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35 million pounds of toxic chemicalss released into Virginia’s environment

By Julia Rothey, Dai Ja Norman and Haley Winn, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Factories, power plants and other facilities in Virginia released about 35 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the state’s water, air and land in 2015, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. More than half of the pollution came from just five facilities, the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory showed.

Most of the pollution in Virginia involved nitrate compounds released into the water and ammonia, hydrochloric acid and methanol released into the air, an analysis of the TRI data found. The releases included more than 1 million pounds of carcinogens – cancer-causing chemicals such as acetaldehyde, styrene and lead.

The TRI database details which chemicals are released by which facilities, how much is released and where the pollution goes. The latest data is for 2015.

The Radford Army Ammunition Plant, located along the New River in Montgomery County, emitted more toxic chemicals into the environment than any other facility in Virginia. The plant, the U.S military’s primary gun and rocket propellant provider, released more than 10 million pounds of pollutants, mostly nitrate compounds going into nearby waters.

Prolonged exposure to nitrates can lead hypertension and other cardiovascular problems, birth defects and headaches, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Radford plant was the second biggest water polluter in the nation in 2015, the data showed. Only the AK Steel Corp. operation in Rockport, Indiana, emitted more toxins into the water – over 13 million pounds. In terms of total on-site releases (including air and land), the ammunition facility ranked 35th nationwide.

According to the TRI data, after the Radford plant, the Virginia facilities with the most on-site releases in 2015 were:

·         MeadWestvaco’s paper plant in Covington – 3 million pounds of chemicals.

·         Honeywell International’s chemical plant in Hopewell – more than 2.3 million pounds.

·         The Chesterfield Power Station in Chester – almost 2 million pounds.

·         International Paper’s mill in Franklin – 1.3 million pounds.

Two other facilities – Jewell Coke Co. in Buchanan County and the Clover Power Station in Halifax – also had on-site emissions exceeding 1 million pounds.

Ladelle McWhorter, who chairs Virginia Organizing, which advocates for a clean environment and other issues, said she finds the amount of pollution deplorable.

“It kills people,” McWhorter said. “It sickens and disables people. It causes birth defects. It decreases property values, so it impoverishes people. And it makes our surroundings ugly and depressing.”

Virginia Organizing has participated in an array of campaigns to combat pollution and climate change.

The group helped get CSX to stop parking train cars filled with hazardous materials near a low-income neighborhood in Fredericksburg. Currently, the organization is working with other groups to oppose the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, which McWhorter said would threaten water supplies.

“We have been working and are continuing to work on reducing air pollution, and of course that has benefits beyond reduction of greenhouse gases,” McWhorter said. Her organization tries to practice what it preaches: The group’s central office runs on solar power and uses hybrid fleet cars.

Details from the TRI database

The Radford Army Ammunition Plant released 10 different chemicals into the environment. Although nitrate compounds going into the water made up more than 95 percent of the emissions, the plant also reported air releases of hydrochloric acid (283,000 pounds), sulfuric acid (75,000 pounds), nitroglycerin (58,000 pounds) and ammonia (24,000).

The ammunition facility’s 2015 emissions were up 9 percent from the previous year but down 19 percent from 2010.

The MeadWestvaco plant in Covington released more than 20 chemicals into the environment. The most prominent was methanol, with 1.6 million pounds emitted into the air from a smoke stack.

Methanol can take a toll on the nervous system if ingested, the CDC says. Side effects include brain fog, difficulty breathing, visual impairment, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

The paper plant also released into the air more than 370,000 pounds of hydrochloric acid and about 221,000 pounds of ammonia, the TRI data indicated. It said the emissions included two carcinogens: nearly 54,000 pounds of acetaldehyde and 20,000 pounds of formaldehyde, released mostly into the air.

The 2015 releases from the MeadWestvaco plant were down 16 percent from 2014 and 8 percent from the emissions in 2010.

Honeywell International’s Hopewell plant produces nylon for carpets and chemicals used in fertilizer. It released more than 2 million pounds of ammonia into the air in 2015. Exposure to high levels of ammonia can cause difficulty in breathing, eye irritation, burning of skin, visual impairment and loss of consciousness, according to the CDC.

