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General Assembly

Senate Republicans Reject Medicaid Expansion

By Chris Wood, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Republicans in the Virginia Senate on Thursday tabled legislation that would have expanded Medicaid coverage to hundreds of thousands of lower-income residents of Virginia.

Voting along party lines, the Senate Education and Health Committee indefinitely postponed action on the proposal. The eight Republicans on the panel voted to kill the measure; the seven Democrats voted to keep it alive.

The federal Affordable Care Act encouraged states to expand Medicaid. Democratic Sen. Richard Saslaw of Fairfax noted that Virginia’s neighboring states – including West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky – have done so.

Saslaw said the federal government has promised to pay most of the costs of Medicaid expansion.

“If someone came up to me and said, ‘Saslaw, we’ll pick up 90 percent of your medical insurance costs if you pay the other 10, and we think we have a way around that 10,’ I would have to be a lunatic to turn down that offer,” Saslaw said.

However, Republican senators said they fear that Medicaid expansion would put a hole in the state budget.

“The federal level, they can just raise the debt ceiling,” said Sen. Amanda Chase of Chesterfield County. “We can’t do that at the state level.”

She said the state has limited resources. As Medicaid takes up more of the state budget, others services would have to be cut back, Chase said.

“It doesn’t take long to see we have major infrastructure needs,” Chase said. “We have bridges in my district that you can’t even drive ambulances over or fire trucks over because of the crumbling infrastructure.”

A fellow Republican, Sen. Richard Black of Loudoun County, said Medicaid costs are escalating out of control.

“I think it’s premature to move forward on this and potentially get ourselves stuck in a situation where we’ve expanded, and all of a sudden we’re having to do this thing on our own dime,” Black said.

The legislation at hand was SB 572, sponsored by Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger of Augusta County. A similar measure – SB 158, filed by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke – had been folded into Hanger’s bill.

Democrats, including newly elected Gov. Ralph Northam, have made Medicaid expansion a top priority. It was also a priority for many of the people who attended Thursday’s committee meeting. They included Julien Parley, who has a son with autism. She said Medicaid expansion would help mothers like her.

“There was a time that I worked three jobs, and I couldn’t afford to go to the doctor,” Parley said. “I resorted to going to the emergency room, which racked up bills and it also was a hardship on my credit.”

People without health coverage often resort to the emergency room, said Julie Dime of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association.

“Countless Virginians that don’t have access to health care find their only option to be the hospital emergency room,” Dime said.

Democrats Tout Bills They Say Would Help Workers

By Ahniaelyah Spraggs, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Democratic lawmakers are urging passage of legislation to boost wages paid on state construction projects, increase overtime pay for public and private employees, and prohibit employers from asking job applicants about their salary history.

Those proposals were among a slew of bills discussed at a news conference held by the Virginia House Democratic Caucus. Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, said the bills concern “one of the core issues that defines us as Democrats – our commitment to jobs and the people who need those jobs, who man those jobs.”

He is sponsoring HB 667, which would require contractors and subcontractors on public works projects to pay the “prevailing wage” set by the federal government. He said the measure would increase the supply of apprenticeships and skilled workers and keep jobs in the community.

Many Republicans oppose laws mandating prevailing wages on government-funded projects. They say such requirements inflate construction costs. Krizek disputed that, saying higher wages are usually offset by greater productivity, better technologies and other employer savings.

Krizek’s bill is pending in the House Rules Committee.

Also at the news conference, Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, discussed his bill to prohibit employers from requiring job applicants to disclose their salary history. Under HB 240, an employer could not obtain an applicant’s pay history from current or previous employers, either.

Rasoul said employers use applicants’ salary histories to lowball the salaries they offer. “Both young workers and those workers that are in a career transition are experiencing real discrimination because of this,” he said.

Under his proposal, Rasoul said, employers could ask applicants their minimum salary requirement but not how much money they previously earned. The bill has been assigned to the House Commerce and Labor Committee.

That committee also is considering legislation by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, to increase overtime pay for workers in Virginia. Under HB 1109, employees would be entitled to twice their regular pay in certain circumstances. That is more than what the U.S. Department of Labor requires.

“This bill ensures that workers are fairly compensated for overtime if they work more than 12 hours a day, 40 hours a week or 7 consecutive days a work week,” Tran said.

Virginia Republicans Announce Election Review Panel

By Chelsea Jackson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In the wake of a tied contest and other issues in last fall’s elections, Republican leaders in the General Assembly announced Thursday that they will form a panel to address such situations at the polls in the future.

“There were numerous questions raised during the 2017 elections,” said House Speaker Kirk Cox, who made the announcement alongside Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment. “This subcommittee will have the ability to broadly review these questions and determine what, if any, steps should be taken.”

Cox and Norment said the joint subcommittee will deal with concerns such as absentee ballots, the assignment of voters in split precincts and recount law and procedures.

“These issues are not about who wins or loses elections but about the confidence of the public in our elections,” Norment said. “We never go through an election without a contentious result in a closely fought contest. Citizens expect us to protect and ensure the integrity of the process.”

The subcommittee will be co-chaired by two Republicans – Del. Mark Cole of Spotsylvania County and Sen. Jill Vogel of Fauquier County. Cole chairs the House Privileges and Elections Committee, and Vogel chairs the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.

“We need to examine these issues comprehensively, using a process that takes all viewpoints into account,” Vogel said.

The announcement did not include how many Democrats would be on the subcommittee. Republicans hold a slim majority in both the House and Senate.

Some Democrats have their own ideas how to address the election issues. Backed by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, Del. Marcia Price, D-Newport News, introduced a bill that called for a special election in the case of a tie vote.

A House subcommittee killed that proposal, HB 1581, on a 4-2 vote early Thursday morning. The panel was split along party lines, with Republicans in favoring of killing the measure and Democrats against.

Gun Control Bills Die in Virginia House of Delegares Subcommittee

The Militia, Police and Public Safety subcommittee of the Virginia House of Delegates considering and killing the banning of bump-stocks and training for carriers of concealed carry permits, both of which are supported by a majority of Virginians, including Republicans.

 

By Deanna Davison, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A House subcommittee shot down multiple gun control bills Thursday despite a tear-filled statement from a survivor of last fall’s Las Vegas shooting who urged legislators to ban bump stocks.

Cortney Carroll of Henrico County was one of several citizen lobbyists who attended the meeting of the Militia, Police and Public Safety subcommittee. She urged delegates to support HB 41, which aimed to ban the sale of bump stocks, devices that significantly increase the number of rounds that can be fired per minute.

