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Residential Treatment Facility for youth located fifteen minutes north of Emporia, Virginia seeks Virginia licensed LPN. Substance abuse treatment experience is a plus.   Full-time position.  Twelve hour first shift (8AM to 8PM).

Compensation package includes employer matching 401(k) retirement plan & employer sponsored health, dental, vision & life insurance.  JFBHS is a Drug Free Workplace.  Successful applicants must pass a pre-employment drug screening and criminal background screening.  Position open until filled. EOE.

E-mail, fax, or mail cover letter & resume to:

Jackson-Feild Behavioral Health Services
Job# 2018-3
Attn: Chris Thompson
Fax: (434) 634-6237





Psychiatric residential treatment facility for adolescent girls and boys located 15 minutes north of Emporia, Virginia seeks experienced licensed clinician (LCSW or LPC) to provide therapy and case management services on an inpatient basis.  Substance Abuse and Addiction Counseling experience and certification preferred.  Population served includes adolescent girls and boys with complex developmental trauma, co-occurring mental illness, and substance abuse issues.  Position provides individual, group, and family therapy within a psychiatric residential setting. 

Virginia license is required.  Two years’ formal experience counseling adolescents is required.  Residential experience is preferred. 

Seeking experienced candidates.  Highly competitive pay & benefits including employer sponsored Health, Dental, Vision & Life Insurance and employer matching 401(k) retirement plan.

Jackson-Feild Behavioral Health Services is an equal opportunity employer and drug free work place.  Post offer criminal background and drug screenings required.  Position open until filled.

Submit resume and cover letter to:

Jackson-Feild Behavioral Health Services
Job# 2018-4
Attn: Chris Thompson
Fax: (434) 634-6237



Final Hearing on Carbon Bill; Northam to Veto GOP Measure

By Tianna Mosby, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Proposed regulations on power plant carbon emissions to help lower pollution 30 percent by 2030 drew a variety of responses from citizens and environmental advocates at a public hearing by the state Air Pollution Control Board.

The draft was proposed in November, following then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive directive in May to instruct the Department of Environmental Quality  to develop a cap-and-trade proposal. The Republican-majority General Assembly opposed  Gov. Ralph Northam’s bid to make Virginia the first Southern state to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and instead narrowly backed HB 1270, which would block such action. Northam’s office said Tuesday he would veto that bill, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Citizens at the hearing  on Monday were split on whether they believed Virginia should join the initiative, with some expressing concern about its impact on the state’s economy. There was also  debate over biomass regulation. While some said biomass is carbon neutral, others countered that it should be regulated if it is co-fired with other fuels.

Janet Eddy, a member of Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action, supported joining the initiative. She said that her patients feel the negative effects of climate change and that health statewide would improve by reducing the emissions under the pact. She said Abt Associates, a social change organization, conducted a study between 2009 and 2014 that estimated the greenhouse gas initiative has averted at least 300 deaths and 35 heart attacks.

Michael Stone of Richmond said he opposes the initiative because the state should focus on creating renewable energy sources rather than finding a way to continue using fossil fuels with less negative effects. He said, however, that he favors reducing carbon.

“I don’t see how we can develop any new fossil fuel infrastructure in Virginia and say that we’re really keeping an eye on the future,” Stone said.

The meeting came after a rally by the Sierra Club, which supports the proposed draft.

“Virginia is taking a step forward while on the federal level, the Trump administration is doing a dangerous dance, reducing lifesaving safeguards,” Kate Addleson, director of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, said in a news release.

But Harrison Wallace, Virginia policy coordinator and coastal campaigns manager for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said at the rally that the draft doesn’t go far enough.

He said the state should limit carbon emissions to a total of 30 million tons by 2020 and make continued reductions beyond 2030. The current proposed goal is between 33 to 34 million tons. Wallace also complained that the initiative fails to include biomass as a power-producing carbon fuel that needs to be restricted. He said that gives Dominion Energy “an unfair economic advantage.”

Virginia Will Offer New Specialty License Plates

By Tianna Mosby, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginians are likely to see a handful of new specialty license plates this summer, including one aimed at those who support an end to gun violence.

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, sponsored the bill authorizing the plate with the legend “Stop Gun Violence.” House Bill 287, which bounced between the House and Senate before legislators reached an agreement, is waiting for Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature.

Northam has already signed into law speciality license plates for supporters of Virginia’s electric cooperatives, theAlzheimer’s Association and the Virginia Future Farmers of America Association.

Last year, the Virginia FFA Association was given the opportunity to have its own plate available for purchase if it could get 1,000 people to register for the plate by the end of the year. Although the organization did not receive enough applications for the plate, its members still have hope; Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, proposed Senate Bill 446 to give the group another chance this year.

“I look forward to having the FFA Commemorative License Plate on my car and seeing them on cars in our great commonwealth,” Scot Lilly, former chair of the state’s FFA Association, said in a press release.

During their 2018 session, legislators in Virginia considered 15 new specialty plate bills. The state Department of Motor Vehicles website already offers more than 310 choices. Beginning July 1, motorists can order the newly approved plates. The plates will then be permanently available if they reach the 1,000-plate registration minimum before the year ends.

Specialty plates generally cost $25 above the regular vehicle registration fee. The DMV then gives $15 of that amount to the nonprofit group or cause associated with the plate.

About 14 percent of Virginians have a specialty plate. Virginia offers four categories of plates — special interest, college and university, military and other.

Although the “other” classification has the fewest number of plate options, its scenic plate has led the past two years with 214,332 total purchases.

Of the collegiate plates, Virginia Tech’s athletic “Go Hokies” plate is the most purchased with a total of 7,530 plates registered as of 2017.

The General Assembly carried over until its 2019 session proposed specialty plates for Parents Against Bullying, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (focused on increasing the elk population and advocating for hunters), supporters of Virginia’s women veterans, and the American Legion, another veteran organization.

Virginia Governor Calls Special Session to Tackle Budget

By Logan Bogert, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – After adjourning last week without passing a budget, members of the Virginia General Assembly will reconvene April 11 for a special session to complete their work on a biennial spending plan.

Gov. Ralph Northam signed a proclamation Tuesday calling the special session.

“After a legislative session that was marked by bipartisan progress on issues that matter to people’s lives, I remain disappointed that the General Assembly was unable to extend that spirit of cooperation to its work on the budget,” Northam said in a press release.

The House budget bill, introduced by Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, passed in the House 68-32. The Senate insisted on amendments. The bill went to a conference committee, but negotiators could not reach agreement before the session concluded Saturday.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment, R-James City, introduced the Senate’s budget bill, which passed the Senate 25-15. It was sent to the House but never made it out of the Appropriations Committee.

The major sticking point is over Medicaid, the health program for low-income Americans. The House wants to expand Medicaid on grounds that the federal government will pick up most of the cost. The Senate opposes that idea because it fears the state may be stuck with the tab.

Like the House, Northam wants to expand Medicaid.

“Virginians sent us to Richmond to work together to make life better for every family, no matter who they are or where they live. We can live up to that responsibility by passing a budget that expands health care to hundreds of thousands of Virginians who need it,” he said in Tuesday’s statement.

“Expanding coverage will also generate savings that we can invest in education, workforce training, efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, and a healthy cash balance to prepare for fiscal downturns.”

The General Assembly convened on Jan. 10 for a 60-day session. By the end of the session, more than 870 bills had passed — but none on the budget.

By April 9, Northam must sign, veto or recommend changes on the approved bills. The General Assembly already was scheduled to meet on April 18 to consider the governor’s vetoes and recommendations.

2018 General Assembly Scorecard

Below is an infographic showing how many bills each legislator passed as a percentage of the number of bills submitted. This infographic was created by Capital News Service reporter Adam Hamza.


Foster Care Teens Soon Can Ask to Reunite With Birth Parents

By Ahniaelyah Spraggs, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Teenagers in foster care in Virginia will be able to express their preference on restoring their birth parents’ parental rights under a law that will take effect July 1.

The General Assembly passed and Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation allowing foster care children ages 14 and older to tell a judge whether they want their birth parents to regain custody of them.

HB 1219 was introduced by Del. David Reid, D-Loudoun, who as a child lived in a foster home and was adopted.

“If parents had issues and had to give up their child, the judge asks the guardian ad litem or social worker if the child has expressed a preference,” Reid said.

The guardian ad litem is a lawyer appointed to look after the interests of a child or other people unable to represent themselves.

Reid was born and raised in Rockbridge County outside Lexington, Virginia. When he was 6, Reid said, his mother left the family. His father tried his best to raise Reid, his sister and two brothers, the legislator said. The children ended up being taken to United Methodist Family Services.

“When I went to UMFS, I had indoor pumping, hot water and a bathroom,” Reid said.

When he turned 16, Reid was adopted from the children’s home and moved to Oklahoma with his adoptive parents. In Oklahoma, Reid said he was able to finish high school and thought about going to college for the first time.

“My dad got a ninth-grade education. I was the first person ever in my family to get a college education,” Reid said.

Reid attended Northeastern Oklahoma State University in Tahlequah – “the capital of the Cherokee” – and graduated with a degree in political science in 1984.

“My junior year was when I reflected back on the last 10 years of my life. That’s when it dawned on me that I was living the American dream, which prompted me to get into the Navy Reserve,” Reid said.

Reid served in the Navy Reserve for 23 years as an intelligence officer and in other positions, while also working in Northern Virginia. He earned his master’s degree in 2002 from the Joint Military Intelligence College in Washington.

Reid, 55, is the chief strategy officer for Axiologic Solutions, an engineering company based in Fairfax. He was elected last fall to the Virginia House of Delegates.

