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No Snow Days For Virginia Legislators

By Lauren McClellan and Jackson McMillan, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Despite multiple days of slushy snow and freezing temperatures, the General Assembly still has held session without taking any days off this winter.  Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced this past week that Virginia was under a state of emergency because of Wednesday’s snowstorm. According to the National Weather Service’s website, Richmond saw around 4 inches of snow.  Many area schools and local government offices closed because of the inclement weather. 

Delegate Matthew James, D-Portsmouth, said members of the General Assembly still have been coming to work despite the weather conditions.  “We’ve had sessions go on,” James said.  “We don’t take days off.”

However, the snow made it more difficult for constituents to come to Richmond to meet with General Assembly members.  “I try to meet with as many constituents as I can while I’m in Richmond so I can hear their voices. So I think the biggest impact that I can see is that (the snow) has maybe made it harder for constituents to get to Richmond,” James said.  “They’re worried about traveling on the icy roads, or they’re worried about getting back home and taking care of their family and friends. I think that’s been the biggest impact that I can see.”

Delegate Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, also said snowy or icy conditions could make it difficult for those without professional interests to attend session. “(Snow) may impact people coming to Richmond to testify, but all of the professional lobbyists and groups with interests in the General Assembly are here,” Mason said, “and we didn’t miss a beat,”. 

Mary Beth Washington, legislative assistant for Delegate Roslyn Tyler, D- Jarrat, said the General Assembly has not been very busy this past week.  “It’s the beginning of the crossover, and we’re gearing up for that,” Washington said. “So there’s not that many meetings being held right now.  Next week we’ll be in full force, but this week there’s not that much going on right now.”

Washington also said that the despite the snow, aide staff still showed up to work.  “It took (some of the aides) who live locally in the Richmond area longer to get to work because the streets were not clear in their communities,” Washington said, “but they all showed up, the ones that could get here.”

Mason said the General Assembly meets “regardless of circumstances.”  “(Inclement weather) doesn’t affect the inner workings of the General Assembly in the least,” Mason said. “This really is a show-must-go-on situation. The toughest part for me was the four blocks between the (downtown) Marriott and here, but once you’re in the door it’s business as usual.”

The last time the General Assembly was closed because of inclement weather was February 2010.

Photographs courtesy of Virginia Commonwealth University's Capital News Service.

Bill Seeks Compensation for Dog-Ravaged Livestock

By Jessi Gower, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Livestock and poultry owners in rural areas of Virginia may find some solace in the coming weeks if Senate passes House Bill 54, which guarantees monetary compensation for owners whose livestock and poultry that have been killed or injured by dogs.

Virginia is currently home to more than 46,000 farms and a large percentage of those farms house livestock of some form.  According to Dr. Dan Kovich, program director for the Office of Animal Care and Health Policy, there is currently no statewide recording mechanism for the number of livestock or poultry killed on these farms by dogs each year … but that does not mean these incidents are not occurring.

Mike and Dianne Taylor own and operate Empress Farm in Hanover, which raises free-range poultry to sell at local markets.  Dianne Taylor says she and her husband have had several incidents in which their turkeys and chickens have either disappeared or were found maimed.

The livestock owners eventually caught a neighbor’s dog in the act, but the couple was not pleased with the legal options available to them upon reporting the losses.

“The game lawyers said there wasn’t a whole lot that they could do,” Dianne Taylor said.  “We could take them (the neighbors) to court, but you know, there’s a lot of hassle in that.”

If passed, HB54 will ensure the Taylors and other rural Virginians receive the reparation upon any future dog attacks on livestock and poultry; even if the livestock owners do not know who owns the dog.

According to the bill’s chief patron, Delegate Keith Hodges, R-Urbanna, the funds for the compensation will come from collections of dog and cat license taxes by the treasurer of each locality.  These taxes are put into a separate account made for the precise purpose of damaged livestock.       

“Certainly this bill can benefit producers who are suffering losses (of livestock or poultry),” Kovich said. “Especially when the owner of the dog can’t be found. They (owners) are still going to be compensated.”      

HB54 passed unanimously in the House earlier this week and is currently awaiting the Senate’s vote.

Dr. John J. Cavan Recognized As Devoted, Innovative Leader By Virginia General Assembly

The General Assembly of Virginia recently commended Dr. John J. Cavan, President of Southside Virginia Community College, for his work helping student of the Commonwealth to build bright futures.  Dr. Cavan is retiring in 2014 after 32 years at the helm of SVCC.

Senate Joint Resolution Number 92 was agreed to by the Senate and House of Delegates on January 14, 2014.  It recognized Dr. Cavan as a devoted, forward-thinking leader in higher education.  The resolution states that “due in large part to John Cavan’s dedicated leadership, Southside Virginia Community College has one of the best served and largest service areas in the Commonwealth.”

Dr.  Cavan began his presidency at SVCC in 1983 with a goal of moving the college into the 21st Century.  Dr. Cavan never forgot his roots and made a commitment to serve the under-served community and build a strong tradition of education for the region that he has come to love.               

A graduate of Nicholls State University, he received his master’s degrees from Kean University and Yeshiva University.  He also completed the Ed.S. and Ed.D. from Yeshiva’s Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and has completed postdoctoral study at Harvard University.

Dr. Cavan held numerous administrative positions at Atlantic Community College in Mays Landing, New Jersey and Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, New York.  He has taught in the graduate school of George Mason University, George Washington University and Yeshiva University and been a guest lecturer at the Center for International Leadership in New York City. 

Growth of centers offering college courses has been initiated by Dr. Cavan during his tenure with him promising to “take the college to the people at any place and any time.”  The college has two campuses, and many permanent centers.

An avid basketball player, he has been named to two college basketball halls of fame and the athletic hall of fame for Newark, New Jersey. Dr. Cavan is as persistent in his athletic endeavors as he is in providing quality education to Southside Virginians.  A marathon runner, he has completed a total of 120 marathons including 18 Boston Marathons and 29 New York City Marathons. 

Cavan has devoted his life to education and athleticism. 

“With his vision, determination and professionalism, Dr. John Cavan leaves a legacy of excellence to SVCC and community college presidents throughout the Commonwealth,” the resolution reads.

Senator Louise Lucas presented the resolution to Dr. Cavan.

Bill Seeks Adjacent Graves for Pets, Owners

By Jessi Gower, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Virginia codes currently prohibit animals and humans from being buried together in the same cemetery, but one delegate hopes to change that with House Bill 588.

Delegate Israel O’Quinn, R-Bristol, proposed HB588 and if passed it would allow pets and owners to be buried together under certain circumstances. Inspired by a retired police officer wanting to be buried alongside his dogs, the bill is already gaining support from pet lovers and cemetery owners.

Sharon Lucas, who works at Richmond’s Greenwood Memorial Gardens, says many of the cemetery’s clients have shown interest in this type of arrangement.  “Many people who come to (Greenwood to) ask about it when they’re pre-planning,” Lucas said. “They’ll ask if they can have Fluffy or Spot buried with them, and I have to tell them no, that is state law that you can’t.”

O’Quinn says he recognizes that not everyone will want to be buried near deceased animals and his bill clearly specifies that owner-pet gravesites must be completely segregated from the cemetery plots devoted to traditional interments.

“Some people have an extreme aversion to animals, and others have a strong affection for them," he told The Washington Post. "There are some people who do not want pets or any furry animal buried near them, and that is their right."

The bill also specifies that companion animals are not to be buried in the same grave as their deceased owners, but rather in a separate grave adjacent to the owner‘s, which is close enough for pet owners wanting to make these arrangements.

If passed, the bill also could monetarily benefit struggling cemeteries. According to the 2012 Cremation Association of North America annual report, more and more people are choosing to be cremated because it is cheaper than a traditional burial. If pet owners were able to rest alongside their furry friends, more people might consider burial as an option, despite the price-which would, in turn, bring more business and money to the cemetery and funeral industry.

Currently only two locations in the United States offer owner-pet burials; Hillcrest Memorial Park in Pennsylvania and Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Maryland. If HB588 passes, Virginia could be the third.

