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Bills would make presidential candidates release tax returns

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In a slap at President Donald Trump, two Democratic legislators are pushing for a state law requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to get on the ballot in Virginia.

Del. Mark Levine of Alexandria and Sen. Jeremy McPike of Woodbridge filed their legislation after Trump refused to make his tax returns public during the Republican nominee’s successful presidential campaign last fall. It had been a tradition for presidential hopefuls to disclose their tax filings; candidates had done so for 40 years.

“It had been done not as required by law, but because the presidential candidates felt that the voters had a right to know,” Levine said.

Under current state law, to get on the presidential ballot in Virginia, a candidate must submit to the State Board of Elections petitions signed by at least 5,000 qualified voters, including at least 200 qualified voters from each of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts.

Levine’s bill (HB 2444) says the candidate “shall also attach a statement, signed under penalty of perjury by the person seeking the nomination, that he has disclosed (i) his federal tax returns from each year of the 10-year period immediately preceding the general election and (ii) any payments or remuneration exceeding $1,000 received from any foreign source during the 10-year period immediately preceding the general election.”

McPike’s measure (SB 1543) would require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns for the previous five years. “The official ballot shall not contain the name of any candidate who did not submit the federal tax returns and income tax returns filed in any state,” the bill says. It would apply to primaries as well as general elections.

Similar legislation is before by the U.S. Congress. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a member of the Senate Finance Committee, is sponsoring the Presidential Tax Transparency Act. According to the committee’s website, the bill was introduced to get Trump, who was inaugurated last week, to release his tax returns.

“The fact that the president-elect refuses to release his tax returns is a tragic failure of transparency, and it needs to be corrected,” Wyden said when filing the proposal.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, who was Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s running mate, helped write Wyden’s bill.

Trump, a Republican, has been under pressure to disclose his tax returns because critics say that his business enterprises may present a conflict of interest. Some think Trump has avoided releasing his tax returns to hide certain business interests – in Russia, for example.

Levine said that polls show most Americans, including Republicans, believe the president’s business interests are important to know about.

On ABC’s “This Week,” Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, discussed Trump’s tax returns.

“The White House response is that he’s not going to release his tax returns. We litigated this all through the election. People didn’t care. They voted for him,” she said.

Levine said he is “not optimistic” about the bill passing in the Republican-controlled General Assembly. However, he said, he is “always hopeful.”

HB 2444 has been assigned to the Campaigns Subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee. Levine believes the subcommittee will vote on the bill next week.

SB 1543 has been referred to the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.

Virginia Democrats Blast Immigration Executive Order

By Jessica Nolte, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia’s top Democratic officials on Saturday condemned President Donald Trump’s executive order banning citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

“On behalf of the people of Virginia, I urge President Trump and leaders in Washington to reverse this policy and restore our nation to its place as a beacon of opportunity for all,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe said at a press conference at Dulles International Airport.

McAuliffe spoke before a Saturday evening rally welcoming immigrants and refugees to the U.S. The rally followed the detention of two Iraqi refugees at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The ban will make the country less safe and contradicts the values that make America great, McAuliffe said. Attorney General Mark Herring, a fellow Democrat, agreed.

“For generations, the United States has been a beacon of hope and a safe harbor for those in need,” Herring said. He and McAuliffe vowed to work together to examine the order and take legal action to oppose the policy.

Trump’s ban prevents citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the U.S. for the next 90 days. These countries will likely not be the only ones banned. The executive order calls for the secretary of Homeland Security to conduct a 30-day review of countries that do not offer “adequate information” about citizens seeking visas.

Trump signed the order Friday at the Pentagon.

“I am establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America,” he said. “We don't want them here.”

Trump added, “We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas. We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people.”

Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam said the order will hurt innocent people.

“This executive order could stop green card holders from these seven countries from returning to the United States if they travel abroad. These Virginians deserve due process, and it is this administration’s priority that they can return home,” Northam said.

Northam, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, said Trump’s order is a threat to Virginia and to national security because administering religious tests ignores the contributions and sacrifices of Muslims who have served in the U.S. military. Virginia is home to bases for all four branches of the military.

“There are countless stories of Iraqis and Afghanis who risked their lives to serve alongside our troops as interpreters,” Northam said. “Preventing them from entering the country is an utter disgrace to the commitment to the United States they have shown through their actions abroad.”

Trump’s executive order has also stopped refugees from being admitted to the country over the course of the next four months. Following this ban, Christian refugees fleeing Muslim-majority countries would be given priority over Muslim refugees leaving these countries.

The number of refugees who would potentially be allowed to enter the U.S. under Trump’s administration would be less than half the number admitted under former President Barack Obama.

“President Trump is dimming that light and slamming the door in the face of vulnerable people fleeing unimaginable circumstances,” Herring said.

Northam warned of potentially harmful economic implications in Virginia as a result of the ban. He said it may prevent hundreds of thousands of students, high-tech workers and scientists from re-entering the U.S. after trips abroad.

“In Virginia, we must fight against this type of xenophobia and bigotry. We must continue to be an example to the country of how tolerance and diversity make us stronger,” Northam said. “We must show the world that there are Americans who will stand up for the values that made us a ‘shining city upon a hill.’”

Most Virginia Republican leaders have refrained from issuing public statements regarding Trump’s order. However, state Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, defended the action.

“After years of increasingly liberal Obama immigration policies, President Trump decided to stop these actions and give his new administration time to study the effects of these policies and implement new ones. It’s a four-month pause to allow the administration to put policies in place that will keep Americans safe,” Wagner, a candidate for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, said in a statement.

Wagner said Trump’s order would be “an inconvenience to less than 200 people per day from terrorist states. This is a small price to pay to insure that Americans are kept safe.”

Virginians say colleges prepare graduates for jobs

By Jessica Samuels, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Most Virginians say high schools don’t effectively prepare students for the workplace but the state’s colleges and universities do, according to a poll by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The Commonwealth Education Poll reported that only 36 percent of Virginians believe high school graduates are ready to join the workforce – but almost three-fourths of the respondents said graduates of community colleges and four-year colleges are job-ready.

Virginians believe the state’s institutions of higher education are especially effective at preparing students to work in scientific fields, the survey said.

“This poll shows the trust citizens have in our colleges and universities to prepare students for the careers of the future,” said Virginia Secretary of Education Dietra Trent.

Trent said that the statewide poll – conducted by the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute at VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs – indicated that Virginia is on the right path in revamping its high school curriculum. More than three out of four respondents said they want high schools to prepare students for careers.

“Last year, Gov. (Terry) McAuliffe worked in a bipartisan manner with members of the General Assembly to pass legislation that would redesign high school to focus more on workforce skills and provide a variety of rigorous pathways to graduation,” she said. “And this poll clearly shows that the citizens of the commonwealth overwhelmingly support this approach to bring education into the 21st century.”

Trent joined Robyn McDougle, the institute’s interim executive director, at two news conferences at Capitol Square last week to discuss the survey results.

In an interview, McDougle offered an explanation for why Virginians think high school graduates aren’t ready for the workforce: It’s because high schools focus more on college prep than on career skills. Most Virginians believe the state’s high school graduates are ready for college, according to the poll.

K-12 education

The survey found that:

  • Two-thirds of Virginians said the state’s schools do not have enough funds to meet their needs.
  • 69 percent of the respondents are willing to pay more in taxes to keep state funding for public schools at the current level. Partisan differences were evident, however. While 85 percent of Democrats said they’d pay more in taxes, only 52 percent of Republicans felt that way.
  • 54 percent said they prefer that the added funds be used to increase teacher pay.
  • Most Virginians aren’t familiar with dual enrollment programs, which allow high school students to take college courses and receive credit toward both a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree.

Higher education

Two-thirds of the respondents say colleges and universities are providing the skills useful in obtaining a job. And more than 60 percent say the state’s institutions of higher education are preparing students to be engaged citizens.

“Colleges and universities in Virginia as a whole are perceived positively by a large majority of the public in terms of outcomes that support the state’s economy and civic life,” said McDougle, an associate professor at the Wilder School.

According to the survey:

  • Virginians are concerned about the cost to attend college, and a narrow majority would be willing to pay higher taxes for need-based financial aid. A strong majority wants college administrators to spend privately raised non-taxpayer sources of funding to reduce tuition and fees.
  • An increasing number of Virginians – more than half – know students can transfer from a two-year to a four-year school, and most of them say the transfer process is easy.

The Commonwealth Education Poll involved interviewing a random sample of 806 adults from across Virginia by landline phones and cellphones between Nov. 8 and 17. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

For the complete poll results and methodology, see http://cepi.vcu.edu/publications/polls/.

Panel Rejects Expansion of Seat-Belt Law

By Rodrigo Arriaza, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia auto safety groups are criticizing a House panel after it killed a bill that would have required every passenger in a car to use a seat belt.

“This is a low-hanging fruit in traffic safety, getting people to buckle up,” said Kurt Erickson, president and CEO of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, a group that fights drunken and irresponsible driving in the D.C. area. “Virginia is constantly below the national rate of people wearing seat belts.”

Erickson said efforts to strengthen Virginia’s seat belt laws go back to the early 1970s. He called the General Assembly’s hesitance a “libertarian defense.”

“There are federal incentives for Virginia to do this, meaning that there’s highway dollars that are at risk if Virginia doesn’t have primary seat belt legislation. But that doesn’t seem to motivate anybody in Richmond,” Erickson said.

“In fact, I’m convinced that when you bring up the federal government in terms of their incentives, that automatically raises Virginia’s flag of sovereignty 5 feet higher.”

WRAP, along with other auto safety groups across the state, supported HB 1558, sponsored by Del. Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria.

Virginia law requires seat belt use only if the passenger is in the front seat or is under 18 years old. Tina Gill, director of state programs at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said the current law is inadequate and puts Virginians at risk.

“Traffic crashes are a public health and safety epidemic, and they are preventable,” Gill said. “We work to pass legislation so we can reduce the number of fatalities and injuries and prevent these horrific losses that have sweeping effects on families and communities.”

Krizek’s bill died last week on a 4-4 vote in a subcommittee of the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee.

The four subcommittee members who voted in favor of the legislation were Republican Del. James Edmunds of Halifax and Democratic Dels. Patrick Hope of Arlington, Sam Rasoul of Roanoke and Roslyn Tyler of Jarratt.

Voting against the bill were Republican Dels. Ben Cline of Amherst, Tony Wilt of Harrisonburg, Israel O’Quinn of Bristol and Christopher Head of Roanoke.

