Capital News Service

Subcommittee Advances Bill Prohibiting LGBTQ Discrimination

By Jimmy O’Keefe, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- A General Assembly subcommittee advanced a bill Thursday that would prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, public accommodations, employment and credit applications.

Lawmakers suggested expanding the focus of a bill introduced by Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, that would update the Virginia Fair Housing act to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing.

McQuinn’s bill was rolled into HB 1663, patroned by Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax. Sickles’ bill, called the “Virginia Values Act,” includes additional protections against discrimination for LGBTQ Virginians in employment, public spaces and credit transactions and also outlines a process for civil action in a discrimination case.

The Virginia Fair Housing Law currently prevents housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, elderliness, familial status and disability. Sickles’ bill would add “pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity” or status as a veteran, to current law.

“As an African American woman, I have personally been subjected to discrimination all my life because of my race and my gender,” McQuinn said in an email interview with Capital News Service. “This will be another step toward dismantling systematic discrimination and creating fairness and equal opportunities for all citizens.”

Equality Virginia, a group that advocates for LGBTQ equality, said the legislation is a step in the right direction and praised the delegates’ work.

“These protections are long overdue and an important step forward for Virginia’s LGBTQ community,” Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia, said in a statement.

Similar bills have been introduced by both chambers in previous sessions. Though praised by the ACLU and LGBTQ advocacy groups, such bills passed the Senate with support from some Republican senators, but never could advance out of Republican-led House subcommittees.

Capital News Service reached out to Republicans who voted against previous legislation to gauge their support for the current bill, but none responded.

Earlier this week the Senate passed a bill to allow a person who changed their sex to receive a new birth certificate. Introduced by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, SB 657 aims to eliminate problems for the transgender community that occur when their legal identification doesn’t match their transition, such as renting a home or applying for a credit line.

The Transgender Assistance Program of Virginia is a nonprofit that works to end transgender homelessness by providing individuals with resources to find emergency shelter, food and referrals to housing programs. De Sube, chairperson of the organization, said any nondiscrimination bill will help the transgender community.

The resource is needed, Sube said, because many clients are kicked out of their homes after they tell family, loved ones or roommates that they are transgender. Then they run into discrimination while seeking housing.

“Many transgender people apply for housing, apartments, rental homes, etc., and they’re just denied because of their transgender identity,” Sube said.

Sickles said in a statement that discrimination has no place in Virginia.

“All Virginians deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, including LGBTQ people,” Sickles said.

Advocates expect HB 1663 to be heard in committee Tuesday. The companion bill sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, is expected to be heard in a Senate committee the following day.

"In Virginia, although a gay couple can get married on Sunday, the sad reality is they can get fired on Monday, evicted on Tuesday morning and denied a hotel room Tuesday night,” Ebbin said in a press release. “This isn’t a theoretical issue, discrimination is happening today.”

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League of Women Voters push lawmakers for criminal justice reform

By Maia Stanley, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Every Wednesday during the legislative session, the Virginia chapter of the League of Women Voters hosts a roundtable featuring legislators and speakers before members head to the State Capitol and lobby lawmakers. 

Deb Wake, president of the Virginia chapter, considers education a priority for the nonpartisan political organization and utilizes the member’s experience and knowledge to cultivate different perspectives.

“We’re always trying to learn and take advantage of the power of our membership,” Wake said. 

The group started with a discussion of gun control bills, citing the recent massive gun rights rally as a wake-up call to create stricter legislation.

“There's the right to gun ownership, but there's also the right to be free from intimidation by the people who show up with their firepower for the express purpose of intimidation,” Wake said.

The league was joined this week by the American Civil Liberties Union and the groups promoted criminal justice reform legislation. Both want lawmakers to eliminate the use of solitary confinement, calling it “inhumane.”

Last year, the General Assembly passed a law requiring state prisons to report data on prisoners placed in solitary confinement, including information on their sex, ethnicity, race, age, mental health and medical status. Prisons also must report why and how long a prisoner has been placed in solitary confinement and the security level of the confinement. The ACLU feels that it is not enough. 

“Solitary confinement jeopardizes public safety, wastes taxpayer dollars, and can cause serious lifelong psychological harm and trauma,” the ACLU stated. 

Justin Patterson, a correctional officer at Sussex 1 State Prison in Sussex County, said the mental health effects of solitary confinement depends on the situation.

“I've seen offenders who have been in solitary confinement for years thriving in population now. I've seen people who have been in there for weeks and start to lose it,” Patterson said. “It's a case by case basis in my experience.”

House Bill 1284, introduced by Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, would “prohibit the use of isolated confinement in state correctional facilities and juvenile correctional centers.” It is currently sitting in a subcommittee.

According to the Virginia Department of Corrections, short-term solitary confinement was reduced by 66% from January 2016 to June 2019 as a part of their Restrictive Housing Pilot Program. 

Patterson argues that solitary confinement is necessary within the prison system.

“We are dealing with very dangerous individuals in an environment which breeds violence,” Patterson said. “Solitary confinement isn't just used as a disciplinary procedure, it's also used for safety purposes.”

The ACLU also wants to change the definition of petit larceny, thefts less than $500, which they said is one of the lowest in the country. It wants to raise the threshold to $1,500, according to Ashna Khanna, legislative director. A House bill proposing that change died last year in a committee. 

“We're seeing this entire system of how people are becoming disenfranchised, how people are becoming incarcerated, and we know that it disproportionately is black or brown people,” Khanna said.

Del. Joseph Lindsey, D-Norfolk, and Del. Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church, proposed HB 101, which would increase the grand larceny minimum to $750 but a Courts of Justice subcommittee voted down the measure Friday. 

Gov. Ralph Northam has voiced support for current legislation to raise the grand larceny threshold to $1,000, doubling the threshold that it was raised to in the previous session.

The League of Women Voters and the ACLU also are working on reforming the pretrial system, which the ACLU said largely affects communities of color who may not be able to afford bail. Other topics discussed at the round table included no-excuse absentee voting and legalization of marijuana. The ACLU has voiced opposition to current legislation proposing the decriminalization of marijuana, in favor of legalization.

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Virginia Senate Passes Bill for Schools to Provide Menstrual Products

By Maia Stanley, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia Senate unanimously passed a bill Tuesday requiring public schools to include free menstrual products in their bathrooms. 

Senate Bill 232 applies to schools that educate fifth-to-12th graders. According to the Virginia Department of Education, this encompasses 132 school districts and almost over 630,000 female students

“I would like to see that the supplies are available, just like other supplies that we keep in the bathroom,” said Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, the legislation’s chief patron.

An earlier version of the bill applied the stipulation to the aforementioned schools where at least 40% of students qualified for free or reduced lunch. 

Boysko introduced the bill to make it more convenient for students to access menstrual products and help them avoid accidents.

“This is a necessity and girls can't carry out their school day without it,” Boysko said. “Some girls are missing school time and end up going home and missing classes because of these kinds of challenges.”

According to Boysko, school budgets currently cover menstrual product expenses, but they are often kept in the nurse’s office, making it inconvenient for students. 

Karen Keys-Gamarra believes menstrual products need to be more accessible at Fairfax County Public Schools, where she is a school board member.

“We typically provided menstrual supplies in the nurse's office, which was, in my opinion, inappropriate in that we were treating this bodily function as something you need to see a nurse for,” Keys-Gamarra said. 

The district began a pilot program last fall providing free menstrual products in school bathrooms to improve access to menstrual products. 

Last year, Gov. Ralph Northam signed the Dignity Act sponsored by Boysko, which standardized taxes on hygiene products, such as pads, tampons and diapers to 2.5% statewide, in effort to make feminine hygiene products more affordable. The tax previously varied from 2.5% to 7%, depending on the part of the state.

“The essential nature of personal health care products is not up for debate and I commend the General Assembly for coming together to ensure these savings for Virginians,” Northam said at the time in a press release.

Boysko also introduced a bill this session to eliminate the tax on menstrual products. 

“Women don't have a choice about these products. They've been treated just like any other luxury product,” Boysko said. “There are a lot of people who feel like it's actually an unfair taxation on women.”

Menstrual products are not covered by government grocery assistance programs, and some families can't afford sanitary products.

“There are students here in Virginia, and all over the world, who are not able to get to school because they don’t have the products, they can’t afford them,” Boysko said during the committee meeting. 

Four states, California, Illinois, New York and New Hampshire, currently require schools to provide free menstrual products in women’s bathrooms. Boysko hopes to make Virginia the fifth state to have that requirement. 

Boysko believes the House will pass the bill. Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, sponsored a similar House bill.

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Virginia Lawmakers Break For Brunswick Stew

People line up for Brunswick stew

Legislative pages transport stew

By Conor Lobb, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- The aroma of meat and vegetables beckoned state legislators Wednesday to a tent at the foot of the Capitol for Brunswick Stew Day.

Scores of legislative pages -- young aides who assist lawmakers -- wheeled carts laden with styrofoam containers of stew back toward the State Capitol for legislators who couldn’t get away.

“There’s no cooking supper when you come home with Brunswick stew,” said Del. Thomas C. Wright, R-Victoria. Wright was the legislative “chef” responsible for the official resolution designating the fourth Wednesday in January as Brunswick Stew Day. 

“The legislators love it. At first, they didn’t even know what Brunswick stew was,” Wright said. 

Brunswick stew is a mixture of beans, chicken, corn and other vegetables. In 1988 the Virginia General Assembly named Brunswick County the “birthplace” of Brunswick stew -- though the designation hasn’t gone unchallenged by Brunswick, Georgia. 

For 18 years, stew masters have brought their award-winning recipes to the Capitol. This year, the honor belongs to the Danieltown Stew Crew. The group won the 2019 World Champion Brunswick Stew Cook-off, held last fall at the Lawrenceville-Brunswick Municipal Airport.

Inside the steamy, white tent where the stew cooked, a three-man team stirred the stew pots, weighing 50 and 75 gallons, respectively. Clark Bennett, the Danieltown Stew Master, told Capitol News Service that his 75-gallon pot is over 100 years old.

“Some people call them cauldrons,” Bennett said.

Bennett was using two massive cast iron cauldrons to brew his version of the Brunswick tradition. The stew crew used a wooden paddle to constantly stir the hearty mixture.

“I do a figure eight. You don’t want it sticking to the pot,” said Kyle Gee, a member of the stew crew.

Virginia Secretary of Agriculture Bettina Ring said that Brunswick Stew Day is a great tradition in Brunswick County and rustic parts of the state. She also called it an opportunity to educate legislators about rural communities.

Brunswick County Administrator Charlette Woolridge said Brunswick Stew Day helps promote the county and reach legislators.

“It’s important that they understand issues that impact Brunswick County and rural communities,” Woolridge said, highlighting the importance of increasing rural broadband and stimulating economic development.

Del. Roslyn C. Tyler, D-Jarratt, represents Brunswick. She said broadband is imperative “to promote economic development and attract businesses.” 

Two duplicate bills were introduced this legislative session, one in the House and one in the Senate, that would grant a locality the authority to establish telecommunication services such as internet and broadband.

Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, asked for her bill to be removed and the other bill, introduced by Del. Steve Heretick, D-Portsmouth, failed to pass a subcommittee Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the bowls of steaming stew had no problem being passed around.


Bill Defining Milk Aims To Give Dairy Farmers Supermarket Advantage

By Will Gonzalez, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- As people drink less dairy milk and some turn to plant-based alternatives such as oat, soy and almond milk, dairy farmers say they're struggling. That’s why Virginia is the latest state to advance legislation restricting the use of the word milk for marketing purposes.

Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, introduced House Bill 119, which defines milk as the lacteal secretion “obtained by the complete milking of a healthy hooved animal.” The bill prohibits plant-based milk alternative products from marketing their products as milk. Knight, a pig farmer, said agriculture is the largest private industry in Virginia, and the state government has to protect it. The bill reported out of the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources committee Wednesday, and heads to the House floor.

Virginia produced about 1.6 billion pounds of dairy milk in 2018, and the number of permits issued to dairy farmers is on the decline, according to the Virginia Farm Bureau.

“We’re losing about one dairy farm a week in the state of Virginia, and farmers are struggling hard,” Knight said. “I thought, ‘well, maybe these plant-based fluids are capitalizing on the good name of milk.’”

HB 119 was amended to say that 11 out of the following states need to pass similar legislation for the law to go into effect: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. A bill that passed the North Carolina legislature carried a similar stipulation.

Michael Robbins, a spokesperson from the Plant Based Foods Association, believes the bill is unnecessary, and the dairy industry has created a “bogeyman” in plant-based milk, instead of addressing the tangible issues the dairy industry faces.

“We view these bills as a solution in search of a problem,” Robbins said. “There is no consumer confusion on plant-based dairy alternatives versus dairy coming from a hooved animal. Consumers know exactly what they’re purchasing.”

Mississippi and Arkansas passed their own “truth in labeling” laws for plant-based meat alternatives such as tofu dogs and beyond burgers, which were challenged and overturned on the grounds that they violated the First Amendment. Robbins said if milk labeling bills become law, the plant-based food industry will fight them in court.

“Right now, because none of those bills are in effect, there’s no standing to challenge them in court, but step one would be to file an appropriate lawsuit,” Robbins said.


Senate advances bill allowing transgender people to change birth certificate

By Rodney Robinson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Senate passed a bill earlier this week that would allow a person who changed their sex to have a new birth certificate issued, something that the transgender community said will help eliminate problems experienced when their legal identification doesn’t match their transition.

Senate Bill 657 would allow a person to receive a new birth certificate to reflect the a change of sex, without the requirement of surgery. The individual seeking a new birth certificate also may list a new name if they provide a certified copy of a court order of the name change.

“I just think it’s important to try to make life easier for people without being discriminated [against] or bullied,” said Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax. “Allowing an individual who is transgender to change their birth certificate without having to go through the full surgery allows them to live the life that they are due to have.”

The bill requires proof from a health care provider that the individual went through “clinically appropriate treatment for gender transition.” The assessment and treatment, according to Boysko’s office, is up to the medical provider. There is not a specific standard approach for an individual's transition. Treatment could include any of the following: counseling, hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgery, or a patient-specific approach from the medical provider.

A similair process is required to obtain a passport after change of sex, according to the State Department.

 Once the paperwork is complete, it is submitted to the Virginia Department of Health vital records department, Boysko said.

