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Eric Luther

GREENSVILLE/EMPORIA DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES

LOCAL BOARD MEETING

The Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services Administrative Board will meet on Thursday, October 18, 2017, at 3:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services located at 1748 East Atlantic Street.  The public is welcome to attend.

Hospitals Urge Lawmakers to Expand Medicaid

By Eric Luther, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Virginia’s two largest university health systems could forfeit millions of dollars in federal funding if lawmakers do not expand health care coverage to as many as 400,000 uninsured residents as part of the $96 billion biennial budget.

Signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act includes extensive reductions to supplemental funding, otherwise known as Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments, which help cover the cost of caring for the commonwealth’s most impoverished patients.

Without some form of Medicaid expansion to offset the cuts embedded in the PPACA, the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services estimates safety net hospitals such as Virginia Commonwealth University and University of Virginia health systems could lose approximately $423 million between the 2015 and 2022 fiscal years.

DSH payments were reduced under the belief that more patients would be covered through Medicaid expansion at the state level, according to a U.Va. Health Systems spokesman.

Sheryl Garland, VCU Health System’s vice president for community outreach, says depending on how those cuts are allocated, VCUHS’s potential financial loss could total nearly $300 million between 2017 and 2022.  “It is important for the public to know that the Affordable Care Act contains mandatory cuts to providers — many of which are already occurring today,” Garland stated in an email. “If there is no coverage expansion to counteract these cuts, then VCU Health System will be placed in a perilous financial position.”

Garland also said it is crucial for Virginians to recognize that taxpayer dollars already are being sent to Washington in order to pay for the national coverage expansion effort. If the commonwealth does not expand or adopt an alternative coverage model, these dollars amount to nothing more than “sunk” costs.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe this past month echoed the reality of foregoing taxpayer dollars during an address on Capitol Square, which signified the beginning of the General Assembly’s special session that was called in order to reach a compromise on Medicaid expansion as part of the state budget.  “We’re talking about tax dollars that our Virginia residents have already paid and have sent across the Potomac River to Washington,” McAuliffe said during his address. “I want to bring those dollars back. It is the right thing to do morally and it is the right thing to do economically.”

During his address, McAuliffe also stressed the greater impact a failure to expand Medicaid services would have on hospitals all across Virginia. According to the governor, many hospitals he visited over the course of the legislative session will cease to exist if the General Assembly does not bring those taxpayer dollars back to Virginia.  “What do we say to those people in that room who are looking at me with tears running down their eyes? They expect us to help them,” McAuliffe said. “That is our job. That is what we were elected to do.”

VCU and U.Va. Health System representatives have provided testimony to state government leaders, including members of the Senate Finance Committee, House Appropriations Committee and the Medicaid Innovation Reform Commission to address the “perilous” shortfall facing research and safety-net health systems. 

Additionally, Garland says VCUHS has been actively engaged in the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association’s advocacy efforts. The system also has met individually with key members of the legislature to caution them about the wide-reaching implications for health systems across the commonwealth moving forward.

While safety-net providers such as community health centers and free clinics work diligently to support those who fall into the coverage gap, Garland says the number of uninsured individuals seeking care in the commonwealth has increased.

Without insurance, the growing number of disadvantaged patients likely will delay treatment until their condition has worsened, or patients will seek care at emergency rooms, which are the most expensive health care providers, according to Eric Swenson, public information officer for U.Va Health Systems.

Hospitals initially will absorb these costs, Swenson says, but those costs ultimately will be passed on to businesses, insurers and other Virginia residents — who will pay for uninsured patients through higher insurance premiums. 

Multiple reports have been commissioned by VHHA and other health care advocacy groups to study the economic ramifications of opting in — or out — of Medicaid expansion.

One such study, published by Chmura Economics and Analytics, concluded that a state budget, which accepts federal funds to help Virginia’s most indigent residents gain access to subsidized health care, could save localities millions of dollars currently being spent to care for uninsured patients.

The independent fiscal and economic evaluation states implementing some form of Medicaid expansion would secure new money for Virginia’s health care industry, add roughly $3.9 billion in new annual revenue to the state’s economy and create more than 30,000 jobs from 2014 to 2019.

Spokespersons say each university health system has started examining operational changes that may be needed if Medicaid expansion does not occur and how best to absorb costs.