While the legislation would have enhanced Virginia’s safety laws, seat belt use is still a secondary offense in the state. This means police can’t stop drivers just because they aren’t buckled up. People in a vehicle’s front seat can be ticketed for not wearing a seat belt only if the driver has been stopped for a primary offense such as speeding.

Both Gill said primary enforcement of seat belt laws is important.

“Laws that are primary-enforced are much stronger laws and result in much more seat belt use,” she said. “It’s such a simple thing for us to do, and still people are not doing it.”

Erickson agreed.

“Most states have a primary seat belt laws, meaning that law enforcement could stop them for not wearing a seat belt,” he said. “This (HB 1558) wasn’t even that; this was just mandating seat belt use for all passengers in a vehicle.”

According to a 2014 study by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, 87 percent of people nationwide wear seat belts, but only 77 percent of Virginians buckle up.

“It’s vital that everybody buckle up,” Gill said. “It’s the bare minimum action that you can take when you get in a vehicle.”

Democrats and Republicans Join Forces at Capitol Classic

By Tyler Woodall and Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia government officials participated in the ninth annual Massey Capitol Classic Challenge on Tuesday night at Virginia Commonwealth University.

While Democrats and Republicans often are at odds at the state Capitol, members of the Senate and House of Delegates from both sides of the aisle fought for the same cause at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. Adding to the night’s light-hearted feel, the legislators were joined by former NBA center Ben Wallace, NASCAR driver Elliott Sadler and former VCU Ram and second round NBA draft pick Calvin Duncan.

The atmosphere was electric, as raucous choruses from VCU’s Peppas pep band and Henrico High School’s Marching Warriors echoed throughout the arena.

However, in the shadow of VCU’s 2011 Final Four banner, the action on the court was far from the level normally seen at The Stu.

Although the night was filled with air balls and turnovers, the sloppy play got the job done, as the night’s festivities helped raise more than $23,000 for VCU’s Massey Cancer Center. The largest donations came from Ben and Chandra Wallace, the CSX Corporation, the Sadler family and Capitol lobbyists.

The night’s festivities kicked off in front of a crowd of several hundred as the governor’s staff took on Capitol lobbyists. The lobbyists ultimately took home the bragging rights after winning 45-34.

Shortly after, the Senate won the night’s All-Star Shootout by a commanding 81-19 final score. However, the senators’ joy was short-lived as they were unable to bring that same lights-out shooting to the night’s premiere event.

The House, led by Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, came out of the gates with the hot hand, taking a commanding 16-5 halftime lead. However, the first half’s action was less-than-stellar, and one announcer quipped, “That’s 15 minutes we’ll never get back.”

The second half was much of the same, with the exception of Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, who came out of the huddle looking to carry his team back from the brink. However, Petersen’s efforts were not enough to carry his Senate colleagues past Sadler and Rasoul-led House.

At the final buzzer, the House came out with a commanding 31-17 victory, with Rasoul being named the game’s MVP.

Rasoul said he was happy to take home the honor in front of the friendly crowd and, for once, to join hands with his opponents across the aisle.

“It was great we got to have a good time and do it all for a good cause,” he said. “The one thing I love about this event is, it’s bipartisan. It’s House vs. Senate, and the more we can do in a bipartisan way, the more fun it is.”

Sadler, who helped Rasoul carry the House to victory Tuesday night, said he relished the opportunity to play at The Stu.

“I could’ve performed a little bit better, but the main thing is it’s for a great cause,” Sadler said. “I’ve been here to watch the Rams play, and it’s neat to be able to come here and play on this floor for such a good cause.”

After taking a moment to let it sink in, he added, “I think I’m undefeated on this floor right now, so that’s pretty cool.”

Legislators Seek to Curb ‘Distracted Driving’

By SaraRose Martin, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A coalition of Democrats and Republicans called Tuesday for new laws to discourage Virginia motorists from using their cellphones while driving.

The legislators unveiled several bills targeting “distracted driving,” which they said caused thousands of traffic accidents and killed 175 people in the state last year.

HB 1834, sponsored by Del. Rich Anderson, R-Woodbridge, would make it illegal for drivers to “manually select multiple icons or enter multiple letters or text” in a handheld device – meaning they couldn’t check Facebook, send a tweet or view a video on YouTube. Current state law prohibits drivers only from sending emails or text messages.

Anderson’s bill also would create a new offense called distracted driving in the Code of Virginia.

“In partnership with law enforcement, we can make this happen, and that’s what this collective effort is all about,” Anderson said. “This is a bicameral, bipartisan effort.”

Existing law against texting while driving applies only when the vehicle is moving. Anderson’s bill would extend the ban to when the vehicle is stopped on the roadway. It would not apply when the vehicle is legally parked.

Anderson’s bill would not affect drivers using a GPS navigation system or accessing a name or number stored on their cellphone to make a call.

“The real reason we’ve got to do this is simply because, based on reports from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 of 2016, 175 Virginians died on our highways as a result of distracted driving,” Anderson said. “On top of that, 14,700 Virginians were injured.”

Del. Ron Villanueva, R-Virginia Beach, and Del. Tag Greason, R-Potomac Falls, have introduced legislation to educate young people about the dangers of distracted driving.

Under Villanueva’s proposal, HB 2015, people who use the E-ZPass electronic toll collection system could make a voluntary contribution to the DRIVE SMART Virginia Education Fund. The fund sponsors training and activities to promote roadway safety.

Greason’s bill, HB 1763, would authorize the issuance of special license plates for supporters of highway safety, including awareness of distracted driving. For each plate sold, $10 would be used to promote safe driving.

Greason suggested that the plates be designed by high school students.

“High school students said something interesting to me: ‘You might pass a new law, you might create a new impaired-driving statute, you might increase the penalties, but that’s really not going to make an effect,’” Greason said.

“‘Somehow, you have to get us engaged in the process.’”

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, introduced legislation that would deal with injuries caused by distracted driving. SB 1339says a person who operates a motor vehicle in a careless or distracted manner and causes serious injury to a pedestrian or bicyclist would be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. The driver’s license would be suspended.

As a lawyer, Surovell said he dealt with this kind of personal injury first hand. He recalled representing a family whose son was killed by a distracted driver.

“That collision opened my eyes to how dangerous texting while driving can be,” Surovell said. “The individual in that case was never convicted of anything.”

A study by Virginia Tech found that 80 percent of all crashes are from driver inattention three seconds before the accident, according to Janet Brooking, executive director of DRIVE SMART. She said texting while driving makes a person 2,300 times more likely to be in a crash.

Dana Schrade, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, said the legislation would help clarify, educate and enforce safe driving.

“What we are talking about is something that has become an accepted practice, and that’s that we can multitask. When you get behind the wheel, driving is a full-time job,” Schrade said.

“The more we make a clear message through our legislation with the help of these legislators, the more we put forth a clear message about how this is a No. 1 danger in driving today.”

School Security Gun Bill Passes House

By Tyler Woodall, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – School security officers could carry firearms in schools under a bill passed Tuesday by the House of Delegates.

The GOP-controlled House voted 78 to 19, with several Democrats joining Republicans in support, to pass HB 1392. This is the second time in as many years that a version of the bill has made it past the House and into the Senate.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed the measure last year.

The bill, introduced by Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, would allow school districts across the commonwealth to employ security officers to carry firearms in school if they meet requirements spelled out in the bill.

According to those requirements:

  • The school employee must be a law-enforcement officer who retired or resigned in good standing.
  • The employee has met additional training and certification requirements set by the state Department of Criminal Justice Services.
  • The local school board solicits input from the locality’s chief law-enforcement officer regarding the employee’s qualifications.
  • The local school board grants the employee the authority to carry a firearm while on duty.

The bill would also require the DCJS to develop firearms training and certification requirements for school security officers who intend to carry a firearm.

In a statement, Lingamfelter said that he was happy that his bill had passed with bipartisan support. He called it “a common-sense measure to protect our children and teachers from the unthinkable.”

The bill faces another round of hearings in the Senate, which approved the measure last year and has enough Republican votes to pass it on to McAuliffe.

In vetoing similar legislation last April, McAuliffe said he feared that school security officers “do not receive training regarding firearms or the appropriate use of force with juveniles.”

“Allowing additional firearms in schools without appropriate training would create an environment that is less, rather than more, secure,” the governor wrote.

House of Delegates OKs ‘Tebow Bill’

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia House of Delegates approved a bill Tuesday that would allow home-schooled students to participate in high school sports and other extracurricular activities.

HB 1578, commonly known as the “Tebow Bill” after former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, passed by a 60-38 vote on the House floor Tuesday. The bill will now move to the Senate for consideration.

The proposal, introduced by Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, would eliminate a statewide ban prohibiting home-schooled students from participating in high school athletics and other interscholastic activities.

Bell has introduced similar legislation, which is based on laws from other states, perennially since 2005. In 2015 and 2016, Bell’s legislation passed both the House and Senate but was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Opponents say home-schoolers don’t have to meet the same academic standards as public school students, so it wouldn’t be right to let them play alongside regular students in high school sports.

McAuliffe cited that rationale when he vetoed Bell’s legislation last spring.

“Opening participation in those competitions to individuals who are not required to satisfy the same criteria upends Virginia’s extracurricular framework and codifies academic inequality in interscholastic competition,” the governor wrote in his veto message.

Bell counters that this is not the case with his latest iteration of the bill.

Under the legislation, students who want to participate in their local high school’s athletic programs would have to pass standardized tests and demonstrate “evidence of progress” in their academic curriculum for at least two years. Bell said the home-schoolers also would have to meet the same immunization standards as their public school counterparts.

Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, shared her concerns about the bill on the House floor Tuesday.

“As a former school board member and parent of a child who spent a significant number of years in private school, I’m always hesitant to see us move in this direction,” McQuinn said.

“Take my nephew, for instance. As a star basketball player, he says he has sacrificed and put many years and extraordinary determination into reaching his current playing level. Yet if a home-schooling (student) is granted the same exposure and resources, it goes without saying that they reap the same benefit after investing a highly disproportionate amount of time.”

Bell argued that his bill simply allows home-schooled students who might not fit the typical public school mold the same freedoms as all other students.

“If you are a parent and your kid doesn’t fit into the public school curriculum right now, you can go private or you can go home-schooling – except many places, including a county I represent, have very limited private school options,” Bell said. “Yet we’re forcing parents to say, ‘You can have football, or you can have the education that you want.’”

McQuinn said the bill was not a matter of equality, but rather the opposite.

“What message does this send to public school parents and students?” she asked. “One of fairness or favorability? While public schools present their own unique challenges, some more difficult than others, I believe the passing of this bill would add another dimension of complication to the public school system.”

