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GREENSVILLE/EMPORIA DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES

LOCAL BOARD MEETING

The Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services Administrative Board will hold its regular meeting Thursday, June 20, 2019, at 3:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services located at 1748 East Atlantic Street.

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Del. Aird Appointed to Appropriations Committee

By Amy Lee, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Del. Lashrecse Aird of Petersburg made headlines last legislative session as the youngest woman elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. This session, Aird is making news again for her appointment to the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Aird, a 30-year-old Democrat, says she strives to “make sure that my district understands how great of an opportunity it’s going to be to have more representation at the ‘money table.’”

As a representative of the 63rd House District, which includes the financially troubled city of Petersburg, she acknowledges the weight of her appointment in the Appropriations Committee.

“My biggest priority is to dig deeper into understanding how they [Petersburg] were able to get in this level of fiscal stress, and what we as a commonwealth need to do to put protections into place and to allow them to have the tools and resources to prevent this type of challenge from occurring into the future.”

The House Appropriations Committee oversees the state budget. Under Virginia’s biennial budget system, the General Assembly is tasked with creating a budget in even-numbered years and amending it in odd years. The Appropriations Committee sorts funding priorities, introduces budgetary changes and considers budget amendment requests from House members.

House Speaker William Howell appointed Aird to the Appropriations Committee last week. The appointment was applauded by both Democrats and Republicans.

“I was very pleased to hear Del. Aird has been assigned to the House Appropriations Committee,” said House Majority Leader Kirk Cox of Colonial Heights. “Her thoughtful demeanor and strong work ethic will add great input to this vitally important committee. I look forward to working with her on the Appropriations Committee and advocating for the Tri-cities.”

Aird (whose first name is pronounced “la-sha-reesh”) was 29 when she won her bid for an open House seat in November 2015. During last year’s legislative session, she served on the House Finance Committee, an experience she says has helped familiarize her with budget processes.

“I just hope that my knowledge, skills and abilities have shone through in my first year that has allowed me the ability to get the appointment. I’m grateful, and I’m going to work so hard because it is a unique opportunity, and I think my district absolutely deserves that,” Aird said.

The Appropriations Committee consists of 15 Republicans and seven Democrats and is chaired by Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk.

In addition to her appointment to the Appropriations Committee, Aird identified education and workforce development as her top priorities for the 2017 session.

Aird serves House District 63, which comprises the counties of Chesterfield, Dinwiddie and Prince George, as well as the cities of Petersburg and Hopewell.

Hunting Dog Group Rallies Against Trespassing Bill

By Tyler Woodall and Julie Rothey, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – About 150 hunters and members of the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance turned out at the Virginia Capitol on Tuesday to show their displeasure with a bill that would fine the owners of dogs that trespass on other people’s property.

House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, is sponsoring HB 1900, which would impose a $100 fine if a dog runs at large on property where the owner has given notice verbally, in writing, by placing signs or by marking trees with blue paint on the property line.

The speakers who addressed the passionate crowd adorned in blaze-orange hunting caps included H. Kirby Burch, the CEO of the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance; Jeff Sili, a member of the Caroline County Board of Supervisors; and recently elected state Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg.

“Your participation sends a message that you care, that you are watching, and you do pay attention,” Burch told the crowd as the rally began with a few hoots and hollers from the members.

Burch said the bill would penalize accidental trespassing by hunting dogs.

Peake guaranteed the crowd that he will vote against the bill if it makes it past the House and will stand up to anyone to protect hunting rights.

Sili also said the bill is flawed. “A point that is lost in all of this,” he said is that “law enforcement is not prepared to take on what this is going to cause, because it will become a tool amongst neighbors who don’t like their neighbor’s dog in their yard. It’s not just a hunting issue.”

Nearly all the speakers said the bill is wrongfully aimed at hunters.

“I have no redeeming graces for the bill,” Burch said in an interview after the rally. “It is a bill to do harm because someone has an agenda.”

Users of hunting dogs “want people to understand we’re God-fearing, law-abiding citizens,” Burch said. “We’re not rednecks, we’re not troublemakers and we care about our animals.”

Theresa Miller, who with her husband owns Red Oak Foxhounds hunt club in Rawlings, echoed Burch’s message.

“You cannot fault the whole deer hunting community because of the actions of a few people,” Miller said.

HB 1900 is awaiting action by the House Rules Committee, which Howell chairs.

Under current law, it’s a misdemeanor to intentionally release dogs on another person’s land to hunt without the consent of the landowner. However, finding a dog on another’s property is not enough evidence to prove the intentional release of that animal.

If a hunting dog strays onto another person’s property, the hunter has the “right to retrieve” the animal. This applies even if the hunter has been previously asked not to trespass. Landowners have been pushing for a repeal to the “right to retrieve” law.

“The ‘right to retrieve’ law is an unconstitutional law,” said Donald Wright, a landowner in the town of Virgilina in Halifax County. He supports HB 1900, saying the bill “restores property rights to people like me.”

The Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance argued in a press release that conversations need to happen between neighbors before regulations are introduced. But Wright, a hunter himself, said he has tried that.

“I’ve been told, ‘You’re not from around here, you’re the problem, get used to it,’” he said. Wright stressed that he doesn’t want to see dog hunting done away with. “It’s just the bad apples.”

Landowners have complained about hunting dogs on their property, and hunters following them, in the past. The Virginia Landowners Association is pushing for stricter licensing regulations for dog hunters.

“I’m not able to enjoy my land. There’s dogs on my property almost every day,” Aaron Bumgarner, executive director of the landowners association, said in an interview with the Tidewater News. “I can’t take my own two dogs out on my land without conflict during the general [hunting] season and even during spring turkey season.”

From July 2014 to June 2015, about 5 percent of hunting complaints in Virginia involved dogs, according to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Faculty Members Push For College Funding

By Haley Winn, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – More than 30 students and faculty members from Virginia colleges and universities gathered in Richmond to urge legislators to protect funding for higher education.

Virginia Higher Education Advocacy Day, an annual event sponsored by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Faculty Senate, aimed to deliver a basic request to lawmakers: make fewer cuts and add more funding for state colleges and universities.

Pat Cummins, a member of the VCU Faculty Senate, said, “We have one major event of the year, and this is it.”

Brian Turner, who launched Advocacy Day in 2003 with colleagues in the American Association of University Professors, said Thursday’s turnout of students and professors was larger than he expected.

Faculty members expressed concern about the impact students would feel directly as a result of more budget cuts. The effects could include shorter library hours and fewer tutoring services, along with higher tuition fees to make up for money the schools aren’t receiving from the state.

The benefits of funding for colleges and universities go beyond the classroom, experts say. According to a report published in 2014 titled “Addressing the Cost of Public Higher Education in Virginia,” those benefits include greater economic growth and reduced societal health-care costs.

Gerard Sherayko, a professor at Randolph College in Lynchburg and president of the Virginia Conference of the AAUP, said a better educated population is a healthier population. Sherayko said the entire state benefits when people have the ability to make more money, pay more taxes and do more things with their money.

“I teach at a private school,” Sherayko said, “but these issues matter to all of us.”

While the main goal of Thursday’s event was to urge legislators to resist calls to cut higher education funding, faculty members also highlighted bills before the General Assembly that they support or oppose.

According to Cummins, some of those bills would impose on academic freedom by requiring specific courses as part of a student’s curriculum. Another bill would require faculty members to ask students for documentation that they are U.S. citizens or legal residents.

Del. Kory Honored For Supporting Higher Education

By Haley Winn, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, accepted the American Association of University Professors’ Michael S. Harris Award on Thursday for her “exemplary service in support of higher education.”

The award is presented each year in memory of Col. Harris, who served as president of the Virginia Conference of the AAUP.

The AAUP recognized Kory for her efforts to promote inclusivity in academe, as well as her support of bills to protect minorities and immigrants. This legislative session, Kory is sponsoring bills defending the public’s right to speakat open government meetings and prohibiting workplace discrimination.

In 2016, the award was presented to Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville.

Capitol is Site of Dueling Gun Rallies

By Jessica Nolte and Jessica Samuels, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Unified by their desire to preserve safety, but divided on ways to do so, both sides of the Virginia gun debate rallied on Capitol Square on Monday.

“Hello deplorables. Are you ready to take back the Commonwealth of Virginia?” Corey Stewart, a Republican candidate for governor, asked as members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League rallied in the morning.

Stewart cautioned the crowd that while it is possible to lose a battle and win the war, that means it is also possible to win the battle and lose the war. He said they won the battle for the presidency with Trump’s 2016 election.

“We have to gain the controls in Virginia because it’s not just enough to defend our rights, we need to further those rights,” Stewart said.

It’s not enough to have control in Washington, he said.

“There are gun grabbers. One of them is right over there in the governor’s mansion,” Stewart said.

Sen. Dick Black, R-Loudoun County, told the story of an uprising in Mexico, and said that while the rebels won on the battlefield, they ultimately had to surrender because they ran out of ammunition.

“I want to see the American people armed,” Black said. “The only way we control our government is by being too resistant to be suppressed.”

Many members of the group donned camouflage, and several wore hats distinguishing themselves as military veterans or Donald Trump supporters. Most of the attendees marked themselves with bright orange stickers that said “Guns Save Lives.”

Some attendees at the rally were openly carrying firearms.

“Every event that we have, we make a special point to invite people who are carrying,” Black said. “You’re welcome to bring whatever you want. You can open carry, you can conceal and carry-- anything that we do.”

Later that afternoon the Virginia Center for Public Safety held its rally in the same location, at the Bell Tower.

“We’re not out here being unreasonable,” said Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam, a Democratic candidate for governor.

“All we’re asking – all we’re asking – is that we can live in communities, that we can work in communities, that we can play and that we can raise our children and have them to go to school to be in safe environments where they don’t have to worry about being the victims of gun violence,” Northam said.

Speakers throughout the rally mentioned the 32 deaths from the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, the 26 deaths from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the 49 people killed in the Orlando night club shooting .

“For the fifth year in a row, gun homicides in Virginia are on the way up,” Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, said.

Herring said that while the General Assembly ought to take action, he will not wait.

“We’ve gone from prosecuting almost no crimes out of the office of attorney general to over one hundred gun crimes in 2016 alone,” Herring said.

Speakers at both rallies said guns should be taken out of the hands of criminals. Speakers at the Virginia Center for Public Safety rally said the way to do that was through legislation, including increased regulation at gun shows and stricter guidelines for background checks.

“I served in a chamber whose response to gun violence is a moment of silence,” said U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin, a former member of the Virginia Senate. “What is that about? A moment of silence never saved anyone.”

Barbara Parker of Collinsville, the mother of Allison Parker, the Roanoke journalist who was killed on live television in 2015, was at the rally.

We will be here till we have sensible gun legislation in our state and in our country. People can’t assume it can never happen to them or to their loved ones,” Parker said.

House Panel OKs ‘Day of Tears’ Resolution

By Dai Norman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Opponents of abortion rights won a victory Monday when the House Rules Committee approved a resolution to designate the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision as a “Day of Tears.”

The committee voted 10 to 4, along party lines, to send the resolution, introduced by Republican Dels. Benjamin Cline of Amherst and Richard Bell of Staunton, to the full House of Delegates.

