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2019 Capital News Service

Black-owned Restaurants Serve Culture and Cuisine

By Madison Manske, Capital News Service

 RICHMOND — “People in Richmond don’t talk to each other,” said Kelli Lemon, owner of Urban Hang Suite. She created her coffee shop last year to make a comfortable space for customers to connect with one another despite their differences.

Lemon is also tri-owner of the Virginia Black Restaurant Experience — an opportunity for people throughout the Richmond and Henrico area to connect and to enjoy the diversity of meals offered by black-owned restaurants.

The third annual Richmond Black Restaurant Experience starts Sunday and runs through March 10. This year the event features 30 restaurants as well as food trucks, caterers and local chefs.

The theme is Culture Meets Cuisine, and the food is served up for a good cause: It will raise money for the Mary G. Brown Transitional Center, a nonprofit agency that helps people with housing, job training and other services. With every event ticket purchased, proceeds will go directly to the center. Events that serve alcohol will give 100 percent of their sales to the center.

Each restaurant participating in the RBRE will have a passport that lists all other restaurants included in the experience. Mama J’s, Vagabond, Pig & Brew and Urban Hang Suite are a small handful of what to expect — with vegan options available at certain restaurants.

Throughout the week, the RBRE will also sponsor various events that require a ticket:

  • Mobile Soul Sunday on Sunday (March 3)
  • A Seat At The Table — Dinner Party Social on Monday (March 4)
  • Zumba and Cocktails with Jackie Paige and DJ Nobe on Monday (March 4)
  • Wine Tasting and Pairing at C’est Le Vin on Tuesday (March 5)
  • Hip Hop Karaoke with Pro DJ Direct and Unlocking RVA on Tuesday (March 5)
  • Afrikana Film Festival - Invisible Vegan on Thursday (March 7)
  • ART for the SOUL on Friday (March 8)
  • Brunch Trolley Tour on Saturday (March 9)
  • Diaspora and Untold RVA on Saturday (March 9)
  • Stick A Fork In It! on Sunday (March 10)

In its first year, the RBRE consisted of 19 restaurants. Last year, 10 restaurants joined the list bringing it to 29. Every year, more jobs are created and more money is raised through special event ticket sales.

The experience was created by Lemon, Amy Wentz and Shemicia Brown with the aim of addressing economic disparities within the city’s minority-owned business community as well as advancing Richmond’s growing culinary tourism scene.

The inaugural event helped launch the business the three women operate as Virginia Black Restaurant Experience. Events such as the Richmond Black Restaurant Experience operate under the VBRE umbrella, Lemon said. The women organize the annual RBRE with support from Dominion Energy.

“We felt like what we do is bigger than just a week, so we started Virginia Black Restaurant Experience,” Lemon said. “It’s just an experience of celebrating culture and cuisine that often times gets ignored for various different reasons.”

Benefiting a community organization

For the last two years, the beneficiary of the RBRE was Renew Richmond, an organization dedicated to increasing healthy food efforts by creating urban gardens and offering educational and other programs.

“We wanted to give someone else the opportunity to be able to grow their nonprofit,” Lemon said.

This year’s beneficiary, the Mary G. Brown Transitional Center, is a partner in the Richmond Food Justice Corridor, a network of organizations seeking to address food access, build community, reduce violence, inspire youth and accomplish other community goals.

Richmond is a popular food destination where Lemon says minorities in the food industry often get overlooked. When Lemon opened Urban Hang Suite in October, she wanted to open a space that allowed engagement to anyone who walks in the door.

Located at 304 E. Broad St., her coffee shop offers a traditional grab ’n’ go setting in the front with an open space in the back for people to connect.

According to Lemon, black-owned restaurants can face challenges in terms of obtaining financing, promoting and managing the business.

“Because of that lack, we found it important to be an assistant or just to be an ally to these restaurant owners in pursuit of giving them a true, proper place within the Richmond culinary scene,” Lemon said. “You have to realize that in some of these smaller black-owned restaurants, they’re the chef, they’re the marketer, the GM — they may be a host one day.”

Inner City Blues, home of Carolina Bar B Que, has participated in the RBRE every year so far. Co-owner Alicia Hawkins said she and her husband see higher sales each year, and that allows them to be more active in the business and the community.

“Richmond is a foodie town, and a lot of times with the small businesses, a lot of people don’t know that these small businesses exist,” Hawkins said. “I have customers come in all the time to say, ‘We didn’t know you were here,’ which is kind of strange.”

Before the restaurant moved to 3015 Nine Mile Road in 2014, it was Inner City Blues Takeout on Gilpin Court in Jackson Ward. When the landlord wanted to make changes, Hawkins and her husband had to relocate. After the owner of their current building retired, the space opened up for them.

“It was a business opportunity that it was just as if God had opened the doors,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins went to the original Armstrong High School. Having grown up in the area, she was familiar with her new business location.

Hawkins said the RBRE is a chance to showcase restaurants like hers.

“We also saw the lack of black-owned restaurants in the larger restaurant weeks,” Lemon said.

Richmond is home to many food festivals from Richmond Oktoberfest to Festival of India. According to Lemon, when VBRE was created, the organizers got criticized and called racist for celebrating African-American restaurants.

“We had to remind everyone of the other festivals that happen all the time in this city,” Lemon said. “All these festivals celebrated culture and heritage, and that’s all we’re trying to do.”

For a full list of participating restaurants and event/ticket sale information, visit www.vablackrestaurantexperience.com. The website also has a link for donations.

“It’s very important for those that are not familiar with this week to know that it is open to everyone,” Lemon said. “We hope that people come out of their comfort zones for this week.”

General Assembly Legislative Scorecard

Here is an infographic, created by Capital News Service, showing how many bills each Delegate or Senator introduced this session and how many of those passed or failed.

Delegate Tyler introduced 6, 4 of which passed. Senator Lucas introduced 10 bills, 3 of which passed.

 

The Williamsburg Winery’s “Petite Fleur” Awarded Gold Medal at Governor’s Cup Competition

By Kal Weinstein, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Gov. Ralph Northam raised a toast to the state's burgeoning (and burgundy) wine industry at the Virginia Wineries Association’s Governor's Cup gala. Among the gold medal recipients on Tuesday night was the 2017 Petite Fleur, from The Williamsburg Winery.  

The Petite Fleur was one of 68 gold medal recipients of the more than 500 wines submitted from across the state.

 A creation from winemaker Matthew Meyer, the Petite Fleur is a blend of Muscat Ottonel and Vidal Blanc, offering hints of apricot, peach, pear, melon and other tropical fruits.

“It is a dessert wine, but it can go with cheese or foie gras,” he said.

Fifteen years ago, Meyer came to Virginia from Napa Valley, California, because of the potential he saw in the state’s young wine industry.

“My inspiration was just to come out here and get involved in something that was, at that time, just starting to grow,” he said. “In the time I’ve been here, I’ve seen an absolute incredible transformation of the wine quality in Virginia, which is exciting to see.”

The Williamsburg Winery’s president and CEO, Patrick Duffeler II, said Virginia has proven without a doubt that it can produce wines that go toe-to-toe with the best the industry has to offer.

“It’s not because I say so. It’s because the wine critics say so,” Duffeler said. “We are just now getting out of our infancy and growing into an awkward adolescence, and I think the best has yet to come.”

Kathryn Parsons, who traveled to Richmond to represent The Williamsburg Winery at this year’s gala, said the 2017 Petite Fleur is available in their retail shop, their website, and at their Colonial Williamsburg location.

“It’s a very popular wine. We don’t do a whole lot in the way of dessert wines,” Parsons said. “So for our clients that like something a bit sweeter, it’s the perfect mix.”

Parsons said the wine is not “overly sweet,” and that “there’s enough acidity to balance that so it just feels bright and fruity.”

Every wine submitted to the competition was required to have been made from 100 percent Virginia fruit. Of the gold medal recipients, 12 of the top-scoring wines comprised the Governor’s Case, from which the winner of the Cup was announced at Tuesday night’s gala.

Before an audience of hundreds of people, Northam awarded the first-place trophy to Horton Vineyards for their 2016 Petite Manseng.

“Virginia’s wine industry has uncorked remarkable growth in recent years, generating over a billion dollars in economic impact annually and creating thousands of job opportunities for Virginians,” Northam said.

Following the event, Gov. Northam’s office released a statement giving further praise to Virginia’s blossoming wine industry.

“Virginia winemakers have developed a fluency in reading the signs from their soil and growing distinctive varietals that have found a home in Virginia,” the statement said.

Safe Driving Advocates Lament Defeat of ‘Hands-Free’ Legislation

By Katja Timm, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Traffic safety advocates are upset by the surprise defeat of legislation that would have prohibited motorists in Virginia from holding their cellphones while driving.

They said the legislation — HB 1811 and SB 1341, which died as the General Assembly adjourned Sunday — would have helped prevent accidents caused by distracted driving.

“I think we’re very disappointed,” said Janet Brooking, executive director of DRIVE SMART Virginia, a nonprofit group that promotes traffic safety. “We had been working very hard to make sure the bills advanced.”

For much of the legislative session, the bills appeared headed toward passage.

The House and Senate had each passed slightly different versions of HB 1811, sponsored by Del. Chris Collins, R-Frederick, and SB 1341, sponsored by Sen. Richard Stuart, R-King George.

One version said: “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.”

Another version said it would be unlawful for a driver “to hold in his hand a handheld personal communications device.”

Looking back, Brooking said amending the bill allowed opponents to sabotage the legislation.

“It’s not about the language of the amendment,” she said. “It’s about what happens to bills like this. The amendment was thrown in there to strategically put the bill in harm’s way.”

When a conference committee of House members and senators convened to resolve the matter the day before the session ended, the legislation was changed significantly. The committee recommended that drivers still be allowed to talk on their cellphones — they just couldn’t “view, read, or enter data.”

The conference committee’s report then was rejected in the House — and so the legislation died.

