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February 2019

Gold Box in Richmond Park Connects People Around Globe

By Andrew Gionfriddo, Capital News Service


RICHMOND -- It sounds like science fiction, but for the past several weeks, visitors to Monroe Park have been able to step inside a large gold-colored shipping container and have a conversation with people in Mexico, Sweden and other countries around the world.


The futuristic technology is a portal featuring a large-screen monitor and high-speed internet. It connects to dozens of similar portals across the globe.

The device, built by a New York-based company called Shared Studios, was installed at the suggestion of Richmond businessman Andy Stefanovich, a thought leader who helped organize the first TEDxRVA in 2013.


Stefanovich brought his idea to Alice Massie, president of the Monroe Park Conservancy, which manages the park. Massie said it did not take much convincing for her to agree to install the portal.


“It’s a little bit of an element of surprise,” she said. “Why a gold box in the park?”


Shared Studios has been installing portals since December 2014. The first was between New York and Tehran, Iran.


“Everyday New Yorkers and everyday Iranians could walk and meet someone new and have a conversation with someone they otherwise wouldn’t have the context or opportunity to engage with,” said Jake Levin, chief operating officer of Shared Studios. “We expected people to stay in for five minutes, and they ended up staying for 45 minutes or longer and having really powerful conversations, so it kind of grew from there.”


Richmond’s portal, Shared Studios’ 41st, was installed in mid-January in Monroe Park. The news spread by word of mouth, Massie said. Virginia Commonwealth University, which surrounds the park, provided a strong server to help deliver the clearest and most responsive experience possible.

“What I was surprised about was how much people were willing to do for it,” Massie said.


The portal is privately funded for a year. Local organizers are reaching out to potential sponsors to keep it in the city after January 2020. It will remain in Monroe Park until May 1 and then head to another area of the city.


“One of the ideas was moving it to a neighborhood that doesn’t have a lot of experiences during the summer,” Massie said. “You have kids in summer school and in camps. What if they got the chance to interact?”


Massie hopes the project will help promote the city across the nation and around the world. “We want people to know Richmond beyond Virginia and the East Coast,” she said.


The portal is an opportunity for Richmond residents to share their thoughts with people elsewhere.


“It’s not only importing things from the world to inspire us, but also what are we going to export?” said Karen Manning, who serves as a portal ambassador, communicating with other portals, organizing events and helping people use the device.


From sharing urban garden tips with people in Los Angeles to jazz musicians jamming with Appalachian musicians, the portal transports locals for a moment in time. By walking into a container and talking to a stranger, they come back from the exchange with more cultural knowledge.


“It’s all about understanding how similar people can be,” said Taylor Logue, another Richmond portal ambassador.


“You can talk with someone you have nothing in common with culturally and still very quickly get to a meaningful conversation,” Logue said.


Those conversations can break down barriers, said Sanaz Habibi, the curator for the portal in Stockholm, Sweden.


“Even with different socio-political atmospheres, we’re still struggling with the same issues,” Habibi said.


Shared Studios’ next step is to make the portals portable. Manning said the company hopes to develop a way to bring the devices -- perhaps on trucks or as inflatable portals -- to remote areas.

Green Book Helped Black Travelers Navigate Racist Terrain

By Kaytlin Nickens, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — The Oscar-winning film “Green Book” has spurred interest in the original Negro Motorist Guide that many African-Americans consulted when traveling in the South during the Jim Crow era. Virginia, and especially Richmond, played a key role in the book’s development.

The movie depicts the African-American pianist Don Shirley’s concert tour in 1962 in the Deep South and the friendship that developed between Shirley and his cab driver, Tony Lip. The movie ends with Shirley giving Lip a copy of the Negro Motorist Guide: Green Book.

The guidebook was first published in 1936 by Victor Hugo Green, a postal carrier in the Harlem section of New York. Green’s wife, Alma Duke, was from Richmond. Green was inspired to write the book in part by the discrimination he and his wife faced on trips to her racially segregated hometown.

“With Green’s wife being from Virginia, he decided to make trips less humiliating and reached out to fellow mailmen all over the country,” Calvin Alexander Ramsey, an author and playwright who has done extensive research on the subject, told The New York Times in 2015.

Green knew the risks African-American travelers faced when entering a “whites only” establishment. So with information gathered from fellow postal workers and other sources, Green put together his guidebook.

“The idea of the Green Book is to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trips more enjoyable,” Green wrote.

For Virginia, the 1938 issue of the Green Book listed more than 50 hotels, tourist homes, restaurants, beauty parlors and other businesses that welcomed African-Americans.

Ten of those establishments were in Richmond. One was the YWCA, built in 1914. The organization has worked to help families in Richmond during a time when racism and segregation prevailed.

The YWCA is still on Fifth Street in Richmond, but many of the local establishments listed in the Green Book are gone.

Only a third of the travel guide’s sites still exist, according to the Smithsonian Channel, which has produced a documentary about the book.

In the documentary, Dr. Henrie Monteith Treadwell, a civil rights activist, said Green’s travel guide reflected a significant and troubling time in U.S. history when many businesses openly discriminated against African-Americans.

“It’s important to have everyone in this nation examine the significance of the Green Book,” Treadwell said. “If you don’t see the history, if you don’t see where it was, how can you say it happened?”

The Smithsonian Channel produced the documentary because of popular interest in the “Green Book” movie and the controversy it has raised. Although the film won an Oscar and Golden Globe for best picture, many critics say it contains factual inaccuracies and unjustly tells the story from a white person’s point of view.

The documentary can provide historical perspective on the actual Green Book, said David Royle, the Smithsonian Channel’s chief programming officer. “We are proud to tell the true story behind this remarkable guide and to shine new light on this disturbing yet important period in American history.”

He noted that before Green published his guidebook, it was hard for African-Americans to know where they could travel. African-American travelers faced widespread discrimination — and not just in the South.

“During the first half of the 20th century, throughout Jim Crow and continuing into the era of the civil rights movement, segregation was a legal reality in the American South,” the Smithsonian Channel reported. “When African-Americans journeyed north and west, however, they encountered racism that spanned the entire country.”

The final edition of the Green Book was published in 1966 — shortly after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited racial discrimination in public accommodations. In earlier issues of his publication, Victor Green said he looked forward to the day when the Green Book would no longer be needed.

“There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published,” Green wrote. “That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication. For then we can go as we please without embarrassment.”

General Assembly Expands Revenge Porn Law to Include Fake Nudes

By Caitlin Morris, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- The Virginia General Assembly passed a bill to expand revenge porn laws to include realistic fake images.

In 2014, Virginia outlawed the dissemination of explicit photos or videos without the consent of the person seen in the images. The images may have been originally shared in agreement between both parties, but in cases of revenge porn, get posted online by people seeking to embarrass the victim.

“They put them on a website with the intent to coerce, harass or maliciously hurt those folks,” said Del. Marcus B. Simon, D-Fairfax.

Simon introduced HB 2678 to protect victims of an emerging trend known as “deepfakes.” These realistically fabricated images and videos are becoming more common as modern software develops and social media creates easier access to images.

“These days you don’t even need to actually have photos like that — of the person, in your possession … all you have to have are pictures of their face,” Simon said. “You can use artificial intelligence to wrap that on the body.”

Roughly 10 million Americans have been threatened with or become victims of revenge porn. Women are twice as likely to be threatened by men, according to a 2016 study by the Data and Society Research Institute.

“The non-consensual dissemination of intimate photos or videos is not just humiliating for victims, but it can also carry significant emotional, psychological and even financial repercussions,” Simon said.