Democratic Dels. Kenneth Plum of Reston, David J. Toscano of Charlottesville, Jeion A. Ward of Hampton and Betsy B. Carr voted against the resolution. The chairman of the House Rules Committee, House Speaker William J. Howell of Stafford, did not vote.

The resolution, HR 268, would recognize Jan. 22 as the Day of Tears. It was on Jan. 22, 1973, that the Supreme Court declared that the U.S. Constitution protects a woman’s right to have an abortion.

The resolution reads: “Since that fateful day, over 58 million unborn children have perished; now, therefore, be it resolved, that January 22 shall be called the Day of Tears in Virginia and that the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia are encouraged to lower their flags to half-staff to mourn the innocents who have lost their lives to abortion.”

Members of an anti- abortion organization with the same name as the bill, A Day of Tears, said lowering the flags to half-staff would open a dialogue about abortion.

Diana Shores, the social media director for Day of Tears, said she was pleased with the committee’s action and was optimistic for the future of resolution.

“I’ve got a lot of support,” Shores said. “We’ve lobbied almost all of the House of Delegates so it [HR 268] should be doing well.”

Cline said he was glad to help the organization achieve its goal. However, he said there has been some misinterpretation of the resolution by a few citizens.

“There are some [people] who misunderstand it and think that is somehow an official date, and that state agencies would be required to lower their flags or something like that. It’s not,” Cline said.

“It’s a simple expression of the House’s support for the work of a nonprofit – something that we do countless times throughout the year.”

However, Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said the resolution is detrimental to women who have exercised their right to make a conscious decision to get an abortion.

“Unfortunately, it’s a shame that Ben Cline feels like he needs to shame women for making a decision that they feel is right for themselves and their family,” Keene said. “Certainly, we [NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia] feel like women should be respected and trusted when they have made a decision to terminate a pregnancy. And what this bill does is basically disgusting.”

The members of the House Rules Committee who voted for the resolution were Republican Dels. Steven Landes of Verona, Terry Kilgore of Gate City, Lee Ware of Powhatan, Chris Jones of Suffolk, Bobby Orrock of Thornburg, Barry Knight of Virginia Beach, Riley Ingram of Hopewell, Jimmie Massie of Richmond and Gregory Habeeb of Salem, as well as House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox of Colonial Heights.

House Democrats Focus On Jobs, Wage Reform

By Amy Lee, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia House Democrats outlined their legislative agenda to raise the minimum wage, increase workforce training and protect minority rights during this General Assembly session.

The caucus, led by House Minority Leader David Toscano of Charlottesville, held a press news conference Thursday to reaffirm efforts to boost Virginia’s economy. “Our priority is to be laser-focused on creating jobs. That’s what our governor has done, that’s what we have tried to support, and that’s the positive message that Virginians want to hear,” Toscano said.

Democratic representatives took turns introducing legislation aimed to improve workforce practices.

Del. Kenneth Plum of Reston has filed House Bill 1771, which would increase the minimum wage from the current level of $7.25 to $10.10 per hour by Jan. 1, 2018.

Del. Matthew James of Portsmouth submitted HB 1592, to require community colleges to set policies that would award academic credit to students who have completed state-approved registered apprenticeship credentials.

Del. Jennifer Boysko of Herndon has filed legislation to address discriminatory pay gaps. HB 2190 would prohibit employers from inquiring about a prospective employee’s wage or salary history.

During the press news conference, House Democrats accused their Republican counterparts of focusing on “socially divisive” legislation such Del. Bob Marshall’s “bathroom bill,” which would prohibit individuals from using a bathroom of the opposite sex in government buildings.

Del. Mark Sickles of Franconia submitted two pieces of legislation to remove prohibitions on same-sex marriage which are no longer valid following the US Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. HJ 538 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would repeal the definition of marriage as “only a union between one man and one woman.” Similarly, HJ 1395 would repeal the statutory prohibitions on same-sex marriage in the state code.

Toscano presented the outlined agenda as an effort by the Democratic caucus to present “a positive approach to legislation.”

Republicans have also vowed to promote Virginia’s economic development during this legislative session, which began Wednesday. Top priorities on the Republican agenda included cutting government red tape to encourage job creation, instituting welfare reforms and funding public schools.

Lawmakers Start Tackling Virginia’s Opioid Crisis

By Ashley Luck, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia officials are scrambling to get a grasp on the state’s growing opioid epidemic, legislators and health-care leaders said Thursday.

William A. Hazel Jr., the commonwealth’s secretary of health and human resources, gave a presentation to the Senate Education and Health Committee and the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee about the opioid problem and how lawmakers should start to solve it.

Experts – including Dr. Mishka Terplan, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor of obstetrics and gynecology – joined in the presentation.

The number of deaths in Virginia caused by overdose has been on the rise. Hazel said overdose deaths in the state this year may exceed 1,000, possibly 1,100.

Hazel said 600,000 Virginians – 7 percent of the state’s population – used illicit drugs in the past month. “Of those who are addicted, 75 percent take a prescribed medicine before they’ve taken the heroin.”

Terplan proposed treatment plans for those addicted.

“Addiction is a brain-centered disease and the symptoms are behaviors, so you have to treat both,” Terplan said. “For the biological basis of treatment there’s medication, but also what’s essential is treating the behavioral component of addiction, and that’s through counseling.”

Several bills will be introduced during the 2017 General Assembly session to combat the opioid crisis. One involves community dispensing of naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioid overdose, and another bill would put a limit on opioids being prescribed in emergency rooms.

Del. Chris K. Peace, R-Mechanicsville, said the upcoming legislation also seeks to change criminal laws affecting the opioid epidemic.

“We’re going to be dealing with bills not only in the health care field but also in criminal justice,” Peace said. “I have legislation that tries to introduce peer recovery models into first offender programs like VASAP (Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program), and we’ve known that peer recovery programs are efficacious in aiding people who are in addiction and long-term recovery.”

Virginia legislators said they were well aware that they must take steps before the opioid crisis deepens. The joint committee meeting was just the beginning in addressing the issue.

Delegate Defends Bathroom Privacy Bill

Del. Bob Marshall speaking in support of his proposed Physical Privacy Act (Photo by Jessica Nolte)

By Tyler Hammel and Jessica Nolte, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A state lawmaker and his supporters Thursday defended legislation telling transgender individuals which bathroom they must use – a proposal that Gov. Terry McAuliffe has vowed to veto.

House Bill 1612, proposed by Del. Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, would require people in public schools and government buildings to use the restroom for the sex shown on their original birth certificate.

The bill also would require the principal of a public school to notify the parent or guardian if a child requests to be identified by the name, pronoun or treatment “inconsistent with the child’s sex.”

Marshall discussed the proposal, known as the Physical Privacy Act, at a news conference with members of the Virginia First Foundation, a citizens group that supports “limited Constitutional government supported by a strong Judeo-Christian, Conservative culture.”

“This bill ensures that parents are included when a student requests accommodations when they are gender uncertain,” Virginia First Foundation board member Travis Witt said.

He said HB 1612 would be a way to respect everyone while preserving the privacy and safety of others. “It’s time to put our children’s interest ahead of special interests.”

The issue has generated controversy in recent years. 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 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 the women’s restroom and could lead to sexual assaults.

At the news conference, Mary McCallister of the Liberty Counsel said the Obama administration was trying to redefine sex to include sexual orientation, sexual identity and gender expression.

Two women, Jeannie Lowder and Terry Beatley, spoke in support of Marshall’s bill.

“We can look at other options, we can work together to make this happen, but we do not need to do this at the expense of our children and those who have experienced sexual trauma,” Lowder said.

Beatley compared the movement to allow transgender individuals to use public restrooms to efforts to legalize abortion in the 1960s. She said women were lied to during the movement, which led to “a culture of 60 million dead babies.”

“This is about being fair to other people. Aren’t we tired of being such a divisive country?” Beatley said.

After the press conference, the organizers opened the floor to questions.

“Where would you like me to go to the bathroom?” Theodore Kahn, a transgender man, asked.

“Not here,” Marshall said above the uproar of the other speakers.

Kahn is no stranger to people questioning which bathroom he should use. He said it didn’t matter which bathroom he tried to use – he was still hassled.

“I’m not a thing. I’m a person, and I deserve to pee in peace,” Kahn said.

Marshall said he filed the bill because his constituents are concerned about privacy in public restrooms. “I have introduced HB 1612 to simply preserve the status quo,” he said.

Marshall’s bill faces opposition from LGBT advocates and Democratic leaders. Gov. Terry McAuliffe addressed the bill in his State of the Commonwealth speech on Wednesday night.

He said North Carolina’s law, called HB 2, has cost that state millions in economic activity and thousands of jobs.

“North Carolina remains mired in a divisive and counterproductive battle over laws its legislature passed that target the rights of LGBT citizens. As we have seen in that state and others, attacks on equality and women’s health care rights don’t just embarrass the states that engage in them – they kill jobs,” McAuliffe said.

“I want to make it very clear that I will veto any legislation that discriminates against LGBT Virginians or undermines the constitutional health care rights of Virginia women.”

Advocates for Rape Survivors Applaud Grant

By Tyler Woodall, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Organizations that help rape survivors see benefits from Virginia receiving a $2 million federal grant to improve the commonwealth’s handling of sexual assaults.

They say the money will help the state train sexual assault investigators, test rape evidence kits and provide services to rape survivors.

“At YWCA Richmond, we acknowledge that all survivors respond differently to trauma and to news involving sexual assault. News of this continued testing may provide comfort to survivors and their families that justice will be served to the perpetrator of the assault,” Rachel Solomon, the Y’s development and relations coordinator, said Thursday.

“Many service providers, survivors and community members may also find comfort that the collection of evidence from physical evidence recovery kits could lead to the prevention of future sexual assaults by known perpetrators.”

The Virginia Department of Forensic Science and Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced Wednesday that Virginia will receive the funding from the Federal Sexual Assault Kit Initiative.

The grant is part of an effort that started in 2015 when Virginia received $1.4 million to conduct DNA testing on a backlog of more than 2,000 untested Physical Evidence Recovery Kits. PERKs contain evidence collected from the survivors of sexual assaults.

“This new investment is going to let us take those efforts to the next level, completely eliminating Virginia’s backlog of untested kits once and for all and making needed upgrades throughout our response to sexual violence,” Herring said.

“Survivors are going to be met with a more informed and compassionate response, cases against perpetrators will be stronger, and every survivor will know that their commonwealth stands with them as they seek justice and healing from these brutal crimes.”

The funding will enable Virginia to:

  • Finish processing untested PERKs.
  • Establish a statewide tracking system that will show each step of the PERKs from collection to the test results. Victims and all those involved in the handling of the kit will be granted access to the status of the kit.
  • Hire a dedicated specialist to provide support for sexual assault survivors through the investigation. The Department of Forensic Science also would hire a project manager and a research assistant to oversee and streamline the processing of PERKs.
  • Provide specialized training for Virginia law enforcement.

The training will help officers understand how the experience impacts a victim’s memory to aid in the investigation. Officers also will receive training about preventing gender bias to make sure all survivors are treated with respect.