As a result, the current law, adopted in 2009, remains unchanged: It is illegal to text and send emails while driving, but not to use phone apps such as Snapchat, Facebook or Instagram, or to talk on the phone.

Brooking said she believes that fatalities and accidents would decrease if Virginia had stronger laws to stop driving distractions. That has happened in other states that have implemented “hands-free” driving laws.

In mid-2018, the governor of Georgia signed the “Hands-Free Georgia Act,” which is almost identical to the original versions of the legislation proposed this year in the Virginia General Assembly. The act made it illegal for Georgia motorists to hold a handheld telecommunications device while driving.

Since the law took effect, traffic fatalities have dropped 14 percent in Georgia, according to the Glenda Mitchell Law Firm of Cartersville, Georgia.

Brooking sees a silver lining in the defeat of the “hands-free” bills at the Virginia Capitol. The legislation received widespread media coverage and raised awareness about the problem of drivers using cellphones.

“The press that we got on this bill was unparalleled,” Brooking said. “Through this process, we have educated and raised visibility towards the subject of distracted driving.”

Education and legal changes will be necessary to adequately address the problem, Brooking said. She said safe driving advocates will not give up pushing for stronger laws during the General Assembly’s next session.

“People are still being killed in our roadways,” Brooking said. “We can’t just walk away from this; people are dying.”

Bills to Protect Landowners in Pipeline Cases Fail

By Ben Burstein, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Landowners fighting to keep their property from being taken by pipeline building companies will continue footing the legal bills after two bills failed in the House.

Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, said he introduced the bills to give landowners who don’t want pipeline construction on their land a fair chance against Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, Southern Gas and other companies involved in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

SB 1404 would have required pipeline companies to pick the costs incurred by homeowners in eminent domain legal battles.

SB 1403 sought to amend state law and require the entities acquiring the property to pay all costs of court proceedings. It also would have required pipeline companies to provide compensation for homeowners. The compensation would have been at least 25 percent more than the company’s initial offer for the land.

Because the pipeline project was approved by the Federal Energy Regulation Commission, the companies may invoke eminent domain — a right given to the government to take property for public use — if landowners refuse to accept compensation for their property.

“The pipeline companies have all the power, in the General Assembly and in condemning the property of small landowners,” Petersen stated after the bills failed. “My bills would have leveled the playing field in a small way. The House just missed it. We’ll be back.”

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a 600-mile underground pipeline that would deliver natural gas from West Virginia to the southwest region of the state and North Carolina.

Over 85 percent of affected landowners have entered into easement agreements to allow construction, according to the project website. Those landowners received compensation. The remaining easements needed to begin construction are being challenged in court. Such legal battles have halted construction. The pipeline was scheduled to start operating this year, but the new estimated completion date is between 2020 and 2021.

Residents have also lost property in the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline project that runs from West Virginia to southwest Virginia. Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Dillon allowed Mountain Valley to seize private property through eminent domain. A group of landowners have requested a hearing from the U.S. Supreme Court, but it is uncertain whether a hearing will be granted.

On Dec. 7, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals suspended a permit allowing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cut through two national forests. Dominion plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The House denied Petersen’s request to have changes to his bills restored to their original form. House amendments would have made the bill effective only on proceedings that started before July 1 of this year. Both bills failed as introduced. The senator plans to try again in the General Assembly’s 2020 session.

Senate Passes Bill Allowing Guns in Church, Fails in House

By Christian Robinson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. --- While most people go to church to worship, security expert Chernoh Wurie goes to worship and protect. He leads security at Hill City Church in the Richmond area.

A bill to allow weapons, including firearms, within places of worship died in the House last week. Senate Bill 1024, introduced by Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun, passed the Senate along party lines, 21-19, but died in the House Rules Committee. The bill sought to repeal a law on the books since the 1950s.

“It’s chaos waiting to happen if you ask me,” Wurie said. “It gets a lot more problematic when you put guns in churches.”

Hill City Church, a non-denominational Christian church off Staples Mill Road near the Richmond city line, has a strict no-firearms policy, with signs up throughout the building. The only people allowed to carry a weapon are Wurie and his security team, picked he said because of their police training.

Wurie said places of worship without an organized security team might be more likely to allow congregation members to carry because “there is no other form of protection.”

Gun violence has occurred at places of worship in the recent past.

  • In October, 11 were killed and seven injured in a mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

  • In November 2017, 26 people were killed and about 20 injured in a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

  • In January 2017, a mass shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City left six dead and 17 injured.

Some said the number of casualties in Texas would have been higher if a civilian hadn’t fired at the shooter. But other groups feel uncomfortable with firearms in a place of worship.

The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy is a coalition of more than 700 faith groups. The organization opposed SB 1024 and urged members to contact legislators, saying that worship spaces should “be holy, safe and a refuge” and “free of violence.”

Wurie said he thinks some places would allow their congregation to carry firearms, and it is ultimately the institution’s decision.

He said if the bill had passed, he would have anticipated institutions potentially hiring congregation members with security experience.  

“It can be a distraction, to a point, for both security and the congregation,” Wurie said. “If everyone is allowed to carry arms during worship, it could be a distraction for the people.”

If the bill had passed the House, Imad Damaj, faculty adviser for the Muslim Student Association at Virginia Commonwealth University, said they planned to lobby the governor to veto it and that the organization did not think the bill would make anyone safer.

“We spoke against it; a lot of people in the Muslim community spoke against it,” Damaj said. “Accidents can happen. You come to a place of worship for peace, prayer and inspiration.”

Damaj worships at the Islamic Center of Virginia. He also said weapons would be a distraction to the congregation.

“People don’t feel comfortable praying next to people who carry arms,” he said.

He questioned if Sen. Black spoke with faith leaders before introducing the bill.

“I can tell you from the Muslim community perspective … we don’t want that [the bill],” Damaj said.
Just before the Senate approved the bill on Jan. 24, Black said that congregation members are “vulnerable” and “the ultimate target” of someone who intends to inflict “mayhem on the congregation.” He pointed to church shootings in recent years, including a 2015 mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina by a white supremacist who killed nine black churchgoers during a Bible study service.

“You cower in place or you fight back,” Black said.

Black did not respond to requests for a comment on the legislation.

VCU Panel: Journalists Need to Call Out Racism

By Owen FitzGerald and Rosemarie O’Connor, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Politicians, journalists, educators, voters -- whose responsibility is it to combat racism, and where do they start?

Hundreds gathered in the Virginia Commonwealth University Commons Theater Monday evening to tackle that question. The discussion “Blackface, the Scandal and the Media: A Discussion about Racism in Virginia,” featured VCU journalism professors and Richmond-area journalists.

“You must do this study of the dead to later study the living,” said Clarence Thomas, an associate professor of journalism at VCU. Thomas and the panelists emphasized the importance of knowing the history behind blackface in the media.

Thomas, who moderated the discussion, was joined on the panel by:

  • Jeff South - associate professor of journalism, VCU
  • Mechelle Hankerson - reporter, the Virginia Mercury
  • Samantha Willis - freelance journalist and editor
  • Michael Paul Williams - columnist, Richmond Times-Dispatch

The panel opened with this video from the Huffington Post, “The History of Blackface in America.” The video shows the use of blackface in popular movies, television shows and cartoons even in recent years.

This discussion came after two top Democratic officials admitted to wearing blackface.

Gov. Ralph Northam has been under fire since Feb. 1, when a news organization published a photo from his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical College yearbook. The picture showed two men -- one in blackface and the other wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood. He initially admitted he was in the photo and apologized.

The next day he denied he was in the photo, but said he had worn shoe polish to darken his face while dressing as Michael Jackson for a dance contest in 1984. State and national leaders on both sides of the aisle called on Northam to resign.

Attorney General Mark Herring also admitted to wearing blackface at a party in 1980. Herring said he dressed as rapper Kurtis Blow, wearing a wig and brown makeup. He apologized for this “one-time occurrence” and said it was a “minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then.” Northam and Herring are still in office despite calls for resignations, though far fewer have called for Herring’s resignation.

The Commonwealth Times, VCU’s student-run newspaper, earlier this month published racist photos from Richmond Public Institute and the Medical College of Virginia yearbooks, some pictures as recent as 1989.  

Photos showed students wearing blackface, enacting a “slave sale” and displaying violence toward Asian Americans. RPI and the Medical College of Virginia merged to form VCU in 1968.

These events opened old wounds, spotlighting the history of racism and Jim Crow in Virginia.

“Blackface is not and never was intended to be flattering, innocent or complimentary,” Thomas said.

Every panelist expressed concern over the lack of attention paid to the person in KKK robes in Northam’s yearbook picture.

“There aren't black voices standing up and saying, ‘yes the blackface is bad, but there's also a man in a KKK robe,’” Hankerson said.

“There aren't enough minority voices in journalism to guide the needed coverage,” she added, a thought echoed by other panelists.

Panelists also discussed the public's focus on racist images, instead of calling out racism in policy and culture.

“There is a certain amount of trauma that comes with viewing these images over and over,” Willis said. “There needs to be sensitivity when covering these stories.”

“Clearly it’s been a failure,” South said, adding that journalists didn’t properly vet Northam while he was running for office.

“The media needs to be more courageous about calling racist behavior racist,” Hankerson said.

South referenced a Halloween costume Northam wore last year depicting James Barbour, a slave owner who served as Virginia’s governor from 1812 to 1814 and said that there was no reaction to it until after the blackface scandal.

Panelists agreed and also pointed to Northam’s role in the recent State Air Pollution Control Board vote to allow Dominion Energy to build a compressor station in Buckingham County for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The decision will impact Union Hill, a predominantly black neighborhood.

Hankerson added that political change “can’t just come from black lawmakers,” saying it wasn’t their sole responsibility.

A key question of the night was posed by Williams -- the “why” that perpetuates racism.

“Because it is a benefit to people,” he asked, “how do you get someone to give up an advantage?”

The panel unanimously agreed that education is imperative to combat racism in America. How and when children are educated about racism should be a primary focus if the goal is to enact widespread institutional change.

