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Corrine Fizer

Community Lenten Services

Luncheon will be served after each Wednesday Noon Service for a small donation.

March 27 - 12 Noon First Presbyterian Church Rev. Dr. Rick Hurst

April 3 12 - Noon Calvary Baptist Church Rev. Dr. Doretha Allen

April 10 - 12 Noon St. Richard’s Catholic Church Rev. Tom Durrance

April 18 - 7 pm Elnora Jarrell Worship Center Rev. Harry Zeiders

April 19 - 11 am Calvary Baptist Church (Radio Baptist) Various Pastors and Leaders Hour of Prayer

The offering: we have given two $500 scholarships to seniors in the past. We will contact these two students and if they are still at their schools with passing grades, we will give them another $500 each and any money above $1000.00 we be given to Thomas Family Boots On the Ground Outreach.

Amid Protest, Legislators Announce 5% Pay Raise for Teachers

By Corrine Fizer, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — As hundreds of teachers and supporters from around the state marched to the Virginia Capitol to call for higher salaries and more funding for public schools, legislative leaders announced Monday that they would include a 5 percent pay raise for teachers in the state budget.

Armed with red coats, scarves and signs, participants of all ages gathered in Monroe Park for a small rally. Then they marched to the Capitol as a girl riding in the back of a small red wagon used a microphone and handheld speaker to lead their chants.

The marchers gathered on the Capitol grounds to hear community leaders protest what they see as inadequate funding for public education.

Rodney Robinson, Virginia’s Teacher of the Year, said Amazon will receive nearly $3.5 billion in public subsidies from New York, Virginia and Tennessee to locate facilities in those states. Virginia’s state government and Arlington County offered more than $570 million in direct subsidiesand about $220 million in transportation improvements to entice Amazon to put an East Coast headquarters near Reagan National Airport in Crystal City.

Robinson said the money Amazon will get could “pay for more teachers, counselors and 21st-century school buildings that are not infested with roaches, rats and mold.”

The Virginia Education Association, which represents the state’s teachers, organized the “Red4Ed” rally. The VEA says Virginia ranks 34th among the states in teacher pay. The average annual teacher salary in Virginia is $51,265 — more than $9, 200 below the national average, according to the association.

According to the Richmond School Board, 1 in 5 educators must take a second job to make ends meet.

Liz Holmes, a second-grade teacher at Greenville Elementary School in Warrenton, said she has not had a raise in 11 years. Holmes came to the march to express her frustration over the lack of “fair compensation” in her workplace.

“We are losing qualified teachers every year to surrounding counties that pay higher wages,” Holmes said, holding a picture of her and her students. “Enough is enough.”

As the teachers held their demonstration, Republican lawmakers who control the House of Delegates announced that they would include a 5 percent raise for teachers in the state budget they plan to release on Sunday. Del. Steve Landes, R-Augusta, made the announcement in a speech on the House floor.

“Virginia has some of the finest teachers in the country and that has led to Virginia students consistently outperforming nationwide peers on standardized tests, college admissions, and graduate rates,” said Landes, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “To maintain that success we must ensure our teachers are fairly compensated and know the hard work they do each and every day is greatly appreciated.”

The committee’s chairman, Republican Del. Chris Jones of Suffolk, said the proposed budget would increase teachers’ salaries without raising taxes. “Under conservative leadership in the House of Delegates, this will be the fourth teacher pay raise in the last six years,” he said.

“I am proud of Chairman Jones and Vice Chairman Landes for the hard work and dedication they have shown to ensuring our teachers know how much they are appreciated in the Commonwealth,” said House Speaker Kirk Cox, a retired high school government teacher.

“As a public school teacher for 30 years, I know how hard teachers work to educate Virginia’s future leaders. We must make it a priority to keep great teachers in the classroom and that starts with making sure our teachers a fairly compensated.”

Democrats are already on board with the 5 percent pay raise for teachers. In the two-year budget adopted by the General Assembly in 2018, teachers were scheduled to receive a 3 percent salary increase on July 1. In his proposed revision of the budget, Gov. Ralph Northam recommended awarding teachers an additional 2 percent raise.

