April 2021

Gary Wayne Davis, Sr.

December 20, 1951-April 19, 2021

 

Visitation

5-8 p.m. Thursday, April 22

Owen Funeral Home
303 S. Halifax Rd
Jarratt, Virginia

 

Gary Wayne Davis, Sr., 69, of Skippers, passed away Monday, April 19, 2021. He had recently retired after 21 years’ service with the Virginia Department of Corrections. He was preceded in death by his father, Emmett and stepfather, Jack.

Gary Wayne is survived by his wife, Denise M. Davis; daughters, Tracy Sison (Thiery) and Tanya D. Clary (Al) and son, G.W. Davis, Jr. (Megan); four grandchildren, Jonathan & Anna Sison and Hannah & Luca Davis; his mother, Rose Phillips; sister, Glenda D. Creath (David); his beloved canine companion, Spanky and numerous nieces and nephews. He also leaves behind a large extended family and the many friends made in the ball community and in the time he spent hunting and fishing.

The family will receive friends 5-8 p.m. Thursday, April 22 at Owen Funeral Home, 303 S. Halifax Rd, Jarratt, Virginia 23867. Interment will be private.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made to Greensville Volunteer Fire Department.

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

McEachin Announces Covid-19 Funeral Relie

WASHINGTON  Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) announced last week that funding is available for assistance for funeral expenses for a death which was likely the result of COVID-19.

“If you paid for funeral expenses after January 20, 2020 for an individual whose death may have been caused by or was likely the result of COVID-19, you may be able to receive some financial assistance.  You can apply for up to $9,000 per funeral through FEMA’s dedicated call center at 844-684-6333; TTY 800-462-7585, Monday-Friday, 9 AM ET - 9 PM ET. Online applications will not be accepted. You may apply for assistance for multiple funerals.”

 Find more information from FEMA HERE

“Every life lost to this pandemic is a tragedy and the loss of a loved one leaves a void that will never be filled. I can only hope that these available resources, thanks to COVID relief monies, will help ease the financial strain.”

Governor Northam Announces Five New State Historical Highway Markers Addressing Black History in Virginia

Students suggested new markers through second annual Black History Month Historical Marker Contest

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam announced five new state historical highway markers that address topics of national, state, and regional significance to African American history in the Commonwealth. These markers were submitted by Virginia students through the second annual Black History Month Historical Marker Contest. The Governor was joined by First Lady Pamela Northam and members of his Cabinet for a virtual event yesterday recognizing the students and educators with this year’s winning submissions.

“The contributions of influential African Americans have frequently been ignored, underrepresented, and even silenced,” said Governor Northam. “With this initiative, we have asked students and teachers to help us tell a more accurate, comprehensive, and inclusive Virginia story by suggesting new historical markers that recognize Black Virginians and the important ways they have shaped our shared history. I am grateful to all those who have joined in our efforts to build a strong and equitable Commonwealth.”

The Black History Month Historical Marker Contest invites students, teachers, and families to learn more about African Americans who have made important contributions to Virginia history and submit ideas for new historical markers to the Department of Historical Resources. This year, 100 submissions were received and five were selected for installation.

“It was important for us to provide a unique opportunity for our students to get involved with their education by allowing them to think more deeply about Virginia history,” said Dr. Janice Underwood, Virginia’s Chief Diversity Officer. “This contest elevated the need to integrate Black history into the history taught in our classrooms because Black history is American history. As we launch the ONE Virginia plan, we are providing schools with resources that will guide conversation and promote equity by telling a fuller and more complete version of Virginia’s history.”

The student winners and the names and text of five new markers are as follows:

  • “Dangerfield and Harriet Newby” (Culpeper County), nominated by Sofia Rodriguez, Michael Burgess, and Valia Anderson from Kings Glen Elementary in Springfield, Virginia.

    Dangerfield Newby, who was born enslaved in Virginia and later lived free in Ohio, was killed in John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry as he fought to free his wife, Harriet, and their children from slavery.

  • “Mary Richards Bowser (Richmond City), nominated by Larissa Chambers, Sonia Alam, Hailey Solar, and Allison McKenzie from Kings Glen Elementary in Springfield, Virginia.

    Bowser, born enslaved, became a missionary to Liberia, a Union spy in the Confederate White House during the Civil War, and a teacher at freedmen’s schools.

  • “John Lyman Whitehead Jr.” (Brunswick County), nominated by Jashanti Valentine from Brunswick High School in Lawrenceville, Virginia.

    Born near Lawrenceville, Whitehead served in World War II as a Tuskegee Airman and is credited with being the Air Force’s first African American test pilot and the first African American jet pilot instructor.

  • “Edwin Bancroft Henderson” (Falls Church), nominated by Sullivan Massaro from Kings Glen Elementary in Springfield, Virginia.

    Henderson, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame known as the “Father of Black Basketball,” organized athletic leagues for African Americans, wrote The Negro in Sports (1939), organized the first rural chapter of the NAACP, and was president of the NAACP Virginia state conference as he worked for civil rights.

  • “Samuel P. Bolling” (Cumberland County), nominated by Ashley Alvarez, Allecia Mitchell, Anna Parker, Alex Hernandez, Christopher McCoy, Adalie Ruehrmund, and Harley Thurston from Cumberland Middle School in Cumberland, Virginia.

    Born into slavery in 1819, Bolling later became a successful entrepreneur and was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates as a member of the Readjuster Party, a biracial coalition that accomplished significant reforms in the 1880s.
     

“The Historical Marker Contest helped me learn more about Black Virginians who have made a difference, like Dr. Edwin Henderson,”said Sullivan Massaro, a 4th grader in Fairfax County Public Schools. “Dr. Henderson introduced the sport of basketball to Black athletes in Washington, D.C. and is a big part of why basketball is so popular today. As I researched him I learned how much he did not only for the sport of basketball, but for civil rights in Virginia. I couldn’t believe that he did not already have a historical marker, so I chose to nominate him for the contest.”

Governor Northam was joined by First Lady Northam, Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler, and Chief Diversity Officer Janice Underwood to celebrate the students and educators who participated in the contest. The grandson of Dr. Edwin Bancroft Henderson, selected as one of the markers for installation, provided remarks at the event, and reflected on his journey to educate others on his grandfather’s legacy.

“On behalf of the Henderson Family, I’d like to express my deep appreciation to Sullivan and his teacher Ms. Maura Keaney for the recognition of Dr. Edwin Bancroft Henderson’s accomplishments in Virginia by placing a historic marker in front of his home in the City of Falls Church,” said Edwin Henderson II. “This contest is part of an important effort to intertwine African American history into all school curriculum, and ensure that Virginia’s diverse history is represented honestly in classrooms across the Commonwealth.”

Virginia’s Historical Highway Marker Program, which began in 1927 with installation of the first markers along U.S. Route 1, is considered the oldest such program in the nation. This program is an effort to recognize and chronicle events, accomplishments, sacrifices, and personalities of historic importance to Virginia’s story. The signs are known for their black lettering against a silver background and their distinctive shape. The Department of Historic Resources and the Virginia Department of Transportation co-manage the program.

“Virginia’s historical markers tell our history in a tangible way, and these students have worked hard to ensure that these markers are inclusive, diverse, and tell the full Virginia story,” said Secretary Strickler. “I am grateful to the Department of Historic Resources for their determination to highlight untold stories, and to all the students and educators who have helped make this vision a reality.”

Virginia has erected more than 2,600 markers along Virginia’s roadways, but only 350 markers highlighted African Americans as of January 2020. Since then, 42 state historical highway markers about African American history have been approved. Ten of these new markers were suggested by students during the Governor’s inaugural Black History Month Historical Marker Contest in 2020, and the five new markers are expected to be approved by the Board of Historic Resources for approval at its upcoming meeting on June 17.

“The Black History Month Historical Marker Contest allows students to participate in place-based, experiential learning,” said Secretary Qarni. “As students research local history and discover newfound heroes, they gain a deeper understanding of their ability to impact the world.”

A recording of the 2021 Black History Month Historical Marker Contest virtual celebration is available here.

VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital’s March Team Member of the Month for March 2021

South Hill, VA  – The pandemic has affected almost every workplace in some manner. Adjustments arose. Careers changed. People pivoted.

At VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital (VCU Health CMH), Director of Pharmacy Rick Clary, RPH, MBA, is no exception. “Rick has maintained a very positive leadership attitude during the chaotic and ever-changing vaccine phase of the COVID pandemic and has committed much personal time to ensuring these vaccines reach the people who need them the most,” said CEO Scott Burnette.

Rick earned the March Team Member of the Month award for STAR service: Safety, Teamwork, Accountability and Relationships. Rick said, “It was truly a team effort. Tracey Bailey, the Clinical Coordinator at the clinics, is more deserving of this than I am. It is a great feeling to make a difference and help meet the needs of the community.” Rick received the STAR service award, STAR pin, a parking tag that allows him to park wherever he wants for the month of April and a $40 gift card.

Rick started out his health care career as an emergency medical technician. He joined the hospital in 1985 as a pharmacy tech and worked his way up. “I knew I wanted to be in the medical field, so it just worked out; it was  good choice,” he explained. His leadership philosophy is to have fun at work and enjoy what you do every day. Rick has a daughter who graduated from the University of Virginia with a master’s in teaching and a son who is graduating from William & Mary and is headed to South Carolina to earn his Ph.D in history.

Rick encourages all who are eligible to get their vaccinations when the time comes. “It will make a difference so we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” he said. “Our hospital has 74% of staff fully vaccinated and we’ve seen a decrease in the number of COVID-postive employees and patients from double digits to single digits.”