STATE DECLINES DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS STUDY

By Eric Luther, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grant Would Fund Active-Shooter Training

By James Galloway, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill is advancing through the House that would grant “active shooter” training funds to smaller police forces, which currently have no budget to accommodate the over-time pay to prepare for mass shootings.  Delegate Mike Webert, R-Marshall, said the Fauquier County Sheriff Department recently integrated an active shooter program. To do so, he said the department brought in experts from Fairfax, which has a larger police force.  “(Fairfax) has one of the best task forces in the nation,” Webert said. “A lot of their guys end up training our smaller localities. So, we want to be able to provide our localities with the tools to help keep our children safe.”

Webert said the initial training cost Fauquier County money that was not in the police budget, which is why he introduced legislation calling for a $500,000 training grant. His bill would grant funding up to $50,000 per locality to provide overtime pay for police officers to be trained to respond in the event of a shooting.

Lt. James Hartman, of the Fauquier County Sheriff Department, said his department is “very much in favor of the bill and (supports) it 100 percent.”

Hartman said it is obvious the active shooter and training grant fund is needed in jurisdictions like Fauquier County. He described his department as “too small to be big, and too big to be small,” adding that the force has about 125 sworn officers covering patrols and stationed in schools.  Hartman said overtime pay for active-shooter training exceeds the police budget. He said over-time costs between $16,000–$17,000 for each training session and consists of about 22 officers.

The training covers response tactics leading to the neutralization of an active shooter. Usually, Hartman said, his department will go into a school when students are out and stage a simulation using actors. County schools even have color-coded doors so officers easily can communicate their locations from within a building.  Although his department trains for the first critical minutes of a public school incident, Hartman said “active shooter” applies to more than just school shootings.  “Active shooter incidents across the country mainly have just been in schools,” he said. “But we’ve also seen active shooters in workplaces, such as the Navy Yard shooter (and) movie theaters.”

Hartman said his department already has conducted four training sessions and had a fifth planned in January.

Chief John Venuti of the VCU Police Department would not discuss specific training.  "The VCU Police Department provides active shooter training to the campus community,” Venuti stated in an email. “We do not discuss specific information pertaining to training, technology or tactics."

Webert said he hopes to convince the appropriations committee to create a grant from the currently unappropriated federal fund, which he said is about $15 million.

Sunday Hunting Bills Progress Through General Assembly

By Liz Butterfield, Capital News Service

 RICHMOND — Two bills seeking to allow Sunday hunting of deer and wild animals on private Virginia property and state waters are progressing through the General Assembly.

However, hunting with dogs or hunting within 200 yards of a house of worship would be prohibited.  The House passed House Bill 1237 this past week and sent the legislation to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources. Senate Bill 154 is expected to go before the full Senate next week. Although seen as a bipartisan bill by many in the General Assembly, the bills are facing unanticipated pushback from some rural area representatives and the Virginia Farm Bureau.

Delegate Tommy Wright, R-Victoria, said the majority of people t supporting HB 1237 are not the ones most affected by the legislation.  "The people that are affected the most don't have the majority of the votes," Wright said. "You're not going to have much hunting going on in Fairfax, Va. You may have people coming from Fairfax into the rural areas that want to hunt, but this is going to affect the rural areas. It's going to affect hunting and it's going to affect the Lord's day."  A self-proclaimed “avid” hunter and lifelong NRA member, Wright said he doesn't believe the extra day of hunting will have a positive economic impact on his community.  "We hear that argument over and over again," he said. "The statistics show there has been no (economic) improvement and (increase in) hunting-license sales in states that have had Sunday hunting."

Wright said more than 95 percent of his constituents who contacted him about the bill do not support Sunday hunting legislation.  "It'll be a big impact negatively on hunting in general, “Wright said, “and on the lifestyle we've enjoyed … the peace and quiet in rural Virginia we've enjoyed."  Patron of the House bill, Delegate Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, said the legislation is meant to counter the decline of hunting-license purchases in Virginia. Gilbert said license purchases have decreased by 50 percent over the past 30 years.  "Virginia has such a strong hunting heritage that we thought this would be a great opportunity to attempt to reverse that trend," Gilbert said. "Where I live the rifle (and) the high-powered rifle season for deer is only two weeks long. So if you're a hardworking person, you really only have two Saturdays in which to engage in that activity all year. This would simply give you a couple extra days to enjoy a sport you love and be able to put food on the table."

The Virginia Farm Bureau did not respond to requests for comment.

Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative Directors Meet with Area Elected Officials in Richmond

Chase City, Va. – Several directors and key staff members of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) traveled to Richmond on January 27, to meet with state legislators at the Virginia General Assembly. They joined more than 200 directors and staff members from 12 other member-owned electric cooperatives across the Commonwealth who converged on the Capital for the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperative’s (VMDAEC) annual Legislative Day.

Attending from MEC were board members Stan Duffer, Bob Jones, Donnie Moore and John Waller as well as President & CEO John Lee, COO Glen Gillispie and Vice President of Member and Energy Services David Lipscomb. The office visits and reception afforded MEC directors and management an opportunity to meet one-on-one with legislators to talk about this year’s session and to discuss any legislation that might affect the Cooperative and its ability to provide its Membership with reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible electric power.

Cooperative representatives were briefed by VMDAEC staff members and political experts on the 2014 General Assembly before the group traveled to Capitol Square to call on Delegates and Senators representing the nine counties served by the cooperative. MEC representatives distributed a fact-filled handout to help educate newly elected legislators and the new administration about the “cooperative difference.” They also discussed issues pertinent to the Cooperative and invited the legislators and their staff members to the VMDAEC’s annual Legislative Reception planned for that evening.

 “This personal interaction is critical as MEC’s representatives work to develop strong working relationships with our local legislators and state officials,” states Lee, adding, “We must make every effort to educate them on the cooperative business model and ensure that these decision makers, who represent those we serve, are aware of the importance of electric cooperatives in providing energy to Virginia’s homeowners, farmers, businesses and industries. Ultimately, we are there to protect the best interests of our members and rural Virginia because there are few champions for those living in Southside Virginia these days and they are facing tremendous odds with regards to influencing legislation that impacts our rural way of life.”

AboutMecklenburg Electric Cooperative: Headquartered in Chase City with district offices in Emporia, Chase City and Gretna, Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative is a not-for-profit member-owned energy provider that serves more than 31,000 homes, farms and businesses throughout nine Central and Southside Virginia counties. For more information, go to www.meckelec.org.

In the photo: Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) representatives meet with Delegate Roslyn Tyler in her office to discuss legislative issues that could have an impact on rural electrification.  More than 200 directors and staff members from 13 member-owned electric cooperatives converged on the Capital to call on delegates and senators for the Virginia, Maryland and Delaware Association of Electric Cooperative’s annual Legislative Day. Seated from left to right are MEC President & CEO John Lee, Jr., COO Glen Gillispie, and board member Donnie Moore.

Tunnel Construction Relief Bills Killed

By Lauren McClellan, Capital News Service

 RICHMOND -- Two bills that would have provided monetary relief to Hampton Roads area businesses affected by construction on the Downtown Tunnel have been killed in the General Assembly.  Senate Bill 292, introduced by Sen. Louise Lucas, D- Portsmouth, would have established the Downtown Tunnel Construction Relief Grant Fund. The fund would have provided each local business affected by construction with $10,000 for economic hardship experienced because of the project.  SB 292 was passed by indefinitely in committee this past week.

House Bill 351, like SB292, aimed to establish the same fund, but would have given businesses $1,500 instead of $10,000.  HB 351, which was introduced by Del. Matthew James, D-Portsmouth, was killed Jan. 20.  “If you have a company, or you are an employee and depend on people coming to your place for dinner or something like that, (tunnel construction) would be disruptive to your business,” James said. “People would naturally make a decision sometimes and say ‘Well, I don’t know if the tunnel’s open or closed.  So, I’m going to go to another (business).’”