Northam, a Democrat, reiterated that proposal at a meeting of the Virginia School Board Association last week, calling it “the largest one-time pay raise for teachers in over 15 years.”

But Virginia teachers say that their salaries are more than 10 percent below the national average — and that the planned raise does not close the gap.

“It’s a start,” Holmes said. “But it’s not enough.”

Thousands March on Washington Despite Controversy

By Corrine Fizer, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON — Waving signs and chanting loudly, hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets of the nation’s capital. The crowd, drawn from across the country, made its way to the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue to march for the rights of women and minorities.

The event — a reprise of the Women’s March protesting the inauguration of President Donald Trump in 2017 — began with a gathering in front of the rally stage in Freedom Plaza. Equipped with colorful and often humorous signs, marchers of all ages and backgrounds came together to address various issues surrounding women’s reproductive rights, sexism and racial injustice.

The march was not without controversy. It started after Tamika Mallory, co-president of the event, posted an Instagram photo of her with Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, calling him the “greatest of all time.” Farrakhan has been widely criticized in the past for anti-Semitic remarks.

Mallory declined to condemn Farrakhan’s statements and instead said that the Women’s March does not align with Farrakhan’s beliefs regarding the Jewish people. While some protested the march after Mallory’s comments, others came to march in solidarity with the Jewish community.

Sarah Boxer, a student from George Washington University, was one of those who showed support. Boxer, surrounded by her friends, held up a blue sign with the message: “I am a Jewish woman and proud.”

A seasoned marcher, Boxer said she was hesitant to come to the third annual Women’s March after hearing Mallory’s remarks. She said it’s important to remember that Mallory is just one person in a large organization.

“I have a lot of great women around me to support me,” Boxer said. “I’m proud to be a woman. I’m proud to be Jewish. I shouldn’t have to choose either side of who I am because of the controversy.”

Boxer added that she feels it is imperative for members of minority groups to show up and speak out.

“I think in order to have a successful women’s march, it’s important to recognize the impact that all women have, and I think it’s important that Jewish women especially talk about how they’re feeling,” Boxer said. “It’s important not to stay silent.”

Ahead of the third Women’s March on Washington, organizers unveiled what they called a “bold and visionary” policy platform — the Women’s Agenda. The plan serves as the organization’s “roadmap” to extending its advocacy year round.

The agenda calls for reproductive rights, racial justice, LGBT rights, immigrant rights, economic justice, civil liberties, disability rights and environmental justice. The group is calling for “universal health care / Medicare for all,” ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and an end to war.

Senate Agrees Not to Ask Job Applicants About Criminal History

By Corrine Fizer, Capital News Service

RICHMOND —  After two decades of pleas from criminal justice reform advocates, the Virginia Senate voted 24 to 16 on Friday to “ban the box” -- to remove the checkbox on state employment application forms that asks applicants about their criminal history.

Democratic Sens. Rosalyn Dance of Petersburg and Jennifer McClellan of Richmond sponsored the bill, SB 1199. Supporters included the advocacy group New Virginia Majority, which aims to “build power in working-class communities of color.”

Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of the group, said the bill could provide more opportunities to people who have committed crimes but served their time.

“Fair-chance policies like this benefit so many families and employers throughout the commonwealth. This bill is a step forward in establishing more equitable hiring practices that we want to see,” Nguyen said. “Employers should consider a candidate’s qualifications first without the stigma that comes with checking that box.”

Bobby Lee, a member of New Virginia Majority, said he is “overjoyed” with the Senate’s action.

“I got clean in 2007 and I have been on the right path ever since, but that box has held me back from being able to help other people,” Lee said. “I am a certified mental health and substance abuse professional. I got my voting rights back, I finished school, I was hopeful. And then job after job would never call me back.”

Lee said he applied to be a “peer recovery specialist” two years ago.

“When I interviewed for the job, I was told that I would’ve been hired on the spot if it weren’t for a conviction I received when I was 17 years old,” he said.

SB 1199 would prohibit state agencies from asking applicants if they have ever been convicted of a crime early in the application process. Agencies could pose such questions only after the applicant has received a conditional offer of employment; the offer then could be withdrawn “if the applicant has a conviction record that directly relates to the duties and responsibilities of the position.”