“The body that we pay attention to is called the stream of information in society. We must pay close attention to the heart,” Thomas said, ”because the heart of the stream of information is truth.

“Protect it from the cancers that might invade it.”

Legislators Want All Capitol Meetings Video-Recorded

 

Transparency Caucus leaders Del. Mark Levine and Sen. Amanda Chase deliver their bipartisan group's letter to G. Paul Nardo, clerk of the Virginia House of Delegates.

By Owen FitzGerald, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — A bipartisan group of Virginia lawmakers is demanding that the General Assembly record and archive its subcommittee meetings — a critical part of the legislative process and the only proceedings not yet video-recorded by the state.

The demand was contained in a letter drafted by Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, and Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, co-founders of the Virginia Transparency Caucus. It was signed by 68 of the 100 members of the Virginia House of Delegates and 29 of the 40 state senators.

Virginia has been slower than other states to pull back the curtain on the legislative process. Floor sessions of the House and Senate were not archived until 2017. Committee hearings were not livestreamed and archived by the General Assembly until the Transparency Caucus pushed for that after the 2018 session. Virginia became the 42nd state to record such meetings.

In 2018, the advocacy group Progress Virginia began livestreaming subcommittee meetings as part of its Eyes on Richmond program. College interns use cellphones and tripods to stream video of the meetings to the Eyes on Richmond website.

Legislators recognize the importance of such transparency.

“Subcommittees are where the primary work of the General Assembly gets done,” Levine said. “More than half of all House legislation fails in subcommittee. It’s where the majority of bills get amended and discussed at length.”

He said that the public deserves access, not “just the lobbyists.”

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said that all Virginians, no matter how far from the Capitol, deserve to see their legislators in action. Rhyne believes the proposed policy is a “big step in the right direction.”

Levine and Chase presented their letter Sunday, the final day of the legislative session, to G. Paul Nardo, the clerk of the House of Delegates, and Susan Clarke Schaar, clerk of the Senate.

The letter “formally requests that both Clerks’ Offices maintain and provide to the public full audio and visual recordings of all the official business of the legislative subcommittees in the Virginia General Assembly that is open to the public.”

“I believe in full transparency,” Chase said, “and that the voters of our great Commonwealth should be able to see and witness those they have elected to office.”

This is the second time that the Transparency Caucus has asked legislative leaders to video-record subcommittee meetings. The group made a similar request in 2017.

The caucus was co-founded by Levine and Chase in 2016. At the beginning of the 2018 legislative session, the caucus persuaded House leaders to require that all subcommittee votes be recorded.

Efforts to Ratify ERA Fail on Tie Vote in House

By Kal Weinstein, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Despite a 24-hour vigil by advocates of the Equal Rights Amendment, House Republicans refused to allow a vote on ratifying the measure Thursday — officially killing the ERA for the year.

The defeat comes to the dismay of many who thought Virginia would be the 38th state to ratify the amendment, potentially adding it to the U.S. Constitution. Experts disagree whether the ERA can be ratified because the deadline to do so has passed.

More than two dozen advocates spent Wednesday night enduring freezing temperatures outside the Capitol building for an “equality vigil” organized by VAratifyERA. Throughout the event, which was live-streamed, supporters read letters from ERA allies and encouraged those watching from home to call their delegates.

Many Democratic leaders attended the vigil, including U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who represents the state’s 7th Congressional District; Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler of Virginia Beach; and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, showed up with pizza for participants.

“My mother, who does support the ERA, would be very disappointed if I didn’t bring you all food!” Roem said.

With bipartisan support, the Virginia Senate passed a resolution in January to ratify the ERA. However, the proposal died in the House Committee on Privileges and Elections -- and so it could not be considered by the full House of Delegates.

On Thursday, House Democrats attempted to introduce a rules change that would have allowed a simple majority vote to bring the ERA to the floor. The rules change failed on a 50-50 vote along party lines. One Republican -- Del. David Yancey of Newport News -- joined the 49 Democrats in voting for the rules change; all other Republicans voted against it.

Afterward, Del. Hala Ayala, D-Prince William, apologized to constituents.

“As elected officials, we have a moral obligation to listen to our constituents and let their voices be heard,” she said. “I am deeply sorry that did not happen.”

The ERA states that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Supporters say the amendment would be a move toward equal rights for women and men. But others argue there could be unintended consequences, such as co-ed prisons or women being drafted into the military -- claims that ERA supporters dispute.

With the ERA now effectively dead for the year, Democrats are turning their attention to the fall, when all 140 seats in the Virginia General Assembly are up for election. The House Democratic Caucus released a statement announcing the defeat but also urging supporters to be optimistic.  

“2019 is an election year here in Virginia,” the statement said. “This time next year, when the Democrats do have the majority, we will ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.”

Lawmakers OK Bills To Expand Access to CBD, THC-A Oils

By Serena Fischer and Ben Burstein, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- In the final weeks of its 2019 session, the General Assembly passed three bills that would help people using cannabis-derived medications.

On Saturday, the House and Senate gave final approval to a bill allowing students who have proper documentation to use CBD oil and THC-A oil at school.

SB 1632, sponsored by Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond, would prohibit schools from suspending or expelling a student for using CBD or THC-A oil with valid permission. The bill also would protect school nurses from prosecution of possessing and distributing the oils in accordance with school board policy.

Earlier in the month, legislators passed:

  • SB 1557, introduced by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico. It would allow physician assistants and licensed nurse practitioners to write a certification for cannabidiol oil and THC-A oil.

  • SB 1719, filed by Sen. David Marsden, D-Fairfax. It would allow patients receiving CBD or THC-A oil to designate a registered agent to pick up the medication on their behalf.

Dunnavant, the only physician in the Virginia Senate, has been an advocate for expanding access to medical cannabis.

“Allowing nurse practitioners to make treatment available will shorten the wait time and suffering for patients dealing with pain,” Dunnavant stated in support of SB 1557. “It is an effective way for physicians to offer low-cost and low risk remedies to their patients.”

Dunnavant hopes that expanding the use of cannabis-derived medications will help combat the growing opioid crisis.

“Overdose deaths related to prescribed opiates have decreased by 25 percent in states where medical marijuana programs are available. The potential side effects and risks of medically administered CBD and THC-A are far lower than opiates and many pharmaceutical drugs currently requiring a doctor’s prescription,” Dunnavant’s website states.

CBD, or cannabidiol, and THC-A, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, are two of the main compounds in the cannabis sativa plant.

Both components interact with cannabinoid receptors in the body that affect mood, pain, and memory. Neither contain the properties that produce a high. When raw, TCH-A has no psychoactive effects; only when burned does it become THC. Hemp, also a cannabis plant, is more widely used for CBD oil for its very low level of THC.

CBD and THC-A oils are used by many people to treat anxiety, migraines, nausea and other health problems. THC-A oils can achieve the same results as CBD oil but are less potent.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not endorse any CBD or THC-A medication with the exception of Epidiolex, used to treat seizures from two rare forms of epilepsy. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says it will support further research by the FDA into different components of cannabis.

“DEA will continue to support sound and scientific research that promotes legitimate therapeutic uses for FDA-approved constituent components of cannabis, consistent with federal law,” said Acting DEA Administrator Uttam Dhillon in a press release.

Virginia has moved slowly in allowing access to medical cannabis.

In 2015, the General Assembly passed legislation allowing CBD and THC-A oils only for the treatment of intractable epilepsy. Last year, lawmakers passed a bill sponsored by Dunnavant authorizing medical practitioners to recommend the oils to treat or ease the symptoms of any diagnosed disease or condition.

By expanding the definition of practitioner to include nurses, SB 1557 would make it even easier for Virginians to use the medical treatment.

“Expanding the availability of effective treatment options is both compassionate and practical,” Dunnavant said.

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.”

Most Virginians Don’t Want Officials to Resign, Poll Finds

 

By Emily Holter, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Virginians have low approval ratings of Gov. Ralph Northam and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, but most people say no one should resign or be impeached, according to a recent poll by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. It found that of the state’s three top officials, Attorney General Mark Herring is the best-positioned to remain in office.

Over the past month, the three leaders, all Democrats, have been under scrutiny after several scandals, and some politicians and groups have called for their resignations:

  • Two women have accused Fairfax of sexual assault -- allegations he has denied.

  • Northam has been in hot water after the discovery of a photograph in his medical school yearbook showing a man in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan garb. Northam initially apologized for the photograph and then denied he was in the picture. He later admitted to putting “a little bit of” shoe polish on his face to imitate Michael Jackson in a 1984 dance competition.

  • After calling for Northam’s resignation, Attorney General Mark Herring apologized for wearing blackface when he was 19 years old to imitate a rapper.

With that backdrop, U.Va.’s Center for Politics asked a representative sample of Virginia adults about their opinions of Northam, Fairfax and Herring.

The poll found that of the three leaders, more people believe Fairfax should quit. Thirty-five percent believe Fairfax should resign, and 28 percent favored impeachment.

Only 17 percent of Virginians approve of the governor’s job performance. However, only 31 percent of respondents say he should resign, and 21 percent believe he should be impeached.
According to the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, there was a strong racial divide over whether Fairfax should resign. Thirty-nine percent of white respondents said they favored his resignation, compared with only 8 percent of black respondents.

Of the three officials, Herring had the fewest number of people suggesting he resign (19 percent) or be impeached (14 percent).

The poll involved interviewing 636 adults from Feb. 15-19. It had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Virginia Lawmakers Increase Animal Abuse Penalty to Felony

The memorial for Tommie, a dog that was tied to a pole and set on fire in Richmond.

Adrian Teran Tapia and Mario Sequeira Quesada, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Every state in America, and at least nine countries. That is how far the story of Tommie, a dog tied to a pole and set on fire, traveled as people rallied for his survival and donated money for his treatment. Tommie suffered burns on 40 percent of his body after he was doused in an accelerant and set on fire in a Richmond park. Despite round-the-clock care, he died five days after rescue.