Carroll had been at the country music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 when Stephen Paddock, using rifles fitted with bump stocks, killed 58 people and injured about 550.

“I believe in guns, but I just don’t think these are necessary,” Carroll said. “Think of your children, your family, your friends. Please don’t let [Las Vegas] happen again, not in our state.”

The subcommittee chairman, Republican Del. Thomas Wright of Amelia County, said that while he empathized with Carroll’s perspective, he did not think banning bump stocks was the answer.

“Until the evil in people’s hearts changes, the laws we pass cannot fix that,” he said.

The subcommittee also heard from supporters of HB 602, which would have required people applying for concealed carry permits to demonstrate competence with a gun in person. Applicants can currently complete National Rifle Association or state-certified online courses.

Jonathan Romans, a local gun safety activist, said the training could reduce accidents, which he called a public safety issue.

“Having training for people who want to carry outside the home is not an infringement on constitutional rights,” Romans said. “Gun activists have called this a gun-grabbing scheme, but that’s just not the case.”

Lori Haas, Virginia’s state director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, also urged the committee to support the bill.

“We require law enforcement to undergo hundreds of hours of training,” Haas said. “The average citizen could certainly benefit from this training.”

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, countered: “But we’re not police officers. We don’t need the same amount of training to carry a gun.”

The subcommittee also rejected HB 596 and HB 927, which would have prohibited the sale or transfer of certain magazines and firearms. Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, said she introduced the bill because her constituents were concerned by the abundance of gun violence in their communities.

All of the bills were killed on 4-2 party-line votes.

Meet the Democratic Socialist Who Ousted a Top Republican from the House

By Brandon Celentano, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In 2015, Lee J. Carter, an information technology specialist from Manassas, was shocked by 245 volts during a work assignment in Peoria, Illinois, when an electrician had incorrectly wired a panel.

He wound up injuring his back; for the next three months, he could not walk more than 50 feet at a time. Yet Virginia rejected Carter’s claim for workers’ compensation, and his employer cut his hours after he got better. That ordeal inspired Carter to run for the Virginia House of Delegates.

Few people thought he stood a chance of carrying the 50th House District, which includes Manassas and part of Prince William County. He was a little-known outsider challenging a powerful incumbent – Republican Del. Jackson Miller, the House majority whip. Though running as a Democrat, Carter said he did not get a lot of formal support from the state Democratic Party.

But on Nov. 7, Carter shocked the naysayers: Like David against Goliath, he won the House race by nine points, unseating Jackson, who had represented the district since 2006.

How did he pull off the upset? For almost two years, Lee said, he went into the community and talked to residents all day, every day. In the end, they decided they wanted him to come to Richmond and represent them.

Carter is a member of the Democratic Party, but he describes himself as a democratic socialist. He is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America; the group endorsed him in his 2017 election.

“One of the things I came to understand very early in the campaign is, if you’re to the left of Barry Goldwater, they’re going to call you a socialist anyway,” Carter said. “So I figured there is no point in hiding it. I am who I am. I believe worker-owned businesses are better for the community than investor-owned businesses.”

Still, the word “socialist” can raise eyebrows in Virginia politics. Scott Lingamfelter, another Republican who lost his House seat last fall, used the label in his final newsletter to constituents on Jan. 5.

“Last November, the state took a sharp turn to the left, electing people who truly do support a socialist agenda. Republicans were routed, including me,” wrote Lingamfelter, who was beaten by progressive Democrat Elizabeth Guzman in the neighboring 31st House District, which includes parts of Prince William and Fauquier counties.

“I believe that in the months and years to come, Virginians will conclude that this election of far-left candidates was not helpful to families, small businesses, and constitutional governance, the things I stood for when I served in the House.”

Carter, who served five years in the U.S. Marines, said he will look out for workers – and that is why he won by such a large margin.

“I just went out there with the help of hundreds of volunteers with a message of ‘I’m a working-class guy,’ and I’m going to go there [Richmond] and represent working-class issues. We knocked on tens of thousands of doors and brought that message directly to people at their homes,” he said.

Since the election, Carter has been deluged with phone calls from constituents and supporters with requests and ideas. He said the constant flood has continued to this day.

One of Carter’s supporters, and the top individual donor to his campaign, is Karl Becker, who works in the defense industry in the Washington area. Becker worked with Carter on Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

“Lee is very passionate about the inability of the government to serve folks,” said Becker, who contributed $6,750 to Carter’s House campaign.

“He experienced a workplace injury and discovered that workers’ compensation was not working for people. That got him involved in looking into other aspects of politics, and he is very much of the opinion that he can make a difference.”

Becker said he admires both Carter and Sanders for supporting universal health care, also known as “Medicare for all.” Carter is sponsoring a resolution to have state officials study the cost of implementing such a system. The resolution has been referred to the House Rules Committee.

Also this session, Carter introduced legislation to more than double the sales tax on watercraft and to provide more protection for workers in the workers’ compensation system – an issue “near and dear to my heart.” One of his bills was aimed at covering Virginia workers who are injured out of state, as Carter was.

All of his workers’ compensation measures, as well as his sales tax proposal, were killed at the subcommittee level in the House.

For his House race, Carter put together a coalition of groups, including Let America Vote, which fights gerrymandering; the Sierra Club, an environmental organization; the Sister District Project, a Democratic effort focusing on swing districts; and Swing Left, a support group for progressive candidates.

Carter said the Democratic Party is in the midst of change.

“I think right now, it is a party that is torn between two visions of what it is supposed to be,” he said.

“I view it as a party that is supposed to be advocating for the issues of working people exclusively. There are a lot of people at the same time who view the party as one that should advocate for compromise between the interests of working people and the interests of their employers.”

Carter, who graduated from the Sorensen Institute of Political Leadership at the University of Virginia, said having a party of compromise would be fine in a political system with multiple parties.

“But in our current system, you have the Republican Party, which is unabashedly for the interests of the big corporations. So you need a party that is unabashedly for the workers to balance that out. Otherwise, things don’t function.”

Carter quoted former Lt. Gov. Henry Howell, an independent Democrat nicknamed “Howlin’ Henry” for his progressive populist views: “‘An eagle can’t fly with two right wings.’ We need a left wing.”

Virginia Lawmakers Stir the Pot on Brunswick Stew Day

By Katie Bashista, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Carroll Tucker stuck the long, wooden stirring paddle into the 85-gallon pot of stew. He let it go, and it didn’t move.

“Do you know what it means if the paddle can stand up by itself?” said Tucker, longtime friend of this year’s Brunswick stewmaster and member of the “stew crew.”

“It’s ready.”