The legislation would not apply to law enforcement jobs or certain other positions that require background checks.

The bill now heads to the House of Delegates, where it has failed in the past.

How They Voted

Here is how the Senate voted on SB 1199 (Public employment; inquiries by state agencies and localities regarding criminal convictions, etc.)

Floor: 01/18/19  Senate: Read third time and passed Senate (24-Y 16-N)
YEAS -- Barker, Boysko, Dance, Deeds, Dunnavant, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Howell, Lewis, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, McPike, Petersen, Ruff, Saslaw, Spruill, Stanley, Sturtevant, Surovell, Vogel-- 24.

NAYS--Black, Carrico, Chafin, Chase, Cosgrove, DeSteph, Hanger, McDougle, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Peake, Reeves, Stuart, Suetterlein, Wagner -- 16.

Hundreds March For Women and Minority Rights in Richmond

By Saffeya Ahmed and Corrine Fizer, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Hundreds of social justice advocates, community members and students marched for women’s rights Saturday in Richmond.

The two-mile reprise of the 2017 Women’s March began at 9 a.m. at the Arthur Ashe Jr. Athletic Center as participants holding brightly decorated signs walked toward the intersection of West Broad Street and North Boulevard.

“What do want? Equal rights. When do we want them? Now,” demonstrators chanted in support of both women and minority rights.

Demonstrators made their way back to the Arthur Ashe Center around 10:30 a.m. for an expo where speakers urged reform, marchers danced to empowering music and dozens of vendors sold handmade products and spread awareness about social justice movements.

“I often times get asked … where is this surge of energy from women coming from?” said Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, who spoke at the expo. “I like to tell them, it’s always been in us.”

Carroll Foy sponsored legislation to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment — which prohibits sex-based discrimination — in efforts to make Virginia the 38th and final state necessary to include the ERA in the U.S. Constitution.

“We now know we must have a seat at the table,” Carroll Foy said. “We have to be where the decisions are being made and where the laws are being written.”

After marching to and from the Arthur Ashe Center, participants gathered to hear social justice advocates and elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., and state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond.

“Every issue is a woman’s issue,” McClellan said. “We’ve had a long, complicated history. And now we fight and we march today to make sure our voices are heard.”

Spanberger thanked the work of “strong women” who helped send a total of 126 women to Congress during the 2018 midterms.

“For anyone who needs something to show their daughters or young people or anyone else,” Spanberger said, “look at who’s in Congress. Look at what we have happening in Congress.”

Spanberger — who beat Republican Rep. Dave Brat in one of Virginia’s most hotly contested races of the 2018 midterm elections — represents Virginia’s 7th District in the most diverse Congress to step foot in Washington.

“We have women from all over the country,” Spanberger said. “We have our first Muslim women. Our first Native American women in Congress. We have our youngest woman ever in Congress.”

Nearly a quarter of the 116th Congress is made up of women, the most in U.S. history, according to Pew Research.

“I love seeing women in power,” said 11-year-old Natalie Rodriguez, who participated in the march, “because I know that when my grandma was growing up, it wasn’t like that.”

Several speakers also addressed immigrant rights. Some expressed frustration with the now-longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history. The U.S. entered the shutdown Dec. 22, 2018, stemming from a deadlock over President Donald Trump’s $5 billion funding request for a U.S.-Mexico border wall. 
“By shutting down the government, that’s sort of like saying, ‘I’m not going to reopen until you give me my wall,’” said march organizer and local activist Seema Sked. “It’s very childish.”

As a Muslim woman, Sked focuses her advocacy efforts toward fighting Trump’s travel ban, fighting Islamophobia and creating equity for immigrants. She recently traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, to help asylum seekers with the interview process.

“Just to see the conditions that folks are in, and to see the children, and how everyone’s so desperate to find a better life and a safe place,” Sked said, “that’s really, really important to me because I look at that and think that could be me.”

Several marchers supported immigrant rights similar to Sked, holding up signs that read “immigrants are not enemies” and “make America kind again.”

This is the second year that Women’s March RVA has held an event after having been inspired by the National Women’s March held annually in Washington. The march took place a week earlier than the organization’s sister marches, giving Richmond residents the opportunity to partake in one or both events.