If the dog had survived the attack, under current law the person responsible could have faced only a Class 1 misdemeanor charge punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a fine up to $2,500.

That’s why the crowd following Tommie’s story turned its attention to SB 1604, introduced by Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach. The bill would increase the penalty for animal abuse from a misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony, which can draw up to five years in prison.

Five days after Tommie’s death, the House passed the bill unanimously Wednesday. It cleared the Senate unanimously on Feb. 5.

Under current law, a person can only be charged with a felony if the cat or dog dies. DeSteph’s bill would make the penalty of torturing a cat or dog a Class 6 felony regardless of whether the animal survives. DeSteph said he introduced the bill after a dog named Sugar was attacked by her owner with a machete. Because the dog did not die, the owner was only charged with a misdemeanor. DeSteph said that the act alone should warrant the felony charge, not the outcome of it.

"People who torture a dog, or any animal like this, their next step is to go after a human," DeSteph said. "They're truly a threat to public safety and to society and should be dealt with severely."

House co-sponsor Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, said Tommie’s story helped the bill gain more support. She said some members of the Animal Welfare Caucus even suggested the legislation be named “Tommie's Bill.”

Robert Leinberger is an animal control supervisor with Richmond Animal Care and Control, the city shelter that led Tommie’s rescue and recovery efforts. He said donations poured in from around the world for Tommie, which boosted the reward to $25,000 to help find and convict his attacker, who is still at large.

Tabitha Treloar, with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said SB 1604 empowers the SPCA’s mission to protect more animals.

“There is a big gap in the current law. It does not consider the advances of veterinary medicine,” Treloar said.

Treloar said that veterinarians can often save animals from critical injuries, which helps the attacker avoid felony charges. That could have happened in Tommie’s case.

“It was sickening what happened to him,” she said. “The bill is a big step that I think the commonwealth can take to demonstrate that this type of cruelty will not be tolerated.”

Leinberger, who has worked in animal control for 27 years, called Tommie’s case “by far one of the worst cases of cruelty” he had ever seen. “What is really scary is what will be next, or even worse -- who will be next.”

He encouraged people to report the first sign of cruelty.

“If you even think of mistreating an animal, don’t,” Leinberger said, adding that there are many ways to find a pet a new and safe home.

Shaun McCracken agreed. She rescued her 7-year-old dog Pippin, who was suffering from a severe joint illness.

“The SPCA changed my life,” the theater professor said at a recent “Dog Kissing Booth” fundraiser. “She is better because of the care, time and effort they put in her.”

McCracken said Tommie’s case really affected her and that something must be done to avoid future tragedies.

“I think this person should never be allowed near any animal, or any human being,” she said.

DeSteph said that party lines don’t and shouldn’t matter when it comes to animal welfare legislation. “We have great laws in place regarding animal protection, but I think this is one that had gaps to fill.”

RACC receives one or two cases of negligent animal cruelty a week, Leinberger said. He hopes the passage of SB 1604 will help reduce the number of attacks.

“It has been a roller coaster of emotions, almost every single emotion you can think of,” he said.

More than 6,000 people signed up to attend a memorial service for Tommie. As a result, RACC has been holding open houses for members of the public to pay their respects to the dog.

An open house will be held 2-7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and noon-5 p.m. on Saturday at the city shelter, 1600 Chamberlayne Ave.

Anyone with information about the crime can contact Metro Richmond Crime Stoppers at 804- 780-1000.

Assembly OKs Bills to Address Housing and Eviction Issues

By Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — A flurry of bills addressing affordable housing and high eviction rates in Virginia cities moved forward in the House and Senate this week.

Three bills on those issues have passed both chambers and have been sent to Gov. Ralph Northam to be signed into law. Several other measures have passed one chamber and are awaiting a floor vote in the other.

Democratic lawmakers have been pushing for solutions to the affordable housing crisis since the Eviction Lab, a research group at Princeton University, found that of the 10 cities with the highest eviction rates in the United States, five are in Virginia: Richmond, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk and Chesapeake.

“Every Virginian deserves a safe place to call home,” said Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Charles City. He is sponsoring HB 2229, which would allow localities to waive building fees for affordable housing developments.

“By supporting more affordable housing, we can address the devastating impacts of Virginia’s high eviction rates,” Bagby said.

The Eviction Lab found that the problem of evictions disproportionately impacts minority communities. Richmond has the second-highest eviction rate in the country.

“Housing eviction rates in our commonwealth are a disgrace,” said Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton. “It is no secret that the laws and regulations around eviction in Virginia are intentionally vague and disproportionately target our most vulnerable communities.”

Of eight bills introduced in the House and Senate, three have passed both chambers:

  • HB 2054, introduced by Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, requires landlords to provide a written rental agreement to tenants.
  • HB 1681, introduced by Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, expands eligibility for the housing choice voucher tax credit to low-income communities in Hampton Roads.
  • SB 1448, introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, changes the terminology from writ of possession to writ of eviction for the writ executed by a sheriff to recover real property pursuant to an order of possession. The bill specifies that an order of possession remains effective for 180 days after being granted by the court and clarifies that any writ of eviction not executed within 30 days of its issuance shall be vacated as a matter of law.

Five other affordable housing bills are awaiting a floor vote in the House or Senate with about a week left in the session. Virginia House Democrats said in a press release Wednesday that they are committed to implementing affordable housing reform and protecting vulnerable communities from evictions.

“The displacement of vulnerable communities is not the nationwide record we want to be setting in the commonwealth,” said Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond.

Assembly Repeals ‘Jim Crow’ Minimum Wage Exemptions

By Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — A Democratic bill to repeal a Jim Crow era-law that legalized wage discrimination against many African-Americans is headed to the governor’s desk after being approved by the House of Delegates.

The bill, SB 1079, rescinds the law that allows employers to pay less than minimum wage to “newsboys, shoe-shine boys, ushers, doormen, concession attendants and theater cashiers” — jobs to which many African-Americans were relegated decades ago.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, said the exemptions were rooted in Virginia’s history of discrimination against African-Americans.

“It’s clear that this law was put into place to keep African-American Virginians from advancing,” Spruill said. “Hardworking Virginians deserve wage protections, regardless of the job that they do. I am proud to champion this long overdue legislation and to witness its bipartisan passage in the General Assembly.”

Spruill’s bill also eliminates the minimum wage exemption for babysitters if they work more than 10 hours per week.

The measure passed the Senate, 37-3, on Jan. 18. Last Wednesday, the House voted 18-14 in favor of a modified version of the bill. And on Friday, the Senate unanimously approved that version and sent it to Gov. Ralph Northam to be signed into law.

In 2018, Del. Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria, carried a bill with the same intent, and it died in committee. Krizek said the minimum-wage exemptions were “obviously aimed at African Americans who were in these service jobs because those were the jobs they could get at the time.”

Virginia Joins States to Sue Trump Over Wall Funding

By Jayla Marie McNeill, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Virginia has joined a coalition of 15 other states to challenge President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency and to block the diversion of congressional funding to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.

“Concocting a fake emergency to build a needless wall goes against the Constitution and the values America was built on,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement.

“President Trump’s ill-advised plan could divert critical funds from actual national security priorities, including military construction projects at bases and facilities throughout Virginia. We must stand up to this administration when it violates the law and attacks our values.”

According Herring’s statement, the complaint was filed to block Trump’s “fabricated” national emergency declaration and the “unconstitutional” diversion of appropriated federal funding to pay for the construction of the border wall.

On Friday, Trump said he would declare a national emergency in order to bypass Congress to fund the construction of a wall along the southern border.

The White House released a statement stating that the president has “clear authority” to declare a national emergency and that Trump is taking “necessary steps” to “ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at our Southern Border.”

“We fight wars that are 6,000 miles away, wars that we should have never been in in many cases, but we don’t control our own border,” Trump said in his speech Friday at the White House. “So we are going to confront the national-security crisis on our southern border. And we are going to do it one way or the other.”

The administration estimated that the national emergency declaration will make over $8 billion in taxpayer funds available to build the border wall.

Other states participating in the lawsuit includes Hawaii, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, New York and California.

The states contend that Trump’s emergency declaration is only a means to justify using federal funding to pay for his border wall.

“The states allege that the Trump Administration’s action exceeds the power of the executive office, violates the U.S. Constitution and federal statutes, and would illegally and unconstitutionally divert federal funds appropriated by Congress for other purposes,” Herring’s statement said.

“The suit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to block the emergency declaration, the construction of the wall, and any illegal diversion of congressionally-appropriated funds.”

According to the attorney general’s statement, Virginia could potentially lose over $130 million in military construction funding — money that is currently allocated for projects at Dam Neck, Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Belvoir, Humphreys Engineer Center, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, and the Pentagon.

Trump said that he expected his contentious national emergency declaration to prompt lawsuits. He remains confident, however, that his decision will be upheld by the Supreme Court, similar to the way his 2017 travel ban was upheld by the court in a 5-4 decision.

“We will have a national emergency and we will then be sued,” Trump said. “Hopefully we will get a fair shake and win in the Supreme Court just like the ban.”

Law Would Protect Elderly Against Financial Crimes

By Jayla Marie McNeill, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — With bipartisan support, legislation headed toward approval in the General Assembly may help protect elderly residents and other vulnerable adults against financial exploitation by giving financial institutions more tools to help prevent this crime.

Both the House and Senate have passed versions of SB 1490, but the two chambers must resolve their differences over the measure. “This bill addresses the issue of financial exploitation of older Virginians, which has been on the rise in recent years,” said the sponsor, Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham.

Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, is sponsoring HB 1987, the companion bill in the House. That measure was unanimously approved by the House last month and, in a slightly different version, by the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee on Friday.

“I think it’s important for people to pay close attention to elderly folks and how they may be financially exploited. We’re all getting older, there are more of us and we’ve got to watch out for each other,” said Toscano, the House minority leader.

“This bill helps encourage banking institutions to do that.”