Gov. Northam Signs 300 Bills on Issues From Taxes to Child Abuse

By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Before adjourning on Saturday, the General Assembly passed more than 870 bills, and about 300 of them – on subjects ranging from taxes and criminal justice to education and government transparency – have already been signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam.

The first bill signed by Northam, a pediatric neurologist who took office on Jan. 13, fit his medical career: Senate Bill 866 will reauthorize a license for a hospital in Patrick County, allowing the facility to reopen. SB 866 took effect immediately – on Feb. 16. Unless a bill contains such an emergency clause, it takes effect July 1.

Here is a rundown of other bills the governor has approved, as well as legislation awaiting action.

Bills Already Enacted

House Bill 154 and SB 230 took effect as soon as the governor signed them in on Feb. 22 and 23. Both conform Virginia’s tax system to changes in the federal tax code that the U.S. Congress approved last year.

Like the GOP-created federal law, both state laws were introduced by Republicans. Unlike the federal legislation, both bills saw bipartisan support in Virginia’s House and Senate.

The state legislation provides tax incentives to fund relief to areas struck by hurricanes. The two bills also feature the first amendments that Northam recommended as governor.

Bills Taking Effect July 1

Northam signed several bills tackling child abuse. They include HB 150 and HB 389, which will require local social service departments to alert schools found to have employed anyone accused of child abuse or neglect at any time.

Young people also will be helped by HB 399 and SB 960, which seek to create new work opportunities for students. The House bill requires school systems to notify students about internships and other work-based learning experiences. The Senate measure will promote partnerships between public high schools and local businesses on internships, apprenticeships and job shadow programs.

HB 35 will add a layer of oversight to the process that puts more violent juvenile offenders in adult detention faculties for the safety of other juveniles. It also will separate these juveniles from adult offenders when confined in adult facilities.

SB 966 will allow monopoly utilities like Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power to use their “over-earnings” – revenues that state regulators consider as excess profits – to modernize the energy grid and promote clean energy. The bill also removes a rate freeze made law in 2015, restoring some regulatory power to the State Corporation Committee.

HB 907 and 908 will allow greater transparency through public access to government meetings through the Freedom of Information Act. At the same time, Northam approved bills creating more FOIA exemptions: for records relating to public safety (HB 727), certain police records (HB 909) and select financial investment documents held by board members of the College of William and Mary (HB 1426).

Bills on the Governor’s Desk

In criminal justice, HB 1550 would raise the threshold amount of money stolen that would qualify for grand larceny from $200 to $500. The current state threshold, which determines whether the crime is a felony, is one of the lowest in the United States.

Immigration saw the passage of HB 1257, which would bar the creation of sanctuary cities in Virginia by enforcing federal immigration standards on all localities. Its passage in the Senate, like the House of Delegates, came down to votes split along party lines. Northam has already made clear his intention to veto the legislation.

Last year, the General Assembly passed HB 1547, which provides state funding to renovate select historically black cemeteries in Richmond. This year, legislators approved bills focusing on African-American cemeteries in Loudoun County (SB 163), Charlottesville (HB 360) and Portsmouth (SB 198 and HB 527). A fifth, HB 284, would cover every black cemetery in the state while broadening the groups able to receive state funds.

Also awaiting Northam’s signature is HB 1600, which would reduce the maximum length of a long-term school suspension from 364 calendar days to 45 school days. The bill provides exceptions in extreme cases.

HB 50 would prohibit teachers and other school employees from “lunch shaming” students who can’t afford school meals by making them do chores or wear a wristband or hand stamp.

Northam has until April 9 to sign, veto or recommend changes to the bills sent to him by the General Assembly. Lawmakers will then return to Richmond on April 18 for a one-day session to consider vetoes and recommendations.

One piece of legislation that isn’t on Northam’s desk is a state budget for the 2018-2020 biennium. Legislators adjourned Saturday without reaching agreement on the budget because the Senate rejected the House of Delegates’ plans to expand Medicaid.

So Northam, who supports Medicaid expansion, must call a special legislative session for lawmakers to approve a budget before the new fiscal year begins on July 1.

As Gun Bills Fail, Virginia Legislators Look Ahead to 2019

By Charlotte Rene Woods, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. — Three months before the start of Virginia’s 2018 legislative session, a gunman killed 58 people at a concert in Las Vegas. Midway through the session, 17 people died in a mass shooting at a high school in Florida. But by the time the session ended on Saturday, the Virginia General Assembly had passed just one bill on the subject.

Virginia lawmakers introduced more than 70 gun-related bills this session. But with Republicans and Democrats sharply divided on the issue, the General Assembly approved only a measure to restrict the firearm rights of people who had mental health problems as teenagers.

In comparison, Florida’s legislature fast-tracked a GOP-backed bill that raises the firearm purchase age to 21, bans bump stocks and requires a three-day waiting period for most gun purchases. The National Rifle Association — headquartered in Virginia, a state with its own historical mass shooting — has since filed a lawsuit arguing  that raising the purchase age is unconstitutional.

During Virginia’s legislative session, the vitriol flew: Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, sent his constituents an email with the headline, “How the GOP Makes it Easy to Commit Mass Murder.” Levine blasted Republicans for supporting assault weapons similar to guns “created by Nazi Germany.” In response, Del. Nicholas Freitas, R-Culpeper, delivered a floor speech that went viral, saying Democrats were intent on “gutting the Second Amendment.”

“We’re talking past each other,” Levine said.

Levine sponsored a bill to ban bump stocks, the device Stephen Paddock used on his rifles to fire so rapidly in theOct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas. The bill failed despite testimony from Henrico County  resident Cortney Carroll, who survived the massacre.

“It was such a minor bill that could make a huge impact on saving lives in mass shootings like Vegas,” said Carroll, a Republican. “Bump stocks are not needed to hunt with or for self-defense, so why are we going to continue to make it so easy for people to get them?”

The gun bill that passed was sponsored by Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County. It would treat minors 14 or older similarly to adults in regard to purchasing firearms after receiving mental health treatment. Deeds is no stranger to gun-related violence and actively advocates for initiatives to improve mental health.  In 2013, his son stabbed him before committing suicide with a firearm.

For this bill, Deeds said he was inspired by a call from one of his constituents whose son once had a temporary detention order yet purchased a gun to commit suicide at 18.

Presently, state law prohibits minors as well as adults who have been committed or detained for mental health treatment from purchasing a firearm. Such adults would not be able to purchase until certified mentally competent, while currently a juvenile who had been previously detained could buy a gun when of legal age.

“We were able to talk to enough legislators — even people who are adamantly opposed to most restrictions on firearms — and convince them that this was a loophole,” Deeds said. “I think for a lot of people, they thought this was already the law.”

Opposing initiatives take action beyond the session

Three days before the session ended, House Speaker Kirk Cox appointed a select committee of 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats to focus on school safety. While the forthcoming committee will work in a bipartisan fashion to address school safety, some feel the committee isn’t enough because it will not discuss gun violence. Instead, it will address “emergency preparedness,” “security infrastructure,” and the possibilities of “additional security personnel.”

Though Minority Leader David Toscano feels it’s a good step in school safety, he said it falls short of addressing the larger issue — gun violence.

Therefore, Toscano launched a Democratic initiative to address gun violence specifically. The group will tour the state and hold town hall meetings to discuss the subject and solicit proposed solutions. 

“I think we need to pay much more attention to this issue,” Toscano said. “I’m hopeful that with time, we will be able to pass some good legislation for gun safety.”

Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, has personal ties to tragedy. While working as a TV journalist, his girlfriend and coworker were shot during work in 2015. One of his bills this session dealt with workplace violence.

The freshman delegate said the conversation about guns is not ending just because the session came to a close. Hurst said his party will continue to listen and investigate what causes gun violence while seeking solutions.

As for the select committee on school safety, Hurst said he doesn’t have much faith in it.

“We don’t need to continue to turn our schools into Army barracks,” Hurst said of the proposed ideas to incorporate more security personnel into schools. “We need to make sure we look at whom we are allowing to purchase guns. I think the broad public would acknowledge that there are some people at certain points in their lives that shouldn’t have access to firearms because of the high likelihood that they would commit an act of violence against someone else, or themselves.

Parties remain divided on guns

Hurst said he is not surprised that just one firearm-related bill survived the legislative session. He said he believes his Republican counterparts oppose gun reform in part due to campaign donation influences like the NRA.

Meanwhile, Freitas, who is vying for the Republican nomination to  challenge Democrat  Tim Kaine for his U.S.  Senate seat, bristles at that insinuation.

“Take a look at how much money the NRA spends and how much Planned Parenthood spends,” he told Democrats in his floor speech on March 2. “When I get up there and I talk about abortion, I don’t assume that you’re all bought and paid for by Planned Parenthood. I don’t assume you’re horrible people because I disagree with you on a policy position; I assume you have deep convictions that we can have an argument and debate about.”

Freitas said he feels Republicans have been the target of “inflammatory” comments, such as being compared to Nazis, for “having a different opinion.”

“Try having an honest debate with someone who has already started off the conversation telling you how evil you are. It’s almost impossible,” he said.

Freitas said he thinks that the two political parties can agree on some policies  and that legislators can make more progress toward safer communities. He said the debate is a fair one, but he is not without his reservations.

“I think what’s missing in this one [debate] is that it’s not simply a philosophical debate; it’s also a practical debate,” Freitas said. “We [Republicans] don’t see gun control policies achieving the kind of results that maybe some of our colleagues assume that they will.”

Freitas feels too much emphasis is placed on guns rather than the “greater conversation about security, or all of the other behaviors that lead to somebody deciding one day that they’re going to go into a school and target a lot of innocent people.”