The facility also released more than 13,000 pounds of acetaldehyde and about 8,700 pounds of benzene, another carcinogen.

The Hopewell plant was owned by Honeywell until October, when it was spun off to another company called AdvanSix. According to Debi Lewis, the communications officer for AdvanSix, the plant has spent more than $50 million on health, safety and environmental improvements since 2010.

“AdvanSix takes all environmental compliance matters seriously, and our team focuses on these issues every day,” she said in an email.

The Honeywell plant in 2015 released 29 percent more than it emitted in 2010. However, emissions dropped 21 percent from 2014 to 2015.

“We are focused on decreasing pollutants in the air. The plant is spending $110 million in projects to be completed by 2019 designed to reduce overall air emissions and to cut some air emissions by 50 percent from 2014 levels,” Lewis said.

About half of the Chesterfield Power Plant’s releases were air emissions – mostly hydrochloric and sulfuric acids. The other releases involved substances such as barium, vanadium and manganese compounds found in coal ash. Dominion Resources, which owns the power station, stores the coal ash in surface impoundments.

Excessive amounts of barium may cause gastrointestinal disturbances and muscular weakness, as well as abdominal cramps, diarrhea, difficulties in breathing and other problems, the CDC says.

According to the TRI, on-site releases at the Chesterfield Power Plant jumped about 8 percent from 2014 to 2015; however, they were 44 percent lower than in 2010.

International Paper’s plant in Franklin and Isle of Wight County released 17 chemicals. The main one was methanol (800,000 pounds), followed by hydrogen sulfide and ammonia – all released into the air. The plant released two carcinogens: acetaldehyde (about 27,000 pounds) and formaldehyde (12,000).

Emissions from the paper plant tripled from 2010 to 2015. However, emissions dropped 10 percent during the most recent year.

Overall, facilities in Virginia have made progress in reducing toxic emissions. Statewide, on-site releases have fallen from more than 49 million pounds in 2010 to about 38.5 million in 2014 and 35 million in 2015. That is a 29 percent drop during the five years – and a 9 percent reduction from 2014 to 2015.

Since 2010, several facilities have slashed their on-site releases dramatically, such as the Tyson Farms operation in Accomac County (down 97 percent) and Perdue Farms’ Accomac Processing Plant (down 82 percent). Emissions also plunged at the Philip Morris USA’s Commerce Road site in Richmond (down 93 percent), at Dominion Resources’ Yorktown Power Station (down 85 percent) and at the U.S. Marine Corps base at Quantico (down 73 percent).

Fined for violating environmental rules

The TRI database includes reports on 440 facilities in Virginia. They provided information on more than 140 toxic chemicals. Almost all of the chemicals are legal in certain amounts under certain circumstances under the federal Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and other regulations enforced by the EPA.

However, the agency has fined Virginia companies for violating environmental rules. The EPA lists all inspections, violations and fines on its Enforcement and Compliance History Onlinedatabase. The EPA rates violations as high-priority violations, significant violations or noncompliance, based on the violation and the applicable regulation.

For example, the Honeywell International in Hopewell has been in high-priority violation of the Clean Air Act for particulate matter and other pollutants since July 2014.

“The Hopewell plant is currently in compliance for particulate emissions, and issues in previous years were related to specific equipment malfunctions,” Lewis said. “AdvanSix has invested a significant amount of capital to address these issues, and we will continue to evaluate and invest as appropriate.”

In the past five years, the Hopewell plant has received 10 informal notices of violations and has paid more than $700,000 in fines for violations of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. After a lawsuit in 2013, Honeywell International paid $3 million in penalties, plus millions more to bring its facility into compliance.

The Radford Munitions Plant has been in high-priority violation of the Clean Air Act since October 2015 for visible emissions and intermittently in violation of the Clean Water Act for biologic oxygen demand.

Biological oxygen demand is not a measure of one chemical, but of the dissolved oxygen in water. Aquatic plants and animals need oxygen dissolved in water to survive. Certain chemicals reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen, which reduces the amount of aquatic life.