House Panel Shoots Down Ban on Guns in Libraries

Richmond Public Library Board Chair Gail Zwirner addresses the committee in favor of HB1418

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A House subcommittee shot down a bill Thursday to allow libraries owned or operated by local governments to ban firearms from their premises.

On a 4-1 voice vote, Subcommittee No. 1 of the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee recommended tabling HB 1418. The bill, proposed by Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, sought to allow localities to adopt ordinances to prohibit the carrying firearms in public libraries.

“The (library) staff strongly feels that a library should be used as a reading circle and that schools and libraries are inappropriate places to openly carry firearms,” McQuinn said. “We know that a lot of times accidents are waiting to happen, and God forbid that happens in a public library.”

Tanya Francis, a resident of Richmond’s North Side and a Richmond Public Library board member, echoed McQuinn’s statements.

“We have to have these laws place in order to hold these people accountable if something were to happen,” Francis said. “We have a law to cover the schools, and to me, the library is an extension of the school. This law would capture that.”

Lori Haas, Virginia state director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, also spoke in favor of the bill.

“Gun homicides in Richmond, Roanoke, Portsmouth, Newport News and other localities are on the rise,” Haas said. “There are certain circumstances where we need to give localities some control over innovative ways to deal with gun violence.”

Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, questioned Haas’s statement. Gilbert, a member of the subcommittee, said he believes McQuinn’s bill would do little to combat gun violence, asserting that it would “not stop those bent on homicide.”

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, joined Gilbert in opposition.

“It is a bill in search of a problem,” Van Cleave said. “We haven’t been having problems in libraries. (The Citizens Defense League) holds meetings in libraries, and it’s always been well accommodated. It’s a public meeting place.”

He said such laws would be a step backward for the state.

“If we let localities start deciding on their own to ban guns, we’re back to the bad old days, prior to 2004, where a gun owner had to have a map of every locality to try to figure out where he could or couldn’t carry a gun,” he said.

“It’s so much better now. It’s nice and clean, and people can learn the gun laws and not worry about breaking them when they travel around the state.”

General Assembly Convenes, Welcomes New Members

By Megan Corsano and Mary Lee Clark, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia General Assembly opened its 2017 session on Wednesday, welcoming new members while pondering the work ahead.

Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, addressed the looming issue of the state budget, which faces a shortfall of more than $1.2 billion. Hanger said legislators must grapple with the “limited resources and uncertainties in the budgeting process” during the session, which will end Feb. 25.

The House and Senate each convened at noon to start the 45-day legislative session and begin laying the groundwork for decisions on the state budget to be determined in the coming weeks.

In special elections on Tuesday, voters chose two new senators – Democrat Jennifer McClellan of Richmond and Republican Mark Peake of Lynchburg. However, neither was sworn in Wednesday because the election results have not been certified by the Virginia Board of Elections. The board isn’t scheduled to certify the results until Jan. 18.

Sen. Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg, noted the “exuberance and excitement” of the two senators-elect. Peake was in attendance in the Senate gallery with his family.

Norment indicated that he wished Peake and McClellan could join the Senate sooner. “I am very hopeful on reflection that the State Board of Elections will reflect on the decision to delay the certification of our new senators,” Norment said.

The House started its session by swearing in a new member – Republican N. D. “Rocky” Holcomb III of Virginia Beach. He won a special election Tuesday in the 85th House District.

Unlike the Senate, the House does not require a certification from the Virginia Board of Elections before new members can be sworn in.

Holcomb, a captain of the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office, won the special election against Democrat Cheryl Turpin.

The House adjourned to remember the late Sen. Charles “Chuck” Colgan, D-Manassas. Colgan had been the longest serving member of the Virginia Senate before his retirement in 2015. He died Jan. 3 at age 90.

While the two chambers were convening, Gov. Terry McAuliffe met with the reporters to discuss his vision for the 2017 legislative session.

McAuliffe, who is in the final year of his four-year term, said the commonwealth has made progress on transportation and economic development. Looking to the future, the Democratic governor said he wants to focus on issues of mental health and the opioid crisis in Virginia.

“You want to do what’s in the best interest of the commonwealth of Virginia, and that’s what we have really leaned in on,” McAuliffe said.

The governor also mentioned the decline in the state’s unemployment rate, emphasizing his mission to “diversify the Virginia economy.”

McAuliffe ended with a message for legislators to adjust their focus away from socially divisive issues.

“Don’t waste my time on the socially divisive,” he said. “Leave women alone; leave members of the LGBT community. Let’s spend our time here on an agenda that brings people together and helps every corner of the commonwealth.”

Black Legislators Seek to Protect Education Funding

By Jessica Nolte, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – As Virginia faces an estimated $1.26 billion budget shortfall, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus announced that its top priority during the General Assembly’s session is to protect funding for K-12 education.

Additionally, the VLBC will focus on criminal justice reform, job creation, increasing the minimum wage and public safety.

“These are the issues we will continue to fight for because there must be a change,” Del. Roslyn Tyler, a Democrat from Jarratt and president of the caucus, said at a news conference Wednesday.

In November, Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration warned higher education officials at Virginia’s public colleges and universities to anticipate a 7.5 percent reduction from the state general fund. The VBLC said it wants to protect the K-12 budget so schools have the money for academic excellence.

The 17 African American lawmakers are all Democrats, but they hope to work across party lines on issues such as reforming school discipline. For example, the VBLC said it supports three bills filed by Republican Sen. William Stanley of Moneta:

●       SB 995, which would reduce maximum suspensions from 364 calendar days to 45 school days and prohibit long-term suspension from continuing on beyond the current school year.

●       SB 996, which would protect students from expulsion and long-term suspension for disruptive behavior except in cases of physical injury or threat of physical injury.

●       SB 997, which would prohibit suspension or expulsion or students in preschool through fifth grade except for drug offenses, firearms or certain criminal acts.

Republican Del. Richard Bell of Staunton has introduced similar legislation in the House: HB 1534to reduce the length of suspensions, HB 1535to prevent expulsion and long-term suspension except in cases of physical injury and HB 1536to limit the circumstances under which preschool and elementary students can be suspended or expelled.

VLBC member Jennifer McClellan, a state delegate from Richmond, cited findings from the Center for Public Integrity that Virginia schools refer students to law enforcement at nearly three times the national rate.

McClellan, who was elected to the Senate on Tuesday, said that African American students were more likely than white students to be suspended and that students with disabilities were more likely to be suspended than those without disabilities.

The VLBC also wants to boost the minimum wage, which in Virginia is the same as the federal minimum – $7.25 per hour.

Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, introduced SB 978, which would incrementally increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by July 1, 2019.

“When people are working, there is less crime,” Dance said.

She said 19 states, including Washington and California, have already increased the minimum wage.

Governor McAuliffe Pushes for Easier Voting

By Julie Rothey, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Currently, to vote absentee in Virginia, you must cite a specific excuse, such as attending college or having a disability.

But if Gov. Terry McAuliffe has his way, the state would expand the list of excuses to include people caring for children or for an ill or disabled individual and anyone without reliable transportation. Better yet, McAuliffe says, Virginians should be able to vote absentee without having to give an excuse.

McAuliffe is urging the General Assembly to approve those proposals during the legislative session that began Wednesday.

The Democratic governor, in the final year of his term, discussed the proposals at a news conference Tuesday. “These reforms will make it easier for Virginians to have a say in their democracy and boost their confidence that politicians are working for the public good, not their own,” he said.

Right now, to vote absentee in person, a voter must meet one of “13 arbitrary rules” that also apply to mail-in absentee voting, McAuliffe said. For example, caregivers must be related to the individual they care for to vote absentee under current law.

Besides expanding the list of excuses to vote absentee, McAuliffe urged lawmakers to approve “no-excuse, in-person absentee voting.” He called for “legislation that permits any registered voter of the commonwealth to vote absentee in-person beginning 21 days before an election until 5 p.m. on the Saturday before the election,” with the same check-in procedures as on Election Day.

McAuliffe also said he wants to repeal Virginia’s photo identification requirements for voters.

Those who passed this law “hung on the charade of voter fraud,” McAuliffe said. But he added, “Here in the commonwealth of Virginia, there is not a shred of voter fraud evidence.”

Republicans have strongly supported requiring voters to show a photo ID. Ed Gillespie, a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in this year’s election, criticized McAuliffe’s proposal to eliminate the photo ID mandate.

McAuliffe’s recommendation “is out-of-step with the people of the commonwealth,” Gillespie said in a news release Tuesday.

The photo identification requirement “secures the integrity of our elections and guarantees fair and equitable ballot access for all voters, despite the alarmist and false rhetoric of some,” Gillespie said. He promised to protect the existing law if he were elected governor.

Several Democratic lawmakers have submitted legislation to carry out McAuliffe’s proposals to make voting easier:

●     Del. Richard “Rip” Sullivan of Arlington is sponsoring House Bill 1603, which would entitle “a person to vote absentee if the person is unable to go in person to the polls on the day of the election because he is primarily and personally responsible for the care of an ill or disabled individual who is confined at home.”

●     Del. Betsy Carr of Richmond is sponsoring HB 1935, to establish no-excuse, in-person absentee voting.

●     Sen. Janet Howell of Reston has filed Senate Bill 845, to expand absentee voting for caregivers, and SB 844, to provide for no-excuse, in-person absentee voting.

●     Del. Steve Heretick of Portsmouth has submitted a bill (HB 1904) to repeal the requirement that voters show a photo ID in order to cast a ballot.

Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, thanked the governor for pushing to end the voter identification requirement. But she asked for a greater reduction in absentee voting restrictions.

“If Virginia law limits no-excuse absentee voting to in-person only, qualified voters may be excluded from participating based upon a lack of readily accessible transportation, geography, income status, physical disabilities, and the constraints of modern-day individuals and families," she said in a letter to McAuliffe.

First lady Dorothy McAuliffe and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam also spoke at the news conference. Northam, who is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, stressed his desire for a bipartisan effort to make it easier to vote.

However, this cooperation seems unlikely as two Republican lawmakers are seeking to expand the photo identification requirement to Virginians who want to vote absentee by mail.

HB 1428 by Del. Buddy Fowler of Ashland and SB 872 by Sen. Amanda Chase of Midlothian would require “any voter submitting an application for an absentee ballot by mail or by electronic or telephonic transmission to a facsimile device to submit with his application a copy of one of the forms of identification acceptable under current law.”

“The bill also requires any voter to submit a copy of such identification with his voted absentee ballot. The bill exempts military and overseas voters and persons with a disability from these requirements,” according to the Legislative Information Service.

School Discipline Falls Harder on Some Students

By Jason Fuller, Ashley Jones and Rarione Maniece, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The phrase “kids will be kids” pardons some misbehavior; however, certain kids seem to get called to the principal’s office a lot more often than others.

Black students were at least three times as likely as white students to be suspended or expelled from school, according to an analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. Nationwide, for example, 15 percent of African-American students received out-of-school suspensions – compared with 4 percent of white students.

The analysis focused on the 2011-12 academic year, the most recent data available from the department’s Office for Civil Rights.