Boysko said her constituents have reported issues when they need to show legal documents in situations like leasing apartments, opening a bank account or applying for jobs.

This is the third year that Boysko has introduced the bill. Neither bill made it out of subcommittee in previous years, but Boysko believes the bill has a better chance of becoming law this year.

“I believe that we have a more open and accepting General Assembly then we’ve had in the past, where people are more comfortable working with the LGBTQ community and have expressed more of an interest in addressing some of these long overdue changes,” Boysko said.

Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia, a group that advocates for LGBTQ equality, said the organization is “really pleased that this bill is moving through.”

“This bill is really important for the transgender community,” Lamneck said. “Right now many transgendered people do not have identity documents … this is really problematic when people apply for jobs or try to open a bank account.”

There are 22 other states in America that have adopted legislation similar to this, including the District of Columbia, Boysko said. The senator said that “it’s time for Virginia to move forward and be the 23rd state."

The Senate also passed Tuesday Boysko’s bill requiring the Department of Education to develop policies concerning the treatment of transgender students in public elementary and secondary schools, along with a bill outlawing conversion therapy with any person under 18 years of age.

The bills now advance to the House, where they must pass before heading to the governor’s desk.

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Republican-backed gun bills fizzle on heels of massive rally

By Hannah Eason, Capital News Service

Democrats halted a slew of Republican-backed gun legislation Tuesday, including bills that would not require concealed carry permits, allow firearms in places of worship, and enable state employees to bring concealed guns to work.

One day after 22,000 gun rights advocates flooded the State Capitol in support of Second Amendment rights, 11 gun bills failed to advance out of a Democratic-majority legislative subcommittee.

House Bill 162 would have allowed those injured in established gun free zones to file a civil claim for damages. The bill states that if a locality or the commonwealth creates a gun free zone, it also waives its sovereign immunity in relation to injuries in that zone. Sovereign immunity protects government entities and employees against certain lawsuits.

Jason Nixon addressed the panel of delegates in support of the bill while wearing a Virginia Beach Strong T-shirt. His wife, Katherine Nixon, was killed in the May mass shooting in a Virginia Beach municipal building that left 12 dead and four injured.

“If you tell my wife that she has to go into gun free zones under city policies or state policies, and you can't protect her, and you harbor her right of protecting herself, is that fair?” Nixon said.

Nixon said his wife expressed safety concerns the night before the shooting — and contemplated bringing a gun in her purse — but decided against it to comply with the law.

“This bill probably should be called the ‘put your money where your mouth is,’” Del. John McGuire, R-Henrico, said. “If you are in a gun free zone, you should be able to hold the local government accountable for preventing you from doing anything in self defense.”

During a block vote of HB 162 and HB 1382, which supported similar measures, the bills were tabled in a 6-2 vote. Del. Carrie Coyner, R-Chesterfield, broke party lines to vote alongside Democrats.

HB 161, sponsored by McGuire, would have changed the law to not require a permit for a concealed handgun.

Louisa county resident Myria Rolan supported the bill, saying she had to obtain a concealed carry permits because winter clothing often covers her firearm. 

“But the reason I needed it isn't because I was going to do anything crazy. It's because I wear a coat or sweatshirt,” Rolan said. “Do you know how easy it is for current clothing to cover your firearm, and now you're committing a crime just because you are being fashionable or warm?”

Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, sponsored HB 596, which would repeal the law banning dangerous weapons in a place of worship. It was tabled in a 5-3 vote.

Steve Birnbaum, the head of a volunteer security team at his local synagogue, said he supports the bill. 

Birnbaum said it took law enforcement 10 minutes to respond during the mass attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. He said churches should have the option to protect themselves before officers arrive.

“There are some synagogues that don't even want paid security, because they don't like firearms, they don't always want off-duty officers, they don't want to pay for security, and that's their choice,” Birnbaum said. “But there are synagogues that understand that law enforcement are not coming, and that they're on their own for 10 minutes, if not longer, especially in rural parts of the state.”

One attendee said that church and state were separate, and legislators shouldn’t control whether people bring guns in churches. Current law allows armed security guards in places of worship.

The subcommittee tabled HB 596, HB 373 and HB 1486, all in a 5-3 vote. The bills would have allowed guns in places of worship. 

HB 669, patroned by Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, would have allowed state employees with a valid concealed handgun permit to carry a concealed handgun to their workplace. 

Other bills tabled Tuesday include :

  • HB 1470 would have allowed a landowner with property in multiple localities to extend the firearm ordinance of the country where the largest parcel was located to anyone hunting on site.

  • HB 1471 would have given property owners the ability to use HB 1470 in their legal defense.

  • HB 1175 would have increased the penalty for use or display of a firearm while committing certain felonies. It would raise the mandatory minimum sentence for first offenses from three years to five years, and second and subsequent offenses from five years to 10 years.

  • HB 1485 said that no locality shall adopt or enforce any workplace rule preventing an employee from carrying a concealed handgun if the employee has a valid concealed handgun permit.

  • HB 976, patroned by Del. Matthew Fariss, R-Campbell, was not heard today and will be consulted by the subcommittee at a later date.

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Bills to make voting easier advance in Virginia General Assembly

By Zach Armstrong, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia lawmakers have advanced Senate bills that make voting easier, including not requiring an excuse to vote absentee and recognizing Election Day as a state holiday. Other legislation that would extend citizen access to voting -- part of the 11-point “Virginia 2020 plan” put forward by Gov. Northam -- has yet to clear committees.

Senate Bill 601 designates Election Day as a state holiday to give more citizens the chance to cast their ballot. The bill also would strike from current law Lee-Jackson Day, which celebrates the birthdays of Confederate generals. The legislation, introduced by Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, passed the Senate Tuesday.

“Even on Election Day, people have to go to work, people have to handle childcare, people have to go to class and often it can be hard to make it to the polls,” said Del. Ibraheem Samirah, D-Herndon. “It just makes sense that those folks should be given the opportunity to come out and vote in a time window that works for them.”

A bill that removes the need for an excuse to cast an absentee ballot passed the Senate Monday. SB 111, introduced by Sen. Janet Howell, D-Reston, permits any registered voter to vote by absentee ballot in any election in which he is qualified to vote.

Several other bills that facilitate ease of absentee voting are SB 46, removing the requirement that a person applying for an absentee ballot provide a reason to receive the ballot; SB 455, extending the deadline when military and overseas absentee ballots can be received; SB 617, authorizing localities to create voter satellite offices to support absentee voting; and SB 859, making absentee voting easier for people who have been hospitalized.

Legislation in the House includes a bill that would also allow for no excuse absentee voting, automatic voter registration and same-day voter registration. In the Senate, a bill would pre-register teens 16 years old and older to vote and one bill in the House would reduce the period of time registration records must be closed before an election. All House bills are in an Elections subcommittee.

“Restrictive voting provisions almost always disproportionately affects people of color and low-income individuals because those are the groups that move more frequently, work multiple jobs and have less spare time,” said Jenny Glass, director of advocacy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.

The House and Senate also introduced bills that would remove requirements that voters present a photo ID when voting. Under the legislation, voters can show voter registration documents, bank statements, paychecks or any government document that shows the name and address of the voter. Neither bill has made it past committee.

Virginians currently must present a photo ID, such as a driver’s license or a U.S. passport, to vote in person. According to a 2012 study by Project Vote, an organization that works to ensure all Americans can vote, approximately 7% of the U.S. population lacks photo ID. This is especially true of  lower-income individuals, those under the age of 20 and ethnic minorities.

Voters can provide their social security number and other information to get a free Virginia Voter Photo Identification Card, but some legislators said that service is unknown to many.

“Before the photo ID requirement voters had to sign the affidavit to say they are who they say they are, and I think that was enough,” said House Majority Leader Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria. “I feel the photo ID was a way to suppress the vote because not everyone has one.”

Former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell signed SB 1256 into law mandating voters have a form of ID with a photograph. Virginia is one of the 18 states with such voting requirements, according to the National Conference of Legislature.

In 2016, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ID requirement after attorneys for the state Democratic Party challenged the law, arguing it had a disproportionate impact on low income and minority voters.

“People are fed up with our overly restrictive and racist voting policies, and the legislature is finally getting rid of some of the biggest roadblocks to progressive reform,” said Glass. “This has been a long time coming.”


‘The end is in sight’: ERA moves closer to ratification in Virginia


By Zobia Nayyar, Capital News Service

ERA introduced

RICHMOND, Va. -- Resolutions to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment swiftly passed the General Assembly Wednesday. The House version passed 59-41 and the Senate bill cleared with a 28-12 vote. The next step will be for each resolution to pass the other chamber, sometime in February.

“As the House sponsor of the bill, it is an honor to lead the effort in this historic moment for women,” said Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, in a released statement. “This vote demonstrates how greater female representation in government can significantly improve the lives of women across the country. We are here and will be heard.”

VAratifyERA, a campaign focused on the state’s ratification tweeted shortly after passage of the resolutions: “The end is in sight!”

First lady Pam Northam and daughter Aubrey Northam appeared at the House gallery to witness the moment. They joined a crowd of mostly women who cheered loudly when the measure passed.

The governor and Democratic legislators have championed the ERA as a legislative priority, promising this year the amendment wouldn’t die in the House as it has in past years.

“Today is an absolutely historic day for our Commonwealth and a major milestone in the fight for equality in this nation,” said Attorney General Mark Herring in a statement.  “Women in America deserve to have equality guaranteed in the Constitution and Virginians should be proud that we will be the state that makes it happen.”

Though Virginia passage of the ERA is seen as a symbol of the new Democratic leadership, the effort may be too late. The Department of Justice announced last week that the ERA can no longer be ratified because its deadline expired decades ago.

U.S. Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel agreed that the deadline cannot be revived.

“We conclude that Congress had the constitutional authority to impose a deadline on the ratification of the ERA, and because that deadline has expired, the ERA Resolution is no longer pending before the states,” Engel said.

Carroll Foy said in an interview last week that she believes the DOJ legal counsel’s opinion will not stop the ERA’s progress.

“I am more than confident that this is just another effort by people who want to stop progress and who don't believe in women's equality,” Carroll Foy said. “This is another one of their concerted efforts to deny us fundamental rights and equal protections. But the time has come; we are unrelenting. We will not be deterred, and we will have our full constitutional equality.”

The amendment seeks to guarantee equal rights in the U.S. Constitution regardless of sex. It passed Congress in 1972 but could not collect the three-fourths state support needed to ratify it. Efforts to ratify the ERA gained momentum in recent years when it passed in Nevada and Illinois.

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Five states --Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee and South Dakota -- have stated their intent to rescind their ratification, which ERA opponents say could prevent it from being added to the constitution, according to VAratifyERA. The ERA organization said that “Article V of the Constitution authorizes states to ratify amendments but does not give states the power to rescind their ratification.” The organization points out that the 14th, 15th and 19th amendments were added to the Constitution despite some state efforts to rescind ratification.

Herring said that he is “preparing to take any steps necessary to ensure that Virginia is recognized as the 38th ratifying state, that the will of Virginians is carried out, and that the ERA is added to our Constitution, as it should be.”

Female-led groups united at the General Assembly last week, urging representatives not to pass legislation ratifying the ERA. Groups such as The Family Foundation of Virginia, Eagle Forum, Students For Life of America and Concerned Women for America said they oppose ERA ratification because the amendment does not explicitly support women’s equality.

“The ERA does not put women in the Constitution,” said Anne Schlafly Cori, chairman of Eagle Forum, a conservative and pro-family group. “It puts sex in the Constitution, and sex has a lot of different definitions.”

President of the Virginia chapter of the The Family Foundation Victoria Cobb believe women have already achieved equality.

“Today I am different than men and yet equal under the U.S. Constitution, and Virginia Constitution and Virginia laws,” Cobb said.

A statement released last week by the National Archives and Records Administration, the agency that certifies ratification of amendments, indicated that the agency will follow DOJ guiERA its about timedance that the deadline to ratify has passed "unless otherwise directed by a final court order."

Still, enthusiasm was palpable Wednesday at the State Capitol.

“The people of Virginia spoke last November, voting a record number of women into the House of Delegates and asking us to ratify the ERA,” said Democratic Majority Leader Charniele Herring in a released statement. “It is inspiring to see the amendment finally be considered, voted on, and passed – long-awaited recognition that women deserve.”

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Marijuana reform advocates divided between decriminalization or legalization

By Emma Gauthier, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Advocates dressed in black stood Wednesday at the base of the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial to voice their support of marijuana legalization, repeating a variation of, “the time is now,” in each of their statements. 

Participants dressed in black “in order to stand in solidarity with the black and brown bodies that have been criminalized for decades here in the commonwealth,” said Chelsea Higgs Wise, co-founder of Marijuana Justice, a Virginia-based nonprofit organization that aims to educate people on the history of cannabis criminalization in the U.S. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, along with Marijuana Justice and RISE for Youth, a campaign committed to promoting alternatives to youth incarceration, held a press conference promoting House Bill 1507, patroned by Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William. 

“Lean on your legislators and make sure that they understand the effort to legalize marijuana is here and we’re bringing it to your front door because now is the time to fully have criminal justice reform in a meaningful way,” Carroll Foy said. 

The bill wants to exclude marijuana from a list of controlled substances that are illegal to possess. Under current law, less than half an ounce of marijuana is considered a class one misdemeanor.

A “first offender’s rule” is offered on first convictions in lieu of class one misdemeanor penalties. The rule includes probation, drug testing and community service. Subsequent convictions are punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of $2,500.

Possession of more than half an ounce of marijuana is by law considered an intent to distribute and is charged as a felony, punishable by one to 10 years in prison. 

Capital News Service reported that in 2018, the only offenses more common than marijuana possession were traffic-related, such as speeding or reckless driving. Marijuana arrests that year were at their highest level in at least 20 years, with nearly 29,000 arrests. 

“Arrests for marijuana possession are significantly higher for blacks and people of color, even though data has shown that there is no higher rate usage with people of color than there are with white people,” said Del. Joshua Cole, D-Stafford, chief co-patron of HB 1507. “But yet we are constantly the ones that are taking the brunt of this.” 

Virginia State Police arrested more white people (25,306) for drug violations in 2018 than African Americans (20,712). While African Americans make up 19% of Virginia’s population, they consisted of nearly half of all marijuana convictions in 2018, according to a Capital News Service analysis of court records. Carroll Foy said that African Americans are three times more likely than any other race to be stopped, arrested and convicted for possession of marijuana. 