According to James, a survey done by the General Assembly and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership found many businesses in the area were suffering severely because of the construction.  President Tony Goodwin of the Portsmouth Olde Towne Business Association is concerned with how the construction and new tolls will affect downtown Portsmouth. He said construction essentially “isolates” the area.  “I don’t think I would wish (this situation) on anyone, as my competitors or my enemies,” Goodwin said.  “Until people start adjusting their habits -- and things balance themselves out -- it’s going to be a little bit of a tough road.”

Goodwin also expressed concern about the state not releasing pertinent economic information about the overall Elizabeth River tunnel projects.  “As they (the state and contractors) were coming up to the point of financing and signing the contract, we (the business association) demanded they do a full-blown economic impact study,” Goodwin said, “which was never released to the businesses nor the public because it was supposedly proprietary information.” 

Opponents of the bill were concerned about the future ramifications the fund might have on other communities.  “I was told that the bill was a creative fix, and that they were sympathetic,” James said. “But (opponents of the bill) told me that they were worried about the precedent, even though we had a sunset that once the tunnel opened, the grant would not be available.”

Both bills would have required local business owners to submit applications to prove the Downtown Tunnel construction had affected their business.  Downtown Norfolk Council President Mary Miller said some of the information in the bills was unclear.  “Was it really supposed to be the Downtown Tunnel and the Midtown Tunnel?  Or just one?” Miller said. “Because the Elizabeth River tunnel project involves two tunnels.”

Miller said she was not sure the bill would have helped businesses in Norfolk because of its vague language.  “You have to have a pretty clear -- I think -- idea of who’s impacted,” Miller said. 

Two impact statements were released estimating the costs of the projects outlined in each bill.  "The potential number of applicants for a grant under the program is indeterminate," the impact statement stated. "The impact estimate … anticipates that VEDP will receive and review several thousand applications during the grant period established in the bill."

The Virginia Economic Development Partnership estimated that the cost of creating the fund would have been around $538,000.  According to the impact statement, multiple positions would have had to be created in order to administer the funds.   The positions needed included one marketing representative that would explain the program to those potentially affected by the tunnel construction, three grant processors and performance monitors, and an administrator to oversee the project.  Salary and benefits for these positions ranged from $50,000 to $140,000 apiece.

If passed, both bills' provisions would have sunsetted in July 2015.  Tolling for the Downtown and Midtown Tunnels in the Hampton Roads area begins Feb. 1.

Virginia Senate Committee Says ‘No’ To Dreamers

By Chris Suarez, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Virginia Senate legislation designed to give in-state tuition to undocumented childhood arrivals was defeated this past week by a Health and Education Committee vote of 6-7.   Senate Bill 249, patroned by Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, and known as the Virginia DREAM Act, sparked heated rhetoric  on whether state or federal legislators should be held responsible for immigration-related measures.  “Shame on the federal government and people from both parties,” said Sen. Thomas A. Garrett, R-Hadensville. “Whether it’s a failure to secure the borders or failure to acknowledge 12 million living, breathing human beings who are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I can’t vote on the bill because it’s unconstitutional. We can’t do this. It’s stupid.”

Republicans on the committee questioned the legal status of Virginia residents who’ve received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a memorandum that advises U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to grant undocumented people momentary pardon from being deported. The order was enacted by The Department of Homeland Security in 2012.

When the bill was first debated this month during the higher education subcommittee meeting, Sen. Ralph Smith, R-Roanoke, pointed out wording within the Homeland Security directive, which only provides, “relief from removal from the country,” but does not clarify lawful status.  “I understand Senator Garrett’s position, but I think it’s not well-founded,” McEachin said. “This legislation wasn’t made to confer citizenship. All we’re trying to do is give them access to the public university system at an in-state cost.”

Smith said undocumented arrivals could enroll in the commonwealth’s community college system as an alternative to enrolling immediately in a public four-year university.  Senate Democrats were unamused with that notion.  McEachin said such a suggestion was “draconian,” and designates a number of residents as “second-class citizens,” because they would be financially barred from attending more prestigious in-state universities.

Members of the committee expressed frustration with similar measures repeatedly failing when introduced to the state legislature.   “We’ve been asking the federal government to do their job, but they’re not,” said Sen. Janet Howell, D-Reston. “Meanwhile, we have a generation of students who’ve been deprived of a reasonably priced, higher-quality education. How long do they have to wait for the federal government to do its job? I think it’s our obligation to step forward and do ours.”

Interest groups, such as the Virginia Catholic Conference and the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, were vocal in their support of the bill. Many still are vested in the issue, planning to support similar legislation in the House of Delegates and looking toward next year.  American Civil Liberties Union paralegal Joseph Montana assured the ACLU’s support of the bill in the future, saying it is the commonwealth’s responsibility to support its residents and uphold social justice.  “If we wait around for someone else to do our work for us, we’re going to be waiting a long time,” Montana said.

The official legal status of residents who’ve received federal deferred action is unclear, but Montana said he believes other Virginia statutes are evidence that a bill such as McEachin’s could exist and be constitutional.  “We weren’t asking for something that people with deferred action status don’t already have,” Montana said. “People with TPS (temporary protected status) are afforded in-state tuition and have the same rights as those with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status have. They’re allowed to have a driver’s license, they’re allowed to work in the United States and they’re lawfully present.” 

Two other bills seeking in-state tuition await hearing in House committees. House Bills 59 and 88 are patroned by Del. Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church, and Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, respectively.

Bills Seek E-cig Ban for Minors

By Dana Carlson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Electronic cigarettes could be banned from the hands of minors as Virginia legislators in the House and Senate push for regulation.  In response to the growing number of young people experimenting with smokeless tobacco products, Virginia lawmakers have introduced House Bill 1111, House Bill 26, House Bill 218, Senate Bill 96 and Senate Bill 17 to prohibit people under the age of 18 from purchasing or possessing e-cigarettes.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention press release stated the percentage of U.S. middle and high school students who use electronic cigarettes more than doubled to 4.7 percent between 2011 to 2012.   

Data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey stated more than 1.78 million middle school and high school students had tried e-cigarettes in 2012.          "We have to start thinking about what we need to do as a society, what e-cigarette manufacturers need to do, what state municipalities and the federal government need to do," stated Dr. Tim McAfee of the CDC in an Associated Press interview.

While the language of each proposed provision is slightly different, each bill summary defines electronic cigarettes as a vehicle of nicotine delivery.  HB1111, HB218 and SB96 specifically call for electronic cigarettes to be grouped beneath the umbrella of "tobacco products," which may lead to regulation similar to that of traditional cigarettes.

HB26 has been incorporated into the Reeves bill, HB218, by a voice vote in the House along with SB17. Meanwhile, HB1111 has been assigned to the House Courts of Justice Criminal Law sub-committee for review.

While lobbyists for the Medical Society of Virginia were poised to publicly endorse the ban of e-cigs to minors, a press release stated the group was pleased to see when bill patron Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Fredericksburg, presented SB 96. The bill -- which would prohibit minors from purchasing or possessing e-cigarettes or vapor products -- faced no opposition and was unanimously supported by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.

Additionally, HB218, introduced by Delegate Dave Albo, was endorsed by the House Courts of Justice Civil subcommittee and will next be considered by the full committee, stated MSV.  Delegate David Ramadan, R-South Riding, patron of HB26, stated in a WRIC interview that his bill was inspired by concerned parents who saw more young people experimenting with e-cigs. "Under 18 children were able to buy these cigarette looking products in malls and they have seen a trend in children starting to use it," Ramadan stated.

The exploding e-cigarette industry is predicted to have earned more than $1 billion in annual sales for 2013, according to statistics verified by the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association. Some local e-cig retailers already have prepared for the repercussions of growth by carefully marketing their products.  "As a company we welcome legislation," said Donovan Phillips, co-owner of the electronic cigarette specialty store and lounge, Avail Vapor in Richmond. "As far as the 18 and under situation, this industry needs this kind of legislation as it moves from the state of a novelty to a mainstream product."

Avail Vapor, which has several store locations throughout Virginia, practices self- regulation to remain ahead of the curve. The brick-and-mortar business currently labels its products detailing all chemicals contained in e-cigarette cartridges, includes a warning label noting the risks of nicotine consumption. The label pointedly claims smokeless tobacco is addicting and is not an aid for smoking cessation. In addition to these precautions, Avail Vapor does not sell electronic cigarettes to minors.