In several states, the disparities were especially wide: Wisconsin suspended 26 percent of its black students but just 3 percent of its white students. In Minnesota, Connecticut, Iowa and Nebraska, African-Americans were six times as likely as whites to be suspended from school.

Virginia’s statistics were similar to the national numbers: 14 percent of the commonwealth’s black students received suspensions, vs. 5 percent of white students.

suspensions

Expulsions are far less common than suspensions, but the pattern was the same. Nationwide, fewer than two of every 1,000 white students were expelled from school in 2011-12 – compared with five of every 1,000 African-American students.

Again, some states had much bigger disparities. Minnesota, for instance, expelled 11 of every 1,000 black students but only about one of every 1,000 white students. Tennessee expelled 24 of every 1,000 black students but just three of every 1,000 white students. Oklahoma expelled 40 of every 1,000 black students but only six of every 1,000 white students.

In Virginia, about two of every 1,000 African-American students were expelled, vs. one of every 1,000 white students.

Other journalists also have looked at the U.S. Education Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection. The Center for Public Integrity, for example, focused on the number of students who were arrested at school or referred to police.

The center found that Virginia had the highest rate in the United States for calling police on students: Of every 1,000 students in the commonwealth, almost 16 were arrested or referred to law enforcement in 2011-12, the center reported. Nationwide, the figure was about six of every 1,000 students.

Virginia’s tendency to call the cops on kids has raised alarms with Gov. Terry McAuliffe. In October, at an NAACP conference in Richmond, McAuliffe announced an initiative called “Classrooms not Courtrooms.” He said state officials would work with local school systems to reduce student suspensions, expulsions and referrals to law enforcement.

As part of the initiative, the Virginia Department of Education also is seeking to address “the disparate impact these practices have on African-Americans and students with disabilities.” The goal is to disrupt what some educators call the “school-to-prison pipeline” that tags certain students as troublemakers and channels them into the criminal justice system.

During its 2016 session, the General Assembly also considered the issue. Sen. Don McEachin, D-Richmond, sponsored a measure – Senate Bill 458 – to require the Virginia Board of Education to “establish guidelines for alternatives to short-term and long-term suspension for consideration by local school boards. Such alternatives may include positive behavior incentives, mediation, peer-to-peer counseling, community service, and other intervention alternatives.”

The legislation passed the Senate on a 31-9 vote. However, it was defeated in the House, 43-55.

The data show racial disparities for when police get involved with students. In Virginia, for instance, about 25 of every 1,000 African-American students were arrested or referred to police; that compared with 13 of every 1,000 white students.

School districts in Virginia varied considerably in the data on how they discipline students. Greensville County Public Schools, for example, suspended more than half of its students in 2011-12. The Greenville school system suspended 64 percent of its black students, 25 percent of its Hispanic students and 30 percent of its white students.

In contrast, the Prince George County Public Schools did not suspend any students, the data showed.

Some school divisions had large racial disparities regarding suspensions. In Arlington County, for instance, 7 percent of the black students were suspended – but just 1 percent of the white students. And in Bland County, 50 percent of the African-American students got suspensions vs. 8 percent of the white students.

Disparities also were evident in expulsions. In Roanoke, 13 of every 1,000 African-American students were expelled, vs. 1.3 of every 1,000 white students. And in Fairfax County, 5.5 of every 1,000 black students were expelled, compared with 1.3 of every 1,000 white students.

Many advocates of school reforms, as well as parents, have expressed concerns about such patterns.

Daniel Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies, conducts research on this topic. In the publication “Discipline Policies, Successful Schools, and Racial Justice,” he reported that in 2006, more than 3 million students were suspended at least once – about 7 percent of all students enrolled in primary and secondary public schools.

Losen recommended that school districts with high rates of suspensions and expulsions should receive assistance on how to manage students’ classroom behavior.

Evandra Catherine, 32, has a son with a disability enrolled in the Richmond Public Schools. She said she is concerned that her child could be the target of harsh disciplinary practices.

“I am aware of my son’s school district’s financial plight when it comes to managing normal students,” Catherine said. “So I have to be extra vigilant of his treatment because of the lack of resources in play which may recommend discipline instead of accommodating him.”

One possible solution is to apply school discipline on a case-by-case basis. That is what Dr. Russell Houck, executive director of student services for Culpeper County Public Schools, advocates. He believes mild and moderate violations should receive mild and moderate levels of punishment.

“We work really hard to give students help, not punishment,” Houck said. “For kids who have a chronic history of disruption, we have a students’ assistance program where they can receive counseling and stay in school.”

Houck said this framework allows students to stay in school and prevents them from falling behind in class.

“It’s all about finding a different way to discipline them, because discipline in my world means to teach. So we need to find new ways to teach them coping skills in order to get to the root of the problem, both behaviorally and instructionally.”

Where We Got Our Data

The data for this report came from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection. We downloaded both the state-by-state data and the data for each school district in Virginia. Then, using Microsoft Excel, we calculated disciplinary rates for students overall and students of different races.

We also examined the data published by the Center for Public Integrity as part of its series “Criminalizing kids.” Our analysis of the civil rights data matched the center’s, thus verifying our methods.

All of the data used in this report has been posted at http://tinyurl.com/cns-school-discipline

Delegate Roslyn Tyler Amendment Returns Fines and Fees For Traffic Tickets to Cities and Counties

Thanks to Delegates Roslyn Tyler and Riley Ingram's collaborative efforts this 2016 session, localities can now have additional money for their local budgets after July 1, 2016.

The 2015 state budget reduced the amount of money returned to the counties and cities for traffic violations and fees on Interstates and local roads. Last year according to the Sheriff’s Association survey, 75,969 citations were issued on interstate highways for speeding; 942 charges were made for drug violations; 2.250 stranded or broken down motorist were assisted; 81 DUI’s issued and; 130 apprehensions of persons wanted by the police.

The City of Emporia, City of Hopewell and County of Dinwiddie lost more revenue than any other locality in Virginia. The amount of money loss created a shortfall for law enforcements and Sheriff Departments in the Board of Supervisors’ and City Council’s budgets. The money returned to the localities will provide more money for selective enforcement, education, and utilities.

The following localities in the 75th District loss money for fines and fees for tickets written on the interstate and roads to the state: City of Emporia ($95,115), City of Franklin ($32,553), Greensville County ($41,495), Brunswick County ($2,648) Dinwiddie County ($536,407), Sussex County ($30,963), Lunenburg County ($36,073), Isle of Wight County ($153,929), Southampton County ($29,605), Surry County ($30,963). A total of approximately $989,751 can be saved for localities in the 75th District.

Delegate Roslyn Tyler’s amendment item 3-6. 05 in HB 30 was approved during the Veto Session with a vote of 90 to 10 in the House, 39 to 0 in the Senate. This amendment allows all money for ticket violations to return to local government treasure offices. This amendment effected over 23 localities across Virginia. The greatest victory for was for rural Virginia.

Assembly Sustains All of McAuliffe’s Vetoes

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By James Miessler and Diana DiGangi, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The General Assembly failed Wednesday to override any of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s vetoes of legislation championed by Republicans, including bills to defund Planned Parenthood and let home-schoolers participate in public-school sports.

Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate. That was doable in the House, where there are 66 Republicans and 34 Democrats. But it proved impossible in the Senate, where Democrats hold 19 of the 40 seats.

For example, McAuliffe had vetoed Senate Bill 41, which would have allowed ministers and religious groups to refuse to participate in the marriage of a same-sex couple if it went against their religious beliefs. The Senate voted 21-18 along party lines in favor of reversing the veto – but that was well short of the 26 “yes” votes required.

Sen. Charles Carrico, R-Galax, was the sponsor of SB 41. He urged his colleagues to override McAuliffe’s veto.

“This bill is an attempt to protect pastors from having to go against things that they believe are of a deeply held religious belief,” Carrico said. “Unlike some of the things that the governor is pointing out that’s happening in other states, this is nothing to do with that.”

In his veto message, McAuliffe called SB 41 “discrimination under the guise of religious freedom.” He said the bill would be “bad for business” because “job creators do not want to locate or do business in states that appear more concerned with demonizing people than with creating a strong business climate.”

That was a reference to North Carolina, which has lost business because it recently enacted a law widely perceived as discriminatory against people who are transgender or gay.

Senators also failed to reverse McAuliffe’s veto of SB 44, which sought to extend the state’s coal-tax credits. Republicans and other legislators representing Virginia’s coalfields say the tax credits would help coal miners. In vetoing the bill, the governor noted that since 1988, coal mine operators and related companies have claimed more than $610 million in tax credits – but the number of coal miners in Virginia has plunged from more than 11,000 to fewer than 3,000.

“It would be unwise to spend additional taxpayer dollars on a tax credit that has fallen so short of its intended effectiveness,” McAuliffe said.

The Senate voted 24-15 in favor of reversing the veto – two votes short. (In the House, with help from two Democratic delegates, Republicans managed to override the veto on a 68-30 vote. But without the Senate’s concurrence, it didn’t matter.)

On a 21-18 vote, the Senate was unable to override House Bill 587, which sought to prevent local governments from removing Confederate monuments. Sen. David Marsden, D-Burke, spoke in defense of McAuliffe’s veto of that bill.

“There are decisions that we need to make about people, and when localities have made these decisions, I think it’s our obligation to allow them to continue to make those decisions for themselves,” Marsden said.

Also on a 21-18 vote, the Senate failed to override the governor’s veto of SB 612, commonly known as the “Tebow bill.” It would have allowed home-schooled students to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities at their local high schools.

Another much-watched bill was HB 1090, which would have cut off state funding for Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions in addition to family planning counseling, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and other services.

The House voted 66-34 in favor of overriding McAuliffe’s veto of HB 1090. That was one vote shy of the 67 required.

Before voting got underway, there were partisan clashes. House Majority Leader Kirk Cox, a Republican from Colonial Heights, criticized McAuliffe for vetoing 32 bills – the most since 1998.

“As we get to this reconvened session, I’ve been disturbed,” Cox said. “Too often, this governor is just too happy, I think, to score political points and tends to be a bit disinterested in the legislative process.”

Minority Leader David Toscano, a Democrat from Charlottesville, fired back.

“The governor was very clear when he stood before us,” Toscano said. “He said, ‘Let’s not get distracted by this divisive social legislation. And I will tell you now, if you pass it I will veto it.’ So why should we be disturbed?”

Late Wednesday, McAuliffe issued a statement saying he is “proud that the General Assembly did not override any of the 32 vetoes we submitted this year, or any of the 68 I have submitted throughout my tenure to date.”

““While there is no question that this session was marked far more by compromise and accomplishment than by partisan conflict, there are some areas on which Republicans in the General Assembly and I disagreed,” McAuliffe said.

“The vetoes I submitted to the legislature for their consideration today honored the promise I made in the State of the Commonwealth to reject legislation that divides Virginians, makes them less safe, or sends a negative message about the climate we offer to families or businesses that may want to locate here. The controversies we are watching in other states underscore the need to reject legislation that divides or distracts us from the work Virginians elected us to do.”

What was vetoed?

This is a list of the 32 bills vetoed by Governor McAuliffe. For more information on a bill, use Legislative Information Service: https://lis.virginia.gov

Bill number

Catch line

HB 2

Clean Power Plan; state implementation plan, General Assembly approval.