Nine other bills have been introduced this session relating to the possession of marijuana. Some propose legalization, while others propose decriminalization. Although the terms are used interchangeably at times, the two carry dramatically different meanings. 

Bills similar to HB 1507, like HB 87 and HB 269, propose the legalization of marijuana, which would lift existing laws that prohibit possession of the substance. 

Senate Bill 2, patroned by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, HB 972, patroned by Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, and several other bills propose the decriminalization of marijuana. These bills would impose a $50 fee for consuming or possessing marijuna. Ebbin’s bill would raise the threshold amount of marijuana subject to distribution or possession with intent to distribute from one-half ounce to one ounce. Herring’s bill would impose a $250 fee if the offender was consuming marijuana in public. However, the drug would remain illegal.

The ACLU said last week at a press conference that decriminalization and civil offenses still hold and create a number of issues — someone who wants to contest the citation would have to do so without a lawyer, and those who cannot afford to pay upfront would have to go to court, which usually includes more costs and fees. The group instead wants to see a full repeal of the prohibition on marijuana.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring took part in a cannabis conference Sunday and voiced his support for marijuana reform. 

“It's clear time for cannabis reform has come,” Herring said. “Justice demands it, Virginians are demanding it, and I’m going to make sure we get it done.”

Ashna Khanna, legislative director of the ACLU of Virginia, said they have confirmed Herring’s support of HB 1507. The organization, along with 11 others, sent a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam requesting support of legislation to legalize marijuana and hope that he will be open to meeting with them soon.


Breakfast and a Prayer Before 2020 General Assembly Convenes

By Conor Lobb, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Virginia legislators called for respect and civility across the aisle just hours ahead of the 2020 Virginia General Assembly session. 

Several prominent figures spoke at the 54th Commonwealth Prayer Breakfast held Wednesday at the Greater Richmond Convention Center, including Gov. Ralph Northam, Chief Judge Roger Gregory of the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. The Commonwealth Prayer Breakfast is an annual gathering for Virginia politicians and community members to share a meal and prayers.

Many of the speakers reflected on the need for compassion and understanding toward one another and to consider the impact the legislation proposed this session will have on Virginians. Qarni said that the upcoming session will have contentious moments, but called on citizens and legislators not to “demonize” one another or rush to conclusions. He said that the country is deeply divided. 

“We are worried about war. We are worried about impeachment. We are worried about the future,” Qarni said in a speech shared with CNS after the event. “The world is a scary place right now. We are plagued with fears. But we must have faith, not just in our creator but in each other.” 

Northam spoke last, urging the freshman and veteran legislators present to remember that the General Assembly is built on relationships and that public visibility and scrutiny of this legislative session will be significant. 

“How we speak of and to each other will be heard well beyond the gates of Capitol Square,” Northam said.

Gregory preceded Northam with a similar sentiment, placing the responsibility for civility in the hands of the politicians.

 “Legislators,” Gregory said, “You have a big job and an important job.” 

 The General Assembly convened at noon on Wednesday. This session marks the first time in more than two decades that Democrats have control over the General Assembly and the governorship. Democratic leaders announced Tuesday an 11-point, legislative “Virginia 2020 Plan” that includes gun control measures, minimum wage increase, LGBT protections and increased education spending.

“We are presenting an agenda that is different from every previous General Assembly session,” Northam said in a press release unveiling the agenda. “It’s more forward looking than ever before, and it reflects what Virginians sent us here to do.”

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More Pedestrians Are Dying on Virginia’s Roads


By Kelly Booth and Judi Dalati, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — On a Friday night in October, Katelyn Tilts was walking to a convenience store with a group of friends when she saw headlights coming at her.

“A car came around the corner really quickly and was swerving. The driver was swerving but started going directly at me and hit me head-on,” Tilts later told WTVR. “I remember thinking that it hurt so bad that I didn’t know how I would be able to make it until the ambulance got there.”

The hit-and-run incident left Tilts, a freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University, hospitalized and on crutches. She survived, but many pedestrians hit by vehicles do not.

According to data from the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Department of Motor Vehicles, 123 pedestrians died on the state’s roads in 2018 — the highest death toll in 10 years. 2019 also has been deadly: Preliminary figures show that at least 120 pedestrians died in traffic accidents in the commonwealth last year.

Not only are more pedestrians being killed, but they also are making up a greater proportion of all traffic fatalities:

§  In 2015, 10% of the people killed in roadway accidents in Virginia were pedestrians.

§  That figure jumped to 16% the following year. Last year, it was 15%, according to VDOT and DMV data.

“The vast, overwhelming majority of people who die on our streets are killed by drivers of cars,” noted Ross Catrow, executive director of RVA Rapid Transit, an advocacy group for regional public transportation.

“And the further sad truth is that these deaths and serious injuries often go unnoticed, underreported, and, even worse, usually nothing is done to build better streets and make them safer for people,” Catrow wrote on Streets Cred, his website about urban issues affecting mid-sized American cities.

Catrow has pointed out that some people say pedestrians are at fault for the rising number of traffic accidents. He rejects that notion.

“I’m so ultra-tired of engineers, elected officials and everyone else blaming ‘distracted pedestrians’ for the increase in injuries on our roads,” he said on his “Good Morning, RVA” podcast.

Catrow advocates traffic-calming measures such as painted curb bulbs and posts that can narrow intersections, increase visibility and slow down drivers to prevent pedestrian accidents.

Some people blame elderly drivers for causing accidents. But 25% of the motorists involved in traffic accidents that have killed pedestrians since 2013 were in their 20s — and half of them were under 40. About 22% of the drivers involved in pedestrian fatalities were 60 and older.

Ralph Aronberg, a traffic engineer consultant in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said some people in their early 20s have poor driving habits.

“Drivers in that age group are more likely to use social media such as Instagram on their cellphone, are more likely to have groups in vehicles leading to distractions and are less likely to realize the consequences of taking their eyes off the road,” he said.

Aronberg, whose firm focuses on accident reconstructions, said people in their early 20s are also more likely to drive at night, drink and drive, or be under the influence of THC or other mind-altering substances while operating a car.

Pedestrians killed in traffic accidents in Virginia since 2013 have ranged in age from infants to 96. About a third of the victims were under 30; slightly over a third in their 40s and 50s; and the rest 60 or older.

Since 2013, Fairfax has had the most pedestrian deaths — more than 80, according to VDOT data. Then come Henrico County (43), Norfolk (40), Richmond (31) and Newport News (27).

The roads with the most pedestrian fatalities during that time period were:

  • Jefferson Avenue, Newport News — seven
  • Route 11, Washington County — three
  • South Street, Front Royal — three
  • Southbound Route 288, Goochland County — three
  • Chamberlayne Avenue, Richmond — three

Weather was not a factor in most pedestrian deaths.

“Most vehicle-pedestrian accidents happen in good weather,” said Daniel Vomhof, a traffic safety expert in California and a member of the Accreditation Commission for Traffic Accident Reconstructionists.

More than 85% of the pedestrian fatalities in Virginia happened in clear or cloudy weather conditions, the VDOT data showed. About 13% occurred in rain, mist or fog, and 1% in snowy weather.

To stay safe, Vomhof recommends that pedestrians wear white or reflective shoes at night and light-colored clothing that doesn’t blend in with the surroundings.

“Visibility increases when the object is in eye contrast to the background,” Vomhof said.

About the data in this report

The data for this project was downloaded from the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Virginia Crashes | Virginia Roads website. It covers every vehicle crash in the state from 2013 to July of this year.

The data set contains more than 828,000 records. We filtered it for pedestrian accidents (about 11,000) and then for fatal pedestrian accidents (660).

We analyzed the data using Microsoft Excel, aggregating the data by locality, weather conditions and other columns in the spreadsheet.

We also used the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicle’s online “Traffic Crash Data” tool to confirm and refine our analysis. We also ensured that the numbers were consistent with those published in the DMV’s report, 2018 Virginia Traffic Crash Facts.

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Government Initiatives Seek to Combat Opiate Epidemic


By Sarah King, Capital News Service

The rate of fatal opioid overdoses in the United States has quadrupled since 2000, claiming nearly a half-million lives, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On average, nearly 80 Americans, including at least two Virginians, die each day from an overdose of heroin or prescription drugs.

No wonder governments at all levels, as well as health care companies and educators, have mobilized to target the problem.

In March, the U.S. Senate passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. State Attorney General Mark Herring praised the Senate’s action and the work of Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine to advance the legislation.

“Passage of CARA is a big step forward in addressing what has become a national epidemic of prescription drug and heroin abuse and overdose,” Herring said. “If anything cried out for bipartisan action, it is this ‘all hands on deck’ moment, and my only regret is that these resources come too late for thousands of families in Virginia and throughout the country who have already lost a loved one to addiction.”

Herring said nearly every day he reads about another Virginian, often a young person, who died from a heroin or prescription drug overdose.

“It’s heartbreaking to read these stories and to talk to the parents, family and friends of these people who never thought anyone in their family would be touched by addiction, but now are trying to carry on in the face of such a tremendous loss,” Herring said.

President Barack Obama said fighting the opioid epidemic is also a priority for his administration. In March, he announced new measures to expand access to treatment. For example, Medicaid, the health care program for low-income Americans, now will cover substance abuse disorder in the same way it covers mental health issues.

The administration is also providing $11 million to states to purchase and distribute the opioid overdose reversal drug, naloxone, and to train first responders and others on its use along with other overdose prevention strategies.

Additionally, this fall, more than 60 medical schools, 50 pharmacy schools and nearly 200 nursing schools will start requiring students to take some form of prescriber education to graduate. The requirement will align with the CDC’s newly released Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain. Schools in Virginia that have signed on to the initiative include:

●     Hampton University

●     James Madison University

●     Old Dominion University

●     Radford University

●     Virginia Commonwealth University

National chain pharmacies are also taking part in the effort:

●     Rite Aid has trained more than 8,400 pharmacists on naloxone. In 10 states, Rite Aid also is dispensing naloxone to patients without needing an individual prescription; the company plans to expand that policy to additional states.

●     Kroger currently dispenses naloxone without an individual prescription at its pharmacies in seven states, with plans to expand to at least 12 more by the end of the year.

●     AmerisourceBergen/Good Neighbor Pharmacy will provide educational materials to encourage its 4,000 independently owned and operated retail pharmacy locations to provide naloxone without an individual prescription.

●     Walgreens announced in February that it will install safe medication disposal kiosks in more than 500 drugstores across the country, primarily at locations open 24 hours. Walgreens also will make naloxone available without needing an individual prescription at its pharmacies in 35 states and Washington, D.C.

●     Since March, CVS Pharmacy locations in 23 states have been able to dispense naloxone to patients without needing an individual prescription. This initiative will increase to 35 states by December.

●     CVS Health has launched a program called Pharmacists Teach, which sends the company’s pharmacists into schools across the country to educate students about the dangers of drug abuse. To date, more than 30,000 students have participated in the program.

At the state level, Gov. Terry McAuliffe released his task force on Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse implementation plan in October. In the 2016 legislative session, McAuliffe signed into law three bills regarding opiate abuse:

●     House Bill 1059 directs the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission to evaluate sentencing patterns in cases involving heroin and recommend adjustments in sentencing guidelines.

●     Under House Joint Resolution 45, the state will study whether to mandate health insurance coverage for “abuse deterrent formulations for opioid medications.”

●     Senate Bill 556 removes certain restrictions on health care professions who treat people with opiate addiction using opioid replacements approved by the federal government. Such restrictions include the proximity of the provider to a school or daycare center.

The attorney general, however, says legislators haven’t gone far enough. Herring criticized the General Assembly for failing to pass HB 102, which would have made it a felony homicide to manufacture or provide a controlled substance that later causes a fatal overdose.

“Virginians are losing their lives every day to cheap, potent heroin, and tools to hold dealers and traffickers accountable are a critical part of addressing this problem, along with education, prevention and treatment,” Herring said.

“Too often, the parents of young people who have died from an overdose feel like no one really cares that their child was taken from them, and they’re resigned to the fact that the dealer will never really face consequences for what they’ve done.”

Herring said his office has helped prosecute a number of these cases at the federal level, but local commonwealth’s attorneys need a “proper state-level tool” to hold dealers and traffickers accountable.

HB 102 easily passed the House of Delegates but died in the Senate.It is the only opioid overdose bill proposed by Herring that has yet to pass.

In 2015, the General Assembly approved his legislation to expand the use of naloxone by first responders and make the drug available without a prescription; to create a “good Samaritan” provision to encourage the reporting of overdoses in progress; and to expand access to the Prescription Monitoring Program.

(Editor's Note: Per the spreadsheet sent with this article, since 2007 there have been 5 Fatal Drug Overdoses in the City of Emporia and 6 in Greensville County.)

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Foundation Helps Addicts Recover as Opioid Deaths Soar

By Sarah King, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Scraps of newspaper obituaries, photographs of the departed and handwritten notes in memory of loved ones collage the bottom third of a sectioned-off piece of the wall at the McShin Foundation’s intake office.

The delicate ensemble pays homage to lives lost to addiction – a tangible mnemonic indicative of a statewide epidemic. Inches to the right, the rest of the wall is covered with photos of smiling faces, separated from the deceased only by a faint line of demarcation.

“This is how we keep track of people when they leave housing,” said Michael Quinn, the intake specialist at the foundation, a local nonprofit recovery community organization. “If they’re doing well they’re above the line. People will come in all the time and kind of shift things around so we can keep better track of how people are doing.”

Unfortunately, not everyone’s face remains above the halfway mark – a reflection of a wave of deaths in Virginia due to fatal opiate overdoses.

Opioids – both prescription pain medications and heroin – account for most of the spike in fatalities. The number of fatal opioid overdoses increased nearly 60 percent, from 475 deaths in 2010 to more than 880 last year, a CNS analysis of data from the Virginia Department of Health found. Opioids made up more than 90 percent of the state’s drug deaths in 2015.

Quinn attributes the sharp rise in drug abuse partially to the availability of more potent heroin.

“A lot of dealers are cutting the heroin with phenobarbital, which is a deadly combination,” he said. “And the other thing is, heroin’s become more of a popular drug in suburban and upper-class neighborhoods, so it’s becoming more acceptable.”