With the committee on school safety and Toscano’s initiative, state legislators are setting sights on more strides in the next session. While almost all gun reform bills failed this year, Toscano is pleased with some of the progress he has seen because some pro-gun bills failed as well.

“That’s basically because we have 49 Democrats standing up to those issues,” Toscano said.

There may be a Republican majority, but the 2017 general election saw the House of Delegates become closer to even in its composition of party members.

As for future elections, Toscano says he doesn’t think “the blue wave has crested yet.”

General Assembly concludes session, but work remains

By Kirby Farineau, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — The Virginia General Assembly gaveled the 2018 session to a close on Saturday but remained divided over the state budget and Medicaid expansion, forcing a special session to resolve its differences.

Gov. Ralph Northam said after adjournment that he plans on dealing with the issue “sooner rather than later” by calling a meeting to set the special session, which could take days or weeks. He did not give a specific time for setting the meeting or the special session.

“We’ve left one of our largest missions unfinished,” Northam said to legislative leaders. “As you all know, I want to be done with health-care expansion.”

Northam, who took office in January, ran on a campaign that included expanding Medicaid. But as the legislature wound to a conclusion in its final days, it became apparent that a special session would be needed.  

Northam expressed pleasure over the resolution of a number of issues, including the increase of the grand larceny threshold, strengthening the Metro system that operates in Northern Virginia and reform on policy with Dominion Energy.

 On Medicaid, while the Senate budget has no provisions for such expansion, the House spending plan allows for increased federal funding — which the administration of President Donald Trump opposed earlier this month. Republicans control both chambers by two-member margins, but there were bitter differences over Medicaid.

House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said he is optimistic about the special session.

“We are all committed to completing work on a state budget long before July 1,” said Cox, completing his first session as speaker.

Senate Democratic leader Richard Saslaw of Fairfax and caucus chair Mamie Locke of Hampton blamed Senate Republicans for “holding up the entire budget process for political reasons.”  

Senate Republican leader Thomas Norment Jr. of James City responded that his colleagues continued to oppose Medicaid expansion in the budget.

“Senate Republicans remain unanimously committed to passing a clean budget without Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, and we will continue to work towards that goal in the special session,” Norment said in a statement.

The House and Senate met from 9 a.m. until just before 2 p.m. on their final day, which included action on major legislation to assist the troubled Washington-area Metro system, which is critical to populous Northern Virginia.

Conference reports on Senate Bill 856, which was sponsored by Saslaw, and House Bill 1539, proposed by Del. Timothy Hugo, R-Fairfax, are both multifaceted, containing multiple provisions to improve Metro. These provisions include a dedicated funding stream of  $154 million a year from multiple existing sources, including transportation taxes and revenue from the North Virginia Transportation Authority. They also include the creation of a Metro Reform Commission, and a requirement to send a financial report on the performance of bus and Metro systems to the General Assembly. Neither bill will be enacted unless Maryland and the District of Columbia adopt similar provisions.

“From the start, my position was that a funding package for Metro had to go hand-in-hand with meaningful reforms without raising taxes,” Hugo said in a news release.

The legislature concluded its work the day after Northam signed one of the most-discussed bills of the session. Despite lingering opposition, the governor approved SB 966, which lifts a rate freeze that had been in effect for Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Company, but allows the utilities’ broad discretion in reinvesting customer revenue. Critics claimed the bill, developed with heavy involvement from Dominion, favors utility interests over those of consumers.

In another utility-related action earlier this session, lawmakers approved SB 807 by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, which extended the moratorium on the closure of ponds where Dominion Energy stores its coal ash, allowing the state and utility another year on reaching agreement over how to address environmental concerns.

Legislators left Richmond without approving any of the numerous gun control bills that were submitted after recent mass shootings in Florida, Texas and Las Vegas. Among the gun-related bills only one passed — SB 669, which restricts access of weapons to minors 14 and older who had received involuntary mental health treatment. Cox formed a select committee to study school safety, but said the panel would not take up gun issues, angering Democrats.

Governor Signs Bill Reshaping How Energy Giants Operate

By Scott Malone, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill Friday reshaping the way the state’s monopoly utility companies, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, are allowed to spend revenues received from customers.

In approving the bill, the governor turned back late-session pleas by opponents who fear the bill will allow the electric companies to regulate themselves.

Northam, on Twitter, described the legislation as “ending the freeze on energy utility rates, returning money to customers, and investing in clean energy and a modern grid. I am proud that my team and I improved this bill significantly and thank the General Assembly for its continued work on the measure.”

Senate Bill 966, also known as the Grid Transformation and Security Act, was introduced by Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, and changes the way utilities are allowed to collect and spend “over-earnings” -- what state regulators consider to be excessive profits. The bill also removes a rate freeze imposed by a 2015 law, which made the State Corporation Committee unable to order customer refunds and set utility rates.

The legislation states that utilities may spend excess profits toward modernizing the state’s energy grid as well as for projects focusing on renewable energy and energy efficiency. Before the 2015 rate freeze, ratepayers would have received a percentage refund for over-earnings.

However, legislators opposed to the bill fear it is worded in such a way as to lessen the SCC’s regulating power on the utilities, allowing them to use the excess profits in other ways.

Northam’s signature comes two days after Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, and Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke, sent the governor a letter urging him to amend sections of the legislation.

The two senators said they believe that the bill “takes power away from the SCC, and places it into the hands of the General Assembly” and that it deems “a variety of projects, ‘in the public interest,’ including various transmission, generation, and energy storage projects, without full review by the SCC.”

Dominion Energy released a statement thanking the legislation’s supporters.

“We appreciate the hard work put in by the broad coalition of supporters, the governor’s office, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to reach consensus on creating a smarter, stronger, greener electric grid with tremendous customer benefits,” said Dominion Energy spokesman Rayhan Daudani.

Virginia Makes Play Time a Priority in Elementary Schools

By Irena Schunn,Capital News Service
RICHMOND -- The Virginia Senate approved legislation Friday that defines recess as instructional time, responding to concerns from parents worried about a lack of unstructured play over a long school day.
“Our children need unstructured play time, preferably outside. Cutting recess to 10 or 15 minutes a day is just not enough for young learners,”  said Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, a co-sponsor of the Senate bill.
SB 273 came back for a vote on conference committee changes by the House and Senate negotiators. The Senate also approved HB 1419. Both were sent to Gov. Ralph Northam on 39-1 votes.
“The elementary years are a time of immense social and emotional growth and allowing for adequate unstructured play both enables development of these skills, as well as provides a healthy energy outlet for younger students who are not ready to sit still for a full academic day,” Favola said.
If approved by the governor, the legislation would require local school boards to count unstructured play time toward the minimum instructional hours public schools must meet each school year, giving an incentive to provide more recess time.
The legislation addresses the concerns of parents like Barbara Larrimore, a mother in Prince William County. Larrimore became concerned when her 5 year-old began biting holes into his shirts while at school. After discovering he received only 15 minutes of recess time during a school day of 6 hours and 45 minutes, she co-founded the “More Recess for Virginians” coalition and began pushing for change with the help of bill sponsors Favola; Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax; and Del. Karrie Delaney, D-Fairfax.
“We’ve been working hand-in-hand with them from the beginning,” said Larrimore. “We wanted it done a very specific way so that it wouldn’t affect the school schedule like art, music and PE because those are important and also part of a healthy diet of education for kids.”
Virginia is one of only eight states that require elementary schools to provide daily recess, according to the 2016 Shape of the Nation Report. Though the time allotted for recess varies among districts, Virginia mandates that elementary school students participate in at least 100 minutes of physical activity every week or 20 minutes every day. However, those minutes don’t necessarily go to recess time. Physical education class allows students to exercise in a structured environment and can account for a large amount of required exercise time.
But critics say physical education does not have the unstructured play benefit of recess, which allows “elementary children to practice life skills such as conflict resolution, cooperation, respect for rules, taking turns, sharing, using language to communicate, and problem solving in real situations,”  according to the Council on Physical Education for Children and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education.
The Senate bill co-sponsored by Favola and Petersen calls for recess to be counted under instructional time specifically in elementary schools. HB 1419, sponsored by Delaney, allows recess to be counted under instructional time that can come from reductions in the core areas of English, math, science and social studies.
“As a mom, I know the benefits our children receive when they are provided time to be active and play. I cannot wait to see how our children will benefit from this new provision,” said Delaney.

Bay Advocate, Omega Proteins Differ Over Menhaden Cap

By Kirby Farineau, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — A Chesapeake Bay advocate says the General Assembly's failure to place a cap on Virginia's lucrative menhaden catch leaves unanswered questions about key elements of the region’s ecology.

Menhaden are a small fish harvested mostly for the production of oil and fish meal, but they also play a role in the ecosystem as food for other species like striped bass and osprey. Virginia harvests the majority of menhaden on the Atlantic Coast, accounting for 80 percent of the total harvest according to the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission.

About 70 percent of that 80 percent is harvested by Omega Protein, a company based in Reedville since the early 20th century.

Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, tried twice during the 2018 legislative session to reduce the menhaden harvest in the Chesapeake Bay from its current limit of 87,216 metric tons.

Initially, Knight introduced HB 822, which proposed a limit of 51,000 tons. But that bill died in the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 13.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration then asked that the issue be reconsidered. So Knight introduced HB 1610, which also sought to cap the menhaden harvest in the bay at 51,000 metric tons but also increase allowable total of the fish caught in the Atlantic by 2,000 tons.

“I personally view this as a little bit more friendly to the industry to mitigate some of their concerns,” Knight said.