Bell said that was not the case. Under the legislation, the decision to allow home-schoolers to participate in high school sports would come down to the local school district. Each individual school board would be able to decide for itself.

McQuinn countered that allowing the localities to decide brings its own set of problems.

“There are implications with making this a local school board issue as well,” she said. “If a school division allows home-schooled students and another does not, there would be cases where teams would have to make a decision to forfeit a game. This kind of policy breeds division, brings fairness into question and creates inconsistencies across individual schools.”

Senate Panel OKs Bans on LGBT Discrimination

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND –Legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in public employment and housing cleared a Senate committee on Monday and now will go to the full Senate for consideration.

SB 783, sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, would prohibit public employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identification. The Senate General Laws and Technology Committee voted 12-3 in favor of the bill.

SB 822, filed by Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Leesburg, would prohibits public housing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identification. The committee approved the proposal, 11-3.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, praised the committee’s approval of the bills.

“No Virginian should be pushed out of their home or their job because of who they are or who they love,” Northam said. “I applaud the Senate committee for advancing policies to ensure Virginia is open and welcoming to all.”

Organizations in support of the bills included Equality Virginia, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Northern Virginia Technology Council and the Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia.

Organizations in opposition to the bill were the Family Foundation and the Virginia Catholic Conference. They argued that the bills would infringe on people’s religious freedom.

John Hetzler, legislative counsel for the Family Foundation, said SB 783 was unnecessary because there were only 12 complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation reported since 2009.

In response, Ebbin said, “To those 12 people, there’s an issue, and further to LGBT members of the state workforce. Personally, as someone who’s been discriminated against in employment because of my sexual orientation, it does happen, and it’s not only people who report it, but people who keep silent about it.”

SB 783 seeks to codify as state law an executive order issued by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Executive Order 1 prohibits discrimination “on the basis of race, sex, color, national
origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, political affiliation, or against otherwise
qualified persons with disabilities” in state employment.

Similarly, the Virginia Fair Housing Law already protects individuals from being discriminated against because of race, ethnicity, country of origin, familial status and religion. SB 822 would simply add sexual orientation and gender identification to the list.

Helen Hardiman, policy director for HOME, defended SB 822. She said that HOME did testing in three areas of the state, sending a gay couple and a straight couple to search for housing. In 44 percent of the cases, the straight couple was treated better, Hardiman said.

Bills like SB 822 have come before the General Assembly in the past but have failed.

James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, said he expected the bills to win approval from the Senate this year. The legislation is more likely to get voted down in the House of Delegates.

How They Voted

Here is how the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee voted on SB 783 (“Public employment; prohibits discrimination on basis of sexual orientation or gender identity”).

01/23/17 Senate: Reported from General Laws and Technology (12-Y 3-N)

YEAS – Locke, Barker, Vogel, Ebbin, Wexton, Surovell, DeSteph, McPike, Suetterlein, Dunnavant, Sturtevant, Mason – 12.

NAYS – Ruff, Black, Reeves – 3.

Here is how the committee voted on SB 822 (“Virginia Fair Housing Law; unlawful discriminatory housing practices, sexual orientation and gender”).

01/23/17 Senate: Reported from General Laws and Technology (11-Y 3-N)

YEAS – Locke, Barker, Vogel, Ebbin, Wexton, Surovell, DeSteph, McPike, Dunnavant, Sturtevant, Mason – 11.

NAYS – Ruff, Black, Reeves – 3.

Animal Tethering Bill Tabled By Subcommittee

By Ashley Luck, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill to prohibit the tethering of dogs and other animals was rejected Monday by a subcommittee of the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.

HB 1802, filed by Del. John J. Bell, D-Chantilly, would have allowed tethering only if the owner of the animal were outside and within sight of the pet.

The meeting of the committee’s Agriculture Subcommittee brought out both supporters and opponents of the tethering bill.

Supporters included representatives from the Richmond SPCA and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Daphna Nachminovitch, senior vice president of the cruelty investigations department for PETA, said the organization sees many mistreated dogs tethered on chains.

“We’re in support of the bill because we see thousands and thousands of dogs in the commonwealth who are trapped 24/7 at the end of a chain, without any love, companionship or respect – oftentimes without the very bare minimums of life necessities,” Nachminovitch said.

“Man’s best friend deserves better than that.”

Speaking in opposition to the bill, Alice Harrington, a representative of the Virginia Federation of Dog Clubs and Breeders, said there were plenty of reasons to safely tether an animal.

“It should be tabled -- that’s what we wanted,” said Harrington. “Tethering is a tool that has been used for thousands of years to keep animals safe. When these kinds of bills come forward, most of them don’t tie to anything having to do with the condition of the dog.”

“There’s all sorts of reasons why people need to tether an animal -- like escape artists, whether they dig under the fence or go over,” Harrington said.

“Something you do when you have dog shows and field events with hunting dogs, the method of containing them is to tether them. You can’t enforce this stuff, especially where it says you have to stand in sight of your dog,” she said.

HB 1802 stated, “No companion animal shall be tethered outdoors unless the owner is outdoors within sight of the animal.” An initial violation would have been a Class 4 misdemeanor, subject to a fine of up to $250. A second offense would have been a Class 3 misdemeanor, with a fine up to $500.

Bell’s legislation would have amended section 3.2-6503 of the Code of Virginia, in relation to the care of companion animals. The code says owners must provide adequate feed, water, properly cleaned shelter, adequate space for the type of animal and veterinary care when needed.

The provisions of HB 1802 would have applied to anyone who owns or provides foster care to a companion animal, including animal shelters, dealers, pet shops, exhibitors, kennels, groomers and boarding establishments.

Most localities in Virginia do not have restrictions on the tethering of animals. The city of Richmond and a few others have prohibited it.

After hearing testimony for and against the tethering bill, the subcommittee voted to table it on a 7-1 vote.

School Security Officer Gun Bill Gains Ground

By Tyler Woodall, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The House of Delegates voted Monday to advance to third reading a bill that would allow school security officers to carry firearms.

Under the legislation, school districts could employ security officers to carry a firearm in the performance of their duty if they meet certain requirements.

Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, told House members that HB 1392 addresses the concerns Gov. Terry McAuliffe raised when he vetoed a similar bill last year.

“In his veto message as I recall, he was worried about the vetting process: Are we going to be picking people who are well vetted to do this important work?” Lingamfelter said.

The bill is expected to receive the House’s final approval later this week.

Under HB 1392, school security officers could carry a firearm if:

  • The school employee is a law-enforcement officer who retired or resigned in good standing.
  • The employee has met additional training and certification requirements set by the state Department of Criminal Justice Services.
  • The local school board solicits input from the locality’s chieflaw-enforcement officer regarding the employee’s qualifications.
  • The local school board grants the employee the authority to carry a firearm while on duty.

The bill would also require the DCJS to establish firearms training and certification requirements for school security officers who carry a firearm.

House Republicans said the bill is needed because law enforcement officers need more time to respond to emergencies in rural areas of the commonwealth.

“None of us want to contemplate the unthinkable that something horrible can happen in a school,” Lingamfelter said. “Law enforcement, particularly in rural areas, who have to travel greater distances, might be delayed in getting there to stop a calamity, and that is my motivation.”

Del. Michael J. Webert, R-Fauquier, backed the argument by speaking of his own district: “They don’t have a lot of resources, and this is another alternative for that locality to protect their children utilizing their resources.”

Webert said his district faces the struggle of having only one school resource officer to cover three schools. The resource officers are members of police or sheriff’s departments.

House Democrats opposed the bill. Citing grim statistics on teen gun violence, Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax said, “School resource officers are sufficient. We don’t need to expand the class of folks that can bring guns into our schools.”

Webert replied, “I don’t understand why the gentlemen would be against protecting children and giving localities the ability to protect our children.”

‘Ditch Dirty Fuels Rally’ Urges Support for Clean Energy

By Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Waving signs declaring “No Fracking Way” and “Beyond Coal,” more than 50 environmentalists gathered Monday for a Ditch Dirty Fuels Rally near the state Capitol, encouraging Virginia legislators to embrace clean energy alternatives.

The Sierra Club sponsored the event, which coincided with Conservation Lobby Day.

“We are here today because we know that climate disruption is already negatively impacting our families and communities here in Virginia,” said Kendyl Crawford, conservation program manager for the Sierra Club. “It’s time for our leaders to get serious about clean energy and take advantage of this exciting opportunity for both public health and our environment.”

Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, attended the rally and expressed his support for alternative, renewable energy sources. Keam spoke about his experiences on the House Special Subcommittee on Energy, where he said too many of his colleagues base their decisions on party politics.

“Unfortunately, we have a lot of members in the General Assembly who just say anytime it’s coming from the industry, they automatically support it – anytime it’s coming from the environment, they automatically oppose it,” Keam said.

“I’m trying something that we haven’t done in a long time, which is to get members from both sides of the aisle to come together, talk reasonably and see if there’s a way we can come together on core values – values such as clean water.”

Keam recently proposed a bill (HB 2112) that would require the State Corporation Commission to adopt rules for community renewable projects.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, such projects allow customers who don’t have solar panels or other renewable resources of their own to buy or lease a portion of a shared renewable energy system. The money that customers make from these clean energy sources is then credited to their electricity bill, as if they had solar panels on their own roof or a wind turbines in their backyard.

“We don’t want it to just go to the private sector so that they can create more business opportunities. We want it to actually go to the regular folks,” Keam said.

He said his legislation “probably won’t go this year because it’s a new idea, but I think it’s the kind of idea that we need to start talking about so that everyday folks will benefit from the new solar energy, not just businesses.”

Besides supporting renewable energy proposals, the rally also served as a protest against bills sought by fossil fuel interests.

One such bill is HB 1678, which would exclude from public disclosure information about chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Essentially, the legislation would make oil and gas companies exempt from reporting the chemicals they pump into fracking wells.

Keam pledged to vote against any bills that would allow more fracking in Virginia.

“Nobody should hide behind our public interest laws and freedom of information laws to be able to prevent us from finding out what their plans are,” he said.

At the rally, representatives of environmental organizations from across the state spoke in support of sustainable energy alternatives and called on Gov. Terry McAuliffe and other elected representatives to protect the environment.

“Both Gov. McAuliffe and the General Assembly has declared solar energy in the public interest – let’s hold them to it,” said Amory Fischer, business development coordinator for Secure Future Solar.