The Radford Munitions Plant was fined almost $270,000 in 2016 for violations of the Clean Air Act and has received two informal letters of violation so far this year.

The Chesterfield Power Station has not paid fines in the last five years. However, Virginia Power, a Dominion subsidiary, paid more than $5 million in penalties to the federal government in connection with a 2003 lawsuit that involved alleged violations at the Chesterfield generating station and eight other facilities. EPA records say a final order in the case was entered in 2016; as a result, the fine is listed in the five-year history of the Chesterfield power plant. However, Dominion officials said the case actually was settled and the fine paid in 2003.

The International Paper Franklin Mill paid almost $11,000 in fines for violations of the Clean Water Act in 2014 for a discharge without the proper permit but has no recent violations.

Daniel Carr, a professor in the environmental studies department at Virginia Commonwealth University, said that it is often easier for companies to pay the fines than bring their factories into compliance.

If meeting regulations could lead to bankruptcy but companies can cover the fines associated with violations, there may be no motivation for them to comply, he said.

New Munitions Facility May Reduce Pollution

By Julia Rothey, Dai Ja Norman and Haley Winn, Capital News Service

After 80 years of service, the U.S. Army Radford Ammunition’s nitrocellulose facility is set to retire, and a more modern facility will take its place.

In 2015, the Radford plant was the 35th biggest polluter in the United States, with more than 10 million pounds of on-site releases of chemicals, according to the federal government’s Toxic Release Inventory.

The vast majority of the plant’s releases involved nitrate compounds disposed of into bodies of water. Only one other facility nationwide – a steel mill in Indiana – reported more water emissions.

The Radford facility is located on the New River in Montgomery County. Despite the chemical emissions, local bodies of water were classified as safe by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality in a 2015 report.

Over the years, the Army facility has run afoul of environmental regulators. One of the plant’s violations was exceeding capacity on biological oxygen demand – the amount of oxygen dissolved in nearby streams. Certain chemicals reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen, which aquatic plants and animals need to survive.

The plant has continued to be in violation of the Clean Air Act for visible emissions since October 2015, and no action has been taken by the state or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

While Radford’s releases have decreased by 19 percent since 2010, the plant still has by far the most chemical emissions in Virginia.

Congress passed the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act about four decades ago, noted Ladelle McWhorter, who chairs the governing board of Virginia Organizing, an activist group for the environment and other issues. “Companies know by now what they must do to comply with the law and have internal systems for doing so,” she said.

The Radford plant hopes to reduce its toxic releases with the new nitrocellulose facility. It is expected to be more compact and better for the environment, a change Lt. Col. Alicia Masson, the commander of the plant, thinks is long overdue.

Masson took command of the plant in 2015, and in interviews with the media, she has voiced concerns about the pollutants released from the facility. Her goal is to make sure it is more environmentally friendly.

Besides releasing chemicals into the water, the Radford plant also burns toxic wastes. In 2015, the facility’s air emissions – including hydrochloric and sulfuric acids, nitroglycerin, ammonia and lead compounds – totaled about 480,000 pounds.

While she describes herself as an environmentalist at heart, Masson also recognizes that completely eliminating open burning as means of disposal at the plant is impossible.

The current plant has been operational since 1941. It was first created to support war efforts in the United States and hired more than 23,000 people to help produce ammunition at the peak of the plant’s manufacturing during World War II. The plant is still the only North American manufacturer and seller of nitrocellulose, a highly flammable compound used in the production of ammunition and explosives.

This year, the Army received a $100 million grant to complete a new nitrocellulose facility at the Radford plant. It has been in planning since 2012 after an initial contract of $240 million.

The new facility is set to be fully operational by the end of 2018 and will completely replace the current nitrocellulose facility by 2019.

‘My illness is not larger than my world’ Despite pain, student excels in class and in life

By Dai Já Norman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Pictures of family members and friends and a British flag cover the walls of her dorm room at Virginia Commonwealth University. Anatomy textbooks, note cards and a Himalayan pink salt crystal lamp occupy her desk.

