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Benjamin West

Skill-based Slot Machines Put Vegas at the Corner Bar

By Emily Holter and Benjamin West, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — It sits a few blocks from the bustle of Carytown, under a deep blue awning and the gaze of its mascot — a sunburnt moose holding up a pint with a cocked, toothy smile.

When City Beach is nearly empty, the bar is vast and echoey. It appears to defy physics, a deeper space than the building should be able to handle when viewed from the street.

Past the smokers planted on the front patio and just through the doors stands a little room on the left. When occupied, the room can be loud, with an onslaught of clashing, out-of-time electronic sound effects from four bulky machines. Hands come down hard on buttons, and people yell to each other in frustration — or joy when they win a jackpot.

From the spinning wheels and the colorful cartoon images on the screens to the hands pulling out wallets and feeding in 10s, 20s or even $50 bills, the room looks like a miniature Las Vegas.

The machines look, sound, feel and act like slot machines, which are against the law in Virginia. But these devices are called “skill machines” on grounds that they’re not based entirely on chance. For the present moment, skill machines are 100 percent legal, and they’re popping up all over the commonwealth.

Besides the touch screen, each skill machine boasts two big buttons — easy to press, easy to slam: “Play” and “Ticket.” These let the player spin or cash out.

In the little room, a man named Pierce sat slightly slouched back at the closest machine to the doorway. He declined to give his last name. Batting his hand at the play button as he spoke, his attention stayed trained on the game.

Gambling isn’t new to Pierce. His mother is “a slot grinder,” and his stepfather has skill machines in the Pennsylvania bars he operates.

“So I’ve been playing these for years,” Pierce said.

At this point, Pierce’s machine said he was at $95. He had put in $45 to begin and had been as high as $160, but the “Ticket” button sat unpressed as Pierce kept testing his luck — or skill, depending on your point of view.

He was playing a game called “Pirates” — his favorite on this machine. Different games have different themes, sounds and cartoon garnishes, but in essence, they all are similar: They are all variations on tic-tac-toe, meaning a certain image has to connect across all three rows, for the player to win.

Bets range from 40 cents to $4. The higher the bet, the higher the payout.

Players are presented a set of three-by-three rows and the goal of making a pattern like tic-tac-toe. Each play costs a bet and spins the rows. The hope is to line up at least two of the same images because once the spin is over, you can place a “wild” anywhere on the board to finish the row.

“So here’s another thing about this game,” Pierce said. “You can hit ‘next puzzle’ and see if the next one’s a winner or not.”

The “next puzzle” option feels like a cheat code to some players, and yes, it’s as straightforward as it sounds. At any point, a player can see the results of their next spin, whether they’ll win thousands of dollars or absolutely nothing. Knowing the next puzzle can help players make their decision: pull out or keep playing. But ultimately, the “next puzzle” is only second in an endless line of puzzles, and many players are keenly aware of this caveat. So they keep betting to see what might be around the corner.

This extra piece of information is the argument for why the machines should be called skill machines and not slot machines. It’s why people like Pierce can step into a bar any night of the week and risk some of their cash in hopes of hitting it big.

Short of hitting a jackpot by lining up the three cartoon tiles assigned to the most money, players tend to hope for a “bonus” win. These are specialty tiles that often specifically say “bonus” on them. They can give the player extra spins or queue a simple minigame, such as opening virtual suitcases or spinning a wheel.

Players’ reactions reveal that these types of wins are exciting, and it’s easy to see why. They are much more attainable than the standard jackpot win, but they can still draw some serious money.

After a few minutes, Pierce hit a bonus, giving him 10 extra automatic spins.

“Oh, look!” he yelled, jumping out of his seat to call down the hallway. “Let’s go, we got the big bonus!”

The rows started spinning rapidly, possessed, and people in the room gathered to watch over Pierce’s shoulder.

Pierce excitedly circled the ice in his drink and yelled a few more times, but as the spins started to run out, he calmed down.