Renewable energy has been growing rapidly in the United States, reducing pollution and creating jobs, advocates say. Moreover, the cost to install solar panels has dropped more than 60 percent over the past decade, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Many states have invested heavily in solar energy – notably California, which last year generated 16,507 megawatts of solar power. In contrast, Virginia generated just 10 megawatts of solar energy in 2015.

Dr. Samantha Ahdoot, a pediatrician from Alexandria, said she supports clean energy on behalf of the next generation.

“Our children deserve to inherit the same beautiful state – its fields, its farms, its mountains with their tops – that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington loved and nurtured at the birth of our country,” said Ahdoot, who also was the lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement on climate change and children’s health.

“Our children deserve clean air, our children deserve clean water, our children deserve a safe and stable climate, and our children deserve an affordable and reliable energy.”

The rally was originally scheduled to take place at the Bell Tower on the Capitol grounds, but weather conditions forced participants to relocate indoors to the St Paul’s Episcopal Church.

“I was a little sad that the rain did happen today,” Crawford said.“But I still think that we made sure our message is heard, our voices getting out there.”

Take Politics Out of Redistricting, Citizens Say

By Megan Corsano, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Citizens demanding an end to gerrymandering packed a legislative subcommittee hearing Monday as lawmakers and members of the public all voiced concerns over the influence of politics on redistricting.

Critics say the current system, in which the General Assembly redraws the boundaries for legislative districts, allows politicians to choose their constituents instead of the other way around. As a result, many legislators run unopposed in districts that are heavily Republican or heavily Democratic.

The Constitutional Subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee held a 7 a.m. meeting on sixproposed constitutional amendments aimed at addressing the problem. The subcommittee is scheduled to vote on the proposals next week.

Much of the focus was on HJ 763, introduced by Republican Del. Steven Landes of Augusta County. It would “prohibit any electoral district from being drawn in order to favor or disfavor any political party, incumbent legislator, member of Congress or other individual entity.”

Most of the people filling the seats in the subcommittee’s meeting room were from One Virginia 2021, a nonpartisan organization “advocating for fair redistricting of the Commonwealth of Virginia.” (2021 refers to the next time redistricting will happen – after the 2020 census.)

Members of the group wore stickers declaring “I’ve Been Gerry-Mandered!” A total of 17 members of the organization testified before the subcommittee about Landes’ constitutional amendment, all of them in favor of the idea.

Gerrymandering refers to drawing electoral districts to favor one political party over the other. Both Republicans and Democrats have been guilty of this practice. Many say gerrymandering undermines democracy.

“It’s all about fairness,” said Jay Brock, a member of One Virginia 2021. “We talk a lot about equality and the other values that the country was founded on. For me, the most operative way to put that into practice is through fairness, and the current system is patently unfair.”

Brittany Shearer, a volunteer with One Virginia 2021 from Norfolk, was one of the 17 people who spoke in favor of HJ 763.

“Something that I am working really hard on is improving access, particularly among young people, to the democratic system,” Shearer said. “When gerrymandering takes place, we see the furthest extremes of both political parties hold office in order to keep out any challengers.”

One Virginia 2021’s attendance at the subcommittee meeting was part of its “Lobby Day 2017.” Almost 200 members of the group came to the General Assembly Building to lobby for redistricting reform, said Brian Cannon, the organization’s executive director.

At a press conference, Cannon said the biggest challenge in addressing the problem is helping people understand how a complex process like redistricting affects them.

“People aren’t satisfied with the rigged system of our elections,” Cannon said, noting that presidential candidates Barrack Obama in 2008 and Donald Trump in 2016 both targeted this dissatisfaction and called for systematic change. “I think we can do better. I know we can do better.”

The press conference included a screening of the organization’s video “A Message from Jerry Mandering,” a comedic explanation of the issue.

Redistricting reform measures usually pass the Virginia Senate but die in the House, Cannon said. He and the six state delegates proposing different constitutional amendments to control gerrymandering hope that doesn’t happen this year.

Cannon said he believes the redistricting process should be taken out of the hands of the General Assembly and given to an independent entity, such as a redistricting commission.

In his testimony, Landes said his proposal would put in the Virginia Constitution “language that would make more objective our process related to redistricting.” However, Landes said he does not support efforts to establish a redistricting commission, such as HJ 628, proposed by Democratic Del. Ken Plum of Reston.

Del. Tim Hugo, R-Centreville, noted that it is the prerogative of the General Assembly to draw district lines. “Political favoritism is in the eye of the beholder,” he said – a sentiment that suggests objectivity is hard to prove or disprove.

While testifying for his own proposal, Plum urged the subcommittee to approve at least one of the constitutional amendments on redistricting so it can go to the House floor for a vote.

The Constitutional Subcommittee plans to vote on the proposed constitutional amendments at its next meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. on Jan. 30.

If a constitutional amendment reforming the redistricting process passes this session, implementation would be a long way off. The General Assembly would have to approve the amendment again in 2018, and then it would be placed on a statewide ballot that November.

House Gives ‘Tebow Bill’ Preliminary Approval

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia House of Delegates gave tentative approval Monday to a bill that would allow home-schooled students to participate in high school sports.

HB 1578, widely known as the “Tebow Bill” after former University of Florida and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, would give home-schoolers the ability to participate in high school sports and other interscholastic activities. The bill is on the House calendar for final approval Tuesday.

Sponsored by Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, the bill is modeled after laws in other states. Bell has perennially introduced the legislation since 2005. In 2015 and 2016, Bell’s bills passed the General Assembly and were sent to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who vetoed them.

Virginia High School League rules currently prohibit home-schoolers from participating in high school sports after eighth grade. Bell said he wants to change that.

Bell described his bill as a “chance to try out” the idea. If passed, the law would “sunset” on July 1, 2022, thus requiring the General Assembly to revisit the issue in five years.

Under the proposal, local school boards would get to decide whether to allow home-schoolers to participate in their school’s athletic programs. School districts would not be required to do so.

In addition, Bell said his bill contains several provisions that would prevent it from being abused to circumvent academic ineligibility.

First, students would be required to play for the school in their home district; they could not choose where to play.

Students who want to participate in their local school’s athletics would be required to pass standardized tests and other requirements for at least two consecutive years. They also would have to meet all immunization requirements necessary to play high school sports.

Schools would be allowed to charge students “reasonable fees” to cover the costs of participation, thereby easing the burden on taxpayers, Bell said.

The issue rose to national prominence in 2007 when ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” featured Tebow and several other home-schooled students across the country seeking access to high school athletics.

Thanks to legislation passed in his home state in 1996, Tebow was allowed to play football at Jacksonville’s Trinity Christian Academy and, later, at nearby Allen D. Nease High School, where he was eventually named a high school All-American.

Since then, Tebow and former NFL defensive end Jason Taylor, who also played high school football while being home-schooled in Pennsylvania, have campaigned across the country to advocate for laws allowing home-schoolers to play for their local high schools.

In 2008, Tebow received the Quaqua Protégé Award as an “outstanding home-education graduate” for his work.

Senate Defeats Bill Opposed by ACLU

By Mary Lee Clark,Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia Senate on Monday rejected a bill to increase the penalty for protesters who remain at the scene of a riot or unlawful assembly after being told to leave.

The legislation, proposed by Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland, was defeated on a 14-26 vote, as several Republicans joined Democrats in opposing it. The American Civil Liberties Union said the bill was an overreaction to civil disobedience.

Under Senate Bill 1055, anyone who “remains at the place of any riot or unlawful assembly after having been lawfully warned to disperse” would have been guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months of jail time and a $2,500 fine. Currently, this offense is a Class 3 misdemeanor, which can draw a fine up to $500 but no jail time.

Stuart said he submitted the bill at the request of the Sheriff’s Department in Westmoreland County.

“As a representative of an area, when you have constituents who ask you to bring bills, we are their vehicle to do that,” Stuart said. “So I typically do.”

The legislation drew opposition from Democratic senators. Many of them cited demonstrations from the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement and Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington.

“I find it ironic that Senate Bill 1055, which increases the penalty for unlawful assembly, was passed on the holiday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an individual who understood the power of nonviolent direct protest and the power of marching,” said Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton. It was on Jan. 16 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day – that the Senate Courts of Justice Committee approved the bill and sent it to the full Senate. The committee’s vote was 8-4, with all Republican members voting yes and all Democratic members voting no.

Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, called SB 1055 “one of the worst bills” he has ever seen.

“This is contrary to what we believe in as Americans, what we believe in as Virginians. I think Thomas Jefferson would roll over in his grave if he thought we were considering something like this,” Edwards said.

A fellow Democrat, Sen. Barbara Favola of Arlington, agreed.

“This bill exacerbates the divide that already exists among individuals that are trying to express themselves in a peaceful way and our police departments and our police forces,” Favola said. “We should encourage peaceful demonstrations.”

Several Republican senators spoke in support of the bill.

“When demonstrations become riot and become violent, I think we need to have the tools to deal with them,” said Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun.

Stuart said his bill applied only to riots (although the language also included “unlawful assembly”).

“This has nothing to do with peaceful protest,” Stuart said.

The ACLU of Virginia strongly opposed the legislation.

“In Virginia and in a lot of communities, we are supposed to be moving away from putting more people in jail and more people in prison for typically non-violent crimes, and this is the opposite direction,” said Charlie Schmidt, a public policy lawyer for the ACLU.

It’s a Job to Live on $7.25 an Hour

By Haley Winn, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Athena Jones is the first person her clients see at the start of the day. She gets them out of bed, changes their clothes and makes them breakfast. Her workday consists of providing emotional and physical support, assisting clients with bathing and bathroom visits, and helping them be as independent as possible.

As a home-care worker, this is Jones’ job. She does it for minimum wage – $7.25 an hour.

An advocate for people who struggle to live on minimum wage, Jones traveled from Portsmouth to Richmond this week to speak to legislators about bills to raise the state minimum wage above the federally mandated rate. She said a raise would help her save money and give back to her community.

Jones said she can’t make ends meet on her salary as a home-care worker, so she has taken on a second job as a community organizer. When she is not caring for her clients, she is helping Portsmouth residents register to vote or solve neighborhood problems.

People at the bottom of the pay scale, Jones said, must make choices that others don’t – like deciding between paying the electricity bill and requesting an extension on their gas bill.

A single woman in her 40s, Jones lives a frugal lifestyle. She doesn’t have a car, and vacations aren’t a luxury she can afford. (She has gone 10 years without one.) Her biggest expenses are utilities and medical bills – expenses that she said keep her from “exhaling financially.”

Jones said living on minimum wage is like having a “cloud of need” hovering overhead, and it never seems to go away.