Senators, delegates and hungry residents lined up outside a tent on the Capitol grounds Wednesday to get a taste of this year’s stew. Legislators declared the fourth Wednesday of January Brunswick Stew Day nearly 20 years ago, and it’s the county’s most celebrated tradition.

“It’s been a cherished endeavor for many years,” said Tracy Clary, this year’s stewmaster. “The first Brunswick Stew was cooked in 1820 in Brunswick County right on the banks of the Nottoway River.”

Clary has lived his entire life in the county, which borders North Carolina, and has participated in the Taste of Brunswick Festival for years. Of the seven years he’s competed in the cook-off, he’s placed in the top four six times, winning for the first time in October.

The winning dish, which Clary served again Wednesday, is a chicken-based stew with pork, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, butter beans, corn and a seasoning consisting of just four ingredients – salt, sugar, black pepper and ground red pepper.

Clary and his crew cooked the mixture from midnight until the last spoonful of the 340 to 350 quarts of stew was served just before noon.

“Once you start the pot to get cooking, you’ve got to constantly stir it so it doesn’t burn,” said Tucker, a member of the crew. “We’re constantly adding ingredients, sitting around talking, just having good fellowship and cooking the stew.”

The long hours tending the pot were rewarded when around 10:30 a.m. senators, representatives and other lawmakers lined up to grab a bowl. By 11 a.m., the stew was running low.

“The governor’s not going to have anything to stir if he doesn’t come down here soon,” said a member of the stew crew.

Shortly after, Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Del. Roslyn Tyler, who is from Brunswick, made their way to the tent just in time to get their fix. They gathered around the steel pot, which was almost as tall as the stewmaster himself, to take pictures with Clary and the stew crew. Then they took turns stirring the pot.

“It’s like paddling my boat,” Northam called out as he grasped the paddle and stirred the remaining stew.

Brunswick County administrator Charlette Woolridge said she hasn’t missed a Stew Day in the 11 years she’s held the position. She said Stew Day is an important event in the county’s history because it’s an opportunity for locals to showcase Brunswick County, interact with elected officials and Virginia residents and share their beloved stew.

“We’re just happy and proud to host this event annually,” she said. “We get great enjoyment and fulfillment out of this, and we look forward to doing this for years to come.”

Bill Calls for a Special Election if a Recount Ends in a Tie

By Ahniaelyah Spraggs, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus on Wednesday called for a law requiring a special election if an election recount ends in a tie – as it did in the state’s 94th House District last fall.

That tied election in Newport News between Republican David Yancey and Democrat Shelly Simonds was decided by a lottery – film canisters pulled out of a bowl. That is what prompted Del. Marcia Price, D-Newport News, to propose House Bill 1581.

“When it was announced that the winner of the 94th District House race was to be determined by lot – by drawing a name out of a bowl – there was an instant reaction,” Price said at a news conference attended by the caucus chair, Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, and other legislators.

Yancey, the incumbent delegate, won the lottery held by the State Board of Elections on Jan. 4. Price said that regardless of party, Virginians deserve a better way of settling deadlocked elections.

Price said she was holiday shopping for her nephew in December when both Republican and Democratic residents of the 94th House District approached her about the upcoming lottery. Price recalled one man saying, “I know we don’t agree on much, but tell me you agree that this just isn’t right.”

“So HB 1581 takes into account the feelings of disenfranchisement and serves as a fix. It says if the court finds that each party to the recount has received an equal number of votes, it shall issue a writ promptly ordering a special election be held to determine which candidate is elected to office,” Price said.

The proposed rule would apply to all elected offices except governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. The Virginia Constitution says the General Assembly must settle any tied election for those statewide offices.

Price’s idea to hold a special election received support at the news conference from Dawnn Wallace, who lives in the 94th House District.

“I was one of the 23,891 people who cast a vote on Nov. 7, 2017, in the House of Delegates election for the 94th District,” Wallace said. In that election, after a recount and a court hearing, officials determined that Yancey and Simonds each got 11,608 votes, with the rest going to a Libertarian and write-in candidates.

Wallace said she makes sure to vote in every election. When she learned that her state delegate would be chosen by picking a name out of a bowl, she said she was flabbergasted.

“Many of my family members, neighbors and friends who live in the 94th District felt the same way,” Wallace said. “And our immediate concern moved from who would prevail to how that person was going to win.”

As a sports fan, Wallace said it was like having a football game decided by a coin flip. Just as games tied at the end of regulation go into overtime, Wallace said a recount that ends in a tie should be decided by a special election.

A subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee is scheduled to hear Price’s bill on Thursday.

Bill Would Exempt Trade Secrets from FOIA

Delegate Roxann Robinson, R - Midlothian, before the General Laws subcommittee, reading her proposed bill creating general rules exempting trade secrets from Freedom of Information Act requests (photo by Adam Hamza)

Delegate Roxann Robinson, R - Midlothian, before the General Laws subcommittee, reading her proposed bill creating general rules exempting trade secrets from Freedom of Information Act requests (photo by Adam Hamza)

By Adam Hamza, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Open government and environmental advocates are once again battling bills they say that would limit public-information access by creating a Freedom of Information Act exclusion for trade secrets.

HB 904 by Del. Roxann Robinson, R-Chesterfield, would create general exclusions from FOIA for trade secrets submitted to a public body. It passed its initial hearing in a House General Laws subcommittee Tuesday.

The bill is similar to four others Robinson introduced last year that would have allowed FOIA exemptions for chemical names and concentrations used in hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking. All failed to pass.

The new bill is supported by the Freedom of Information Advisory Council. Alan Gernhardt, the council’s executive director, said the bill simplifies the way FOIA treats trade secrets.

He said that over the past few years, FOIA exemptions have been issued based specifically on the type of record as well as the agency. This means each time an exception is sought, an individual exemption must be crafted.

“The problem is more and more agencies are holding or receiving trade secrets, and so they’re asking for more exemptions every year,” Gernhardt said. “We want to get the one general exemption everybody can use and remove the language that’s specific for each agency.”

Opponents of the bill countered that the exclusions are too broad and carry significant unintended consequences – mainly, keeping more information from citizens.

Emily Francis, representing the Southern Environmental Law Center, criticized what she termed a sweeping exemption. She said the legislation doesn’t address the center’s concerns from Robinson’s earlier bills, including the need to provide public access to the names of chemicals used in fracking.

“The public would like access to this information. As of today, they do have access to this information, and they would like (continued) access to that information,” she said.

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, expressed objections similar to those of the law center.

“We do want to point out that, yes it has been worked on for four years, and the bill that came – nobody was happy with it,” Rhyne said.

