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Ahniaelyah Spraggs

VCU Student-Athletes Lead Campaign To Stop Sexual Assault On Campus

 

 

By Ahniaelyah Spraggs, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Virginia Commonwealth University student-athletes collected more than 300 signatures Wednesday from students, faculty and staff who pledged to do their part to stop sexual assault on campus.

The event was part of the national “It’s On Us” movement that began in 2014 with a goal of changing conversations surrounding sexual assault. Since its launch, the campaign has accumulated almost 300,000 pledges.

Binal Patel, who double majors in chemistry and biology, said she felt empowered and as if she was standing up for something she believed in when she pledged by signing her name on a banner.

“I have had a personal connection to the topic. I believe that anyone who has experienced sexual assault, or knows someone who has, should speak up and tell someone,” Patel said. “Sexual assault is never acceptable, and I believe individuals who have faced it should always be supported.”

Artis Gordon is the Director of Student-Athlete Development. He was one of the key players in organizing this event.

Director of Student-Athlete Development Artis Gordon helped organize the VCU event, which coincided with Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the “It’s On Us” Spring Week of Action. Gordon described “It’s On Us” as an initiative to raise awareness that “it’s on all of us to not be bystanders and be part of the solution.”

Alaina Madeline is the president of the VCU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and one of several student-athletes who helped during Wednesday’s event. She said the campaign has been happening on campus annually since 2014 and the banner will be displayed as a reminder to those who made the commitment.

For more information or ways to donate to the national campaign, visit the “It’s On Us” website.

Foster Care Teens Soon Can Ask to Reunite With Birth Parents

By Ahniaelyah Spraggs, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Teenagers in foster care in Virginia will be able to express their preference on restoring their birth parents’ parental rights under a law that will take effect July 1.

The General Assembly passed and Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation allowing foster care children ages 14 and older to tell a judge whether they want their birth parents to regain custody of them.

HB 1219 was introduced by Del. David Reid, D-Loudoun, who as a child lived in a foster home and was adopted.

“If parents had issues and had to give up their child, the judge asks the guardian ad litem or social worker if the child has expressed a preference,” Reid said.

The guardian ad litem is a lawyer appointed to look after the interests of a child or other people unable to represent themselves.

Reid was born and raised in Rockbridge County outside Lexington, Virginia. When he was 6, Reid said, his mother left the family. His father tried his best to raise Reid, his sister and two brothers, the legislator said. The children ended up being taken to United Methodist Family Services.

“When I went to UMFS, I had indoor pumping, hot water and a bathroom,” Reid said.

When he turned 16, Reid was adopted from the children’s home and moved to Oklahoma with his adoptive parents. In Oklahoma, Reid said he was able to finish high school and thought about going to college for the first time.

“My dad got a ninth-grade education. I was the first person ever in my family to get a college education,” Reid said.

Reid attended Northeastern Oklahoma State University in Tahlequah – “the capital of the Cherokee” – and graduated with a degree in political science in 1984.

“My junior year was when I reflected back on the last 10 years of my life. That’s when it dawned on me that I was living the American dream, which prompted me to get into the Navy Reserve,” Reid said.

Reid served in the Navy Reserve for 23 years as an intelligence officer and in other positions, while also working in Northern Virginia. He earned his master’s degree in 2002 from the Joint Military Intelligence College in Washington.

Reid, 55, is the chief strategy officer for Axiologic Solutions, an engineering company based in Fairfax. He was elected last fall to the Virginia House of Delegates.

High Schools May Offer American Sign Language As Foreign Language Credit

By Ahniaelyah Spraggs, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — American Sign Language may soon be offered as a foreign language credit in Virginia high schools.

In 2011, the General Assembly passed legislation requiring colleges and universities to accept high school American Sign Language classes as part of their entrance requirements. Now, Del. Dickie Bell, R-Staunton, who sponsored that bill, has introduced HB 84, which would give students high school credits for those classes as well.

Bell described American Sign Language as a way for the deaf or hard of hearing to communicate wherever they go. He said most larger colleges and universities offer a course on the topic.

"University of Virginia has an American Sign Language program where they teach it,” Bell said. “They’ve had a pretty robust program.”

Bell said the idea for HB 84 was brought to his attention by a young lady and her aunt.

“The young lady wrote me a letter asking that, if high schools don’t offer American Sign Language, students be allowed to take a virtual learning class or community college class to American Sign Language,” he said.