Other nominees for March include: Tracey Bailey – C.A.R.E. Offices, Keisha Bumpass – Hendrick Rehab, Phyllis Cavan – Administration, Kelsey Clark – C.A.R.E. Offices, Erin Davis – Acute Care, Andrea Godette – Cardiology, Jennifer Hargrave – Garland Birthing Center, Joanne Malone – Quality, Mark Ornopia – Surgical Services, Curtis Poole – Food and Nutrition, Kathy Smith – C.A.R.E. Offices, Brianna Taylor – Administrative Representatives, and Angie Tanner – Quality.

Lawmakers amend bill banning guns in state buildings, Capitol Square

By Christina Amano Dolan, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia legislators recently accepted the governor’s substitute to a bill banning firearms on and near Capitol Square, as well as in state buildings. Lawmakers voted last year to ban firearms from the state Capitol. 

Senate Bill 1381, introduced by Sen. Adam P. Ebbin, D-Alexandria, will make it a Class 1 misdemeanor for a person to possess or transport a firearm or explosive material within Capitol Square and the surrounding area or buildings owned or leased by the commonwealth. Any person convicted of a Class 1 misdemeanor may face a sentence of up to 12 months in jail, a fine up to $2,500, or both.

Current and retired law enforcement officers, active military personnel and others performing official duties are exempted from the restrictions.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s recommendation requested further protection for magistrates. The measure originally allowed magistrates to carry firearms in courthouses, but the substitute now includes magistrates on duty working outside of courthouses and in other government buildings. The Office of the Executive Secretary requested the amendment. 

“They are on duty in various locations at all times of day, working on sensitive and sometimes volatile situations,” Ebbin said. “Magistrates are required to accept cash bonds. That requires the magistrate to frequently possess large sums of cash.”

The Senate passed the substitute along party lines, 21-19. The House agreed to the measure mostly along party lines, 52-46.

Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, sponsored an identical bill that was also amended and passed both chambers. 

Virginia Democrats passed an existing ban on firearms early last year, similarly excluding police officers and other security personnel. The ban prohibits guns inside the state Capitol and the General Assembly’s adjacent office building but does not extend to Capitol grounds. 

The ban will now include Capitol Square and the area bounded by the four roads in each direction. It also includes the sidewalks of Bank Street extending from 50 feet west of the Pocahontas Building entrance to 50 feet east of the Capitol building entrance.

Ebbin said during a February Senate floor hearing that the bill is in the interest of public safety. There was a “close call” incident last year, Ebbin said, when FBI agents arrested three men on firearms charges. Federal officials were concerned the men were headed to Richmond to attend an annual gun-rights rally, people familiar with the investigation told The Washington Post at the time. Northam had declared a state of emergency ahead of the rally, citing “credible threats of violence surrounding the event.”

Philip Van Cleave, president of Virginia Citizens Defense League, said the measure is about politics, not public safety. The VCDL is a nonprofit organization that advocates for Second Amendment rights. 

Van Cleave said Capitol Police protect legislators, so a weapons ban is unnecessary. 

“They don’t like gun owners exercising their First Amendment rights nor their Second Amendment rights,” Van Cleave said. “These efforts are more to shut us up than anything else.” 

Van Cleave’s organization helped organize a gun rally last January with over 22,000 gun-rights supporters. The organization called for thousands of its armed supporters to gather on Capitol grounds to oppose gun control legislation. The event ended without incident. 

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, said in last week’s Senate hearing that she believes the measure is an attack on the Constitution. 

“I will be voting against any bill that has anything to do with restricting law-abiding citizens’ ability to protect themselves,” Chase said. “I don’t even understand why we are introducing legislation that goes against our Constitutional rights.” 

Chase and other Republican legislators voiced concern for the safety of General Assembly employees when the bill was originally before the Senate. They said police cannot enforce the measure. 

“Capitol Police cannot be everywhere, and as great of people they are, we do not properly give them the resources they need to do the job they’ve been asked to do,” Chase said.

Capitol Police and Virginia State Police will “adequately and reasonably” enforce the law, Ebbin stated in a previous email interview.

“The threat of violence and proliferation of firearms in the public square quashes the civil discourse and exchange of ideas we so value in Virginia,” Ebbin stated. 

The new law goes into effect July 1. 

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

Virginia’s COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility Opens for All Adults on Sunday

Virginians seeking a vaccination opportunity can find and schedule appointments at vaccinate.virginia.gov or by calling 877-VAX-IN-VA

RICHMOND—As Governor Ralph Northam announced earlier this month, all Virginians age 16 and older will be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine starting Sunday, April 18. This expansion of eligibility comes as Virginia reaches a new milestone in its vaccination program—approximately half of all adults in the Commonwealth have received at least one dose.

Governor Northam shared a new video message today encouraging Virginians seeking a vaccination opportunity to use the statewide call center or the new Vaccinate Virginia website to find vaccine providers starting Sunday. Virginia’s eligibility expansion meets a nationwide goal set by President Joe Biden that all adults be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by April 19.

“Over the past few months, we have made tremendous progress vaccinating Virginians as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible, and we need to keep up the good work,” said Governor Northam. “With COVID-19 cases on the rise in many parts of Virginia and across the country, it is important that everyone has an opportunity to make a vaccination appointment. If you are over 16 and want to get the safe, effective, and free vaccine, please make a plan to get your shot. The more people who get vaccinated, the faster we can end this pandemic and get back to our normal lives.”

With this move into Phase 2, appointments will still be required for most vaccinations. Starting Sunday, Virginians will be able to find and schedule appointments directly through the Vaccinate Virginia vaccine system by visiting vaccinate.virginia.gov or by calling 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1). The vaccinate.virginia.gov site will link to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s VaccineFinder website, which has a searchable map-based tool to find appointments at Community Vaccination Centers, local health departments, pharmacies, and hospitals.

Virginians seeking an opportunity to get vaccinated may have to wait for an appointment, as demand for vaccination is expected to continue to outpace supply in many parts of the Commonwealth. Those who were eligible under Phase 1 who cannot find an appointment should pre-register for a priority appointment at vaccinate.virginia.gov or by calling 877-VAX-IN-VA. The Northam Administration anticipates that all Virginians who want a vaccine will be able to get at least their first dose by the end of May.

Only the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for individuals aged 16 and 17. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved for ages 18 and up.

More than 5 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Virginia. Approximately half of the adult population has received at least one dose, and one in five Virginians are fully vaccinated. The Commonwealth continues to work with a statewide network of providers and partners to distribute and administer doses as quickly as they are provided by the federal government.

Virginia has focused on equity throughout its vaccination program by providing targeted resources in multiple languages, scheduling clinics in collaboration with community partners, performing grassroots outreach to drive pre-registration and scheduling, and implementing large, state-run Community Vaccination Centers in areas with vulnerable populations. These efforts will continue with expanded eligibility in Phase 2.

All COVID-19 vaccines are free regardless of health insurance or immigration status. Assistance is available in English, Spanish, and more than 100 other languages. Videoconferencing in American Sign Language also is available by videophone at 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682) or online by clicking the “ASL Now” button at vaccinate.virginia.gov.

NO FATAL CRASHES ON I-95 DURING VIRGINIA “I-95 DRIVE TO SAVE LIVES” INITIATIVE

RICHMOND – Virginia was among 15 states, from Maine to Florida, to participate in the annual “I-95 Drive to Save Lives” traffic safety initiative April 9-10. This initiative concentrated on traffic safety enforcement on Interstate 95 and resulted in zero traffic crash fatalities during the enforcement operational period.

“With 2020 being an especially tragic year for traffic fatalities in Commonwealth, zero traffic deaths on the entire 178 miles of I-95 in Virginia proves enforcement initiatives like this help save lives,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Superintendent of Virginia State Police. “Being visible on Virginia’s highways and interstates and enforcing live-saving traffic laws make an impact and State Police is proud to be part of the solution.”

In total, during the two-day “I-95 Driver to Save Lives” enforcement initiative, Virginia State Police cited 194 speeders and 11 people for failing to wear a seatbelt. In addition, 20 drivers were cited for violating Virginia’s new hands-free law. There were also two drug arrests made and three wanted persons were apprehended.

As Virginians start to plan for summer travel, Virginia State Police urge motorists to comply with all traffic laws, including Virginia’s hands-free law. Distracted driving can be deadly and as a driver, anytime your attention is not on the road, you are distracted. Do not let tragedy ruin your summer adventures – obey posted speed limits, buckle up and ditch distractions.

Funds generated from summonses issued by Virginia State Police go directly to court fees and the state’s Literary Fund, which benefits public school construction, technology funding and teacher retirement.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING URGES OFFERUP TO STOP SALES OF FAKE VACCINATION CARDS

~ Herring has also called on Twitter, eBay, and Shopify to act immediately to stop the sale of fraudulent vaccination cards on their platforms ~

RICHMOND (April 19, 2021) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined a bipartisan coalition of 42 attorneys general in calling on OfferUp, an online mobile marketplace, to act immediately to prevent fraudulent or blank COVID-19 vaccine cards from being sold on its platform. In their letter to the company, the coalition raises concerns about the public health risks of these fake vaccination cards. Attorney General Herring has also called on Twitter, eBay, and Shopify to act immediately to stop the sale of fraudulent vaccination cards on their platforms.
 
“Vaccinating as many Virginians as possible is one of the most important ways we will be able to get back to normal and get this pandemic under control,” said Attorney General Herring. “Unvaccinated people, who use fraudulent vaccine cards to pretend they are vaccinated, could potentially spread COVID throughout our communities, putting the health and safety of Virginians and their families at risk. I will continue to push companies to prevent the sale of these fake vaccination cards to help Virginia stay on the right track in combating COVID.”
 