HB 8

Virginia Virtual School; Board established.

HB 9

Voter registration; required information on application form.

HB 18

Franchisees; status thereof and its employees as employees of the franchisor.

HB 70

Warrants; issuance of arrest warrants for law-enforcement officers.

HB 131

Students who receive home instruction; participation in interscholastic programs.

HB 143

Alcoholic beverage control; neutral grain spirits or alcohol sold at government stores, proof.

HB 145

Virginia Public Procurement Act; public works contracts, prevailing wage provisions.

HB 254

House of Delegates districts; technical adjustment.

HB 259

SOL; Bd. of Education prohibited from adopting revisions that implement Common Core State Standards.

HB 264

Local government; prohibiting certain practices requiring contractors to provide compensation, etc.

HB 298

Coal tax; limits aggregate amount of credits that may be allocated or claimed for employment, etc.

HB 382

Firearms; control by state agencies, rights of employees.

HB 389

Virginia Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts; established, report, effective clause.

HB 481

Compliance with detainers; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

HB 516

Education, Board of; policy on sexually explicit instructional material.

HB 518

School boards, local; to provide students with option to transfer to another school division.

HB 560

Brandishing a firearm; intent to induce fear, etc., penalty.

HB 587

Memorials and monuments; protection of all memorials, etc.

HB 766

Concealed handguns; carrying with a valid protective order.

HB 1090

Health, Department of; expenditure of funds related to abortions and family planning services.

HB 1096

Firearms; regulation by state entities prohibited.

HB 1188

Senate districts; changes assignments of two census precincts in Louisa County.

HB 1234

School security officers; carrying a firearm.

HB 1371

Local government; prohibition on certain mandates upon employers.

SB 21

Clean Power Plan; state implementation plan; General Assembly approval.

SB 41

Religious freedom; marriage solemnization, participation, and beliefs.

SB 44

Coal tax; limits aggregate amount of credits that may be allocated or claimed for employment, etc.

SB 270

Sanctuary policies; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers.

SB 612

Students who receive home instruction; participation in interscholastic programs.

SB 626

Carrying concealed handguns; protective orders.

SB 767

Form of ballot; party identification of candidates.

Lawmakers Reconvene for ‘Veto Session’

By Grant Smith, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia legislators will return to the state Capitol on Wednesday to consider whether to uphold or override Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s vetoes and recommendations of legislation passed during their 2016 session.

The Democratic governor vetoed 32 bills approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. That is the most vetoes since 1998, when Jim Gilmore, a Republican, was governor and most legislators were Democrats.

McAuliffe objected to a slew of hot-button bills – from a measure that would allow some school security officers to carry guns on the job, to the so-called “Tebow Bills” that would allow home-schoolers to participate in high school sports.

In addition, McAuliffe recommended changes to more than 50 bills. While many of the recommendations are minor, several involve the state budget, ethics rules and other major issues.

For example, the General Assembly passed a bill to make the electric chair the default form of capital punishment if the state cannot obtain the drugs to administer a lethal injection. Instead, McAuliffe recommended authorizing the Department of Correction to mix the drugs – using products from pharmacies that would remain anonymous.

Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate. That is unlikely, because Republicans hold just 21 of the 40 seats in the Senate.

Gubernatorial recommendations must be approved by only a simple majority in both chambers. If the General Assembly rejects a recommendation, the governor then can veto the entire bill.

Here are some of the more controversial bills vetoed by McAuliffe.

SB 41 – Exempting Ministers from Non-Traditional Marriages

This bill would allow any minister or religious organization to refrain from participating in any marriage that goes against their religious beliefs such as same-sex marriages.

In his veto message, McAuliffe wrote, “Although couched as a ‘religious freedom’ bill, this legislation is nothing more than an attempt to stigmatize.” The governor also said the measure would be bad for the economy: “Businesses and job creators do not want to locate or do business in states that appear more concerned with demonizing people than with creating a strong business climate.”

HB 70 – Protecting Police Officers from Misdemeanors

This legislation would protect officers from being charged with a misdemeanor offense while on the job. It would require a judge to get authorization from a law enforcement agency or the commonwealth’s attorney to issue an arrest warrant for a misdemeanor offense, unless the alleged offense was reported by another police officer.

McAuliffe said: “Virginia enjoys outstanding law enforcement officers at all levels. They are not, however, perfect.” He said the bill could prevent judges from acting on “valid citizen complaints of police abuse.”

HB 766 and SB 626 – Concealed Permits for Protective Orders

These bills would allow domestic violence victims under a protective order to carry a concealed handgun for 45 days.

McAuliffe said the legislation “encourages victims of domestic violence to introduce deadly weapons into an already dangerous situation, an approach that I believe could have significant negative public safety consequences.”The governor proposed expediting the process of issuing concealed weapons permits to domestic violence victims if they receive firearms training; however, lawmakers have rejected that idea.

HB 131 andSB 612 – the “Tebow” Bills

Under this legislation, nicknamed for quarterback Tim Tebow, public schools could allow home-schooled students to compete in interscholastic competitions.

McAuliffe noted that public school students must meet certain academic criteria to participate in extracurricular activities. There would be no guarantee that home-schoolers meet the same criteria, McAuliffe said. “Participation in athletic and academic competitions is a privilege for students who satisfy eligibility requirements.”

HB 516 – “Sexually Explicit” Instructional Material

This bill would require elementary and secondary schools to notify parents before teachers provide children any “sexually explicit content.” Schools would have to let parents review the material and provide a non-explicit alternative. The bill was in response to a complaint by the mother of a Fairfax high school senior about Toni Morrison’s award-winning novel “Beloved,” which includes graphic scenes of slavery, rape and murder.

McAuliffe said that “open communication between parents and teachers is important” but such issues should be decided by local school boards. He said the Virginia Board of Education has been examining the matter and working with parents and local officials.

HB 2 and SB 21 – Approval of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has ordered states to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. This bill would require the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to receive approval from the General Assembly before responding to the EPA’s regulations.

McAuliffe wrote, “The interjection of required legislative approval into the Clean Power Plan process is an impermissible breach of Virginia’s constitutional separation of powers. Federal law provides that it falls to the Governor to submit required plans and submissions under the Clean Air Act, including plans to comply with the Clean Power Plan. … Requiring DEQ to obtain the approval of each chamber of the legislature before submitting a plan to comply with the Clean Power Plan constitutes legislative participation in a purely executive process.”

HB 9 – Voting Information

This legislation would require officials to reject voter registration forms that lack a full name, date of birth, Social Security number, citizenship status, address or previous voter registration information. Applicants also would be rejected if they fail to check a box indicating that they will be at least 18 before the next general election.

McAuliffe said, “The Voting Rights Act expressly prohibits denying applications for omissions that are not material to determining voter eligibility. … The checkbox is not material to determining whether the applicant meets the age requirements to register to vote because the applicant is already required to provide his or her date of birth.

“Government works best when as many citizens have a voice in our democracy as possible. We should be seeking ways to make it easier for qualified Virginians to participate in elections, not disenfranchising them over technicalities.”

On the Agenda for the Veto Session

Here is the complete list of bills vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. For more information on each bill, visit the Legislative Information Service (https://lis.virginia.gov/).

Bill number

Catch line

HB 2

Clean Power Plan; state implementation plan, General Assembly approval.

HB 8

Virginia Virtual School; Board established.

HB 9

Voter registration; required information on application form.

HB 18

Franchisees; status thereof and its employees as employees of the franchisor.

HB 70

Warrants; issuance of arrest warrants for law-enforcement officers.

HB 131

Students who receive home instruction; participation in interscholastic programs.

HB 143

Alcoholic beverage control; neutral grain spirits or alcohol sold at government stores, proof.

HB 145

Virginia Public Procurement Act; public works contracts, prevailing wage provisions.

HB 254

House of Delegates districts; technical adjustment.

HB 259

SOL; Bd. of Education prohibited from adopting revisions that implement Common Core State Standards.

HB 264

Local government; prohibiting certain practices requiring contractors to provide compensation, etc.

HB 298

Coal tax; limits aggregate amount of credits that may be allocated or claimed for employment, etc.

HB 382

Firearms; control by state agencies, rights of employees.

HB 389

Virginia Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts; established, report, effective clause.

HB 481

Compliance with detainers; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

HB 516

Education, Board of; policy on sexually explicit instructional material.

HB 518

School boards, local; to provide students with option to transfer to another school division.

HB 560

Brandishing a firearm; intent to induce fear, etc., penalty.

HB 587

Memorials and monuments; protection of all memorials, etc.

HB 766

Concealed handguns; carrying with a valid protective order.

HB 1090

Health, Department of; expenditure of funds related to abortions and family planning services.

HB 1096

Firearms; regulation by state entities prohibited.

HB 1188

Senate districts; changes assignments of two census precincts in Louisa County.

HB 1234

School security officers; carrying a firearm.

HB 1371

Local government; prohibition on certain mandates upon employers.

SB 21

Clean Power Plan; state implementation plan; General Assembly approval.

SB 41

Religious freedom; marriage solemnization, participation, and beliefs.

SB 44

Coal tax; limits aggregate amount of credits that may be allocated or claimed for employment, etc.

SB 270

Sanctuary policies; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers.

SB 612

Students who receive home instruction; participation in interscholastic programs.

SB 626

Carrying concealed handguns; protective orders.

SB 767

Form of ballot; party identification of candidates.

New Laws Will Help Rape Victims, Officials Say

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By Rachel Beatrice, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Thursday formally signed four bills that supporters say will increase protections for victims of sexual assaults.

In a crowded room hosted by the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, McAuliffe signed:

  • Senate Bill 291 and House Bill 1160, which seek to ensure that rape evidence kits are tested promptly.
  • SB 248, which will allow minors to consent to an evidence recovery examination over the objections of a parent or guardian – a critical option when the adult may be the perpetrator
  • HB 1102, which aims to improve support and treatment for sexual assault survivors on college campuses

“The bills Gov. McAuliffe is signing today are truly game changers in the way Virginia treats survivors of sexual violence and the way we help them pursue justice,” Attorney General Mark Herring told the audience. “It is a long overdue overhaul of the way we conduct investigations and handle evidence.”

Last year, an audit by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science discovered that more than 2,300 rape kits remained untested – some dating to 1988, Herring said.

Sen. Richard Black, R-Leesburg, attended the signing ceremony. He sponsored SB 291.

“Suppression of violent crimes and especially of rape has been central to my career,” Black said. “And as the former head of the Pentagon’s Criminal Law Division, I will tell you that I am quite confident that SB 291 will save lives, and it will protect many, many women from sexual assault.”

The Virginia Department of Forensic Science currently processes more than 700 cases annually. McAuliffe said the new legislation would double the number of tests performed each year.

In addition, “the new state budget will include $900,000 annually to hire six new DNA examiners,” the governor said.

Herring said the goal is to address the current problem and prevent it from recurring. “Once we get the backlog cleared out, this new bill should ensure that Virginia never finds itself in that situation again.”