Corrina Beall, political director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, and Daria Christian, assistant director of the Friends of the Rappahannock, also spoke in opposition.

Trade secrets in the legislation are based on the definition in Virginia’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act, according to the bill summary.

A trade secret, according to the act, “means information, including but not limited to, a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process, that: 1. Derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by, other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use, and 2. Is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.”

The subcommittee voted 5-3 along party lines to send the bill to the full committee:

  • Republican Dels. Keith Hodges of Middlesex, Hyland Fowler of Hanover, James Leftwich of Chesapeake and Jason Miyares and Glenn Davis of Virginia Beach voted for the bill.
  • Democratic Dels. Betsy Carr of Richmond, Patrick Hope of Arlington and Kathleen Murphy of Fairfax voted against it.

Workers’ Compensation Bills Die in Subcommittee

By Caitlin Barbieri, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Legislation aimed at protecting and improving employees’ worker compensation rights were struck down Tuesday by a House subcommittee.

Freshman Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, proposed three bills in an effort to reform the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act after he was inspired by his own experience filing a claim. All three bills were passed by indefinitely by a subcommittee of the House Commerce and Labor Committee, effectively killing them for the session.

One of the bills, HB 460, would have prevented employers from firing someone based on the belief that the employee had filed or was planning to file a claim for workers compensation. Currently, Virginia law only protects employees from being fired solely because they have made or are planning to make a claim. However, this bill would have protected employees from being fired for any reason that was motivated by the knowledge or belief that the employee was planning to file a claim.

Ryan Dunn from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce said the bill was too general.

“This is really a golden ticket to allow somebody, even after they are fired for due cause or decide to quit, (that) they can at any point come back and say that this was related to their workers’ comp claim that they put in in 1985,” Dunn said.

The second measure, HB 461, known as the timely notice bill, would have required employers to respond to a workers’ compensation claim within 10 days of the initial claim and explain why it was denied. The bill would cut employers’ response time in half; Joe Leahy of the Independent Insurance Agents of Virginia said that is not enough time to investigate a claim.

Carter’s third bill, HB 462, would have ensured that Virginia employees injured while working outside the state could still file for compensation from their employer in Virginia, increasing their employers’ liability.

Again this bill was met with opposition. Subcommittee Chairman Gregory Habeeb, R-Salem, agreed with Carter that “our system is not super-claimant friendly,” but disagreed with the proposed solution.  

“I believe that there are some changes that Virginia could make to the benefit of the claimants that would be more than reasonable,” he said. “I just don’t think this is one of them.”

Carter was not available for comment after the subcommittee meeting.

Stricter Seat-Belt Laws Shelved for 2018 Session

By Irena Schunn, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Virginia legislators have rejected all bills expanding seat-belt requirements in privately owned vehicles this session. The last two bills, requiring back-seat passengers to wear seat belts, were dismissed by a House subcommittee vote Tuesday.

“With the demise of this year’s major seat-belt bills, it is clear that Virginia lawmakers don’t have an appetite for advancing the single most effective measure to reduce crash-related deaths and injuries,” said Kurt Erickson, the president and CEO of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program and an advocate for expanding seat belt requirements in Virginia.

Expanding seat belt laws to include rear-seat passengers could save several lives each year. In 2017, at least 94 Virginia lives might have been saved if vehicle occupants had been buckled up, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Back-seat passengers in general are three times more likely to die when unfastened during a collision, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Drivers under the influence and teens are some of the least likely to wear seatbelts. In 2013, 68 percent of drivers who had been drinking and died in a car accident were not wearing a seat belt, according to a report from the National Transportation Safety Board. In the same year, 49 percent of teens under the influence involved in a fatal crash were unrestrained. Even without alcohol, teens are particularly careless when it comes to wearing seat belts. In 2015, more than half of all teens who died in a crash were unbuckled during the collision, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During Tuesday’s subcommittee meeting, questions were raised over whether the driver would be responsible for the ticket if a rear-seat passenger remained unbuckled. As services like Uber and Lyft gain in popularity, the answer is especially pertinent for ride-sharing drivers.  Neither HB 1272 sponsored by Del. Vivian Watts, D-Annandale, nor HB 9 sponsored by Del. Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria, guarantees any protection for taxi drivers or ride-sharing services.

Last week, a Senate committee rejected a similar bill that additionally would have made failing to wear a seat belt a primary offense. Current Virginia law only requires front-seat passengers to wear seat belts, and dictates that a seat-belt violation can be ticketed only when the driver is pulled over for a separate traffic violation. Currently, the penalty for not wearing a seat belt is a $25 fine.

Delegates Tout Bills to Improve Prison Workers’ Jobs

By Yasmine Jumaa and Brandon Celentano,Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Correctional officers from across Virginia watched Tuesday as a state lawmaker urged support for legislation aimed at reducing turnover among prison guards and making it easier for them to get workers’ compensation.

“I think currently we have a tremendous injustice going on,” said Del. John Bell, D-Loudoun. “Out of the 14 [categories of] peace officers in Virginia, the only peace officer who does not get the presumption of disability is our correctional officer.”

Bell is sponsoring House Bill 107, which would add correctional officers to the list of public safety employees entitled to receive workers’ compensation under the presumption that hypertension, heart disease and other ailments may stem from their stressful jobs. Bell said some correctional officers develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The stress levels on officers is very high, which could lead to a variety of different heart diseases over prolonged periods of time,” Bell said. “It’s a tough and hazardous job where officers have been measured with PTSD that far exceeds combat veterans.”

Bell has also introduced HB 108, which would require the Virginia Department of Corrections to conduct an exit survey of correctional officers who quit. The survey would ask them about work conditions and other concerns that may contribute to high turnover.

Del. Roslyn Tyler, D-Sussex, said low salaries may be a factor.

“You have to work two, three jobs sometimes to address your needs and your family’s because your salaries aren’t up to par to make a living,” said Tyler, who is co-sponsoring the two bills. “That is just totally unreasonable.”

According to the Department of Corrections, 1,164 DOC employees, including 698 correctional officers, have salaries so low that they may be eligible for food stamps under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

A 2017 study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission said correctional officers’ difficult jobs and low salaries may hurt attracting and retaining employees. Virginia prison guards had a 17 percent turnover rate over the past two years, and 16 percent of the positions have been vacant, the study said.

HB 107 has been assigned to a subcommittee of the House Commerce and Labor Committee. On Tuesday, the subcommittee voted 4-3 to recommend approval of the bill.

HB 108 has been assigned to a subcommittee of the House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety.