Ian Rawls, an e-cig user, stated on Facebook that the "vaping" trend has blown up in the Hampton Roads area during the last few months.  “Most of the places I go to when I pick up materials typically ID me," Rawls stated, adding that most of these shops have a sign reading: "Under 18 not allowed."

"We know that nicotine is not good for the developing adult's brain, and we are concerned that experimentation with e-cigarettes may put our children also at risk for using cigarettes," McAfee stated. 

Phillips said e-cigarettes offer a lifestyle alternative to a wide demographic of people whether it's a mother who is worried about second-hand smoke when driving her kids to school or someone in the military who doesn't want to smell like smoke.

Chip Anderson, co-owner of RVA Vapes stated on Facebook that Big Tobacco has failed at buying itself into the e-cigarette market. As a result, Philip Morris USA (Altria), Reynolds American (RJR), and Lorillard, want to see e-cigs taxed the same way as cigarettes.

Placing restrictions on the sale to minors could be the first step in stricter regulation and enforcement similar to that of traditional cigarettes.  "Big Tobacco has seen a 25-percent drop in sales in the last two years," Anderson stated. "And with "loyal customers" dying by the thousands daily, they don't wanna lose anymore."       

Tidewater Toll Revisions Criticized

By Lauren McClellan, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Critics of the proposed Hampton Roads tolls are unsatisfied by the new governor’s initiatives reducing – and in some cases eliminating -- those tolls, which are scheduled to take effect Feb. 1.  This past week Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced the Downtown and Midtown Tunnels would not charge tolls to emergency vehicles.  Earlier he also said the Commonwealth Transportation Board determined passenger-car-peak-period tolls would be reduced from $1.84 to $1 each way.

However, members of Citizens for Accountability in Politics Political Action Committee, an organization concerning itself with Hampton Roads issues, say the tolls are fundamentally unfair because they were imposed by unelected officials.  “It’s good the tolls will be lowered, but that’s only for two years. Then the inflated tolls will resume,” CAPPAC members Roger and Glenna Cornett stated, in an email. “The contract should be voided. Period.” 

The tolls are the result of a private-public partnership between the Virginia Department of Transportation and Elizabeth River Crossings, which is described in a press release as the “private partner of VDOT for the design, construction, finance, operations and maintenance of the Elizabeth River Tunnels Project.”  CAPPAC challenged the tolls in circuit court and won … but lost on appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia.

The Cornetts say they are concerned about the cost of the project and the fact that the ERC, with the current contract, is entitled to a 13.5 percent profit each year. McAuliffe’s toll announcements have not changed their stance on the issue.  “They should have raised the taxes and all this mess with the tolls would not have come about,” the Cornetts stated.

For the average driver, who uses these roads every day to get to and from work, those tolls hikes would have cost about $1,000 a year, according to a report by WAVY-TV in Hampton Roads.  The revised tolls will cost passenger-vehicle drivers $1 during peak times and 75 cents during all other times.  For truck drivers, the toll will be $4 during peak times and $2.25 all other times.   Passenger-vehicle drivers without E-Z Pass may pay as much as $2.25 per trip in 2014.

Lowering tolls will cost the state $82.5 million over the next three years, according to a Jan. 16 Richmond Times-Dispatch article.  A press release from the governor’s office stated the funds, “will come from a combination of bonds and other funds that have not been assigned to specific transportation projects.”  For passenger vehicles, tolls will increase by 25 cents every year until 2017 … or when most of the new Midtown tunnel is completed.  Then, tolls will be a set amount agreed upon by the VDOT and Elizabeth River Crossings.

Bill Aims to Prorate Waste Disposal Fees

By Jackson McMillan, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill allowing Southampton County residents to pay monthly waste disposal fees as part of their electric bills is awaiting a hearing in the Counties, Cities and Towns Committee of the House of Delegates.

House Bill 62, introduced by Delegate Roslyn Tyler, D-Jarratt, would allow Southampton County to enter contractual agreements with light and power companies for the fee collection.  The bill would amend Section 15.2-2159 of the Code of Virginia to give Southampton County the same billing options that Accomack, Augusta, Floyd, Highland, Pittsylvania and Wise counties currently have.   “If the legislation is passed -- and if the county and the light and power companies may enter into contractual agreements -- consumers will pay (the waste disposal) fee in installments as opposed to a one-time annual fee,” Tyler stated in an email.

Only residents who dispose of their solid waste at a county landfill or solid waste collection site would be charged the fee.

Southampton County Board of Supervisors member S. Bruce Phillips, who represents the Capron District, said amending the code is not a hard push to impose any legislation on Southampton’s residents.  “This bill (HB62) is asking the General Assembly for authorization to give Southampton County the ability to enter agreements (with the power companies),” Phillips said. “It allows the board of supervisors to ask the people if they prefer monthly fees to an annual fee.”

If the measure were passed, a monthly waste disposal fee of $16.67 would be added to Southampton County residents’ electric bill in lieu of an annual waste fee of $200.

“The legislation does not obligate or require any light or power company to collect the fee,” Tyler stated. “It only provides that they may.”

Homeschool Sports Access Banks on Senate Shakeup

By Colin Kennedy, Capital News Service

RICHMOND --After nearly a decade of debate, some Virginia legislators are hopeful homeschooled students will soon be allowed to participate in public school sports.  House Bill 63, which was proposed by Delegate Robert Bell, R-Charlottesville, progressed through the House of Delegates’ Elementary and Secondary Education subcommittee this past week and likely will be heard by the House Education Committee next week.

This year’s version of the bill is identical to those that have failed by one vote at the Senate Education and Health Committee in recent years, Bell says, but there is reason for optimism this time around.  “For several years it has passed the House and been defeated in the Senate,” Bell said. “The Senate has always been a trouble, (but) we’ve got some changes in membership … so we’re hopeful we can get it out of the senate this year.”

These membership changes could make all the difference in 2014. Two members of the Senate Education and Health Committee -- both of whom repeatedly voted against the legislation -- have vacated their positions.  Former Sen. Harry Blevins retired and former Sen. Ralph Northam recently was elected to serve as the commonwealth’s 40thlieutenant governor. So, assuming all goes well in the House, and the remaining 13 committee members vote along the same lines as in past years, the fate of HB63 may hinge on party politics inside the Senate chamber.

The scale may have tipped in favor of the Democrats, who have traditionally opposed homeschool sports access, when Jennifer Wexton won Virginia’s 33rd Senate District race in a special election to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Mark Herring.  Though Democratic control of the Senate potentially could help determine which legislators are appointed to the Senate Education and Health Committee, Sen. John C. Miller, D-Newport News, says the issue extends beyond partisanship.  “Decisions have consequences and when a parent decides to homeschool their child, they are taking that child out of the public school and … away from all of the extracurricular benefits that a public school offers,” Miller said. “I don’t think that a homeschooled student should have the ability to pick and choose which activities of public school they’re going to participate in.”

Right now, homeschoolers don’t have extracurricular choices because the Virginia High School League, which oversees all high school sports in the state, prevents homeschoolers from doing so.  Miller is a member of the Senate’s Education and Health Committee, who previously served as the Senate representative of the VHSL. He says he thinks HB63 would be unfair to students enrolled in the public school system because homeschoolers would need to meet fewer eligibility requirements to participate.  

HB63, which is nicknamed the “Tebow” bill after the former NFL quarterback who was allowed to play in public school athletics as a Florida homeschooler, would prohibit the commonwealth’s public schools from being members of the VHSL unless the school alters its eligibility regulations to include homeschooled students.  Such a resolution would make Virginia the 24th state nationwide to give homeschoolers at least limited sports access, according to The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers.

James Angel, the media spokesperson on legislative affairs for VA Homeschoolers, says he thinks the issue comes down to equal opportunity.  “We see this as a basic measure of fairness,” Angel said. “There’s really no good reason why homeschooled kids should not be allowed to partake in the activities that their parents, who are taxpayers, paid for.”  Ultimately, the taxpayers likely remain at the mercy of a 15-person senate committee that has defeated the same legislation several years running. More than 29,000 students statewide were homeschooled as of December 2013, according to the Virginia Department of Education, and Angels says he thinks this proposed legislation might finally have enough support.