On Feb. 28, the committee voted 11-10 in favor of HB 1610, clearing it for a vote by the full House. However, on Tuesday, the bill was sent back to the committee, effectively killing it for the session.

The bill would bring Virginia within limits set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commissions, a compact of 15 coastal states that agree to protecting and better utilizing fisheries.

Ben Landry,  Omega Protein’s public affairs director, said the company opposes the commission’s limits. He said the caps advocated  by the organization and Knight’s legislation unfairly targeted the company without scientific evidence.

“We have been in business for a long time, and we think that we should be fighting against the ASMFC cooperatively,” Landry said. “Virginia was targeted and disadvantaged by this, and we shouldn’t have to take it.”

Landry was referring to the  commission increasing its total quota for fishing menhaden by 8 percent in November but cutting Virginia’s allocation of the total harvest.

Environmental groups including  the Chesapeake Bay Foundation considered  the legislation as a way of protecting menhaden. Reducing the cap by 36,000 metric tons would have had little effect on Omega Protein, said  Chris Moore, a senior scientist for the foundation.

Even with the limit, Moore said, the company “would actually be able to catch a little bit more than their average for the last five years” in the Chesapeake Bay.

Landry said  setting the cap based on the company’s current average yield of menhaden is shortsighted. He said Omega Protein pulled  109,000 metric tons in 2006.

Moore said the impact of the menhaden fishery is wide-ranging and ultimately affects many businesses and communities that depend on the bay in different ways. Moore said, for example, that certain studies have indicated that striped bass had been in danger of starving without a healthy menhaden population, which also provides food for flounder and bluefish.

Virginia Offers Salute to Women Veterans

By Yasmine Jumaa, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – More than 100,000 women veterans live in Virginia, and in observance of Women’s History Month, the General Assembly has decided to honor them by designating the third week of March each year as Women Veterans Week.

On Monday, the Senate joined the House in passing House Joint Resolution 76, sponsored by Del. Kathleen Murphy, D-Fairfax.

Murphy, a self-described “military brat,” said Virginia has one of the highest populations of women veterans in the country. “We put together Women Veterans Week to honor them,” she said.

A member of the Board of Veterans Services and head of its Women’s Veterans Committee, Murphy will hold a series of discussions around the commonwealth during Women Veterans Week. The goal is to inform women veterans about the resources available to them and discuss their concerns.

“Women are the fastest growing segment of the veteran population, and they face unique challenges both in the military and when they transition to civilian life,” Murphy said. “We’re going to hold a series of roundtables so we can actually hear from these women veterans about what it is they need to ensure that they come back into our workforce and are successful.”

U.S. Army veteran Jeanne Minnix said it’s important to recognize the contributions of women veterans.

“Women have often been underrepresented, often under-acknowledged if you will, but it’s changing, thankfully,” Minnix said. “Anything to bring women’s issues to the forefront is always good.”

Women Veterans Week will be March 18-24. Information about the week’s events can be found on the website of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services.

New law tightens bail restrictions for human trafficking defendants

By Siona Peterous, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Gov. Ralph Northam has signed into law a bill that will make it more difficult for people charged with human trafficking crimes to post bail.

House Bill 1260, which will take effect on July 1, was sponsored by two Democratic delegates, Mike Mullin of Newport News and Dawn Adams of Richmond. Mullin said they were motivated by their professional experiences handling sexual-based crimes, like trafficking.

“Delegate Adams works as a professional nurse who has seen individuals that have been harmed both mentally and physically through sex trafficking, so this is something near and dear to her heart,” Mullin said.

Mullin is an assistant commonwealth attorney in Suffolk, where he focuses on sexual assault and gang-related cases as a member of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations team. He said the law reflects a recommendation of the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force and creates a presumption against bond for defendants being tried for sex trafficking crimes.

According to a 2017 report from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Virginia ranked 15th in the United States for the most reported cases of human trafficking. Among cities, Richmond is ranked ninth in the country with the highest number of calls to the hotline per capita.

“In Virginia, we have a number of things where we presume you’ll be a flight risk and a danger to the community — like, we assume if you’re charged with murder that you will run,” Mullin said. “So what we [the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force] did is create a presumption against bond. It doesn’t mean that you can’t get bond; it just means you have to show a higher standard of why you’re not going to run, whether it’s that you have a relationship with family in the area or that you’ve been living in the area for 15 years.”

Michael Feinmel, a deputy commonwealth’s attorney for Henrico County, said trafficking is a crime requiring constant movement. Efforts to curb that movement are necessary since many times defendants use false addresses and traffickers may use the freedom of bond to contact their victims.

“The bonded pimp can contact the commonwealth’s witness and lay on the guilt trip thick: ‘They are trying to send me to prison, and it’s your fault,’” Feinmel stated in an email. “Even those victim/survivors who have acknowledged that the sex trafficker was taking advantage of them still feel some sort of emotional bond to their trafficker, and it makes things even more difficult for them to continue to want to cooperate.”

Though Feinmel said HB 1260 is an important step in addressing human trafficking crimes, not everyone thinks the legislation will do enough.

Natasha Gonzalez, a clinician at the Richmond-based non-profit Gray Haven, which focuses on comprehensive care of human trafficking survivors, said there is more work to be done.

“My role with Gray Haven is being a first point of contact. When we get a call of a potential trafficking victim it’s my job to decide whether or not it’s trafficking, which can be difficult because, for example, domestic relationships and trafficking can sometimes go hand in hand,” Gonzalez said.

A larger issue, according to Gonzalez, is that sex trafficking victims are not likely to contact police because they often fear law enforcement and sometimes are not aware they are being trafficked.

In the Capitol, however, Mullin said he is hopeful that human trafficking will receive more legislative attention in upcoming years.

“There are only a few things that we handle here in the Capitol that are partisan by nature, and this certainly is not one of them. I’ve worked very closely with Republicans and Democrats on this, and the bill came through the House and Senate without a single no vote,” Mullins said. “This is a bipartisan issue and something everyone seems to agree we need to work on.”

Coal Ash Pond Closure Moratorium Bill Heads to Governor

By Kirby Farineau, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — A bill extending the moratorium on the permanent closure of coal ash ponds has won House approval and awaits the signature of Gov. Ralph Northam to become the only legislation on the issue to survive the 2018 session.

The House on Tuesday unanimously voted in favor of SB 807, sponsored by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, and co-sponsored by Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield. Surovell said he was happy for the extension and hopes the bill, which has been supported by Dominion Energy and environmental groups, is a “net positive for everyone.”

“We can come up with a coal-ash solution which not only resolves the problem forever but also creates jobs to clean the environment at the same time,” said Surovell, referring to the positions that would be created to recycle the coal ash.

Robert Richardson, a spokesman for Dominion, said the utility will provide the state with information on coal ash recycling costs.

“We are fully committed to closing these ponds in a manner that is protective of the environment,” Richardson said.

Coal ash is a toxic byproduct of coal-burning power plants.

Among its provisions, the bill requires Dominion to file an RFP, or a request for proposal, to assess the costs of recycling ash in the ponds. Though Dominion already recycles a portion of its total coal ash, it remains in favor of “cap-in-place” measures of permanent closure. This method of closing the ponds with a protective seal has been targeted as unsafe by environmental organizations concerned about groundwater contamination.

The Virginia League of Conservation Voters, which has opposed “cap-in-place” policies, supported the bill. Lee Francis, the league’s communications manager, said the organization has worked with Surovell and that the bill gives legislators the tools needed to make a decision.

“I think this bill will help give us clarity on how to start going forward, and hopefully lawmakers will have more information when we address final closure options,” Francis said.

Lawmakers tried addressing the coal ash issue from many angles this session, but ultimately settled on extending the moratorium as a way to get more information before acting.

Bill Would Let Energy Giant Regulate Itself, Senator Warns

By Scott Malone, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — As the General Assembly begins to wind down, a key opponent to legislation involving Dominion Energy is continuing to warn that a bill that has reached the governor’s desk will tilt the scales in the utility’s favor.

Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, said the legislation may limit the State Corporation Commission’s regulatory power over utilities — and give Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power “a license to overcharge customers for the foreseeable future.”

The legislation consists of two nearly identical bills: SB 966, sponsored by Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, andHB 1558, sponsored by Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County. With amendments, each bill has grown to 29 pages. The bill’s summary alone is more than 1,850 words. A typical bill’s summary in the Legislative Information System is less than 100 words.

The provisions in the latest version that are raising the most eyebrows concern how much profit state-approved monopolies, such as Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, may earn.

“Typically, the SCC is charged with making sure that rates are not more than is necessary to recover costs plus an allowable return on equity, which is usually 10 percent above costs,” Petersen said. “Normally, Dominion would give refunds based on that excess. This bill would take away that jurisdiction.”

For example, if Dominion made $1.2 billion in revenue in one year, and the company’s expenses were $1 billion, Dominion would have $200 million in profit. Previously, customers would have received a percentage refund for those “over-earnings.”

Under HB 1558, Dominion could keep all over-earnings provided it spends the money on designated projects — such as the Grid Transformation Project, a potentially multibillion-dollar project that includes burying power lines — as well as on investments in renewable energy, such as solar power or wind farms, according to Petersen.

The bill includes some complexities, however. Under the legislation, for example, the SCC would still have the power to review the Grid Transformation Project but would not be allowed to reject Dominion’s proposal, according to Steve Haner, a lobbyist for the Virginia Poverty Law Center.

“Dominion basically has written the law in such a way that it will never have to pay refunds, and it will never have to lower its rates,” Petersen said. “That’s why I called them out on it.”

Rayhan Daudani, senior communications specialist at Dominion, said many of these worries are unfounded.

