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Virginia Preparing for 75th Anniversary of D-Day

By Emily Holter, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — The National D-Day Memorial is gearing up for the 75th anniversary of D-Day, an amphibious invasion considered the largest and most successful in history — and often cited as a turning point in World War II.

The celebration will begin on Tuesday, June 4, and end on Sunday, June 9.

Several events lined up throughout the week include a reception showcasing artwork drawn by soldiers during the war, aerial tributes flown by vintage planes, live footage from the joint ceremony in Normandy, concerts and a parade.

All events will take place in Bedford, about 140 miles west of Richmond. The National D-Day Memorial was erected there in honor of American D-Day veterans, including the 19 young men from Bedford who died during the invasion.

“Right now, we’re 65 days away but you know, who’s counting?” said April Cheek-Messier, president of the National D-Day Memorial.

The organization has been planning for the anniversary for more than two years and has put $800,000 into the celebration.

“I know for me, I’m extremely excited for this,” said Kirk Cox, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates.

Cheek-Messier pointed out the magnitude of the event and said that every Allied nation during the war will send representatives. About 15,000 people are expected to attend.

Of the 16 million Americans who served in the military in World War II, fewer than 500,000 are still alive, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Cheek-Messier said she would be thrilled to have 50 to 75 veterans in attendance.

The upcoming festivities were discussed at a meeting Tuesday of the Virginia World War I and World War II Commemoration Commission. Cox chairs the commission, which includes state legislators and veterans.

The panel was created by the General Assembly to mark the 100th anniversary of World War I and the 75th anniversary of World War II.

At the commission’s meeting, officials also highlighted recent activities such as:

§  The Profiles of Honor Mobile Tour, which has been bringing an interactive exhibit of World War II artifacts to museums, libraries and historic sites throughout Virginia.

§  “Operation: Digitization,” an effort to scan family photographs or historical artifacts so they can be featured on the commission’s website.

Rusty Nix, the communications manager at Virginia Tourism Corp., said the scanning program is advantageous because the public can access archival information never seen before and people can still hold on to their families memories.

“So far, we have done over 4,600 scans,” Nix said. “We’ve had incredible outreach.”

Skill-based Slot Machines Put Vegas at the Corner Bar

By Emily Holter and Benjamin West, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The legal and corporate perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The personal perspective on skill machines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hazelwood, Murdock’s coworker, offered an example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Governor Signs Law Slashing Sales Tax on Personal Hygiene Products

By Emily Holter, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — The sales tax on tampons, diapers and other personal hygiene products will be reduced by more than half beginning Jan. 1, 2020.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced Wednesday that he has signed SB 1715, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, and HB 2540, proposed by Del. Kathy Byron, R-Lynchburg. The bills will lower the retail sales and use tax rate on essential personal hygiene products to 2.5 percent.

The new law will apply to feminine hygiene products and nondurable incontinence products including diapers and other materials.

“We know that menstrual supplies and diapers are necessary to leave home for work, school, and social activities,” said Boysko, who called her bill the Dignity Act. “I am so glad we have made progress on the issue of menstrual equity and at long last will have tax relief for these products that women and families have to purchase.”

Currently, consumers pay the regular sales tax rate on these items: 7 percent in Virginia’s Historic Triangle (Williamsburg, James City County and York County), 6 percent in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, and 5.3 percent elsewhere in the state.

Byron said the law will benefit Virginians of all ages.

“This legislation won widespread bipartisan support because it provides tax relief on necessities used by women and men young and old,” Byron said. “For the young family buying diapers to those purchasing other essentials for their health, the savings because of this bill will add up and be appreciated.”

Northam commended the General Assembly for passing the bills.

“I am pleased to sign this common-sense legislation that makes these necessities more accessible and affordable,” he said. “The essential nature of personal health care products is not up for debate.”

The law will make these products subject to the state’s reduced sales tax of 1.5 percent, which currently applies only to food. In addition, local governments add a 1 percent sales tax on such purchases.

Boysko had wanted to remove the so-called “tampon tax” entirely. Byron pushed for a compromise on grounds that a tax exemption for personal hygiene products would have a big effect on the state budget.