In a 2015 study from the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, 51 percent of victims of revenge porn indicated that they had considered committing suicide, and 39 percent said the crime affected their career and professional lives. Ninety percent of victims, according to the same group, are women.

Revenge porn laws now exist in 41 states and Washington, D.C., but according to Simon’s team, HB 2678 is “one of the first of its kind in the country.”

The bill adds language to existing law that includes protection for victims when their image is used in the creation, adaptation or modification of a video or picture. Violators of the law could be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

“Deepfakes are yet another malicious tool used to harass and terrorize individuals, who are most often women,” Simon said.

If signed by the governor, the “deepfake” cyber harassment bill will go into effect July 1.

Legislators Delay Decision on Funding I-81 Improvements

By Kathleen Shaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Interstate 81’s heart pumps through rural Virginia with veins that run from Tennessee to the Canadian border — a vital roadway for manufacturers, farmers and commuters.

With a long track record of crashes and congestion, Virginians looked to legislators for solutions to improving the interstate. But Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, said the General Assembly passed only “a shell of a bill.”

At the beginning of the session, Gov. Ralph Northam met with legislators to announce bipartisan support for finding a revenue source for improvements to Virginia’s 325-mile stretch of I-81, which accounts for 42 percent of statewide interstate truck traffic.

“Making these improvements will take money. Finding money requires tough choices,” Northam said.

Legislators ended their session Sunday without finding the money. So Virginians will have to wait another year before seeing a plan to pay for improvements to the highway.

In December, the Commonwealth Transportation Board released a study that identified $4 billion in construction needs for I-81, including $2.2 billion in priority projects. Officials floated various ideas, from taxes to tolls, to finance the improvements.

As the General Assembly convened in January, lawmakers filed six bills seeking to address the problem. They included HB 2718, sponsored by Del. Steven Landes, R-Augusta, and SB 1716, introduced by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham. Those bills sought to impose tolls on I-81, with the revenues designated for improvements on the interstate.

The House and Senate each passed different versions of the measures. When a conference committee met to resolve the differences, legislators switched gears and approved the twin bills without a drop of funding for the interstate improvements.

The legislation was reworked to remove any language about tolls. Instead, the bills would simply create an Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Transportation Committee and an unfunded Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Fund.

“The Committee shall conduct regional public meetings on options for funding and improvements” and offer recommendations to the governor and the General Assembly by Dec. 15, the legislation states.

Stephanie Kane, communications director of the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates, said the bills were changed because of the public outcry against tolls. She said tolls are harmful to commuters and threaten economic development by forcing businesses to increase prices.

“Tolls can be a politically convenient way to raise taxes without having to vote for that three-letter word,” Kane said. “The I-81 Corridor Improvement Fund just creates the existence of the fund, but it’s like creating the bank account without the money to go in it — there’s no revenue source.”

In late 2018, the polling firm Public Opinions Strategies conducted a survey of 500 residents in the I-81 corridor. Eighty-eight percent of the respondents supported a $2 billion plan for improvements needed on the stretch of I-81 that state officials have designated a high priority. Those improvements would include a third lane and signage to deter congestion.

Sens. Edwards and Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, proposed raising the motor fuels tax to fund transportation improvements statewide and especially on I-81. The bill passed the Senate but died in the House of Delegates.

Edwards said the measure seemed to have bipartisan support at first, but some lawmakers backpedaled because all legislative seats are up for election in November.

“My impression was that there was pressure from leadership in the House. The House leadership says, ‘We can’t have a tax this year because that’s wrong — it’s an election year,’” Edwards said. “It’s nice to have a fund on paper, but with no money, you can’t do anything with it. It’s just a shell of a bill.”

Black-owned Restaurants Serve Culture and Cuisine

By Madison Manske, Capital News Service

 RICHMOND — “People in Richmond don’t talk to each other,” said Kelli Lemon, owner of Urban Hang Suite. She created her coffee shop last year to make a comfortable space for customers to connect with one another despite their differences.

Lemon is also tri-owner of the Virginia Black Restaurant Experience — an opportunity for people throughout the Richmond and Henrico area to connect and to enjoy the diversity of meals offered by black-owned restaurants.

The third annual Richmond Black Restaurant Experience starts Sunday and runs through March 10. This year the event features 30 restaurants as well as food trucks, caterers and local chefs.

The theme is Culture Meets Cuisine, and the food is served up for a good cause: It will raise money for the Mary G. Brown Transitional Center, a nonprofit agency that helps people with housing, job training and other services. With every event ticket purchased, proceeds will go directly to the center. Events that serve alcohol will give 100 percent of their sales to the center.

Each restaurant participating in the RBRE will have a passport that lists all other restaurants included in the experience. Mama J’s, Vagabond, Pig & Brew and Urban Hang Suite are a small handful of what to expect — with vegan options available at certain restaurants.

Throughout the week, the RBRE will also sponsor various events that require a ticket:

  • Mobile Soul Sunday on Sunday (March 3)
  • A Seat At The Table — Dinner Party Social on Monday (March 4)
  • Zumba and Cocktails with Jackie Paige and DJ Nobe on Monday (March 4)
  • Wine Tasting and Pairing at C’est Le Vin on Tuesday (March 5)
  • Hip Hop Karaoke with Pro DJ Direct and Unlocking RVA on Tuesday (March 5)
  • Afrikana Film Festival - Invisible Vegan on Thursday (March 7)
  • ART for the SOUL on Friday (March 8)
  • Brunch Trolley Tour on Saturday (March 9)
  • Diaspora and Untold RVA on Saturday (March 9)
  • Stick A Fork In It! on Sunday (March 10)

In its first year, the RBRE consisted of 19 restaurants. Last year, 10 restaurants joined the list bringing it to 29. Every year, more jobs are created and more money is raised through special event ticket sales.

The experience was created by Lemon, Amy Wentz and Shemicia Brown with the aim of addressing economic disparities within the city’s minority-owned business community as well as advancing Richmond’s growing culinary tourism scene.

The inaugural event helped launch the business the three women operate as Virginia Black Restaurant Experience. Events such as the Richmond Black Restaurant Experience operate under the VBRE umbrella, Lemon said. The women organize the annual RBRE with support from Dominion Energy.

“We felt like what we do is bigger than just a week, so we started Virginia Black Restaurant Experience,” Lemon said. “It’s just an experience of celebrating culture and cuisine that often times gets ignored for various different reasons.”

Benefiting a community organization

For the last two years, the beneficiary of the RBRE was Renew Richmond, an organization dedicated to increasing healthy food efforts by creating urban gardens and offering educational and other programs.

“We wanted to give someone else the opportunity to be able to grow their nonprofit,” Lemon said.

This year’s beneficiary, the Mary G. Brown Transitional Center, is a partner in the Richmond Food Justice Corridor, a network of organizations seeking to address food access, build community, reduce violence, inspire youth and accomplish other community goals.

Richmond is a popular food destination where Lemon says minorities in the food industry often get overlooked. When Lemon opened Urban Hang Suite in October, she wanted to open a space that allowed engagement to anyone who walks in the door.

Located at 304 E. Broad St., her coffee shop offers a traditional grab ’n’ go setting in the front with an open space in the back for people to connect.

According to Lemon, black-owned restaurants can face challenges in terms of obtaining financing, promoting and managing the business.

“Because of that lack, we found it important to be an assistant or just to be an ally to these restaurant owners in pursuit of giving them a true, proper place within the Richmond culinary scene,” Lemon said. “You have to realize that in some of these smaller black-owned restaurants, they’re the chef, they’re the marketer, the GM — they may be a host one day.”