“Environmental groups, like the League of Conservation Voters and the Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as the governor’s office, all agree that this bill is good for Virginians, for the environment and for our customers,” Daudani said.

Haner said the Virginia Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that advocates for low-income Virginians, is neutral toward the bill. However, personally he said he thinks the bill may not do what it says.

“It does not really return us to regulation. It leaves the SCC bound up with some very strict accounting rules and gives the utility ways to manipulate its profit margins and manipulate its spending so it will never be found to be excessive. It’ll never be ordered to refunds. It’ll never be ordered to cut its rates,” Haner said. “They’re directed to spend a certain way based on a bill they wrote.”

Dominion’s influence in the General Assembly is well known, according to Corrina Beall, the legislative and political director of the Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter.

“Dominion is always the gorilla in the room. They are tremendously effective within the building, and their influence within the General Assembly cannot be overstated,” Beall said. “They are the No. 1 corporate campaign contributor to elected officials in the state of Virginia.”

However, Petersen said he believes the tides may be changing in the General Assembly, with Dominion receiving pushback from both Democrats and Republicans.

“This is the first time in my history that Dominion really got a lot of pushback from a diverse array of people, in terms of their agenda,” Petersen said. “Whether or not that will continue over the next couple years — new candidates will push back on Dominion and demand more consumer rights and more accountability, and less sort of a blank check — that remains to be seen. That’ll take three or four years to play out.”

SB 966 initially passed the Senate, 26-13, on Feb 9. The House then passed a substitute bill, 65-30, on Feb. 26. The Senate then agreed to the House substitute, 26-14, on Feb. 28. Now, the governor is expected to act on the bill by midnightFriday.

HB 1558 was approved by the House of Delegates on a vote of 63-35 on Feb. 13. A modified version of the bill then passed the Senate, 27-13, on Thursday. The measure is now back before the House.

Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, had mixed feelings about HB 1558 but voted for it last month. In an email to constituents, he called it an “imperfect (but greatly improved) bill better for Virginia consumers and the environment than current law.”

The current law, adopted by the General Assembly in 2015, froze Dominion’s electric rates because the company said it faced uncertain costs of complying with the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which sought to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants. However, the courts and the Donald Trump administration have since blocked the plan’s implementation.

SB 966 and HB 1558 would lift the rate freeze and allow state officials to see if Dominion is making excessive profits — and, if so, order the company to reduce its rates. That is one reason Gov. Ralph Northam has said he supports the legislation.

Northam said he brought together various groups to help craft a compromise on the issue — one that would “give Virginians as much of their money back as possible, restore oversight to ensure that utility companies do not overcharge ratepayers for power, and make Virginia a leader in clean energy and electrical grid modernization.”

However, Petersen fears that the bill won’t do that, and that it will prevent state regulators from doing their job.

“We took away from the State Corporation Commission their very skill set, which is evaluating the utilities and making sure that rates are fair and customers are not overcharged,” Petersen said.

Bill to Restrict Tethering Pets Is Killed for 3rd Time

By Katrina Tilbury, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill to specify when an animal can be tethered outdoors was killed in the House on Wednesday after passing the Senate with a substitute on Tuesday. The Senate substitute on House Bill 889 was the third attempt to pass the legislation.

When HB 889 passed the House in February, the bill would have allowed localities to pass ordinances restricting how long or in what weather conditions a dog can be tethered outside. The Senate passed a substitute making the bill a statewide ban on tethering in certain weather conditions.

Del. Bobby Orrock, R-Caroline, sponsored the original version of HB 889. He spoke against passing the substitute on the House floor Wednesday. He said People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals lobbied for the Senate substitute to be accepted.

“There was a bill that would’ve allowed PETA to achieve all of their objective we saw in their legislation this session,” Orrock said. “But they would’ve had to go through local government ordinances to effect that change.”

Orrock said the PETA lobbyist claimed the substitute was germane, or relevant to the original, but Orrock disagreed. He then asked House Speaker Kirk Cox for his opinion. Cox ruled the substitute was not germane, thus killing the bill.

The substitute made HB 889 the same as SB 872, which made it through the Senate only to be killed in the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources on Feb. 27. SB 872 was a watered-down version of HB 646, which died in the same committee in January.

The bill would have banned tethering animals in temperatures 32 degrees and below and 85 degrees and above, during a heat advisory or when the National Weather Service issued a severe weather warning.

Along with the restrictions on weather conditions, the bill would have restricted the tether itself. The substitute stated tethers had to be at least 15 feet long, or four times the length of the animal, and limited the weight to less than one-tenth of the animal’s body weight. In addition, weights could not be attached to the tether.

Democrats and Republicans Spar as Another Shooting Unfolds

By Scott Malone, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – As the 2018 legislative session heads into its final week, tensions have been running high on an issue that sharply divides Democrats and Republicans: what to do about gun violence.

The chasm between the parties was on full display Friday in the Virginia House of Delegates, where legislators hurled insults at one another – while yet another school shooting unfolded.

Less than an hour after reports that a gunman had killed two people in a dormitory at Central Michigan University, Del. Nicholas Freitas, R-Culpeper, gave a speech on the House floor blaming the Democrats for blocking productive discussions on how to curtail gun violence.

“The other side of this debate will only consider one quote-unquote ‘solution’ to this problem, which is gutting or tearing apart the Second Amendment,” Freitas said.

Later in the day, Del. Kathleen Murphy, D-Fairfax, responded by accusing the Republicans of inconsistency.

“I’d like to know why the Republicans think we want to take their guns,” Murphy said in a telephone interview. “I think that they should talk to the president.”

Murphy was referring to a statement by President Donald Trump on Wednesday that police officers should be allowed to confiscate people's guns without due process.

In his remarks on the floor, Freitas said House Democrats had precluded a dialogue with Republicans by using inflammatory language. For instance, after 17 people were killed in a shooting at a high school in Florida on Feb. 14, Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, sent his constituents an email with the headline, “How the GOP Makes it Easy to Commit Mass Murder.”

“It’s really difficult to have an honest and open debate about this because of [House Democrats] comparing members on this side of the aisle to Nazis,” Freitas said. He also took issue with how he believed the Democrats were portraying Republican’s connections with the National Rifle Association.

“It takes a certain degree of not assuming that the only reason why we believe in the Second Amendment is because the NRA paid us off. I don’t assume that [Democrats] are all bought and paid for by Planned Parenthood,” Freitas said.

During his speech, Freitas suggested that studies have shown mass shooters tend to come from broken homes. Moreover, he insinuated a connection between mass shootings and abortions by saying that certain “left-leaning think tanks will actually say that some of [the reasons for mass shootings] can be attributed to various cultural changes that happened in the ’60s” and that this included “the abortion industry.”

Later Friday, the House minority leader, Del. David Toscano of Charlottesville, issued a press release condemning Freitas’ comments.

“The remarks made today by House Republicans, who continue to be unwilling to discuss reasonable gun safety initiatives, were deeply disappointing,” Toscano said. “Del. Freitas cited cherry-picked statistics to paint a picture suggesting that nothing can or should be done.”

The verbal sparring played out at the Capitol as authorities searched for a man in connection with the shooting at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.

James Davis Jr., a CMU student and the son of a police officer, was taken into custody early Saturday morning. Authorities said they believe Davis used his father’s gun to shoot and kill both of his parents.

As both sides at the Virginia Capitol debate how to reduce gun violence, the General Assembly session is scheduled to adjourn next Saturday. Republicans have killed most of the gun control legislation proposed by Democrats, including bills to require background checks on all firearm purchases and to ban bump fire stocks, a device that increases the rate of fire for semi-automatic weapons by using recoil to pull the trigger.

Democrats have urged Republicans to revive those proposals, but that is unlikely to happen.

However, a few gun-related bills are still in play during the General Assembly’s final week:

  • Senate Bill 715 would allow firefighters and emergency medical service personnel to carry a concealed handgun while on duty. The House is scheduled to vote on the bill Monday.
  • SB 669 would restrict the firearm rights of Virginians who, as minors 14 years or older, received involuntary mental health treatment or were subject to a detention order. Currently, those restrictions apply only to people who have undergone such treatment as adults. On Friday, the House Courts of Justice Committee recommended that the full House approve the bill.

Panel Kills Bill Allowing Drunken Driving on Private Property

By Jessica Wetzler, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A Senate bill that would have allowed Virginians to drive drunk on their private property was killed unanimously by a House subcommittee Friday after an outcry from traffic safety advocates.

Sen. Richard Stuart, R-King George, originally intended the bill to reduce the likelihood of someone being charged with a DUI while drinking in a vehicle on their own property. He used the example of a man accused of driving under the influence while listening to the radio in his car parked in his driveway.

The bill attracted critics nationwide and beyond. “We defend #DUIs and #IRPs but even we have to admit: this is really dumb,” Acumen Law Corp., a law firm in Vancouver, Canada, posted on Twitter. In Canada, IRP stands for immediate roadside prohibitions.

SB 308 was initially killed in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee but was brought up for reconsideration in February by Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg. The bill then advanced to the floor, where it passed the Senate, 37-3.

Crossing over to the House, the bill was assigned to a House Courts of Justice subcommittee, where anti-drunken driving advocates continued to express their opposition.

Kurt Erickson, president and CEO of the nonprofit Washington Regional Alcohol Program, said a one-day delay in taking up the bill had “frankly, made advocates opposing the bill nervous.” He had urged the bill’s opponents to call on subcommittee members to reject “this slippery slope legislation.”

Del. Christopher Collins, R-Frederick, recommended the bill be “passed by indefinitely,” essentially killing it for the session. He said the legislation’s concept was flawed, arguing that motorists could park cars on their property after driving under the influence.

The bill was killed, 7-0. Stuart was not present.