According to a presentation given by the Senate Finance Committee, each day the commonwealth waits to provide health care for low-income Virginians, the state loses as much as $5 million taxpayers and businesses are sending to Washington D.C.  “The introduction of a coverage option — Medicaid expansion or Marketplace Virginia — would close the existing coverage gap, which is critical to the financial health of many health systems and providers in the commonwealth,” Garland stated.” “Since the VCU Health System is the largest provider of safety net services in the commonwealth, any changes to the levels or complement of services … will create a gap in the state’s service delivery system for the most vulnerable citizens.”

McAuliffe Proposes Fed Funded Medicaid Program

 

By Eric Luther, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Gov. Terry McAuliffe addressed critics of Medicaid expansion as part of Virginia’s biennial budget by proposing a two-year pilot program he says would close the commonwealth’s healthcare gap without financial penalty to the state.

McAuliffe’s 45-minute address signified the beginning of the General Assembly’s special session, which was scheduled in effort to reach an agreement on the roughly $96 billion two-year budget currently at odds over expanding Medicaid coverage to more than 400,000 currently uninsured Virginians.

McAuliffe says the federally funded pilot program would allow Virginia to once again “lead the way” by helping its sickest citizens gain access to healthcare, keep hospitals and clinics afloat, and bring taxpayer dollars back to the commonwealth.  “Opponents have thrown up road block after road block,” McAuliffe said in the Monday address on Capitol Square. “But their arguments have been overcome by simple facts.”

Detractors said closing the healthcare coverage gap would cost Virginia millions of dollars. However, according to McAuliffe, expanding Medicaid would in fact save Virginia’s state budget more than $1 billion between now and 2022.

The proposed pilot program is backed by a letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and states if Virginia implements an expansion of Medicaid coverage for two years, and then drops such coverage at the end of that time period, there would be no financial drawback and no reduction in federal dollars otherwise available to Virginia for its Medicaid program.

The letter is significant, McAuliffe says, because it opens the door for a pragmatic and balanced approach to closing the healthcare coverage gap that all sides should find reasonable.  “There can be no more excuses,” McAuliffe said. “Hundreds of thousands of working families throughout Virginia are counting on us to set aside partisan politics and get the job done.”

McAuliffe harked back to the days of former Gov. Bob McDonnell to further the notion of setting aside partisan disagreements, and urged delegates and senators alike to reach a compromise in the coming weeks.  “Gov. McDonnell included funding in his budget for the Affordable Care Act as early as 2012,” McAuliffe said. “And please let us not forget that the Medicaid Innovation Reform Commission itself was a creature of the budget.”

In addition to Medicaid expansion, McAuliffe highlighted some of the other elements of his biennial budget, including $1.8 million for mental health initiatives, $4.8 million for extended school year grants and $17 million to fund the Line of Duty Act with the Virginia Retirement System.

Improving Economy May Reduce State Education Funding

By Eric Luther, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia’s rural localities may receive less state funding for public education than anticipated under this year’s budget proposal, resulting from a calculation used to determine a school division’s ability to cover educational costs.

Deemed the Local Composite Index, the formula determines a locality’s ability to pay for educational costs considered essential to the commonwealth’s Standards of Quality for public schools.

Sen. William Stanley, R- Moneta, says the Local Composite Index, when lowered, benefits rural and less affluent areas, but when a locality’s income increases – state funding decreases.  “You want financial success and prosperity for your area,” Stanley said. “But that financial success and prosperity does come at a cost because it does sometimes reduce funding from the state to locality for the purposes of education.”

According to the Department of Education’s website, the Local Composite Index calculates a localities ability to pay based on three criteria: true value of real property, adjusted gross income and taxable retail sales. 

Delegate Thomas Rust, R- Fairfax, says every locality across the commonwealth is treated equally under the Local Composite Index, which has been in place for nearly 30 years. Rust says because of the improving economy and real estate values, most localities will be responsible for a higher contribution margin over the next two years.  “I know that Loudoun and Fairfax –which I represent -- are both in the range of .68 or something like that,” Rust said. “That means Fairfax and Loudoun are putting 68 cents of every dollar into the education system … and both of them went up a little bit this year.”

Sen. George Barker, D- Alexandria, says areas in Southside Virginia actually benefit from the Local Composite Index calculation based on their ability to pay. He says there are some jurisdictions where the state provides only 20 percent of funding for education, and the locality covers the remaining 80 percent.  “All across (the) Southside, a lot of the school divisions are providing basically somewhere (between) 15 percent and 30 percent of the funding that the state determines is necessary for the minimum level,” Barker said. “And the state is providing between 70 percent and 85 percent.”