Inner City Blues, home of Carolina Bar B Que, has participated in the RBRE every year so far. Co-owner Alicia Hawkins said she and her husband see higher sales each year, and that allows them to be more active in the business and the community.

“Richmond is a foodie town, and a lot of times with the small businesses, a lot of people don’t know that these small businesses exist,” Hawkins said. “I have customers come in all the time to say, ‘We didn’t know you were here,’ which is kind of strange.”

Before the restaurant moved to 3015 Nine Mile Road in 2014, it was Inner City Blues Takeout on Gilpin Court in Jackson Ward. When the landlord wanted to make changes, Hawkins and her husband had to relocate. After the owner of their current building retired, the space opened up for them.

“It was a business opportunity that it was just as if God had opened the doors,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins went to the original Armstrong High School. Having grown up in the area, she was familiar with her new business location.

Hawkins said the RBRE is a chance to showcase restaurants like hers.

“We also saw the lack of black-owned restaurants in the larger restaurant weeks,” Lemon said.

Richmond is home to many food festivals from Richmond Oktoberfest to Festival of India. According to Lemon, when VBRE was created, the organizers got criticized and called racist for celebrating African-American restaurants.

“We had to remind everyone of the other festivals that happen all the time in this city,” Lemon said. “All these festivals celebrated culture and heritage, and that’s all we’re trying to do.”

For a full list of participating restaurants and event/ticket sale information, visit www.vablackrestaurantexperience.com. The website also has a link for donations.

“It’s very important for those that are not familiar with this week to know that it is open to everyone,” Lemon said. “We hope that people come out of their comfort zones for this week.”

General Assembly Legislative Scorecard

Here is an infographic, created by Capital News Service, showing how many bills each Delegate or Senator introduced this session and how many of those passed or failed.

Delegate Tyler introduced 6, 4 of which passed. Senator Lucas introduced 10 bills, 3 of which passed.

 

The Williamsburg Winery’s “Petite Fleur” Awarded Gold Medal at Governor’s Cup Competition

By Kal Weinstein, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Gov. Ralph Northam raised a toast to the state's burgeoning (and burgundy) wine industry at the Virginia Wineries Association’s Governor's Cup gala. Among the gold medal recipients on Tuesday night was the 2017 Petite Fleur, from The Williamsburg Winery.  

The Petite Fleur was one of 68 gold medal recipients of the more than 500 wines submitted from across the state.

 A creation from winemaker Matthew Meyer, the Petite Fleur is a blend of Muscat Ottonel and Vidal Blanc, offering hints of apricot, peach, pear, melon and other tropical fruits.

“It is a dessert wine, but it can go with cheese or foie gras,” he said.

Fifteen years ago, Meyer came to Virginia from Napa Valley, California, because of the potential he saw in the state’s young wine industry.

“My inspiration was just to come out here and get involved in something that was, at that time, just starting to grow,” he said. “In the time I’ve been here, I’ve seen an absolute incredible transformation of the wine quality in Virginia, which is exciting to see.”

The Williamsburg Winery’s president and CEO, Patrick Duffeler II, said Virginia has proven without a doubt that it can produce wines that go toe-to-toe with the best the industry has to offer.

“It’s not because I say so. It’s because the wine critics say so,” Duffeler said. “We are just now getting out of our infancy and growing into an awkward adolescence, and I think the best has yet to come.”

Kathryn Parsons, who traveled to Richmond to represent The Williamsburg Winery at this year’s gala, said the 2017 Petite Fleur is available in their retail shop, their website, and at their Colonial Williamsburg location.

“It’s a very popular wine. We don’t do a whole lot in the way of dessert wines,” Parsons said. “So for our clients that like something a bit sweeter, it’s the perfect mix.”

Parsons said the wine is not “overly sweet,” and that “there’s enough acidity to balance that so it just feels bright and fruity.”

Every wine submitted to the competition was required to have been made from 100 percent Virginia fruit. Of the gold medal recipients, 12 of the top-scoring wines comprised the Governor’s Case, from which the winner of the Cup was announced at Tuesday night’s gala.

Before an audience of hundreds of people, Northam awarded the first-place trophy to Horton Vineyards for their 2016 Petite Manseng.

“Virginia’s wine industry has uncorked remarkable growth in recent years, generating over a billion dollars in economic impact annually and creating thousands of job opportunities for Virginians,” Northam said.

Following the event, Gov. Northam’s office released a statement giving further praise to Virginia’s blossoming wine industry.

“Virginia winemakers have developed a fluency in reading the signs from their soil and growing distinctive varietals that have found a home in Virginia,” the statement said.

Safe Driving Advocates Lament Defeat of ‘Hands-Free’ Legislation

By Katja Timm, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Traffic safety advocates are upset by the surprise defeat of legislation that would have prohibited motorists in Virginia from holding their cellphones while driving.

They said the legislation — HB 1811 and SB 1341, which died as the General Assembly adjourned Sunday — would have helped prevent accidents caused by distracted driving.

“I think we’re very disappointed,” said Janet Brooking, executive director of DRIVE SMART Virginia, a nonprofit group that promotes traffic safety. “We had been working very hard to make sure the bills advanced.”

For much of the legislative session, the bills appeared headed toward passage.

The House and Senate had each passed slightly different versions of HB 1811, sponsored by Del. Chris Collins, R-Frederick, and SB 1341, sponsored by Sen. Richard Stuart, R-King George.

One version said: “It is unlawful for any person, while driving a moving motor vehicle on the highways in the Commonwealth, to hold a handheld personal communications device.”

Another version said it would be unlawful for a driver “to hold in his hand a handheld personal communications device.”

Looking back, Brooking said amending the bill allowed opponents to sabotage the legislation.

“It’s not about the language of the amendment,” she said. “It’s about what happens to bills like this. The amendment was thrown in there to strategically put the bill in harm’s way.”

When a conference committee of House members and senators convened to resolve the matter the day before the session ended, the legislation was changed significantly. The committee recommended that drivers still be allowed to talk on their cellphones — they just couldn’t “view, read, or enter data.”

The conference committee’s report then was rejected in the House — and so the legislation died.

As a result, the current law, adopted in 2009, remains unchanged: It is illegal to text and send emails while driving, but not to use phone apps such as Snapchat, Facebook or Instagram, or to talk on the phone.

Brooking said she believes that fatalities and accidents would decrease if Virginia had stronger laws to stop driving distractions. That has happened in other states that have implemented “hands-free” driving laws.

In mid-2018, the governor of Georgia signed the “Hands-Free Georgia Act,” which is almost identical to the original versions of the legislation proposed this year in the Virginia General Assembly. The act made it illegal for Georgia motorists to hold a handheld telecommunications device while driving.

Since the law took effect, traffic fatalities have dropped 14 percent in Georgia, according to the Glenda Mitchell Law Firm of Cartersville, Georgia.

Brooking sees a silver lining in the defeat of the “hands-free” bills at the Virginia Capitol. The legislation received widespread media coverage and raised awareness about the problem of drivers using cellphones.

“The press that we got on this bill was unparalleled,” Brooking said. “Through this process, we have educated and raised visibility towards the subject of distracted driving.”

Education and legal changes will be necessary to adequately address the problem, Brooking said. She said safe driving advocates will not give up pushing for stronger laws during the General Assembly’s next session.

“People are still being killed in our roadways,” Brooking said. “We can’t just walk away from this; people are dying.”

Bills to Protect Landowners in Pipeline Cases Fail

By Ben Burstein, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Landowners fighting to keep their property from being taken by pipeline building companies will continue footing the legal bills after two bills failed in the House.

Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, said he introduced the bills to give landowners who don’t want pipeline construction on their land a fair chance against Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, Southern Gas and other companies involved in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

SB 1404 would have required pipeline companies to pick the costs incurred by homeowners in eminent domain legal battles.

SB 1403 sought to amend state law and require the entities acquiring the property to pay all costs of court proceedings. It also would have required pipeline companies to provide compensation for homeowners. The compensation would have been at least 25 percent more than the company’s initial offer for the land.

Because the pipeline project was approved by the Federal Energy Regulation Commission, the companies may invoke eminent domain — a right given to the government to take property for public use — if landowners refuse to accept compensation for their property.

“The pipeline companies have all the power, in the General Assembly and in condemning the property of small landowners,” Petersen stated after the bills failed. “My bills would have leveled the playing field in a small way. The House just missed it. We’ll be back.”

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a 600-mile underground pipeline that would deliver natural gas from West Virginia to the southwest region of the state and North Carolina.

Over 85 percent of affected landowners have entered into easement agreements to allow construction, according to the project website. Those landowners received compensation. The remaining easements needed to begin construction are being challenged in court. Such legal battles have halted construction. The pipeline was scheduled to start operating this year, but the new estimated completion date is between 2020 and 2021.

Residents have also lost property in the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline project that runs from West Virginia to southwest Virginia. Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Dillon allowed Mountain Valley to seize private property through eminent domain. A group of landowners have requested a hearing from the U.S. Supreme Court, but it is uncertain whether a hearing will be granted.

On Dec. 7, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals suspended a permit allowing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cut through two national forests. Dominion plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The House denied Petersen’s request to have changes to his bills restored to their original form. House amendments would have made the bill effective only on proceedings that started before July 1 of this year. Both bills failed as introduced. The senator plans to try again in the General Assembly’s 2020 session.

Senate Passes Bill Allowing Guns in Church, Fails in House

By Christian Robinson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. --- While most people go to church to worship, security expert Chernoh Wurie goes to worship and protect. He leads security at Hill City Church in the Richmond area.

A bill to allow weapons, including firearms, within places of worship died in the House last week. Senate Bill 1024, introduced by Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun, passed the Senate along party lines, 21-19, but died in the House Rules Committee. The bill sought to repeal a law on the books since the 1950s.

“It’s chaos waiting to happen if you ask me,” Wurie said. “It gets a lot more problematic when you put guns in churches.”

Hill City Church, a non-denominational Christian church off Staples Mill Road near the Richmond city line, has a strict no-firearms policy, with signs up throughout the building. The only people allowed to carry a weapon are Wurie and his security team, picked he said because of their police training.

Wurie said places of worship without an organized security team might be more likely to allow congregation members to carry because “there is no other form of protection.”

Gun violence has occurred at places of worship in the recent past.

  • In October, 11 were killed and seven injured in a mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

  • In November 2017, 26 people were killed and about 20 injured in a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

  • In January 2017, a mass shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City left six dead and 17 injured.

Some said the number of casualties in Texas would have been higher if a civilian hadn’t fired at the shooter. But other groups feel uncomfortable with firearms in a place of worship.

The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy is a coalition of more than 700 faith groups. The organization opposed SB 1024 and urged members to contact legislators, saying that worship spaces should “be holy, safe and a refuge” and “free of violence.”

Wurie said he thinks some places would allow their congregation to carry firearms, and it is ultimately the institution’s decision.

He said if the bill had passed, he would have anticipated institutions potentially hiring congregation members with security experience.  

“It can be a distraction, to a point, for both security and the congregation,” Wurie said. “If everyone is allowed to carry arms during worship, it could be a distraction for the people.”

If the bill had passed the House, Imad Damaj, faculty adviser for the Muslim Student Association at Virginia Commonwealth University, said they planned to lobby the governor to veto it and that the organization did not think the bill would make anyone safer.

“We spoke against it; a lot of people in the Muslim community spoke against it,” Damaj said. “Accidents can happen. You come to a place of worship for peace, prayer and inspiration.”

Damaj worships at the Islamic Center of Virginia. He also said weapons would be a distraction to the congregation.

“People don’t feel comfortable praying next to people who carry arms,” he said.

He questioned if Sen. Black spoke with faith leaders before introducing the bill.

“I can tell you from the Muslim community perspective … we don’t want that [the bill],” Damaj said.
Just before the Senate approved the bill on Jan. 24, Black said that congregation members are “vulnerable” and “the ultimate target” of someone who intends to inflict “mayhem on the congregation.” He pointed to church shootings in recent years, including a 2015 mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina by a white supremacist who killed nine black churchgoers during a Bible study service.

“You cower in place or you fight back,” Black said.

Black did not respond to requests for a comment on the legislation.

VCU Panel: Journalists Need to Call Out Racism

By Owen FitzGerald and Rosemarie O’Connor, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Politicians, journalists, educators, voters -- whose responsibility is it to combat racism, and where do they start?

Hundreds gathered in the Virginia Commonwealth University Commons Theater Monday evening to tackle that question. The discussion “Blackface, the Scandal and the Media: A Discussion about Racism in Virginia,” featured VCU journalism professors and Richmond-area journalists.

“You must do this study of the dead to later study the living,” said Clarence Thomas, an associate professor of journalism at VCU. Thomas and the panelists emphasized the importance of knowing the history behind blackface in the media.

Thomas, who moderated the discussion, was joined on the panel by:

  • Jeff South - associate professor of journalism, VCU
  • Mechelle Hankerson - reporter, the Virginia Mercury
  • Samantha Willis - freelance journalist and editor
  • Michael Paul Williams - columnist, Richmond Times-Dispatch

The panel opened with this video from the Huffington Post, “The History of Blackface in America.” The video shows the use of blackface in popular movies, television shows and cartoons even in recent years.

This discussion came after two top Democratic officials admitted to wearing blackface.

Gov. Ralph Northam has been under fire since Feb. 1, when a news organization published a photo from his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical College yearbook. The picture showed two men -- one in blackface and the other wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood. He initially admitted he was in the photo and apologized.

The next day he denied he was in the photo, but said he had worn shoe polish to darken his face while dressing as Michael Jackson for a dance contest in 1984. State and national leaders on both sides of the aisle called on Northam to resign.

Attorney General Mark Herring also admitted to wearing blackface at a party in 1980. Herring said he dressed as rapper Kurtis Blow, wearing a wig and brown makeup. He apologized for this “one-time occurrence” and said it was a “minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then.” Northam and Herring are still in office despite calls for resignations, though far fewer have called for Herring’s resignation.

The Commonwealth Times, VCU’s student-run newspaper, earlier this month published racist photos from Richmond Public Institute and the Medical College of Virginia yearbooks, some pictures as recent as 1989.  

Photos showed students wearing blackface, enacting a “slave sale” and displaying violence toward Asian Americans. RPI and the Medical College of Virginia merged to form VCU in 1968.

These events opened old wounds, spotlighting the history of racism and Jim Crow in Virginia.

“Blackface is not and never was intended to be flattering, innocent or complimentary,” Thomas said.

Every panelist expressed concern over the lack of attention paid to the person in KKK robes in Northam’s yearbook picture.

“There aren't black voices standing up and saying, ‘yes the blackface is bad, but there's also a man in a KKK robe,’” Hankerson said.

“There aren't enough minority voices in journalism to guide the needed coverage,” she added, a thought echoed by other panelists.

Panelists also discussed the public's focus on racist images, instead of calling out racism in policy and culture.

“There is a certain amount of trauma that comes with viewing these images over and over,” Willis said. “There needs to be sensitivity when covering these stories.”