“I think it’s good news,” Erickson said. “Its passage would have otherwise been a dangerous precedent to communicate that in Virginia, it is OK to drive drunk here but not there.”

Virginia May Issue ‘Ashanti Alerts’ for Missing Adults

By Irena Schunn and Kirby Farineau, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The abduction and slaying of a 19-year-old Norfolk woman prompted General Assembly approval of legislation to create an Amber Alert-like system for “critically missing” adults.

The “Ashanti Alert” called for in HB 260, sponsored by Del. Jerrauld Jones, D-Norfolk, was approved by the Senateon Thursday and now awaits the signature of Gov. Ralph Northam to become law.

Ashanti Billie was abducted in 2017 from Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, where she worked at a sandwich shop, and later found dead in Charlotte, North Carolina. Because Billie was an adult, she didn’t meet the criteria for an Amber Alert.

Once Ashanti went missing, we became more aware of other situations where something like this had happened but there was no mechanism in place,” said Jones, who represents the 89th House District, where Billie lived. “This is a public safety issue, not a partisan issue.”

Eric Brian Brown, described by authorities as a retired Navy veteran who worked at the base with Billie, has been charged with kidnapping in Virginia and in connection with her death in the Charlotte area.

Members of Billie’s family connected with Jones through their friend Kimberly Wimbish, who had worked with the delegate on his election campaign last year. They asked him to draft a bill to help those who currently don’t qualify for missing persons alerts.

Wimbish, who initially used Facebook to publicize the young woman’s disappearance, said the case raised awareness about missing adults, especially in the Norfolk area where people had connections to Billie.

“Everyone said she would give them her last. That she was always helpful and friendly,” said Wimbish, who serves as the family’s spokesperson. “We have to know and believe her kindness was taken for granted.”

Jones said the bill gives Virginia State Police the power to set criteria for the “critically missing adult alert.”

Currently, Virginia has three alerts for missing persons:

  • Amber Alerts and Endangered Missing Child Media Alerts, for missing persons under age 18.
  • Senior Alerts, sometimes called Silver Alerts, for persons 60 or older.

That leaves a gap for adults between 18 and 60 years old.

If approved by the governor, the Ashanti Alerts will be modeled on the Amber Alerts. An Amber Alert includes issuing emergency messages over public broadcasting networks, displaying electronic messages on highway signs and sending texts to all cellphones within range of the cellular carrier towers in the affected area.

Amber Alerts are also spread voluntarily by other state agencies, the news media and nonprofit organizations. For example, a program called A Child Is Missing can make 1,000 telephone calls with a recorded alert within a minute, according to Virginia’s Amber Alert Plan.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that Amber Alert systems nationwide have helped in the recovery of more than 540 children.

Last year, the General Assembly declared April 29 as “Missing Persons Day” to recognize the 600 Virginians missing at that time, and their families. Advocates are getting ready for the second annual Virginia Missing Persons Day.

Advocates Fight to End Gerrymandering in Virginia Supreme Court

By Zach Joachim, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Supreme Court of Virginia heard arguments Thursday in a case alleging that state lawmakers valued partisan politics over constitutional requirements in drawing 11 of the 100 districts for the House of Delegates.

Brian Cannon of OneVirginia2021 – the state’s leading redistricting reform group – is heading the charge to end gerrymandering in Virginia both at the General Assembly and in the courtroom. Cannon said the districts in question distort natural political boundaries and ignore state-mandated size and shape regulations.

“Our compactness requirement should be a high priority since it’s in our state constitution,” Cannon said. “Clearly it wasn’t. Clearly partisan politics and discretionary criteria were valued over it.”

Cannon said his camp hopes for a decision to come down within the next two months.

Courts have long been wary of ruling on redistricting matters for fear of the political ramifications of their decisions. Republican lawmakers from Pennsylvania last week asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block the “intentional seizure of the redistricting process” by a state court there.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court last month ruled the Republican-controlled legislature had drawn the state’s congressional districts with partisan intent. A remedial plan adopted by the court could swing three or four congressional districts the Democrats’ way. Republicans currently hold 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 seats in Congress.

Bill Oglesby, an associate professor in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University, said courts around the country are having difficulty adjudicating redistricting reform because it is a naturally political process. As in Pennsylvania, Virginia courts are caught in the political crossfires inherent in gerrymandering.

“The parties to this case are dealing with a classic Catch-22,” said Oglesby, who helped produce “GerryRIGGED: Turning Democracy on its Head,” a documentary advocating for an overhaul of Virginia’s redistricting system.

“The state constitution requires the General Assembly to draw compact districts, but lower courts have said the politicians can decide what is compact, and they are the very ones who have a political incentive to stretch the meaning of that term.”

With court proceedings slowed by political ramifications, redistricting reform proponents have been focused on legislation in hopes of establishing immediate criteria for redrawing Virginia’s legislative districts after the U.S. census in 2020:

  • Senate Bill 106 establishes criteria for districts to be redrawn after the 2020 census, including equal population, racial and ethnic fairness, respect for existing political boundaries, compactness and communities of interest. The House of Delegates approved the legislation, 90-9, on Wednesday. HB 1598, a companion bill, was passed by the Senate on Monday, 23-17.
  • House Bill 312 sought to establish a commission to hold public hearings on the redistricting process. It died in a House Rules subcommittee on Feb. 13.
  • HB 205 would have required legislative districts to be redrawn should any state or federal court declare them unlawful or unconstitutional. The bill was left in a House Privileges and Elections subcommittee on Feb. 13.

Cannon said redistricting reform concerns a “fundamental question of fairness” he believes most Virginians agree upon.

“Voters should be able to choose their legislators, not the other way around,” Cannon said.

Hundreds of Virginians Rally for Medicaid Expansion

A crowd of protesters raising their posters and banners at the rally for Medicaid expansion on Capitol Square (photo credit: George Copeland Jr.)

By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Under the shadow of the Bell Tower on Capitol Square, hundreds of people from across Virginia rallied on a rainy Thursday in support of a state budget that would expand Medicaid to about 400,000 low-income residents.

Medicaid expansion is included in the budget approved by the House of Delegates. It also would add a work requirement for those seeking coverage. The budget passed by the Senate would not expand Medicaid. The two chambers must work out their differences and pass a budget before the legislative session ends March 10.

Speaking at the rally, Gov. Ralph Northam said, “Health care is a right. Morally the right thing to do is to expand coverage.”

Northam and other Democrats note that the federal Affordable Care Act encouraged states to expand Medicaid with the promise that the federal government would pick up most of the cost. Neighboring states such as Kentucky, West Virginia and Maryland have expanded Medicaid. Northam said Virginia is losing more than $5 million a day by failing to follow suit.

Northam was joined at the rally by a number of fellow Democrats including Attorney General Mark Herring and Sens. Jennifer Wexton of Loudoun, David Marsden of Fairfax, Lionell Spruill Sr. of Chesapeake, John Edwards of Roanoke and Jeremy McPike of Prince William.

More than 100 groups were represented at the rally, including the Healthcare for All Virginians Coalition, Planned Parenthood, the Young Invincibles and Progress Virginia.

Health Brigade Executive Director Karen Legato pointed to the bipartisan support for Medicaid expansion in the House. She said the state’s charitable clinics are no substitute for Medicaid expansion. Collectively, the clinics can serve only “152,000 of the 505,000 uninsured eligible for our services,” she said.

“We need our government to stand with us – to work with us side by side,” Legato said. “The time is now to ensure that the commonwealth is pro-health and pro-people.”

Christopher Rashad Green of New Virginia Majority, an advocacy group for working-class communities of color, discussed his experience being “trapped in the gap” between access to Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. He also said he was encouraged to see people at the rally working for “equity and justice and access to affordable health care.”

“I didn’t believe any of this would happen, but now I actually see it happening, and you are proof of that,” Green said. “We have to remain hopeful and vigilant and do uncomfortable things like speaking truth to power. Keep fighting the fight.”

The Rev. Jeanne Pupke spoke on behalf of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and “thousands of faith leaders.” She called for an increase in activism from communities and individuals in the days to follow.

“We can do it if we all go home today and work hard to make our voices heard,” Pupke said. “Our interfaith voices, our unfaith voices, for the commonwealth that is our voice.”

After the rally, members of the crowd walked to legislators’ offices in the nearby Pocahontas Building to urge lawmakers to support Medicaid expansion.

“Keep your energy up, keep your enthusiasm up,” Northam told the people at the rally. “And let’s make sure that in the next week, we expand coverage and make sure that all Virginians have access to affordable and quality health care.”

Bill Would Compensate ‘Norfolk Four’ Nearly $3.5 Million

By Logan Bogert, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Nearly 20 years after the sentencing of the “Norfolk Four,” a bill before the Virginia General Assembly could provide nearly $3.5 million in compensation for the wrongfully convicted and imprisoned men.

Danial Williams, Joseph Dick, Derek Tice and Eric Wilson — all members of the U.S. Navy at the time — were wrongly convicted in 1999 for the 1997 rape and murder of 18-year-old Michelle Bosko.

Senate Bill 772, proposed by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, would award each of the “Norfolk Four” more than $850,000. The bill passed in the Senate, and then in the House with a substitute. The substitute had the same amount of compensation as Surovell’s original bill — but the Senate rejected it Thursday.

Meanwhile, Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, proposed House Bill 762. It also compensated the “Norfolk Four” nearly $3.5 million in total. The bill passed the House unanimously. However, the Senate Finance Committee recommended a substitute that lowered the amount of compensation to about $1.9 million. The House rejected that substitute Tuesday.

The legislation will now go to a conference committee to resolve the disagreement.