“Ah, it’s not going to be anything crazy, man,” he said, with a tinge of disappointment.

The bonus spins depleted, numbers flew to the center of the screen to calculate the winnings: $50, putting Pierce’s overall money in play at $136 and some change.

“I put $45 in. If I cash out now, I’m up $90,” he estimated.

Pierce tapped around on the screen, checking the next puzzle for the bet amount he was playing on. Nothing. Eventually, he pressed the “Ticket” button, and the machine discharged a warm, freshly printed receipt, which Pierce took to the bar and traded for cash.

Soon, somebody else sat at Pierce’s machine. Sure, Pierce had made money, but he hadn’t hit the jackpot. The amount, thousands of dollars, taunted from the screen. It was still anybody’s game.

The legal and corporate perspective

Currently, gambling is restricted in Virginia. State law allows betting on horse races at licensed locations, and charitable gaming, such as a limited number of bingo games and raffles that benefit nonprofit groups.

During the General Assembly’s 2019 session, legislators introduced bills to legalize casinos, authorize sports betting and expand charitable gaming. Most of those proposals failed.

However, skill machines fall into a legal loophole, allowing bars and other establishments to install — and profit from — the devices.

Queen of Virginia Skill & Entertainment, the company that makes the skill machines used in Virginia, says its devices aren’t illegal because there’s an element of skill.

“Our machines’ software take out that element of chance and add skill because, based on the player, they can actually win more money than they put in every single time they play our game,” said Kevin Anderson, the director of compliance for Queen of Virginia Skill and a former enforcement agent for the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority.

The software originated in Pennsylvania, where it went through several court systems, Anderson said. He said Queen of Virginia Skill machines are the only ones checked by a government entity.

Attorney General Mark Herring has not filed a complaint against the skill machines. A spokesperson for his office said Herring will let each jurisdiction decide whether to allow the machines.

“We have our games in almost all jurisdictions in Virginia,” Anderson said. He said the machines are located only in ABC-licensed facilities. That would include bars, restaurants that serve alcohol and gas stations that sell beer and wine.

Anderson said that Queen of Virginia Skill asked the ABC to examine its machines and software and that the agency gave a favorable review.

Officials at the Virginia Lottery also weighed in, saying they are not worried about skill machines. However, when asked whether the machines are legal, they declined to comment.

“We were watching closely as they appeared across the state,” said Virginia Lottery spokeswoman Jennifer Mullen. “As of now, we have no concerns.”

This spring, the Virginia Lottery is adding a feature to its app to allow consumers to play lottery-type games through their phones at any retail location in which they connect through a Bluetooth connection, Mullen said.

Trent Hazelwood, a server at New York Deli and a casual skill machine player, said he believes the new lottery app was designed to compete with the skill machines; however, the Virginia Lottery said there is no correlation.

For restaurants and bars, skill machines can provide a new revenue stream. The hosting businesses keep 40 percent of the money that the machines take in. Thirty percent of the revenue goes to the companies in charge of distributing and maintaining the machines, and 30 percent goes to Queen of Virginia Skill & Entertainment.

The personal perspective on skill machines

According to Brice Slack, general manager at Buffalo Wild Wings on West Broad Street in Henrico County, a community has emerged among skill machine players who move from place to place, hoping to hit a jackpot.

“There’s regulars amongst the Queen machine community that kind of hop from establishment to establishment,” Slack said.

Slack doesn’t believe players will have much luck trying to outsmart the machines.

“It is just a series of spins,” Slack said.

In theory, industry officials say, skillful players should be able to win on any machine equally. It’s the distinction that makes the machines legal and popular.

“Players can WIN every time based on skill & not chance,” Queen of Virginia Skill & Entertainment says in a bulleted entry on its website.

But some people who work with the machines daily aren’t convinced.

“Is it really skill? Not really, no. It’s still chance either way,” said Miles Murdock, a server at New York Deli.

Working just a few feet from his restaurant’s machines, Murdock said he is a frequent player. He even remembers the day they appeared at his workplace. He said his boss framed them as a surprise, a gift of sorts to the employees.