“Clearly it’s been a failure,” South said, adding that journalists didn’t properly vet Northam while he was running for office.

“The media needs to be more courageous about calling racist behavior racist,” Hankerson said.

South referenced a Halloween costume Northam wore last year depicting James Barbour, a slave owner who served as Virginia’s governor from 1812 to 1814 and said that there was no reaction to it until after the blackface scandal.

Panelists agreed and also pointed to Northam’s role in the recent State Air Pollution Control Board vote to allow Dominion Energy to build a compressor station in Buckingham County for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The decision will impact Union Hill, a predominantly black neighborhood.

Hankerson added that political change “can’t just come from black lawmakers,” saying it wasn’t their sole responsibility.

A key question of the night was posed by Williams -- the “why” that perpetuates racism.

“Because it is a benefit to people,” he asked, “how do you get someone to give up an advantage?”

The panel unanimously agreed that education is imperative to combat racism in America. How and when children are educated about racism should be a primary focus if the goal is to enact widespread institutional change.

“The body that we pay attention to is called the stream of information in society. We must pay close attention to the heart,” Thomas said, ”because the heart of the stream of information is truth.

“Protect it from the cancers that might invade it.”

Legislators Want All Capitol Meetings Video-Recorded

 

Transparency Caucus leaders Del. Mark Levine and Sen. Amanda Chase deliver their bipartisan group's letter to G. Paul Nardo, clerk of the Virginia House of Delegates.

By Owen FitzGerald, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — A bipartisan group of Virginia lawmakers is demanding that the General Assembly record and archive its subcommittee meetings — a critical part of the legislative process and the only proceedings not yet video-recorded by the state.

The demand was contained in a letter drafted by Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, and Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, co-founders of the Virginia Transparency Caucus. It was signed by 68 of the 100 members of the Virginia House of Delegates and 29 of the 40 state senators.

Virginia has been slower than other states to pull back the curtain on the legislative process. Floor sessions of the House and Senate were not archived until 2017. Committee hearings were not livestreamed and archived by the General Assembly until the Transparency Caucus pushed for that after the 2018 session. Virginia became the 42nd state to record such meetings.

In 2018, the advocacy group Progress Virginia began livestreaming subcommittee meetings as part of its Eyes on Richmond program. College interns use cellphones and tripods to stream video of the meetings to the Eyes on Richmond website.

Legislators recognize the importance of such transparency.

“Subcommittees are where the primary work of the General Assembly gets done,” Levine said. “More than half of all House legislation fails in subcommittee. It’s where the majority of bills get amended and discussed at length.”

He said that the public deserves access, not “just the lobbyists.”

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said that all Virginians, no matter how far from the Capitol, deserve to see their legislators in action. Rhyne believes the proposed policy is a “big step in the right direction.”

Levine and Chase presented their letter Sunday, the final day of the legislative session, to G. Paul Nardo, the clerk of the House of Delegates, and Susan Clarke Schaar, clerk of the Senate.

The letter “formally requests that both Clerks’ Offices maintain and provide to the public full audio and visual recordings of all the official business of the legislative subcommittees in the Virginia General Assembly that is open to the public.”

“I believe in full transparency,” Chase said, “and that the voters of our great Commonwealth should be able to see and witness those they have elected to office.”

This is the second time that the Transparency Caucus has asked legislative leaders to video-record subcommittee meetings. The group made a similar request in 2017.

The caucus was co-founded by Levine and Chase in 2016. At the beginning of the 2018 legislative session, the caucus persuaded House leaders to require that all subcommittee votes be recorded.

Jackson-Feild Behavioral Health Services Meets Medicaid’s New Standards

For a number of years, Jackson-Feild Behavioral Health Services (JFBHS) has been a Medicaid provider.  Medicaid recently initiated stringent standards of care, and JFBHS is pleased to announce that they passed – with flying colors – an unannounced three-day observation and assessment by a Medicaid representative.

This achievement is a testament to JFBHS’ mission to provide high quality evidence-based psychiatric, residential, educational and recovery treatment services for children who suffer from severe emotional trauma, mental illness and/or addiction.  Their goal is to restore wellness and provide support for successful reintegration into homes, families and communities.

Medicaid is a government-sponsored insurance program for persons of all ages whose income and resources are insufficient to pay for health care including mental health.

Medicaid raised the bar for psychiatric residential facilities, and JFBHS cleared the bar simply by doing what they already were doing:  providing high quality, effective services.  Medicaid will continue to make unannounced site visits, and JFBHS is confident that they will continue to meet the challenge and exceed the expectations.

Frederick T. Bare

December 19, 1938 - February 23, 2019

Graveside Services

Friday, March 1, 2019, 2:00 PM

Cobb-Whitehead Family Cemetery 

22311 Southampton Parkway

Courtland, VA 23837

Frederick T. Bare, 80, of Emporia, died Saturday, February 23, 2019. He is survived by his wife, Wilma W. Bare; two sons, Gary Bare and Fred W. Bare and two nieces, Judy Hall and Tessie Allen.

A graveside memorial service will be held 2 p.m. Friday, March 1 at the Cobb-Whitehead Family Cemetery in Southampton County.

Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com.

Efforts to Ratify ERA Fail on Tie Vote in House

By Kal Weinstein, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Despite a 24-hour vigil by advocates of the Equal Rights Amendment, House Republicans refused to allow a vote on ratifying the measure Thursday — officially killing the ERA for the year.

The defeat comes to the dismay of many who thought Virginia would be the 38th state to ratify the amendment, potentially adding it to the U.S. Constitution. Experts disagree whether the ERA can be ratified because the deadline to do so has passed.

More than two dozen advocates spent Wednesday night enduring freezing temperatures outside the Capitol building for an “equality vigil” organized by VAratifyERA. Throughout the event, which was live-streamed, supporters read letters from ERA allies and encouraged those watching from home to call their delegates.

Many Democratic leaders attended the vigil, including U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who represents the state’s 7th Congressional District; Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler of Virginia Beach; and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, showed up with pizza for participants.

“My mother, who does support the ERA, would be very disappointed if I didn’t bring you all food!” Roem said.

With bipartisan support, the Virginia Senate passed a resolution in January to ratify the ERA. However, the proposal died in the House Committee on Privileges and Elections -- and so it could not be considered by the full House of Delegates.

On Thursday, House Democrats attempted to introduce a rules change that would have allowed a simple majority vote to bring the ERA to the floor. The rules change failed on a 50-50 vote along party lines. One Republican -- Del. David Yancey of Newport News -- joined the 49 Democrats in voting for the rules change; all other Republicans voted against it.

Afterward, Del. Hala Ayala, D-Prince William, apologized to constituents.

“As elected officials, we have a moral obligation to listen to our constituents and let their voices be heard,” she said. “I am deeply sorry that did not happen.”

The ERA states that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Supporters say the amendment would be a move toward equal rights for women and men. But others argue there could be unintended consequences, such as co-ed prisons or women being drafted into the military -- claims that ERA supporters dispute.

With the ERA now effectively dead for the year, Democrats are turning their attention to the fall, when all 140 seats in the Virginia General Assembly are up for election. The House Democratic Caucus released a statement announcing the defeat but also urging supporters to be optimistic.  

“2019 is an election year here in Virginia,” the statement said. “This time next year, when the Democrats do have the majority, we will ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.”

Lawmakers OK Bills To Expand Access to CBD, THC-A Oils

By Serena Fischer and Ben Burstein, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- In the final weeks of its 2019 session, the General Assembly passed three bills that would help people using cannabis-derived medications.

On Saturday, the House and Senate gave final approval to a bill allowing students who have proper documentation to use CBD oil and THC-A oil at school.