Toscano’s and Obenshain’s proposals would give financial institutions the ability to “refuse to execute a transaction, delay a transaction, or refuse to disburse funds” if the institutions believe in “good faith” that the “transaction or disbursement may involve, facilitate, result in, or contribute to the financial exploitation of an adult.”

“What we’ve been finding is that sometimes, elderly people are exploited by their caregivers or some relative by taking them to the bank and removing cash from their accounts. Once the cash is removed, it’s hard to get it back,” Toscano said.

“So this gives lending institution some more teeth to make sure that they’re not giving away the money of folks who are being exploited and can essentially stop it before it happens.”

The legislation also would grant the financial institution’s staff immunity from civil or criminal liability for refusing to process transactions or for reporting suspicious financial activity as long as these actions are taken with due cause.

“Often the tellers at bank branches are in the last position to identify and stop these crimes, but too often they feel helpless because they cannot stop or delay suspicious transactions,” Obenshain said. “This bill will empower these bank employees to help protect vulnerable older Virginians.”

The financial exploitation of vulnerable adults is a widespread yet hidden problem.

The National Adult Protective Services Association identifies vulnerable adults as anyone who is “targeted due to age or disability, isolation, reliance on caregivers, or decreased physical or mental capacity.”

According to the association, 1 in 9 seniors has been “abused, neglected or exploited,” and 1 in 20 cases involves financial exploitation. About 90 percent of abusers are family members, caregivers or other individuals in a position of trust.

The Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitation Services reported 1,016 substantiated cases of financial exploitation in fiscal year 2015. But because most cases go unreported, the agency estimated there were more than 44,000 incidents of exploitation that year, costing elderly or incapacitated victims potentially more than $1.2 billion.

The average financial loss per victim was about $28,000, state officials found.

State lawmakers have been trying to address the problem since 2013, but legislation has failed in previous years. In 2016, for example, Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, introduced a bill nearly identical to HB 1987; it died in a House subcommittee.

Toscano is confident that the legislation will pass this year after House and Senate members iron out their relatively minor differences.

“I think that we will resolve the technical differences, and it will pass,” he said.

How to report elder abuse

To report suspected adult abuse, neglect or exploitation, call your local Department of Social Services or the 24-hour, toll-free Adult Protective Services hotline at 888-832-3858.

Assembly OKs Bills to Address Housing and Eviction Issues

By Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- A flurry of bills addressing affordable housing and high eviction rates in Virginia cities moved forward in the House and Senate this week.

Three bills on those issues have passed both chambers and have been sent to Gov. Ralph Northam to be signed into law. Several other measures have passed one chamber and are awaiting a floor vote in the other.

Democratic lawmakers have been pushing for solutions to the affordable housing crisis in Virginia since RVA Eviction Lab found that of the 10 cities with the highest eviction rates in the United States, five are in Virginia.

“Every Virginian deserves a safe place to call home,” said Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Charles City. He is sponsoring HB 2229, which would allow localities to waive building fees for affordable housing developments.

“By supporting more affordable housing, we can address the devastating impacts of Virginia’s high eviction rates,” Bagby said.

Richmond, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk and Chesapeake have the highest rates of eviction in the state, according to a recent report published by Eviction Lab, a problem that disproportionately impacts minority communities. Richmond has the second-highest eviction rate in the country.

“Housing eviction rates in our commonwealth are a disgrace,” said Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton. “It is no secret that the laws and regulations around eviction in Virginia are intentionally vague and disproportionately target our most vulnerable communities.”

Of eight bills introduced in the House and Senate, three have passed both chambers:

  • HB 2054 - Introduced by Del. Betsy Carr, D-Chesterfield, requires landlords to provide a written rental agreement to tenants.

  • HB 1681 - Introduced by Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, expands eligibility for the housing choice voucher tax credit to low-income communities in Hampton Roads.

  • SB 1448 - Introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, changes the terminology from writ of possession to writ of eviction for the writ executed by a sheriff to recover real property pursuant to an order of possession. The bill specifies that an order of possession remains effective for 180 days after being granted by the court and clarifies that any writ of eviction not executed within 30 days of its issuance shall be vacated as a matter of law.

Five other affordable housing bills are awaiting a floor vote in the House or Senate with just under two weeks left in the session. Virginia House Democrats said in a press release Wednesday that they are committed to implementing affordable housing reform and protecting vulnerable communities from evictions.

“The displacement of vulnerable communities is not the nationwide record we want to be setting in the commonwealth,” said Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond.

Critics Say Tax Relief Legislation Would Widen Racial Inequities

By Emily Holter, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Members of progressive groups are seeking to hold Gov. Ralph Northam to his promise to focus the remainder of his term on racial equity and to help reconcile Virginia’s long history of racial inequity.

That is why advocacy organizations said the major tax relief deal crafted by Virginia lawmakers — on the heels of a scandal over a racist picture in Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook — would hurt low-income minority groups if the governor signs it into law.

Northam has faced demands to resign since the yearbook photo surfaced on Feb. 1. The governor has said he does not plan to quit and will focus instead on improving opportunities for black Virginians.

Representatives of Progress Virginia, which has called for Northam’s resignation, said the tax plan “falls short of this professed new goal.”

Progress Virginia and other organizations made that point at a press conference this week to discuss the bills passed by the House and Senate to revise the 2018-2020 state budget. The governor has expressed support for the legislation.

“We call upon state lawmakers to seize this opportunity to strengthen these bills to make them so that they do not widen inequities in our state but take needed steps to address them,” said Michael Cassidy, president and CEO of The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis.

Republicans who control the General Assembly have touted the budget bills as giving nearly $1 billion in tax relief to Virginia taxpayers. On Monday, the legislation passed 95-4 in the House and 35-5 in the Senate — large enough majorities to take effect immediately upon the governor’s signature.

The legislation would provide tax rebates of $110 for individual filers and $220 for married couples. And it would raise the standard deduction by 50 percent, the first such change for individual filers since 1989. The legislation also would conform Virginia tax law to the newly revised federal tax law, ensuring that Virginians can file their state taxes without complications this May.

“I am proud of the hard work that has gone into crafting this bipartisan legislation that will put more money in the pockets of hard-working Virginians,” House Speaker Kirk Cox said. “This legislation represents the most significant tax relief package in the commonwealth in at least 15 years.”

However, the groups at Monday’s press conference said the budget bills would cut funding for programs that disproportionately affect minority communities.

For example, the legislation would cut $133 million in support to public schools and specifically for programs serving at-risk youth, according to James Fedderman, vice president of the Virginia Education Association.

“The greater the proportion of students of color a school division has, the more they stand to lose from the funding provisions,” Fedderman said. “Unless these budget provisions are corrected, many of the school divisions with the highest need will lose out.”

Funding to support the 2020 census would also be cut, according to Alexandria Bratton, program manager at the Virginia Civic Engagement Table, a nonprofit group that focuses on economic justice and other issues.

The national headcount, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau every 10 years, determines the number of congressional seats each state gets and the amount of federal money allocated for public assistance and other programs.

The budget approved by the General Assembly last year included $1.5 million for efforts to encourage Virginians to participate in the census. The bills to revise the budget would eliminate that funding.

Welfare programs for low-income residents could be impacted if the census undercounts the population, Bratton said.

“A representative census is critical to advance racial equity in Virginia,” she said. “The decision to eliminate [census participation] funds demonstrates a concerning apathy on behalf of our elected leaders toward overcoming our history of racial discrimination to build a Virginia that works for all of us, no exceptions.”

Advocates urged state officials to revise the tax bills to address such issues.

“Our state lawmakers have said they want to tackle issues of racial inequity, and now is the time for them to roll up their sleeves and do so,” Cassidy said.

New Law Would Protect Students Who Use CBD and THC-A Oils

By Ben Burstein, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Legislation to protect Virginia students who use cannabidiol oil is still making its way through the House after being unanimously passed by the Senate.  

SB 1632, sponsored by Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond, requires local school boards to implement policies that keep students from being suspended or expelled if they have “valid written certification” to use CBD and THC-A oil. While both oils are derived from the cannabis plant, neither have an intoxicating effect on those who use it to manage pain and other ailments.

Parents are required to provide written consent, along with details on the reason for use from the practitioner who issued the certificate and pharmaceutical processor that issued the oil. Schools must also be notified of the authorized dosage amount, and when and how it needs to be administered.

CBD and THC-A oils have grown in popularity in recent years with many using them to  treat chronic pain, anxiety, attention disorders and seizures.

In Virginia, doctors and nurse practitioners can prescribe cannabis-based products. The Board of Pharmacy gave approval to pharmaceutical companies to open five dispensaries across the state to sell CBD and THC-A oils to authorized patients. Last week, legislators killed a House bill to double the number of medical cannabis dispensaries.

Stephanie Anderson, whose son takes ADHD medication, said she is looking into how CBD oil might help him. She said she would want him to be allowed to use the medication at school if it benefits him.

“If we find CBD to be beneficial, I'd want it to be just as easy for him to take at school as the Adderall,” she said.

Two other bills related to medical cannabis cleared the state legislature Wednesday, both with 98-0 votes.

SB 1557, sponsored by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, expands the amount tetrahydrocannabinol, the principal psychoactive component in cannabis, in a CBD or THC-A dose from five to 10 milligrams. Advocates have said that the increase will serve patients turning to the oil for therapeutic purposes. The bill also requires the Secretary of Health and Human Resources and the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry to recommend how a state medical marijuana program will be managed.

SB 1719, sponsored by Sen. David Marsden, D-Fairfax, allows patients receiving CBD or THC-A oil to designate a registered agent to pick up on their behalf, and that person cannot be charged with possession of an illegal substance. The bill establishes a limit on how many patients an agent can represent.

Music Therapy Remains an Uncertified Medical Practice in Virginia

By Kathleen Shaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Patients who rely on music therapy to overcome trauma may remain susceptible to receiving unqualified care after a House subcommittee watered down a bill by Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel.