Others may argue that people living on minimum wage “need to pull themselves up by the bootstraps,” Jones said. But she added: “What if there isn’t a bootstrap? What if there aren’t shoes? Then what are you supposed to do?”

David Broder, president of the Virginia 512 local of the Service Employees International Union, supports workers like Jones.

“Raising the minimum wage means Virginia families will have more money to grow the economy and help their kids have a better future,” Broder said. “No one who works full time should be forced to live in poverty because of low wages. As states and localities across the country raise the minimum wage for millions of Americans, it’s past time that Virginia did the same.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 29 stateshave raised their minimum wage above $7.25 per hour. Some members of the General Assembly want Virginia to join the list.

Three bills before the House of Delegates would boost the minimum wage in Virginia. They are:

  • HB 2309, sponsored by Del. Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church. It would raise the minimum wage to $11 per hour this July and eventually to $15 per hour by 2019.
  • HB 1444, sponsored by Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, and 18 other Democrats. It would increase the minimum wage to $10 per hour this July 1 and then gradually to $15 per hour by 2021.
  • HB 1771, sponsored by Del. Kenneth Plum, D-Reston, and 17 other Democrats. It would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 on Jan. 1, 2018. Under the legislation, beginning in 2020, Virginia’s minimum wage would be adjusted every two years to reflect increases in the consumer price index.

Those bills face an uphill battle. The Senate already has killed two bills aimed at raising the minimum wage.

Opponents of boosting the minimum wage fear that such laws will put a burden on businesses, prompting employers to lay off workers and raise prices. Indeed, that is what business representatives told the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on Monday before the panel spiked legislation to increase the minimum wage in Virginia.

“Raising the minimum wage does not solve the problem – it only creates new problems,” said Ryan Dunn, a representative of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. “There is no silver bullet for poverty.”

For years, academic researchers have debated whether boosting the minimum wage would hurt the economy.

In a 2014 book, Dale Belman of Michigan State University and Paul Wolfson of Dartmouth College concluded that a “moderate” increase in the minimum wage “has little or no effect on employment and hours.” They were unable to conclude if that holds true for a large increase in the minimum wage.

Several researchers compared states that raised the minimum wage with bordering states where the minimum wage stayed the same. In a seminal paperreleased in the 1990s, Princeton economists Alan Kreuger and David Card found that raising the minimum wage did not cause a loss of jobs in fast-food restaurants but the prices of meals increased.

In 2013, David Neumark of the University of California and William Wascher of the Federal Reserve Board published a paperfor the National Bureau of Economic Research challenging previous research methods. They said their evidence “still shows that minimum wages pose a tradeoff of higher wages for some against job losses for others.” An increase could help families get out of poverty but could cause other families to fall into poverty, Neumark and Wascher wrote.

While academics and legislators debate the issue, Jones continues doing her job. She said she has been a home-care worker for 12 years and takes great satisfaction in helping her home-bound clients live as independently as possible.

“God allowed me to be born into this profession, and I would have it no other way,” she said. “I could be president of the United States, and I would still want to be a home-care worker.”

Bill Would Outlaw Tethering Dogs, Other Pets

By Ashley Luck, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Citing unpredictable and sometimes extreme weather conditions throughout the year in Virginia, Del. John J. Bell, D-Chantilly, has filed a bill that would prohibit the outdoor tethering of companion animals.

Tethering would be allowed only if the owner of the animal is outside and within sight of the pet, the bill says.

Bell said his wife, Margaret, works to rescue and foster mistreated dogs, and that motivated him to introduce House Bill 1802.

“My wife does animal rescue,” Bell said. “She’s fostered over 50 dogs over the last seven or eight years.

“We’ve seen many instances where animals were tethered for long periods of time in either extreme hot and cold weather. They were unattended and no one was around.

“In fact, we fostered one this year that the authorities had to take, where it was part of a court case. The animal was almost at death’s door. I feel that tethering for extended periods of time, particularly in harsh weather conditions, is cruel to the animal and should not be done,” Bell said.

An owner who violates the measure could be found guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor and subject to a fine of up to $250. A second offense would be a Class 3 misdemeanor, with a fine up to $500.

Bell’s legislation would amend section 3.2-6503 of the Code of Virginia, in relation to the care of companion animals. The code says owners must provide adequate feed, water, properly cleaned shelter, adequate space for the type of animal and veterinary care when needed.

The provisions of HB 1802 also would apply to public or private animal shelters, dealers, pet shops, exhibitors, kennels, groomers and boarding establishments.

Most localities in Virginia do not have restrictions on the tethering of animals. The city of Richmond and a few others have prohibited it.

Robin Robertson Starr, CEO of the Richmond SPCA, said the tethering of dogs is a big problem in Virginia.

“It is a terrible thing for the dog and it causes dogs to become aggressive and territorial and thereby to become a risk to human safety,” Starr said.

“Leaving dogs outside is a tragedy. Dogs are highly social animals with an affinity for quality time to interact with and love their human family members. They should not be exposed for long periods of time to the elements outside, either in the cold of winter or the heat of summer.

“They should be living with us in the house and should go outside for limited periods of time in the company of their humans to get exercise and to relieve themselves, but otherwise should be kept indoors.”

HB 1802 has been assigned to the Agriculture Subcommitteeof the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee. The subcommittee is scheduled to hear the bill when it meets at 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 30 in the seventh-floor west conference room of the General Assembly Building, 201 N. Ninth St., Richmond.

Lawmakers Aim to Increase Access to Opiate Antagonist

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By Taylor Knight, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia lawmakers are attempting to tackle the state’s opioid epidemic with a slew of bills that aim to widen the availability of the opiate overdose medication naloxone.

“We are facing a crisis in Virginia and in the nation, losing more people to opioid overdose than to car crashes,” said Rep. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax.

She is sponsoring HB 1449, which“will allow individuals trained and authorized by the Department of Behavioral Health, in coordination with the Board of Pharmacy, to go into the community with the life-saving antidote naloxone so they can get to the people who are most at risk,” Boysko said.

Her bill is one of five pieces of legislation this session that seek to make naloxone more available to the public.

A standing order for the drug was issued by State Health Commissioner Marissa J. Levine in November, making naloxone available to any Virginian at pharmacies across the state without a prescription. The price is $120 before insurance.

“Pharmacies may now dispense naloxone without a prescription, but logistical, financial and stigma-related reasons keep some of the most at-risk individuals from getting it there, and many pharmacies do not carry it,” said Rep. Dave LaRock, R-Hamilton. He has introduced HB 1453, a bill nearly identical to Boysko’s.

Even when naloxone is available at a pharmacy, some people will buy the drug without knowing how to properly administer it, rendering the drug ineffective. Programs such as REVIVE!, offered by the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, teach citizens how to use naloxone, but they are not allowed to distribute the drug to participating students once the class is over.

Some people may worry that the widened availability of naloxone would encourage opiate users to continue using illegal drugs without fear of death. However, the Behavioral Health Department’s website says the drug is “not a safety net that allows individuals with opioid-use disorder to continue or increase use” because naloxone induces the recipient into withdrawal, which the site says is “extremely unpleasant.”

Earlier this week, the Senate unanimously passed SB 1031, which would add employees of the Virginia Department of Forensic Science and the medical examiner’s office to the list of people allowed to obtain and administer the opioid antagonist. That bill is awaiting action in the House of Delegates.

Boysko said she is optimistic that her bill will be among the legislation passed involving naloxone.

“I look forward to seeing it pass along with the other legislative efforts so that we can help people get onto the road to recovery,” Boysko said.

Bartenders May Help Prevent Sexual Assaults

By Mary Lee Clark, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia bars might be stepping up their game in combating sexual assault under legislation making its way through the General Assembly.

Senate Bill 1150, proposed by Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, would encourage bartenders and other employees who “otherwise sell, serve, or dispense alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption” to undergo “bar bystander training.”

On Friday, the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services unanimously approved the bill. It now goes to the full Senate.

Bar bystander training would inform employees how to recognize and intervene in situations that might lead to sexual assault. The bill says bar employees should be taught “intervention strategies to prevent such situations from culminating in sexual assault.”

“Studies have been done that actually show that in areas where they have this bar bystander training, they have had an 11 percent lower rate of sexual assault and victimization,” Favola said.

The training would be optional.

The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control already offers online training such as Responsible Sellers & Servers (RSVP), which advises employees to follow state laws and how to deal with intoxicated customers.

Favola also suggested signs be posted to let customers know which bars have trained employees.

According to a report on alcohol and sexual assault by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately one-half of all sexual assaults are committed by men who have been drinking alcohol. And more than one-half of sexual assault victims reported that they were drinking alcohol at the time of the assault.

Many bars have created their own policies to combat sexual assault. Most notably, the Iberian Rooster in St. Petersburg, Florida, posted signs in the women’s restroom that instructed women to order an “angel shot” if they needed to discreetly notify the staff about an uncomfortable date.

Other bars have followed that lead and posted similar signs.

Senate Panel Rejects Plastic Bag Tax

By Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Senate Finance Committee has killed a bill to impose a 5-cent tax on disposable plastic bags that stores give their customers. But the proposal’s sponsor says he isn’t giving up.

The tax would have applied to grocery stores, convenience stores and drug stores in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, which encompasses most of Virginia. As an incentive to collect the tax, the bill would have allowed retailers to keep 1 cent of the 5-cent levy.

Revenue from the plastic bag tax – estimated at as much as $18 million a year – would have been used to support the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan, which works to reduce pollution in the bay and the region’s streams, creeks and rivers.

The bill (SB 925) was introduced by Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, who says that despite its defeat, he will continue to fight for a tax on plastic bags.

“We need to limit the amount of trash that goes into the bay, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to tax goods like plastic bags which are frankly unnecessary and create an environmental hazard,” Petersen said.

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed is the largest estuary in the United States and contains more than 100,000 rivers and streams that filter in from six states.

In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that excessive amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment were impairing the bay’s water quality. The EPA told the states whose waters empty into the Chesapeake to limit the pollution entering the bay and associated waterways.

The greatest source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay is not plastic bags, but agricultural runoff, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. However, plastic bags are destructive to the bay and the environment overall because they kill wildlife, clog landfills and are not biodegradable. The Worldwatch Institute, a Washington-based environmental research group, says Americans throw away 100 billion plastic grocery bags every year.

In Virginia, all land from the Washington suburbs to Virginia Beach drains unto the Chesapeake Bay. Only the southernmost localities and far Southwest Virginia aren’t part of the watershed.