Institute of Contemporary Art Hosts Queer Film Collective Dirty Looks

By Emily Holter, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- It has been eight years since the first showing of “Dirty Looks,” a queer film series that traces contemporary LGBTQ aesthetics through historical works.

Beginning in New York City, “Dirty Looks” has been shown in several U.S. cities and international settings, including screenings at The Museum of Modern Art and The Kitchen in New York and The Hammer in Los Angeles.

The film series’ winter tour features cities such as San Francisco, Portland, Chicago and Richmond.

The Institute of Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University is hosting a free showing of “Dirty Looks” starting at 6 p.m. on April 3.
For David Riley, a graduate curatorial assistant at the institute, the film series offers insight into queer culture and how it has shifted throughout history.

“We’re looking forward to hosting this event and hoping to hold more events like these,” Riley said.  

Each tour has a different film lineup. This tour includes films from Angie Stardust, Zina Zurner and other queer contemporaries.  

“When I’m picking films for the program, I love going through old film guides finding titles that are interesting and not well known,” said Nordeen, who launched the Dirty Looks Inc. collective in 2011 in New York City because there was a lack of consistent space for queer film and art.  

“I prefer finding filmmakers whose works haven’t been canonized yet.”

“Dirty Looks” attracted an audience from the start.

“The first showing we did we ran out of chairs, and it was in a blizzard,” Nordeen said. The collective’s goal is to build community by looking at queer history and to create a consistent space for queer films, he explained.

Three years ago, the collective expanded to include an on-location segment in which its films are shown in city spaces that were traditionally queer spaces.

“Art is made in life,” Nordeen said. “When we’re looking at queer art, it is communal.”

Although Nordeen expanded the collective from New York to Los Angeles, he said it is important to screen these films in other cities.

“You know, why not Richmond?” Nordeen said. “Places like New York City and Los Angeles -- they need me the least.”  

Nordeen and other members of the collective will host a panel discussion following the showing, and take questions from the audience.

Kid’s Rule: House of Delegates Page Program Holds Annual Mock Debate

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By Emily Holter, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Before the General Assembly adjourned, critical issues like gun control and tax incentives were being debated in the House chamber. One smartly dressed young man proposed raising taxes to create a relief fund for counties with high unemployment. His colleagues raised questions about the idea: “Do you see this bill as anti-capitalist?”

But these weren't legislators holding the debate; they were legislative pages -- teenagers who run errands for lawmakers during their annual session. Toward the end of the session, the roles are reversed: The pages act as delegates for a mock debate while the elected delegates serve as pages and even pass out candy and water to the participants.

The General Assembly’s page program allows teen students to work with delegates and senators, taking on responsibilities that prepare them for future government roles.

In exchange for their hard work, the pages hold a mock General Assembly debate. They craft bills, act in committees and vote on legislation.

In their roles as delegates, pages voted on 19 mock bills that passed committees. They tackled controversial legislation on the environment and other issues.

Debating back and forth, pages asked questions and researched facts for and against proposed bills -- all while following formal House procedures.

Acting as a delegate,  Jakob Dean, a page from Chesterfield, proposed creating the relief fund for counties with an unemployment rate of 7 percent or worse. Funds would help with public resources such as infrastructure, schools and police and fire departments. Dean proposed a 5 percent tax increase to businesses that make more than $1 million in yearly profits.

“I see where $50,000 seems like a lot of money, but that’s only 5 percent,” Dean said. “These companies do not give any of the money to anything.”

The other mock delegates fired away with hard questions. “How would this affect businesses if they have to pay higher in taxes?” one asked.

Dean swayed the make-believe legislators, and his bill passed, 27-10.

Some mock bills failed. Del. Matthew Haske’s bill offering a tax incentive for military service did not pass in the House.

Greg Habeeb, the father of one of the pages and a former member of the House of Delegates, said the page program is a valuable experience for young people.

“These kids get to see the General Assembly in action for five weeks,” Habeeb said. “It’s interesting to see the different issues they bring to the table.”

Most Virginians Don’t Want Officials to Resign, Poll Finds

 

By Emily Holter, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Virginians have low approval ratings of Gov. Ralph Northam and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, but most people say no one should resign or be impeached, according to a recent poll by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. It found that of the state’s three top officials, Attorney General Mark Herring is the best-positioned to remain in office.