SB 1632, sponsored by Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond, would prohibit schools from suspending or expelling a student for using CBD or THC-A oil with valid permission. The bill also would protect school nurses from prosecution of possessing and distributing the oils in accordance with school board policy.

Earlier in the month, legislators passed:

  • SB 1557, introduced by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico. It would allow physician assistants and licensed nurse practitioners to write a certification for cannabidiol oil and THC-A oil.

  • SB 1719, filed by Sen. David Marsden, D-Fairfax. It would allow patients receiving CBD or THC-A oil to designate a registered agent to pick up the medication on their behalf.

Dunnavant, the only physician in the Virginia Senate, has been an advocate for expanding access to medical cannabis.

“Allowing nurse practitioners to make treatment available will shorten the wait time and suffering for patients dealing with pain,” Dunnavant stated in support of SB 1557. “It is an effective way for physicians to offer low-cost and low risk remedies to their patients.”

Dunnavant hopes that expanding the use of cannabis-derived medications will help combat the growing opioid crisis.

“Overdose deaths related to prescribed opiates have decreased by 25 percent in states where medical marijuana programs are available. The potential side effects and risks of medically administered CBD and THC-A are far lower than opiates and many pharmaceutical drugs currently requiring a doctor’s prescription,” Dunnavant’s website states.

CBD, or cannabidiol, and THC-A, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, are two of the main compounds in the cannabis sativa plant.

Both components interact with cannabinoid receptors in the body that affect mood, pain, and memory. Neither contain the properties that produce a high. When raw, TCH-A has no psychoactive effects; only when burned does it become THC. Hemp, also a cannabis plant, is more widely used for CBD oil for its very low level of THC.

CBD and THC-A oils are used by many people to treat anxiety, migraines, nausea and other health problems. THC-A oils can achieve the same results as CBD oil but are less potent.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not endorse any CBD or THC-A medication with the exception of Epidiolex, used to treat seizures from two rare forms of epilepsy. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says it will support further research by the FDA into different components of cannabis.

“DEA will continue to support sound and scientific research that promotes legitimate therapeutic uses for FDA-approved constituent components of cannabis, consistent with federal law,” said Acting DEA Administrator Uttam Dhillon in a press release.

Virginia has moved slowly in allowing access to medical cannabis.

In 2015, the General Assembly passed legislation allowing CBD and THC-A oils only for the treatment of intractable epilepsy. Last year, lawmakers passed a bill sponsored by Dunnavant authorizing medical practitioners to recommend the oils to treat or ease the symptoms of any diagnosed disease or condition.

By expanding the definition of practitioner to include nurses, SB 1557 would make it even easier for Virginians to use the medical treatment.

“Expanding the availability of effective treatment options is both compassionate and practical,” Dunnavant said.

“Pesky Varmints”

A mole has a very hard nose
to help it burrow underground
leaving those ugly ridges
which in our lawns are found.
 
Moles tunnel beneath the surface
searching for grubs and insects too
in a way not too well thought of
but they do it for me and you.
 
They help aerate the soil
which for so long has been packed
leaving their trails everywhere
looking like the dirt was stacked.
 
Then they’ll travel through the freeway
or thru the tunnels if you will
eating grubs and other insects
until they get their fill.
 
Yes they eat the grubs that eat the roots
of the grass seed we have sown
they also eat many of the insects
that chew the leaves from the plants half grown.
 
Now the vole is so much different
in oh so many ways
they will jump around like a kangaroo
and can make you laugh for days.
 
The humor in their presence
won’t last for very long
just take one look at your flower beds
and you’ll wonder what went wrong.
 
Yes voles eat the flower bulbs you plant
leaving open spaces galore
your flower garden won’t shine so bright
unless you plant some more.
 
Now the moles a pest to say the least
but they’re mainly just passing thru
yet the vole will take up residence
and spend many months with you.
 
Under thick mulch beds; or mounds of leaves
they can for long survive
making sure that they are present
when your first spring bulbs arrive.
 
You can catch a vole with a mouse trap
and for the mole , just dig a deep hole
just don’t give up on the first try
it takes patience don’t you know.
 
          Roy E. Schepp

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

IMG_2165

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.”

Richard Peyton Bloom

Richard Peyton Bloom, 81, of Boynton Beach, Fla., passed away on February 23, 2019. “Richie” was born on May 2, 1937, in Norfolk, VA to the late Charles and Alice Bloom. He graduated from Greensville County High School in Emporia, VA.  He was preceded in death by his wife, Lois Cohen Bloom, and his brother, Larry.  He is survived by his sister, Phyllis Sue Green, of Boynton Beach, FL.  Richie and Lois were married on November 18, 1961. A long-time resident of Emporia, VA, Richie also lived over the years in Las Vegas, NV, Virginia Beach, VA and most recently in South Palm Beach, FL.  Richie and Lois were married for 56 years and had three children, son Charles Bloom (Cindy and grandchildren Lindsey and Maxwell Bloom) of Blythewood, SC; daughter Sari Bloom of Lake Worth, FL; son Jared Bloom (Sandy and grandchildren Jordan and Maddux Bloom) of Longwood, FL. The family thanks everyone for their thoughts and prayers. In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations sent to either the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County (https://jewishpb.org/fed/index.php/tzedakah-fund-tribute-cards/) or the Democratic Party of Palm Beach County, Fla. (http://pbcdplegacyblue.org/).  A family-only celebration of his life will be scheduled at a later date.

Effort to Remove Unlawfully Appointed Member of School Board Falls Short

The question of Miss Marva Dunn’s unlawful appointment to the Greensville County School Board seems to be answered.

After a heated debate, fraught with accusations of “personal vendettas,” and the inference of improper spending, the motion to remove Miss Dunn failed on a vote of 5-1, with one abstention.

Miss Dunn, whose term was to expire on December 31, 2018 was reappointed at a called meeting of City Council on December 27, 2018. This special meeting was called just days before the newly elected City Council was to be seated.

The newly seated Council, with the first ever Black majority in the history of Emporia took exception to the appointment when it was discovered that Miss Dunn’s appointment was unlawful, given her membership on the Board of Zoning Appeals, Miss Dunn’s appointment to the Redevelopment and Housing Authority was also unlawful because of her membership on the BZA. It was disclosed during the conversation that Miss Dunn’s appointment was discussed in a closed session at the January 15th meeting.  Miss Dunn submitted her letter of resignation for both the Board of Zoning Appeals and the Redevelopment and Housing Authority on the 16th of January, even though the matter was, apparently, not discussed publically.

During the debate Council Member Jim Saunders (District 3) was concerned about the cost of the outside attorneys engaged to deal with the issue. He felt that, given the other important issues facing the City, such as water line replacements, this expenditure of public funds was wasteful.

Saunders was also concerned that if this were to proceed to the Circuit Court, that the cost could, possibly, double.

Council Member F. Woodrow Harris (District 4) questioned who had authorized Mayor Person to contact an outside attorney and accused the Mayor of having a “personal vendetta” against Miss Dunn for running against the Mayor.

Council Members Saunders and Harris have championed saving taxpayer funds, both with the issue involving Miss Dunn and with the Transportation System.

Council Member Yolanda Hines (District 7) countered that we are only in the position of calling outside attorneys as the current City Attorney was unable to advise Council on this matter at the Closed Session on the 15th of January. Council Member Hines also asserted that it was important to undo this unlawful appointment, regardless of the cost.