“It’s our environmental legacy here in Virginia,” Petersen said. “The bay is what makes Virginia the unique place it is to live.”

Previous attempts to tax plastic bags in Virginia also have died in committee in the General Assembly.

Several other state and local governments have enacted laws dealing with the issue. For example, Hawaii and California have banned plastic bags, and the District of Columbia has imposed a 5-cent tax on each bag issued to store customers.

The plastic bag tax was opposed by the retail merchant lobby, including the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Petersen said.

Nile Abouzaki manages a family-owned business in Richmond called Shawarma Shack. He says a tax on plastic bags may be well intentioned but would be a burden on small businesses.

“We already have plenty of taxes in Richmond, especially the meals taxes that are somewhat overboard compared to other cities,” Abouzaki said.

Sara Vaughan, general manager of the Virginia Book Company and daughter of the owner, says businesses should decide for themselves whether to be environmentally conscious.

“I think it is up to businesses to be eco-friendly and not get taxed because we have a hard time as it is,” Vaughan said. “But I think we definitely need to be part of the solution as opposed to just sending a bunch of plastic bags out into the environment.”

The Senate Finance Committee considered Petersen’s bill on Wednesday. The panel voted 10-4 along party lines that SB 925 be “passed by indefinitely,” meaning it is dead for this legislative session. All of the Republicans on the committee supported the motion to kill the measure; all of the Democrats opposed it.

According to the Virginia Department of Taxation, the proposed tax on plastic bags would cost state government about $110,000 to implement and enforce the first year, but it could generate between $14 million and $18 million annually for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan.

The tax would not have applied to:

  • Durable plastic bags with handles that were designed to be reused
  • Plastic bags used to carry ice cream, meat, fish, poultry, leftover restaurant food, newspapers or dry cleaning
  • Bags used to carry alcoholic beverages or prescription drugs
  • Bags sold in packages for use as garbage, pet-waste and leaf-removal bags

Bills Would Help, Hurt Undocumented Immigrants

By Rodrigo Arriaza. Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Three bills that would help undocumented immigrants, and one that would hurt them, have been introduced in the Virginia General Assembly as state legislators tackle an issue that loomed large during the presidential election.

HB 1857 would protect in-state tuition for undocumented students, while HB 2001 seeks to root out such students from Virginia’s public colleges and universities. HB 1682 would allow undocumented immigrants to get temporary driver’s licenses, as long as they are paying taxes and have auto insurance. Finally, HB 1779 would expand the state’s definition of a hate crime to violence based on someone’s immigration status.

The flurry of legislation comes at a time when civil rights groups say there has been an increase in assaults and abuse against undocumented immigrants. They see a correlation between the hostile climate and the rhetoric of President Trump.

“This has happened at a higher rate since Trump got elected,” Rodrigo Velasquez, field coordinator for the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network, said as he participated in the Virginia Day of Student Resistance on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“Even today, we had a rally with New Virginia Majority. And as the students were rallying, some of the people at the General Assembly were wearing ‘Make America Great Again’ hats and chanting, ‘Build the wall, build the wall,’” Velasquez said.

“So it’s obviously targeted, and it has a specific intent. But until now, it hasn’t been a categorical hate crime where the targeting of someone based on their immigration status would have a more severe penalty.”

HB 1779, sponsored by Del. Kenneth R. Plum, D-Reston, would change that. It would label violent acts against undocumented immigrants as hate crimes, which would carry a stiffer penalty. The bill would recognize someone’s status as an undocumented immigrant as a legitimate basis for being a victim of hate crimes involving assault, battery or trespass with the purpose of damaging property.

HB 1682, sponsored by Delegate Robert S. Bloxom, Jr., R-Mappsville, would grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants living in Virginia. The bill would allow undocumented immigrants to receive temporary licenses for one year, as long as the applicant “has established residency in the Commonwealth, has filed an income tax return with the Commonwealth, has registered with the Department of Homeland Security” and can provide proof of a car insurance policy.

Velasquez said the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles has studied the impact of such policies in other states. He said DMV found that “road safety actually increased when folks have driver’s licenses, and that they actually stick around in instances of accidents.”

Without a legal way to drive in Virginia, undocumented workers often flee the scene of an accident because they fear getting detained and deported, Velasquez said.

In states where undocumented immigrants can obtain driver’s licenses, they “actually stayed at the scenes of accidents to make sure that they do all the proper reporting and filing with the insurance companies,” Velasquez said.

HB 1682 may have an uncertain fate in the General Assembly. On Wednesday, the Senate Transportation Committee voted 7-6 to kill a similar bill (SB 1345). It would have allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for a “driver privilege card.”

In addition, two House bills would affect undocumented students attending the state’s institutions of higher education.

HB 1857 would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition in Virginia. The bill seeks to help immigrants who have been protected from deportation by President Obama’s 2012 executive order called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. President Trump has said he will revoke DACA during his first 100 days in office.

The affected students are often called DREAMers, after a proposed federal law that would have given them legal residency.

Under Obama’s DACA order, DREAMers qualify for in-state tuition. HB 1857, sponsored by Del. Alfonso H. Lopez, D-Arlington, would ensure that continues if Trump overturns DACA. Otherwise, undocumented students attending college would have to pay international student rates, which are often two to three times as much as in-state tuition.

While Lopez has filed a bill that would assist undocumented students, Del. Charles R. Poindexter, R-Glade Hill, is sponsoring a measure that targets them. HB 2001 would allow federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to enter public college campuses and require schools to help identify and apprehend DREAMers.

Poindexter’s bill would undercut efforts by students around the state to establish “sanctuary campuses.” Since Trump’s election, student organizations have urged college administrators to declare their campuses as sanctuaries for DREAMers. This means that the school’s faculty would work to protect such students and would refuse to provide sensitive information about them to ICE.

Committees in the House of Delegates will consider the bills during the coming week.

McAuliffe Vows to Veto Anti-Abortion Bills

By Jessica Nolte and Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe spoke Thursday in support of legislation proposed by members of the Women’s Health Care Caucus and vowed to veto bills he believes would endanger women’s reproductive rights.

McAuliffe said legislators should learn from controversies in North Carolina following the passage of what he called “socially divisive bills.” McAuliffe said he told the General Assembly not to send him these types of bills because they have no chance of becoming law.

“I have sent a strong message already. They have an abortion bill, a 20-week abortion bill, that was signed on by, I think, eight members of the General Assembly. I have made it very clear I will veto it. That bill has zero chance of becoming law in the commonwealth of Virginia,” McAuliffe said.

McAuliffe also criticized the “Day of Tears” resolution, passed by the House on Wednesday, to make the anniversary of Roe v. Wade a day of mourning in Virginia.

The governor said the resolution signals that Virginia is not open or welcoming. He said it alienates women and sends a message around the United States that Virginia does not treat women with respect. The Day of Tears resolution is not a law so it cannot be vetoed by the governor.

Members of the Women’s Health Care Caucus thanked the governor and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a fellow Democrat, for their continued support of women’s health care rights.

Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, recalled when Republican legislators proposed a bill requiring women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound exam before having an abortion. Favola said it was Northam, a physician, who gave senators a health lesson and helped show that the bill met the state’s definition of rape.

“It sure is terrific to have a wall in the governor’s mansion, but we can’t be sure that’s going to continue so we have to do everything we can now,” said Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax.

The Virginia General Assembly has proposed more than 75 restrictions on women’s reproductive health care since 2010, said Democratic Del. Jennifer Boysko, who represents Fairfax and Loudoun counties.

“Laws that restrict a woman’s access to abortion harm the very women they claim to help,” Boysko said.

Safe and legal abortions are vital to comprehensive reproductive health care for women and must be protected, Boysko said.

“Virginia laws restricting access to abortion create sharp disparities in access to care that are troubling, reminiscent of the time before Roe v. Wade,” Boysko said. “A time when access depended on a woman’s economic status, her race, where she lives or her ability to travel to another state.”

The caucus has proposed several bills to protect women’s reproductive health, including:

  • HB 1563, which would remove classifications that require facilities that perform at least five first-trimester abortions a month to comply with minimum standards for hospitals.
  • HB 2186, which would ensure that women have a fundamental right to a lawful abortion and that no statute or regulation would prohibit an abortion prior to the fetus’ viability or to protect the health or life of the woman.
  • HB 2267, which would require health benefit plans to cover up to a 12-month supply of hormonal contraceptives to be dispensed at one time.

Republicans are pursuing measures reflecting their pro-life stance. The House is considering a bill (HB 1473) that generally would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks. The 20-week cutoff was chosen because that’s approximately when a fetus begins to feel pain, said Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock.

“I know that there’s always an attempt to frame this as purely a women’s health issue, but for those of us who are adamantly pro-life, this is also a baby’s health issue,” Gilbert said.

The bill provides exceptions only for a medical condition that could cause death or substantial and irreversible physical impairment, not including psychological or emotional conditions.

When asked about the bills supported by the Women’s Health Care Caucus, Jeff Ryer, spokesperson for the Senate Republican Caucus, said that he could not comment without knowing the specifics of the legislation.

“All that being said, generally speaking the 21 members of the Senate Republican Caucus are pro-life and vote accordingly,” Ryer said.

Subcommittee Kills Transgender ‘Bathroom Bill’

By Tyler Hammel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill that would have told transgender individuals which bathroom they must use died in a General Assembly subcommittee Thursday.

The panel took a non-recorded vote to table the bill, much to the chagrin of its sponsor, Del. Bob Marshall, R-Prince William County. By tabling the bill through a voice vote, the subcommittee members were able to keep their records hidden from the public.

The House General Laws Committee also killed another Marshall-sponsored bill, and killed another delegate’s bill dealing with sexual identity.

House Bill 1612, as originally proposed by Marshall, would have required people in public schools and government buildings to use the restroom for the sex shown on their original birth certificate. The bill also would have required the principal of a public school to notify the parent or guardian if a child asked to be identified by a name, pronoun or treatment “inconsistent with the child’s sex.”

Marshall spoke on the legislation, dubbed the Physical Privacy Act, Thursday in the subcommittee and amended the bill from applying to the gender on an individual’s original birth certificate to the gender on their current birth certificate. This amendment would have allowed transgender individuals who have gone through the legal process of changing their gender with the state to use the bathroom and locker room corresponding to the gender approved by a circuit court.

The issue has generated controversy. The Obama administration has told public schools to allow transgender students – who are born as one sex but identify as the other – to use the bathroom of their choice. North Carolina has faced business boycotts after passing a law similar to HB 1612.