On Majesta-Doré Legnini’s nightstand is an assortment of prescription and over-the-counter pill bottles. She takes six pills every evening and one in the morning, along with three vitamin supplements. “I am in pain every second of my life,” the 19-year-old sophomore says.

Legnini describes the feeling this way:

“Imagine your legs are stuck between a bed frame and a box spring. And they are under the box spring, and then there’s a mattress, and then there’s an anvil, and then there’s a 500-pound-man sitting on top of the anvil playing a grand piano. That’s what it feels like.”

Legnini was recently diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos syndrome, a rare disorder that afflicts connective tissues and joints. But she has been fighting through the pain as an honors student, a double major (health science and political science) and a community volunteer, working with homeless and mentally ill people.

Although EDS tries to slow her down, Legnini (pronounced lay-NEE-nee) lives a fast-paced life.

On campus, she is a member of the VCU Honors College and VCU Globe, a living and learning program that focuses on global education and international experiences. She helps arrange campus tours for the Undergraduate Admissions Office and leads Their Home RVA, a website and student organization dedicated to improving community relations – especially between VCU students and the homeless population.

Off campus, Legnini is an intern at the Daily Planet, which provides health care and other services to homeless individuals and other people in need. She also is a writer for The Mighty, a website for people with disabilities, diseases, mental illness and other challenges to share their stories.

Susan Sereke, advancement coordinator for the Daily Planet, said Legnini is a testimony to the power of passion.

Legnini is driven by “her passion about the issues of health care and homelessness, and a desire to improve the lives of others,” Sereke said.

About Ehlers Danlos syndrome

EDS is genetic. Symptoms can range from mildly loose joints and hyperelastic skin to debilitating musculoskeletal pain and aortic dissection, a life-threatening heart condition. At least one in 5,000 people have some form of the illness, according to the Ehlers Danlos Society, a support group.

Legnini says she has been wracked by pain from her earliest memories. As a child, she remembers crying when she went on long walks. She was always prone to injuries when playing sports.

Growing up, she sought medical attention numerous times, but doctors dismissed her complaints, attributing them to growing pains. Last May, Legnini’s condition worsened, and she decided to try her luck again by seeing another physician.

“Pain became more frequent,” Legnini recalled. “I felt weaker. I was getting exhausted by seemingly simple activities. It started to become difficult to concentrate, and most importantly PAIN, PAIN, PAIN. It got more intense, more frequent, and made my life much more difficult.”

After almost a year of doctor visits and road trips between Richmond and Manassas, a rheumatologist diagnosed Legnini as having EDS. Legnini was already familiar with the illness: Her best friend also has a form of EDS.

In fact, during high school, Legnini did a lot of research about the disease and even helped raise money for theEDS research center in Maryland. While researching the disease, Legnini thought she might have the symptoms but then rejected that notion as a projection of her friend’s situation.

Many people, even physicians, are unfamiliar with EDS. So Legnini brings a binder explaining the illness whenever she goes to see a doctor.

There is no cure for EDS; however, patients can take medication to reduce their pain and lower their blood pressure. (High blood pressure is associated with the disease.)

Living with pain: ‘I see outside of my illness’

Because of the constant pain, Legnini often must gauge whether she is well enough to leave her bedroom. When the answer is no, she stays in her dorm and tries to get as much homework done as she can.

Walking, cooking and writing are things that many people take for granted. But for EDS patients, these tasks are not effortless. However, Legnini has found ways to overcome adversity.

She is enrolled in some online classes. Also, her older brother, Luciano Legnini, lives across the hall in VCU Globe and can assist her with everyday tasks, such as lifting heavy objects, grabbing items from a high shelf, cooking and cutting up food.

“She doesn’t want to portray herself as like this dependent,” Luciano Legnini said. “But I am here to help, and I am always willing to help her.”

Majesta-Doré Legnini begins each day with an elaborate morning routine. It starts with her cracking every joint in her body – a laborious process that alleviates some of the pain.

“I crack my back first, and then I move my knees and ankles so that they crack a little bit,” Legnini said. “I crack my toes, and then my hands just crack constantly.”