Gerald Roberson

July 22, 1930 - February 23, 2019

 

Visitation Services

Owen Funeral Home

303 S. Halifax Rd, Jarratt, Virginia 23867

 

Owen Funeral Home

303 S. Halifax Rd, Jarratt, Virginia 23867

Gerald Roberson, 88, of Emporia, passed away Saturday, February 23, 2019. He was preceded in death by a brother, Graham Roberson. Mr. Roberson is survived by his wife, DeEtte Roberson; son, Jerry Allen Roberson (Melissa); daughters, Kippa Hladky (Randy) and Gail Hayner (Terry); grandson, Sammy Fields (Jenny) and sister, Doris Sumerlin.

The funeral service will be held 2 p.m. Wednesday, February 27 at Owen Funeral Home, 303 S. Halifax Rd, Jarratt, Virginia where the family will receive friends one hour prior to the service. Interment will follow at Emporia Cemetery.

Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com.

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.

Roger Kent Woodruff

 

Roger Kent Woodruff

May 23, 1965 - February 17, 2019

 

Visitation Services

Thursday, February 21, 2019, 6:00-8:00 pm

Echols Funeral Home

806 Brunswick Ave., Emporia, Virginia

 

Friday, February 22, 2019, 2:00 pm

Echols Funeral Home Chapel

806 Brunswick Ave., Emporia, Virginia

Roger Kent Woodruff passed away on February 17, 2019 at the age of 53. He was born on May 23, 1965 in Halifax County, North Carolina. Roger was an equipment operator for Enviva Pellets. He was preceded in death by his daughter, Tabitha Woodruff. He is survived by his father Vasser Lee Woodruff, Jr.  (Linda) of Emporia, mother Phyllis A. Woodruff of Emporia, son Brandon Woodruff (Amber) of Emporia, daughter Tiffany Woodruff of Emporia, brother James Woodruff (Julie) of Emporia, Sisters Gail Seward (Billy) of Emporia and Brenda Murphy (Bryan) of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; along with numerous nieces and nephews.

The family will receive friends from 6 to 8 P.M. Thursday, February 21, 2019 at Echols Funeral Home. A funeral service will be held at 2 P.M. Friday, February 22, 2019 at Echols Funeral Home Chapel with Rev. John Kinsey officiating. An Interment will follow at Greensville Memorial Cemetery.

Brandon Keith Simmons

May 23, 1989 - February 19, 2019

Visitation Services

Saturday, February 23, 2019, 12:oo Noon

Owen Funeral Home

303 S. Halifax Rd., Jarratt, Virginia

 

Saturday, February 23, 2019, 2:00 pm

Owen Funeral Home

303 S. Halifax Rd., Jarratt, Virginia

Brandon Keith Simmons, 29, died Tuesday, February 19, 2019. He is survived by his mother, Kendra Tomlinson (Barry Edwards); his father, Billy Simmons; brothers, Josh Simmons, Jason Simmons, and Christopher Tomlinson; sister, Emily Simmons; paternal grandmother, Grace Clark; a very special cousin and friend, Heather Malone; uncle, Randy Stainback (Melanie) and a number of other uncles and extended family. The funeral service will be held 2 p.m. Saturday, February 23 at Owen Funeral Home, 303 S. Halifax Rd, Jarratt, Virginia where the family will receive friends 12 – 2 prior to the service. Interment will be private at First Christian Church Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made to Greensville Volunteer Rescue Squad or to a favorite charity. Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com.

99-ROOM EMPORIA HOTEL TRADES FOR MORE THAN $4 MILLION

EMPORIA, VA, February 20, 2019 – Marcus & Millichap (NYSE: MMI), a leading commercial real estate investment services firm with offices throughout the United States and Canada, today announced the sale of Best Western Emporia, a 99-room hospitality property located in Emporia, Virginia, according to Benjamin Yelm, regional manager of the firm’s Richmond office. The asset sold for $4,311,111.

Prashant Merchant, an investment specialist in Marcus & Millichap’s Richmond office, had the exclusive listing to market the property on behalf of the seller, a limited liability company. Merchant also procured the buyer, a limited liability company.

Best Western Emporia is located at 1100 W Atlantic St in Emporia, Virginia. The 40,432-square-foot hotel was constructed in 1992 on 2.55 acres along Interstate 95.

Virginia Lawmakers Increase Animal Abuse Penalty to Felony

The memorial for Tommie, a dog that was tied to a pole and set on fire in Richmond.

Adrian Teran Tapia and Mario Sequeira Quesada, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Every state in America, and at least nine countries. That is how far the story of Tommie, a dog tied to a pole and set on fire, traveled as people rallied for his survival and donated money for his treatment. Tommie suffered burns on 40 percent of his body after he was doused in an accelerant and set on fire in a Richmond park. Despite round-the-clock care, he died five days after rescue.

If the dog had survived the attack, under current law the person responsible could have faced only a Class 1 misdemeanor charge punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a fine up to $2,500.

That’s why the crowd following Tommie’s story turned its attention to SB 1604, introduced by Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach. The bill would increase the penalty for animal abuse from a misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony, which can draw up to five years in prison.

Five days after Tommie’s death, the House passed the bill unanimously Wednesday. It cleared the Senate unanimously on Feb. 5.

Under current law, a person can only be charged with a felony if the cat or dog dies. DeSteph’s bill would make the penalty of torturing a cat or dog a Class 6 felony regardless of whether the animal survives. DeSteph said he introduced the bill after a dog named Sugar was attacked by her owner with a machete. Because the dog did not die, the owner was only charged with a misdemeanor. DeSteph said that the act alone should warrant the felony charge, not the outcome of it.

"People who torture a dog, or any animal like this, their next step is to go after a human," DeSteph said. "They're truly a threat to public safety and to society and should be dealt with severely."

House co-sponsor Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, said Tommie’s story helped the bill gain more support. She said some members of the Animal Welfare Caucus even suggested the legislation be named “Tommie's Bill.”

Robert Leinberger is an animal control supervisor with Richmond Animal Care and Control, the city shelter that led Tommie’s rescue and recovery efforts. He said donations poured in from around the world for Tommie, which boosted the reward to $25,000 to help find and convict his attacker, who is still at large.

Tabitha Treloar, with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said SB 1604 empowers the SPCA’s mission to protect more animals.

“There is a big gap in the current law. It does not consider the advances of veterinary medicine,” Treloar said.

Treloar said that veterinarians can often save animals from critical injuries, which helps the attacker avoid felony charges. That could have happened in Tommie’s case.

“It was sickening what happened to him,” she said. “The bill is a big step that I think the commonwealth can take to demonstrate that this type of cruelty will not be tolerated.”

Leinberger, who has worked in animal control for 27 years, called Tommie’s case “by far one of the worst cases of cruelty” he had ever seen. “What is really scary is what will be next, or even worse -- who will be next.”

He encouraged people to report the first sign of cruelty.

“If you even think of mistreating an animal, don’t,” Leinberger said, adding that there are many ways to find a pet a new and safe home.

Shaun McCracken agreed. She rescued her 7-year-old dog Pippin, who was suffering from a severe joint illness.

“The SPCA changed my life,” the theater professor said at a recent “Dog Kissing Booth” fundraiser. “She is better because of the care, time and effort they put in her.”

McCracken said Tommie’s case really affected her and that something must be done to avoid future tragedies.

“I think this person should never be allowed near any animal, or any human being,” she said.

DeSteph said that party lines don’t and shouldn’t matter when it comes to animal welfare legislation. “We have great laws in place regarding animal protection, but I think this is one that had gaps to fill.”

RACC receives one or two cases of negligent animal cruelty a week, Leinberger said. He hopes the passage of SB 1604 will help reduce the number of attacks.