The increased obligation placed on some localities by the Local Composite Index does not suggest the proposed budget will negatively impact the state’s educational system.  Legislators have used this year’s proposed budgets to modify funding at all levels of education, ranging from pre-K-services expansion, addressing disadvantaged public school districts, revising Standards of Learning testing and making college more affordable.

According to Barker, education is a top priority of the McAuliffe administration, and Barker says he expects a number of initiatives on those same issues in the coming year.

However, time has run out for Virginia lawmakers to reach an agreement on the proposed $96 billion state budget plan. The General Assembly session adjourned on  Saturday, March 8, 2014, without a budget.  “I think what our school systems need to realize is because we are not going to accomplish a budget within the time frame of adjourning on March 8, we may go into overtime,” Stanley said. “That is a real problem because (localities) are going to start getting nervous … and it’s based on what we’ve done here in Richmond.”

Rust echoes Stanley’s concerns. He says not finalizing a budget by the end of the session will have a negative impact everywhere throughout the commonwealth.  “Local boards of supervisors and school boards right now are in the process of setting budgets for the coming year,” Rust said. “Until they know how much money we’re going to send them it is difficult.”

The standoff between House and Senate members revolves around whether or not to expand Medicaid and provide subsidized health coverage to a sizable number of uninsured Virginians as part of the official budget.

(Editor's Note: With no State Budget in place, City, County and School Board officials will have a very difficult time preparing their own budgets.  The lack of a budget is a very big deal that will effect all of us in Emporia/Greensville.)

Committee Considers Teacher Relocation Incentive Bill

By Eric Luther, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – One Southside senator has proposed legislation aiming to improve Virginia’s public education system by providing cash incentives to qualified teachers who transfer to disadvantaged school districts throughout the commonwealth. 

Senate Bill 168, proposed by Sen. William Stanley Jr., R- Moneta, would establish a “Teacher Relocation Incentive Grant Fund” to embolden elementary and secondary school teachers to relocate to Virginia localities where the population is less than 50,000 or at least 40 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunches.

Under the proposed program, to be administered by the Department of Education, approximately 200 qualified teachers could receive up to a $5,000 grant for accepting positions at specified schools.

SB 168 is meant to encourage teachers to move to Southside Virginia and other rural areas where the educators can make a meaningful difference in a child’s life, Stanley says.  “I think they came to the profession of teaching because they have a cause greater than themselves,” Stanley said. “And a calling to educate children and give them the opportunity to --not only have a quality education-- but achieve the American dream.”

Stanley says SB 168 is not a magic-bullet answer for saving failing schools, but one of many parts meant to bring the best-of-the-best to areas where top educators are needed most.  “A lot of the bills I’ve proposed are anti-poverty bills … not to give (people) a handout, but a hand up,” Stanley said. “We know there are children that may not be getting the best opportunity to break the cycle of poverty.”

Shaina Carter, a third-grade teacher in Fairfax County, is familiar with the obstacles faced by low-performing schools.   Carter says she worked in a struggling school district before moving to Northern Virginia. She says poor performing schools generally struggle with high poverty rates, which can have a major impact on the education, learning and the overall well-being of a child   “I don’t necessarily think it’s the teachers … there may be some bad ones, but a lot of it has to do with the background a child is coming from,” Carter said. “I work with a high Spanish population whose parents don’t speak English.  So, there’s no one at home to read or help students with their homework.”

Carter says the $5,000 grant offered by SB 168 is not enough for her to pack her bags and leave Northern Virginia.  “I would relocate if legislators agreed to forgive my school loans,” Carter said.

Margi Roseberry, a kindergarten teacher for Richmond City Public Schools for more than 16 years, says an income-tax incentive would influence where she decides to teach.  “I think I am pretty open-minded about poorly performing school districts,” Roseberry said. “For me to relocate, I would have to be eligible to get credit for my years in Richmond and not have my retirement money affected adversely.”

Roseberry says there are more factors contributing to poorly performing schools than just money. She says school districts can have unrealistic expectations of teachers and students.

According to the Department of Education’s 2013-2014 National School Lunch Program Free and Reduced Price Eligibility Report, 54.4 percent of Pittsylvania county students qualify for free or reduced lunches, making the district a good candidate for SB 168 benefits.