Then she stretches for 10 minutes, showers and wraps her knees, ankles, and shoulders in KT tape – a tape used for muscle, ligament and tendon pain relief and support. She gets dressed and grabs breakfast that meets her diet restrictions – gluten free, sugar free and dairy free – before heading out.

Legnini says it would be easy to play the victim and wallow in self-pity. She refuses to do so.

“I am not able to do some things,” she said. “And I know those things, and I don’t do those things. But I am able to learn.”

Legnini plans to get a joint degree between VCU and the University of Richmond with a master’s in health administration and a specialty in civil rights law. After college, she intends to advocate for inclusive and accessible health care.

Her goal is to ensure that people from all walks of life have access to the health care system. She won’t let her own disease define her.

“I see outside of my illness,” Legnini said. “But my illness is inside of everything I do. And so, the world is larger than my illness, but my illness is not larger than my world.”

Documenting the forgotten contributions of black legislators

By Dai Já Norman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – At the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867-1868, James Carter, who represented Chesterfield and Powhatan counties, introduced a resolution requiring students to attend public school for at least three months a year.

Also at the convention, James William D. Bland, who represented Appomattox and Prince Edward counties, called for guaranteeing the right of “every person to enter any college, seminary, or other public institution of learning, as students, upon equal terms with any other, regardless of race, color, or previous condition.”

In the Virginia House of Delegates in 1879, Johnson Collins, who represented Brunswick County, advocated eliminating the poll tax that prevented many people from voting. He also called for reducing the public debt.

Carter, Bland and Collins were among the first African-American legislators in Virginia. Their biographies are part of an online database that state officials are compiling to ensure that these political figures and their contributions aren’t lost to history.

Created by the state’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission, the database currently features only Reconstruction-era legislators but eventually will include all African-American members of the General Assembly up to the present day.

The database is the brainchild of Brenda Edwards, a staff member for the Division of Legislative Services assigned to the MLK Commission. While doing research years ago, she came across the names of African-American men who participated in the Underwood Constitutional Convention in 1867-68 and in the House of Delegates and Senate of Virginia during Reconstruction.

“I inadvertently made the discovery when fulfilling a research request” from a legislator who wanted to honor a former lawmaker, Edwards said. “I brought my discovery to the attention of the member who requested the research, who requested that the chairman of the MLK Commission add the creation of the database to the commission’s work plan for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.”

Most Virginians don’t know about the African-Americans who were elected to serve in state government in the years shortly after the Civil War. So the MLK Commission decided to take on the task of creating the database. Edwards, former Secretary of Administration Viola Baskerville and the Library of Virginia conducted the research.

According to the commission, Virginia is the only state that has researched and commemorated its early African-American legislators through such a project.

When reading the biographies of black legislators, it is easy to notice that chunks of information are missing compared with their white counterparts. This was due to the blatant discrimination and prejudice during that era. Black men were sometimes former slaves or descendants of slaves, and it was common for them to lack birth certificates, marriage licenses or other documentation.

That has made it hard to acquire well-rounded information on the legislators.

“In constructing the database, the primary challenge was the accuracy of and access to information because little if any information concerning African-American history, culture, achievements, contributions, education, sociopolitical status and biographies was preserved during the slavery and Reconstruction eras, and prior to the civil rights movement,” Edwards said.

“It was difficult for pioneering African-American historians to chronicle the history of black people. Due to the culture during the periods of the ‘Black Codes’ and Jim Crow, curators of African-American history and culture were basically nonexistent.”

The MLK Commission started compiling the database in 2004. In 2013, to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, the commission launched the website with a roll call of the African-Americans elected to the Constitutional Convention of 1867-1868 and to the General Assembly during Reconstruction from 1869 to 1890.

Around that time, however, Virginia and other Southern states enacted legislation known as “Black Codes” to thwart the newfound freedoms of former slaves – for example, by imposing poll taxes, literacy tests and elaborate registration systems to keep African-Americans from voting. As a result, from 1890 until the late 1960s, African-Americans were not represented in the Virginia General Assembly.

Finally, in 1967, William Ferguson Reid, a Richmond doctor and civil rights leader, was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.

Edwards is currently researching the African-Americans legislators in the 20th and 21st century so they can be added to the database in the coming months.