In Richmond, the number of heroin deaths jumped from five in 2010 to 38 last year. Over the same period in Henrico County, the number rose from four to 27. In Virginia Beach, it went from three to 18. And in Fairfax County, it increased from two to 32.

Nick, a Fairfax County native who asked that his last name not be used, knows firsthand about the addiction that drives those statistics.

“It was like when I was high, I could live in this fantasy all the time that was, ‘I’m gonna go to school tomorrow, and fold my laundry, and start working out, and cook dinner,’” he said. “But as soon as I came down, my only concern was getting back to that place of contemplative productivity by getting another hit.”

Now 22 and almost a year into a treatment program in Florida, Nick tried prescription painkillers for the first time at 16.

“It progressed from whenever I could get them, to raiding medicine cabinets, to finding my own dealers for the next three years,” Nick said. “I started using every day at 19, and that continued until about 20, and then I was injecting.”

Nick said his parents were unaware of his growing addiction until his father had to cover a $500 drug debt about nine months before he went to treatment.

“It was when I started using heroin in addition to the pills, and the unmanageability during the times when I had no drugs was too much to bear, that I decided to get help or I was going to die. So I checked into treatment,” Nick said. “My parents didn’t know I was IV’ing until we got to the ER the day I asked for help.”

Quinn said he hears stories like this all too often. The McShin Foundation works to erase the stigma associated with addiction and getting help.

“When somebody says they’re an addict, people think of them as this nasty junkie person you don’t want to be with,” Quinn said. “The media always portrays the problem – the arrests and drug dealers – but they never show the solution, which is people recovering and living regular lives.”

Quinn, like all other administrators at the foundation, went through McShin’s peer-to-peer program personally. He has been clean from opioids for more than a year. The foundation’s CEO has been sober for nine; the director of operations, five; and the founder, John Shinholser, more than 30.

“It’s an everyday battle still,” Quinn said. “I have a sponsor, I go to meetings – it’s working. And people can relate to us and can’t use the excuse of ‘Oh well, you haven’t been there, you don’t know what you’re talking about,’ because yeah, I have been there, and I do know.”

The McShin Foundation is now in its 12th year. About 60 percent of its clients are addicted to opioids. Quinn said the rate of recovery is higher than at most treatment centers.

He said traditional centers typically have an 18 to 20 percent success rate – which is determined by a year of sobriety – whereas success rates at McShin are closer to 50 percent.

Because the nonprofit McShin Foundation does not receive any government funding and insurance companies don’t recognize the program, Quinn said treatment must come out of pocket for individuals and families. But clients say it’s well worth the cost.

“You’re investing in someone’s life,” Quinn said. “My parents tell me all the time the best investment they ever made was getting their son back – and that’s priceless.”

For the past two years, the opioid epidemic has claimed, on average, more than two Virginians’ lives a day for the last two years. The toll has spurred state officials into action. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring in particular is taking strides to address the rise in fatalities and opioid abuse.

Last month, Herring was awarded the Bronze Key, a national recognition presented for outstanding contributions, from the McShin Foundation at the organization’s 12th Annual Spring Awards Banquet.

“So many families across Virginia have been touched by addiction to heroin and prescription opioids, and too many have already lost a loved one to a fatal overdose,” Herring said. “In many cases, this is a problem that has its roots in the medicine cabinet, not in the streets, and that the medical community has to be part of the solution.”

Herring’s office created a documentary “Heroin: The Hardest Hit,” which features Virginians, including some from the McShin Foundation, sharing their personal stories of grappling with addiction and recovery, as well as the stories of people who died from overdoses.

Herring has also worked with local and federal authorities to prosecute more than 28 cases against dealers and traffickers involving more than 95 kilograms of heroin – which equates to 238,500 daily doses and a street value of more than $19 million.

“So often, shame, stigma or fear forces families and those with substance abuse disorders to suffer in silence,” Herring said. “But we cannot and will not let ourselves become hopeless or discouraged. We have to make sure that people who are struggling know you can beat addiction. There is life after addiction, and there is hope in recovery.”

Gov. Terry McAuliffe and state lawmakers across party lines agree have joined forces to address the problem. During the 2015 legislative session, the General Assembly made naloxone – a potentially life-saving opioid-antagonist administered in the event of an overdose – more widely accessible to law enforcement and health-care providers.

Last October, McAuliffe’s Task Force on Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse released its recommendations, and state officials are implementing some of them. They include developing a website as an informational hub on prescription pill and heroin abuse, creating an opioid educational curriculum for law enforcement, reducing the stigma associated with addiction and increasing the availability of peer-support services.

According to a recent policy brief by the VCU School of Medicine, untreated substance abuse costs the state and local governments more than $600 million annually.

“Virginia’s opioid epidemic and untreated substance abuse are killing hundreds of Virginians and costing taxpayers more than half a billion dollars each year,” said Andrew Barnes, the brief’s lead author and an assistant professor at VCU.

For young adults like Nick and families across the state, there are emotional costs as well.

“A close friend of mine relapsed and overdosed on Dec. 18. It’s hard seeing someone give up on themselves and go back to their old ways,” Nick said. “I’m a fear-based person, but my fear of dying from this disease is the reason I keep doing what I need to in order to stay sober.”

Richmond native William “Billy” Derr, 24, passed away from a fatal overdose last month. Derr’s mother, Jenny, wrote in her son’s obituary, “As those who struggle with addiction know, it is a daily fight, hour by hour, and is ever constant. Billy had some extended periods of sobriety; those were the times when his true genuine heart shined through.”

In the obituary, Deer stated:

“To the people who don't understand addiction, he may be just another kid who made a ‘bad choice.’ For those who do understand the disease, this was our oldest child, a brother, a friend and as his mother, my children are my everything. The disease of addiction is non-discriminatory and without mercy. It is up to us to open our minds and hearts to those suffering from the disease. We will continue to fight the fight.”

So will the McShin Foundation. It provides a rapid detox program, which tapers the individual off opioids over five to seven days. Quinn said what separates McShin from other treatment centers is that there’s no waiting list.

“If someone calls me, they can come in today, see the doctor and get put in a bed that day,” Quinn said. “If someone needs help, there’s always a bed available.”

More about the McShin Foundation

The foundation’s website is, and its phone number is 804-249-1845. The foundation, at 2300 Dumbarton Road in Henrico County, is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.

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A Shameful Chapter in Virginia History: Lynchings

By Sterling Giles and Brian Williams, Capital News Service

Raymond Bird, a black man accused of having sex with a white woman, was reportedly asleep in jail in the western Virginia town of Wytheville when the mob arrived.

According to historical accounts, there were at least 25 men – all armed, all masked. On Aug. 15, 1926, they rousted Bird from his cell, shot him, tied him to the back of a truck and dragged him for more than nine miles. When the truck stopped along State Route 699 in Wythe County, the mob left Bird’s lifeless body hanging from a tree.

That grisly murder nearly 90 years ago was the last recorded lynching in Virginia. A recent report has shed light on how common such vigilantism was in the South. Between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950, there were 4,075 “racial terror lynchings” in the region, according to the Equal Justice Initiative.

Virginia shares a piece of this shameful history. Between 1880 and 1926, more than 90 people were lynched in Virginia, according to the initiative’s data and other documented incidents.

Bird was a native of Speedwell in Wythe County. He was married to Tennessee Hawkins, a black woman, and had three daughters – Edith, Lillian and Hazel. After serving in World War I, Bird worked as a farmhand for Grover Grubb, a white landowner.

According to J. Douglas Smith’s book “Managing White Supremacy: Race, Politics, and Citizenship in Jim Crow Virginia,” Bird was accused of raping Grubb’s daughter, Minnie. However, Minnie Grubb vehemently denied she was raped and insisted that the sex was consensual. Even if consensual, sex between blacks and whites was illegal then.

On July 23, 1926, Minnie Grubb gave birth to a biracial daughter, Clara. Bird was immediately imprisoned in the Wytheville jail.

Bird’s lynching three weeks later made headlines across the country in publications such as Time magazine and The New York Times. The national exposure prompted Louis I. Jaffé, editor of the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, to prod state officials to approve an anti-lynching law.

The Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit based in Alabama, spent four years researching racially motivated lynchings in 12 Southern states. “Racial terror lynching was much more prevalent than previously reported,” the group reported.

“Some states and counties were particularly terrifying places for African Americans and had dramatically higher rates of lynching than other states and counties we reviewed,” the report added. Moreover, “terror lynching played a key role in the forced migration of millions of black Americans out of the South.”

Mississippi had the most lynchings (614), followed by Georgia (595), Louisiana (559) and Arkansas (491), the data showed. Of the 12 states studied, Virginia had the fewest lynchings – 88 by the initiative’s count.

(In researching this story, Capital News Service found authoritative references to lynchings that were not included in the initiative’s data. The total number of lynchings in Virginia exceeded 90. In addition, in 1927, a Virginia mob seized an African-American man from a Kentucky jail and murdered him on the state line in an apparent attempt to confuse authorities.)

Lynchings occurred in at least 50 localities in Virginia, according to W. Fitzhugh Brundage’s book “Lynching in the New South.” Most of these localities had just one or two lynchings; however, Alleghany County had four, Danville five and Tazewell County 10.

On Feb. 1, 1893, five African-American railroad workers were lynched in Tazewell County. According to the blog “The Homesick Appalachian,”the railroad workers were allegedly drinking with two white store owners the night before the lynching. The Richmond Planet, an African-American-owned newspaper,reported that the workers had allegedly robbed and murdered the store owners. In fact, the supposed victims were alive – just injured.

At the turn of the 20th century, racist whites did not need much of an excuse to kill black citizens.

“Many African Americans who were never accused of any crime were tortured and murdered in front of picnicking spectators (including elected officials and prominent citizens) for bumping into a white person, or wearing their military uniforms after World War I, or not using the appropriate title when addressing a white person,” the Equal Justice Initiative’s report said. “People who participated in lynchings were celebrated and acted with impunity.”

On Oct. 17, 1891, three adults and a teenager were lynched in Alleghany County. The victims were African-American coal miners: Charles Miller, Robert Burton and the brothers William and John Scott.

That morning, several black miners reportedly were walking leisurely through Clifton Forge. According to Brundage, the miners’ behavior was “foolhardy black bravado in a region where the definition of acceptable conduct by blacks was very circumscribed.”

A police officer accosted the group. The men fled back to the mines but were confronted again by the officer, this time accompanied with a group of whites.A gun battle broke out.

The miners were eventually arrested by the town’s police and thrown into jail. Later that evening, a mob of townspeople broke into the jail and seized the men. Hours later, they were shot and hung.

Such incidents continued with disturbing regularity until Bird’s lynching in 1926. Then Jaffé, a crusading newspaper editor and civil rights activist, wrote a letter to Gov. Harry Flood Byrd Sr. (Coincidentally, the governor and the lynching victim had similar names. Some accounts of the lynching spelled the victim’s name as Raymond Byrd.)

The governor was adamant about attracting businesses to Virginia. That was why, during his term from 1926 to 1930, Byrd paved more than 2,000 miles of roads throughout the state. Jaffé evoked this priority to advocate on behalf of African-Americans: He told Byrd that mob violence only hindered the chances of attracting new industries to Virginia.

Jafféasked Byrd to support legislation to make lynching a state crime. Byrd initially hesitated, saying such a law might conflict with the Virginia Constitution.

According to Smith’s book, Jaffé sensed Byrd’s reluctance. So he used his editorial pages to call on Byrd and other officials to take action.

“Lynching goes unpunished in Virginia because, deny it as one will, it commands a certain social sanction,” wrote Jaffé, who won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 1929. The Pilot editor suggested that the state strip lynch-mob members of their right to vote and hold public office. In addition, he argued for strict fines and punishments for lynching.

Byrd came around. With the governor’s support, the Virginia General Assembly passed anti-lynching legislation. On March 14, 1928, Byrd signed it into law. Among other provisions, the law gave the state the power to enforce stiff penalties against localities that didn’t report vigilante murders.

The Anti-Lynching Law of 1928 was a breakthrough in curbing violence against African-Americans.

“Lynch mobs were generally a group composed of poor whites,” said Dr. John Kneebone, chair of the History Department at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Elites in the South never favored lynching. But because race was involved, the majority chose not to stand up and oppose lynching. Byrd changed that.”

After his term as governor, Byrd served for 30 years in the U.S. Senate and continued to exert a powerful influence in Virginia politics. A staunch segregationist, he opposed the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. Byrd and his allies adopted a strategy called Massive Resistance, forcing Virginia schools to close rather than integrate.

As the 90th anniversary of Bird’s lynching approaches, it is Byrd who is back in the news.

The longtime politician died in 1966. Five years later, Henrico County named a middle school after him. This year, students and others petitioned the county to rename Byrd Middle School, arguing that it should not honor a man who stood for racial segregation.

In March, the Henrico County School Board voted unanimously to rename the school. The board has not yet selected a new name.

Civil rights advocates have pushed for honest discussions about race like the one happening in Henrico County. That is one of the goals of the Equal Justice Initiative.

Its report, “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror,” noted that “there is an astonishing absence of any effort to acknowledge, discuss, or address lynching.”

“Many of the communities where lynchings took place have gone to great lengths to erect markers and monuments that memorialize the Civil War, the Confederacy, and historical events during which local power was violently reclaimed by white Southerners. These communities celebrate and honor the architects of racial subordination and political leaders known for their belief in white supremacy,” the report says.

“There are very few monuments or memorials that address the history and legacy of lynching in particular or the struggle for racial equality more generally. Most communities do not actively or visibly recognize how their race relations were shaped by terror lynching.”

More on the Web

The Equal Justice Initiative’s report, “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror,” is available at

America’s Black Holocaust Museum also has posted a list of lynchings in Virginia. It is at

Find a StoryMap at

List of all Virginia lynching incidents and victims at

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School Discipline Falls Harder on Some Students

By Jason Fuller, Ashley Jones and Rarione Maniece, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The phrase “kids will be kids” pardons some misbehavior; however, certain kids seem to get called to the principal’s office a lot more often than others.

Black students were at least three times as likely as white students to be suspended or expelled from school, according to an analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. Nationwide, for example, 15 percent of African-American students received out-of-school suspensions – compared with 4 percent of white students.

The analysis focused on the 2011-12 academic year, the most recent data available from the department’s Office for Civil Rights.

In several states, the disparities were especially wide: Wisconsin suspended 26 percent of its black students but just 3 percent of its white students. In Minnesota, Connecticut, Iowa and Nebraska, African-Americans were six times as likely as whites to be suspended from school.