While Governor Decries Gun Violence, Senate OKs Guns in Church

By DeForrest Ballou, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Lamenting the fact that more than 900 Virginians were killed by guns last year, Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday that the state should do more to restrict the proliferation of firearms.

“We do not need these weapons on our streets and in our society,” Northam told a multi-faith congregation at St. Paul’s Church.

The governor spoke at an event organized by the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. Just hours later, however, the Senate passed a bill allowing people to bring guns and knives to churches and other places of worship.

Split along party lines, senators voted 21-18 in favor of SB 372, sponsored by Republican Sen. Ben Chafin of Russell County.

Currently, state law provides that “If any person carry any gun, pistol, bowie knife, dagger or other dangerous weapon, without good and sufficient reason, to a place of worship while a meeting for religious purposes is being held at such place he shall be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.”

SB 372 would repeal that prohibition against bringing weapons to a house of worship. Supporters of the bill say congregants may need weapons to defend themselves from an attack. They point to incidents such as the mass shooting at a Baptist church at Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5, when 26 people were killed by a gunman.

Officials of the Virginia Interfaith Center issued a news press release saying they are “absolutely opposed” to the bill.

Northam did not specifically address SB 372 in his remarks at St. Paul’s, where the center was holding its “Day for All People,” an occasion for residents from across Virginia to come to Richmond and meet with legislators.

Rather, the Democratic governor discussed his concerns about gun violence. He recalled the shooting in Las Vegas, where 58 people were murdered by a gunman during a country music festival on Oct. 1. In less than 50 hours after the shooting, 58 more Americans would die from gun violence, Northam said.

“It took 49 hours – 58 more Americans lost their lives, but you never heard about them, did you? Nor did I,” Northam said. “When are we, as a society, going to stand up and say enough is enough?”

After graduating from Virginia Military Institute, Northam attended Eastern Virginia Medical School. Afterward, he served eight years in the Army as a doctor. Northam has seen the effects of firearms firsthand.

Northam began practicing pediatric neurology after the Army. As a children’s neurologist, he has treated young victims of gunshot wounds.

Northam said he supports the Second Amendment but is willing to think outside the box. “We have ‘smart gun’ technology; this is 2018,” the governor said. “So I will do everything I can to address that issue.”

In an interview, Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, questioned Northam’s statistics on gun deaths in 2017. He said the numbers include tragedies such as suicides.

Van Cleave said he would support “smart guns” – weapons that fire only if held by an authorized user – if the technology were 100 percent effective. However, he said, it currently is not reliable. Someone who is bleeding or wearing gloves may not be able to fire a “smart gun” in self-defense, Van Cleave said.

Businesses May Get Tax Credits to Train High School Students

By Deanna Davison, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Juniors and seniors in Richmond City Public Schools would receive paid apprenticeships and training with local businesses, and participating employers would get tax credits from the state, under legislation filed by a bipartisan pair of lawmakers.

Republican Sen. Glen Sturtevant and Democratic Del. Jeffrey Bourne, who both represent the city in the General Assembly, are seeking to establish a pilot program for the 2018-19 or 2019-20 academic year.

Under the program, up to 25 Richmond students would receive “competitive compensation” while being trained in high-demand fields.

Sturtevant and Bourne say it is important to help students who do not pursue traditional college degrees prepare for the workforce.

“This pilot program will provide a great opportunity for bright and hardworking students to get hands-on experience,” Sturtevant said.

Participating local businesses would receive a $2,500 tax credit per student per semester. Student compensation would equal “no less than the value” of that credit. The total tax credits awarded by the state could not exceed $125,000 a year under the legislation.

Sturtevant and Bourne previously served together on the Richmond School Board for four years.

The lawmakers have submitted companion bills to create the apprenticeship program. Sturtevant has introduced SB 937 in the Senate; Bourne is carrying HB 1575 in the House. Both measures are awaiting committee hearings.

Disappointed by Norment bill, marijuana law reform advocates refocus agenda

By Fadel Allassan and Siona Peterous, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Marijuana law reform advocates are refocusing their agenda after Virginia’s Senate majority leader introduced a bill that eliminates jail time for first-offense possession but falls short of decriminalization — a concept he earlier said he would support.

Under the bill by Sen. Thomas Norment Jr., R-James City, first-time marijuana possession offenders would be fined but also have a chance to have their records expunged. It isn’t the decriminalization bill Norment told The Virginian-Pilot he supported last November. But a spokesperson for the majority leader now says such a bill, which could have made first-time possession a civil offense, would have little chance of passing the House of Delegates.

“It’s a disappointment to thousands of Virginians and particularly to his constituents, who were looking for him to be the leader on this issue.” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, a marijuana reform advocacy group.

Reform advocates, who gathered at the Virginia 2018 Cannabis Conference in Richmond on Sunday and Monday, said they support the bill despite it not going far enough, but are now focusing their attention on legislation including a measure by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, that would expand the use of medical cannabis in Virginia.

Decriminalization, however, isn’t dead yet in the assembly, and advocates said they support legislation including SB111 by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, and HB 1063 by  Del. Steve Heretick, D-Portsmouth. But the bills face an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled legislature. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has said he favors decriminalizing simple first-possession charges.

In Virginia, people charged with pot possession as a first offense are typically eligible for a probationary program that gives the chance for a judge to dismiss the charge. Norment’s legislation would make that practice law and instead of dismissal, allow expungement.

“We were expecting a bill that was more analogous to decriminalization, but instead what we see is an expungement bill,” Pedini said.

On another front, advocates said they support Dunnavant’s bill, which would allow medical practitioners to issue certifications to allow patients to use cannabis oil. It has been assigned to the Education and Health Committee and has the backing of the legislature’s Joint Commission on Health Care.

“Those health care decisions should be made by a licensed practitioner, not senators and delegates in Richmond,” Pedini said.

Last year, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed into law a bill that allows pharmacies to make and sell cannabis oils for treating intractable epilepsy. Dunnavant’s bill allows health care professionals to determine which illnesses can be treated.

Advocates at the conference – which was organized by the advocacy groups Virginia NORML, Cannabis Commonwealth and Virginia Cannabis Group – are also making phone calls and lobbying against a bill that would allow law enforcement officers to strip search people at traffic stops if there is reasonable cause to believe they may possess controlled substances.

The law is intended to battle opioid and fentanyl possession, Pedini said, but could trap  those who legally use marijuana to treat epilepsy.

“What we don’t want to see is a mother and her child driving home to be stopped and strip searched,” Pedini said.

Senators Suggest Charging Tolls on Trucks on I-81

By Ahniaelyah Spraggs, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Two state senators are calling for a study on the feasibility of imposing tolls on large trucks using Interstate 81.