In their letter, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues are urging OfferUp to:
  • Monitor its platform for ads or links selling blank or fraudulently complete vaccination cards
  • Promptly take down ads or links that are selling cards
  • Preserve records and information about the ads and the people who were selling them
 
Joining Attorney General Herring in sending today’s letter are the attorneys general of Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virgin Islands, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Governor Northam Announces Virginia’s Unemployment Rate Fell to 5.1 Percent in March

Payroll employment increased by 800 jobs

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Virginia’s unemployment rate decreased 0.1-percentage point to 5.1 percent in March, which is down 6.2 percentage points from its peak of 11.3 percent in April 2020. The Commonwealth’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate continues to be below the national rate of 6.0 percent.

“Virginia’s unemployment rate is steadily improving and we are making real progress in safely reopening our economy,” said Governor Northam. “While we have made great strides in our recovery, we know there is still more work to do. We will continue to focus our efforts bringing more Virginians into the workforce and supporting families, businesses, and communities with the resources they need to build back stronger.”

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 800 jobs in March. The labor force increased by 1,618 to 4,238,239, as the number of unemployed residents decreased by 5,051. The number of employed residents rose by 6,669 to 4,023,563. In March 2021, Virginia saw over-the-year job losses of 4.4 percent.

“As more and more Virginians receive vaccines, we get closer to ending this pandemic, and our economy becomes stronger,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “Despite a tough year, companies have continued to expand and create new jobs in Virginia thanks to our strong business climate and world-class workforce.”

“Virginia’s workers and businesses have faced many challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, but their resolve and perseverance has helped overcome them,” said Chief Workforce Development Advisor Megan Healy. “The growing rate of vaccinations gives us confidence that this downward trend will continue in the months ahead. We will keep working diligently to assist Virginians with job training programs and help them gain employment in a changing, post-pandemic job market.”

In March, the private sector recorded an over-the-year loss of 145,200 jobs, while employment in the public sector lost 36,800 jobs. Compared to a year ago, on a seasonally adjusted basis, all 11 major industry divisions experienced employment decreases. The largest over-the-year job loss occurred in leisure and hospitality, down 76,600 jobs, or 18.8 percent. The next largest over-the-year job loss occurred in government, down 36,800 jobs, or 5.0 percent. Local government employment fell by 30,700 jobs and state government employment was down 7,400 jobs, while the federal government added 1,300 jobs. Education and health services experienced the third largest over-the-year job loss of 22,100 jobs, or 4.0 percent.

For a greater statistical breakdown, visit the Virginia Employment Commission’s website at vec.virginia.gov.

FOIA bill allows some access to criminal investigation records

By Anya Sczerzenie, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- A bill allowing the public access to limited criminal investigation records will go into effect in July, along with a handful of other bills related to government transparency.

Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, a former television reporter, introduced House Bill 2004. The bill requires files related to non-ongoing criminal investigations be released under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act law. 

“I’d been a journalist for 10 years, and I frequently saw that access to police records was very difficult,” Hurst said. “In denying those records, accountability and transparency were lost.”

Hurst said he hopes the bill will give the public reasonable access to criminal investigation files. 

“It’s good governance once a case is closed to let the public see it,” Hurst said. 

The bill will allow requesters access to files including descriptions of the crime, where and when the crime was committed, the identity of the investigating officer, and a description of any injuries suffered or property stolen. 

Law enforcement officials and prosecutors opposed the bill, Hurst said. Journalists and victim advocates generally supported it, and many crime victims want to see their case files, Hurst said.

The bill will benefit journalists, but they aren’t the main reason Hurst introduced the legislation.

“I didn’t introduce the bill on behalf of journalism,” Hurst said. “I introduced it for the people in the public who care about police accountability, to help victims get closure, and to help victims of wrongful incarceration, so we can try to achieve justice in those cases.”

A public body, such as a law enforcement agency, will have longer to respond to a FOIA request that is related to a non-ongoing criminal investigation. Public bodies can now ask for up to 60 additional days as opposed to a week to provide records, as long as they communicate this to the requester and have a valid reason. 

Hurst introduced a similar bill during the 2020 special session. The bill narrowly passed the House but didn’t advance past subcommittee in the Senate. HB 5090 expanded the scope of records made available to the public and also sought to limit the time frame for categorizing a case as “ongoing.” 

HB 2004 has no time frame behind its definition of an ongoing case. An ongoing case is defined as one that has not been resolved, or in which evidence is still being gathered for future criminal cases. 

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said her organization supported HB 2004.

“It’s not everything we wanted, by a long shot, but it’s a bill that moves us away from rejecting requests for records as a matter of policy,” Rhyne said.

The legislation only pertains to closed investigations, so it will be more useful for investigative reporters writing long-term stories than for breaking news reporters, Rhyne said. 

“This bill is aimed at at least getting the police to open up the file, look through it, and determine which parts of it can be withheld with justifications,” Rhyne said. “In the past, reporters would just be told that this material is exempt.”

Rhyne said the bill might also benefit the families of crime victims.

“The family members of both the defendants and the victims, and victims and defendants themselves, will be able to take control of their own narrative,” Rhyne said. “During the legislative session, we had family members of two people killed in Virginia Beach who said: ‘We want to be able to see this, to see evidence from the investigation of what took our loved ones from us.’”

Legislators introduced more than 40 bills during the 2021 Virginia General Assembly sessions that would have impacted the FOIA, according to the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. The governor also signed two other FOIA-related bills, Senate Bill 1271 and HB 1931, that apply to electronic meetings. Many government meetings have been held over Zoom and other video conferencing platforms during the pandemic. 

SB 1271 allows public bodies to meet electronically if a locality declares a state of emergency. Electronic meetings only were allowed previously if the governor declared a state of emergency. The bill also requires officials to allow the public to attend and comment at the meetings. Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Woodbridge, introduced the bill.

“It encourages videoconferencing, but doesn’t require it, in case small localities or public bodies don’t have broadband or funds to be able to do video,” stated Betsy Edwards, executive director of the Virginia Press Association.

HB 1931 allows members of public bodies to meet electronically if a member has to take care of a relative with a medical condition and cannot attend an in-person meeting. Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, introduced the bill.

“This bill was put forward to make it easier for members of public bodies to attend meetings—at any time, not just during a pandemic—by electronic means,” Edwards stated.

HB 2025, introduced by Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke County, would exempt government email distribution lists from being automatically disclosed under the FOIA law. Under current law members of the public have to “opt-out” to not have their personal information disclosed when they sign up for government email lists. The new law requires members of the public and government officials to “opt-in” to have their information publicly disclosed. FOIA advocates wanted the “opt-in” provision taken out of the bill, saying it contradicts public records policy and could bleed into other potential exemptions.

The bills take effect July 1.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

FIRST STORAGE AUCTION IN NEARLY A YEAR UPCOMING

Attendees should wear masks, adhere to COVID-19 guidelines

EMPORIA, VA – An upcoming auction at Emporia Storage could produce a record number of units for sale, marking the most ever auctioned in the city in a single day. With the last storage auction in the city being held nearly a year ago due to Covid 19, expectations are high for this upcoming sale.

Emporia Storage has a unit auction scheduled at its three facilities in the city beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 24, 2021. Several climate-controlled units are expected to be included. A common thought among seasoned storage unit buyers is that climate-controlled units can contain higher-quality items that the renter felt deserved weather protection. While, that cannot be guaranteed in this auction, it is often true.

The auction will begin at Emporia Storage office headquarters at 315 West Atlantic Street, Emporia, VA 23847, then move to the units at 623 South Main Street across from 7-11 and finish up at its third location on East Atlantic Street across from Georgia Pacific. Those attending should adhere to current government guidelines regarding COVID-19 by wearing masks and practicing distancing.

Multiple units will be auctioned. The exact number of units will not be available until the day before the auction, but current trends are predicting several dozen. During this cash only sale, the belongings of delinquent storage units are auctioned to the highest bidder to recoup the loss of rental fees.

Gates open at 9 a.m. for registration. The auction begins at 10 a.m. Bidders will be given a few minutes to look at the units once they are opened. In this absolute auction, units will be sold "as is, where is" and contents must be removed by the winning bidder by 6 p.m. that day. A 15% buyers’ premium will apply. Please bring your own masks and locks, as you are responsible for security of your units upon winning the bid. The auction will be conducted by Carla Cash Harris, Emporia, Va., (434) 594-4406, VA License # 2907004352, a member of the Virginia Auctioneers Association. For more information, call Carla or Emporia Storage at (434) 634-2919.

Correction: VSP Seeking Tips to Locate Convicted Sex Offender of Lunenburg County

Virginia State Police is asking for the public’s help in locating a convicted sex offender who has failed to re-register, as required by state law. 

Michael Paul Trim, 44, is registered at a home in Victoria, Va., but absconded at some point and has not registered a new address. He last registered with state police in January 2021. He is believed to now be in the Hampton Roads area.

Trim is 5’9” in height and weighs approximately 155 pounds. He has blue eyes and brown hair.

Anyone with information about Trims's whereabouts is encouraged to contact state police by using the “Tips” link located under the offender’s picture on the Virginia State Police Sex Offender Registry search page located here.

PHOTO ATTACHED: The attached photo is the property of the Virginia State Police, which grants permission for its publication/broadcast.