Virginia’s statistics were similar to the national numbers: 14 percent of the commonwealth’s black students received suspensions, vs. 5 percent of white students.


Expulsions are far less common than suspensions, but the pattern was the same. Nationwide, fewer than two of every 1,000 white students were expelled from school in 2011-12 – compared with five of every 1,000 African-American students.

Again, some states had much bigger disparities. Minnesota, for instance, expelled 11 of every 1,000 black students but only about one of every 1,000 white students. Tennessee expelled 24 of every 1,000 black students but just three of every 1,000 white students. Oklahoma expelled 40 of every 1,000 black students but only six of every 1,000 white students.

In Virginia, about two of every 1,000 African-American students were expelled, vs. one of every 1,000 white students.

Other journalists also have looked at the U.S. Education Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection. The Center for Public Integrity, for example, focused on the number of students who were arrested at school or referred to police.

The center found that Virginia had the highest rate in the United States for calling police on students: Of every 1,000 students in the commonwealth, almost 16 were arrested or referred to law enforcement in 2011-12, the center reported. Nationwide, the figure was about six of every 1,000 students.

Virginia’s tendency to call the cops on kids has raised alarms with Gov. Terry McAuliffe. In October, at an NAACP conference in Richmond, McAuliffe announced an initiative called “Classrooms not Courtrooms.” He said state officials would work with local school systems to reduce student suspensions, expulsions and referrals to law enforcement.

As part of the initiative, the Virginia Department of Education also is seeking to address “the disparate impact these practices have on African-Americans and students with disabilities.” The goal is to disrupt what some educators call the “school-to-prison pipeline” that tags certain students as troublemakers and channels them into the criminal justice system.

During its 2016 session, the General Assembly also considered the issue. Sen. Don McEachin, D-Richmond, sponsored a measure – Senate Bill 458 – to require the Virginia Board of Education to “establish guidelines for alternatives to short-term and long-term suspension for consideration by local school boards. Such alternatives may include positive behavior incentives, mediation, peer-to-peer counseling, community service, and other intervention alternatives.”

The legislation passed the Senate on a 31-9 vote. However, it was defeated in the House, 43-55.

The data show racial disparities for when police get involved with students. In Virginia, for instance, about 25 of every 1,000 African-American students were arrested or referred to police; that compared with 13 of every 1,000 white students.

School districts in Virginia varied considerably in the data on how they discipline students. Greensville County Public Schools, for example, suspended more than half of its students in 2011-12. The Greenville school system suspended 64 percent of its black students, 25 percent of its Hispanic students and 30 percent of its white students.

In contrast, the Prince George County Public Schools did not suspend any students, the data showed.

Some school divisions had large racial disparities regarding suspensions. In Arlington County, for instance, 7 percent of the black students were suspended – but just 1 percent of the white students. And in Bland County, 50 percent of the African-American students got suspensions vs. 8 percent of the white students.

Disparities also were evident in expulsions. In Roanoke, 13 of every 1,000 African-American students were expelled, vs. 1.3 of every 1,000 white students. And in Fairfax County, 5.5 of every 1,000 black students were expelled, compared with 1.3 of every 1,000 white students.

Many advocates of school reforms, as well as parents, have expressed concerns about such patterns.

Daniel Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies, conducts research on this topic. In the publication “Discipline Policies, Successful Schools, and Racial Justice,” he reported that in 2006, more than 3 million students were suspended at least once – about 7 percent of all students enrolled in primary and secondary public schools.

Losen recommended that school districts with high rates of suspensions and expulsions should receive assistance on how to manage students’ classroom behavior.

Evandra Catherine, 32, has a son with a disability enrolled in the Richmond Public Schools. She said she is concerned that her child could be the target of harsh disciplinary practices.

“I am aware of my son’s school district’s financial plight when it comes to managing normal students,” Catherine said. “So I have to be extra vigilant of his treatment because of the lack of resources in play which may recommend discipline instead of accommodating him.”

One possible solution is to apply school discipline on a case-by-case basis. That is what Dr. Russell Houck, executive director of student services for Culpeper County Public Schools, advocates. He believes mild and moderate violations should receive mild and moderate levels of punishment.

“We work really hard to give students help, not punishment,” Houck said. “For kids who have a chronic history of disruption, we have a students’ assistance program where they can receive counseling and stay in school.”

Houck said this framework allows students to stay in school and prevents them from falling behind in class.

“It’s all about finding a different way to discipline them, because discipline in my world means to teach. So we need to find new ways to teach them coping skills in order to get to the root of the problem, both behaviorally and instructionally.”

Where We Got Our Data

The data for this report came from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection. We downloaded both the state-by-state data and the data for each school district in Virginia. Then, using Microsoft Excel, we calculated disciplinary rates for students overall and students of different races.

We also examined the data published by the Center for Public Integrity as part of its series “Criminalizing kids.” Our analysis of the civil rights data matched the center’s, thus verifying our methods.

All of the data used in this report has been posted at


Virginia Provides Model for Testing Rape Kits

By Rachel Beatrice and Kyle Taylor, Capital News Service

More than 140,000 untested rape evidence kits are collecting dust in crime labs throughout the country – denying justice for rape survivors waiting for the results and allowing rapists to commit more sexual assaults.

Virginia has joined a handful of states that have taken legislative action to end the backlog by adopting a law to ensure that the commonwealth’s untested kits will be processed quickly beginning July 1.

That’s when Senate Bill 291, sponsored by Sen. Richard Black, R-Leesburg, takes effect. Under the legislation, the more than 2,000 untested rape kits in Virginia must be tested immediately. In addition, after a doctor examines someone who has been raped and collects evidence of the crime with a rape kit, the kit must be tested for DNA within 60 days.

When Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed the legislation into law, the ceremony was attended by a rape survivor whose handwritten pamphlet prompted the General Assembly to act. Natasha Alexenko said she hopes other states will follow suit.

“This initiative will change America,” she said.

In 1993, Alexenko, then a 20-year-old college student in New York, was violently raped and robbed at gunpoint by an unknown assailant while returning to her apartment. She underwent a rape exam but would wait nearly 10 years for the results.

New York had a backlog of nearly 17,000 untested rape kits in 1999, according to the website New York authorities then worked on the problem and cleared the state’s backlog entirely in 2003.

While waiting for the results of her rape exam, Alexenko become a vocal advocate for sexual assault awareness. Among other things, she made informational pamphlets and distributed them wherever she could.

In 2014, one of Alexenko’s pamphlets, which highlighted the national backlog of untested rape kits, found itself on Black’s desk.

Black admitted he was surprised to learn about the backlog. “I thought, ‘What are you talking about – untested rape test kits?’ ”

To understand the status of the issue in Virginia, Black initiated a statewide audit in 2015, with permission from the governor and conducted by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science. The audit revealed that Virginia had nearly 3,000 untested rape kits sitting in forensic labs – some dating to 1988.

Rape exams are physically intrusive and taken at a time when the victim typically is traumatized, Black said. “It’s an undertaking for a woman to undergo it, and then to have it (the evidence kit) just sit up on a shelf is a terrible thing.”

Compounding the ordeal is that, before undergoing the exam, rape victims must refrain from bathing, showering, using the restroom, changing clothes, combing hair and cleaning the area where the assault happened, according to the Rape Abuse Incest National Network.

A rape exam can take hours as a forensic practitioner collects hair, oral, anal and vaginal samples, in addition to taking photographs for visual evidence, explained Eileen Davis, who has worked as a forensic nurse in Virginia.

She said the failure to test rape kits not only is an insult to the rape survivors but also has allowed more rapes and other crimes to happen, Davis added. According to, a project of the nonprofit Joyful Heart Foundation, there are at least 144,000 untested rape nationwide, including 20,000 in Texas and more than 10,000 in Michigan, Florida and Ohio.

When evidence goes untested, predators are not identified and arrested, Davis said. DNA from a rape kit taken in 1998, for example, often matches DNA from more recent exams.

Alexenko’s case reflects that reality. Victor Rondon, the man who raped her in 1993, roamed free until he was arrested on assault charges in 2007 in Las Vegas. In 2008, Rondon was found guilty of eight counts of violent assault and two counts of rape, Black said. Rondon was eventually convicted and sentenced to 44 to 107 years in prison.

Serial rapists pose the greatest danger, Black said. “Not only for rape, but some of these people flip over into murder, as we have seen with the Hannah Graham case.”

Graham was a University of Virginia student who disappeared in 2014. In March, Jesse Matthew, a 34-year-old Charlottesville man, pleaded guilty to her murder. Previously, Matthew had been accused of sexual assault at two other Virginia colleges.

Serial rapists are repeat offenders, Black emphasized. To prevent future crimes, he said, it is critical to test rape kits for the perpetrator’s DNA quickly.

At the bill signing, McAuliffe said the state budget will provide $900,000 annually to clear the backlog of untested rape kits and to ensure that from now on, kits are tested within 60 days after the rape exam has been performed.

Attorney General Mark Herring, who attended the signing, said, “Once we get the backlog cleared out, this new bill should ensure that Virginia never finds itself in that situation again.”

“It is our responsibility,” McAuliffe said, “to provide certainty and ease the pain for women who are haunted by the fear that their attackers could still be out there and could still be free.”


Obama Discusses College Affordability with Student Reporters


By Sarah King, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON – White House press secretary Josh Earnest was answering a Fordham University student’s question regarding sexual assault reporting on her campus when an obnoxious screech filled the White House Briefing Room.

“That’s never happened before,” Earnest told the approximately 50 college reporters staring bug-eyed at him, a momentary social-media-ceasefire taking hold as the noise tapered off.

In the aisles flanking the student reporters, members of the White House press corps let out a chuckle; the seasoned journalists had donated their highly coveted assigned briefing room seats to their younger counterparts for this occasion.

“I hear there’s some hotshot journalists here,” said President Barack Obama, striding into the briefing room for a surprise appearance to conclude the White House’s first-ever College Reporter Day last week.

During the inaugural event, student reporters representing schools across 28 states convened in Washington, D.C., to engage with senior administration officials on issues pertinent to college campuses, including student loan debt and Title IX initiatives.

“I heard you guys were around today, so I wanted to stop by and say hello,” Obama said, flashing a smile at the crowd. “I also have a bit of breaking news for you.”

At the ensuing press conference, Obama announced that his administration is aiming to enroll 2 million more people in Pay As You Earn, a program that caps the amount borrowers repay on their student loans to 10 percent of their monthly income, by April 2017.

Nearly 5 million student borrowers are now enrolled in income-driven repayment plans like Pay As You Earn – up from 700,000 in 2011, according to U.S. Secretary of Education John King.

In a press call the day before, Richard Cordray, director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said about 43 million Americans have student loan debts. In Virginia alone, there are more than 350,000 federal student loan borrowers – totaling more than $10.5 million in outstanding debt.

Nationwide, the volume of outstanding federal student loan debt has doubled in less than a decade to about $1.3 trillion.

“That is more, in fact, than any other category of consumer debt in America except mortgages,” Cordray said.

That’s partially why the U.S. Department of Education created – an online system intended to help borrowers better understand their repayment options in a “consistent, accurate, actionable and transparent” manner.

King also spoke with the students at Thursday’s College Reporter Day and reminded them of the value of a four-year degree.

He said that over a lifetime, an individual with a bachelor’s degree can earn up to $1 million more than someone with only a high school degree.

“It’s debt that pays you back,” King said. “I know personally, because although I was recently sworn in as secretary of education, I am still paying off my graduate school loans that helped me to get here.”

King said that since 2008, the Obama administration has doubled investments in grant and scholarship aid through Pell grants and tax credits and created repayment programs such as Pay As You Earn. Such initiatives have helped more than 1 million more African American and Hispanic students go to college, he said.

At the press conference, Obama said college affordability is one of his priorities.

“I’m proud of the work we’ve done in education to make sure that millions of kids who previously couldn’t afford to go to college can,” he said.

The president also discussed his initiative to provide federal funding to help states make the first two years of community college free for “hard-working” students.

“This is something achievable,” Obama said. “Now, Congress has not moved on our proposal. But what we’ve also seen is that there have been 27 jurisdictions around the country that have taken us up on this challenge and are doing it themselves – are figuring out ways to make this happen.”

One such jurisdiction is Tennessee, where Republican Gov. Bill Haslam launched the Tennessee Promise program last fall. It has provided thousands of students with a free two years of community college or technical education out of high school.

“If there’s a Republican governor in the state of Tennessee who can make this program work in his state, why shouldn’t Democrats and Republicans work together in Washington to give that opportunity to every American?” Earnest asked in the press briefing before Obama took the podium.

Obama said it will be hard to sustain these initiatives if the cost of college “keeps on going up as fast as it’s going up.”

Earnest said too many state governments, “in their zeal to cut government spending,” are reducing support for public colleges and universities.

“That is a really poor choice,” Earnest said. “And what many college administrators legitimately say is, ‘Look, I’m getting less support from the state government, and if I want to continue to provide a high-quality education to the student body, I’ve got to get that money from somewhere.’”

For Obama, college affordability is more than just another domestic policy.

“Probably the thing I’m most proud of is – mainly as the assistant to Michelle Obama – I’ve raised two daughters who are amazing and I’m really, really proud of,” Obama told the college journalists. “And being able to do that while still focused on my job, I think, is something I’ll look back on and appreciate.”

Three days after hosting College Reporter Day, the White House announced that Malia Obama, who is graduating from high school, has decided to attend Harvard University beginning in fall 2017. Malia, 17, is the older of the Obamas’ daughters. She has opted to take a gap year before leaving for college.


Harriet Tubman Selected as the New Face of the $20 Bill

Harriet Tubman $20 Bill

By Sterling Giles, Capital News Service

The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced on Wednesday that Harriet Tubman would be the new face of the $20 bill. This would mark the first major bill change since the late 1920s. Also, Tubman will be the first African-American and the first woman in over a century to be featured on U.S. currency.

Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson, a president and slave owner, on the front of the $20 bill. Jackson would be moved to the back.

Tubman founded the Underground Railroad, a series of trails that escaped slaves trekked along to seek refuge in the Northern free states. The railroad ran from the Deep South through Virginia and stopped in New England. In addition, the trails stretched to the Midwest and into Canada.