“It has been a roller coaster of emotions, almost every single emotion you can think of,” he said.

More than 6,000 people signed up to attend a memorial service for Tommie. As a result, RACC has been holding open houses for members of the public to pay their respects to the dog.

An open house will be held 2-7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and noon-5 p.m. on Saturday at the city shelter, 1600 Chamberlayne Ave.

Anyone with information about the crime can contact Metro Richmond Crime Stoppers at 804- 780-1000.

Assembly OKs Bills to Address Housing and Eviction Issues

By Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — A flurry of bills addressing affordable housing and high eviction rates in Virginia cities moved forward in the House and Senate this week.

Three bills on those issues have passed both chambers and have been sent to Gov. Ralph Northam to be signed into law. Several other measures have passed one chamber and are awaiting a floor vote in the other.

Democratic lawmakers have been pushing for solutions to the affordable housing crisis since the Eviction Lab, a research group at Princeton University, found that of the 10 cities with the highest eviction rates in the United States, five are in Virginia: Richmond, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk and Chesapeake.

“Every Virginian deserves a safe place to call home,” said Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Charles City. He is sponsoring HB 2229, which would allow localities to waive building fees for affordable housing developments.

“By supporting more affordable housing, we can address the devastating impacts of Virginia’s high eviction rates,” Bagby said.

The Eviction Lab found that the problem of evictions disproportionately impacts minority communities. Richmond has the second-highest eviction rate in the country.

“Housing eviction rates in our commonwealth are a disgrace,” said Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton. “It is no secret that the laws and regulations around eviction in Virginia are intentionally vague and disproportionately target our most vulnerable communities.”

Of eight bills introduced in the House and Senate, three have passed both chambers:

  • HB 2054, introduced by Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, requires landlords to provide a written rental agreement to tenants.
  • HB 1681, introduced by Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, expands eligibility for the housing choice voucher tax credit to low-income communities in Hampton Roads.
  • SB 1448, introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, changes the terminology from writ of possession to writ of eviction for the writ executed by a sheriff to recover real property pursuant to an order of possession. The bill specifies that an order of possession remains effective for 180 days after being granted by the court and clarifies that any writ of eviction not executed within 30 days of its issuance shall be vacated as a matter of law.

Five other affordable housing bills are awaiting a floor vote in the House or Senate with about a week left in the session. Virginia House Democrats said in a press release Wednesday that they are committed to implementing affordable housing reform and protecting vulnerable communities from evictions.

“The displacement of vulnerable communities is not the nationwide record we want to be setting in the commonwealth,” said Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond.

Assembly Repeals ‘Jim Crow’ Minimum Wage Exemptions

By Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — A Democratic bill to repeal a Jim Crow era-law that legalized wage discrimination against many African-Americans is headed to the governor’s desk after being approved by the House of Delegates.

The bill, SB 1079, rescinds the law that allows employers to pay less than minimum wage to “newsboys, shoe-shine boys, ushers, doormen, concession attendants and theater cashiers” — jobs to which many African-Americans were relegated decades ago.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, said the exemptions were rooted in Virginia’s history of discrimination against African-Americans.

“It’s clear that this law was put into place to keep African-American Virginians from advancing,” Spruill said. “Hardworking Virginians deserve wage protections, regardless of the job that they do. I am proud to champion this long overdue legislation and to witness its bipartisan passage in the General Assembly.”

Spruill’s bill also eliminates the minimum wage exemption for babysitters if they work more than 10 hours per week.

The measure passed the Senate, 37-3, on Jan. 18. Last Wednesday, the House voted 18-14 in favor of a modified version of the bill. And on Friday, the Senate unanimously approved that version and sent it to Gov. Ralph Northam to be signed into law.

In 2018, Del. Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria, carried a bill with the same intent, and it died in committee. Krizek said the minimum-wage exemptions were “obviously aimed at African Americans who were in these service jobs because those were the jobs they could get at the time.”

Virginia Is Deemed 'Ripe' For Berry Growing

VSU to host conference to assist farmers in growing this niche crop

Virginia is not just for lovers, but for berry growers, too, according Dr. Reza Rafie, Virginia State University (VSU) Extension specialist in horticulture. That’s because after conducting extensive research of berry production across central and southside Virginia, Rafie is confident that Virginia’s climate and soil are well suited to grow strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.

This is good news for Virginia farmers, because national berry sales have increased in recent years due to growing consumer appreciation for the many health benefits that come from eating these succulent fruits. In fact, with U.S. sales totaling $5.8 million annually, berries are the leading produce category purchased by consumers. And that means Virginia farmers—even those with limited acreage—have an opportunity to tap into this market to gain revenue by helping to meet the growing demand for berries. 

Right now, the Commonwealth lags behind southern neighboring states like North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia in berry production. Berry crops are versatile for industrial use in frozen foods and other value-added products and have the potential to create small enterprises and jobs in rural communities. 

To assist Virginia farmers with starting or growing berries for profit, Rafie is organizing the 11th Annual Virginia Berry Production and Marketing Conference, at which internationally renowned berry researchers will share information about berry production and marketing that will help growers be more profitable. This popular annual event, hosted by Cooperative Extension at VSU, will be held Thursday, March 21 from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Randolph Farm, 4415 River Road, Ettrick. 

Keynote presenter Dr. John R. Clark, a plant breeder and distinguished professor of horticulture at the University Arkansas, will speak on blackberry varieties. Dr. Clark has developed more than 50 varieties of various fruits and has cooperative breeding activities at several locations in the United States, Europe, Mexico, South America and Australia. Dr. Bernadine Strik, a horticulture and Extension berry crops specialist at Oregon State University, will speak about the basics of blueberry production. Berry experts from North Carolina State University, the University of Georgia, Virginia Tech and VSU, will present on insect, disease and weed management. Dr. Theresa Nartea, VSU’s Extension specialist in marketing and agribusiness, will present on marketing berry crops. 

“New and experienced berry growers will not only learn the latest information about berry production, berry health and marketing strategies, they’ll be able to have questions answered by some of the nation’s leading berry experts, and also network with other growers,” Rafie said. 

Registration is $20 per person and includes lunch. To register, visit www.ext.vsu.edu/calendar, click on the event and then click on the registration link. 

Persons needing further information or have a disability and desire any assistive devices, services or other accommodations to participate in this activity, can contact Mollie Klein at mklein@vsu.edu or call (804) 524-6960 / (800) 828-1120 (TDD) during business hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to discuss accommodations no later than five days prior to the event.

Extension is a joint program of Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and state and local governments. Virginia Cooperative Extension programs and employment are open to all, regardless of age, color, disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, veteran status, or any other basis protected by law. VSU is an equal opportunity/ affirmative action employer. Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.

Southern Virginia Regional Medical Center and the Family YMCA of Emporia – Greensville Partner to Provide FREE Health Fair for Community

Emporia, VA – On Monday, February 25, Southern Virginia Regional Medical Center (SVRMC) employees will be volunteering their expertise and medical services to the YMCA for a joint health fair from 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.

SVRMC’s Spencer Feldmann, Jr., MD, will be available for general health questions at an “Ask the Doc” session throughout the event. Dr. Feldmann states, “This is the perfect time to make sure you and your family are in good health and off to a healthy start in the new year.” Nurses and hospital staff will be offering health screenings and have information and refreshments.

YMCA Executive Director Kristin Vaughan explains, “We always see an influx in membership at the beginning of the year, so this is a great opportunity to keep both members engaged and the public aware of the services we provide.” 

The health fair will be inside the YMCA located at 212 Weaver Ave in Emporia in Group Fitness Studio 2. This event is free and open to the public.

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