Book Giveaway – Thursday, April 15th from 10AM-2PM AND Friday, April 16th from 2-6PM:

Please stop by the Greensville/Emporia Extension Office THIS Thursday (4/15) from 10AM-2PM or Friday (4/16) from 2-6PM to receive FREE books.
We have several great, high quality books that target reading levels from 4th-12th grade. We even have entire series of some book selections! Please come by to pick up as many as you like.
These books can make great gifts for family members as well. Come by to say hello and share the love of reading with youth you know!
If you can't come by during this event, but are still interested in receiving some books, please reach out to Hannah Parker at hdp2513@vt.edu or 434-348-4223.
 
Greensville/Emporia 4-H Earth Day Plant-A-Tree Event:
In celebration of Earth Day, Greensville/Emporia 4-H is offering FREE tree seedlings and educational material for the youth and their families of Greensville County, the City of Emporia, Jarratt and surrounding areas.
 
Please register by completing the form at the link below. Register soon to ensure you get to participate! Supplies are limited. First come, first served.

 
You will be able to pick up your trees and materials from the Greensville/Emporia Extension office on Wednesday, April 21st from 4-6PM or Thursday, April 22nd (Earth Day) from 8:30AM-5:00PM.  If a time is needed outside of this for pick-up, please get in touch with Hannah Parker, 4-H Extension Agent, to make other arrangements. Contact: 434-348-4223 or hdp2513@vt.edu.

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Sylvia Cullins Morris

June 14, 1934 - April 14, 2021

Graveside Service

11 a.m. Saturday, April 17

Greensville Memorial Cemetery
1250 Skippers Road
Emporia, Virginia

 

Sylvia Cullins Morris, 86, of Emporia, Virginia, passed away Wednesday, April14, 2021. She worked for Continental, GTE and Verizon phone companies and for 25 years as switchboard operator at SVRMC. She enjoyed her time spent as a member of the Red Hat Society.

Mrs. Morris was preceded in death by her husband of 60 years, Clayton Morris; her parents, Ella Johnson Cullins and John Cullins; also four sisters and a very dear sister-in-law.

Left to cherish her memory are daughter, Terry Anne Morris Joyner and special friend, Terry Pulley; son Winfield Morris and special friend, Mari; grandsons, Clayton Earl Boles, Jerry Mcintyre and Joseph Mcintyre; granddaughters, Libby and Kiara and numerous nieces and nephews and special friend and helper, Tammy Simmons.

A graveside funeral service will be held 11 a.m. Saturday, April 17 at Greensville Memorial Cemetery.

The family will receive friends at the home, 7700 Little Lowground Rd., Emporia, Virginia 23847.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made to Grace Community Fellowship, 8014 Little Lowground Rd, Emporia, Virginia 23847. Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com.

WARNER REINTRODUCES BICAMERAL, BIPARTISAN LEGISLATION TO ENSURE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SURVIVORS ARE NO LONGER RESPONSIBLE FOR FORMER SPOUSES’ STUDENT LOAN DEBT

~ Bill would make a commonsense fix to make it easier for borrowers who need to separate their joint consolidation loans ~

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and U.S. Rep. David Price (D-NC) reintroduced bicameral, bipartisan legislation that would provide much-needed relief for individuals who previously consolidated their student loan debt with their spouse. While Congress eliminated the joint consolidation program in 2006, it did not provide a way for borrowers to sever existing loans, even in the event of domestic violence, economic abuse, or unresponsiveness from a former partner. The Joint Consolidation Loan Separation Act, cosponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and John Cornyn (R-TX), would fix this oversight, which has unfortunately left too many borrowers liable for their former spouse’s student loan debt.

“Victims of domestic violence who flee their dangerous living situations shouldn’t find themselves burdened with their partner’s debt when trying to move forward with their lives. Unfortunately, that’s the reality for some Americans who are stuck with joint consolidation loans,” said Sen. Warner. “This commonsense bill would help a vulnerable population who’s been unfairly held responsible for their former partner’s debt, by giving them the ability regain their financial independence.”

“This bill is a direct response to my constituent’s experience with a damaging joint consolidation loan. I introduced this bill to provide relief to borrowers who are victims of abusive or uncommunicative spouses by allowing them to sever these loans,” said Rep. Price. “The impact on borrowers is often crippling and I’m grateful for the bipartisan support that this common-sense bill has received. Congressional action is long overdue.” 

“Survivors of domestic violence should never have to pay the debts of their abuser,” Sen. Rubio said. “This legislation would provide financial independence to those survivors who previously consolidated their student loan debt with their partner. I am proud to join Senators Warner and Cornyn in reintroducing this legislation, and I urge my Senate colleagues to support this bill to deliver relief to these individuals.”

“Victims of domestic abuse should never, ever be on the hook for an abusive partner’s debt,” said Sen. Cornyn. “I am proud to join this commonsense, bipartisan effort that will be key in helping vulnerable Texans, and others across the nation, regain their financial autonomy.”

Specifically, the Joint Consolidation Loan Separation Act would allow borrowers to submit an application to the Department of Education to split the joint consolidation loan into two separate federal direct loans. The joint consolidation loan remainder – the unpaid loan and accrued unpaid interest – would be split proportionally based on the percentages that each borrower originally brought into the loan. The two new federal direct loans would have the same interest rates as the joint consolidation loan. 

Each borrower would also have the ability to transfer eligible payments made on the joint consolidation loan towards income-driven repayment programs and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

The Joint Consolidation Loan Separation Act is supported by a number of organizations, including the National Network to End Domestic Violence, National Consumer Law Center, North Carolina Coalition against Domestic Violence, and the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance.

“When survivors escape abuse, they should be able to start over without the debts of their abusers. We applaud this bill for creating a solution for those survivors who consolidated loans either in good faith or under duress and are now rebuilding their lives,” said Monica McLaughlin, Director of Public Policy at the National Network to End Domestic Violence. 

“For far too long, many student loan borrowers have been stuck in joint consolidation loans, and this bill ensures that struggling borrowers, including survivors of domestic and economic abuse, who previously consolidated their student loan debts, have the opportunity to regain their financial footing. We applaud Senator Warner and Representative Price for their efforts. This bill would benefit many vulnerable student loan borrowers, and we are proud to support it,” said Persis Yu, Director, Student Borrower Assistance Project for the National Consumer Law Center.

“Survivors of domestic violence in North Carolina face many barriers when they decide to leave an abusive relationship; shouldering the burden of an abusive partner’s debt should not be one of them. We applaud Congressman Price for filing this bill and helping survivors get one step closer to regaining rebuild their lives and regain their financial independence,” said Kathleen Lockwood, Legal & Policy Director at the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“The Action Alliance is pleased to support these efforts to provide victims of domestic and economic abuse with student loan relief. This bill will make a difference for people who need it, and I hope Congress will move swiftly to enact it,” said Jonathan Yglesias, Policy Director at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance.

A copy of the one-pager can be found here. A copy of the bill text and be found here.

VIRGINIA AMONG 15 EAST COAST STATES PARTICIPATING IN ANNUAL “I-95 DRIVE TO SAVE LIVES”

RICHMOND – Virginia will be among 15 states, from Maine to Florida, participating in a two-day “Drive to Save Lives” traffic safety initiative along Interstate 95. On Friday and Saturday, April 9-10, 2021, Virginia State Police will be dedicating additional patrol resources to Interstate 95 traffic safety enforcement. Motorists can expect to see an increased presence of troopers along Virginia’s entire 178 miles of I-95, from the border of North Carolina to Maryland. This year the initiative coincides with Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

“With April being Distracted Driving Awareness Month and Virginia’s new hands-free law, this enhanced enforcement initiative along the East Coast couldn’t come at a better time,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Superintendent of the Virginia State Police. “This time of year people are on the road for Spring Break, vacations and outdoor adventuring. Keeping your eyes on the road, buckling up, complying with posted speed limits and never driving intoxicated, will help ensure your spring travels are safe, especially along the I-95 corridor.”

 In 2020, Virginia recorded 37 traffic crash fatalities on I-95, six of which involved distracted driving. Additionally, five of those crashes involved drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In all, 625 people lost their lives in crashes along the entire 1,920 miles of I-95 last year.

In addition to complying with traffic laws, drivers are reminded that as of January 1, 2021, it is illegal to hold a handheld personal communications device while driving a moving motor vehicle on Virginia highways. For more information on the new law, visit www.phonedown.org.

With increased patrols, State Police also remind drivers of Virginia’s “Move Over” law, which requires motorists to move over when approaching an emergency vehicle stopped alongside the road. If unable to move over, then drivers are required to cautiously pass the emergency vehicle. The law also applies to workers in vehicles equipped with amber lights.

Virginia Ranks 17 in Number of State Farm Dog-related Injury Claims

Emporia, Va. (April 8, 2021) - A new report from State Farm explains how it isn’t just people affected by the COVID pandemic. In fact, your own pets may have been picking up on your stress and anxiety.

In 2020, State Farm paid nearly $157 million dollars for over 3,185 dog-related injury claims. The highest month for number of claims and amount paid for those claims was at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown. In March 2020, State Farm paid over $19 million dollars for 320 injury claims. Dogs were picking up on their owner stress and increased activity on the home (children home from school, adults working from home), resulting in negative behavior because of anxiety. In fact, children make up more than 50% of all dog bite victims.

Educating dog owners about being responsible will help reduce dog-related injuries because under the right circumstances, any dog might bite.

Virginia was ranked 17 in 2020 in number of State Farm dog-related injury claims (64 claims totaling $1.7 million amount paid).