Over the past month, the three leaders, all Democrats, have been under scrutiny after several scandals, and some politicians and groups have called for their resignations:

  • Two women have accused Fairfax of sexual assault -- allegations he has denied.

  • Northam has been in hot water after the discovery of a photograph in his medical school yearbook showing a man in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan garb. Northam initially apologized for the photograph and then denied he was in the picture. He later admitted to putting “a little bit of” shoe polish on his face to imitate Michael Jackson in a 1984 dance competition.

  • After calling for Northam’s resignation, Attorney General Mark Herring apologized for wearing blackface when he was 19 years old to imitate a rapper.

With that backdrop, U.Va.’s Center for Politics asked a representative sample of Virginia adults about their opinions of Northam, Fairfax and Herring.

The poll found that of the three leaders, more people believe Fairfax should quit. Thirty-five percent believe Fairfax should resign, and 28 percent favored impeachment.

Only 17 percent of Virginians approve of the governor’s job performance. However, only 31 percent of respondents say he should resign, and 21 percent believe he should be impeached.
According to the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, there was a strong racial divide over whether Fairfax should resign. Thirty-nine percent of white respondents said they favored his resignation, compared with only 8 percent of black respondents.

Of the three officials, Herring had the fewest number of people suggesting he resign (19 percent) or be impeached (14 percent).

The poll involved interviewing 636 adults from Feb. 15-19. It had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Critics Say Tax Relief Legislation Would Widen Racial Inequities

By Emily Holter, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Members of progressive groups are seeking to hold Gov. Ralph Northam to his promise to focus the remainder of his term on racial equity and to help reconcile Virginia’s long history of racial inequity.

That is why advocacy organizations said the major tax relief deal crafted by Virginia lawmakers — on the heels of a scandal over a racist picture in Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook — would hurt low-income minority groups if the governor signs it into law.

Northam has faced demands to resign since the yearbook photo surfaced on Feb. 1. The governor has said he does not plan to quit and will focus instead on improving opportunities for black Virginians.

Representatives of Progress Virginia, which has called for Northam’s resignation, said the tax plan “falls short of this professed new goal.”

Progress Virginia and other organizations made that point at a press conference this week to discuss the bills passed by the House and Senate to revise the 2018-2020 state budget. The governor has expressed support for the legislation.

“We call upon state lawmakers to seize this opportunity to strengthen these bills to make them so that they do not widen inequities in our state but take needed steps to address them,” said Michael Cassidy, president and CEO of The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis.

Republicans who control the General Assembly have touted the budget bills as giving nearly $1 billion in tax relief to Virginia taxpayers. On Monday, the legislation passed 95-4 in the House and 35-5 in the Senate — large enough majorities to take effect immediately upon the governor’s signature.

The legislation would provide tax rebates of $110 for individual filers and $220 for married couples. And it would raise the standard deduction by 50 percent, the first such change for individual filers since 1989. The legislation also would conform Virginia tax law to the newly revised federal tax law, ensuring that Virginians can file their state taxes without complications this May.

“I am proud of the hard work that has gone into crafting this bipartisan legislation that will put more money in the pockets of hard-working Virginians,” House Speaker Kirk Cox said. “This legislation represents the most significant tax relief package in the commonwealth in at least 15 years.”

However, the groups at Monday’s press conference said the budget bills would cut funding for programs that disproportionately affect minority communities.

For example, the legislation would cut $133 million in support to public schools and specifically for programs serving at-risk youth, according to James Fedderman, vice president of the Virginia Education Association.

“The greater the proportion of students of color a school division has, the more they stand to lose from the funding provisions,” Fedderman said. “Unless these budget provisions are corrected, many of the school divisions with the highest need will lose out.”

Funding to support the 2020 census would also be cut, according to Alexandria Bratton, program manager at the Virginia Civic Engagement Table, a nonprofit group that focuses on economic justice and other issues.

The national headcount, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau every 10 years, determines the number of congressional seats each state gets and the amount of federal money allocated for public assistance and other programs.

The budget approved by the General Assembly last year included $1.5 million for efforts to encourage Virginians to participate in the census. The bills to revise the budget would eliminate that funding.

Welfare programs for low-income residents could be impacted if the census undercounts the population, Bratton said.