Unlike some of his customers, Murdock plays with extra money — his tips — and he views the skill machines as entertainment. The machines aren’t paying his rent or buying his groceries. They’re just for fun, he said.

“We get a lot of people in here who see it as pretty much a revenue source,” Murdock said. “I’d rather just take the money I earn and count on a sure thing.”

But then again, Murdock said some people are much luckier than he is. They come in, win big and often, and have their own little rituals to keep the money flowing, he said.

Hazelwood, Murdock’s coworker, offered an example.

“I’m just going to tell you about this one guy,” Hazelwood said. “He pushes the buttons a certain way. He taps the screen a certain way. And he is convinced that, like, the way that he taps the button or presses the screen means that it will trigger something.”

At City Beach, Pierce, too, has a ritual: He said he won’t put even dollar amounts into the machines. If he wants to risk about $100, he said, “I’ll put in $105.”

The community of skill machine players can take the game very seriously. At first, some businesses worried about hosting such activities in establishments that serve alcohol. But local businesses have had few problems with skill machine patrons.

“Drunk people and gambling, there’s no way that this can end well,” Murdock remembered thinking when the machines arrived at New York Deli. “However, I was proven wrong.”

Murdock said he occasionally finds parents letting their kids play, which he immediately prohibits — “Participants must be at least 18,” notes a bold, red screensaver as customers sit down to play. Once, a patron told Murdock the machine ate their money.

“Beyond that, we’ve had no problems,” he said. “No disruptive customers.”

Hazelwood described the machines as a “loophole in the law,” and Slack called them “a gray area.”

Virginia has shown reluctance to fully embrace gambling. But at least for these skill machines, those populating bars and restaurants — the servers, managers and people sitting down to play with a drink in their hands — are showing less reluctance.

Trump’s Business Dealings Violate Constitution, Attorneys General Say

By Benjamin West, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Flanked by U.S. flags, two attorneys general argued Tuesday that President Donald Trump is violating the constitutional ban against government officials accepting gifts or favors.

Attorneys General Karl Racine of the District of Columbia and Brian Frosh of Maryland — both Democrats — made that assertion at a press conference regarding the latest chapter in an ongoing legal battle between the two jurisdictions and Trump.

In mid-2017, D.C. and Maryland sued Trump, alleging that the president has violated the emolument clauses of the U.S. Constitution as a result of his domestic and foreign business dealings through the Trump Organization. The case was heard Tuesday by a panel of three judges of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The Department of Justice continues to take the position that President Trump is above the law and that somehow, the Constitution’s anti-corruption law should not apply to him,” Racine said.

The suit involves two clauses in the U.S. Constitution:

  • The Domestic Emoluments Clause states that the president cannot profit domestically in business dealings aside from his salary, currently $400,000 per year.
  • The Title of Nobility Clause states that the federal government cannot distribute titles of nobility and that no government official can “accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind, whatever” from any foreign country without the approval of Congress.

“He’s trying to negotiate the terms of the Constitution,” Frosh said. “We have the right to have the president put our interests first and it appears that he’s not doing that, he’s putting his financial interests first.”

Racine pointed to the “horrific killing” of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, widely reported to have been orchestrated by the Saudi leadership.

“We now as Americans have to ask ourselves whether the administration’s reaction to that horrific murder was for valid diplomatic reasons, or whether it’s because the president of the United States has a financial interest that he is seeking to exploit and preserve,” Racine said.

Frosh said any payment to the Trump Organization from a foreign entity would be proof of a constitutional violation.

“The Domestic Emoluments Clause says that he only gets his salary from the United States and no other emolument,” Frosh said.

He cited the Trump International Hotel Washington, where foreign dignitaries and other guests have stayed, as problematic. The hotel is located less than a mile from the White House in a building called the Old Post Office.

“Trump Post Office Hotel is itself an emolument,” Frosh said. “So he’s violating both clauses, both of them, every single day.”