The potential toll revenue would fund safety improvements on the highway, according to Republican Sens. Mark Obenshain of Rockingham and Bill Carrico of Grayson, who filed a bill Friday to launch such a study.

“We need to focus our efforts and money on improving I-81. It has been overlooked for too long, and Virginians in Southwest Virginia and the Valley deserve better,” said Carrico, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee. “This bill is an innovative approach, and I look forward to seeing the results of this study.”

Kansas and Rhode Island have similar truck-tolling programs. In 2017, revenue from commercial vehicle tolls in Kansas totaled $48 million. In Rhode Island, such tolls may generate $60 million in annual revenue for transportation needs, according to an economic impact study.

I-81 runs 855 miles from Tennessee to the Canadian border. The Virginia segment is 325 miles long, from Bristol to Winchester.

Obenshain said that I-81 carries nearly half of statewide truck traffic and that about a fifth of the traffic collisions on the interstate involve a heavy truck.

“With over 2,000 crashes per year, and 30 crashes a year with a clearance time greater than six hours, we must be willing to look at creative methods to find substantive solutions to this problem,” Obenshain said.

The bill would set several stipulations for the proposed tolling program. Under the stipulations, the Commonwealth Transportation Board would:

• Identify how to improve specific parts of I-81.

• Develop a tolling policy that minimizes effects on local traffic and the diversion of truck traffic from I-81.

• Use all funds generated by the tolls for the benefit of I-81.

No matter what the study might find, tolls on I-81 may be a long way off. Any tolling program on the highway would require approval from the General Assembly, Obenshain noted.

“I believe that a willingness to explore innovative and unconventional funding sources can be a part of a bipartisan solution to the problems faced by those who travel Interstate 81 every day,” he said.

Obenshain has filed another bill aimed at truck safety on I-81. SB 561 calls for the Virginia Department of Transportation to conduct a pilot program requiring tractor trucks to travel in the right lane only.

More than 1,000 Attend Women’s March in Richmond

By Ryan Persaud and Alexandra Sosik, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Demonstrators took to the streets of Carytown on Saturday for the second annual Women’s March, recalling the demonstrations a year ago when hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Washington and cities around the world to protest President Donald Trump’s inauguration and the GOP’s stance on issues such women’s rights and immigration.

Hundreds of demonstrators held up signs that ranged from mocking the president to promoting equality. They chanted phrases such as “This is what democracy looks like,” “Women’s rights are equal rights” and “Coexist.”

Kim Young, a demonstrator who missed the Women’s March last year due to health issues, said she was excited to attend Saturday’s event.

“It’s about freedom, choice, ‘Love is Love,’ [and] showing the president that not all Americans in the United States are in agreement with him,” Young said.

The Richmond demonstration was one of many across the country Saturday. Brigette Newberry, a demonstrator who attended last year’s Women’s March in D.C. and a counterprotest against the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue in September, said it is necessary to resist the current administration.

“I feel like it’s important that women unite together,” Newberry said.

Kathe Wittig, a retired Virginia Commonwealth University faculty member who participated in anti-war protests in the 1970s, said she worries that Trump’s policies will set society back decades.

“We have to let the world know that we’re not going to sit back,” Wittig said. “He is a disaster.”

Gov. Ralph Northam also joined event organizers in leading the march. Northam helped carry a banner that read, “Women’s March RVA.”

Mary Leffler, one of the organizers of the event, attended the 2017 Women’s March in D.C. As the anniversary approached, she looked for whether others locally were commemorating that demonstration.

“I sought out to see if there was already a march happening, and there wasn’t. So I made a few phone calls, called the city manager’s office, helped decide this location and then just started spreading the word,” Leffler said.

Leffler said she was surprised at the size of the crowd.

“We’ve had estimates of a little over 3,000 – some more like 1,500,” Leffler said. “We’re thrilled.”

Mark Loewen, a children’s book author, brought his family with him, including his 5-year-old daughter.

“We talked about girls can do anything that boys can do, and that girls should be making the same amount of decisions that boys make,” Loewen said. “We’re so excited about women’s voices getting stronger, and we need them to be stronger.”

Members of the National Organization for Women, which advocates for equality for all women, were also in attendance. Andrea Lancaster, president of NOW’s Richmond chapter, said she was pleasantly surprised by the event’s turnout.

“A few of our board members, me included, went up to the march in D.C. last year, which was overwhelmingly huge, so we didn’t know what to expect from Richmond,” Lancaster said. “It’s exciting to see how much momentum the movement still has.”

NOW and other groups are urging the Virginia General Assembly to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The ERA would explicitly state that women have the same rights as men in the U.S.

ERA supporters believe that if two more states ratify the amendment, it will be added to the Constitution. There is a legal debate about that because the deadline to ratify the ERA has passed.

According to Lancaster, Virginia has become a focus of ERA proponents because Democrats have gained power in the General Assembly. Last fall, the Democratic Party picked up 15 seats in the House; however, Republicans still hold a 51-49 majority.

Lancaster said there is a need for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women equal rights.

“If you ask a lot of people in the streets, they think we already have that,” Lancaster said. “But we don’t, and there is no constitutional protected equality.”

Bill Would Bar Asking Job Applicants About Criminal History

By Tianna Mosby, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – State government could not ask most job seekers criminal history questions on employment applications under a bill passed by the Virginia Senate.

The Senate approved the “ban the box” bill Friday on a 23-16 vote. All of the Democrats in the Senate voted for SB 252; they were joined by four Republicans.

Until recently, job applications forms used by state agencies included a box that asked whether the applicant had ever been arrested, charged or convicted of a crime.

In a 2015 executive order, Gov. Terry McAuliffe had those questions removed from the form. SB 252 essentially would make the executive order a state law. It also would authorize local governments to follow the same policy.

The bill would not apply to law-enforcement agencies and jobs with criminal history inquiry requirements.

SB 252 would allow state agencies to ask prospective employees about previous arrests, charges and convictions after a conditional job offer has been made. The agency could withdraw the offer if the convictions relate directly to the job.

Democratic Sens. Rosalyn Dance of Petersburg, Adam Ebbin of Alexandria and Jennifer McClellan of Richmond sponsored the bill.

Dance said the criminal history questions on job application forms hurt the employment prospects of people who have run afoul of the law.

“Every Virginian should have the peace of mind of knowing that their application will not be rejected based off of a past mistake,” Dance said.

She said the bill is “about getting people back to work” and reducing recidivism rates for people who have been convicted of crimes.

Ebbin said the measure “gives everyone a fair chance at employment.”