HB 84 was amended to allow the American Sign Language courses to be taught by multidivision online providers, which are approved by the Virginia Board of Education and offer online and virtual classes to K-12 students. Bell said Virginia has 20 such providers, each with certified teachers who are reviewed annually.

HB 84 passed the House unanimously on Feb. 6. A hearing for the bill is scheduled for Friday in the Senate Education and Health Committee.

Hot Glass Studio Raises Money for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

By Ahniaelyah Spraggs, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In a city full of eclectic artwork, it’s no surprise that Richmond is home to the Glass Spot, the only public hot glass studio in Central Virginia. There, artists blow air into a pipe to turn hot glass into ornaments, vases and other items.

But the studio – owned by Chris Skibbe, who has been glassblowing for almost 20 years – does more than produce art. It also helps the community. This week, it hosted a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

At Wednesday’s event, 10 participants put on safety goggles, grabbed shears and other tools, and created drinking glasses. Participants purchased $45 tickets in advance, of which $10 was donated to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

“It was a joy doing this because I’ve never done this before,” said Bobby Wright, one of the participants.

Wright said he was diagnosed with leukemia in 2006. He was excited about the Glass Spot’s fundraiser in part because he has a team that participates in the Richmond Light The Night Walk and raises money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society every year.

Wright and Susan Reid, a volunteer for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, said the event at the Glass Spot was much more than an opportunity to create drinking glasses.

“I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2005,” Reid said. “In April 2018, I will be celebrating 12 years ofremission. And for the kind of cancer that I have, it still is not considered curable.”

Reid said the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s mission – to help cure blood cancers – led her to the Glass Spot. She described meeting the staff there as a “happy mistake.”

That mistake, Reid said, led to her fundraising efforts at the Glass Spot. The proceeds help fund research to find a cure for blood cancers, provide educational materials for patients, caregivers and providers, and assist patients with insurance copayments and other expenses.

“I felt grateful for the fact that I keep continuing in remission, but I hear stories of others. Some not so good. Some sad. Some joyous just like mine,” Reid said. “So it keeps me motivated to want to continue to help fund the research and provide other opportunities for patients to get more years in remission.”

More on the web

For more information about the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society or ways to donate, visit www.lls.org. For more information about the Glass Spot, visit www.richmondglassspot.com.

Democrats Tout Bills They Say Would Help Workers

By Ahniaelyah Spraggs, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Democratic lawmakers are urging passage of legislation to boost wages paid on state construction projects, increase overtime pay for public and private employees, and prohibit employers from asking job applicants about their salary history.

Those proposals were among a slew of bills discussed at a news conference held by the Virginia House Democratic Caucus. Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, said the bills concern “one of the core issues that defines us as Democrats – our commitment to jobs and the people who need those jobs, who man those jobs.”

He is sponsoring HB 667, which would require contractors and subcontractors on public works projects to pay the “prevailing wage” set by the federal government. He said the measure would increase the supply of apprenticeships and skilled workers and keep jobs in the community.

Many Republicans oppose laws mandating prevailing wages on government-funded projects. They say such requirements inflate construction costs. Krizek disputed that, saying higher wages are usually offset by greater productivity, better technologies and other employer savings.

Krizek’s bill is pending in the House Rules Committee.

Also at the news conference, Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, discussed his bill to prohibit employers from requiring job applicants to disclose their salary history. Under HB 240, an employer could not obtain an applicant’s pay history from current or previous employers, either.

Rasoul said employers use applicants’ salary histories to lowball the salaries they offer. “Both young workers and those workers that are in a career transition are experiencing real discrimination because of this,” he said.

Under his proposal, Rasoul said, employers could ask applicants their minimum salary requirement but not how much money they previously earned. The bill has been assigned to the House Commerce and Labor Committee.

That committee also is considering legislation by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, to increase overtime pay for workers in Virginia. Under HB 1109, employees would be entitled to twice their regular pay in certain circumstances. That is more than what the U.S. Department of Labor requires.

“This bill ensures that workers are fairly compensated for overtime if they work more than 12 hours a day, 40 hours a week or 7 consecutive days a work week,” Tran said.

Bill Calls for a Special Election if a Recount Ends in a Tie

By Ahniaelyah Spraggs, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus on Wednesday called for a law requiring a special election if an election recount ends in a tie – as it did in the state’s 94th House District last fall.