“We’re optimistic that this is going to be the year,” Angel said. “It’s an issue that comes up year after year, and sooner than later, it’s going to get through.  The full house committee is expected to hear HB63 this week, and the bill could reach the Senate by month’s end.

House Kills Bill Limiting Overdose Prosecution

By Chris Suarez, Capital News Service 

RICHMOND -- Legislation protecting Virginians reporting drug overdoses was introduced earlier this month after years of lobbying by a Virginia Commonwealth University student organization, but the bill will have to wait to be heard during next year’s General Assembly.  Students for Sensible Drug Policywas the VCU group instrumental in helping introduce House Bill 557, Safe Reporting of Overdoses. The legislation sought to provide limited legal amnesty to anyone reporting a drug overdose. 
The bill aimed to protect anyone experiencing or witnessing a drug overdose --whether from a controlled substance or synthetic cannabinoid -- according to VCU SSDP Co-president and Treasurer Rose Bono.   "According to the office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia, hundreds of people die every year from unintentional drug overdose,” Bono said. “This is an important issue to the public health of Virginia.”
The bill also provided protections for minors suffering from an alcohol-related overdose, addressing an issue common to colleges and universities throughout the country.  “We’ve met parents and relatives of those who have died of overdose,” said the bill’s chief patron Delegate Betsy Carr, D-Richmond. “This (bill) is an attempt to save those lives.”
The bill was heard in the Court of Justice subcommittee earlier this week. After deliberation, the subcommittee recommended “laying it on the table,” essentially ending discussion on the bill during this session of the General Assembly, according to VCU SSDP President Jurriaan Van Den Hurk.
Bono and Van Den Hurk say the VCU group plans to continue addressing the issue in the future.  Bono says the drafting of this legislation has been in the works over the course of several years with help from former organization leaders and the national SSDP office.  After much lobbying and organizing, Carr adopted the issue by becoming chief patron of the bill. 
The national SSDP office encourages its local chapters to lobby for regulations in their respective universities that would protect students experiencing overdoses. Because VCU falls under the jurisdiction of the City of Richmond, university officials told members of the SSDP they would have to appeal to city legislators to adopt a law for the commonwealth, according to Bono. 
During the subcommittee meeting, Delegate Jackson Miller, R-Manassas motioned to table the bill, citing unintended consequences the bill could cause such as providing amnesty  to drug dealers selling far more harmful adulterated drugs.   "If someone was selling a bad batch of heroin and making people sick, and the police would show up at an overdose caused by that, the (police) wouldn’t be able to do anything about it,” Van Den Hurk said “They (subcommittee) said the bill wasn’t written well enough to account for those loose ends.”
Van Den Hurk says the organization isn’t giving up on the issue. They will wait to see which members will take up leadership roles and shape a new policy to address the issue once he and Bono graduate this semester.

Virginia Lawmakers Introduce Anti-Human Trafficking Bills

By Kate Miller, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — General Assembly members have introduced multiple anti-human trafficking bills for the current legislative session.  Delegate Barbara Comstock, R-McLean, and Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, introduced bills HB994 and SB453. This legislation would create a human trafficking stand-alone offense in Virginia. The term “human trafficking” currently is not defined by Virginia law.  Obenshain says this legislation would help Virginia law enforcement officers who struggle to find remedies to human trafficking.  “We have put together a comprehensive human trafficking statute,” Obenshain said, “to give law enforcement the tools necessary to address these offenses in a comprehensive way.”  Obenshain says Virginia is one of only two states that do not have a comprehensive human trafficking statute. 

The Richmond Justice Initiative, a local faith-based, anti-human trafficking nonprofit organization, is advocating for the passage of HB994 and SB453RJI held its annual Lobby Day this past week at the General Assembly. During the Lobby Day, a group of about 45 RJI volunteers met with legislative representatives to advocate for the bills.  An anti-human trafficking press conference with bipartisan legislators was held in association with RJI.

Obenshain, Comstock, Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria; Delegate Tim Hugo, R-Centreville; Delegate David Bulova, D-Fairfax; Delegate Watts, D-Annandale and Delegate Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church, participated in the press conference.  Hugo says human trafficking is an important issue to both political parties.  It’s a family issue,” Hugo said. “It’s a human issue … and I don’t think partisanship has a role to play in this (human trafficking).” 

Delegate David Bulova, D-Fairfax, introduced HB767, which would allow property used in connection with certain human trafficking crimes to be subject to forfeiture to the state.  Bulova says the bill is meant to combat the profit motive for traffickers.  “Law enforcement can take away your (human trafficker) assets,” he said. “So that under no circumstances will anybody ever be able to profit from this absolutely terrible crime.”  According to Bulova, immediate assets used in connection with trafficking as well as any profits or interest derived from those assets would be subject to forfeiture.

Bulova says HB660 and HB1155 — other proposed bills dealing with asset forfeiture for human trafficking — would essentially have the same effect as HB767.  “The idea is to take the best from all of the versions (of the bill), bring them into one (legislative effort) and ensure that we’re going to the Courts of Justice Committee with a united front,” Bulova said.  Obenshain and Delegate Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, introduced SB454 and HB235. These measures would add individuals who solicit sex from a minor to the Sex Offender Registry.  “This crime would not exist if it weren’t for the demand for it,” Bell said. “Fewer women will be trafficked if we can have fewer men who are trying to have relations with them through prostitution.”

Hugo introduced HB 485, which would add certain prostitution and abduction offenses as crimes for which attorneys may issue administrative subpoenas to obtain records for criminal investigations.  It is important to focus on electronic communication in the fight against human trafficking, according to Hugo.  “The street has now been replaced by the online world,” Hugo said. 

Hugo also introduced HB486, which would require people currently mandated to report suspected child abuse or neglect to also report suspected trafficking of children.  Hugo says such legislation has not been passed yet because of lack of awareness of the issue of human trafficking.  “I don’t think there’s any evil … on anybody’s mind,” Hugo said. “It’s just people haven’t thought that some people are that bad that they would try to do this (traffic) to young children.

Delegates Outline General Assembly Agendas

By Quinn Casteel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- With the Virginia General Assembly underway, Prince William County delegates have begun pushing forward on the 47 bills of which the legislators are the chief patrons. During the first week of session, Delegates Richard Anderson, R-Woodbridge; Luke Torian, D-Dumfries; Michael Futrell, D-Dumfries  and Jackson Miller, R-Manassas each highlighted one or more bills they are focused on enacting during the 2014 General Assembly session.

Delegate  Miller, R-Manassas

In addition to his service as Republican majority whip, Miller’s top projects will include participation on the newly-formed bipartisan ethics committee, mental health issues and House Bill 606, which deals with the number of judges assigned to different types of courts.

The Virginia Supreme Court has completed a study of judges’ caseloads of throughout the state and found areas with higher populations such as parts of Prince William County had judges with large caseloads. Miller’s bill will try to re-allocate the number of judges in each district based on these findings.  “In one area of the state you have judges working their tails off like in Prince William,” Miller said. “And (in) other areas of the state they just simply don’t have the same caseload.”

With the most recent census showing a 30-percent rise in the Prince William County’s population during the past decade, Miller said he thinks the services rendered through the state should reflect that increase.  “It’s going to be a very difficult bill because -- like with any re-allocation bill -- some jurisdictions are going to win … and some are going to lose,” Miller said.

Delegate Futrell, D-Dumfries

Veterans and current military families are among the strongest emphases for Prince William County’s newest delegate.

One of Futrell’s top priorities, House Bill 777, would stop the state taxing of the retirement pay of veterans living in Virginia.  Similar pieces of legislation already have been passed in North Carolina and other “military-friendly” states. Futrell says passage of his bill would be an important step in keeping veterans and active military members in Virginia.  “Instead of going to Texas or California, the skills and things that they’re (the veterans) learning in the military, whether it’s leadership, management or science and technology, these are things that we can utilize right here in our commonwealth.” Futrell said.