Representatives for Surovell and Jones were not immediately available to comment on the issue.

The legislation details the circumstances surrounding the “Norfolk Four,” noting that they “spent nearly four decades in prison collectively for crimes they did not commit, and another collective 30 years after release from prison under highly restrictive parole and sex offender registry conditions that imposed onerous barriers to their reentry to society.”

The four defendants were convicted because of their coerced confessions, even though the real rapist and murderer, Omar Ballard, confessed the same year to committing the crime alone and his DNA was found at the crime scene, bills state.

Ballard is currently an inmate at Sussex II State Prison and serving two life terms plus 42 years for capital murder, two rapes, two counts of malicious wounding, and abduction.

In 2009, then-Gov. Tim Kaine granted conditional pardons to Williams, Dick and Tice. The conditional pardon ended their sentences, but the men remained on the sex offender registry. Wilson had already been released from prison in 2005 after serving 8.5 years.

A decade after their convictions, U.S. District Judge John Gibney dismissed the convictions of Dick and Williams.

“Considering the evolution of their admissions, their subsequent recantation and the other physical evidence, the admissions of guilt by Williams, Dick and Tice are far from convincing,” Gibney’s decision stated. “Any reasonable juror considering all of the evidence would harbor reasonable doubt as to whether Williams, Dick, or anyone else, was with Ballard in Bosko’s apartment.”

In March 2017, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe granted the “Norfolk Four” unconditional pardons. That action fully restored their civil rights and innocence. A 2017 press release from McAuliffe’s office stated, “These pardons close the final chapter on a grave injustice that has plagued these four men for nearly 20 years.”

Besides the “Norfolk Four,” the General Assembly also is considering awarding compensation to Robert Davis, who spent almost 13 years in prison for a murder in Crozet, Virginia, that he did not commit.

On Thursday, the Senate joined the House in passing HB 1010, which would provide about $580,000 in compensation for Davis.

Furthermore, Virginia legislators have passed a bill to help other wrongfully convicted defendants.

On Monday, senators gave final approval to HB 976, which would ensure that Virginians who have been wrongfully incarcerated receive timely payment of a $15,000 grant from the state.

The bill, proposed by Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Prince William, sets a 30-day time frame for those who have been exonerated to receive the existing Transitional Assistance Grant. Currently, there is no time limit for the state to disburse the money.

“It is a small difference that will make a huge difference in the lives of those who are already facing the challenge of getting back on their feet after being wrongfully incarcerated,” Guzman said in a press release.

Democrats Urge Republicans to Reconsider Gun Control Bills

By Katrina Tilbury, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Virginia House Democrats called on the Republicans who control the General Assembly to revive several guns control bills that they killed earlier this legislative session.

At a press conference Thursday, the Democrats said they want lawmakers to reconsider proposals that would require background checks on all gun purchases, prohibit people under 21 from buying semi-automatic weapons, ban “bump stocks” and allow authorities to take firearms from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.           

Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, called for responsible action against gun violence. She said it is time to take responsibility and provide a secure environment to protect children and the community.

“As a minister and former City Council person and legislator, there have been far too many crime scenes that I’ve found myself attending, and I’ve eulogized so many young people that I’ve lost count of that, all due to gun violence,” McQuinn said.

Over the years, Del. Kenneth Plum, D-Fairfax, has unsuccessfully sponsored legislation requiring background checks at gun shows. This year, he introduced House Bill 1373, which called for required background checks no matter where a gun is purchased. It was killed in the House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety.

“People back home are going to be saying, ‘well, what a terrible crisis we went through in our country with the gun issue. What did you guys do about it?’” Plum said. “I’ll tell you what we did about it. We killed at least 35 bills that were common sense, gun control, safety legislation.”

Del. Karrie Delaney, D-Fairfax, said she wants to hold semi-automatic weapons to the same standard as handguns. She called for an increase in the age requirement to purchase an assault weapon from 18 to 21. Delaney said this is a sensible and practical solution that needs to be recognized.

“An individual who is seen as too young to purchase a handgun can gain access to an assault weapon, like an AR-15, which can wreak mass havoc on the victims of their choosing,” Delaney said. “This is senseless.”

Delaney said the Democrats are not asking for a ban on guns or to strike anyone’s Second Amendment rights. She said they are asking the House to support legislation that has bipartisan support nationwide.

Working with Brian Moran, the secretary of public safety, Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, filed a bill to ban bump stocks — devices used to make semi-automatic rifles fire faster. The bill, HB 819, also died in the House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety.

“Unfortunately, gun safety is a political issue, it’s a partisan issue, and it shouldn’t be,” Kory said. “Our neighbors, our friends, our families, our children deserve better. If we can’t even ban bump stocks, what can we do?”

After the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, President Donald Trump suggested arming teachers. Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, a middle school teacher and president of the Hampton Federation of Teachers, said something must be done to secure schools, but arming teachers isn’t the answer.

“It takes a special kind of person to be a teacher, and the first instinct a teacher has is to protect everyone, protect the children, and not engage in a shootout that would place more children in danger,” Ward said. “It would make our classrooms less safe. Classrooms would become armed fortresses instead of a place of learning and a place to explore.”

Ward brought up other questions about arming teachers, including where the guns would be kept, what risks they might pose for students and who would pay for the guns, ammunition and training.

“Right now we have schools that are still looking for school nurses, they need more guidance counselors, they need more resource officers, and there are hundreds of other needs of schools, but we want to use this [money] to arm all teachers?” Ward said.

Del. Richard Sullivan, D-Fairfax, introduced HB 198, which would allow law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant to remove firearms from a person who poses a threat to themselves or others. Friends and family members can report concerns of a potential threat, and officers could then request a risk warrant from a judge. The individual could request the firearms be returned in court. HB 198 was referred to the House Committee for Courts of Justice, where it was never heard.

“What haunts you about HB 198, is that a bill like this, in Florida, just might have stopped Parkland,” Sullivan said. “And a bill like this, in Virginia, just might stop the next one.”

Law Will Provide Free Tampons to Female Prisoners

By Tianna Mosby, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Senate joined the House Tuesday in unanimously approving a bill that requires Virginia jails and prisons to provide inmates with free feminine hygiene products such as pads and tampons.

If Gov. Ralph Northam signs it, House Bill 83 would take effect in July.

The bill, sponsored by Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, also received unanimous approval in the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee.

Other legislation this session to remove the sales tax on feminine hygiene products, along with bills for exemptions during the state’s three day tax-free period in August and year-round failed to advance past House committees.

“It’s appalling that this was ever even an issue,” said Katrina Reid, a supporter of HB 83.

Currently, the Virginia Department of Corrections and some local and regional jails offer pads to inmates for free; however, tampons must be purchased. The cost to prisons will be included in the department’s budget and was estimated at $33,769. The cost has yet to be determined for jails.

The State Board of Corrections will be responsible for creating the feminine hygiene policy in the correctional facilities. While some states, such as Colorado, offer unlimited menstrual supplies, others, such as Arizona, have a maximum number of free pads and tampons allowed per month. The board has not yet specified a preference.

Bill Banning Sanctuary Cities Heads to Senate Floor on 7-6 Vote

By George Copeland Jr.,Capital News Service
RICHMOND -- A bill to ban sanctuary cities in Virginia advanced to the Senate floor Tuesday on a 7-6 committee vote that split along party lines.
Introduced by Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge, House Bill 1257 would restrict localities from passing sanctuary policies, which limit cooperation with national immigration enforcement efforts to improve relations with immigrant communities.  The legislation would require localities to follow immigration standards set by federal law, including collaborating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
When the bill was under consideration in the House of Delegates, it was nearly struck down due to a tie vote.  However, reconsideration led to a second vote, with the bill passing 51-49, sending it to the Senate Committee on Local Government.
Gov. Ralph Northam is opposed to the bill and has said that sanctuary cities have not been a problem in the state; similar legislation last year was vetoed by former Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
Sens. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, and Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, voiced concerns over how ICE’s presence would impact future business opportunities, state autonomy and the ability and community trust of local law enforcement.
Sen. Charles Carrico, R-Grayson, who supported the bill, cited the presence of violent gangs in the state  including MS-13.
“Without a law such as this,” Carrico said, “if a locality wants to create a sanctuary city, then what you’re doing, in essence, is protecting those gang members from ever being deported.”
Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, countered that the legislation is “a message bill.”  She said there are already laws to check the immigration status of those jailed or imprisoned.
“This bill is not about MS-13,” McClellan said, “although I know that is what gets trotted out all the time as the boogeyman.” She added, “This bill sends a message to certain people: ‘You’re not welcome here.’”
There were no comments from the public in support of the bill.  Among those opposed were representatives from the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond, the Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights, the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.
"It would increase the policing in our communities, it would make police officers quasi-federal immigration agents, which we don't want, right," said Diego Arturo Orbegoso, an immigrant from Peru and a member of the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.  
Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brain Moran cited the “many unintended and even intended” effects of the bill in reiterating the governor’s opposition.
Voting in favor: Charles Carrico Sr., R-Grayson; Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield; William DeSteph Jr., R-Virginia Beach; Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico; Emmett Hanger Jr. (R-Augusta), William Stanley Jr., R-Franklin; and Glen Sturtevant Jr., R-Richmond.
Opposed: Barbara Favola, D-Arlington; Lynwood Lewis Jr., D-Accomack; David Marsden, D-Fairfax; Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond; Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William; and Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax.

As College Tuition Rises, Senate Panel Kills Bill Mandating Public Input

By Lia Tabackman and Deanna Davison, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In Fall 2010, Virginia Commonwealth University increased annual tuition by almost 24 percent, tacking $1,700 on to each in-state student’s bill in one fell swoop.