That tied election in Newport News between Republican David Yancey and Democrat Shelly Simonds was decided by a lottery – film canisters pulled out of a bowl. That is what prompted Del. Marcia Price, D-Newport News, to propose House Bill 1581.

“When it was announced that the winner of the 94th District House race was to be determined by lot – by drawing a name out of a bowl – there was an instant reaction,” Price said at a news conference attended by the caucus chair, Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, and other legislators.

Yancey, the incumbent delegate, won the lottery held by the State Board of Elections on Jan. 4. Price said that regardless of party, Virginians deserve a better way of settling deadlocked elections.

Price said she was holiday shopping for her nephew in December when both Republican and Democratic residents of the 94th House District approached her about the upcoming lottery. Price recalled one man saying, “I know we don’t agree on much, but tell me you agree that this just isn’t right.”

“So HB 1581 takes into account the feelings of disenfranchisement and serves as a fix. It says if the court finds that each party to the recount has received an equal number of votes, it shall issue a writ promptly ordering a special election be held to determine which candidate is elected to office,” Price said.

The proposed rule would apply to all elected offices except governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. The Virginia Constitution says the General Assembly must settle any tied election for those statewide offices.

Price’s idea to hold a special election received support at the news conference from Dawnn Wallace, who lives in the 94th House District.

“I was one of the 23,891 people who cast a vote on Nov. 7, 2017, in the House of Delegates election for the 94th District,” Wallace said. In that election, after a recount and a court hearing, officials determined that Yancey and Simonds each got 11,608 votes, with the rest going to a Libertarian and write-in candidates.

Wallace said she makes sure to vote in every election. When she learned that her state delegate would be chosen by picking a name out of a bowl, she said she was flabbergasted.

“Many of my family members, neighbors and friends who live in the 94th District felt the same way,” Wallace said. “And our immediate concern moved from who would prevail to how that person was going to win.”

As a sports fan, Wallace said it was like having a football game decided by a coin flip. Just as games tied at the end of regulation go into overtime, Wallace said a recount that ends in a tie should be decided by a special election.

A subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee is scheduled to hear Price’s bill on Thursday.

Senators Suggest Charging Tolls on Trucks on I-81

By Ahniaelyah Spraggs, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Two state senators are calling for a study on the feasibility of imposing tolls on large trucks using Interstate 81.

The potential toll revenue would fund safety improvements on the highway, according to Republican Sens. Mark Obenshain of Rockingham and Bill Carrico of Grayson, who filed a bill Friday to launch such a study.

“We need to focus our efforts and money on improving I-81. It has been overlooked for too long, and Virginians in Southwest Virginia and the Valley deserve better,” said Carrico, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee. “This bill is an innovative approach, and I look forward to seeing the results of this study.”

Kansas and Rhode Island have similar truck-tolling programs. In 2017, revenue from commercial vehicle tolls in Kansas totaled $48 million. In Rhode Island, such tolls may generate $60 million in annual revenue for transportation needs, according to an economic impact study.

I-81 runs 855 miles from Tennessee to the Canadian border. The Virginia segment is 325 miles long, from Bristol to Winchester.

Obenshain said that I-81 carries nearly half of statewide truck traffic and that about a fifth of the traffic collisions on the interstate involve a heavy truck.

“With over 2,000 crashes per year, and 30 crashes a year with a clearance time greater than six hours, we must be willing to look at creative methods to find substantive solutions to this problem,” Obenshain said.

The bill would set several stipulations for the proposed tolling program. Under the stipulations, the Commonwealth Transportation Board would:

• Identify how to improve specific parts of I-81.

• Develop a tolling policy that minimizes effects on local traffic and the diversion of truck traffic from I-81.

• Use all funds generated by the tolls for the benefit of I-81.

No matter what the study might find, tolls on I-81 may be a long way off. Any tolling program on the highway would require approval from the General Assembly, Obenshain noted.

“I believe that a willingness to explore innovative and unconventional funding sources can be a part of a bipartisan solution to the problems faced by those who travel Interstate 81 every day,” he said.

Obenshain has filed another bill aimed at truck safety on I-81. SB 561 calls for the Virginia Department of Transportation to conduct a pilot program requiring tractor trucks to travel in the right lane only.

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