The new laws, which take effect July 1, also address situations in which the sexual assault survivor choses not to report the offense to law enforcement. In those circumstances, McAuliffe said, “The evidence will be stored for two years. For cases that are reported to law enforcement, the legislation requires that the evidence be sent for analysis within 60 days.”

Allowing rape kits to remain untested not only denies swift justice for the rape survivor but this also fails to protect other women.

Smoking in a Car With Kids Soon May Be Illegal

By Grant Smith, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – If the governor adds his signature, Virginians could be fined $100 for smoking in a car in the presence of children.

The Senate joined the House by giving final approval to a bill that would make smoking in a motor vehicle with passengers younger than 8 a violation punishable by a civil penalty of $100.

The violation would be a secondary offense, meaning it would affect only individuals who have already been pulled over by police for a traffic violation or other offense.

The Senate passed House Bill 1348 in a vote of 27-12 on March 3. The bill is now in the hands of Gov. Terry McAuliffe. If signed, the law would take effect July 1. McAuliffe has until April 11 to act on the legislation.

The bill’s sponsor, Del. Todd E. Pillion, R-Abingdon, is a pediatric dentist. In support of the legislation, he has cited the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, especially on developing lungs.

When the bill was debated before the House, some delegates voiced opposition to the measure. “We have a tendency here to tell everybody how to live. We tell them what to do, how to act,” said Del. Riley E. Ingram, R-Hopewell.

The legislation defines smoking as any lighted cigarette, pipe or cigar.

“It is unlawful for a person to smoke in a motor vehicle, whether in motion or at rest, when a minor under the age of eight is present in the motor vehicle,” the proposed law states.

Pillion said the bill covers passengers younger than 8 years old because these children already are legally required to be put in car seats. He said this requirement could assist police officers in determining a child’s age.

The House voted 59-38 in favor of the bill on Feb. 12.

Though subject to a $100 fine, individuals found guilty of violating the law would not face court costs or demerit points on their driving record.

Revenue from the fines would go into the state’s Literary Fund. This program provides for low-interest loans for school construction, technology funding and support of teacher retirement.

 

How They Voted

Here is how the Senate voted on HB 1348 (“Smoking in motor vehicles; presence of minor under age eight, civil penalty.”)

Floor: 03/03/16  Senate: Passed Senate (27-Y 12-N)

YEAS– Alexander, Barker, Chafin, Chase, Dance, Deeds, DeSteph, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Hanger, Howell, Lewis, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, McEachin, McPike, Miller, Norment, Petersen, Saslaw, Stuart, Sturtevant, Surovell, Vogel, Wexton – 27.

NAYS– Black, Carrico, Cosgrove, Dunnavant, Garrett, McDougle, Newman, Obenshain, Ruff, Stanley, Suetterlein, Wagner – 12.

RULE 36 – 0.

NOT VOTING – Reeves – 1

Senate Panel OK’s Bill to Defund Planned Parenthood

By Grant Smith, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In an 8-7 vote along party lines, a Senate committee on Thursday approved a bill to prohibit the Virginia Department of Health from funding Planned Parenthood and other groups that provide abortions. The full Senate is expected to vote on the bill Monday.

The eight Republicans on the Senate Committee on Education and Health voted in favor of House Bill 1090; the panel’s seven Democratic members voted against it.

HB 1090 states that the Health Department “shall not enter into a contract with, or make a grant to, any entity that performs abortions that are not federally qualified abortions or maintains or operates a facility where non-federally qualified abortions are performed.”

That means the state would cut off funds for organizations that offer abortions that are not eligible for matching funds under Medicaid. This would include any abortion outside of cases of rape, incest, or “gross fetal anomalies.”

The bill has been amended so that it would not affect licensed hospitals that perform non-federally qualified abortions.

The bill’s sponsor, Del. Benjamin Cline, R-Amherst, has said his bill would “defund Planned Parenthood and redirect funds to more comprehensive health care for women.”

Dozens of supporters of Planned Parenthood attended the Senate committee meeting on Thursday to testify in opposition of HB 1090. The committee limited public comment and requested that individuals submit written testimony instead.

Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, a nonprofit advocacy group, spoke out against the committee’s decision. “No politician should decide for a woman which health care provider she can or cannot see, but today eight state senators decided they know better than women and their doctors,” Scholl said.

The Virginia Department of Health does not fund abortions for any reason outside of the Medicaid exceptions. Supporters of Planned Parenthood say HB 1090 would effectively cut off state funding for its services such as family planning counseling, birth control and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

The House passed the bill on a 64-35 vote on Feb. 16. Afterward, Cianti Stewart-Reid, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, called on senators to reject it.

“This bill cannot become law,” she said. “The intent of this bill is clear – to shame and coerce women from accessing safe and legal abortion and ban access to Planned Parenthood.”

ARE OUR SCHOOLS READY FOR DIGITAL TEXTBOOKS

22 states have officially endorsed digital textbooks, and the White House has set a deadline of 2017 for all students to use electronic materials. Most school divisions continue to use hardback text books due to the expense associated with new technology and internet accessibility. In Virginia, Henrico, Chesterfield, Arlington, Albermarle Counties and the City of Alexandria school divisions are the only areas providing laptops for their students. According to the Chairman of the Federal Communication Commission, American students must be prepared to compete in the 21st century and they cannot miss out on the opportunity of the digital textbook.

SB 740 was introduced this year in the General Assembly which (1) creates a legal standard for school systems who uses electronic textbooks in the classroom, (2) requires any school system to have a plan to ensure that every child will have a digital device to take back and forth to school and (3) for each school using electronic textbooks to have a fiber optic connection to the school by July 1, 2019.

SB 740 failed in the state education committee with a 10 to 9 vote. However, next year it will be introduced again. School systems must plan for the 21st century with electronic textbooks and digital devices.

I voted against SB 740 due to the fiscal impact it will have on local governing bodies. However, I am concerned because all children deserve an equitable education. Will the schools in Southside Virginia be ready to provide digital devices for their students by 2017? School Boards are you in the process of developing a plan? I would like to hear from you regarding this issue.  Please feel free to contact my office in Richmond at 804-698-1075 or email delrtyler@house.virginia.gov.

House Panel Blocks Equal Rights Amendment

By Rachel Beatrice, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A handful of men and women who want Virginia to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment rallied outside a committee meeting room at the General Assembly, holding signs that read “Equal Means Equal” and “ERA.”

But the House Privileges and Elections Committee decided to shelve the ERA, which would guarantee women and men equal rights, for another year.

“This is the fifth year in a row we have passed [the amendment] with bipartisan support in the Senate. And on crossover, you see that it’s not only ignored but completely obstructed,” said Eileen Davis, co-founder of the group Women Matter. “At what point are you simply obstructing the democratic process? We’re not giving up.”

The ERA would put in the U.S. Constitution a guarantee that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Congress proposed the amendment in 1972 and gave the states 10 years to ratify it. It was never added to the Constitution because it was not ratified by the necessary 38 states.

Virginia would have become the 36th state to approve the ERA under Senate Joint Resolution 1, sponsored by Democratic Sens. Scott Surovell of Mount Vernon and Jennifer Wexton of Leesburg.

The resolution, which cleared the Senate on a 21-19 vote on Jan. 26, maintained that the ERA still could be ratified despite the expiration of the 10-year ratification period set by Congress.

After its approval by the Senate, SJR 1 crossed over to the House, where it was assigned to the House Privileges and Elections Committee. That panel already had killed an identical measure – House Joint Resolution 136, sponsored by Del. Mark D. Sickles, D-Fairfax. On Friday, it did the same to the Senate counterpart.

Sickles and other ERA supporters were disappointed.

“I’m for equality for everybody,” Sickles said. “The only sure way to have secure equality is through the Constitution.”

According to Sickles, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia “said that women aren’t protected under the Constitution.”

“He was a big supporter of amendments and amending the Constitution: If you wanted to change something or find some right you didn’t think was there, amend the Constitution. This is the way we need to go under his philosophy,” Sickles said.

Opponents of resolutions to ratify the ERA say the measures are pointless because the ratification deadline passed on June 30, 1982. But the resolutions’ supporters disagree.

“There are other constitutional amendments that have lain dormant for years and years,” said Del. Jennifer Boysko, D-Herndon. “And they have gotten traction and eventually passed as well.”

In particular, ERA supporters cite the 27th Amendment, about compensation for members of Congress. That amendment was submitted to the states in 1789 and wasn’t ratified until 1992.

“We shouldn’t have to wait for any of our fundamental rights,” Sickles said. “But it’s been our history. Look how long it took us to stop Jim Crow and segregation – and we’re still having lingering effects of that today.”

Another issue is that many young women do not even know the ERA hasn’t been ratified, Davis said. “Many think everything is fine.”

But everything is not fine, Boysko said. “There are studies that show that a man and a woman – equal in grades in graduate school – get out, go to the same firm and within five years, the man is making 20 percent more than she is.”

Davis said that more than 70 percent of Americans believe the ERA has already been ratified. That misconception is even more prevalent among people under 40.

“When we get the word out, there’s going to be a huge outcry,” said Davis, who has urged members of the House of Delegates to approve the resolution. “But part of the reason word’s not getting out is because it’s being suppressed in this chamber.”

Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, supports the ERA and its ratification. “In 2016, what kind of signal are we sending that we do not want women to be equal in the eyes of the Constitution as men? We should be well past this debate.”

Danette Fulk, a Republican and military veteran who was among the ERA supporters at Friday’s hearing, likened the issue to the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” including newly freed slaves.

“The 14th Amendment was passed in 1868,” Fulk said. “But it took 100 years to come up with the walls – the legislation that supported that foundation. We’re a little bit flipped. We’ve had some of these walls built that can be torn down, but we don’t have the foundation. The ERA would be that foundation.”

Sickles is unsure whether he will continue to sponsor an ERA ratification resolution next session. But he assured the activists, “It doesn’t matter who the patron is” as long as someone keeps pushing the issue.

Sickles is confident the ERA will eventually be ratified. “A big shift is coming in our country,” he said. “We have a cultural grand canyon now on so many social issues.”

Panel Kills Bill to Keep Officers’ Names Secret

By Margaret Carmel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – After nearly an hour of debate, a legislative panel killed a bill that would have exempted law enforcement officers’ names and training records from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

A subcommittee of the House General Laws Committee tabled Senate Bill 552 for the General Assembly’s current session. State officials plan to study the issue as part of a review of the state’s FOIA law.

FOIA allows any citizen to gain access to government documents, including names and salaries of public employees. Currently, personal information such as health records, home addresses, Social Security numbers and bank account information is exempt.

SB 552, proposed by Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, would have exempted the names and other information about police officers as well. Cosgrove said his measure sought to protect law enforcement officers.

“Once this information is received by a media outlet, a lawyer or anybody, there’s no controlling that information anymore,” Cosgrove told the subcommittee. “Anybody can FOIA information. It can even be the council of MS-13,” or Mara Salvatrucha, a notorious criminal gang.

Speaking on the behalf of the Virginia Press Association, attorney Craig T. Merritt stressed the importance of transparency and emphasized the safeguards in existing law to protect police officers.

“The express purpose of this bill is to take away names produced in bulk – to take away the ability for the public to associate with individual officers with the information that you can get everybody else,” Merritt said. “If you take all of the names out of the database, you can’t tell what a particular officer’s position is or what they’re being paid.”