In 2020, the top 5 states for dog-related injury claims according to State Farm were:

State                   # of claims             Amount paid               Avg paid per claim

  1. California              402 claims              $26.1 million                   $65,016

  2. Illinois                        258 claims              $12.6 million                   $49,012

  3. Ohio                    187 claims              $6.7 million                    $36,024

  4. Pennsylvania            158 claims              $7.0 million                    $44,716

  5. Michigan                143 claims              $6.3 million                    $44,735

 

National Dog Bite Prevention Week in 2021 will focus on transitioning pets in a post-pandemic world. As pet owners return to the work place or school, pets will be left home alone. This may result in destructive or aggressive behavior due to stress and anxiety. This will be a particular problem for dogs adopted during the pandemic. Newly adopted or fostered dogs might get the impression that normal life is quarantine life.

Emporia State Farm agent Peggy Malone is the president of the Emporia Greensville Humane Society.  According to Malone, the Humane Society had 32 adoptions in 2020 which is the most adoptions in a single year.   She is worried about the pets as their owners return to their work place.

“It is going to be hard for pets once everything returns to normal. They are used to having their humans around all the time and being able to spending a lot of time together,” stated Malone. “It is best to start transitioning your pet now by leaving them alone for short periods of time and gradually increase the duration.  If your dog shows signs of stress or anxiety consider having regular playdates with another dog, enrolling them in a doggie day care or using a thunder shirt.” Malone emphasized that this process may take time so it’s important for owners to be patient with their animals.

Governor Northam Announces Over $6.3 Million in GO Virginia Grants to Drive Economic Growth

Funding to support workforce development, site development and infrastructure, entrepreneurial ecosystems, and COVID-19 recovery efforts

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced an allocation of more than $6.3 million in Growth and Opportunity for Virginia (GO Virginia) grants to help the Commonwealth continue addressing the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This funding will support a total of 15 projects, including eight regional GO Virginia projects and seven projects through GO Virginia’s Economic Resilience and Recovery Program.

“This funding will go a long way towards supporting a broad-based economic recovery across our Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. “As we celebrate these projects, we must also recognize the leadership and many contributions of the late GO Virginia Board Chairman Tom Farrell, whose business acumen helped advance the GO Virginia mission of fostering lasting regional collaboration, and was instrumental in mounting a robust effort to spur Virginia’s economic recovery amid the pandemic. His legacy will live on through innovative, impactful programs like this one.”

The projects receiving funds will provide additional capacity to expand workforce development and talent pipelines in key industries, support the growth of startup businesses and entrepreneurial ecosystems, grow Virginia’s portfolio of business-ready sites, and assist regions with mitigating the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The awards will leverage an additional $5.6 million in local and other non-state resources to assist with ongoing economic diversification and growth efforts throughout Virginia.

“From energy and life sciences to manufacturing and tourism, GO Virginia continues to spur innovative ideas and strategies to support businesses throughout the Commonwealth,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “As Chair, Tom Farrell gave so much of his time to the betterment of Virginia communities, and he will be dearly missed.”

“The recent efforts of the GO Virginia program demonstrate the importance of strategic thinking in regions, and how addressing near-term economic needs can create long-term economic growth opportunities,” said GO Virginia Board Member and House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn. “This round of grants represent a combination of ingenuity, collaboration, and resiliency during a time of unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and I look forward to seeing the positive impact they have on communities around the Commonwealth.”

Since the program’s inception in 2017, GO Virginia has funded 163 projects and awarded approximately $56.9 million to support regional economic development efforts. To learn more about GO Virginia, visit dhcd.virginia.gov/gova.

2021 ROUND ONE REGIONAL GRANT AWARDS

Energy Storage and Electrification Manufacturing Jobs | $486,366
Region 1: Counties of Buchanan, Dickenson, Russell, and Tazewell

Together with multiple partners, Appalachian Voices will execute a strategy to build a new, high-wage industry cluster around energy storage electrification. The project will also provide technical assistance to existing manufacturers as they diversify and expand sales into these new markets.

Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center | $99,360
Region 2: Montgomery County and the city of Roanoke

The Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center (VTCRC) will develop a market study, conceptual design, and associated operational plan to support the life science ecosystem in Blacksburg and Roanoke with flexible laboratory space. This space will ultimately support commercial entities and startup companies in the life sciences sector while providing a focal point to keep locally grown talent in the region.

SOVA Innovation Hub and Longwood University Office of Community and Economic Development Entrepreneurship and Innovation Implementation Project | $449,000
Region 3: Counties of Amelia, Buckingham, Cumberland, Halifax, Patrick, and Prince Edward

The SOVA Innovation Hub, in partnership with the Longwood University Office of Community and Economic Development, will launch a series of entrepreneurship training, youth entrepreneurship, and capital access programming. Funding will support the creation of new jobs by building entrepreneurship capacity and a stronger, more equitable region-wide network of resources for startups and early-stage companies.

Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education | $613,000
Region 4: Counties of Charles City, Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Greensville, Prince George, Surry, and Sussex and the cities of Colonial Heights, Hopewell, and Petersburg

The Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, in partnership with Richard Bland College, will establish a Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) chapter in Virginia and launch an Advanced Manufacturing Technician program. Funding will support the development of new hands-on learning space for advanced manufacturing and new training capacity for jobs that are in high demand by area manufacturers.

757 Collab Bridge | $32,000
Region 5: Cities of Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk

757 Collab, a new venture of 757 Accelerate and 757 Angels, will provide rent-free space and essential programming for 25-30 startup companies each year. This grant will support the ongoing activities of 757 Accelerate and 757 Startup Studios as they develop the new 757 Collab organization.

Richmond County Commerce Center Expansion | $1,223,974
Region 6: Counties of Richmond and Westmoreland, and the town of Warsaw

Richmond County, in partnership with Westmoreland County, will expand the Richmond County Commerce Center to develop two business-ready sites, totaling 45 acres. The partnership of these localities will contribute to the joint promotion and marketing of the area and provide space for new and expanding businesses.

Northern Virginia Smart Region Initiative | $1,287,580
Region 7: Counties of Arlington and Fairfax, and the city of Fairfax

Smart City Works will help establish Northern Virginia as a center of excellence for urban technology innovation and a top destination for digital technology companies to build and grow their businesses. Funding will support the growth of high-tech startup companies through the introduction of capital investment opportunities, the expansion of business acceleration programs, and the creation of pathways to successfully deliver new products to the marketplace. 

Shenandoah Valley Sites Enhancement Program | $821,000
Region 8: Counties of Augusta, Frederick, Rockingham, Shenandoah, and Warren

The Shenandoah Valley Partnership will lead an effort to advance six regionally significant sites, totaling 1,112 acres, for potential new or expanding businesses in the region’s targeted industries.
 

ECONOMIC RESILIENCE AND RECOVERY GRANTS

Virginia Restaurant and Hotel Workforce COVID Recovery and Upskilling Program | $132,500
Region 4: Counties of Chesterfield, Hanover, and Henrico, and the city of Richmond

The Virginia Restaurant, Lodging, and Travel Association will support the restaurant and hospitality industry by offering COVID-related skills training to unemployed and underemployed restaurant and hotel workers. This initiative will also further develop an industry-specific job board to support ongoing industry recovery efforts.

Engineering Interns + Manufacturers = Success Squared (S2) | $39,200
Region 4: County of Prince George and the city of Hopewell

The College of Engineering and Technology at Virginia State University will create an internship program to support regional manufacturing companies impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the course of a semester, interns will develop projects focused on a company’s specific needs related to economic distress brought on by the pandemic, while also getting the hands-on experience needed to round out their degrees.

Startup Stability Program | $197,000
Region 5: Cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth

The Portsmouth Development Foundation will support small businesses adversely impacted by the pandemic through subsidized co-working space and mentoring services.

Marine Trades Training Program Expansion | $99,137
Region 5: Cities of Portsmouth and Norfolk

Tidewater Community College’s Marine Trades Training Program will expand its welding and marine coatings programs at the Skilled Trades Academy in Portsmouth. The welding program will be expanded by 33 percent to accommodate an additional 40 students per year, and the marine coating program will be relocated and expanded to support an additional 84 students per year.

Virginia Cyber Skills Academy | $699,995
Region 7: Counties of Arlington and Loudoun and the city of Alexandria

The Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu and the Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) will train individuals whose employment was impacted by the pandemic for high-demand cybersecurity roles. All courses and certifications will be provided online at no cost to students, and this project will assist graduates with obtaining employment with area technology companies.

Local Ordering, Communication, and Agricultural Logistics Initiative | $60,602
Region 8: County of Page and cities of Harrisonburg and Roanoke

Common Grain Alliance (CGA) will provide support and build cooperative relationships between farmers, local producers, and distributors impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The project will leverage existing web-based applications with an online marketplace to increase sales and enhance the resiliency of the industry through the creation of an online platform to facilitate supply chain logistics and new technology to streamline food sales, storage access, and distribution.

Central Virginia Small Business Development Center Resiliency | $131,220
Region 9: Counties of Albemarle, Culpeper, Fluvanna, Louisa, Madison, Orange, and Rappahannock, and the city of Charlottesville

The Central Virginia Small Business Development Center (SBDC) will address growth challenges and improve economic resiliency among area businesses by enhancing firms’ digital presence and e-commerce capabilities. Additionally, this funding will help increase SBDC’s capacity to serve the region’s business development needs, emphasizing services to rural and under-resourced communities.

McEachin Announces Nearly $400,000 in School Funding from American Rescue Plan

WASHINGTON – Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) today announced $398,399 in funding from the American Rescue Plan to support public schools in the district as they reopen classrooms safely for students and staff.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken away valuable, in-person learning from our students while leaving many schools struggling to support themselves,” McEachin said. “The American Rescue Plan is an opportunity to help get our students and teachers back in the classroom while also ensuring their safety. I am glad we passed this historic bill so that we may finally turn our attention to restoring our homes, businesses and schools.”