Frosh said the plaintiffs “expect to prevail” in the lawsuit. They plan to pursue the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if needed.

The attorneys general said Trump’s business empire make it “more difficult” to deal with the emoluments clauses, “but that’s what he signed up for.”

“When he ran for president, he knew he was going to have to live with these two constitutional requirements,” Frosh said. “And maybe it’s tougher for him than it would be for me or somebody else. But he ran for president; he’s subject to the Constitution just as every other American is.”

Trump and his attorneys have argued that the lawsuit has no legal merit and that D.C. and Maryland have no authority to sue the president over money his businesses may receive from foreign interests.

“The complaint rests on a host of novel and fundamentally flawed constitutional premises, and litigating the claims would entail intrusive discovery into the president’s personal financial affairs and the official actions of his Administration,” according to a document filed in court by the U.S. Justice Department.

Bills Push to Hide Lottery Winners’ Identities

By Alexandra Zernik and Benjamin West, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northam Details Budget Proposals to Boost Education

Gov. Northam signs his proclamation recognizing February 2019 as School Board Appreciation Month while VSBA President R. Tyrone Foster looks on.

By Benjamin West, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Gov. Ralph Northam outlined his budgetary proposals to educators Wednesday: for a 5 percent teacher pay increase, expanded broadband internet, funding for school resource officers and counselors, and a major bump in the state’s rainy day fund.

“There is power in every child out there, and every child needs the same opportunity, and that is access to a world-class education,” Northam said.

Seated at circular tables with their district’s name printed neatly on a card, elected members of school boards from around the state listened to speakers discuss the budget and policy proposals at the 2019 Virginia School Board Association Capital Conference.

VSBA President R. Tyrone Foster said it’s important for attendees “to meet with your local legislators to make sure that we advocate for our children.” On Thursday, the second day of the event, members will do just that — meeting face to face with their representatives at the Capitol.

Northam identified fields in which Virginians will find the “jobs of the 21st century.” He named science, technology, engineering, the arts, math and health care and fields such as cybersecurity, biotechnology, data analysis and artificial intelligence.

“How do we educate our children so that they can be on a pathway for those exciting job opportunities and careers?” the governor asked.

He said Virginia’s growing economy is giving the commonwealth funds that can be put toward educational goals. Northam said changes in the federal tax code and a proposed internet sales tax will contribute to the increase in government revenues.

“The question is: What will we do with it?” he said.

Northam highlighted the importance of the rainy day fund, which he said accounted for $500 million of last year’s budget.

“Our economy right now is doing well, but you never know what it’s going to do next year,” he said.

Northam said he hopes to save 8 percent of the budget by the end of his administration.

For current taxpayers, the governor addressed his plans for a fully refundable earned income tax credit “for those making $54,000 or less” and a raise in the Virginia standard tax deduction.

Lastly, Northam addressed the future.

“We really are at a unique opportunity here to be able to invest some of this revenue into the future of Virginia,” Northam said.

His financial proposals include:

  • $50 million per year over five years “to make sure that everybody across Virginia has access to broadband.” The governor said, “If our children are working on a computer at school during the day and then have an assignment at night, and they don’t have access to broadband, their hands are literally tied.”
  • A 2 percent pay raise for teachers on July 1 in addition to the 3 percent already planned. “That will be the largest one-time pay raise for teachers in over 15 years,” Northam said.
  • $36 million per year for “hiring and supporting” school counselors. “Our children are exposed to a lot of different things these days. They rely heavily on their counselors,” he said.
  • Several million dollars for school resource officers. “I really don’t think it’s a good idea for our teachers to be law enforcement officers,” Northam said. “We pay them to teach, not to be law enforcement.”
  • $80 million for school renovations and new construction.

According to press secretary Alena Yarmosky, the budgetary proposals were based on recommendations from the Children’s Cabinet, “a diverse group of stakeholders focused on enhancing school safety and ensuring the well-being of Virginia’s students,” established by executive order last year.