Futrell also has proposed House Bill 782, which would give a $1,000 tax credit to anyone purchasing a home from military personnel whom are scheduled for deployment.

Aside from his focus on military families, Futrell also is working on implementing regional innovation councils aiming to bring more businesses to Prince William County.

Delegate Torian, D-Dumfries

With the population of Prince William County at 410,000 and growing, one of Torian’s main focuses is House Bill 685, which would distribute communications sales and use tax revenues across the state in proportion to the population of the jurisdiction. 

According to the Virginia government website, communication sales and use-tax revenue distribution is based on the locality’s share of telecommunications and television funds, which are raised from various taxes such as the video programming excise tax.  “Our economic base is very important to us, so we need to do everything we can to ensure that we’re being fiscally responsible,” Torian said. “And we’re receiving the revenue that is reflective of our population growth.”

Torian is another member of the bipartisan ethics group, for which he is taking a primary role in pushing forward House Bill 689. The bill would require legislators and lobbyists to file financial disclosure reports semiannually rather than just once a year.  “It brings greater credibility and accountability to what we’re doing,” Torian said.

Del. Anderson, R – Woodbridge

House Bill 997, which deals with proceedings for the removal and relocation of human remains, is of particular relevance to Anderson and Prince William County because of the recent dispute over the discovery of pre-Civil War remains at the Lynn family graveyard on the construction site of the county’s 12th high school.  Anderson proposed the bill with the goal of establishing a law that “more clearly defines the procedures” for making determinations about disinterring, relocating and reinterring the remains found in grave sites that happen to be in a construction zone.  “It created some community consternation,” Anderson said of the Lynn family graveyard situation. “I attribute that to the fact that there is a lack of concrete guidance for the local governments, and this bill will lay that out.”

Additionally, Anderson said he plans to emphasize his work in a bipartisan group that will present six or seven government ethics bills. The series of bills will focus on what government officials can or cannot receive from third parties, and how these transactions are recorded.

(Editor's Note:  This article, from the VCU Capital New Service, outlines the plans for State Legislators from Northern Virginia, and is included on this site because everything that happens in the General Assembly has implications for the entire state.)

Ethics Bill Aims to Reform FOIA Again

By Quinn Casteel, Capital News Service     

RICHMOND – Among the flurry of ethics reform bills being proposed throughout the Virginia General Assembly is Senate Bill 212, which would remove Freedom of Information Act exemptions for legislators and their aides.  The new FOIA bill, which is part of an ethics package authored by Sen. J. Chapman Petersen, D-Fairfax, would remove Delegate Tag Greason’s, R – Potomac Falls, House Bill 1639 less than a year after its approval.

HB1639 also is known as the 2013 General Assembly FOIA Exemption Act. The measure officially added legislative aides to the exemption list of Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act.  Currently, General Assembly members and legislatives aides are exempt from Virginia’s FOIA act, which means their working papers and written correspondence are unattainable for public viewing. Petersen said SB212 would increase accountability in the Virginia legislature.   “We need as much transparency as possible, and then people can make up their own minds,” Petersen said. “(FOIA) has an incredible influence on people because it makes you realize, ‘Hey I’m under scrutiny at all times.’”

House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox, R-Colonial Heights, and House Minority Leader David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, announced a bipartisan agreement pushing forward a plan for ethics reform.  This proposed legislation come following a financial controversy surrounding former Republican Gov. Robert R. McDonnell.  “The (FOIA) exemption has been broadly interpreted, and it’s now used for everything,” said Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. “Anything that narrows that scope and keeps things in check is a good thing.”

Delegate Luke E. Torian, D-Woodbridge, patrons House Bill 689, which would require legislators and lobbyists to file financial disclosure reports semiannually rather than annually. Along with the rest of the ethics legislation, the bill’s stated goal is to prevent another controversy by aiming for more government transparency.  “We just simply want to let the citizens of the commonwealth know that we’re operating with a tremendous level of integrity,” said Torian, one of an increasingly large group of bipartisan House members involved in ethics reform.

Democrat Terry McAuliffe was sworn in as governor this past week, while McDonnell faces federal and state investigations regarding gifts received while in office. The Justice Department said in December a decision for or against indicting McDonnell could come as late as February.  Petersen said in the current culture there is a symbiotic relationship between donors and politicians.  “It may be that way in every government, but I think right now it’s more pronounced in Virginia because you have unlimited gifts, unlimited donations, and the transparency is minimal,” Petersen said. “It’s all self-reporting.”

Senate Rethinks Uranium Exploration Guidelines

By Eric Luther, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two-Term Amendment Shelved Until 2015

Jackson McMillan, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – An amendment to the Constitution of Virginia that would allow the governor to serve two consecutive terms was put off until 2015, when the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates will consider it.  Senate Joint Resolution 7, introduced by Sen. John C. Miller, D-Newport News, states, “The authorization to serve two terms in succession shall be applicable to persons first elected to serve as Governor in 2017 and thereafter.”  Miller says postponing the legislation was a matter of practicality.  “Constitutional amendments have to be voted on and there has to be an intervening election,” Miller said. “Then they have to be voted on a second time. So, it just makes sense in the process to hold it (the amendment) over to 2015”

The Virginia Constitution requires that amendments must be approved by a majority of the members of each house prior to and after an election. If the amendment were passed by the succeeding legislature, the measure would then be sent to voters.  Amendments such as SJR7 are introduced frequently in both legislative houses. Del. Harry R. Purkey, R-Virginia Beach, offered similar legislation every year of his delegacy (from 1994-2012). During the 2013 session, Senate Joint Resolution 276, introduced by Sen. Thomas Garrett, R-Hadensville, passed through the Senate but later died in House committee.  Virginia is the only state in the country that still limits governors to a one-term limit.

John Aughenbaugh, Ph.D., a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, says imposing term limits on the governor is based on a combination of reasons.  “In part, it (the restriction is based on) culture and history,” Aughenbaugh said. “It reflects many of Virginia’s founding fathers’ belief that if government was going to have power, it (the power) should be in the legislative branch.  “(The other) part of it is the rather current fear by some that there is no good reason to change,” Aughenbaugh said. “They’ll (legislators) say, ‘Give me some solid administrative reasons and maybe I’ll consider it.’ ”

Miller says the House of Delegates is jealous of the appointive powers of the governor.  “I think (tradition) is part of it,” Miller said. “We’re a citizen legislature, because (Thomas) Jefferson wanted us to go home at the end of session and be with people and not become a professional legislature.  So part of it is tradition, but we’re in the 21st century, and I think we ought to join the rest of the country and have governors that can serve consecutive terms.”

Delegate Bob Marshall, R-Prince William, has been a long-term opponent of such legislation. He says allowing the governor to a second term would distract them (the governor) from fulfilling the duties of the executive branch.  “If we allow governors a second term, they would spend the first one maneuvering for their second term instead of focusing on their chief priorities,” Marshall said.

Miller says he thinks a second term would give governors an opportunity to accomplish more of their agenda.  “I think if you get a good (governor), you ought to be able to keep him for a second term for continuity,” Miller said. “Trying to come in and form an administration and get the things you want to do done in a four year time span is difficult.”  Delegate Marshall disagreed.  “(The voters) elected you to be a good guy now,” Marshall said. “Not later.” 

For the amendment to succeed, Aughenbaugh said he thinks the membership in the House of Delegates will need to change.  “With the current membership of the House of Delegates, I don’t think the chances (of passing an amendment like this) are that good, largely because those who are opposed tend to be small-government Republicans,” Aughenbaugh said. “Those people do care about this.”

Miller says negotiations will have to continue in order for the measure to pass.  “If past history is any indication,” Miller said, “there’s going to have to be a discussion between the governor’s staff and House folks about what they’re willing to give up – if anything – and what they’re willing to accept.  “Sometimes around here, you just have to keep banging on the door until people catch up and see the wisdom of it,” Miller said.