Lilian Holland, assistant superintendent of administration for Pittsylvania County Public Schools, says the proposed incentive sounds like a good idea, but she is not sure if $5,000 is enticing enough for teachers to relocate from a thriving school district.  “If you look at the difference in the salaries … from northern Virginia’s school division versus ours,” Holland said. “I don’t know if $5,000 would be enough of an incentive.”

Holland, who has nearly 30 years’ experience working in education, says schools in Pittsylvania County offer a competitive beginning salary for that region of the state. However, budget cuts have led to a decrease in available positions in recent years.  Nonetheless, Holland says teachers who are on the fence about relocating owe it to themselves to experience the beauty of Southside Virginia. She says the small friendly communities with proximity to larger areas such as Greensboro and Raleigh, and lower cost of living make Southside Virginia a great place to live.  “We have a strong support network within our schools to help individuals transition,” Holland said. “Our students are nice children, and we have very supportive administrators.”

Stanley says SB 168 is one facet of a larger plan to ensure all schools in the commonwealth are on a level playing field.  “We’re trying to create a rising tide that floats all ships,” Stanley said. “For those teachers who would relocate, I can tell you that our areas would appreciate them the most.”

SB 168 passed the Senate in early February in a 40-0 vote, and currently is awaiting deliberations in the House subcommittee on appropriations.

Petersburg, Chesterfield Negotiate School Acquisitions

By Eric Luther and Liz Butterfield, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Petersburg City Public Schools may circumvent a state takeover, pending a Senate budget proposal aiming to provide Chesterfield County the authority to intervene and essentially manage the city’s worsening schools.

Proposed by Sen. Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg, the proposal allots more than $1.6 million to Petersburg and Chesterfield over the next two years for the purpose of developing a school-services cooperative agreement and tuition contract.

The budget item is modeled after an agreement between Fairfax County Public Schools and Fairfax City, under which the schools are operated y the county but the buildings are maintained by the city.  Nicole Bell-Van Patten, a Petersburg Public Schools spokeswoman, stated in a press release that the division is aware of the budget amendment but was surprised to learn of the proposal.  “We will stay abreast of developments from the General Assembly regarding this issue,” Bell-Van Patten stated.

According to a report from the Senate subcommittee on education, funding would allow for $1 million in the first year and $600,000 in the second year to alter a per-pupil funding disparity between the two districts.  The recommendation of the Senate subcommittee states the proposal is meant to avoid routing Petersburg’s failing schools to the Opportunity Educational Institution Plan … effectively avoiding a complete state takeover to solve the schools' problems.

Petersburg schools, which receive funding from federal School Improvement Grant allocations, spent an average of $10,655 a pupil in fiscal year 2012, while Chesterfield schools spent $8,755 a student, according to a state senate report. 

Norment spokesman Jeff Ryer says the proposal is an agreement between two localities within the same region, as opposed to the state imposing some other solution.  “I would look at it as an administrative change,” Ryer said. “I think everybody is looking for some kind of solution that occurs relatively soon. Every day a child is in a failing school is a serious problem.”

Peabody Middle School and A.P. Hill Elementary were denied accreditation by the State Board of Education this academic year for poor performance. Other schools, including J.E.B. Stuart Elementary, Robert E. Lee Elementary, Walnut Hill Elementary, Vernon Johns Junior High and Petersburg High School, were allowed accreditation with a warning.

Passing rates on the English test of the Virginia Standards of Learning in Petersburg schools decreased from 77 percent in 2010-2011 school year to 52 percent in 2012 - 2013. On the mathematics test, only 50 percent of students passed this past year, and only 56 percent of students passed the writing exam.

STATE DECLINES DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS STUDY

By Eric Luther, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A resolution allowing government agencies to examine employment conditions of penitentiaries statewide was tabled this week by the General Assembly’s Committee on Rules.  The resolution, proposed by Delegate Roslyn C. Tyler, D- Jarratt, would have directed the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to study employee health and safety concerns at the Virginia Department of Corrections. The resolution also would have inspected adequacy of staffing levels and turnover rates at correctional facilities across the Commonwealth.  Tyler says the committee acknowledged the study was needed.  However, JLARC is already three years behind in completing other studies.  “There are 30,000 inmates in prisons that (corrections officers) protect us from each day,” Tyler said. “They deserve the right to be kept safe and compensated as any other law enforcement officer.”