Below is a breakdown of grants received by each district:

Charles City County Public Schools

$1,312

Chesapeake City Public Schools

$49,327

Chesterfield County Public Schools

$57,817

Colonial Heights City Public Schools

$4,689

Dinwiddie County Public Schools

$6,537

Emporia City Public Schools

$3,624

Greensville County Public Schools

$3,967

Henrico County Public Schools

$75,560

Hopewell City Public Schools

$12,121

Petersburg City Public Schools

$23,994

Prince George County Public Schools

$4,820

Richmond City Public Schools

$118,556

Southampton County Public Schools

$4,172

Suffolk City Public Schools

$26,485

Surry County Public Schools

$1,508

Sussex County Public Schools

$3,910

 

Lawmakers okay recreational marijuana possession, cultivation

By Sam Fowler, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia lawmakers signed off on amendments that make the possession of small amounts of recreational marijuana and homegrown plants legal in the state in July as opposed to 2024. 

“On July 1, 2021 dreams come true,” Marijuana Justice stated in a tweet.

 The group has worked to legalize the use and possession of marijuana for the past two years but said more work must be done. 

Gov. Ralph Northam proposed changes to House Bill 2312 and Senate Bill 1406, which passed earlier this year during the Virginia General Assembly’s special session. The House and Senate approved the changes Wednesday. The bills legalized marijuana possession and sales by Jan. 1, 2024, but marijuana legalization advocates and Democratic lawmakers lobbied to push up the date for recreational possession. 

Adults 21 years of age or older will be able to legally possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana if they don’t intend to distribute the substance. Marijuana cannot be used in public or while driving, lawmakers said. Virginia decriminalized marijuana last year and reduced possession penalties to a $25 civil penalty and no jail time for amounts up to an ounce. In the past, possessing up to half an ounce could lead to a $500 fine and 30 days in jail. 

Individuals can also cultivate up to four cannabis plants without legal repercussion beginning July 1, with punishments ranging from misdemeanors to jail time if over the limit. The plants would need to be labeled with identification information, out of sight from public view, and out of range of people under the age of 21. Marijuana retail sales still do not begin until 2024. 

The amendments passed along party lines in both chambers. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat, cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate. Two Senate Republicans last week stated their support of the amendments, but voted no Wednesday. Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, voted no. The vote was 53-44 in the House, with two abstentions. Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, voted no. Del. Vivian Watts, D-Annandale, did not vote. 

“This is an historic milestone for racial justice and civil rights, following years of campaigning from advocates and community groups and a strong push by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus,” Marijuana Justice stated in a press release when the amendments were announced. 

Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of Marijuana Justice, said last week that legalizing simple marijuana possession now rather than later is important for racial justice. 

“Waiting until 2024 to legalize simple possession and therefore stop the desperate policing is allowing this continued bias enforcement against Black Virginians to continue for three years,” Wise said. 

Accelerating the legislative timeline was key, said Del. Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church, one of more than two dozen legislators who co-sponsored the House bill. 

“The figures show that it is much more common for a Black or Brown person to be charged with possession,” Kory said. 

A state study released last year found that from 2010 to 2019 the average arrest rate of Black Virginians for marijuana possession was more than three times higher than that of white residents for the same crime—6.3 per 1,000 Black individuals and 1.8 per white people. This is despite the fact that Black Virginians use marijuana at similar rates as white residents. The conviction rate was also higher for Black individuals. Northam stated that people of color were still disproportionately cited for possession even after marijuana was decriminalized.

The legislation establishes the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority as the regulatory structure for the manufacture and retail sale of marijuana and marijuana products. 

The governor’s amendments called for the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority to revoke a company’s business license if it interfered with union organizing efforts; failed to pay a prevailing wage as defined by the U.S. Department of Labor; or classified more than 10% of employees as independent contractors. This part garnered heavy opposition. The amendments are the first attempt to dismantle the commonwealth’s right to work laws, Republicans said. However, lawmakers pointed out that several provisions of the bill are subject to reenactment in the 2022 General Assembly session. 

Northam’s amendments called for public health education. The amendments will fund a public awareness campaign on the health and safety risks of marijuana. Law enforcement officers will be trained to recognize and prevent drugged driving with the latest amendments. Legislators approved budget amendments to help fund the initiatives.

Legislators spoke in favor of the governor’s educational campaign. Others worried about an increase of drugged driving. Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, said that law enforcement will not have time to prepare how to identify drugged driving. He cited a study that found 70% of marijuana users surveyed in Colorado said they drive while under the influence of marijuana.

“I think this is another time where we are putting political expediency, political agenda over what is right for the safety and security of our citizens,” DeSteph said.

Northam’s amendments allow for certain marijuana-related criminal records to be expunged and sealed “as soon as state agencies are able” and to “simplify the criteria” for when records can be sealed. The expungement of marijuana-related crimes was originally set for July 1, 2025. 

The law will also allow individuals convicted with marijuana offenses to have a hearing before the court that originally sentenced them, Virginia NORML, a group that seeks to reform the state’s marijuana laws, stated in a post. That portion of the bill must be reenacted in 2022, the organization stated. 

“We are sending a message to our kids that it is okay to do drugs in Virginia now,” said Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield. “As a mom of four young adults I don’t like that message. I think it is selfish. I think it is reckless, and I think it is irresponsible.”

Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, said later that “the kids are already smoking marijuana.” She called it “a non-starter of an argument against the bill.” 

Howell, a parent of two, spoke in favor of passing the bill.

“If we have to wait another three years, I will be in my 80s before I can do legally what I was doing illegally in my 20s.”

 

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

HERRING PRAISES ENACTMENT OF VIRGINIA VOTING RIGHTS ACT INCLUDING TOOLS FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL TO PROTECT VOTING RIGHTS

RICHMOND (March 31, 2021) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring issued the below statement following the signing of the Virginia Voting Rights Act, historic legislation that enhances and strengthens voter protections in the Commonwealth and empowers the attorney general of Virginia to enforce the protections included in the Act:
 
“Strengthened, enhanced voter protections are crucial to ensuring that every eligible Virginian who wants to vote can,” said Attorney General Herring. “For too long, Virginia has been on the wrong side of history – implementing restrictive and oftentimes discriminatory voting measures with the goal of disenfranchising whole sections of the population. With the Virginia Voting Rights Act, voters in the Commonwealth can be assured that if they want to vote they can, and that their vote will count.
 
“I’m especially proud that my office will play a role in helping local and state elections officials enforce these new voting protections, as well as investigate any instances of discriminatory conduct.
 
“I want to thank my colleagues in both the House and the Senate as well as the many voting rights advocates for their hard work on getting this historic legislation passed. Voting is a fundamental right that we should always strive to make as easy as possible.”
 
Attorney General Herring and his team worked closely with the two sponsors of the legislation Delegate Marcia Price (HB1890) and Senator Jennifer McClellan (SB1395), as well as voting rights advocates, to include a provision in the legislation making the Office of the Attorney General a main enforcer of the Virginia Voting Rights Act.
 
Protecting Virginians voting rights has been a top priority for Attorney General Herring during his time in office. During the COVID pandemic, Attorney General Herring has worked hard to ensure that all Virginians could vote safely and easily, regardless of how they chose to vote, and protect voters from illegal harassment or intimidation at the polls.
 
Because of all the work that Attorney General Herring and his team did in preparation for Election Day 2020, including making it clear that absolutely no voter intimidation would be tolerated in Virginia and preparing and planning for any and all outcomes or potential legal challenges, the Commonwealth saw a remarkably smooth and uneventful Election day. In addition to the OAG attorneys who normally represent the Board of Elections and the Department of Elections, Attorney General Herring assembled a multidisciplinary team of attorneys from his Civil Litigation and Public Safety Divisions, Solicitor General’s Office, and other divisions across the OAG, who were on standby, ready to jump into action at a moment’s notice should the need have arisen. The OAG also had lawyers in every corner of the Commonwealth who were prepared to go into court to handle any potential legal challenges.
 
Virginia also saw historic turnout during last year’s election, especially in early and absentee voting. This increase in voter participation was really possible in part because of Attorney General Herring's work to make voting as easy and safe as possible during this unprecedented election cycle by crafting agreements to waive the witness signature on absentee ballots, making it easier for disabled Virginians to vote safely at home, extending the voter registration deadline, and blocking the drastic operational changes at the USPS.
 
Last year’s election cycle brought numerous challenges that prompted Attorney General Herring and his team to develop solutions and put out guidance to make sure every Virginian had a safe, comfortable, easy voting experience, whether they chose to vote early absentee, early in person, or on Election Day.
 
Attorney General Herring and his team negotiated options to promote safe, secure voting for Virginians who could not or did not want to risk their health to vote in person including:
  • An agreement that waived the witness requirement for absentee ballots for Virginians who feared for their safety voting in person
  • An agreement that made it easier for Virginians with disabilities to participate in the election safely at home
 
Attorney General Herring also successfully blocked the Trump Administration's drastic operational changes to the U.S. Postal Service, when a federal judge granted his motion for preliminary injunction, explicitly saying in his order that, “at the heart of DeJoy’s and the Postal Service’s actions is voter disenfranchisement.”
 
Additionally, Attorney General Herring put a lot of emphasis on ensuring that Virginians felt comfortable and protected at polling places across the Commonwealth by:

Virginia Expands COVID-19 Vaccination Workforce, Creates Additional Pathway to Enlist Volunteer Vaccinators

Qualified individuals can now sign up through the newly established Virginia Volunteer Vaccinator Registry

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced several efforts aimed at increasing Virginia’s vaccinator workforce to support the continued expansion of COVID-19 vaccinations across the Commonwealth, including a new initiative to recruit eligible individuals interested in administering vaccines.