Vogel, a Republican from Fauquier County, introduced Senate Bill 1547 in early January. It unanimously passed the Senate last week and was considered Tuesday by a subcommittee of the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions.

Vogel’s bill aims to create one year of registration through the Board of Medicine for music therapists to ensure the practice is only administered by trained professionals.

Music therapy as medical practice is recognized in nine states through a board of certification. Currently, there are 227 board-certified music therapists in Virginia, but the service can be provided without qualifications.

Becky Watson, owner of Music for Wellness in Norfolk, was in the Navy for 25 years and now treats a variety of patients, including veterans, at her music therapy clinic. Watson said allowing untrained musical therapy practices can have harmful effects on patients.

“Music is made up of many elements ... There are many benefits of using rhythm as a therapeutic intervention,” Watson said. “Music also has the potential to be harmful by causing extreme anger, irritability, physical violence and depression as the music selected can be connected or a reminder of a traumatic effect.”

Del. Robert Orrock Sr., R-Caroline, is a member of the subcommittee who opposed SB 1547 as originally written. He said the Virginia Department of Health Professions needed time to develop a certification process for the industry.

The subcommittee approved a substitute bill that directs the department to “evaluate whether music therapists and the practice of music therapy should be regulated and the degree of regulation to be imposed.” The board would have to report its findings to legislators by Nov. 1.

The subcommittee adopted the substitute bill on a 6-0 vote. It now will go to the full committee and, if approved, to the entire House of Delegates.

“The department is going to come back with a recommendation which may be adverse or it may be requiring more than just a registration, true certification. The intent is not to do harm to the underlying premise that the profession has merit in the service,” Orrock said.

Virginia native Forrest Allen suffered brain injuries from a snowboarding accident when he was 18. Doctors predicted he could remain in an indefinite coma with major physical and cognitive trauma. Within three years, Allen had made large strides in his recovery through music therapy, which was the subject of a story in The Washington Postand the documentary “Music Got Me Here.

Vogel said state oversight is important in ensuring that music therapists are qualified to help people.

“Music therapy has a clinical setting, a school setting, a rehabilitation setting — sometimes life-changing, life-saving impacts,” she said.

New Law Seeks to Treat Pets More Humanely

tethered-puggle

By Mario Sequeira Quesada, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. — The saying goes “a dog is man’s best friend” — and that’s exactly what Sen. Lionell Spruill said he wanted when he was a boy. When he couldn’t have a pet, he began to notice how some dogs in his neighborhood were mistreated — left out overnight and in extreme weather.

The Democratic senator from Chesapeake said those memories prompted his bill to regulate the tethering of animals and improve their shelter conditions. SB 1025passed the Senate, 29-11.

On Tuesday, the House Rules Committee heard the bill and referred it to the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources for consideration.

Under the bill, companion animals could not be tied up during a heat advisory or if a severe weather warning has been issued, including hurricanes, tropical storms or tornado warnings. Spruill proposed specific temperature regulations — under 32 degrees and over 85 degrees — but they were removed when the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources amended the bill.

Under existing state law, the rope, chain or other tether restraining an animal outside can be as short as 3 feet. Spruill’s bill would change the minimum tethering length to 15 feet or four times the length of the animal — whichever is greater. The measure would prohibit attaching weights or other heavy objects to the tether.

“It is the wrong thing to do to keep an animal and don’t treat it properly,” Spruill said. “If you have an animal, treat it as you would treat a person.”

Calls from people concerned about animals left outside usually spike at Richmond Animal Care and Control during extreme temperatures. Animal control supervisor Robert Leinberger said the bill would be a step toward protecting animals, but he is uncertain how well it would work across the state.

“Localities count, with different needs and possibilities. They should have the right to decide their own tethering rules,” Leinberger said.

The main problem is that each locality would have different resources to deal with these issues, he said.

The bill would authorize local governments to adopt ordinances that parallel or are tougher than state law. It also exempts animals involved in agriculture or huntingfrom the rules on tethering and extreme weather.

Many pet owners support efforts to ensure that animals are treated humanely.

“There should be rules to keep the animals inside and in well-conditioned shelters,” said Jonathan Winebrenner, a Falls Church resident who owns two dogs. He said protection from severe winter elements is key, but people don’t consider how harsh summer can also be.

“I am more worried about when it’s hot,” Winebrenner said. “The pavement can ruin their paws, and the dogs can dehydrate.”

Spruill says people should follow the Golden Rule in treating a pet. “Treat it as how you treat yourself. If you are cold, you come inside. Do the same for the animal.”

He said getting the bill through the Senate was a difficult journey.

“You would be surprised by the amount of challenges I’ve faced to get this bill passed,” he said. “I ask them [delegates] to have compassion and don’t vote the bill down.”

The House of Delegates has indicated that it may support legislation to require a longer tether for animals.

Like Spruill’s bill, HB 1827, proposed by Del. Robert Orrock, R-Caroline, sought to mandate that tethers be 15 feet long or four times the length of the animal. Orrock’s bill won approval from the House but was killed last week in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources.

Virginia Expresses ‘Profound Regret’ for History of Lynchings

By Kaytlin Nickens, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Outlining a “dark and shameful chapter of American history,” state legislators have unanimously passed resolutions to “acknowledge with profound regret the existence and acceptance of lynching” in Virginia, where more than 80 people — mostly African-American men — were killed by mobs in the decades after the Civil War.

HJ 655, approved by the House, and SJ 297, passed by the Senate, “call for reconciliation among all Virginians” regarding the racial terror, segregation and other discrimination faced by African-Americans during the Jim Crow years.

According to the identical resolutions, the state will document the lynchings online and with historic markers. The goal is to “develop programming to bring awareness and recognition of this history to communities across the state, that such awareness might contribute to the process of healing and reconciliation in Virginia’s still-wounded communities and for families and descendants affected by lynchings.”

The resolutions note that more than 4,000 lynchings took place throughout the South between 1877 and 1950. At least 80 lynchings — some scholars say more than 100 — occurred in Virginia.

“African American men, women, and children lived in fear that their lives and the lives of loved ones could end violently at any time and in any place,” the resolutions stated. The lynchings were often public events, drawing thousands of spectators, “and many leaders and authorities and much of society denied and enabled the illegal and horrific nature of the acts.”

The General Assembly passed an anti-lynching law in 1928, which made such killings a state crime. But “the extreme racial animus, violence, and terror embodied in the act of lynching did not die with the criminalization of the act, and few, if any, prosecutions occurred under the measure,” the resolutions stated.

Del. Delores McQuinn introduced HJ 655, and a fellow Richmond Democrat — Sen. Jennifer McClellan — filed SJ 297. Both resolutions were co-sponsored by more than 30 other legislators, including Republicans and Democrats.

The resolutions, which passed last week, come during a public debate over racial insensitivity in state politics. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring have been under fire for wearing blackface as college students during the 1980s. And Sen. Thomas Norment, the majority leader in the Senate, was an editor of his 1968 college yearbook, which included racist images.

According to the resolutions, the state’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources will document each lynching in the commonwealth as completely as possible. The details will include the victim’s name and the location and circumstances of the lynching.

In recent years, historians have put a more intense focus on lynching in the United States.

The nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative documented more than 4,000 lynchings in the South and last year opened the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. The memorial is “dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.”

Gianluca De Fazio, an assistant professor of justice studies at James Madison University, created a website documenting more than 100 lynchings in Virginia.“Racial Terror: Lynching in Virginia, 1877 to 1927” has details on each lynching. While 85 of the victims were black, 24 were white. Almost all were men, but two were female.

De Fazio said lynching was a form of state-sanctioned terrorism.

“Many stereotypes of black people that justified the illegal execution of people suspected of committing certain crimes, or in certain cases of just violating some racial etiquette, are still alive,” De Fazio said. “Mass incarceration, especially of young African American men, is in part the legacy of this tradition of controlling black bodies through coercion.”

Shawn Utsey, who chairs the Department of African-American Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, believes that the General Assembly resolutions do not go far enough because they do not explicitly apologize for lynching.

“They need to apologize — otherwise, I doubt their sincerity,” Utsey said.

The resolutions use the word apology in this context: “The most abject apology for past wrongs cannot right them; yet the spirit of true repentance on behalf of a government and, through it, a people can promote reconciliation and healing and avert the repetition of past wrongs and the disregard of manifested injustices.”

The resolutions go on to state: “The legacy of racism that outlived slavery, enabled the rise and acceptance of lynching, facilitated segregation and disenfranchisement, and denied education and civil rights to African Americans has yet to be uprooted in Virginia, the South, and the nation, and this dark and shameful chapter of American history must be understood, acknowledged, and fully documented and the seemingly irreparable breach mended.”

Four Bills Target Nicotine Products and Underage Smoking

By Alexandra Zernik, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Today’s teenagers are less likely to smoke cigarettes, but that doesn’t mean they’ve given up nicotine. Vapes, Juuls and other alternative nicotine products have taken over the industry and sparked an increase in the rate of young people addicted to nicotine at epidemic levels, health officials say.

Virginia legislators are looking to navigate this uncharted territory by passing laws that define and regulate the newly prevalent industry. Last week, the House passed HB 2384, requiring school boards to ban all tobacco and nicotine vapor products from school buses, school property and on-site and off-site school-sponsored events. Current law only regulates e-cigarettes.

The House also unanimously approved HB 1881, requiring public elementary and secondary schools to add the dangers of vaping products and the negative health effects of “alternative nicotine” to all curriculums.

“We want to make sure the kids learn about this,” said Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax. “It’s not just the fact that vaping is now so prevalent and kids can buy it online and what have you, which is supposed to be illegal. It’s the fact that kids just think, ‘Ah, it’s not a big deal. All I’m doing is vaping air. Why should that be bad?’ Well, there’s a lot we don’t know about.”

Keam is the chief sponsor of HB 1881 and a chief co-sponsor of HB 2384. They target the growing use of alternative nicotine products -- a trend that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently called an epidemic. The FDA said the spike in e-cigarette use could “reverse the substantial public health gains” made by reducing tobacco use.

