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General Assembly

ATTN: GREENSVILLE COUNTY TAXPAYERS

Greensville County Business, Professional and Occupational Licenses for 2019 are now due.  To avoid penalties, please secure your 2019 license from the Commissioner of the Revenue’s Office on or before March 1st.  We are located in the Greensville County Government Building at 1781 Greensville County Circle, Rm 132 on Highway 301 North – Sussex Drive.  Our office hours are from 8 to 5 Monday thru Friday.


Martha S. Swenson
Master Commissioner of the Revenue
Greensville County, Virginia

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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