In an online poll, Tubman garnered just under 120,000 votes, edging out former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt by about 7,000 votes for the bill placement. Leaders of Women on 20s, a lobbyist group that advocated placing a woman on the $20 bill, were pleased by the decision but not entirely optimistic.

“We see today’s announcement as only a vague commitment and a continuation of the now familiar message that women have to settle for less and wait for their fair share,” said Barbara Ortiz Howard, the founder of Women on 20s. “I’m happy to have a commitment. I’d be happier to have a date.”

Reports say that the designing and printing process for the new currency could take as long as a decade to complete. Also, the Treasury Department proposed security changes to the $5, $10 and the $20 bills to make the bills harder to counterfeit. In addition, the bills would include features to make them easily distinguishable by blind citizens.

This proposal was originally presented to President Obama in 2014, which he agreed to support. Since then, the U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has been actively pushing this process forward.

“Lew has demonstrated a seriousness of purpose in taking a look at what the next generation of U.S. currency would look like,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. “And the question that he has considered is when those security updates are required, should we make some changes to our currency to make sure that it better reflects the country, and certainly the role that women have played in contributing to the development of our country.”

New Nike Shoes

Assembly Sustains All of McAuliffe’s Vetoes


By James Miessler and Diana DiGangi, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The General Assembly failed Wednesday to override any of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s vetoes of legislation championed by Republicans, including bills to defund Planned Parenthood and let home-schoolers participate in public-school sports.

Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate. That was doable in the House, where there are 66 Republicans and 34 Democrats. But it proved impossible in the Senate, where Democrats hold 19 of the 40 seats.

For example, McAuliffe had vetoed Senate Bill 41, which would have allowed ministers and religious groups to refuse to participate in the marriage of a same-sex couple if it went against their religious beliefs. The Senate voted 21-18 along party lines in favor of reversing the veto – but that was well short of the 26 “yes” votes required.

Sen. Charles Carrico, R-Galax, was the sponsor of SB 41. He urged his colleagues to override McAuliffe’s veto.

“This bill is an attempt to protect pastors from having to go against things that they believe are of a deeply held religious belief,” Carrico said. “Unlike some of the things that the governor is pointing out that’s happening in other states, this is nothing to do with that.”

In his veto message, McAuliffe called SB 41 “discrimination under the guise of religious freedom.” He said the bill would be “bad for business” because “job creators do not want to locate or do business in states that appear more concerned with demonizing people than with creating a strong business climate.”

That was a reference to North Carolina, which has lost business because it recently enacted a law widely perceived as discriminatory against people who are transgender or gay.

Senators also failed to reverse McAuliffe’s veto of SB 44, which sought to extend the state’s coal-tax credits. Republicans and other legislators representing Virginia’s coalfields say the tax credits would help coal miners. In vetoing the bill, the governor noted that since 1988, coal mine operators and related companies have claimed more than $610 million in tax credits – but the number of coal miners in Virginia has plunged from more than 11,000 to fewer than 3,000.

“It would be unwise to spend additional taxpayer dollars on a tax credit that has fallen so short of its intended effectiveness,” McAuliffe said.

The Senate voted 24-15 in favor of reversing the veto – two votes short. (In the House, with help from two Democratic delegates, Republicans managed to override the veto on a 68-30 vote. But without the Senate’s concurrence, it didn’t matter.)

On a 21-18 vote, the Senate was unable to override House Bill 587, which sought to prevent local governments from removing Confederate monuments. Sen. David Marsden, D-Burke, spoke in defense of McAuliffe’s veto of that bill.

“There are decisions that we need to make about people, and when localities have made these decisions, I think it’s our obligation to allow them to continue to make those decisions for themselves,” Marsden said.

Also on a 21-18 vote, the Senate failed to override the governor’s veto of SB 612, commonly known as the “Tebow bill.” It would have allowed home-schooled students to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities at their local high schools.

Another much-watched bill was HB 1090, which would have cut off state funding for Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions in addition to family planning counseling, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and other services.

The House voted 66-34 in favor of overriding McAuliffe’s veto of HB 1090. That was one vote shy of the 67 required.

Before voting got underway, there were partisan clashes. House Majority Leader Kirk Cox, a Republican from Colonial Heights, criticized McAuliffe for vetoing 32 bills – the most since 1998.

“As we get to this reconvened session, I’ve been disturbed,” Cox said. “Too often, this governor is just too happy, I think, to score political points and tends to be a bit disinterested in the legislative process.”

Minority Leader David Toscano, a Democrat from Charlottesville, fired back.

“The governor was very clear when he stood before us,” Toscano said. “He said, ‘Let’s not get distracted by this divisive social legislation. And I will tell you now, if you pass it I will veto it.’ So why should we be disturbed?”

Late Wednesday, McAuliffe issued a statement saying he is “proud that the General Assembly did not override any of the 32 vetoes we submitted this year, or any of the 68 I have submitted throughout my tenure to date.”

““While there is no question that this session was marked far more by compromise and accomplishment than by partisan conflict, there are some areas on which Republicans in the General Assembly and I disagreed,” McAuliffe said.

“The vetoes I submitted to the legislature for their consideration today honored the promise I made in the State of the Commonwealth to reject legislation that divides Virginians, makes them less safe, or sends a negative message about the climate we offer to families or businesses that may want to locate here. The controversies we are watching in other states underscore the need to reject legislation that divides or distracts us from the work Virginians elected us to do.”

What was vetoed?

This is a list of the 32 bills vetoed by Governor McAuliffe. For more information on a bill, use Legislative Information Service:

Bill number

Catch line

HB 2

Clean Power Plan; state implementation plan, General Assembly approval.

HB 8

Virginia Virtual School; Board established.

HB 9

Voter registration; required information on application form.

HB 18

Franchisees; status thereof and its employees as employees of the franchisor.

HB 70

Warrants; issuance of arrest warrants for law-enforcement officers.

HB 131

Students who receive home instruction; participation in interscholastic programs.

HB 143

Alcoholic beverage control; neutral grain spirits or alcohol sold at government stores, proof.

HB 145

Virginia Public Procurement Act; public works contracts, prevailing wage provisions.

HB 254

House of Delegates districts; technical adjustment.

HB 259

SOL; Bd. of Education prohibited from adopting revisions that implement Common Core State Standards.

HB 264

Local government; prohibiting certain practices requiring contractors to provide compensation, etc.

HB 298

Coal tax; limits aggregate amount of credits that may be allocated or claimed for employment, etc.

HB 382

Firearms; control by state agencies, rights of employees.

HB 389

Virginia Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts; established, report, effective clause.

HB 481

Compliance with detainers; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

HB 516

Education, Board of; policy on sexually explicit instructional material.

HB 518

School boards, local; to provide students with option to transfer to another school division.

HB 560

Brandishing a firearm; intent to induce fear, etc., penalty.

HB 587

Memorials and monuments; protection of all memorials, etc.

HB 766

Concealed handguns; carrying with a valid protective order.

HB 1090

Health, Department of; expenditure of funds related to abortions and family planning services.

HB 1096

Firearms; regulation by state entities prohibited.

HB 1188

Senate districts; changes assignments of two census precincts in Louisa County.

HB 1234

School security officers; carrying a firearm.

HB 1371

Local government; prohibition on certain mandates upon employers.

SB 21

Clean Power Plan; state implementation plan; General Assembly approval.

SB 41

Religious freedom; marriage solemnization, participation, and beliefs.

SB 44

Coal tax; limits aggregate amount of credits that may be allocated or claimed for employment, etc.

SB 270

Sanctuary policies; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers.

SB 612

Students who receive home instruction; participation in interscholastic programs.

SB 626

Carrying concealed handguns; protective orders.

SB 767

Form of ballot; party identification of candidates.


Lawmakers Reconvene for ‘Veto Session’

By Grant Smith, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia legislators will return to the state Capitol on Wednesday to consider whether to uphold or override Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s vetoes and recommendations of legislation passed during their 2016 session.

The Democratic governor vetoed 32 bills approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. That is the most vetoes since 1998, when Jim Gilmore, a Republican, was governor and most legislators were Democrats.

McAuliffe objected to a slew of hot-button bills – from a measure that would allow some school security officers to carry guns on the job, to the so-called “Tebow Bills” that would allow home-schoolers to participate in high school sports.

In addition, McAuliffe recommended changes to more than 50 bills. While many of the recommendations are minor, several involve the state budget, ethics rules and other major issues.

For example, the General Assembly passed a bill to make the electric chair the default form of capital punishment if the state cannot obtain the drugs to administer a lethal injection. Instead, McAuliffe recommended authorizing the Department of Correction to mix the drugs – using products from pharmacies that would remain anonymous.

Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate. That is unlikely, because Republicans hold just 21 of the 40 seats in the Senate.

Gubernatorial recommendations must be approved by only a simple majority in both chambers. If the General Assembly rejects a recommendation, the governor then can veto the entire bill.

Here are some of the more controversial bills vetoed by McAuliffe.

SB 41 – Exempting Ministers from Non-Traditional Marriages

This bill would allow any minister or religious organization to refrain from participating in any marriage that goes against their religious beliefs such as same-sex marriages.

In his veto message, McAuliffe wrote, “Although couched as a ‘religious freedom’ bill, this legislation is nothing more than an attempt to stigmatize.” The governor also said the measure would be bad for the economy: “Businesses and job creators do not want to locate or do business in states that appear more concerned with demonizing people than with creating a strong business climate.”

HB 70 – Protecting Police Officers from Misdemeanors

This legislation would protect officers from being charged with a misdemeanor offense while on the job. It would require a judge to get authorization from a law enforcement agency or the commonwealth’s attorney to issue an arrest warrant for a misdemeanor offense, unless the alleged offense was reported by another police officer.

McAuliffe said: “Virginia enjoys outstanding law enforcement officers at all levels. They are not, however, perfect.” He said the bill could prevent judges from acting on “valid citizen complaints of police abuse.”

HB 766 and SB 626 – Concealed Permits for Protective Orders

These bills would allow domestic violence victims under a protective order to carry a concealed handgun for 45 days.

McAuliffe said the legislation “encourages victims of domestic violence to introduce deadly weapons into an already dangerous situation, an approach that I believe could have significant negative public safety consequences.”The governor proposed expediting the process of issuing concealed weapons permits to domestic violence victims if they receive firearms training; however, lawmakers have rejected that idea.

HB 131 andSB 612 – the “Tebow” Bills

Under this legislation, nicknamed for quarterback Tim Tebow, public schools could allow home-schooled students to compete in interscholastic competitions.

McAuliffe noted that public school students must meet certain academic criteria to participate in extracurricular activities. There would be no guarantee that home-schoolers meet the same criteria, McAuliffe said. “Participation in athletic and academic competitions is a privilege for students who satisfy eligibility requirements.”

HB 516 – “Sexually Explicit” Instructional Material

This bill would require elementary and secondary schools to notify parents before teachers provide children any “sexually explicit content.” Schools would have to let parents review the material and provide a non-explicit alternative. The bill was in response to a complaint by the mother of a Fairfax high school senior about Toni Morrison’s award-winning novel “Beloved,” which includes graphic scenes of slavery, rape and murder.

McAuliffe said that “open communication between parents and teachers is important” but such issues should be decided by local school boards. He said the Virginia Board of Education has been examining the matter and working with parents and local officials.

HB 2 and SB 21 – Approval of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has ordered states to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. This bill would require the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to receive approval from the General Assembly before responding to the EPA’s regulations.

McAuliffe wrote, “The interjection of required legislative approval into the Clean Power Plan process is an impermissible breach of Virginia’s constitutional separation of powers. Federal law provides that it falls to the Governor to submit required plans and submissions under the Clean Air Act, including plans to comply with the Clean Power Plan. … Requiring DEQ to obtain the approval of each chamber of the legislature before submitting a plan to comply with the Clean Power Plan constitutes legislative participation in a purely executive process.”

HB 9 – Voting Information

This legislation would require officials to reject voter registration forms that lack a full name, date of birth, Social Security number, citizenship status, address or previous voter registration information. Applicants also would be rejected if they fail to check a box indicating that they will be at least 18 before the next general election.

McAuliffe said, “The Voting Rights Act expressly prohibits denying applications for omissions that are not material to determining voter eligibility. … The checkbox is not material to determining whether the applicant meets the age requirements to register to vote because the applicant is already required to provide his or her date of birth.

“Government works best when as many citizens have a voice in our democracy as possible. We should be seeking ways to make it easier for qualified Virginians to participate in elections, not disenfranchising them over technicalities.”

On the Agenda for the Veto Session

Here is the complete list of bills vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. For more information on each bill, visit the Legislative Information Service (

Bill number

Catch line

HB 2

Clean Power Plan; state implementation plan, General Assembly approval.

HB 8

Virginia Virtual School; Board established.

HB 9

Voter registration; required information on application form.

HB 18

Franchisees; status thereof and its employees as employees of the franchisor.

HB 70

Warrants; issuance of arrest warrants for law-enforcement officers.

HB 131

Students who receive home instruction; participation in interscholastic programs.

HB 143

Alcoholic beverage control; neutral grain spirits or alcohol sold at government stores, proof.

HB 145

Virginia Public Procurement Act; public works contracts, prevailing wage provisions.

HB 254

House of Delegates districts; technical adjustment.

HB 259

SOL; Bd. of Education prohibited from adopting revisions that implement Common Core State Standards.

HB 264

Local government; prohibiting certain practices requiring contractors to provide compensation, etc.

HB 298

Coal tax; limits aggregate amount of credits that may be allocated or claimed for employment, etc.

HB 382

Firearms; control by state agencies, rights of employees.

HB 389

Virginia Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts; established, report, effective clause.

HB 481

Compliance with detainers; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

HB 516

Education, Board of; policy on sexually explicit instructional material.

HB 518

School boards, local; to provide students with option to transfer to another school division.

HB 560

Brandishing a firearm; intent to induce fear, etc., penalty.

HB 587

Memorials and monuments; protection of all memorials, etc.

HB 766

Concealed handguns; carrying with a valid protective order.

HB 1090

Health, Department of; expenditure of funds related to abortions and family planning services.

HB 1096

Firearms; regulation by state entities prohibited.

HB 1188

Senate districts; changes assignments of two census precincts in Louisa County.

HB 1234

School security officers; carrying a firearm.

HB 1371

Local government; prohibition on certain mandates upon employers.

SB 21

Clean Power Plan; state implementation plan; General Assembly approval.