“Those people who have paid their debts to society should be given a second chance,” Ebbin said.

SB 252 now goes to the House for consideration. Two Democratic delegates are sponsoring companion bills in the House: HB 600, by Del. Betsy Carr of Richmond; and HB 1357, by Del. Lashrecse Aird of Petersburg. Those bills have been referred to the House General Laws Committee.

Last year, the General Assembly considered two “ban the box” bills – HB 2323 and SB 1171. Both died in the House General Laws Committee.

Bill Would Boost Minimum Wage for Restaurant Workers

By Caitlin Barbieri and Lia Tabackman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The unstable nature of relying on tips to make a living is reflected in the paychecks of restaurant servers like Connor Rhodes, who has been serving Richmond’s restaurant goers for four years and says it’s not unusual for his paycheck to be zero dollars.

That’s because he earns $2.13 an hour – a “subminimum wage” – which, after taxes, can result in an empty wallet if tips are weak and shifts are sparse.

“Depending on business, there’s no guarantee that we’ll get shifts that can pay the bills,” Rhodes said, explaining that servers typically have to save their wages from peak seasons to survive during the slower months.

But two state legislators have proposed a bill, HB 1259, that would do away with the “subminimum wage,” which is paid to workers like Rhodes who are exempt from receiving the federal minimum.

That $2.13 an hour, along with tips, makes up the entire income of these workers. As long as the federal minimum wage of $7.25 is met through tips received, employers are not required to pay their employees more than the subminimum.

If customers neglect to tip their server after their meal, it can end up costing the server money to have served the table at all.

“At the end of the night, the servers have to tip out the food runners, the bartenders and the bussers based on our food and alcohol sales. So say someone orders $50 bottle of wine; I tip the bar 5 percent of that $50. I need at least $2.50 to break even from taking care of a customer, and sometimes the costs can go a lot higher. It’s rare that the restaurant will compensate us,” Rhodes said.

According to a 2014 report by the Economic Policy Institute, the median hourly wage for U.S. restaurant workers, tips included, was $10 an hour – compared with $18 an hour for workers in all other industries. After accounting for demographic differences, the report said restaurant workers earned 17 percent less than similar workers in other industries.

Under HB 1259, servers and certainother employees who are exempt from the minimum wage would no longer have to rely on the generosity of others, through tips, in order to meet the minimum wage.

HB 1259 was introduced by Dels. Paul Krizek and Jennifer Boysko of Fairfax. Eight other Democrats are co-sponsoring the measure. The bill would also make it illegal for employers to pay laborers in certain service industries traditionally held by African-Americans – like shoe-shiners and doormen – less than minimum wage.

Krizek said the legislation would “put everybody on the same minimum-wage playing field.”

Bill Seeks to Repeal ‘Racist’ Wage Law

By Caitlin Barbieri and Lia Tabackman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – More than half a century after the end of Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in the South, legislators are finding remnants of racism in Virginia law.

The Code of Virginia makes it legal for employers to pay less than minimum wage to “newsboys, shoe-shine boys, caddies on golf courses, babysitters, ushers, doormen, concession attendants and cashiers in theaters.”

The common thread among those professions? When the law was written in 1975, they were all considered low-income, low-skill jobs overwhelmingly occupied by African Americans who were systematically denied advanced employment opportunities.

Now, two members of the Virginia House of Delegates – Paul Krizek and Jennifer Boysko, both Democrats from Fairfax – are sponsoring legislation to delete such outdated language from state law.

“This is a list that has Jim Crow written all over it,” Krizek said. “There’s a lot of old language that was obviously aimed at African Americans who were in these service jobs because those were the jobs they could get at the time.”

The language was originally pulled verbatim from North Carolina’s legal code, which was written a decade earlier, in 1965.

“There is some fairly widespread agreement and research supporting the conclusion that a lot of these exemptions were based on race,” said Ann Hodges, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.

The wage discrimination doesn’t stop at race. Virginians with mental, intellectual and physical disabilities also may receive subminimum wage because their “earning capacity is impaired,” according to the state code.

According to Hodges, at the time the law was written, many people believed that individuals with intellectual, physical and mental disabilities could not be as productive and generate as much labor as able-bodied workers.

“There was a sense that if you couldn’t pay them less, they probably wouldn’t be employed at all,” Hodges said.

Under HB 1259, it would no longer be legal in Virginia for employers to pay laborers in certain service industries less than minimum wage. (The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, and Virginia has not adopted a higher level. However, Krizek, Boysko and other Democrats are pushing to raise it to $9 an hour this year and to $15 an hour by 2022.)

The bill would affect other employees, such as restaurant servers, in addition to the positions the sponsors say are directly connected to race.

“While doing research for a $15 minimum wage bill, I was angry and disappointed to learn that the Virginia Code includes exceptions to its minimum wage law that are clearly racist, meant to exclude jobs that have been mostly held historically by minorities,” Boysko said.

“As we continue to build our new Virginia economy, we must ensure that all people are treated fairly and have the same opportunities.”

HB 1259 has been assigned to the House Committee on Commerce and Labor.

Panel OKs Bill Targeting Child Abusers in School

By Yasmine Jumaa, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In 2013, a loophole allowed an Arlington County teacher accused of sexual abuse to find a job as an assistant principal in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where he worked for more than three years before his license was revoked last May.

In hopes of closing that loophole, a committee in the Virginia House of Delegates has unanimously approved legislation aimed at identifying alleged sex offenders who have worked in the state’s public schools so they can’t move to another school system.

“Unfortunately, what happened during the summer revealed that there were several gaps in Virginia law,” said Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, who sponsored the measure. “As a result, the person was able to hold on to his teaching license for another four years without anybody realizing that there was a problem.”

Under existing law, local departments of social services must notify the relevant school district of any founded allegations of child abuse or neglect against a current school employee.

But that didn’t happen in Arlington because the teacher resigned before Child Protective Service agents finished their investigation, according to a report by the News4 I-Team at the NBC4 television station in Washington. As a result, the teacher’s license wasn’t challenged – and he went on to land a job at Thomas Johnson Middle School in Prince George’s County, the station reported.

So Bulova filed HB 150, which would require child protection officials to notify school authorities even if the subject of the investigation is no longer employed by the school district. Moreover, such notification must be made “without delay,” the bill says.

“What the current law says is, at the time that the local child protective services determines that an incident is a founding case for child abuse, then they let the school system know if the person involved is employed as a teacher,” Bulova said. “In this case, because the person had already resigned, that didn’t happen.”

The Virginia Commission on Youth brought the issue to Bulova’s attention.