LGBT advocates say that for fairness and safety, transgender people should be allowed to use the restroom of the sex with which they identify. Opponents fear that such policies would allow men to enter a women’s restroom and could lead to sexual assaults.

After the bill was tabled by the unrecorded voice vote, effectively killing it, a visibly angry Marshall called for an on-the-record vote, “...so the Virginians know what you’re doing.”

“You campaign one way and come down here and vote another,” Marshall said.

A second Marshall-sponsored bill also failed in the subcommittee. HB 2011 would have said it’s not discriminatory to decide separation of the sexes based on “...the biological characteristics or qualities that distinguish an individual as either male or female as determined at birth.” The bill died for lack of a motion.

“I’m going to pray you that you all get courage,” Marshall said after the committee chairman, Del. Keith Hodges, R-Urbanna, declared the bill dead.

A bill that would have prevented discrimination in employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation also died in the subcommittee.

Proposed by Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, HB 2129 mirrored a bill Levine proposed last year that was also voted down.

Levine compared the bill to protections already in existence that prevent discrimination based on gender identity, race, national origin, age, disability, pregnancy and religion.

“When you hire or fire someone it should be based on their ability, not on their sexual orientation,” Levine said.

A religious freedom bill, HB 2025, proposed by Del. Nicholas Freitas R-Culpeper, was approved by the committee. The bill protects an individual who refuses to perform a marriage based on religious beliefs from criminal or civil liability. Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a virtually identical bill last year under claims that it was unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Del. Byron Defends Her Broadband Legislation

By Jim Thomma, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A Republican lawmaker on Thursday defended her broadband-access bill from critics who say it favors established internet providers such as Comcast and Verizon while limiting competition from other companies and local governments.

Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford County, said HB 2108 actually seeks to “expand the availability of broadband to Virginians who do not currently have it.”

The bill, titled the “Virginia Broadband Deployment Act,” has garnered sharp criticism from advocates of rural broadband expansion. Byron said a Roanoke Times editorial criticizing the bill has spurred death threats against her.

Byron called a news conference to rebut claims that the bill would protect internet service providers while denying rural Virginians a government-supported option for internet access.

Byron, who has been in the House of Delegates for 19 years, heads the Broadband Advisory Council that advises the governor on broadband deployment policy.

Byron appeared at the news conference with Del. Jay Leftwich, R-Chesapeake, and representatives from the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the Northern Virginia Technology Council, the Virginia Cable Television Association, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, Virginia Telephone Industry Association, and Cox Communications.

The Northern Virginia Technology Council has made campaign donations totaling $7,500 to Byron in the past four years, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Other top donors include private telecommunications companies such as Verizon and AT&T.

“This bill is intended to fulfill a longstanding goal of the General Assembly, and the Broadband Advisory Council, to expand the availability of broadband to Virginians who do not currently have it,” Byron said.

She said the bill would not stop local governments from creating their own networks, as critics claim. The bill simply would require confirmation by an independent consulting firm, such as the Center for Innovative Technology, that areas designated for development are “unserved.”

Opponents argue that the bill would discourage competition that would drive down broadband costs for poor Virginians and that it would hamper existing municipal broadband networks from providing a necessary service.

The Roanoke City Council unanimously condemned HB 2108 on Tuesday, claiming it would endanger a $9.6 million investment by the city and other local governments in the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority.

“I’ll call it what it is – an effort by the legacy carriers to protect their turf,” Councilman Ray Ferris said, according to the Roanoke Times. “It’s crony capitalism at its finest.”

The Franklin County Board of Supervisors passed a similar resolution that same day.

The bill would also repeal several exclusions granted to local telecommunications services from Freedom of Information Act disclosures.

“I believe that exemption is being abused and applied to every aspect of municipal broadband deployment,” Byron said, “leaving the media and taxpayers in the dark about the expenditures and investments made with their money.”

Byron said the bill would bring increased transparency to publicly funded broadband projects in rural parts of the state, including her own district, which stretches from Bedford County east to Lynchburg and includes part of Franklin County.

“Making huge capital investments with already-stressed budgets in rural areas, with risky returns on the investment, really needs to have oversight,” Byron said.

The state auditor recommended tighter regulations in the public corruption lawsuit against Bristol Virginia Utilities, according to Byron.

Byron said she reached out to providers for language for HB 2108 but denied allegations that telecommunications industry officials had a part in crafting the legislation.

According to Byron, the bill grew out of her experience chairing the Advisory Council and as vice chair of the House Committee on Commerce and Labor.

Byron attributed “misleading analysis” about HB 2108 to the lack of transparency the bill seeks to address, and the lack of popular understanding it fosters.

“The misinformation and hyperbole that people are using is distracting from the real issue at hand,” she said.

Democrats Seek to Protect Reproductive Rights

By SaraRose Martin, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In an effort to protect and expand women’s health care in Virginia, House Democrats said Tuesday they have introduced three bills to ensure easier access to abortion and contraceptives.

The bills represent a contrast to Republican measures such as the “Day of Tears” resolution that encourages Virginians to mourn abortion, Democratic legislators and their allies said at a news conference.

Progress Virginia Executive Director Anna Scholl said the General Assembly has seen more than 75 proposals to restrict women’s access to reproductive health care since 2010. She urged legislators to stop making women’s health care political.

“A woman who has decided to have an abortion should be treated with dignity and respect, not subjected to medically unnecessary rules and laws pushed by politicians who wish to shame and stigmatize women,” Scholl said. “Women deserve no less than full autonomy over their healthcare and reproductive care decisions.”

Participants in the news conference included NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network, and Progress Virginia. They endorsed three pending bills involving women’s health and birth control.

Introduced by Del. Jennifer B. Boysko, D-Herndon, the Whole Women’s Health Act (HB 2186) provides that a woman has a fundamental right to a lawful abortion and forbids statutes that may place a burden on this access. The bill would eliminate all the procedures and processes, including the performance of an ultrasound, that are required for a woman’s informed written consent to an abortion.

Del. Jeion A. Ward, D-Hampton, introduced the Patient Trust Act (HB 2286), which would allow women to waive their right to a mandatory waiting period before seeking an abortion.

“These bills recognize that after receiving medically appropriate counseling and information from a healthcare provider, it is not in a woman’s best interest to force her to receive additional non-medical information,” said Janice Kraft, director of policy and government affairs for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.

“Laws that require a woman to hear or receive information that she does not want or need and that her physician believes is irrelevant to her care, biased, misleading or outright false violate the basic tenets of informed consent and the standards of medical ethics,” Kraft said.

The Birth Control Access Act (HB 2267), introduced byDel. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax County, allows women to receive a full 12-month supply of hormonal contraceptives at one time. The bill is expected to face opposition from insurance companies.

Dr. Wendy Klein, a Richmond physician, spoke on behalf of the bill as a clinician and scholar in women’s health.

“As a physician, I can tell you that interruptions in birth control supply are a huge impediment to birth control actually working and preventing unintended pregnancies. That’s why having the ability to pick up a full year’s supply of hormonal contraceptives is such a big deal, and there’s no medical reason to restrict access to it,” Klein said.

According to a Pew research poll, 1 in 3 women will have an abortion by the age of 45 and 7 in 10 women support the right to have an abortion. The speakers urged members of the General Assembly to pass the bills as soon as possible.

“When a woman has to travel hours away from home, spend the night in a hotel, get childcare for her children, and lose hours at work, all to have an extremely safe, simple medical procedure, something is wrong,” said Dr. Mark Ryan, a family practice doctor in Richmond.

“Legislators belong in the legislature, not forcing themselves between my patient and me as we work together to determine the best steps for my patient’s health.”

Groups Criticize Panel For Not Hiking Minimum Wage

By Jesse Adcock, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Advocacy groups for low-paid workers blasted a Virginia Senate committee for killing two bills that would have raised the minimum wage incrementally over the next three years.

“It is a sad day when politicians prioritize corporate profits over hardworking Virginia families,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia and a member of the Women’s Equality Coalition. “$7.25 is not enough to put food on the table and keep a roof over your head at the same time, and no one who works a full-time job should be living in poverty.”

Supporters of the legislation had hoped Virginia would become the 30th state with a minimum wage above the federally mandated minimum of $7.25 an hour. But on Monday, Republicans on the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee voted to kill the two proposals:

·         SB 785, proposed by Sen. David Marsden, D-Burke, would have raised the minimum wage to $8 an hour on July 1, to $9 an hour in 2018, to $10.10 an hour in 2019, and finally to $11.25 an hour in 2020. The bill died on an 11-3 vote.

·         SB 978, proposed by Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, would have raised the minimum wage to $10 an hour on July 1, to $13 an hour in 2018, and ultimately to $15 an hour in 2019. The committee voted 11-2, with one abstention, against the proposal.

“Had we indexed the minimum wage for inflation 40 years ago, it would be $11,” Marsden said. “People are really falling behind.”

He said that by raising the minimum wage in yearly increments, his bill could have been repealed if evidence showed it was hurting the state’s economy. Marsden added that by raising the minimum wage, consumers could reclaim lost buying power that had been lost to inflation during the previous decades.

Representatives from the Catholic Conference, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, workers’ unions and minimum wage employees themselves came to speak in support of the bill.

“We continue to walk beside and around these people always telling them to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps,’” said Athena Jones, who came from Portsmouth representing home care workers. “But(we) have never given them shoes in the first place.”

Representatives of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the chambers of commerce for Prince William County, Roanoke and the Richmond area opposed the bill.

“Raising the minimum wage does not solve the problem – it only creates new problems,” said Ryan Dunn, a representative from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. “There is no silver bullet for poverty.”

Dunn said that should SB 785 pass, between 10,000 and 31,000 minimum wage jobs would be lost.

Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw of Fairfax pointed out that number of jobs lost would represent a tiny slice of the state population.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the more than 4 million working Virginians in 2015, 50,000 of them earned exactly $7.25 per hour, while 69,000 earned less, because of exceptions to the federal law. (Employees under 20 years old in their first 90 consecutive days of employment, workers who make tips and apprentices can all legally be paid less than the minimum wage.)

“How many of your members pay $7.25?” Saslaw asked the business representatives. “If your business plan requires you to pay $7.25, you don’t have much of a business plan.”

“Some of us have a view that the system does work,” said Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Mechanicsville. “We have a good system in place.”

The committee voted to “pass by indefinitely” both bills, which means they will not be considered further in this session.

Afterward, Julie Emery, executive director of the Virginia Civic Engagement Table and a member of the Women’s Equality Coalition, said she was disappointed by the panel’s actions.

“Yet again, the politicians in Richmond have refused to give the working people of Virginia a raise. This despite the fact that polls show Virginians overwhelmingly favor increasing the minimum wage,” Emery said.