Current Virginia law already exempts the identities of undercover officers, mobile phone numbers and tactical plans from FOIA.

Several high-ranking law enforcement administrators and officers came to speak in support of the bill. Kevin Carroll, president of the Virginia Fraternal Order of Police of Virginia, expressed concerns about someone using FOIA to get a database of officers’ names digitally in bulk and then posting it on the Internet.

“I agree the public has a right to know who their police officers are,” Carroll said. “My concern goes beyond Chesterfield County. This is the World Wide Web when this stuff gets posted.”

Carroll described several unsolved shooting deaths of off-duty police officers – all assumed to be in retaliation for arresting or testifying against gang members. But Merritt said FOIA wasn’t involved in such incidents.

“One thing we know for sure is, it could not have been because of a FOIA request, because had there been a FOIA request, there would have been a record,” Merritt said. “The idea that people would use FOIA to accomplish that outcome and identify themselves doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”

M. Wayne Huggins of the Virginia State Police Association cited the need to protect law enforcement officers from new threats, both international and domestic.

“I never thought I would see the day when a terrorist attack in Paris, France, would cause police officers in Virginia to be threatened,” Huggins said. “I also never thought I would see the day when American citizens marched in the street chanting for dead cops.”

Home-schoolers Ask Governor to ‘Let Us Play’

By Margaret Carmel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Supporters of home-schooled students playing sports in public schools unleashed their secret weapon at the Virginia Capital on Wednesday – home-schoolers themselves.

Home-schooling advocates and their children gathered in the state Capitol to hear remarks from Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, and Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Lynchburg, the sponsors of legislation commonly called the “Tebow bill.”

Afterward, the home-schoolers and parents signed a large card urging Gov. Terry McAuliffe to sign the legislation into law. The group presented the message to the front gate guard at the Governor’s Mansion.

The legislation is named after star quarterback Tim Tebow, who played football for a public high school in Florida while being home-schooled. The General Assembly has passed two identical bills that would allow home-schooled students in Virginia to participate in interscholastic sports and other programs at their local public school:

·         Senate Bill 612, proposed by Garrett, passed the Senate 22-17 on Feb. 2 and then the House 58-40 on Feb. 19. McAuliffe must decide whether to sign, veto or amend the bill by Monday.

·         House Bill 131, introduced by Bell. It cleared the House 58-41 on Jan. 27 and the Senate 23-17 on Monday. McAuliffe’s deadline to act on the measure is next Thursday.

The bills would prohibit Virginia public schools from joining interscholastic organizations that ban home-schoolers from participating. This would put pressure on the Virginia High School League to allow home-schooled students. The legislation does not require local school boards to let home-schooled students participate in sports or other activities.

Moreover, the legislation states, “Reasonable fees may be charged to students who receive home instruction to cover the costs of participation in such interscholastic programs, including the costs of additional insurance, uniforms, and equipment.”

Republicans favor the Tebow bill concept, while Democrats generally oppose it. McAuliffe vetoed similar legislation last year.

Public school teachers oppose the Tebow bill on grounds that students who do not attend a school should not represent that school on the athletic field. They say there is no way to verify whether home-schoolers have the grades and meet other criteria required of regular school students.

Garrett said home-schoolers in Virginia deserve the right to participate in school activities.

“There are home-schoolers in science labs,” he said. “There are home-schoolers on stages. There are home-schoolers in college credit courses. Why aren’t there home-schoolers on our playing fields?”

Bell added, “For 21 years, we have brought the Tebow bill here to Virginia. There is now only one man who is stopping this from becoming law in Virginia, and that is Gov. McAuliffe.”

The governor has not indicated what action he might take on the legislation. Home-schooling parents like Polly Seymour from Fluvanna said it was important to come and let their voices be heard.

“I have a younger son coming up who is excited about sports,” Seymour said. “I’m hoping that by the time he gets to high school, he’ll be able to play in the public schools. Sports is very important in our family, and opportunities to play disappear as they get older.”

Poll: Virginians Think Prisons Cost Too Much

By Sarah King, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Most Virginians agree that the prison population costs too much money, according to a recent poll by the Charles Koch Institute, an educational public-policy organization, and Prison Fellowship, a Christian nonprofit that advocates for criminal justice reform.

On Wednesday, the two groups hosted a panel of experts to discuss the poll results and fiscally responsible ways to both reform the prison system and make communities safer.

“In Virginia, there are actions that can be taken in the short run to dramatically improve our current justice system,” said Vikrant Reddy, senior research fellow at the Koch Institute. “We can improve public safety, reduce costs and respect each individual’s dignity.”

According to the poll:

●       36 percent of Virginians rate criminal justice reform among the top five issues most important to them.

●       75 percent agree or strongly agree that the prison population is costing too much money.

●       80 percent believe people with felony records should have the right to get work certification licenses after their release.

●       80 percent agree that the theft of $200 of goods from a retail store should be a misdemeanor offense (not a felony, as under current law).

●       By a 3-to-1 margin (64 percent to 21 percent), Virginians support reinstating a parole system.

●       Self-described conservative or very conservative Virginians support reinstating parole by a 2-to-1 margin.

Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton and Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran were among the attendees at Wednesday’s panel.

“We’ve been working on these issues since we took office with Gov. (Terry) McAuliffe,” Moran said. “We’ve had a number of legislation before the General Assembly, and the governor appointed a parole review commission.”

The discussion was moderated by Christian Braunlich, vice president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, a former member of the Fairfax School Board and a past president of the Virginia Board of Education.

“For a long time, criminal justice reform was considered something center-left, but recently there’s been some morphing on this issue,” Braunlich said as he opened the panel discussion. “Why are conservatives shifting, and how did Ken Cuccinelli and the ACLU end up in bed together?”

Braunlich’s question garnered laughs around the room, but Joe Luppino-Esposito had a straightforward answer.

“A lot of these ideas are based on civil liberties and public safety, which are issues I don’t think anyone’s going to oppose,” said Luppino-Esposito, a policy analyst for the conservative criminal justice initiative Right on Crime.

Luppino-Esposito pointed at the 75 percent recidivism rate among juvenile offenders at the cost of $150,000 per juvenile.

“The ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric doesn’t work anymore,” Luppino-Esposito said.

Eric Alston, the senior policy and research analyst for the Charles Koch Institute, agreed. He cited the added difficulties of re-entry into society when job opportunities are scarce following a conviction.

“There’s a startling consensus for the need for reform on this issue,” Alston said. “There are 854 collateral consequences for a conviction in Virginia,” Alston said. “For felons alone, there are 404 collateral consequences – 404 routes of opportunity that are now closed.”

Alston said that he’s not suggesting the elimination of all collateral consequences but that the number of them severely limits an individual’s ability to secure gainful employment.

“I’m not going to want to invest with someone convicted of a ponzi scheme, but 404 things you generally can’t do? That’s a driving force behind recidivism,” Alston said.

Craig DeRoche, senior vice president for advocacy and public policy at Prison Fellowship, referred to the 75 percent recidivism rate among juveniles as a “failure rate” and stressed the importance of smaller, more accountable facilities to rehabilitate offenders.

“This is a values discussion,” DeRoche said. “Money is a value, but more importantly is the value of human life. These polling results tell us that the commonwealth has an appetite for a system of criminal justice that truly restores.”

Martin Brown, former commissioner for the Virginia Department of Social Services and special advisor to the governor, said services must be more family-oriented and help offenders transition back into living their best lives.

“Fathers, in particular,” Brown said. “There are things I would do for my daughters I would never do for myself. And incarcerated individuals are no different.”

Brown said it is important to reform the corrections system so it respects both the perpetrators and victims of crime.

“The state gets everything they can out of the offender,” Brown said. “Often, the victim is looking for a restorative process while the state plays this kabuki dance.”

The Koch Institute and Prison Fellowship poll was conducted by Survey Sampling International in December. All participants were Virginia residents and were surveyed by use of an opt-in Web-based panel. The survey had 1,000 total respondents with a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

What’s Alive and Dead as Bills ‘Cross Over’

By Sarah King, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Wednesday marked the midpoint of the General Assembly’s session – colloquially referred to as “crossover day.” From this day forward, the House can consider only bills passed by the Senate, and the Senate can consider only legislation passed by the House.

That is why lawmakers were in a frenzy through Tuesday trying to get their bills through their chamber of origin. Now is a good time to take stock of what measures have “crossed over” and are still alive – and what proposals are dead for the session.

Still alive: These bills may become law

Passed in the House

Of the 1,391 House bills introduced at the start of the session, 575 have passed the House. Here is a sampling.

Home Schooling: HB 131 would allow home-schooled students to participate in afterschool activities – including sports – as long as they qualify academically and live in the school district where they are participating.

Aircraft Regulation: HB 412 would prevent Virginia localities from creating laws to regulate drones unless explicitly given that power by the General Assembly.

International Trade: HB 858 would create the Virginia International Trade Authority to promote trade with other nations. Officials hope it would lead to an increase in Virginia exports.

Corkage Law: HB 706 would allow customers bring their own beer or cider to a restaurant and drink it there; the restaurant could charge the customers a corkage fee. The existing corkage law applies only to wine.

Government Nondiscrimination Act: HB 773 would prohibit government agencies from taking “any discriminatory action” against someone who has “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction” opposing same-sex marriage.

Freedom of Information Act: HB 220 states any resumes or applications submitted by people appointed by the governor should be available to the public upon request.

Passed in the Senate

Of the 781 Senate bills introduced at the start of the session, 383 have passed the Senate. They include:

Alcohol at Restaurants: SB 488 would change the rules on how restaurants calculate the percentage of alcohol-to-food sale requirement. Currently, restaurants must make 55 percent or more of their sales from food products and a maximum of 45 percent of sales from liquor and mixed drinks. SB 488 would let restaurants calculate the percentages based on the costs they pay for food and alcohol, instead of on the sales.

Loyalty Oaths: SB 686 would prohibit political parties from requiring loyalty oaths as a requirement to vote in Virginia’s traditionally open presidential primary.

Drug Offenses / Suspended Licenses: SB 327 would change the existing law that motorists lose their driver’s license for six months when convicted of a drug offense. Under the bill, the law would no longer apply to simple possession of marijuana.

Unmanned Aircraft Regulation: SB 729 would make it a Class 1 misdemeanor to knowingly use a drone to commit a crime or interfere with police or emergency medical personnel.

Spirit Consumption / Licensure: SB 536 would increase from 1.5 ounces to 4.5 ounces the quantity of spirits a licensed distiller may serve a consumer at a tasting event.

Sex Offender Registry: SB 11 would remove the name and address of the employer of a sex offender from the Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry that the Virginia State Police post on the Internet.

Dead for this year: These bills stalled in their house of origin

Most of these bills never made it out of committee; some were defeated on floor votes.

Same-Sex Marriage: Democrats were pushing for HB 5 and SB 10, as well as Senate Joint Resolutions 2, 9 and 32. These bills and proposed constitutional amendments sought to remove the prohibitions in state law and the Virginia Constitution against same-sex marriage.