Don Baylor, an organizer for the National Coalition of Public Safety Officers’ Virginia chapter, spent nearly 30 years at the DOC before retiring in 2007. During his time with the department, Baylor worked as a corrections officer and watch commander at facilities throughout the state.  Baylor personally conveyed DOC health and safety concerns to Tyler. He says it is time to address the burden understaffing and budget cuts has placed on frontline correctional officers.  “There are a number of reasons why we need this study,” Baylor said. “The stress on these individuals who provide security and protection in these facilities is widespread and increasing.”

According to Baylor, studies by the U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Justice Services and other organizations illustrate deteriorating health conditions among DOC personnel.  “We’re talking about a group of employees who are carrying one of the highest suicide rates, divorce rates and mortality rates of any other employees in this nation,” Baylor said. “Studies show that these folks are reaching stress levels of epidemic proportions.”

One such study was presented at the 2011 American Psychological Association’s Annual Convention by Desert Waters Correctional Outreach, a nonprofit organization seeking to improve health and safety of corrections staff through data-driven analysis.  The study sampled more than 3,500 corrections professionals’ from 49 states and three U.S. territories to assess the prevalence of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and comorbid PTSD/depression among workers.

Desert Waters also explored the relationship between specific disorders and job type, according to official documents. Indices of health and well-being such as doctor visits, work absences and substance use also were measured.  Results show depression and PTSD rates among corrections personnel far exceed those of the general population. Overall, PTSD prevalence was estimated to be about 27 percent, according to the study. More than three times the rate of U.S. adults. 

Additionally, Desert Waters determined corrections officers’ risk of suicide is 39 percent higher than all other professions combined.  Baylor says residents and legislators alike need to be aware of the long-term physical and mental issues DOC working conditions can create.  “We need to take a look at these professionals and understand that if we get to a breaking point -- not only are correctional officers and the (incarcerated) people they are in charge of at risk,” Baylor said. “But the public at large.”

The results highlighted in Desert Waters’ study suggest the need for a comprehensive screening of employee health in corrections.

 According to official documents, system-wide interventions to address elevated levels of depression, PTSD and comorbidity also are necessary.  HJ31 stated all agencies of the commonwealth shall provide assistance to JLARC for this study, upon request. JLARC’s chairman then would submit a summary of its findings and recommendations no later than the first day of the 2015 General Assembly session.

Co-patron Delegate Vivian Watts, D-Annadale, and NCPSO President Richard Hatch did not respond to requests for comments.

Senate Rethinks Uranium Exploration Guidelines

By Eric Luther, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- A bill was tabled this past week that would require uranium exploration permit holders to reimburse the State Health Department for providing water supply analyses to residents near Southside drilling activities.  Proposed by Sen. Frank Ruff Jr., R- Mecklenburg, Senate Bill 547 mandated permit holders sample and submit an analysis of private wells within 750 feet of exploration activity to the Virginia Department of Health every six months to inspect water quality.

The bill, which is being carried over until next year’s General Assembly session, required an easy-to-understand explanation of the test results. The legislation also necessitated a final sample be taken six months after each exploratory hole is plugged.  According to a press release, Ruff chose to postpone his bill after speaking with several stakeholders and Pittsylvania residents whom experienced problems with their wells after exploratory drilling occurred. Because necessary state reports given to families were technical in nature, Ruff says they did not understand the full health risks they faced.  “My goal is to get somebody at the health department to take that report and translate it into something people can understand,” Ruff said. “We hope we can have a more comprehensive way of looking at it.”

Ruff says the bill in no way suggested future mining activity take place in the commonwealth.  “There was a bill last year to lift the moratorium,” Ruff said. “It was withdrawn at the last minute because there was no support for it.”

Co-patron Sen. William Stanley Jr., R- Moneta, says water quality is a concern of everyone in Southside Virginia.  “Whenever drilling occurs there seems to be an alteration to the quality of water,” said Stanley, denoting an increase of lead in some surrounding wells. “Not only are we requiring a testing of that water … but also a disclosure of any changes in the water quality to the homeowner.”  Stanley says SB547 -- as it was introduced -- was intended to safeguard the health of Virginians from any adverse effects drilling for core samples might create.  “What we’re trying to do is protect the water of our people,” Stanley said. “It is one of our greatest natural resources.”      According to Stanley, Southside Virginia is home to some of the best watersheds in the country.