More on the web

To learn more about African-Americans who have served as legislators in Virginia, visit http://mlkcommission.dls.virginia.gov/lincoln/african_americans.html

Editor's Note: Though not included in the Capitol News Service Article, Greensville County was represented both at the Constitutional Convention and in the General Assembly by an African American. Peter K. Jones (pictured left) represented Greensville and Sussex counties in the Constitutional Convention of 1867–1868 and then served four terms in the House of Delegates (1869–1877). Born free in Petersburg, he first acquired property in 1857. Soon after the end of the American Civil War (1861–1865), he became active in politics and began urging blacks to become self-sufficient and advocating for black suffrage and unity. He moved to Greensville County about 1867, and that same year he won a seat at the convention required by the Reconstruction Acts to write a new state constitution. A member of the convention's radical faction, Jones voted in favor of granting the vote to African American men and against segregating public schools. He represented Greensville County for four consecutive terms from 1869 to 1877. During his time in office he worked tirelessly to protect the rights of African Americans. By 1881 Jones had moved to Washington, D.C., and he continued his work in support of African American interests and of the Republican Party. He died in Washington in 1895. You may read more about Peter K. Jones in the Enclycopedia Virginia.

Assembly passes bill to help dyslexic students

By Dai Ja Norman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia school districts would have to have reading specialists trained in helping students with dyslexia under a bill passed by the General Assembly as its 2017 session drew to a close.

The Senate and House on Friday both voted unanimously in favor of SB 1516, sponsored by Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun. The legislation now goes to Gov. Terry McAuliffe for his signature.

The bill requires that if a local school board employs reading specialists, at least one must have expertise in identifying and teaching students with dyslexia or a related disorder. That expert then would serve as a resource for other teachers in the school district.

Experts say about one in 10 children may have dyslexia – a disorder that makes it difficult to learn to read or interpret words, letters and other symbols. To a child with dyslexia, for example, the words “Read this” might look like “Raed tihs.”

Virginia school divisions are not required to employ reading specialists, but most do. Lynn Smith, for example, is a reading specialist for the Henrico County Public Schools. She said students who have dyslexia face significant challenges.

“Reading really is that foundational skill, and students who struggle to read struggle across all academic subjects,” Smith said.

A misconception about dyslexia is that the students with the disorder lack intelligence. In fact, Smith said, “Often those children are extremely bright.” The problem, she said, is “that they’re really struggling with breaking down that code on the page.”

Donice Davenport, director of exceptional education for Henrico schools, said support goes a long way for these students.

“It is important for students with dyslexia to receive targeted instruction directly related to their disability needs,” Davenport said.

“Since dyslexia exists along a continuum of severity and complexity, each student may require a different level of support and service. Many students with dyslexia do well within the general education classroom with only a small level of support. Some students require additional systematic, explicit instruction provided in a multi-sensory way in order to learn to read and make progress in reading.”

Support grows for bills to whack bamboo

By Dai Norman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Bamboo is known as a symbol of good luck, but many Virginia residents aren’t feeling so lucky about its showing up in their yards.

Golden bamboo, scientifically known as Phyllostachys aurea, is a weed and a force to be reckoned with, especially when it has invaded state parks and other public land as well as private property.

The state Senate and House of Delegates have taken note and are taking a whack at the plant.

The House Counties, Cities and Towns Committee voted 20-0 Friday to approve a bill declaring golden bamboo a noxious weed and authorizing localities to control it. HB 2154 now goes to the full House for consideration.

The Senate already has passed a similar measure, SB 964, by Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta County.

Bamboo is infamous for wrapping itself around native plants’ roots. Then the rapidly spreading weed quickly dominates the invaded environment, sometimes taking over acres of land.

The vigorous plant is tolerant to drought, and exterminating it is a laborious process. According to experts, to get rid of golden bamboo, you must apply herbicide and dig up the roots, which can extend a foot underground. You can try to mow the plant to death, but it may take a couple of years before it is fully gone.