Bicycle-Passing Bill Advances

By Lauren McClellan, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia Senate Transportation committee recently has approved a bill increasing the distance at which cars must pass bicycles, from 2 feet to 3 feet.  Senate Bill 97, introduced by Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Fredericksburg, has been unsuccessfully introduced in the past by Reeves and a number of other Republican and Democratic legislators. 

Previous opponents of the bill, including Sen. Charles W. Carrico, R-Galax, have cited enforceability issues as a reason for barring passage of the bill, saying that it is hard for drivers to know the difference between 2- and 3-foot distances while driving.  This bill would change the distance at which a car can pass electric personal assistive mobility devices (scooters and wheelchairs), mopeds and animal-drawn vehicles.  Twenty-two other states and Washington, D.C. have similar laws that say drivers must pass bicycles with at least 3 feet of room.

The Virginia Bicycling Federation supports the bill and its members have been meeting with legislators to advocate for the bill’s passage.  "We had reps from the City of Virginia Beach speaking to the Senate Transportation Committee in support of SB97," stated Scott Cramer, board member of the VBF from Norfolk, Va.  "When city officials, not just cyclists, want to be seen as bike-friendly, that's a big step forward.”  To Cramer, the new bill would give cyclists another layer of protection from vehicles that have wide trailers or large mirrors.  Cramer also thinks that the passage of this bill would help the relationship between Virginia cyclists and drivers.  "It will help Virginia's standing as a bicycle-friendly state, since having a 3-foot pass law is a criterion from the League of American Bicyclists," Cramer stated in an email. "It sends a message to citizens -- drivers and cyclists -- that cyclists' space on the road should be respected."

 In 2013, the League of American Bicyclists rated Virginia the 16th most bike-friendly state.  The league provided feedback with their ranking, stating that Virginia should consider enacting a 3-foot passing law. In 2015, Richmond will host the Union Cycliste Internationale World Road Championships.  Lee Kramer, marketing and communications director for the event’s Richmond organizing body, thinks SB 97 could benefit all of the commonwealth.  “We hope this event is not (only) about bike racing, but making the region more bike-friendly for recreation and transportation,” Kramer said. “Any legislation that further supports (this) is a good thing as far as we’re concerned.”

Student Group Designs Bipartisan Mental Health Bill

By Colin Kennedy, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Thirteen University of Virginia students have written proposed legislation that would require Virginia’s public universities to create and feature a webpage dedicated solely to mental health resources available to students at each institution. Delegate Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, is the chief patron of House Bill 206. Buthe says Legislators of Tomorrow, the group of U.Va. students responsible for the initiative, deserves all the attention. “I can’t take any credit (for) this bill,” Hope said. “They noticed that there is a lack of mental health awareness on college campuses, and they developed what I believe is a common-sense solution.”

The bill, if passed, also would require incoming students to complete an online learning module, as well as an online assessment to test the students’ understanding of the content. Club co-founder Patrick MacDonnell says he considers HB206 a mental health awareness proposal that could help provide students, faculty and staff the information to save lives. “What we want to come from the bill is to prevent tragedies at colleges and universities,” MacDonnell said. “The (mental health) resources that are (currently) available, for the most part, are relatively good resources. The problem is that nobody knows about them.”

The group recognized the lack of mental health awareness shortly after MacDonnell and his classmate formed the club last spring. Fed up with the lack of governing in modern politics, he and fellow freshman Jarrod Nagurka sought to create bipartisan legislation that would solve pertinent problems across the community and state. Now sophomores, the two 19-year-olds are planning a trip to Richmond, Va. to speak face-to-face with legislators about their club’s bill.

Their trip to the state capital comes just more than two months after Virginia’s latest high-profile mental health crisis, which involved Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, triggered legislative reaction from the entire General Assembly. More than 60 mental health bills have been proposed thus far during the 2014 session. Yet MacDonnell says he thinks HB206, which was brought to Hope before the Deeds incident, is a “no-brainer.” “There certainly has not been any strong opposition,” MacDonnell said. “The vast majority of what we’ve gotten back from members of the General Assembly has been very positive.”

At a time when just 13 percent of people approve of the job Congress is doing, MacDonnell says he thinks the passing of HB206 would show that government still works. He says he is cautiously optimistic that the bill will pass partly because it doesn’t require any state funding and it ultimately makes other funding more effective.Even though Hope says the General Assembly failed Virginians during the budgeting process after a 2008 mental health reform phase, he says he thinks HB206 is a step in the right direction. “We should be devoting the majority of our resources toward prevention because we know that, for people with serious mental illnesses, treatment works,” he said. “We just need to apply it in the right places and not wait for a crisis.”

Colleges and universities are the ideal place to apply such preventative services, Hope said, and he deems the proposed legislation a bipartisan solution to a truly nonpartisan issue. Club member Ben Rudgley says Legislators of Tomorrow has received some criticism. However, the group elected not to disclose which conservative representative voiced his concern about the bill. “There was one person who didn’t want to be the co-patron of the bill,” Rudgley said. “But we believe now that was a result of a misunderstanding.”

Several members, including Rudgley, will use their time in Richmond next week to meet with any uncertain legislators and express why this proposal is so important and worthy of bipartisan support. Delegate Joseph Yost, R-Pearisburg, officially signed on as the co-patron of HB206 this past Thursday, according to his office assistant, but Yost declined to comment.

Though a date has not been set, the bill is scheduled to be heard by the mental health subcommittee of the Courts of Justice committee before the session ends. For now, MacDonnell and Rudgley urge any supporting citizens to call their local representatives and voice their opinion. “People should call their delegates,” MacDonnell said. “The best way we can make sure that this bill will pass is by getting everyone involved. We can’t do it alone. (People) can make a difference.”

Bill Proposes Animal Cruelty Registry for Virginia

By Jessi Gower, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- An online animal cruelty registry will be established in the Commonwealth of Virginia this month if Senate Bill 32 is passed.  Although several states have enacted third-, second- and first-offense felony animal cruelty laws, New York is currently the first and only state to pass an animal abuse registry bill.  Chief Patron of SB32, Sen. William Stanley, R-Richmond, says now is the time for Virginia to pass its own registry bill.  “I think a registry of this nature is long overdue in Virginia,” Stanley said.

Many animal rights groups across the country have shown support for bills dealing with animal cruelty registries, but there are groups who are known to have reservations about such registries.  The Humane Society of the United States has criticized such legislation and says a public online registry isn’t the way to deal with those convicted of animal felonies.  “Experience has made clear that such individuals would pose a lesser threat to animals in the future if they received comprehensive mental health counseling,” the humane society blog stated.  “Shaming them with a public Internet profile is unlikely to affect their future behavior- except perhaps to isolate them further from society and promote increased distrust of authority figures trying to help them.”

Stanley disagrees and says he believes the registry will not only help to stop animal cruelty, but will also help to prevent it.  “I think sunlight is the best antiseptic,” Stanley said. “Sometimes people will think twice before they commit a crime, knowing that it would be on public display.”  If the bill passes, 782 individuals who already have been convicted of felonies against animals would be automatically listed on the public online registry. “The best way is to allow the public to know who these very serious felons are,” Stanley said. “So they can prevent animals from getting into the hands of the wrong people.”

In 2011, Delegate Daniel Marshall, R-Danville, proposed similar legislation with his House Bill 1930.  Kristen Howard, executive director for The Virginia Crime Commission says the commission reviewed this study but did not make any recommendations on the bill because of a lack of endorsement for the bill.

Mask Bill Revamps 1940s Felony Law

By Liz Butterfield, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Cold pedestrians and cyclists may be relieved to cover their faces without risk of arrest if a bill on the wearing of masks passes in the Virginia General Assembly this spring. House Bill 542 aims to change a law regarding the wearing of masks and facial coverings to charge only those covering their face with the intent to do harm.  Under current law, it is a Class 6 felony to be caught wearing a mask in public or in private places in Virginia.

 Chief patron of the bill Delegate Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, said she learned about the law after a citizen approached her with a personal concern.  The man told McQuinn he was stopped by a policeman while crossing the Martin Luther King bridge last winter and was asked to remove a protective mask.  McQuinn said she looked into the issue and was surprised to find the law had not been amended since its creation.  "I'm trying to fix that so that people are able to wear a mask and protect themselves from very extreme weather,” McQuinn said, “but yet also make sure that those who are concerned about anyone doing mischief will also not be negatively impacted.”  The law probably was created in the 1940s in order to prevent members of the Ku Klux Klan from wearing facial coverings, McQuinn said.