Jack Dunavant, president of Dunavant Engineering and Construction in Halifax County, has opposed uranium mining in Virginia for more than 30 years. He says SB547 may have looked good on paper, but ultimately was not.  “I don’t know how you could craft it (a bill) so a lot of these people would understand it,” Dunavant said. “I don’t know how to alert people other than to tell them it (the level of contaminants) exceeds certain acceptable limits.”  The engineer says SB547 was a step in the right direction, but the legislation needs to impose further regulations on any company wishing to begin exploratory drilling.  “It’s an OK bill,” Dunavant said. “But they (permit holders) should be required to notify any adjacent land owner and anyone who has a well within 1,000 feet of the property line where they’re drilling.”  Dunavant says the overwhelming majority of Southside residents oppose any sort of mining in the area.  “I cannot see the state ever allowing mining to happen because of the long-term detriment,” Dunavant said. “The bottom line is it’s not a question of if  -- it’s (chemicals) going to get out -- but when and by what means.”

Dunavant says if companies could mine without leaving behind tailings, no one would have a problem extracting uranium.  However, the technology simply does not exist.  “Most people don’t have the expertise to understand it,” Dunavant said. “This stuff is insidious. We have to be smarter about what we do.”  Stanley says SB547, as it was introduced, was a good consumer protection bill.  “Any mining -- if it ever occurred -- would have to be not only safe but not affect our livestock and our people,” Stanley said. “I would think water quality comes before profits. People come before profits.”

An email was sent to a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Health but it had not been returned at press time.

Senate Deliberates Weekend Jail Sentencing

By Eric Luther, Capital News Service

 

RICHMOND -- A new bill aiming to amend and reenact the Code of Virginia requirements allowing individuals guilty of misdemeanors and certain nonviolent felonies to serve nonconsecutive jail sentences has been proposed by Sen. William Stanley Jr., R-Moneta.  Senate Bill 167 seeks to remove a code provision stating a criminal sentence of nonconsecutive days only be issued on the basis of allowing a convicted individual to retain employment.

Aaron Houchens, a spokesman for Stanley, says the senator is removing this language to allow certain convicts to serve sentences on a weekend basis.  “The real intent of this bill is to permit those convicted of crimes, (who) may be looking for a job, seek employment or care for their children, and still have the ability to serve weekend time,” Houchens said. “It’s not just to gain employment in that regard.”

Sen. George Barker, D- Alexandria, who serves on the House Committee of Rehabilitation and Social Services, says there are certain family situations where added flexibility is beneficial to others if an individual serves his or her sentence over a longer period of time and is not incarcerated for 30 straight days.  “It may be that you’re taking care of kids, grandma or somebody else on certain days, and can serve your jail time on other days,” Barker said. “This (bill) provides a little more flexibility to the judge in issuing a sentence.”  Barker says the bill will make sure families are not suffering unduly as a result of the individual’s offense.

“It does promote things are that are good for the individual and their families long term,” Barker said. “It is much more likely they can stay in school, work or deal with family situations.”  However, the bill does not extend itself to all types of nonviolent wrongdoing, according to Barker. For example, some drug crimes are not considered physically violent but still are categorized as violent felonies.  Barker also says the proposed legislation only applies to sentences of one year or less being served in a local jail.  “In a significant felony, an individual does not go to a local jail,” Barker said. “If your sentence is for a year or more you are sent to state prison. This bill would not apply then.”

To offset the cost of additional weekend  jail staff, Houchens says those electing to serve weekend sentences should expect to pay for the cost of their keep when reporting for incarceration.  “Typically there is a cost associated with weekend jail time,” Houchens said. “More activity on the weekend leads to the need for more deputies to run maintenance and retain peace and stability in the jail.”

Joe Szakos, executive director of Virginia Organizing Project, says his organization is committed to making sure there are community-based programs that serve everyone, including those who have made a mistake sometime in their life.  Instead of sending people away in an isolated way, Szakos says it is important to think about how we can have them serve their sentence as close to home as possible.  Szakos also says if passing SB 167 means more people keep their jobs, then passage is the right thing to do.

“We want to applaud Sen. Stanley for trying to figure out ways to keep people in the community,” Szakos said. “So they can keep their jobs and serve their sentence at the same time.”

SB 167 currently is awaiting deliberation from the House Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services.

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