SB 41

Religious freedom; marriage solemnization, participation, and beliefs.

SB 44

Coal tax; limits aggregate amount of credits that may be allocated or claimed for employment, etc.

SB 270

Sanctuary policies; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers.

SB 612

Students who receive home instruction; participation in interscholastic programs.

SB 626

Carrying concealed handguns; protective orders.

SB 767

Form of ballot; party identification of candidates.


New Laws Will Help Rape Victims, Officials Say



By Rachel Beatrice, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Thursday formally signed four bills that supporters say will increase protections for victims of sexual assaults.

In a crowded room hosted by the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, McAuliffe signed:

  • Senate Bill 291 and House Bill 1160, which seek to ensure that rape evidence kits are tested promptly.
  • SB 248, which will allow minors to consent to an evidence recovery examination over the objections of a parent or guardian – a critical option when the adult may be the perpetrator
  • HB 1102, which aims to improve support and treatment for sexual assault survivors on college campuses

“The bills Gov. McAuliffe is signing today are truly game changers in the way Virginia treats survivors of sexual violence and the way we help them pursue justice,” Attorney General Mark Herring told the audience. “It is a long overdue overhaul of the way we conduct investigations and handle evidence.”

Last year, an audit by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science discovered that more than 2,300 rape kits remained untested – some dating to 1988, Herring said.

Sen. Richard Black, R-Leesburg, attended the signing ceremony. He sponsored SB 291.

“Suppression of violent crimes and especially of rape has been central to my career,” Black said. “And as the former head of the Pentagon’s Criminal Law Division, I will tell you that I am quite confident that SB 291 will save lives, and it will protect many, many women from sexual assault.”

The Virginia Department of Forensic Science currently processes more than 700 cases annually. McAuliffe said the new legislation would double the number of tests performed each year.

In addition, “the new state budget will include $900,000 annually to hire six new DNA examiners,” the governor said.

Herring said the goal is to address the current problem and prevent it from recurring. “Once we get the backlog cleared out, this new bill should ensure that Virginia never finds itself in that situation again.”

The new laws, which take effect July 1, also address situations in which the sexual assault survivor choses not to report the offense to law enforcement. In those circumstances, McAuliffe said, “The evidence will be stored for two years. For cases that are reported to law enforcement, the legislation requires that the evidence be sent for analysis within 60 days.”

Allowing rape kits to remain untested not only denies swift justice for the rape survivor but this also fails to protect other women.

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‘It’s Time to Act,’ Says Co-founder of Black Lives Matter

By Kyle Taylor, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement agrees that all lives matter – but she says it’s important to recognize that African-Americans in particular have been marginalized by American society.

“We actually do believe that all lives matter so much that we are willing to call out the fact that our society is reinforcing the fact that the system shows that many believe that black lives don’t matter,” social activist Opal Tometi told about 1,000 people at the Siegel Center at Virginia Commonwealth University on Thursday night.

“Black Lives Matter is a phrase, an ideology in this world where black people systematically do not matter,” Tometi said.

“We are shifting what is and what could be. Black Lives Matter is about a consciousness of the people – black folks first and foremost, because Black Lives Matter is about an affirmation of our own dignity and our own lives. Beyond that, it’s a demand to the mainstream, to those who are in power and maintaining the status quo.”

Black Lives Matter originated in the African-American community as a campaign against violence toward black people. The movement was co-founded by Tometi and two other community organizers: Alicia Garzaand Patrisse Cullors.

In 2013, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teenager Treyvon Martin, the movement began with the use of the hashtag#BlackLivesMatter on social media.

Black Lives Matter has become nationally recognized for its street demonstrations following the 2014 deaths of two African Americans: Michael Brown, resulting in protests and unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garnerin New York City. The campaign has evolved into an international activist movement.

The activists in the group believe that all lives matter, not just black lives. However, the campaign’s opponents have criticized its focus. They started a movement called All Lives Matter in direct response to Black Lives Matter.

“Much of the work we’re doing with the Black Lives Matter movement and with our particular methods with the 34 chapters across the country is bringing into existence a multiracial democracy that actually works for all of us,” Tometi said.

“We already live in a multiracial society, but what is so evident is that some people – some lives – are more valued than others.”

Tometi called for action and encouraged everyone to get involved.

“We can’t be silent about issues and how people are being marginalized any longer,” she said. “What we need is for everyone to make a very conscious and deliberate decision to be with us or against us. Either fight against the status quo that black lives don’t matter, or join the ones who maintain it.”

As the event came to a close, Tometi stressed the importance of acting. She urged the audience to form or join organizations that support the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Nice thoughts aren’t going to save black lives,” Tometi said. “We’ve been thinking and waiting for a long time. Now it’s time to act.”

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VSP Trooper and Gunman Dead After Shooting at Richmond Greyhound Station

According to State Police Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, Virginia State Police trooper Chad Dermyer, 37, has died as a result of his injuries after being shot at approximately 2:40 p.m. Thursday.

During a training exercise at the bus station, Dermyer approached a male subject just inside the front doors of the bus station and while talking with the male subject, the male pulled out a handgun and shot the trooper multiple times.

As the male subject continued firing his weapon, two state troopers, who were nearby, returned fire. The male suspect then moved into the terminal’s restaurant. The shooter continued to be combative as police took him into custody and EMS crews tried to render aid to him. He was transported to VCU Medical Center, where he died later Thursday afternoon.

Flaherty said the suspect's remains were transported to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for autopsy and examination and State police have confirmed the male subject’s identification, but his name will not be released until next of kin is formally notified.

During the course of the gunfire, two adult females inside the bus terminal were also shot and both were transported to VCU Medical Center and are being treated for of non-life threatening injuries. No other law enforcement personnel or civilians were injured in the shooting.

"Trooper Dermyer was among approximately a dozen state police troopers participating in a specialized training on criminal interdiction practices," Flaherty said. "Trooper Dermyer’s encounter with the male subject was part of the training. Trooper Dermyer was in uniform at the time of the shooting."

Flaherty said Dermyer was transported to VCU Medical Center, where he died later Thursday afternoon.

Dermyer is a Jackson, Mich. native who graduated from the Virginia State Police Academy November 2014. Flaherty said Dermyer had recently transferred to the state police Counter-Terrorism and Criminal Interdiction Unit. Prior to joining the state police, Trooper Dermyer served with the City of Newport News Police Department and the Jackson, Mich., Police Department.

"Trooper Dermyer also served our nation for four years with the U.S. Marine Corps," Flaherty said. "He is survived by his wife and two young children. The City of Richmond Police Department immediately responded to the scene to assist State Police with securing the scene, interviewing witnesses and evidence collection."

Flaherty said additional law enforcement resources from the FBI, ATF, US Department of Homeland Security, US Marshals Service, and Henrico County Police responded to the scene to assist as well and the investigation remains ongoing at this time.

A Binghamton University press release indicates a track team member traveling to the College of William and Mary was one of the civilians injured in today's shooting.

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Activists Are Teed Off at Dominion’s Gift to Environmental Official

By Grant Smith, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A score of environmental activists practiced their putting Wednesday outside the headquarters of the state Department of Environmental Quality, highlighting the recent controversy over Dominion Virginia Power’s paying for DEQ Director David Paylor’s trip to the Masters golf tournament in 2013.

The protesters, dressed in golf attire, displayed a Masters-inspired banner that read “Dominion & DEQ, a tradition unlike any other.” Meanwhile, other protest members boarded golf carts, shuttling between the DEQ office and Dominion’s headquarters several blocks away.

On March 14, WAMU, a public radio station in Washington, reported that Dominion paid for Paylor to attend the Masters Tournament on April 13-14, 2013, in Augusta, Ga. On his financial disclosure statement filed with the secretary of the commonwealth, Paylor estimated the trip’s value at $2,370.

Neither DEQ nor Dominion intervened in connection with the protest event that lasted for several hours Wednesday morning.

“There was some activity in front of the building today. It did not cause any disruption,” said DEQ spokesperson Bill Hayden. “We really don’t have much to say other than to reiterate that Mr. Paylor’s golf trip had nothing to do with the Dominion permits that were recently issued.”

But the protesters disagree.

“Virginia’s top environmental regulator should never have considered accepting gifts, let alone a golf vacation, from Virginia’s top polluter,” said Drew Gallagher, field organizer at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Over the past few months, the approval of two DEQ permits that would allow Dominion to discharge treated water from coal ash ponds into the Potomac and James rivers has drawn opposition from environmental groups, concerned citizens and some state legislators.

The disclosure of Paylor’s 2013 trip to the Masters has become a focal point for environmentalists who perceive the approval of the coal ash permits as an indicator of the influence Dominion has over politicians and regulators alike.

“I think what people see is business as usual – Dominion proposes something, and they get it despite massive overwhelming opposition,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher went on to explain the inspiration for the satirical, golf-themed protest. He cited the sit-in demonstration earlier this month when 17 students from the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition were arrested after occupying the DEQ lobby for three hours.

“We have seen several arrestable actions recently, where people have been willing to put their body in harm’s way to highlight what they see as a flawed process,” Gallagher said.

“That’s certainly an important part of effecting change, but sometimes people need to have a smile and a laugh. We thought that it would be good to take (the issue) in a lighter direction.”

Paylor has declined to comment specifically on the WAMU story. However, in an earlier statement, he said, “The people who work at DEQ take their environmental stewardship obligations seriously, and recent accusations against DEQ’s integrity are baseless.

“The quality of Virginia’s rivers and streams has improved dramatically over the years. DEQ will continue to write and enforce permits that protect Virginia’s environment in the consistent, thorough and responsible manner that Virginians deserve.”


VCU Falls to Oklahoma in NCAA Tournament

By Bryant Drayton and Sarah King, Capital News Service

OKLAHOMA CITY – Defeated, but not without a fight, VCU’s Cinderella run was halted at the hands of Buddy Hield and the Oklahoma Sooners on Sunday in the second round of the NCAA tournament at the Chesapeake Bay Arena here.

The 85-81 loss in front of a 14,000-deep OU crowd was a tale of two halves for VCU, as the Rams had a nightmarish start that led to a halftime deficit of 44-31. But VCU held Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield to just seven first-half points.

“I think he just missed shots,” said senior Melvin Johnson. “In the beginning of the game, Korey (Billbury) and Jordan (Burgess) did a good job arriving on the catch, forcing him to take some tough shots.”

The Sooners capitalized on a smaller VCU front court to start the contest, out-rebounding VCU 25-13 in the first half.

The turning point of the contest came when head coach Will Wade decided to give two reserves – sophomore Mike Gilmore and junior Doug Brooks – a chance to make their presence known. The pair brought scrappy play, silencing the OU crowd with 3-point shots and pesky defense.

“I just wanted to give us a spark,” Gilmore said. “I just wanted to keep this thing going for as long as I could.”

Gilmore attributed his early play, then long run on the bench, this season to being passive and not ready to shoot the ball. He said he wanted to go in and fire at will, knowing he could knock down the key shots VCU needed to keep pace with OU.

“We came back fighting; we had them on their heels the whole game,” Brooks said. “Basically we were out there just trying to play for each other and play for our seniors.”

In his last performance wearing a VCU uniform, Johnson did all he could to keep his team alive. The Bronx native tallied 23 points, knocking down five big 3-pointers that brought the game back to VCU.

“I think I had a pretty good career – a roller-coaster ride,” Johnson said. “But just coming into this year, I really blocked all distractions, really locked in.”

Johnson was adamantly positive about the play of junior guard JeQuan Lewis, saying it’s Lewis’ team now and he expects him to get the team back to the NCAA Tournament next year and to go even further.

“I just told JeQuan in the locker room, ‘Please keep working,’” Johnson said. “He’s a big-time player, as you can see. Next year he’s going to be extremely dangerous when he has the green light.”

Lewis recorded his second consecutive 20-point outing in the Big Dance. The up-tempo guard registered 22 points on 9-15 shooting. He also had nine assists to add to the eight he had in the win against Oregon State.

Lewis did it all for VCU in Sunday’s loss. Matched up with Jordan Woodward and Isaiah Cousins, two big guards for OU, Lewis held his own and was the catalyst behind the 14-point comeback in the second half that found VCU with its first lead of the game with eight minutes to play.

“When we came out in the first half, we were a little slow and going with the motions,” Lewis said. “But in the second half, we didn’t come here to lose, so we had it in the front of our minds that we’re going to put up a fight.”

No doubt VCU put up a well-fought match for what many considered an easy OU win. But the Sooners’ Hield was just a different breed.

After recovering from just seven first half points, Hield, a senior from the Bahamas, rattled off 29 second-half points to lead his team to a win.

“He’s just a phenomenal player – the best player I’ve seen in college basketball,” Wade said.

As soon as VCU found a way to get back into the contest, Hieldhit a 3-pointer to silence the run and put a dagger in the hearts of the Ram fans that came out in support of their team in Oklahoma City.

The Rams out-scored OU in the second half 50-41, but missed costly free throws at the end of the game, resulting in the narrow victory for OU.

“I think this is the best one because it means a lot, because it’s the NCAA Tournament – big stage, win or go home,” Hield said when asked where this game ranked for him. “And you don’t get these moments back every time.”

The Rams end the season 25-11 and co-champions of the Atlantic 10 division, in a year they were picked to finish fifth in the A-10. The season may have officially ended, but the legacy of Johnson and the play of his fellow senior Billbury will be a story for the ages.

“I just came here having faith hoping everything will work out,” Billbury said. “I got more than what I expected, and I just can’t thank everyone enough for supporting me. It’s been crazy; it’s been a real nice ride.”

Wade expressed his gratitude for the resilient play of his team this season, saying Sunday’s comeback performance was indicative of the mindset the Rams have portrayed all year.

The game ended in a loss, but the team battled at the face of adversity. In front of a dominant OU crowd, VCU flexed its muscles, granting Sooner fans a moment to exhale when it was all said and done.

“We’ve been that way all year,” Wade said. “We’ve been resilient, and we’ve always just battled, battled, battled.”


Ukrainian Visitors Say ‘Dyakuyu’ (Thanks!)

By Bailey Tyler, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – At first glance, the posse of young adults seemed to be tourists, but these visitors were not here just to sightsee. They approached the Virginia State Capitol building, chatting in a language that was hard to place. One member of the group was Iryna Degtyarova.

“We were looking around and didn’t believe that we were in America,” she said, trailing off in laughter.