“It’s clear we have a problem with access to, and appeal of these products to kids, and we’re committed to utilizing the full range of our regulatory authorities to directly target the places kids are getting these products and address the role flavors and marketing are playing in youth initiation,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D.

Gottlieb also criticized Altria of backing away from its earlier promise to help combat teen vaping, after the Richmond-based tobacco giant purchased a 35 percent share of JUUL for $12.8 million.

According to the Truth Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to ending tobacco use, 63 percent of users don’t know JUULs always contain nicotine. And lawmakers like Keam say they can be physically dangerous, citing a recent e-cigarette explosion.

“We don’t even know how dangerous it is because people are dying from ways that we didn’t even anticipate. Kids need to understand, these are not toys that they can play around with,” Keam said

SB 1371, which passed the Senate and is working its way through the House, would define the products that are taxed like cigarettes to include “alternative nicotine product, heated tobacco product, liquid nicotine, and nicotine vapor product.”

“Because the technology is changing so rapidly and industries are developing around this, we decided that it would make sense to have some clear definitions of what these products are,” Keam said. “We want to make sure that we use the latest and most comprehensive definition because the definition by itself is changing while we’re sitting here.”

A fourth bill targeting tobacco products, HB 2748, unanimously passed the House last Tuesday. The bill would raise the minimum age from 18 to 21 to buy not only tobacco products but also nicotine vapor products and alternative nicotine products as well. Speaker of the House, Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, has credited Altria for their support of the legislation.    

The Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth is promoting a “Tobacco-Free Spirit Day” Wednesday, in which the organization will celebrate Virginia school divisions with “100 percent comprehensive tobacco-free and e-cigarette-free policies.”

“While all school divisions in Virginia have policies prohibiting tobacco use,” the organization stated in a press release, “only 40 out of 132 school divisions in Virginia currently have 100 percent comprehensive policies that prohibit the use, possession, and distribution of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, by anyone, anytime, anywhere on school property or at school events.”

Virginia Legislature Makes Moves to Keep Tuition Down

By Adrian Teran-Tapia, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Virginia’s General Assembly hopes to address rising college tuition costs by offering public universities incentives to cap tuition rates and ensuring that the public can comment on proposed tuition increases.  

State budget amendments proposed by the House Appropriations Committee include an additional $45 million in funding for universities that decide not to raise tuition.

 Under the proposal, each university that freezes tuition rates for the year would receive a share of the $45 million. Large universities, like Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason, Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia, would receive $5 million to $6 million in extra funding.

Del. David Reid, D-Loudoun, proposed HB 2476 last month to cap tuition increases for institutions that have raised their tuition more than the state average over the preceding 10 years. His bill was killed Tuesday by the House Appropriations Committee.

Reid, who has been working on college affordability for the past two years, expressed hope rather than disappointment and said the budget proposal is a step in the right direction.

"There are different ways to approach [college affordability], and the members of the Appropriations Committee took a different approach," Reid said. "It may be that they already had this in the works, but I'm glad that we've at least gotten partially a good solution for the students and families of Virginia."

Reid applauded his colleagues and their efforts toward affordable higher education but said more needs to be done.

"I'm really pleased that we have this one-year solution in place, and it acknowledges that we as a state need to do more to make sure college remains affordable," Reid said. "However, so long as universities can opt out, this agreement does not go far enough. I'll continue to seek solutions that work for Virginia families."

In the Senate, Sen. J. Chapman Petersen, D-Fairfax, also has introduced legislation to help families with the rising cost of college. SB 1118, the "Tuition Transparency Act," would require universities to inform the public of any proposed increase in undergraduate tuition or mandatory fees and allow for public comment. Petersen’s bill passed the Senate unanimously Tuesday and was referred to the House Committee on Education.

"I'm about transparency. Period," Petersen said. "Here at the General Assembly, and in towns and cities across Virginia, public officials are required to have public meetings prior to increasing your taxes. Tuition shouldn't be any different."

Senate OKs Bill Requiring Daycare Facilities to Test Water for Lead

By Ben Burstein, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Over 5,000 child care facilities around the state must start testing their drinking water for lead or use bottled water under a bill approved by the Virginia Senate.

SB 1622, introduced by Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, would require licensed child care facilities and other programs that serve preschoolers to implement a plan to test their potable water to ensure lead levels do not exceed 15 parts per billion. The bill passed the Senate unanimously on Tuesday and has been sent to the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions.

The high priority sources of lead come from drinking fountains and various sinks and faucets, according to the bill.

Older infrastructure has a higher risk of lead contamination due to lead pipes that were used until the 1980s. The bill also outlines the testing and follow-up process, in addition to establishing a method of reporting information to parents and state authorities.

Facilities would be required to test every six months in accordance with state and federal standards. They could opt out by using an alternate water source that meets U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards, such as bottled water. Child care centers are required to notify parents of children if they decide not to perform testing.

Facilities would have to notify the commissioner of the Virginia Department of Social Services and the Department of Health’s Office of Drinking Water if they went that route.

Initial testing results and proof of remediation would be reported to the same departments. According to the bill, once lead is brought under 15 parts per billion, facilities continue to test the water every six months.

More than 5,850 child care facilities statewide could be impacted by the legislation, state officials said. The Virginia Department of Health estimated that each facility has three to 15 water sources to test. The VDH also estimated that 50 percent of facilities would choose not to test and instead use an alternate source, such as bottled water.

Water containing lead can be especially harmful to developing children. High levels of lead in blood or prolonged exposure can affect the nervous system and cause developmental problems and learning disabilities, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

State outreach has cranked up in recent years to help raise awareness about lead in drinking water. The EPA created the “3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools and Child Care Facilities “to guide school officials to “train, test, and take action” if lead is detected in the water.

Maribeth Brewster, director of the office of communications for VDH, declined to provide comment for this story, citing the ongoing legislative process.

A bill introduced by McPike was signed into law in 2017, requiring Virginia schools — with special emphasis on schools built before 1986 — to test potable water

Advocates Still Pushing for Virginia to Ratify ERA

By Kal Weinstein, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- You would never know from the gathering of more than 50 ERA advocates this week that resolutions to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment died in a House of Delegates committee last month.

Despite opposition to the ERA from House Republicans, legal and business experts are still making the case that the U.S. Constitution should be amended to guarantee that women are treated fairly.

At the head of a large conference room in the law offices of Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP,  attorneys from the advocacy group VARatifyERA and the solicitor general’s office held a panel discussion titled “The Equal Rights Amendment: Law and Policy.”

“There are a lot of laws currently protecting women, but those are subject to change,” said Deputy Solicitor General Michelle Kallen. “It’s a lot easier to change laws than it is to change the Constitution.”

Confronting objections to the ERA head-on, Kallen cleared up the misconception that the 14th Amendment, adopted after the Civil War to address the citizenship rights of former slaves, provides equal protection from sex-based discrimination.

“There is a difference between the level of protection that we have with discrimination on account of sex versus discrimination on account of other protected groups,” Kallen said. She  argued that the Reconstruction-era amendment places the classes of race and national origin above classes of sex and gender with regard to scrutiny under the law.

Patricia Wallace, an attorney working closely with VARatifyERA, said she wanted to become involved after examining discrepancies between the prison systems for men and women. As a member of the panel, she explained the role of attorneys in replacing the current “male-centric model” with a “rights-based model.”

“Our responsibility as attorneys is to consider this seriously,” Wallace said. “We have this whole 200 years of court cases built on a premise that is male-centric so we need to be able to think creatively as attorneys and help courts.”

Much of the hour-long discussion was permeated with legal language and terminology, but members of the audience showed up prepared to listen and engage with the panel.

Ben Barkin-Wilkins, who drove from Charlottesville with his wife, said he learned a lot from Tuesday’s event.

“As I was growing up, the idea of an ERA seemed redundant,” Barkin-Wilkins said. “Why would you need a special amendment to protect women’s rights when everybody’s rights are protected in the Constitution?”

Barkin-Wilkins said the point the panel made that resonated with him the most was that not everyone interprets the Constitution the same.

“People have idiosyncratic readings of the Constitution,” he said. “So it’s important to make things like this very explicit.”

The ERA says, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

With the General Assembly still in session, ERA advocates remain hopeful that the issue will be brought to the House floor for a full vote.

The Senate passed a resolution to ratify the ERA on Jan. 15. This week, that resolution -- along with three similar House proposals -- died in the House Privileges and Elections Committee.

However, ERA proponents say it may be possible for House Speaker Kirk Cox to have the full House of Delegates vote on the Senate measure. Others say it is unclear whether Cox, a Republican from Colonial Heights, has the authority to direct such a vote.

Kati Hornung, a campaign coordinator for VARatifyERA, asked ERA supporters to call their legislators.

Hornung noted that Virginia’s image has taken a tumble from a rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville in 2018 and, during the past week, a furor over a racist photo on Gov. Ralph Northam’s page in his medical school yearbook.

“We’ve been known nationally and internationally through the Charlottesville events, and now through our governor’s yearbook picture,” Hornung said. “Right now, given the narrative, it’s time for Virginia to step out of the past and move toward the future.”

On Thursday, nine days before the legislative session ends, VARatifyERA will host a rally at the Virginia Capitol in a final plea for the General Assembly to approve the ERA.

    Virginia would be the 38th state to approve the ERA -- the number needed for ratification.

However, the deadline to ratify the amendment has passed, and experts disagree whether the ERA can be ratified at this point.

Virginia Lawmakers Pass Bill Allowing Happy Hour Ads

By Caitlin Morris, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Virginia bar patrons might soon see a slew of new advertisements from their favorite hangouts — ads that include prices for happy hour specials.

Legislation moving through  this year’s General Assembly would allow restaurants and bars to include drink prices in their happy hour advertisements.

Currently, restaurants and bars can advertise in a number of ways that they have a happy hour — such as posters, social media and websites — but they can’t advertise the drink prices outside their buildings. The ads can convey only the time of the special and the type of drink or brand being offered. The current law applies even to a recorded answering machine message.