Three bills pending in the House of Delegates, all filed by Democrats, also seek to raise the minimum wage. They are HB 1444, proposed by Del. Sam Rasoul of Roanoke; HB 1771, by Del. Kenneth Plum of Reston; and HB 2309, by Del. Marcus Simon of Falls Church. Those bills have been referred to a subcommittee of the House Commerce and Labor Committee.

Bill Would Exempt Fracking Chemicals from FOIA

By Tyler Hammel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Open government advocates are alarmed at a legislative subcommittee’s approval of a bill that would hide from the public record the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said House Bill 1678 would violate the public’s right to know about possible environmental and health hazards posed by fracking, in which liquids are injected into the ground to extract oil or gas.

“They would shield information from the public and local government and would jeopardize their ability to monitor public health,” Rhyne said.

Last week, a subcommittee of the House General Laws Committee voted 4-3 to recommend approval of the bill, which was sponsored by Del. Roxann Robinson, R-Midlothian. If the full committee agrees, the measure will go to the House floor for consideration.

Robinson, who introduced a similar bill last year, said the bill is intended to protect trade secrets of companies that use hydraulic fracturing, which involves pumping large amounts of water and chemicals into the ground to break open rock formations containing natural gas and oil.

The bill would exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information Act “chemical ingredient names, the chemical abstracts number for a chemical ingredient, or the amount or concentration of chemicals or ingredients used to stimulate a well.”

Robinson noted that her measure includes exceptions for health care providers and first responders in the event of an emergency. They would be able to access the information about chemicals from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.

“The industry has been fracking in Virginia for decades without any disclosure requirements and with a remarkable record of safe natural gas production,” Robinson said.

At last Thursday’s subcommittee meeting, Miles Morin, executive director of the Virginia Petroleum Council, spoke in favor of the bill. He said it strikes a balance between protecting the industry’s secrets while maintaining full disclosure to regulators.

“With this protection, Virginia would still have one of the strongest chemical disclosure requirements in the country,” Morin said.

Fracking has attracted attention in recent years for potential pollution in places such as Pavillion, Wyoming, where former EPA scientist Dominic DiGiulio published a report connecting contaminated water to fracking waste.

Opponents of Robinson’s bill, including Travis Blankenship of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, said the measure would prevent landowners from knowing about chemicals that could affect their well water.

“We feel this legislation goes far beyond protecting the competitive trade secrets the legislation attempts to get at and actively prevents landowners from knowing chemicals affecting their drinking water,” Blankenship said.

Another opponent, Emily Francis of the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the bill would put trade secrets in a black box hidden from citizens and could pose dangers for local governments.

“Specifically, we are concerned that localities would not have access to this information ahead of time in order to prepare for any potential accident,” Francis said.

The bill contains language that would allow for emergency personnel and first responders to be informed of the chemicals used in fracking in the event of an emergency. But Rhyne fears this would not give first responders enough time to prepare and would put them at risk.

“This is not quite the same, but in 9/11 there were so many people exposed to the chemicals in fluorescent light bulbs that exploded during the towers’ collapse,” Rhyne said. “You’re exposed to chemicals, and then you develop illnesses later.”

Robinson has a similar bill, HB 1679, scheduled to be heard Wednesday by the Natural Resources Subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources.

HB 1679 would require fracking chemicals exempted under HB 1678 to be disclosed to the director of the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. It would allow the director to disclose the chemical information to state and local officials assisting in an emergency but would prevent further dissemination.

Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Lebanon, has filed two virtually identical bills in the Senate. SB 1291 has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources, and SB 1292to the Senate Committee General Laws and Technology.

House OKs Bill to Ease Rule on Concealed Gun Permits

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia House of Delegates approved a bill Wednesday to allow members of the military to obtain concealed handgun permits at age 18.

HB 1582, introduced by Del. Jeff Campbell, R-Marion, passed by a vote of 78-19. It will now go to the Senate for consideration.

The bill would allow active-duty military personnel and those with an honorable discharge between the ages of 18 and 20 to receive concealed handgun permits, provided they have completed basic training. The current minimum age for a concealed handgun permit is 21.

Under federal law, it is illegal for anyone under 21 to purchase a handgun from a licensed firearm dealer. However, Virginians between 18 and 20 can legally buy a handgun in a private sale or receive one as a gift.

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, cited that reason in opposing the bill.

“We don’t think it’s smart to let 18- and 19- and 20-year-olds who can’t legally purchase a firearm from carrying concealed,” he said when the bill was debated Tuesday.

Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, disagreed.

“I see no harm at all in trusting young men and women who were ready to give their lives for our freedom” to have a concealed handgun permit, he said.

Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpepper, echoed Lingamfelter.

“We don’t seem to have any problem putting a gun in their hands when they’re going to go overseas to get shot at,” he said. “So this whole idea that we can’t trust them when they come back to exercise the very constitutional amendment they went overseas to defend seems a little bit ridiculous to me.”

Campbell said the bill also would increase concealed handgun permit reciprocity with other states.

Currently, Virginia permits are recognized throughout the Southeast except in Georgia. Campbell said his bill would change that by “removing the sole impediment to recognition of Virginia concealed carry permit holders by the state of Georgia,” thereby granting permit holders full passage throughout the southern I-95 corridor.

“As a practical matter, this is a good bill for those of us who like to travel out of state on the East Coast,” Lingamfelter said.

Campbell said the bill is another step toward his party’s goal of concealed handgun permit reciprocity across all 50 states. Currently, Virginia permits are recognized in 32 states.

Simon said he fears that in expanding reciprocity, Virginia may be headed down a slippery slope.

“We’re going to have to lower our standards in state after state after state to make sure that our laws are just as generous to concealed carry permit holders and that we have the lowest standards of any state in the country,” Simon said. “It is the first step in having us liberalize our concealed carry permits to go to the lowest common denominator.”

Permit reciprocity has been a hot-button issue among Virginia officials. In December 2015, Attorney General Mark Herring revoked Virginia’s permit reciprocity agreements with 25 states.

However, during its 2016 session, the General Assembly passed legislation reversing Herring’s decision and restoring all previous reciprocity agreements.

With Donald Trump’s election as president, the issue of permit reciprocity has risen to prominence at the federal level. This month, U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., introduced the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 in Congress.

Hudson’s proposal would force all 50 states to recognize permits from all other states. The bill is awaiting hearing in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.

State Building Named After Civil Rights Pioneer

By Taylor Knight, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The renovated state building that houses the Virginia attorney general’s office will be named after Barbara Johns, a civil rights pioneer who helped end school segregation, Gov. Terry McAuliffe has announced.

“When we name our state buildings after people from our history, we make a statement that the work done within those buildings will advance their legacy,” McAuliffe said last week at Virginia Union University’s 39th Annual Community Leaders Breakfast.

“I am honored to announce that her name will be placed on this beautiful building as a lasting reminder of the enormous impact one person can have when they stand up fearlessly for what is right.”

Johns, who was brought up in the segregated school system of Prince Edward County, organized a student strike at her high school in 1951 to protest the dilapidated classroom conditions and lack of resources compared with the all-white school in the county.

By 1954, Johns’ fight for equality arrived at the U.S. Supreme Court, and her plea was combined with what became the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which declared school segregation unconstitutional.

McAuliffe’s announcement to name the building after Johns was made alongside one of the structure’s new inhabitants, Attorney General Mark Herring.

“Change in this commonwealth and this country has always come when brave individuals stand up and demand their rights, and so often it has been a young person who can still see injustice with clear eyes,” Herring said.

“To me, that’s the legacy of Barbara Johns – a brave young woman who stood up and demanded the rights that the Constitution guaranteed to her and to each of us. I will be proud every single day I walk into the Barbara Johns Building to fight for justice, equality, and opportunity for every Virginian.”

The building, at 202 N. Ninth St., will be formally dedicated at a date to be announced.

The newly modernized building overlooks the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial, which features a statue of Johns on the grounds of the State Capitol.

Lawmakers Target College Tuition and Access

By Jessica Samuels, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Legislators from both parties and both houses of the General Assembly gathered Tuesday to highlight more than 20 bills that they say would improve higher education in Virginia.

More than 10 percent of the state’s lawmakers participated in a news conference at Capitol Square, aiming their comments at university financing practices and tuition assistance.

“Virginians want our public universities to be more transparent, more accountable and more efficient,” said Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax.

Lawmakers said their proposals would make college more affordable and provide financial aid to in-state students.

“Many of my colleagues and I in the General Assembly have worked to increase the number of in-state slots at Virginia’s public colleges and universities for nearly a decade,” said Del. Tim Hugo, R-Centerville.

“The goal of this initiative is to ensure that qualified Virginia high school students are not turned away from Virginia’s premier universities in favor of out-of-state students. We must continue to work to ensure that our graduating high school students are able to pursue their secondary education here in Virginia,” Hugo said.

Del. Dave Albo, R-Fairfax, said he had learned, to his surprise, that colleges sometimes use tuition from certain in-state students to subsidize other students.

“Like many parents in Virginia, I have worked hard to save money with the Virginia 529 College Savings Plan to provide a prepaid tuition for my son’s future education,” Albo said.

“I was shocked and extremely upset to learn that some of the money that I worked hard to save is going to be used to pay for some other student’s tuition. My bill, HB 1410, simply says that a school cannot take money from one student and give it to another student against their will.”

Hugo said he and his colleagues already have filed 20 bills and have “another four or five coming” to change how the state’s institutions of higher education operate.

Some delegates who paid their way through college said their legislation focuses on fostering financial transparency and providing more information on how state-funded schools spend their money.

The bills touted by lawmakers include:

  • SB 985, sponsored by Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach. It would prohibit in-state tuition and instructional fees for undergraduate students at Virginia’s public institutions of higher education from increasing more than the national inflation rate for consumer goods.
  • SB 1088, by Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Midlothian. It would require the governing board of each state college and university to tell incoming freshmen the maximum amount that their tuition could increase during their four years in school.
  • SB 1405, by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon. It would require state colleges and universities to notify students and accept public comments before raising tuition or fees.
  • HB 1410, submitted by Albo, and HB 1886, by Hugo. These bills would require most state colleges and universities to set aside at least 75 percent of the undergraduate admissions for Virginia residents.
  • HB 2260, filed by Del. Ronald Villanueva, R-Virginia Beach. It would require each school to hire “a full-time ombudsman to provide confidential and independent assistance to faculty, staff, and students in resolving complaints, conflicts, disputes, and other problems.”

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