if you have your phone in your hand, you are in violation of a law,” Collins said.

The Senate bill was sponsored by Republican Sens. Richard Stuart of King George County and Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach and Democratic Sen. Scott Surovell of Fairfax.

Under the legislation, the ban on using hand-held devices would not apply to citizens band radios. The bills also would exempt hand-held communication devices that are physically connected to the vehicle and used for navigation or audio transmissions.

Although the House and Senate bills are identical, the legislation still hasn’t cleared the final hurdles. Now, the House must pass the Senate bill, or the Senate must pass the House bill, and then the governor must sign the legislation.

How they voted

Here is how the Senate voted on SB 1341 (Handheld personal communications devices; use while driving).

Floor: 02/05/19 Senate: Read third time and passed Senate (34-Y 6-N)

YEAS — Barker, Boysko, Carrico, Chase, Cosgrove, Dance, Deeds, DeSteph, Dunnavant, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Hanger, Howell, Lewis, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, McDougle, McPike, Norment, Peake, Petersen, Reeves, Saslaw, Spruill, Stanley, Stuart, Sturtevant, Surovell, Vogel, Wagner — 34.

NAYS — Black, Chafin, Newman, Obenshain, Ruff, Suetterlein — 6.

Here is how the House voted on HB 1811 (Handheld personal communications devices; use while driving).

Floor: 02/05/19 House: VOTE: PASSAGE (69-Y 27-N)

YEAS — Adams, D.M., Adams, L.R., Ayala, Bagby, Bell, John J., Bell, Robert B., Bourne, Brewer, Bulova, Byron, Carr, Carter, Cole, Collins, Convirs-Fowler, Delaney, Filler-Corn, Fowler, Gooditis, Guzman, Head, Heretick, Herring, Hope, Hugo, Hurst, Ingram, James, Jones, J.C., Jones, S.C., Keam, Knight, Kory, Krizek, Landes, Leftwich, Levine, Lopez, McQuinn, Miyares, Mullin, Murphy, Orrock, Peace, Plum, Poindexter, Price, Ransone, Rasoul, Reid, Robinson, Rodman, Roem, Sickles, Simon, Sullivan, Thomas, Torian, Toscano, Tran, Turpin, Tyler, VanValkenburg, Ward, Ware, Watts, Webert, Wilt, Yancey — 69.

NAYS — Austin, Bell, Richard P., Bloxom, Campbell, J.L., Campbell, R.R., Davis, Edmunds, Fariss, Freitas, Garrett, Gilbert, Hayes, Helsel, Hodges, Kilgore, LaRock, Lindsey, McGuire, McNamara, Morefield, O'Quinn, Pillion, Pogge, Rush, Stolle, Wright, Speaker Cox — 27.

Bills Push to Hide Lottery Winners’ Identities

By Alexandra Zernik and Benjamin West, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — The General Assembly is moving to protect the privacy of people who win the Virginia Lottery — a proposal open-government advocates fear may threaten transparency.

Currently, the lottery must disclose the name of anybody who wins more than $600. The Senate passed a bill, SB 1060, allowing any lottery winner to ask that their name be kept secret. The House also approved legislation, HB 1650 — but it would shield the identity only of individuals who won more than $10 million.

This week, the House General Laws Committee changed SB 1060 to read like HB 1650 — protecting the privacy of only big winners — and approved it. The revised SB 1060 now goes to the full House of Delegates. HB 1650 is pending before the Senate General Laws Committee.

Both bills seek to protect lottery winners from public exposure and potential pressure or even assaults by friends, relatives or strangers when their financial situation is broadcast.

“There’s been reasonable concerns based on what’s happened in other places,” said Del. Nicholas Freitas, R-Culpeper, a sponsor of HB 1650. “The goal here is not to reduce government transparency but to protect winners.”

One concern from legislators is that lottery winners will be harassed or put in other danger after their winnings become public knowledge.

Under the legislation before the General Assembly, the names and personal information of certain winners would be entirely unattainable to the public — even if requested under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

That worries people like Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.

“That’s kind of the conventional wisdom, but I don’t know that there are actually all these stories about people’s lives being ruined,” Rhyne said.

According to Rhyne, the names of lottery winners play a key role for transparency.” The public relies quite a bit on public records laws to be able to monitor their government and help keep them accountable,” Rhyne said.

The coalition testified against both House and Senate bills. The group believes that the names of lottery winners are essential for journalists or other members of the public to identify and weed out corruption, Rhyne said.

“It hampers their ability to investigate possible fraud or kickbacks at a lottery unit,” Rhyne said.

This fall, The Virginian-Pilot made waves with a report investigating fraud in the Virginia Lottery. The newspaper found that certain people have won a statistically improbable number of times, cashing in hundreds of tickets over a relatively short period of time. The paper also reported that the lottery doesn’t investigate frequent winners unless they are reported for wrongdoing.

The Pilot’s investigation was conducted using public records showing the identities of winners.

Freitas said the legislation contains provisions “to make certain information public if necessary.”