The House of Delegates this week joined the Senate in passing legislation to loosen the rules. The House voted 94-2 in favor of SB 1726, which was approved unanimously by the Senate in January. The bill now goes to the governor to be signed into law.

The legislation would now permit  happy hour ads to include the prices of drink specials and other creative marketing techniques “provided that such techniques do not tend to induce overconsumption or consumption by minors.”

In 2018, restaurant owner and chef Geoff Tracy sued the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, saying the current law violated the First Amendment. Tracy contended that the restrictions on happy hour advertisements infringed on his right to free speech, making them unconstitutional — and hurting his business in Northern Virginia.

Tracy also owns restaurants in Maryland and Washington, D.C., where he faces no such restrictions.

“Virginia has some antiquated ideas about what people should be allowed to do socially,” said Darin Pilger, the general manager of Bandito’s Burrito Lounge in Richmond.

Bar patrons might be surprised by the number of laws restricting drink specials. For example, two-for-one drink specials are illegal and happy hour is forbidden from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Promotions for discounts are limited to being called “happy hour” or “drink specials”  — there’s no room for “margarita Mondays” under current law. Businesses that don’t comply could face suspended or revoked liquor licenses.

“You put up with all the laws, and you honor them, but you’re always just shaking your head,” Pilger said.



Virginia Moves to Raise Age to Buy Tobacco Products

By Serena Fischer, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Legislation making its way through the General Assembly would raise the legal age for purchasing and possessing tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21, drawing mixed reactions from young adults who would be affected by the new law.

The House and Senate have passed similar bills to increase the age to buy or possess products containing tobacco or nicotine. Each chamber is now working on the other’s measure.

In the state that gave birth to the tobacco industry, not everybody is happy about the legislation. William Bechtle, a 20-year-old computer science major at Virginia Commonwealth University, believes it would infringe on people’s rights.

“If an 18-year-old who is legally an adult wants to make the horrible choice to start smoking, they have that right,” said Bechtle, who smokes cigarettes. “If they don’t, then why is the age of adulthood 18 and not 21?”

Other young smokers do not seem to view the bills as a threat — only as an inconvenience.

“I can get older friends, people at that age limit, to get it for me,” said Katie Breighner, a freshman at Centreville High School in Fairfax County. “Regardless of your age, someone can find a way to get it.”

Some lawmakers also oppose the proposals to raise the smoking age — but apparently not enough to derail the legislation.

On Tuesday, the House voted 67-31 in favor of its bill, HB 2748. That measure has been referred to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.

The Senate passed its bill, SB 1727, on a 32-8 vote on Jan. 29. On Wednesday, the House Courts of Justice Committee approved that measure, 9-6, and sent it to the full House for consideration.

If the legislation becomes law, Virginia would join six other states in raising the tobacco purchase age to 21.

The Senate bill was sponsored by Sen. Thomas Norment, R-James City. Thirteen Republicans and all 19 Democrats in the Senate supported the measure; eight Republican senators opposed it.

The House bill was introduced by Del. Christopher P. Stolle, R-Virginia Beach. Forty-six Democrats and 21 Republicans voted in favor of the bill, while 29 Republican delegates and two Democratic delegates voted against it.

Among the opponents was Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania.

“I have no problem with raising the age to purchase tobacco products up to 21, but I think it should be done in a step process, because there are, whether we like it or not, 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds who are using these products now,” Cole said. “While I applaud the intent of this legislation, I think it has problems.”

The legislation targets all tobacco and nicotine products, not just cigarettes. A primary goal is to combat the recent trend of teen vaping, which the U.S. surgeon general has called an “epidemic.”

The number of teens who have vaped in the past 30 days has almost doubled since 2017, including children as young as eighth grade. While some may argue that vaping is healthier than smoking cigarettes, many are unaware that one Juul pod (a popular method of vaping) contains as much nicotine as 20 cigarettes.

That’s why students like Reem Alul view the legislation before the General Assembly as a sign of progress. Alul, a biology major at VCU, hopes new laws will help curb youth addiction to nicotine.

“As someone who’s been smoking for over a year now, I know how addictive and toxic nicotine is to my quality of life,” Alul said. “Although minors will still have access to these products, it’ll be much harder to get a hold of it on short notice.”

How they voted

Here is how the House voted Tuesday on HB 2748 (Tobacco products, nicotine vapor products, etc.; purchase, possession, and sale).

Floor: 02/05/19 House: VOTE: PASSAGE (67-Y 31-N 1-A)

YEAS — Adams, D.M., Aird, Austin, Ayala, Bagby, Bell, John J., Bourne, Carr, Carroll Foy, Convirs-Fowler, Davis, Delaney, Filler-Corn, Fowler, Garrett, Gooditis, Guzman, Hayes, Helsel, Heretick, Herring, Hodges, Hope, Hugo, Hurst, Ingram, James, Jones, J.C., Jones, S.C., Keam, Knight, Kory, Krizek, Landes, Leftwich, Levine, Lindsey, Lopez, Marshall, McQuinn, Miyares, Mullin, Murphy, Orrock, Peace, Plum, Pogge, Price, Rasoul, Reid, Robinson, Rodman, Roem, Sickles, Simon, Stolle, Sullivan, Torian, Toscano, Tran, Turpin, Tyler, VanValkenburg, Ward, Watts, Yancey, Mr. Speaker — 67.

NAYS — Adams, L.R., Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Bloxom, Brewer, Bulova, Byron, Campbell, J.L., Campbell, R.R., Carter, Cole, Edmunds, Fariss, Freitas, Gilbert, Head, Kilgore, LaRock, McGuire, McNamara, Morefield, O'Quinn, Pillion, Poindexter, Ransone, Rush, Thomas, Ware, Webert, Wilt, Wright — 31.

ABSTENTIONS — Collins — 1.

Here is how the Senate voted on Jan. 29 on SB 1727 (Tobacco products, nicotine vapor products, etc.; purchase, possession, and sale).

Floor: 01/29/19 Senate: Read third time and passed Senate (32-Y 8-N)

YEAS — Barker, Black, Boysko, Chafin, Cosgrove, Dance, Deeds, Dunnavant, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Hanger, Howell, Lewis, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, McPike, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Petersen, Reeves, Ruff, Saslaw, Spruill, Sturtevant, Surovell, Vogel, Wagner — 32.

NAYS — Carrico, Chase, DeSteph, McDougle, Peake, Stanley, Stuart, Suetterlein — 8.

Here is the House Courts of Justice Committee voted Wednesday on SB 1727 (Tobacco products, nicotine vapor products, etc.; purchase, possession, and sale).

02/06/19 House: Reported from Courts of Justice with substitute (9-Y 6-N)

YEAS — Leftwich, Miyares, Watts, Toscano, Herring, Mullin, Bourne, Simon, Carroll Foy — 9.

NAYS — Bell, Robert B., Gilbert, Adams, L.R., Campbell, J.L., Ransone, Campbell, R.R. — 6.

ABSTENTIONS — Collins — 1.

NOT VOTING — Kilgore, Hope — 2.

Hundreds of Anti-abortion Activists Rally at Virginia Capitol

By Andrew Gionfriddo, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Among a sea of strollers and picket signs on the grounds of the Virginia Capitol, hundreds of people demonstrated Thursday against abortion — and especially against Democratic proposals to ease restrictions on late-term abortions.

Activists filled the landing of the Capitol steps, flooding down the hill towards Bank Street. Signs declaring “Equal rights for pre-born people” and other anti-abortion slogans poked out of the crowd as children played and their parents watched.

The Commonwealth for Life: March on Richmond featured General Assembly members, anti-abortion activists and representatives of Christian organizations. Chris and Diana Shores organized the rally in just a week after legislation sponsored by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, came into the national spotlight.

Questioned by a Republican about her bill, Tran said it technically would allow a woman about to give birth to have an abortion. After critics accused her of endorsing infanticide, Tran said she misspoke. However, conservative commentators — including President Donald Trump in Tuesday’s State of the Union address — slammed Tran, Gov. Ralph Northam and other Virginia Democrats for supporting the measure.

Chris Shores said he and his wife have been in the political arena for years. When news of Tran’s bill broke, they received a slew of calls asking them what they were going to do about it.

“We threw up a Facebook post last week, and within 24 to 48 hours, we had hundreds of people interested in the post,” Shores said. “It was truly organic.”

The rally was the first time the couple has put on an event of this scale. Speakers included Republican Sens. Dick Black of Loudoun County and Bill Stanley of Franklin County; Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper; and E.W. Jackson, a Protestant minister and lawyer who was the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 2013.

While the event featured Republican figures and Christian leaders, Chris Shores said the aim of the March on Richmond was outside party and religious lines.

“I didn’t want this to become a Republican pep rally. That wasn’t the point of the event,” he said.

A central theme to the event was denouncing Tran’s proposal, HB 2491. The bill was tabled by a subcommittee and is dead for this legislative session.

Northam, a pediatric neurologist, came under fire from anti-abortion groups after defending the bill on a radio show on Jan. 30. Northam said third-trimester abortions are done “in cases where there may be severe deformities. There may be a fetus that’s non-viable.”

In such instances, the governor said, “The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

Jackson excoriated Northam for that comment.

“Anybody who is prepared to allow a child to die after that child has been born alive does not deserve to be called a pediatrician,” Jackson said. “He doesn’t deserve to be called a governor either.”

Other speeches at the rally criticized efforts in Virginia to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Black, who has opposed abortion in the General Assembly for the past 20 years, said the ERA would be a blow to the anti-abortion movement.

“The ERA is a method that the abortionists want to use,” he said. “If that gets into the Constitution, we will not have any chance to roll back abortion.”

After Trump mentioned the controversy over abortion in Virginia in his nationally televised speech this week, Chris Shores hopes the conversation doesn’t stop.

“We’re going to continue to mobilize and organize and call on pro-life Virginia to stand up,” he said.

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