McQuinn’s bill amends the old law to reserve felony charges only those cover their face with the intent to commit a crime.  However, the proposed changes are causing some pushback from some business community members who are concerned the bill may cause an increase in mask wearing around their business.  "I've gotten some push back on the bill from the business community that is concerned about someone coming, wearing a mask and going into a store or a bank or something and robbing it,” McQuinn said. “That's not what I'm trying to do. I’m not trying to impact them (businesses)."  McQuinn said she is in the process of adding amendments to the bill to compromise with her opponents, including adding a possible condition on winter months and extreme temperatures.

River City Women’s racing member Ann Hardy says she supports the bill because it eliminates a potential hardship for cyclists. Although not frequently enforced, the old law put cyclists who wear a balaclava, a winter mask that covers the neck and face from winter elements, at risk of arrest, which “almost borderlines ridiculous,” Hardy said.  "They (cyclists) would be for the bill because it changes it to include language that specifically says there has to be an intent to conceal your identity,” Hardy said. “Anybody that partakes in outdoor activities in the winter weather would benefit from this legislation.”

 After the bill is amended, it will be reviewed by the House Committee for Courts of Justice.

Virginia Localities Seek Stormwater Program Delay

By Kate Miller, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Some local governments want the General Assembly to delay the July 1, 2014 deadline for establishing local stormwater runoff programs by one year.  Delegate Brenda Pogge, R-Williamsburg, said she would support the delay because many localities are not prepared to establish stormwater programs by July.  “My heart goes out to the plight of some of these smaller localities because they only have one option,” Pogge said. “And that is to increase taxes on all their population in order to do this (introduce storm-water programs) as quickly as they’re being mandated to.”

In November, the members of the Virginia Association of Counties, which represents all 95 counties of Virginia, voted unanimously for the one-year delay.  Larry Land, the director of policy development for VACo, stated in an email the Department of Environmental Quality — which runs the current stormwater program for the state — determined in August 2013 that localities would inherit all existing renewal permits for stormwater runoff.   Land stated renewal fees filed between April and June 2014 would be remitted to DEQ instead of localities.  “DEQ has not established any procedure to send fee revenues to localities,” Land stated.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a conservation group, opposes the delay.  Chuck Epes, assistant director of media relations for  the Richmond office of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, stated in an email CBF’s top priority is to “hold the bay states accountable for meeting deadlines, goals, etc.”  Epes says the commonwealth has provided $35 million in funding this year to help localities establish the programs.   Stormwater runoff management is a key Chesapeake Bay conservation issue. According to CBF, stormwater becomes polluted as it flows from streets, parking lots and roofs. As the water travels, it becomes contaminated by pollutants and enters waterways that feed into the Chesapeake Bay.

The General Assembly voted for the July 1, 2014 deadline for the new programs in 2012.  Bill Hayden, a spokesman for the DEQ, says the state will be responsible for approving the local plans and making sure local governments meet all requirements.  “The reasoning behind it (implementing local programs),” Hayden said, “was to enable the local governments who know their situations best to deal with them on their own with some oversight from the state.”

Delegate Edward Scott, R-Culpeper, the chairman of the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee, says he is not sure a delay will be possible. He says stormwater-runoff management is a regulatory process that begins at the federal level.   “Inevitably, we’re going to have to address stormwater to satisfy the Environmental Protection Agency,” Scott said. 

Scott also says the General Assembly may be able to ease the regulatory burden of the programs by considering which governmental entity should be responsible for program management.  “I think we’re going to see a large number of bills on this topic from a lot of different directions,” he said.

Agricultural runoff is another part of the issue.   “We are cautiously watching all the stormwater legislation and have no position at this time,” Associate Director of Governmental Relations for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Wilmer Stoneman stated in an email. “The legislation will be amended several times; we’ll get involved only as necessary.”

Charles McSwain, the director of economic development for Northampton County says his county is on schedule to establish a new stormwater-runoff plan.  “I’m hopeful that we can implement it (the plan) in a way that’s reasonable so that it’s not overbearing on the … economic development,” McSwain said. “I think it’s our job at the local level to put balance between what’s practical and realistic to make good progress and the rules that are in place.”

(Editor's Note:  Articles about the General Assembly are included on Emporia News as decisions made at the Capital will be felt here, at the local level.)

Senate Deliberates Weekend Jail Sentencing

By Eric Luther, Capital News Service

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Committee Assignments Shape Mason’s Focus

By Jackson McMillan, Capital News Service

 

RICHMOND — New delegate Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, said education was his top priority coming into office, but his committee assignments have broadened his focus, as shown by the legislation he has introduced.  Mason was appointed Wednesday to the committees of House Courts and Justice and Counties, Cities and Towns. “I’m essentially going to be getting a master’s degree in legal education over the next 60-70 days,” Mason said. “I think that the participation on committees -- particularly one as important as Courts -- will help shape the direction of my focus.”  According to Mason, while education is important, he wants to use this opportunity to cement his new legislative role.  “I’m going to have to focus a lot of time just towards trying to be a smart, competent member of (the Courts) committee,” Mason said.

Mason also said he stands by his belief in early childhood education partly because of his own personal experience.  “I’m the father of a 5-year-old daughter who started kindergarten this year, and upward of 20 percent of her class came to school with no foundational education,” Mason said. “I think children of all levels in society (should have) access to early childhood education.” In addition to early childhood education, Mason is addressing issues ranging from scamming seniors online to mental health with his proposed bills this session.

Delaying individual school grading

Mason has introduced House Bill 618. A summary of the bill states that its passage would   delay the “dates by which the Board of Education is required to implement the A-to-F individual school performance grading system.”  He says his intent is to amend and improve the way schools collect and quantify performance data.  “Rather than trying to start a big fight and throw (the legislation away),” Mason said, “my goal is to just delay it for a few years. (The Board of Education) just changed the testing standards. So, let’s get three years of data and get the superintendents to sit down with the board and come up with formulaic ideas that will adequately grade our schools.”

Protecting seniors from web fraud

A risk sales specialist at Visa, Inc., Mason explained how his own experience influenced other bills he has introduced in the House.  House Bill 619 would increase the penalty for computer fraud of $200 or more from a Class 5 felony to a Class 4 felony if the victim is 65 or older. The increase would allow judges to impose the offender with a minimum prison term of two years instead of just one year. “While my background has some bearing, (HB 619) really came as much as anything out of the campaign,” Mason said.  Mason says he spoke with many seniors in his district who he said he believed were victims of online scams. “Twenty years from now, most seniors will have been on computers all their life,” Mason said. “Now we’re in that gray area where seniors are getting exposed to the Internet but are not quite as savvy as someone who has grown up with it.”

During the 2012-2013 fiscal year, only 10 offenders were convicted of felony computer fraud. Currently, victim age cannot be identified by available data.  The Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission issued a fiscal impact statement in December that stated, “while the impact on community corrections resources cannot be quantified, any impact is likely to be small.”

HB 619 was referred to the House Courts and Justice Committee.

No excuse absentee voting

Another bill Mason introduced is House Bill 622, which would allow in-person absentee voting without providing an excuse. “I think our goal should always be more people participating in the process,” Mason said. “Not fewer.”

Emergency custody orders

House Bill 621 would allow a magistrate to execute a 48-hour emergency custody order for a person suffering from -- or is suspected of suffering from -- mental illness. Mason says introducing this legislation is not an attempt to seize on the Creigh Deeds tragedy. (Sen. Deeds, D-Bath, was attacked in November by his son after unsuccessful attempts to have him committed to a mental hospital. His son then committed suicide.)  “What I want to do is help our community service boards who have to deal with these people that need our help,” Mason said.

(Editor's Note:  While Mr. Mason is not our Delegate, this article was included here as many of these bills would effect us here in Emporia-Greensville should they be passed into law.)

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