SB 964 would authorize “any locality to adopt ordinances requiring proper upkeep of running bamboo and prohibiting the spread of running bamboo from a landowner’s property, with violations punishable by a civil penalty of $50.” Property owners who ignore the violations could be fined as much as $3,000 over the course of a year.

The bill includes running bamboo in the category of “other foreign growth” that existing law allows localities to regulate and in some cases to cut.

HB 2154, introduced by Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, also targets bamboo. It “designates golden bamboo as a noxious weed and authorizes any locality to adopt an ordinance to prevent, control, and abate the growth, importation, or spread of golden bamboo.”

Rasoul said his constituents have expressed a lot of concern about the weed.

“All of the cases we heard are all across western Virginia,” Rasoul said. “But then there was somebody in the committee that talked about something in Fairfax.”

Invasive species are a major concern in Virginia. The Senate also has passed a bill targeting the snakehead fish and zebra mussels.

SB 906, introduced by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, would prohibit people from introducing those animals into state waters. Violators would be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has been sounding the alarm about the snakehead fish since it was discovered in the state in 2004. The fish, which resembles a snake and is native to parts of Asia and Africa, is “very abundant in all of Virginia’s tidal tributaries to the Potomac River,” the DGIF says. Snakeheads also have colonized several creeks in the Rappahannock River system.

The snakehead is a predator that eats other fish, crustaceans, frogs, insects, small reptiles, birds and mammals and can take over a body of water, according to a DGIF factsheet. Since 2002, it has been illegal to own a snakehead fish without a permit from the state agency.

The zebra mussel, named for its striped shell, isan invasive species that clogs up water pipes and harms municipal water treatment systems.

According to the DGIF, zebra mussels, which are native to Eastern Europe, were first found in Virginia in 2002 in an abandoned quarry in Prince William County that was used for scuba diving. State officials fear that the mussels could get into nearby Lake Manassas and the Occoquan Reservoir, the primary water supply for more than 1 million people in Northern Virginia. That could increase the cost of treating the water by as much as $850,000 a year.

“Zebra mussels also represent a significant threat to the Commonwealth’s native ecology and wildlife communities,” the DGIF says. The invaders can kill “many bottom-dwelling species, including our rare and endangered freshwater mussel populations,” and they can damage boat hulls and engines.

Bills would end license suspension for marijuana possession

By Dai Norman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginians convicted of marijuana possession would no longer automatically lose their driver’s license for six months under legislation moving through the General Assembly.

Existing state law mandates that when someone is convicted of a drug offense, the defendant’s license is suspended for six months. Under bills approved by the Senate and by a House subcommittee, that provision would no longer apply to adults convicted of simple possession of marijuana on a first offense.

On Thursday, the Senate passed its version of the legislation – SB 1091, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Adam Ebbin of Alexandria and Republican Sen. Bill Stanley of Franklin County. The vote was 38 to 2.

That came one day after an identical proposal – HB 2051, introduced by Del. Les Adams, R-Chatham – cleared a subcommittee in the House. The Criminal Law Subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee voted unanimously in support of Adams’ bill.

Juveniles convicted of marijuana possession still would be subject to license suspension under the legislation. The bills would leave it up to the judge’s discretion to suspend the driver’s license of adult defendants.

Many people consider Virginia’s penalties for marijuana possession severe. A first offense for possession of less than a half ounce is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine, plus a six-month suspension of the individual’s license to drive a motor vehicle.

A first offender may receive a deferred disposition and dismissal of the charge upon completion of probation and community service. But such defendants still lose their driver’s licenses for six months.

During the Senate debate, Ebbin said that each year, about 39,000 Virginians lose their driver’s licenses because of drug offenses. Most states, including the ones bordering Virginia, don’t automatically suspend the licenses of such defendants, he said.

Stanley said that as an attorney, he has seen young people hurt by the state’s policy of suspending their driver’s licenses. Stanley said the policy stemmed from the “war on drugs” in the 1980s.

“What we’re trying to do with this very good statute is give someone the opportunity of a second chance for making a dumb mistake,” Stanley said.

Similar arguments were made at the House Criminal Law Subcommittee meeting. The panel heard from Ryan Johnson, a Virginia Tech alumnus who was charged with possession of marijuana in college.