“A representative census is critical to advance racial equity in Virginia,” she said. “The decision to eliminate [census participation] funds demonstrates a concerning apathy on behalf of our elected leaders toward overcoming our history of racial discrimination to build a Virginia that works for all of us, no exceptions.”

Advocates urged state officials to revise the tax bills to address such issues.

“Our state lawmakers have said they want to tackle issues of racial inequity, and now is the time for them to roll up their sleeves and do so,” Cassidy said.

Panel OKs Bill to Move Virginia Away From Fossil Fuels

By Emily Holter, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — On a split vote, a legislative committee has approved a bill to halt the construction of power plants that use fossil fuels and pipelines that carry such fuels after 2020 and to develop a plan for Virginia to rely totally on renewable energy for generating electricity by 2036.

The House Commerce and Labor Committee voted 9-7 on Wednesday in favor of HB 1635, which would place a moratorium effective Jan. 1, 2021, on issuing permits for electrical generating facilities that use fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas. The moratorium also would apply to pipelines, refineries and other facilities associated with fossil fuels.

Moreover, the bill mandates that beginning in 2036, all electricity sold by public utilities in the state must be generated from clean energy resources.

“It challenges Virginia to come up with an aggressive 100 percent renewables plan in the next 15 years,” said the measure’s sponsor, Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke. “We clearly have heeded the warning that we are in an environmental crisis that could lead to an economic crisis.”

There are more than 97,000 jobs in the solar, wind and other renewable-energy industries in Virginia, Rasoul said. He said the bill would create more jobs and boost the economy, especially in impoverished areas, while helping to mitigate the effects of climate change.

But the bill’s opponents argue that the timetable to switch electricity production from fossil fuels to renewable energy is too short.

Del. Tony Wilt, R-Harrisonburg, said that he supports renewable energy but that the plan would have negative consequences on the state.

“People are reading too much into the tea leaves,” Wilt said. “Moving from A to Q in a short amount of time could be devastating.”

Rasoul’s bill initially called for imposing a moratorium on the construction of fossil-fuel power plants, pipelines and other facilities on Jan. 1, 2020. The House Commerce and Labor Committee changed the date to 2021 before voting on the legislation.

Republican Del. Tim Hugo of Fairfax joined eight Democrats on the committee in voting for the bill. Five Republicans and two Democrats voted against the measure. Six committee members — all Republicans — did not vote.

In an interview Wednesday, Rasoul acknowledged that it would be difficult for the bill to pass the full House of Delegates. But he said that he is glad people are talking about moving away from fossil fuels — and that he is hopeful for his proposal in the long term.

“It is time for Virginia to be bold if we want to move in the right direction,” Rasoul said.

How they voted

Here is how the House Commerce and Labor Committee voted Wednesday on HB 1635 (Fossil fuel projects moratorium; clean energy mandates).

01/22/19 House: Reported from Commerce and Labor with amendment (9-Y 7-N)

YEAS — Hugo, Ward, Keam, Filler-Corn, Kory, Bagby, Toscano, Mullin, Bourne — 9.

NAYS — Kilgore, O’Quinn, Ransone, Wilt, Head, Lindsey, Heretick — 7.

NOT VOTING — Byron, Ware, Marshall, Bell, Robert B., Yancey, Webert — 6.

Governor and Others Vow to Protect Women’s Reproductive Rights

By Arianna Coghill and Emily Holter, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Dozens of women packed into the state Capitol Thursday to stand beside Gov. Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring and General Assembly members who issued a statement in solidarity with women’s reproductive rights.

Representatives of several advocacy groups, including the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, joined public officials, all Democrats, to discuss abortion rights and promote better access to comprehensive reproductive health care.

“I’m going all the way to the Supreme Court if I have to in order to protect Virginians’ health care,” Herring said.

Meanwhile, two bills calling for greater reproductive health rights failed to leave the Senate Committee on Education and Health. Committee members voted 8-7 twice, along party lines, not to advance the bills.

Public officials and advocates who support abortion rights promised to remember Thursday’s votes at the next election.

“When we can’t change people’s minds, we change seats,” Northam said.

Herring added, “As saw in committee this morning, in order to really truly protect women's rights and their reproductive rights, we need a pro-choice majority in the General Assembly.”