“But the idea of we’re not going to proactively advertise someone as a winner, I think that’s an appropriate step to ensure the safety of the person that’s won,” he said.

Senate Bill Requires Ethics Training for Local Officials

By Saffeya Ahmed, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Local governments that rely on commonwealth's attorneys for legal advice can breathe a sigh of relief: State legislators have discarded a provision that would have prevented commonwealth's attorneys from serving as county, city or town government attorneys.

The Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved two bills that require training for local elected officials. Both bills originally included clauses that would restrict the commonwealth’s attorney position, but the clauses were removed before the Senate passed the legislation.

SB 1430 and SB 1431, sponsored by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, would require conflict of interest training and freedom of information training every two years, respectively.

Virginia enforces a law called the State and Local Government Conflict of Interests Act, which prohibits conflicts and requires economic interests be disclosed for public officers and employees. Conflicts of interest can result when a person:

  • Accepts money, gifts, or services outside of their compensation that influences their official duties

  • Has a relative or spouse with a financial interest in a situation

  • Uses confidential information for economic benefits

Under SB 1430, conflicts and ethics training would be required for all government officials, at least once every two years.

SB 1431 would implement a similar training for government officials regarding the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, which mandates Virginia citizens and members of the press have access to all public records of employees, officials and organizations.

As Redistricting Plans Advance, Advocates Slam House GOP Bill

By Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- As the General Assembly’s session enters its second half, both the House and Senate have passed competing plans on how to redraw legislative districts. But groups that have been fighting gerrymandering prefer the Senate’s proposal, saying it would do more to take politics out of the process.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are concerned that without the proper provisions, the General Assembly may be doomed to repeat mistakes made in 2011 when legislators gerrymandered several Virginia districts for their own benefit by diluting the voting power of African-Americans. Those districts were later struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court and had to be redrawn.

Some legislators say there’s an easy fix to make sure it doesn’t happen again: Create an independent commission to redraw the lines, and take the process out of the hands of politicians.

At the start of the legislative session, lawmakers offered nine different proposals to establish independent redistricting commissions. They have now been narrowed down to two.  

Senate Joint Resolution 306, sponsored by Democratic Sen. George Barker of Alexandria, sailed through the Senate last week with unanimous support. House Joint Resolution 615, sponsored by Republican Del. Mark Cole of Spotsylvania County, was narrowly approved by the House on Monday on a party-line vote, 51-48.

Both resolutions would amend the Virginia Constitution to create bipartisan commissions tasked with redrawing district lines in 2021, but the plans have some key differences:

  • SJ 306 would create a 16-member commission made up of eight General Assembly members and eight citizen members. Of the eight legislative members, four would come from the Senate, and four would come from the House, with equal representation given to each political party. Any plan drawn up by the commission would have to be agreed upon by at least six of the eight legislators and six of the eight citizen members. The plan would then be sent to the General Assembly for an up-or-down vote. The General Assembly would not be able to make any amendments to the plan.

  • HJ 615 would create a 12-member commission consisting of six Democrats and six Republicans, none of whom could be members of the General Assembly or U.S. Congress. The members would be selected by the speaker of the House, the Senate Rules Committee and the governor, and any plan drawn up by the commission would have to be agreed upon by at least eight of the 12 members. The plan would then be introduced in the General Assembly as a bill, and legislators would vote on the plan. The governor would be removed from the process and would not have the power to approve or veto the bill.

Barker’s amendment has garnered support from fair redistricting advocates, but they have concerns about Cole’s commission.

Princeton Gerrymandering Project, a nonpartisan redistricting group based in New Jersey, issued a statement Sunday saying that Cole’s constitutional amendment could “backfire” and increase the possibility of partisan gerrymandering in the commonwealth -- the opposite of its intended effect.

“It’s sold as nonpartisan reform. But we find that it’s more likely to entrench whatever party is already in control,” director Sam Wang wrote.

Voting rights advocacy groups Progress Virginia and New Virginia Majority issued a joint statement slamming Cole’s amendment after it was sent to the House floor last week: “The GOP’s proposal simply replaces one bad system with another,” said Progress Virginia executive director Anna Scholl.

The editorial board of Lynchburg newspaper The News & Advance has come out in support of Barker’s amendment. In an op-ed published Thursday, the board wrote that, while both plans signal the General Assembly’s willingness to change the current system, SJ 306 was “far preferable” to HJ 615.

Advocacy group One Virginia 2021, which has pushed for a nonpartisan approach to redistricting in Virginia, has also expressed support for SJ 306, as has former Virginia Gov. George Allen, a Republican. Allen and One Virginia 2021 have teamed up for a five-city town hall tour to highlight the need for bipartisan redistricting reform.

Advocates are watching anxiously as the two amendments head off to the House and Senate. If either is approved by the General Assembly, it will face a long road to be added to the Virginia Constitution. Constitutional amendments must pass in two legislative sessions and then be approved by voters in a statewide election.

Lawmakers will have to act quickly to ensure that an independent commission is in place by 2021 when the U.S. Census Bureau releases new population and demographic data. If not, the same process used in 2011 will be used again in 2021.

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