Governor Northam recently signed House Bill 2333, sponsored by Delegate Lamont Bagby, and Senate Bill 1445, sponsored by Senator Siobhan S. Dunnavant, which expand the pool of health care providers eligible to administer the COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia. Last month, the Governor issued Third Amended Executive Order Fifty-Seven to provide additional flexibility to health care providers in supporting the Commonwealth’s vaccination program and ongoing COVID-19 response. Earlier this week, Governor Northam announced that starting April 18, all adults in Virginia age 16 and older will be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine. 

“Last year, we issued a call for 30,000 medical and non-medical volunteers to join our fight against COVID-19, and I am proud that over 35,000 Virginians have since stepped forward to assist through the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps,” said Governor Northam. “Thanks to the tireless efforts of our health care providers and volunteer vaccinators, Virginia is now administering an average of more than 70,000 of the COVID-19 vaccine each day and has given over 3.8 million shots to date. By further expanding our vaccinator workforce, we can build on this momentum and ensure we have additional vaccination capacity as supply increases and more individuals become eligible to receive the vaccine.”

Health care providers who are now authorized to administer the COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia include but are not limited to dentists, dental hygienists, veterinarians, optometrists, and health professions students enrolled in an accredited Virginia program. Eligible providers may serve as vaccinators if they have the appropriate training and meet the supervision requirements. All COVID-19 vaccine providers are responsible for ensuring that individuals who administer shots at their site are authorized by law to do so.

Eligible health care providers may register to volunteer as a COVID-19 vaccinator through either the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) or the newly-established Virginia Volunteer Vaccinator Registry (VVVR).

“These efforts to increase the ranks of vaccinators will immediately affect Virginians and their ability to get vaccinated as quickly as possible,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “We need ‘all hands on deck’ as we ramp up our vaccination campaign, and the legislation introduced by Delegate Bagby and Senator Dunnavant is crucial to providing additional tools for these unprecedented times.” 

Established in 2002, the Virginia MRC is a force of dedicated volunteers who stand ready to support the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) in responding to public health emergencies and addressing ongoing public health initiatives. MRC volunteer vaccinators are required to complete a background investigation, volunteer orientation, vaccination-specific training as outlined by the VDH and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and a skills assessment to demonstrate competency in administering the COVID-19 vaccine. MRC medical volunteers may have the opportunity to serve in other positions and response missions.

The VVVR is a temporary COVID-19 emergency program administered by VDH and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) that serves as a pathway for eligible providers who only wish to serve as vaccinators during the COVID-19 response. Qualified registry volunteers are required to complete vaccination-specific training as outlined by the CDC and VDH and demonstrate competency in administering the COVID-19 vaccine. A list of credentialed volunteers will be made available to hospitals, non-profit agencies, and local health departments operating community vaccination clinics upon request.  

Registering through either pathway is not a guarantee that an eligible health care provider will be enlisted to vaccinate, and volunteers may not be deployed immediately. While most Virginia localities are meeting the current need for COVID-19 vaccinators through existing workforce channels, demand is expected to increase alongside the Commonwealth’s growing supply of federally allocated vaccines.

For more information or to sign up as an MRC or VVVR volunteer, please visit vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-community-vaccinator.

"It's Spring"

The springtime we've been waiting for
it finally has arrived
yet many of the trees we all like
through the storms never survived.
 
Yes strong winds and rain; with heavy ice
caused havac all around
still we now have many robins
that are hopping all around.
 
It's time to plant the garden
and soon to mow the lawn
now with daylight savings here again
most free time will be gone.
 
The farmers once again must wait
for their fields to dry out
yet they will get the crops in
of this I have no doubt.
 
The weather changed so many things
though the challenge most will meet
yes and say a prayer for farmers
for they supply the food we eat!
 
                         - Roy E. Schepp

Graduates Serving on the Frontlines

By Quentin R. Johnson, Ph.D.

Have you recently had a medical appointment? Conducted business online? Needed your electricity restored after storm damage? If so, you may have benefited from the expertise of an SVCC graduate. Our graduates fill frontline positions all across Southside Virginia.

For example, earlier this year, our nursing students helped administer COVID vaccines to 1,500 people. Every year, hundreds of students graduate from our nursing and other allied health programs. The Associate Degree of Applied Science with a major in Nursing (ADN) program prepares men and women to become Registered Nurses. After licensure, RNs fill staffing needs at locations such as physicians’ offices, hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics, and public health agencies. Graduates of our other healthcare programs, including Practical Nursing, Nurse Aide, Phlebotomy, and Medication Aide, fill specific roles within interdisciplinary teams that serve patients and their families in many settings.

If you or a loved one has experienced an emergency, it may have been an SVCC graduate who rushed to provide assistance. Our programs train emergency medical service technicians at a range of levels from volunteer to professional and from basic to advanced and paramedic. In addition, graduates from our Administration of Justice programs help protect their communities by serving as local and state law enforcement officers and in other public safety roles, such as correctional and security officers.

For many of us, the pandemic increased the need to interact with the world digitally, using home computers and smartphones to access the internet. Graduates from SVCC’s cutting-edge Information Technology (IT) programs stepped up and helped us connect. Although IT workers may not be as visible as the phlebotomist who draws your blood, they have worked tirelessly behind the scenes on behalf of colleges, universities, and school systems to develop and maintain the infrastructure that has enabled students and teachers to work together remotely. IT workers also provided the tools needed to keep local businesses up and running. Some IT professionals have supported workers who moved from office locations to their own living rooms, some have deployed systems that kept supply chains open, and others have provided creative solutions to keep entrepreneurs in touch with their customers.

In addition to challenges presented by the coronavirus, last February’s massive ice storm created numerous problems throughout our region. Tree limbs came crashing down. Utility poles snapped. Thousands of homes and businesses lost electrical power. Graduates from SVCC’s Power Line Worker program were among those who came to the rescue and helped restore power.

Although disasters and calamities draw attention to the need for workers in high-profile areas such as these, other tasks of restoring and maintaining normality rest on many shoulders. SVCC works diligently to prepare people for a vast range of careers that support the local economy and enhance our enjoyment of every day. We train the truck drivers who deliver goods; we train the mechanics who repair the trucks. Our HVAC graduates ensure the safety and comfort of people at home and at work. Our cosmetology graduates make sure you look your best.

SVCC is proud of its role in helping people prepare for diverse careers and to take on responsibilities in today’s everchanging society. Please visit the College’s website (southside.edu) for more information about how SVCC, its students, and alumni contribute to the wellbeing of communities across Southside Virginia.

________

Dr. Quentin R. Johnson is president of Southside Virginia Community College, an institution of higher learning that provides a wide variety of education opportunities to a diverse student population within a service area that spans ten counties and the City of Emporia. He can be reached via email at quentin.johnson@southside.edu.

An Update from the Office of Congressman McEachin

This past month I hosted a series of open forums for my constituents. One of these was a telephone town hall to address tax questions and concerns. As you may have heard, both the federal government and the commonwealth of Virginia have extended the tax deadline until May 17, 2021 for 2020 taxes. With the impact of COVID-19 and relief measures passed by Congress, this is a much-needed extension as taxes have unfortunately become more complicated. I was pleased that Craig Burns, the Virginia Tax Commissioner, and Kimina Harris, a representative of the Taxpayer Advocacy Service, joined us to provide informative answers and offer resources for further information.

In another forum hosted last month on Zoom, we discussed COVID-19 and the vaccination process with Dr. Danny Avula who was selected by Gov. Northam to oversee the process. If you have not yet joined us, I hope you can participate in a future event soon as I continue to host them this year. I would like to use these as an opportunity to hear your concerns and answer your questions. My hope is that we can begin in-person town halls soon as people get vaccinated and the pandemic recedes.

My staff and I are also eager to attend events and hear from you regarding pending issues. You can still voice your opinions on issues at any time by going to my website, mceachin.house.gov to share your thoughts. To invite me or a member of my staff to an event, virtual or in person, or if you are having a problem with a federal agency, please fill out the request form on our website and a constituent services representative will contact you promptly.

Unfortunately, postal issues are still plaguing the district. I have written to the US Postal Service Board of Governors to strongly recommend that Postmaster Louis deJoy be replaced. During his tenure, mail delivery has unaccountably and unacceptably slowed tremendously. These mail slowdowns are simply unacceptable, and I intend to stay intimately involved in resolving this ongoing problem.

In the meantime, President Biden has filled the three vacancies on the USPS Board of Governors. I am hopeful these new members will address the post office and its performance deficiencies with new eyes and implement much needed improvements.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month

South Hill, VA (4/5/21) – In Virginia last year, distracted driving caused 17,000 accidents, including 120 fatalities and 9,000 injuries. The good news is accidents due to distracted driving have been on a decline over the past three years. Lawmakers have noticed and finally made driving with hand-held devices not lawful as of January 1, 2021. A texting while driving conviction carries a $125 fine for the first offense and a $250 fine for second or subsequent offenses. Overall, texting and cell phone use account for fewer than 10 percent of distractions.

From the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles website, “The three basic types of distracted driving are manual, visual and cognitive, and all three increase crash risk. During visual distraction, drivers’ eyes are off the road, such as looking at another accident or the dashboard. A driver’s hand is off the wheel during manual distraction, such as eating or handling an object. Cognitive distraction poses the highest risk because the driver’s mind is off driving. When a driver’s brain is overloaded by two cognitive tasks, such as driving and talking on the phone, drivers make the phone conversation the main task and driving becomes the secondary task, without recognizing it. Driving is severely impaired as a secondary task, and the impairment can last a long time.”