SB 1637, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, sought to establish a woman’s reproductive choice as a right. Also called the Virginia Human Right Act, the bill stated, “Every individual who becomes pregnant has a fundamental right to choose to carry a pregnancy to term, give birth to a child, or terminate the pregnancy.”

Boysko expressed concerns that the current political climate could jeopardize women’s reproductive rights.

“We must codify our national rights into Virginia state law,” she said, “to ensure that the reproductive rights of Virginians are dependable, secure, and no longer in danger from changing political tides.”

SB 1451, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, also failed in committee. The bill would have eliminated the state’s requirements women get an ultrasound before an abortion, that a second trimester abortion must be performed in a hospital and that two doctors are needed to certify a third-trimester abortion.

“It’s time we stop criminalizing a woman’s choice and expand access to care for all Virginians,” McClellan said.

When McClellan served in the House of Delegates, she was the first member to give birth while in office. She said pregnancy opened her eyes to the scope of women affected by current regulations and prompted her to submit her bill.  

“One [woman] who had a hole in her heart, who was on birth control but got pregnant anyway, had to make the terrible decision to terminate that pregnancy or risk her life,” McClellan said. “I have always been pro-choice. This took on extra passion for me because so many people have told me in the grocery store, ‘That’s my story.’”

HB 2491, sponsored by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Springfield, is identical to McClellan’s bill and currently sits in the House Courts of Justice committee. Tran said the current medical requirements are unnecessary and impact low-income Virginians and women of color.

“For women seeking reproductive care, the additional costs and obstacles imposed by existing regulation could potentially include unpaid time off from work, hospital fees and other emotional distress,” Tran said. “These restrictions harm women and have disproportionate effects on low-income women and women of color in Virginia.”

Faculty Members Lobby Legislators on Higher Education Issues

By Emily Holter and Madison Manske, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Faculty members from colleges and universities across Virginia converged on the Capitol on Thursday, urging legislators to provide more funding for higher education and ensure affordable college degrees for future generations of students.

Higher Education Advocacy Day drew professors like Brian Turner, who chairs the political science department at Randolph-Macon College. He noted that the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia has developed a plan to guide the colleges and universities in the commonwealth.

“The Virginia Plan for Higher Education’s goal for Virginia is to be the best-educated state by 2030,” Turner said.

To make that a reality, faculty members asked members of the General Assembly to allocate money for salary increases, boost tuition assistance and increase student access to higher education.

In December, Gov. Ralph Northam proposed amending the state budget by giving $1 billion to higher education, including increasing tuition aid. Many public institutions in Virginia are hoping that with higher salaries, they will be able to offer a higher-quality education to students.

Low salaries make it hard to compete for prominent faculty members with other well-known institutions, Turner said.

As a group, Virginia’s college and university faculty members said they support a bill by Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, to increase transparency on gifts that public institutions receive from donors that are subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Turner said House Bill 2386 would help ensure that donations enhance the curriculum and provide more accountability on how institutions spend their money.

Speaking with delegates and senators, some faculty members also expressed their concerns over Title IX policies. Some have questions about legislation sponsored by Del. Joseph Lindsey, D-Norfolk, pertaining to accusations of sexual violence on campus.

Lindsey has introduced two bills (HB 1830 and HB 1831) that would allow students to have attorneys present at any campus disciplinary hearing or sexual assault hearing.

Another higher education issue is a bill proposed by Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, that would prohibit public colleges and universities from asking student applicants about their criminal history. Under HB 2471, schools could not “deny admission to any applicant on the basis of any criminal history information.”

“Your criminal history should not be deterring you from being able to pursue education. And in my bill, there’s a line that says this is really about the application,” Aird said. “If they do get admitted and let’s say, for some instance, you have a student that wants to live in on-campus housing, the institution can then request their criminal history.”

In making the rounds at Capitol Square, participants in Higher Education Advocacy Day spoke with Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Fredericksburg, about his bill to give students a voice on tuition increases.

Under SB 1204, “No increase of undergraduate tuition or mandatory fees approved by a governing board of a public institution of higher education shall take effect unless such increase receives an affirmative vote of at least two-thirds of undergraduate students enrolled in such institution.”

Faculty members fear that would make it impossible to raise tuition.

“I don’t think you could round up two-thirds of the student body to vote for free beer,” Turner said.

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