The National Women’s March will take place in Washington at 10 a.m. next Saturday.

Lawmakers Have Mixed Reactions to Governor’s Address

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam gives his second State of the Commonwealth Speech before 140 members of the 2019 General Assembly, on Jan. 9. (PHOTO: Livestream)

By Corrine Fizer, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. – From attracting high-tech businesses to improving access to health care services, Gov. Ralph Northam’s State of the Commonwealth speech touted wins and legislative proposals that both parties celebrated, though Republicans blasted his ideas on taxes and budget spending.

The 2019 General Assembly session marks Northam’s second year in office and the 400th anniversary of the House of Burgesses, the first democratically elected legislative body in the British American colonies. His speech didn’t shy away from acknowledging the state’s “long and complex history” while connecting several of the session’s proposals to health and safety.

“In 2017, 1,028 Virginians died of gun-related causes,” Northam told a joint meeting of the General Assembly at the end of the first day of the 2019 legislative session. “That’s more deaths due to gun violence than the 956 Virginians who died due to vehicle accidents.”

Fellow Democrats said the governor set the right tone.

“It is clear that the commonwealth is coming into 2019 in a strong position. Our economy is thriving, we are attracting major businesses and job creators like Amazon, and the Medicaid expansion we passed last year will boost state revenues and provide hundreds of thousands of Virginians with access to healthcare,” House Democratic Leader Eileen Filler-Corn and Caucus Chair Charniele Herring, said in a joint statement.

In the Republicans’ official response to Wednesday night’s speech, Del. Robert Thomas Jr. of Stafford and Sen. Stephen Newman of Bedford called for Virginia to balance its books, maintain low taxes and help Virginians reduce high health insurance deductibles.

“Republicans are committed to stopping Governor Northam’s tax hike on the middle class,” Thomas said. “Our tax reform plan will return the tax windfall resulting from the federal tax cuts along to taxpayers, while providing targeted tax relief to middle- and low-income Virginians and protecting our coveted AAA bond rating.”  

Republicans also voiced opposition to Northam’s proposals regarding guns.

The Democratic governor called on the General Assembly to approve an “extreme risk law” -- a legal way for law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from someone who has shown dangerous behavior or who poses a risk to themselves or others. This idea has passed Republican-led legislatures in other states and been signed by Republican governors, such as Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott.

In his response to the speech, Thomas, a father of eight, said improving the safety of public schools is more important than hashing out possible firearm regulations.

“Our goal is to employ every means available to keep dangerous individuals out of our schools,” he said.  

Echoing the recommendations of a legislative committee, Thomas proposed using threat prevention technology and improving mental health services.  Northam and Thomas both advocated for improving safety training for school personnel and safety officers. Currently, only grant-funded resource officers go through training approved by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.

Northam addressed criminal justice reform.  For the third year in a row, Virginia has had the nation’s lowest prison recidivism rate, and Northam said he hopes to maintain that record.

He also plans to end the practice of suspending driver’s licenses over failure to pay court costs, fees, and non-driving offenses. “When we take away people’s driver’s licenses, we make it harder for them to get to work, and thus make it even more difficult for them to pay their court costs,” Northam said. “We shouldn’t be punishing people for being poor.”

Moreover, Northam called for making simple possession a civil penalty to ease overcrowding in jails and prisons. Current law imposes a maximum of 30 days in jail for a first offense of marijuana possession.

In his speech, Northam celebrated a budget he had signed in May that expanded Medicaid coverage to 400,000 Virginians.

He also discussed using tolls to fund improvements on Interstate 81 in the western part of the state. The interstate has seen a 12 percent increase in traffic and a 55 percent increase in delays, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

In a speech that included the word “together” 32 times, the governor concluded his address by encouraging unity among members of the General Assembly.

“I hope that as we go through the next 46 days together, we give consideration to each other, and to our ideas. It can be tempting to retreat to our corners and shout at each other,” Northam said. “But I believe we all have that internal moral compass, the one that guides us toward the right thing to do. I hope we all follow it this session.”

Republican and Democratic lawmakers will consider more than 2,000 bills between now and their scheduled adjournment, Feb. 23.

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