School Safety Bills Are Up for Final Approval in House

By Benjamin West, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — The House of Delegates on Tuesday is expected to pass the first five bills in a package of legislation to improve school safety — proposals drafted by a special committee after the mass shooting last year at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

House Speaker Kirk Cox, a high school teacher for 30 years, and other Republican delegates held a news conference Monday to urge support for the bills, which would help schools improve security, require them to have emergency response plans and ensure that counselors spend most of their time with students.

“I know firsthand how much students and teachers deal with on a daily basis, and the last thing they need to do while learning is to be worried about their safety,” said Cox, who chaired the Select Committee on School Safety.

The select committee was formed shortly after 17 students and staff members were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland last February.

Cox described the committee as a bipartisan effort — it included 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats — but only Republican members were present at the press conference.

According to GOP officials, the panel issued 24 priority recommendations in December, resulting in 10 pieces of legislation. Five of those bills have cleared House committees and are up for final consideration Tuesday in the House.

“These proposals on the House floor this week will span topics that range from school counseling, mental health, to building codes and security enhancements,” said Del. Daniel Marshall III, R-Danville. “Taken together, we have laid out a multiyear blueprint for improving school safety that we can draw from as we move into the legislative process.”

The bills, which delegates tentatively approved Monday, are:

  • HB 1725, which would require local officials to have a plan that all security enhancements in school buildings comply with building and fire codes.
  • HB 1729, requiring school counselors to spend at least 80 percent of their staff time “in direct counseling,” rather than in administrative tasks.
  • HB 1732, to require elementary and secondary schools to host at least one general emergency drill a year along with standard fire, tornado and earthquake drills.
  • HB 1733, which would ensure that school resource officers understand their roles on school grounds as defined by the local law enforcement agency.
  • HB 1738, which says that an architect trained in crime prevention must approve any school building or renovation plans, focusing on “corridors, open spaces and floor plans through the lens of school safety.”

After final approval by the House, the bills then would go to the Senate for consideration.

House Democrats have criticized the select committee for declining to consider policies concerning firearms. So they created a study group called the Safe Virginia Initiative.

“Unfortunately, despite requests from House Democrats, the decision was made that the Select Committee would specifically exclude any exploration of gun safety proposals as well as the role that access to guns contributes to the multiple incidents of carnage,” the initiative’s report states.

Headed by two Fairfax Democrats — House Democratic Leader Eileen Filler-Corn and Del. Kathleen Murphy — the initiative recommended that the state require background checks on all gun buyers, the reporting of lost or stolen firearms, and in-person training for concealed handgun permits, rather than video training. The Safe Virginia Initiative also called for reinstating the state’s limit of one handgun purchase per month.

Last week, a House subcommittee killed more than a dozen of the Democrats’ bills.

Bipartisan Group Launches Initiative for Racial Reconciliation

Richmond City Mayor Levar Stoney speaking before fellow members of Virginians for Reconciliation at a press conference Wednesday.

By Benjamin West, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Four centuries after enslaved Africans were brought to Virginia, a diverse group of public officials, business executives and religious leaders has opened a yearlong dialogue about racial justice and healing.

The group, Virginians for Reconciliation, detailed its plans at a press conference Wednesday afternoon with words from Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam; his Republican predecessor, Bob McDonnell; and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.

The goals are straightforward: “To get people to know, respect and care for one another, to break down racial barriers of prejudice and mistrust, and build a stronger basis to solve problems for the common good,” McDonnell said. “But talk is cheap, and results matter.”

The initiative comes as the Virginia General Assembly marks its 400th anniversary, which began when the House of Burgesses convened in Jamestown in 1619 — the first European legislative body in the American colonies.

Northam said Virginians must reflect on the grim part of history as well.

“Talk about what was good about our history — the pursuit of liberty — and what was not good — the pursuit of enslavement,” said the governor, who recently proclaimed 2019 the Year of Reconciliation and Civility.

“This is an opportunity for us to review that and move forward together.”