“I automatically had my driver’s license suspended for six months, and that was what surprised me the most,” Johnson told legislators. “I said to myself, ‘Why is my license being suspended for something that didn’t involve a car or driving? And how am I supposed to get to school and work?’”

Johnson said the license suspension was the most disruptive part of his sentencing.

HB 2051 and SB 1091 would be contingent upon written assurance from the U.S. Department of Transportation that Virginia will not lose any federal funds for easing its policy on the suspension of driver’s licenses for people convicted of marijuana possession.

Also on Tuesday, after more than 15 minutes of debate, the Senate passed a bill to allow people with documentation from a doctor to carry cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil – products extracted from cannabis. Without such documentation, people who have such substances can be charged with possession of marijuana.

Currently, only Virginians with intractable epilepsy have permission to possess the oils.

SB 1298, sponsored by Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Winchester, would expand the list to include cancer, glaucoma, human immunodeficiency virus, AIDS, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and other illnesses.

Senators voted 29-11 in favor of the bill. Vogel said CBD oil has been “remarkable and transformative” for patients with epilepsy. She said her measure would allow people with other diseases to benefit from the treatment.

Sen. Richard Black, R-Leesburg, said he fears legislation like this is a step toward legalization of marijuana. “Proceeding down this route takes us in that direction,” Black said.

Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, disagreed. “We’re not going to become a nation of potheads because people with MS and a variety of other ailments are using this type of oil,” he said.

House Panel OKs ‘Day of Tears’ Resolution

By Dai Norman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Opponents of abortion rights won a victory Monday when the House Rules Committee approved a resolution to designate the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision as a “Day of Tears.”

The committee voted 10 to 4, along party lines, to send the resolution, introduced by Republican Dels. Benjamin Cline of Amherst and Richard Bell of Staunton, to the full House of Delegates.

Democratic Dels. Kenneth Plum of Reston, David J. Toscano of Charlottesville, Jeion A. Ward of Hampton and Betsy B. Carr voted against the resolution. The chairman of the House Rules Committee, House Speaker William J. Howell of Stafford, did not vote.

The resolution, HR 268, would recognize Jan. 22 as the Day of Tears. It was on Jan. 22, 1973, that the Supreme Court declared that the U.S. Constitution protects a woman’s right to have an abortion.

The resolution reads: “Since that fateful day, over 58 million unborn children have perished; now, therefore, be it resolved, that January 22 shall be called the Day of Tears in Virginia and that the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia are encouraged to lower their flags to half-staff to mourn the innocents who have lost their lives to abortion.”

Members of an anti- abortion organization with the same name as the bill, A Day of Tears, said lowering the flags to half-staff would open a dialogue about abortion.

Diana Shores, the social media director for Day of Tears, said she was pleased with the committee’s action and was optimistic for the future of resolution.

“I’ve got a lot of support,” Shores said. “We’ve lobbied almost all of the House of Delegates so it [HR 268] should be doing well.”

Cline said he was glad to help the organization achieve its goal. However, he said there has been some misinterpretation of the resolution by a few citizens.

“There are some [people] who misunderstand it and think that is somehow an official date, and that state agencies would be required to lower their flags or something like that. It’s not,” Cline said.

“It’s a simple expression of the House’s support for the work of a nonprofit – something that we do countless times throughout the year.”

However, Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said the resolution is detrimental to women who have exercised their right to make a conscious decision to get an abortion.

“Unfortunately, it’s a shame that Ben Cline feels like he needs to shame women for making a decision that they feel is right for themselves and their family,” Keene said. “Certainly, we [NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia] feel like women should be respected and trusted when they have made a decision to terminate a pregnancy. And what this bill does is basically disgusting.”

The members of the House Rules Committee who voted for the resolution were Republican Dels. Steven Landes of Verona, Terry Kilgore of Gate City, Lee Ware of Powhatan, Chris Jones of Suffolk, Bobby Orrock of Thornburg, Barry Knight of Virginia Beach, Riley Ingram of Hopewell, Jimmie Massie of Richmond and Gregory Habeeb of Salem, as well as House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox of Colonial Heights.

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