While that jump may seem like an outlier, tuition increases have been the norm at the state’s institutions of higher education during the past decade.

Public colleges and universities in Virginia have increased tuition by an average of 82 percent over the past 10 years. While various factors, including state budget cuts, contribute to tuition increases, these decisions take place at board meetings where it can be difficult for students and members of the public to make their voices heard.

Even so, a bill by Del. Jason Miyares, R-Virginia Beach, to mandate public input on proposed tuition increases – as required in 10 other states – appears to be dead for this session.

HB 1473, which sought to require university trustees to hold a public comment period, unanimously passed the House of Delegates on Feb. 6. After the Senate Education and Health Committee voted 14-1 in favor of the bill, it then was sent to the Senate Finance Committee – which supporters saw as a bad omen.

They were right. On Tuesday, the Finance Committee killed the bill on a 6-4 vote. The next day, the committee reconsidered the matter – but the bill again was “passed by indefinitely,” 7-6.

The committee heard testimony from representatives of the University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary, as well as from representatives of Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust, a progressive advocacy agency for college affordability.

“It’s bad enough that the cost of higher education in Virginia is spiraling out of control,” said James Toscano, president of the affordability group. “But failing to ensure the voices of students and parents are heard before public appointees set tuition is a blow to good governance and transparency.”

While Toscano argued that Miyares’ bill is important for transparency, Betsey Daley, U.Va.’s associate vice president for state governmental relations, said the measure was unnecessary, as emails from board members, the president and other officials are already available online.

“One public hearing is not a substitute for year-round input we have at U.Va.,” Daley said.

According to the State Council of Higher Education of Virginia, there is an inverse relationship between state funding and the rate at which tuition increases at public colleges and universities. When the state provides support for these institutions, the colleges themselves are better able to control fluctuating tuition costs.

In 2010, for example, VCU felt the impact of a $40 million budget cut, the same year tuition increased by 23 percent.

Virginia has established a cost-share goal of the state funding 67 percent of university operations and students fronting the remaining 33 percent; however, the state is expected to pay only 47 percent in 2018. Students will carry 53 percent, a record high.

According to SCHEV, it would take more than $660 million in additional state revenue to reach the 67/33 cost-share goal. But doing so could lower tuition costs by $2,700.

In the meantime, Virginia students owe more than $30 billion in student loan debt.

SB 394, a bill that would create a state ombudsman for student loan issues, has unanimously passed in the Senate and appears to be on its way for House approval.

Virginia Prisoners a Step Closer to Free Feminine Hygiene Products

By Tianna Mosby, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Prisons and jails in Virginia would have to start providing female inmates with free feminine hygiene products under a bill making its way through the General Assembly.

The Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee unanimously backed HB 83, sponsored by Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, on Friday. The bill won unanimous approval in the House on Feb. 13. It now goes to the full Senate.

The Virginia Department of Corrections already offers pads at no charge, but tampons are only available through commissaries, meaning inmates have to pay for them. Officials said the previously estimated $33,769 annual cost to supply the products could be covered within the department’s budget. The State Board of Corrections has yet to determine how local and regional jails who don’t already provide free products will pay for them.

“This is a great way to start a Friday,” Kory said after the morning meeting

Last week, Kory’s HB 152, which called for removing the sales tax on feminine hygiene products, was killed in the House along with the remaining “tampon tax” bills, which proposed tax exemptions on the items during the state’s three day tax-free period in August and year-round.

Holly Seibold, a member of the Virginia Menstrual Equity Coalition, said although the group is disappointed the legislation failed, they are encouraged by progress toward free products for women who are incarcerated.

Del. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, introduced two bills this year and one last year proposing tax-exemptions for feminine hygiene products, but none of the bills were approved. Still, she said she plans to introduce similar legislation moving forward.

Senate Panel Votes to Ban ‘Lunch Shaming’ in Virginia

By Irena Schunn, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A Senate committee Thursday unanimously approved a bill to prohibit “lunch shaming” – the practice of singling out students who owe the school cafeteria money or cannot pay for their lunch.

The Senate Education and Health Committee voted 15-0 in favor of House Bill 50, which would bar schools from giving students a hand stamp or wristband when their lunch account is empty, or ask students to do chores or throw away their meal if they cannot pay. The bill specifies that any concerns regarding students’ lunch debt must be taken up directly with their parents or guardians.

The bill, which unanimously passed the House last week and now goes to the full Senate, would address the concerns of parents like Adelle Settle, a mother in Prince William County. She started fundraising to help students settle lunch debts after hearing about the lunch shaming phenomenon on the radio. Last year, she helped raise over $20,000 for students with meal debt in Prince William.

“A child has no control over their family finances, and a child should have no involvement in the discussion between a school and the parent to collect for meal debt,” Settle said. “Our kids deserve to be treated equally and with compassion at school.”

The price of a school lunch in Virginia public elementary schools averages $1.88, but it can be as high as $3.05 in Loudoun County and $3 in Fairfax County and Falls Church, according to data from the Virginia Department of Education.

As in all states, schools in Virginia participate in a federal program that provides free or reduced-price lunches to children from low-income families. Eligibility depends on income and household size. A four-person household must have an annual income of $44,955 or less to qualify for free lunches.

Students who receive free lunches are not at risk of being shamed by school staff because their meals are provided by government funding; the students cannot incur debts. Of the 1.29 million students in Virginia’s public schools, almost 572,000 – or 44 percent – qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

But lunch shaming can affect the remaining students who pay for their lunch out of pocket and occasionally may not have the money.

Reports of meal-debt shaming vary across the country but include practices such as stamping “I need lunch money” on students’ hands, asking students to wipe down tables or throwing away the lunch that can’t be paid for.

In Virginia, procedures handling school lunch debt vary by school district. Some school districts allow students a certain amount of debt before refusing to provide them with a standard meal. Other districts treat all students the same, regardless of whether they owe money.

“Students unable to pay for their meal at the time of meal service are allowed to charge a breakfast and lunch,” said Shawn Smith, director of government, policy and media relations for Chesterfield County Public Schools. “This may result in a debt to the student’s meal account with the expectation that the parent or guardian is responsible for full payment.”

Virginia’s strides to abolish lunch shaming aren’t the first. Last year, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., introduced a bill that would make it illegal to shame a student who doesn’t have lunch money.

Virginia Teenagers May Rescue Volunteer Fire Departments

By Logan Bogert, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill to allow teenagers to join volunteer fire and rescue squads may save many operations around Virginia that have seen an increase in service calls but a decrease in volunteers.

Volunteers make up more than 65 percent of Virginia’s firefighting services – but according to the Virginia Department of Fire Programs, “retention and recruitment of new members has never been more challenging.”

However, the General Assembly approved – unanimously in both the House and Senate – a bill that might rescue some of these operations.

Currently in Virginia, 16- and 17-year-olds can join a volunteer fire department only with parental or guardian consent and proper certification. SB 887, if signed by Gov. Ralph Northam, would allow these teens to join a volunteer fire department and participate in non-hazardous activities such as training exercises without consent or certification. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds still would need consent and certification to participate in a fire department’s or rescue squad’s potentially hazardous activities.

“The commonwealth recognizes the need to reach out to Virginia’s youth and engage them in non-operational roles within emergency departments,” Mohamed Abbamin, policy manager for the Virginia Department of Fire Programs, said by email. “Reaching out to people when they are young has long-range effects, and encouraging youth to take part in the emergency services is extremely beneficial to local communities and departments.”

Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, introduced the bill after a meeting with the VDFP in the fall.

“It’s just like anything else: If you can get young people involved, there’s a better chance they’re going to stick with it,” Deeds said. “This bill is just about encouraging and making sure that young people can be as involved as possible.”

The legislation directs the Virginia Fire Services Board, which oversees the VDFP, to adopt a junior member policy to provide guidance to fire and rescue departments in developing and administering non-hazardous training courses and programs.

“If we can get young people that are high school age involved at least on an auxiliary basis helping out, they might be interested in eventually becoming a fireman. So that’s the idea behind the legislation,” Deeds said.

Delegate Tyler Sponsors Bill to Protect Correctional Officers

Correctional Officers from across the Commonwealth gathered for a Press Conference and lobbying day on Capitol Hill in Richmond to Voice their concerns for increased salaries, improved working conditions and officer’s turnover along with Delegate Roslyn Tyler (Sussex) and Delegate John Bell (Loudon). Delegate Tyler’s District includes the following state correctional centers in Greensville County, Sussex I and II, Deerfield, Lunenburg and the private prison in Lawrenceville.  HB 1418 introduced by Delegate Tyler for the Creation of Procedural Guarantee Act for Correction Officers has passed the House of Delegate’s and has now crossed over to the Senate. Additionally, she was recently appointed to serve on the House of Appropriations, Sub-Committee on Public Safety which funding allocations are recommended for public safety officers including the state police, sheriffs, deputies, emergency services and state correctional officers.

In the budget released this week, the Correctional Officers are winners. The House of Appropriations budget includes a $1,100 salary adjustment in January 2019 and 2% increase in salary in July 2019 and 1% merit pay in July, 2019. This funding will increase the starting salaries of Correctional Officers to approximately $33,000. This is one giant step towards funding correction officers for the work they do in protecting our community from harm and danger.

The officers, Donald Baylor, the NCPSO representative and I have addressed this issue for a long time and we are pleased of our accomplishment. Our work is not over. The final budget has not been passed by the House and the Senate. The two budgets will be in conference before final passage for negotiations. Therefore, contact the House and Senate Conferee to maintain funding in the budget for final approval.  Please feel free to contact me in Richmond at 804 698-1075.


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