The average weight of a vehicle is 4,000 pounds. That kind of weight moving 60-70 miles per hour is the reason so many deaths and injuries occur. Janet Kaiser, Emergency Department Director at VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital (VCU Health CMH) explains, “Being located right off I-85 and near the Route 58 corridor, we see a lot of trauma patients come in from motor vehicle accidents. One life is too many to lose. Please make driving the top priority and save lives.”

If someone is in an accident in Southside Virginia, they have access to VCU Health CMH. The emergency department has 16 private rooms including two large trauma rooms and staff and physicians capable of initiating care for most injuries. Visit vcu-cmh.org for more information.

Karen Ann Gregory

October 24, 1945 - April 03, 2021

Memorial Service

3 p.m. Sunday, April 11

Owen Funeral Home
303 S. Halifax Rd
Jarratt, Virginia

 

Mrs. Karen Ann Gregory, 75, of Emporia, passed away Saturday, April 3, 2021. She was preceded in death by her parents, Nelson and Virginia Fuller and a daughter, Valerie Starke Newsome.

Karen is survived by her children, Penny S. Holland (Al), Nelson T. Starke and Barbara S. Wyatt (Danny) and stepdaughter, Rebecca Gregory Taylor (Nathanael); grandchildren, Christopher Holland, Lori Harrup (A. C.), David Wyatt (Lauren), Lance Wyatt (Kelli), Zachary Shannon (Tori), Amanda Butler (Gene), Brandon Holland (Anthony), Danielle Donovan (Brian), Travis Starke and Austin Wyatt (Jill); great-grandchildren, Valerie, Alayna, Presley, Emersyn, Mason, Brad, Broady, Brayden, Elijah, Sydney, Bryn and Wyatt; a brother, Charles Fuller and a special cousin, Charlet Grace.

A memorial service will be held 3 p.m. Sunday, April 11 at Owen Funeral Home, 303 S. Halifax Rd, Jarratt, Virginia 23867.

All those attending are asked to please adhere to safety precautions (mask wearing and social distancing.)

Memorial contributions may be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (www.stjude.org).

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

Governor Northam Announces Virginia to Expand Vaccine Eligibility to All Adults by April 18 as Vaccinations Continue Rising

Virginia nears end of Phase 1 waiting list, begins moving to Phase 2

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that all individuals in Virginia age 16 and older will be eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine starting on Sunday, April 18, ahead of the May 1 nationwide goal set by President Joe Biden. Governor Northam made the announcement during a visit to a vaccination clinic at First Mount Zion Baptist Church in Prince William County, where more than 1,000 vaccines will be administered today.

This news comes as nearly every Virginian in the highest risk groups who has pre-registered for a vaccination appointment has received one, and those still on the pre-registration list will receive appointment invitations within the next two weeks.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel—and that light is getting brighter every day as more and more Virginians get vaccinated,” said Governor Northam. “We continue to work with diverse providers and community partners across the Commonwealth to distribute vaccines in a fair and equitable way and ensure those at the highest risk are vaccinated first. Expanding vaccine eligibility to all adults marks an important milestone in our ongoing efforts to put this pandemic behind us, and I thank all of the public health staff, health care workers, vaccinators, and volunteers who have helped make this possible.”

With over 3.7 million doses of vaccine administered so far in Virginia, more than one in three adults have received at least one dose and one in five Virginians are fully vaccinated. Virginia is administering vaccine doses as quickly as they are provided by the federal government. Because the Commonwealth has followed guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prioritize those at highest risk, and because Virginia is a large and diverse state with many essential workers, many out-of-state commuters, and a high percentage of the population that wants to be vaccinated, it has taken some time to open eligibility to the general public.

In addition to adopting phased eligibility based on risk, Virginia has focused on equity throughout its vaccination effort by providing targeted resources in multiple languages, scheduling clinics in collaboration with community partners, performing grassroots outreach to drive pre-registration and scheduling, and implementing large, state-run Community Vaccination Centers in areas with vulnerable populations. These efforts will continue when eligibility opens to the general public in Phase 2.

Twenty-one of Virginia’s 35 local health districts have already started vaccinating essential workers in Phase 1c after providing appointments to everyone eligible in Phases 1a or 1b on the pre-registration list. Beginning April 4, districts that have invited everyone pre-registered in Phase 1c may invite members of the general public who have pre-registered. Based on the supply projected by the federal government, all local health districts will have enough vaccine to open appointments to the general public by April 18. Those at highest risk will continue to receive priority in the scheduling process.

Everyone who lives or works in Virginia should pre-register so they can be notified when they are eligible for vaccination and an appointment is available. To pre-register, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1). Assistance is available in English, Spanish, and more than 100 other languages. Videoconferencing in American Sign Language is also available at vaccinate.virginia.gov.

Marijuana possession and cultivation could be legal by July

By Sam Fowler, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam amended legislation to accelerate the legalization of marijuana possession and home cultivation in the state to July as opposed to 2024.

“Virginia will become the 16th state to legalize marijuana—and these changes will ensure we do it with a focus on public safety, public health and social justice,” Northam stated in a release.

The governor proposed changes to House Bill 2312 and Senate Bill 1406, which passed earlier this year during the Virginia General Assembly’s special session. The bills legalized marijuana possession and sales by Jan. 1, 2024, but marijuana legalization advocates and Democratic lawmakers lobbied to push up the date for possession. 

“This is an historic milestone for racial justice and civil rights, following years of campaigning from advocates and community groups and a strong push by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus,” the group Marijuana Justice stated in a press release. 

Marijuana Justice seeks to legalize the use and possession of marijuana. The group advocates for communities most impacted by the criminalization of drugs with their “legalize it right” campaign.

The bills allow adults 21 years of age or older to legally possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana if they don’t intend to distribute the substance. Virginia decriminalized marijuana last year and reduced possession penalties to a $25 civil penalty and no jail time for amounts up to an ounce. In the past, possessing up to half an ounce could lead to a $500 fine and 30 days in jail. 

Individuals can cultivate up to four cannabis plants without legal repercussion, with punishments ranging from misdemeanors to jail time if over the limit. The governor’s amendments would allow households to grow up to four plants beginning July 1. The plants would need to be labeled with identification information, out of sight from public view, and out of range of people under the age of 21.

Legislators will review the governor’s proposals during the General Assembly’s reconvened session on April 7, according to Del. Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church, one of more than two dozen legislators who sponsored the House bill. 

Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of Marijuana Justice, said legalizing simple marijuana possession now rather than later is important for racial justice. 

“Waiting until 2024 to legalize simple possession and therefore stop the desperate policing is allowing this continued bias enforcement against Black Virginians to continue for three years,” Wise said. 

Accelerating the legislative timeline is key, Kory said. 

“The figures show that it is much more common for a Black or Brown person to be charged with possession,” Kory said. 

A state study released last year found that from 2010 to 2019 the average arrest rate of Black Virginians for marijuana possession was more than three times higher than that of white residents for the same crime—6.3 per 1,000 Black individuals and 1.8 per white people. This is despite the fact that Black Virginians use marijuana at similar rates as white residents. The conviction rate was also higher for Black individuals. Northam stated that people of color were still disproportionately cited for possession even after marijuana was decriminalized.

The original legislation established the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority as the regulatory structure for the manufacture and retail sale of marijuana and marijuana products. 

The governor’s amendments would allow the authority to revoke a company’s business license if it interfered with union organizing efforts; failed to pay a prevailing wage as defined by the U.S. Department of Labor; or classified more than 10% of employees as independent contractors.

Lawmakers grappled with the dangers of juvenile use of marijuana, Kory said, and the impact of use on developing brains. 

Marijuana Justice wants to remove the delinquency charge that designates marijuana possession a crime, not a civil penalty, if committed by someone underage. The penalty is still up to $25. 

“Instead of punishment, young people should be evaluated for appropriate services that address the root causes of their usage,” Marijuana Justice stated.

The amendments would fund a public awareness campaign on the health and safety risks of marijuana. The changes also would train law enforcement officers to recognize and prevent drugged driving. Northam stated that his amendments include “explicit language directing ongoing support for public health education.”

The bill established a Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Board tasked with providing youth mentoring programs to marginalized youth and those in foster care, as well as providing scholarships to children who have been negatively impacted by marijuana in their family or community. 

The current expungement of marijuana-related crimes is set for July 1, 2025. Northam’s new amendments call for marijuana-related criminal records to be expunged and sealed “as soon as state agencies are able” and to “simplify the criteria” for when records can be sealed. This will allow individuals convicted with marijuana offenses to be resentenced, according to the new amendment.

The bills originally passed along party lines. No Republicans voted for either bill, and several Democrats in the House did not vote on either measure. Sens. Richard Stuart, R-Montross, and Jill Vogel, R-Warrenton, stated that the governor’s amendments helped assuage their original concerns.

The conservative, faith-based organization The Family Foundation told supporters Thursday to contact their representatives and urge them to vote against the accelerated timeline. 

The organization stated that violent and nonviolent crime rates have increased in states that have legalized marijuana, citing an opinion piece from a police defense group.

“It’s always been about generating more tax revenue to finance the ever-expanding state bureaucracy, creating massive fortunes for those who would use marijuana (like gambling) to prey on our most vulnerable citizens, and catering to a generation increasingly void of moral standards,” stated Victoria Cobb, the foundation’s president.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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