School Calendar: HB 93 would have allowed local school board to start classes before Labor Day. Under current law, schools must open after Labor Day unless state officials grant the local district a waiver.

Voting Rights / Nonviolent Felons: HB 107 would have provided the automatic restoration of voting eligibility for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes, with the exception of drug offenses and election fraud.

Abortion: HB 43 would have removed the requirement for women to undergo fetal transabdominal ultrasounds before getting an abortion.

Conceal Carry: HB 443 would have allowed anyone to carry a concealed handgun without a permit.

Cigarette Taxes: HB 419 would have allowed all counties to impose a cigarette tax; currently only Fairfax and Arlington counties can do so.

Texting While Driving: HB 73 would have increased the fines for texting while driving from $125 to $250 for the first offense and $250 to $500 for subsequent offenses.

Fireworks: SB 208 would have legalized the sale and use of fireworks in Virginia.

Marijuana: SB 104 sought to decriminalize simple marijuana possession and instead provide a civil penalty of no more than $100 for a first violation, $250 for a second violation and $500 for a third or subsequent violation. Currently, first offenders face up to a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.

Casinos: SB 32, 33 and 34 would have legalized casino gambling in localities where at least 40 percent of the land is government-owned and exempt from local property taxes.

License Plates / Sons of Confederate Veterans: SB 45 would have allowed the Sons of Confederate Veterans to use its logo on specialty license plates.

Hate Crimes: SB 82 would have expanded the definition of hate crimes to include criminal acts committed because of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Handguns: SB 97 would have prohibited anyone who is not a licensed firearms dealer from purchasing more than one handgun in a 30-day period.

A Report from the Virginia General Assembly

The Virginia General Assembly has now reached the midpoint of the 2016 legislative session known as the “Cross Over” on February 16, 2016.  A total of 2,798 was introduced during this year session. I would like to inform you of the most important bipartisan legislative actions and updates that was passed in the House of Delegates and now proceeds to the Senate committees. 

 There has been an increasing concerns on Public Safety across the country.  However, with much intensive bipartisan negotiations several public safety legislation was passed to help save lives in the Commonwealth.

 HB 1163 – This piece of legislation requires weapon permits from individuals who enter Virginia from states have a Virginia to honor concealed carry permitting process. It also will preserve the right of Virginia concealed carry permit holders to have their permits honored in states that require mutual agreements.

HB 1386 – This bill will give the Virginia State Police statutory authority to perform background checks on the behalf of private sellers at firearms shows.This bill will require the Virginia State Police to be present at every gun show inthe Commonwealth to perform background checks and the apprehension of those making illegal purchases.

HB 1391– This bill will prohibit a person subject to a permanent protective order from possessing a firearm for the duration of the order.  The bill will require the subjects of the protective order to transfer or sell his or her firearms within 24 hours.   

HB 20 - Requested by the peanut grower extends the sunset of $0.30 per pound excise tax on all peanuts grown in and sold in Virginia from July 1, 2016 to July 1, 2021. The proceeds from tax are used for promoting the sales and use of Virginia Peanuts.

HB 1377- Decreases class sizes for elementary grades and at any time the number of students in a class exceeds the class limits, the local school division shall notify the parent of each student in such a class of such fact no later than 10 days after the date on which the class exceeded the class size limit.

HB 46 -Secretary of Education will establish a 21 member Early Education Workforce Committee with the key goal of ensuring an effective professional development and credentialing system for the early childhood education workforce in the Commonwealth.

 Additionally, I submitted budget amendments that are being discussed in the Appropriations committee.   Item 3.6-05 #3h request would delete language that would allow the state to seize a portion of local fines and forfeitures resulting from traffic tickets and over 1 million dollars in funds would return to 33 localities including Sussex ($32,352.58), Greensville ($41,495.97) Southampton ($29,605.47), and Emporia ($95,115.08).  

Item 394 #4Hrequested payment in lieu of taxes from the Department of Corrections for Sussex ($450,00), Southampton( 47,000 and Greensville County (200,000). Item 73 #1h – This amendment provides additional funding necessary to convert the Commonwealth Attorney office in Surry County from a part time to a full time position and lastly, Item 495 #2h would provide $55,000 for the Southampton Historical Society.   A budget is expected to be printed on Sunday, February 21, 2016.

Your help is need to fight for funding for Southside Virginia. Please feel free to contact or email members of the Appropriation Committee and voice your concern.  Always feel free to contact me at my Richmond office 804 698-1075 or email delrtyler@house.virginia.gov.

General Assembly Salutes the Troops

By Sean CW Korsgaard, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Nearly 800,000 Virginians, about 10 percent of the commonwealth’s population, are veterans – one of the highest concentrations of veterans among the 50 states. During the General Assembly’s recent session, lawmakers showed their appreciation to the men and women who have served in the U.S. military.

Legislators passed a bevy of veterans-related bills. If signed into law by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, they will fund veterans care centers in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, expand employment opportunities for veterans and authorize a study of the state’s services for veterans.

The assembly’s salute to the troops coincided with a visit to Richmond by Robert McDonald, the U.S. secretary of veterans affairs. He met with McAuliffe and other state officials on Feb. 25 to discuss ways that Virginia and the Veterans Administration can work together.

The meeting followed an announcement by the governor that over the previous three months, Virginia had reduced homelessness among veterans by 75 percent. Moreover, last November, Virginia held a summit on how to improve health care for veterans.

“Virginia is pulling out all the stops to support our veterans,” said John Harvey, the state’s secretary of veterans and defense affairs.

Legislation approved by the General Assembly would build on those efforts. Here is a rundown of key bills that passed – and some that didn’t.

Health Care

Legislators passed bills authorizing $66.7 million in state funding for veterans care centers in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia. The bills were HB 1275 and HB 1276, sponsored by House Majority Leader Kirk Cox of Colonial Heights; and SB 675 and SB 676, sponsored by Sen. Linda “Toddy” Puller of Mount Vernon.

The money represents the state’s 35 percent share of the construction costs; the federal government would pick up the rest and cover the operational expenses. Both centers would have up to 230 beds.

Education

Virginia community colleges would provide academic credit to students who successfully completed military training courses, under SB 1335, sponsored by Sen. John Cosgrove of Chesapeake, and HB 2354, sponsored by Del. David Yancey of Newport News.

The military courses would have to be applicable to the students’ degree requirements and be recommended for academic credit by a national higher education association.

Help for Military Families

SB 930, sponsored by Sen. Janet Howell of Reston, would allow members of the Virginia National Guard and other Virginians in the U.S. armed forces to receive benefits from the Virginia Military Family Relief Fund after they’ve been deployed for more than 30 days. The fund helps families with electric and phone bills, auto repairs and other household expenses.

Employment

HB 1641, sponsored by Del. Christopher Stolle of Virginia, would ensure that all state agencies and public colleges and universities participate in the Virginia Values Veterans Program. The program encourages employers to hire veterans.

Study of Veterans Services

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, the General Assembly’s investigative arm, would conduct an audit of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services, under Senate Joint Resolution 243, sponsored by Sen. Rosalyn Dance of Petersburg, and House Joint Resolution 557, sponsored by Del. John O’Bannon of Henrico.

The audit would examine whether the state is adequately meeting the needs of veterans and their families in terms of health care, education and other services.

Other Bills and Resolutions

The General Assembly allows passed measures to ensure that members of the military receive personal property tax breaks on their vehicles; allow all veterans receiving disability pensions to receive disabled veteran license plates; and commend Japanese Americans who served in the U.S. military during World War II.

Proposals That Failed

At the same time, several bills intended to help veterans, military personnel and their families were defeated during the legislative session. They included legislation to:

  • Allow all members of the Virginia National Guard to pay in-state tuition to attend public colleges and universities.
  • Offer college scholarships to the children and spouse of any Virginian who is killed or severely wounded during military service.
  • Provide grants to businesses that hire veterans. The Senate unanimously passed a bill creating the Veteran Employment Grant Fund and Program, but it died in the House Appropriations Committee.
  • Create a special court for veterans accused of crimes that may stem from trauma, mental illness or other service-related problems. The Senate unanimously approved this bill, but it died in the House Courts of Justice Committee.

‘Extraordinary Justice’ Sworn In To High Court

By Craig Zirpolo, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – D. Arthur Kelsey was sworn in Friday as a justice of the Virginia Supreme Court, succeeding retired Chief Justice Cynthia Kinser.

Born into a family of lawyers and judges, including his father, uncle, grandfather, sister and half-brother, Kelsey rose from private practice – in the Norfolk office of the Hunton & Williams law firm – to a 12-year term on Virginia’s highest court.

At his investiture ceremony in Richmond, Gov. Terry McAuliffe called Kelsey a “fair, knowledgeable and gracious judge” known for his intellect and deep faith.

McAuliffe joked that Kelsey’s last vacation surfing in Maui went slightly better than the Democratic governor’s own holiday vacation in Africa, which left McAuliffe with seven broken ribs and other injuries after a horseback riding accident.

Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-Williamsburg, said Kelsey has an “enormous appreciation for the separation of powers.” Norment quoted John Roberts, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, as comparing a judge to an umpire who does not create the rules but just applies them.

“I don’t think I have come across a more articulate and impassioned judge,” Norment said.

Delegate Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, played a key role in starting Kelsey’s career behind the bench. In 2000, Jones asked Kelsey to leave private practice at the peak of his career to serve on the 5th Circuit Court of Virginia, an offer Kelsey accepted after days of prayer and discussion with his family.

Jones, who worked with Norment to gain support for the state Supreme Court nomination, described Kelsey as “patient, gracious and unpretentious.”

William and Mary President W. Taylor Reveley III called Kelsey, an adjunct professor at the college’s law school, a “marvelous teacher” who brings a “stunning constellation of relevant experience” to the court.

“An extraordinary justice has come to the Supreme Court,” Reveley said.

After high praise from colleagues and legislators, Kelsey said he was blessed by the opportunity to serve on the Supreme Court but has not forgotten that the greatest blessing is his family.

Kelsey and his wife, Jane, have three children: Jeffrey, 24, a lieutenant in the Air Force; Mark, 21, a student at Cedarville University in Ohio; and Jenna, 17, a student at Norfolk Christian School.

“Your comments describe the man I aspire to be rather than the man I am,” Kelsey said.

Kelsey graduated from Nansemond-Suffolk Academy in 1978. He received his undergraduate degree in political science from Old Dominion University in 1982 and his law degree from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary in 1985.

Kelsey began his career as a law clerk to U.S. District Judge John MacKenzie, where he worked for two years. He then became a partner at Hunton & Williams in Norfolk, where he practiced for 13 years before his appointment to the 5th Circuit Court, serving Isle of Wight and Southampton counties and the cities of Suffolk and Franklin.

In 2002, Kelsey was appointed to the Virginia Court of Appeals by then-Gov. Mark Warner.

Kelsey has been considered for the Supreme Court three times. In 2008, he was passed over for the seat filled by LeRoy Francis Millettee Jr., and in 2011, he was passed over in favor of William Cleveland Mims.

Originally, Kelsey was the only candidate for the seat being vacated by Kinser, but the Virginia Senate delayed his election while it sought other candidates. The General Assembly appointed Kelsey to the Supreme Court of Virginia in January.

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