Degtyarova and her colleagues from Ukraine had traveled about 5,000 miles to visit Richmond and learn about government and education in America. The five visitors were educators and emerging political leaders who were selected to participate in Open World, a foreign exchange program funded by the U.S. Congress.

The Ukrainian delegates spent a few days in Washington, D.C., and then a week in Richmond earlier this month, meeting with state and local officials, touring the Virginia Capitol, visiting schools and witnessing the presidential primary elections on Super Tuesday.

The Ukrainians were hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University and community volunteers. This was the fifth year that VCU has hosted an Open World delegation, and the second year the delegates have been from Ukraine.

The goal of the program is to bring young leaders from post-Soviet countries to the United States to expose them to American governance, democracy and free enterprise, according to FHI 360, a nonprofit group that helps administer Open World on behalf of the Library of Congress.

During their week long stay, the Ukrainians participated in a whirlwind of activities. They:

  • Discussed primary, secondary and higher education issues with Anne Holton, Virginia’s secretary of education
  • Met with numerous legislators, including Sens. Bill Stanley and Bryce Reeves, who recognized the group during a session of the Senate
  • Toured the Virginia Capitol, the Library of Virginia and the Governor’s Mansion, where they met with first lady Dorothy McAuliffe
  • Visited the newsroom of CBS 6 (WTVR) to see how reporters covered the presidential primary elections on Super Tuesday
  • Discussed transparency in government with officials at the Virginia Freedom of Information Act Advisory Council and the Virginia Public Access Project
  • Visited Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies and Overby-Sheppard Elementary School in Richmond

Three units at VCU collaborated in hosting the group: the Global Education Office, the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, and the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture.

Jeff South, the Robertson School’s director of undergraduate studies, said that while the Ukrainians experienced American culture, the Americans learned about Ukrainian culture.

“I’d say it benefits VCU as much as it benefits – probably more than it benefits – the visiting delegates from other countries,” he said.

Before coming to Richmond, the Ukrainians had an orientation in Washington, D.C. Degtyarova, a postdoctoral researcher for the Department of Law and European Integration in the National Academy of Public Administration in the city of Dnipropetrovsk, said she felt overjoyed to arrive in the United States for the first time.

Degtyarova joined the program because she wanted to learn about American governance and higher education. She said Ukrainians and Americans have a positive relationship.

“The United States are the great supporter in the way of reforming our lives, in every sphere,” Degtyarova said.

Another delegate was Yuliia Epifanova, an assistant professor of civil law at V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University. Epifanova said her goal for the week was to learn more about America’s education system and compare it with Ukraine’s.

“If I learn more for Ukraine, it will be great,” she said.

The delegates spent their nights with host families, who were mostly VCU faculty – or retired faculty in the case of Steve Saltzberg. Saltzberg, the former director of the VCU Computer Center, and his wife Sheila Chandler, hosted two of the delegates: Epifanova and Nataliia Lukova-Chuiko, an associate professor of cybersecurity at Taras Shevchenko Kyiv National University.

Saltzberg and Chandler have been a host family for Open World for years. Saltzberg said he appreciated that this year’s delegates were fluent in English.

“We’ve hosted Russian, which was our biggest challenge,” Saltzberg said. “Google Translate does wonders.”

Staying with a host family gives delegates a window into American culture, and vice versa.

“It gives us a different view about what the planet we live on is like,” Saltzberg said. “Seeing our city, our Richmond, through their eyes gives us a different perspective about what our city is like.”

The other Ukrainian delegates were Oksana Kozak, the press secretary to a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, and Yurii Khalavka, an assistant professor at Yurii Fedkovych Chernivtsi National University. The group was accompanied from Ukraine by a facilitator, Vyacheslav Zub.

The delegation returned to Ukraine with new knowledge of the United States and experience with its people.

The day before they left, the Ukrainians showed their appreciation to the Richmond community by preparing borscht – a thick soup made with beets – and other dishes from their homeland. At the cooking demonstration at a residence hall at VCU, Epifanova said her stay in the United States was a great experience.

“We’ve learned, and it is something to improve Ukraine,” she said.

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Erin go Bragh, Y’all! How Irish Is Virginia?

Capital News Service

About one in 10 Virginians claim Irish ancestry, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s approximately the proportion for the nation as a whole.

But the statewide average is deceptive. In some Virginia communities, the proportion of residents with Irish roots is much higher – and in other communities, it’s non-existent.

For example, Nottoway Court House, in Southside Virginia, has a population of 78 people – and 45 of them are descended from Ireland, the Census Bureau estimates. In more than 30 communities, at least 20 percent of the residents trace their roots to Ireland.

Here in Emporia, 240 of our 5,682 citizens, or 4.2% of the population have roots on the Emerald Isle.  No data was provided for counties.

At the other extreme, the bureau’s data indicate that more than 50 communities in the commonwealth may have no residents with ties to Ireland.

At the county level, Mathews and Fauquier counties have the highest percentage of residents with Irish ancestry – about 17 percent. Then come Bath and Clarke counties at around 16 percent. In contrast, about 2 percent of Petersburg’s residents can trace their background to Ireland.

Among the 50 states, Massachusetts has the highest proportion of people with Irish ancestry – 22 percent. Virginia ranks No. 34, at 10 percent.

In a press release for St. Patrick’s Day, the Census Bureau noted that about 11.5 percent of the population of South Bend, Ind., home to the Fighting Irish of the University of Notre Dame, claim Irish ancestry. At least 190 towns and 40 cities and counties in Virginia can top that.

Virginia even has a town called Dublin, in Pulaski County. About 500 – or 19 percent – of its approximately 2,600 residents have Irish roots.

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VCU Unveils $50.8 Million Library Renovation

By Sarah King, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – When Virginia Commonwealth University opened Cabell Library in 1970, enrollment was about 17,000 students. Forty-five years later, enrollment had doubled at the university – but the library was still the same size. As a result, VCU had less library space per student than any other university in the state.

That changed Tuesday, when VCU President Michael Rao, Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton, University Librarian John Ulmschneider and others formally presented the newly completed, $50.8 million Cabell renovation.

“Every decision about this new building has been made with students first,” said Sue Robinson, public affairs specialist for VCU Libraries. “We've held student forums. They voted on furniture, were polled on types of workspaces they liked. We knew they were desperate for more study rooms for collaborative work.”

Robinson said the changes include an innovative media new workshop in the library basement, with 3-D printers and other cool tools. The workshop is free and open to all students and faculty.

The Cabell renovation-construction project, which started in December 2013, added 93,000 square feet to the facility and improved 63,000 square feet of previously existing space. The library features an expanded 3,400-square-foot Starbucks, 3,000 student seats (double the previous number) and 175 more silent study seats.

“What we really are celebrating is the future,” Rao said during the opening ceremony of the library. “I still think of libraries as medicine for the soul.”

To make the project happen, the university used $50.8 million in state funds and $6 million in private funds from the library’s endowment. No student tuition money was used.

To help fund furnishings and other items not covered by the state, the Cabell Foundation, a philanthropic organization in Richmond, awarded a $1 million challenge grant to VCU Libraries. The library system will get the money if it raises $1 million in new gifts and pledges by June 30, 2017.

In his speech at the opening ceremony, Ulmschneider indicated that more funds would be divided up. Half would go into the library’s endowment, and half would go to building stations for nursing mothers, providing accommodations for deaf people and creating an interfaith meditation area.

“VCU has created one of the country’s most outstanding academic libraries,” Ulmschneider said.

Robinson said the library’s busiest study months are October and April. Last October, more than 63,000 people visited Cabell in one week.

Cabell Library is located in the physical center of VCU’s Monroe Park Campus. Over the past decade, use of the library has doubled to more than 2 million visitors a year. That is 500,000 more visits than the Library of Congress gets.

Cabell was already the busiest academic library in Virginia, but according to Ulmschneider, use of the facility has increased by 30 percent since the new addition opened to students at the start of the academic year.

Robinson said that according to preliminary projections, the expanded and improved Cabell Library may receive as many as 2.5 million visitors in 2016.

“Most important thing of all is the students love it. It’s not me, it’s the students that matter, ” Ulmschneider said. “And they are filling this place like you uncorked a bottle in the water.”

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Environmental Official Got Gifts from Dominion

By Grant Smith, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The water might drain from Dominion Virginia Power’s coal ash ponds, but the plot has thickened. Documents brought to light this week show that the director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, David Paylor, accepted gifts from Dominion in 2013, including a trip to the Masters golf tournament in Georgia.

WAMU, a public radio station in Washington, reported Monday that Dominion paid for Paylor to attend the Masters Tournament on April 13-14, 2013, in Augusta, Ga. On his financial disclosure statement filed with the secretary of the commonwealth, Paylor estimated the trip’s value at $2,370.

Dominion also paid for a $1,200 dinner for Paylor and nine other people at O’Tooles Irish Pub in Augusta on April 13, 2013, WAMU reported.

Data from the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project confirmed that Dominion reported providing gifts to Paylor in 2013. Dominion reported spending $4,492 for Paylor and Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, to attend the Masters. Both men also were at the dinner at O’Tooles. The cost of the dinner was $1,236, Dominion’s gift disclosure said.

Armed with this new information, environmental activists are demanding action against what they perceive as a problematic relationship between Dominion and Virginia government.

The activists want the state to revoke permits that Paylor’s agency granted to Dominion to drain treated wastewater from the utility’s coal ash pits in Fluvanna and Prince William counties into the James and Potomac rivers. Environmental groups also are calling for an investigation into the release of untreated coal ash water into Quantico Creek last spring.

“For months, Paylor misinformed the public about Dominion’s secretive and potentially illegal dumping of nearly 30 million gallons of untreated coal ash wastewater into Quantico Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River, in May 2015,” the Chesapeake Climate Action Network alleged.

Coal ash is the residue left over from burning coal. It is commonly stored in retaining ponds on site of coal-fueled power plants. Potentially toxic concentrations of heavy metals inherent to coal ash include arsenic and mercury.

“Dominion’s influence over Virginia’s General Assembly has been apparent for years, but now it appears to extend to the same regulators entrusted to police the company’s pollution,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “David Paylor vacationed on Dominion’s dime while he was simultaneously entrusted with protecting the public from Dominion’s pollution. This is a stunning conflict of interest.”

Paylor and the DEQ have declined to comment specifically on the WAMU story. However, the agency referred Capital News Service to a statement DEQ released last week after two lawsuits challenging the management of coal ash wastewater in Virginia were settled.

“The people who work at DEQ take their environmental stewardship obligations seriously, and recent accusations against DEQ’s integrity are baseless,” Paylor said in the statement.

“The quality of Virginia’s rivers and streams has improved dramatically over the years. DEQ will continue to write and enforce permits that protect Virginia’s environment in the consistent, thorough and responsible manner that Virginians deserve.”

DEQ and Dominion officials maintain that the company’s plan for treating and releasing the water in the coal ash ponds is environmentally sound.

“DEQ is pleased that Dominion has voluntarily agreed to go beyond federal and state regulatory requirements to further enhance protections for Virginia waters,” Paylor said in last week’s statement.

“DEQ has full confidence that its discharge permits fully protect water quality, aquatic life and human health. The permits issued for Dominion’s Bremo and Possum Point power stations, like thousands of similar permits DEQ has written in the past four decades, meet strict federal and state requirements for water quality.”

Despite such assurances, environmental activists questioned the ethics of Paylor’s acceptance of the gifts.

“The decisions Paylor is making now will have a huge impact on the health of Virginia waterways and citizens for years to come,” Tidwell said. “How can we trust he is putting the health of Virginians above the profits of Dominion?”

The Virginia Student Environmental Coalition also criticized the relationship between Paylor and Dominion.

“A majority of communities, ourselves included, who organize against these environmental injustices do not have the political or monetary power to send politicians to the Masters, or pick up their bar tabs,” said Laura Cross, a student at the University of Virginia.

Last week, 35 members of the coalition occupied the lobby of the Department of Environmental Quality in downtown Richmond for three hours, demanding a meeting with Paylor. Cross and 16 other students were arrested.

In 2014, the General Assembly passed an ethics reform bill that limited gifts for public officials to $100. The law apparently would have prohibited the size of the gifts Paylor received from Dominion in 2013.

Dominion officials defended the company’s practices.

“Politics is not a spectator sport,” David Botkins, a spokesman for Dominion, told WAMU, which is based at American University. “Our employees and our company participate in [it] just like every other industry, business, nonprofit and organization out there. That’s how democracy works.” He added that “Folks who lose on the policy side will tend to throw rocks at us because of the political contribution issue. I think it’s unfair.”

Since 2005, Dominion has contributed about $7 million to political parties, candidates, and political action committees in Virginia, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. The week before the 2016 legislative session began on Jan. 13, Dominion contributed $105,000 to Virginia political party committees – $55,000 to Republicans, $50,000 to Democrats.

During the session, which ended last week, Sen. Scott A. Surovell, D-Fairfax, introduced a bill to require coal ash to be excavated and moved off site to landfills away from major water sources.The measure, Senate Bill 537, died in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee. The vote was 7-7 vote, with Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, abstaining.

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Dance has received about $23,000 in campaign contributions from Dominion during her 12 years in the General Assembly.

In January, the State Water Control Board, part of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, approved permits for Dominion to begin draining millions of gallons of treated water from coal ash ponds in Fluvanna and Prince William counties.

Surovell was in attendance along with about 100 opponents to the permits during the vote. He said Dominion’s plan was unsettling to more than just hardcore environmentalists. “You’re not just hearing concerns from the environmental community,” the senator said. “You’re hearing concerns from major institutions saying, ‘Let’s slow this down, let’s get this right.’”

Nissa Deanwas one of the State Water Control Board members who voted to grant the permits to Dominion. She is the Virginia director of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. WAMU reported that in 2015, Dominion’s charitable foundationgave the alliance two grants – one for $25,000 and the other for $20,000.

After the board approved Dominion’s permits, environmental groups such as the James River Association and Potomac Riverkeepers continued to protest. Represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, these groups planned to appeal the permits for the “dewatering” of coal ash ponds at the Bremo Bluff and Possum Point stations.

Last week, the James River Association agreed not to appeal the Bremo permit after receiving assurances from Dominion that the utility will take extra steps to ensure that wastewater will contain little if any heavy metals or other hazardous chemicals. In 2015, the association received a $50,000 environmental grant from Dominion.

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