The organization has proposed more than 20 activities, including encouraging Virginians to read “The Color of Law,” which shows how government contributed to racial segregation.

“Slavery didn’t end, it just evolved,” said David Bailey, quoting the lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson.

Bailey is executive director of Arrabon, a Christian group promoting reconciliation. He said the Christian faith community has an important role to play in racial reconciliation because much of slavery was carried out “in the name of Jesus.”

As part of a clergy pulpit exchange, Virginians for Reconciliation will encourage pastors to preach at “churches of different faiths/races.” The group also will urge Virginians — including members of the General Assembly — to walk the Richmond Slave Trail, which includes sites where slaves were imprisoned, bought and sold.

“The physical chains are gone,” Stoney said. “But we all know that many people of color today are still bound by the chains of poverty, inadequate access to health care and shut out from opportunity by the criminal justice system.”

At the news conference, McDonnell was asked whether Virginians for Reconciliation would address difficult issues such as Confederate monuments that are prevalent throughout Virginia.

McDonnell said the group was focused on building relationships but might “begin recommending some of these policy changes” after a civil dialogue has taken place.

“This is a start,” McDonnell said. He said the organization’s work could “hopefully be a model for America.”

Democrats’ Priorities: LGBT Rights, Environment, $15 Minimum Wage

House Democratic Leader Del. Eileen Filler-Corn gives her opening statement at the House Democratic Caucus press meeting Tuesday. She spoke about past party victories and new challenges in the 2019 session. (Photo Benjamin West)

 

By Benjamin West, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — LGBT rights legislation, environmental protection and a push for a $15 minimum wage are among the goals House Democrats have for the 2019 legislative session.

Members of the House Democratic Caucus held a press conference Tuesday to outline their priorities for the session, which runs until Feb. 23.

House Democratic Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, a delegate from Fairfax, celebrated the party’s recent victories at the polls, including the election of 15 new Democratic delegates in 2017 and two consecutive Democratic governors. Filler-Corn said she hoped her colleagues would keep pushing forward.

“There is so much more that we can do, and that’s why we are here today,” she said. “If we are to successfully pass this legislation, we’ll continue to move Virginia forward.”

The list of policy priorities is not “comprehensive or exhaustive,” Filler-Corn said, noting, for example, that it did not include gun safety legislation.

But she said the goals would help workers, children, teachers, the middle class and other groups. Filler-Corn said she hoped her Republican colleagues would join her “to successfully pass some of these bills.”

Speakers at the news conference included:

·         Democratic Caucus Chair Charniele Herring, a delegate from Alexandria, who said the party would push for no-excuse absentee voting and other changes in voting laws. “No right is more fundamental to our democracy than the right to vote, yet that right is under attack across the country,” Herring said.

·         Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy of Woodbridge, who discussed legislation to protect the LGBT community from discrimination. “Virginia has been on the wrong side of history too many times,” Foy said. “We have fought against interracial marriage, women's right to vote, women being able to receive a higher education. We fought against desegregation. And now it’s time for us to be on the right side of history.”

·         Del. Jeion Ward of Hampton, who touted bills to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour and to help firefighters suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. “We cannot strengthen our economy without strengthening our neighbors,” Ward said.

·         Del. Wendy Gooditis of Clarke County, who called for environmental legislation that she said would benefit both urban and rural Virginians. “Constituents on both ends of my district need clean drinking water,” she said. “We all need fresh air. We all want a healthy future for our children.”

Gooditis said Democrats want laws to make sure the state’s electric utilities are investing in clean energy and to ensure that all residual coal ash from power plants is recycled.

“Farmers need green space and thriving waterways,” Gooditis said. “Parents want clean air and water so their children can flourish. Communities want prosperous local economies. The people of Virginia want us to move energetically toward a new, greener way of life.”

In her closing words at the news conference, Del. Vivian Watts of Fairfax said the House Democratic Caucus would work for the “the dignity of the individual.”

“We are determined to make this House the house for all Virginians,” she said.

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