“The Commission on Youth pulled together information on the process of child abuse reporting as it relates to teachers and education,” said Amy Atkinson, the agency’s executive director. “We presented related findings and recommendations at our November meeting, and in December, our commission voted on those recommendations, and one of them was Del. Bulova’s bill.”

Bulova also is sponsoring HB 196, which would limit how many extensions somebody accused of child abuse or neglect by a local department of social services could get during the appeals process.

The bill says accused individuals can request to extend their hearing twice for a total maximum of 90 days. After that, they would have to provide good cause to the hearing officer before being granted more extensions.

“It makes sure that you’re not dragging this out for a long time,” Bulova said.

He said the bills would help ensure that information flows smoothly during a child abuse or neglect investigation and that licensure issues are taken care of in a timely manner.

“The great vast majority of teachers are absolutely wonderful people and do extraordinarily beautiful jobs,” Bulova said. “These are really ways to go ahead and tighten up the code so you don’t have outliers that will fall through the cracks. And while they are few and far between, they’re a big deal for the families and children that have to deal with them.”

On Thursday, the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions voted 22-0 in favor of both bills. They now go to the full House for consideration.

Advocates to Lobby for Marijuana Legalization

By Siona Peterous, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Advocates for marijuana policy reform will come to Richmond for a conference on Sunday and Monday to push for legislation that would decriminalize simple possession of marijuana by adults as well as expand medical access to the drug.

The Virginia 2018 Cannabis Conference is organized by Virginia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, as well as Cannabis Commonwealth and Virginia Cannabis Group.

Jenn Michelle Pedini, president of NORML’s Virginia chapter, stated in an email that the organization works to reform all marijuana laws so that responsible use by adults is no longer subject to penalty.

Pedini will open the conference Sunday morning at the Marriott Richmond Downtown, 555 E. Canal St. The program, which runs from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., will feature a series of speakers.

The keynote speaker will be John Hudak, author of “Marijuana: A Short History.” Hudak is deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution.

Closing remarks will be made by Del. Ben Cline, a Republican from Rockbridge County, and by NORML’s national outreach director, Kevin Mahmalji.

The speakers will prepare the attendees for a day of lobbying at the state Capitol on Monday. The marijuana legalization advocates will hold meetings with legislators in the morning and then attend the sessions of the Senate and House.

Legislators Push for Workforce Development

By Chelsea Jackson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A group of Democratic legislators on Thursday urged the General Assembly to approve a package of bills aimed at helping small businesses and training young people for good-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree.

At a news conference led by Del. Matthew James of Portsmouth, the lawmakers discussed several bills relating to workforce development and job creation in Virginia.

“Our No. 1 goal for this 60-day legislative session is to help improve the lives of all Virginians,” James said. “We’re here to help people get better jobs; we’re here to help small businesses get skilled workers.”

The House members said their bills would help small businesses grow and workers develop vocational skills:

  • HB 306, introduced by Del. Vivian E. Watts of Fairfax, would assist businesses that participate in the Virginia Registered Apprenticeship program, which provides on-the-job training. Under the measure, state agencies could give extra consideration to such businesses in awarding contracts for goods and services.
  • HJ 17, filed by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax, calls for a study on how to expand experiential learning and workforce development opportunities for high school students in high-demand fields.
  • HB 632, sponsored by Del. David L. Bulova of Fairfax, would require Virginia schools to offer courses and other activities in which students explore different careers, including in trades and technical fields.
  • Under HB 1407, introduced by Del. Jeion A. Ward of Hampton, the state would set a goal to award 42 percent of its procurement orders and contracts to small businesses and microbusinesses. In addition, state agencies could set aside certain contracts that only small businesses or microbusinesses could bid on.

Current law defines a small business as having 250 or fewer employees. Ward’s bill would define a microbusiness as having up to 25 workers.

James and Bulova said high-salary jobs in Virginia are going unfilled because there aren’t enough trained and skilled workers.

“We need to have those welders; we need those electricians,” Bulova said.

James said he hopes the legislation will“help Virginians ease their financial insecurities so they can sleep better and their kids can dream.”

Senate Panel Rejects Stricter Seat-Belt Law

By Irena Schunn, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Split along party lines, the Senate Transportation Committee has killed a bill that would have made failing to wear a seat belt a primary offense – a violation that could draw an immediate ticket from a police officer.

The legislation, SB 744, also would have required safety belts for rear-seat passengers.

“This would certainly save a lot of lives if we had these updated laws in effect here,” Sen. George Barker, D-Alexandria, said before the committee voted 7-4 Wednesday to shelve his bill.

Current Virginia law says that only people in the front seat of a motor vehicle must wear seat belts and that failure to do so is a secondary offense, meaning they can get ticketed for a seat-belt violation only if an officer has stopped them for another traffic violation. The penalty for not wearing a seat belt is a $25 fine.

Virginia is one of 16 states where the seat-belt requirement is not a primary law.

Federal studies show that seat-belt use is higher in states that have primary seat-belt laws. In 2017, 89 percent of drivers nationwide reported wearing a seat belt; in Virginia, the figure was only 79 percent, according to a report by the National Transportation Safety Board.

“All the surrounding states have primary seat belt laws – North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia. Every single one of them has a primary seat-belt law,” Barker said. “We are the anomaly by not having that right now, and it certainly is having an impact on the death toll and the seriousness of injuries that occur here.”

Wearing a seat belt is the single most effective thing you can do to protect yourself in a crash, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Of the people who died in vehicle-related accidents in 2015, 48 percent were not wearing seat belts.

At the Senate Transportation Committee’s meeting, George Bishop, deputy commissioner of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, said back-seat passengers are three times more likely to die than front-seat passengers.

Advocates for Barker’s bill included the National Transportation Safety Board, the American Automobile Association and the Washington Regional Alcohol Program. No one spoke in opposition to the measure during the hearing.

All seven Republican members present at the Transportation Committee’s meeting voted to have the bill “passed by indefinitely” – meaning it likely is dead for this session. The four Democratic committee members present voted to keep the bill alive.

Democrats Roll Out Voting Rights Agenda

By Thomas Jett, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Democratic legislators are pushing for a package of bills to make it easier for Virginians to vote, including proposals to let people register on Election Day and to cast an absentee ballot for any reason.

Del. Debra Rodman of Henrico County has introduced House Bill 449, which would repeal the deadline for registering to vote before an election. Instead, eligible voters could register at any time, including the day of the election.

“I am critically proud for this opportunity, all of these opportunities, that will allow Virginians true access to the ballot,” Rodman said. “Knowledge and access are imperative to the evolution of our democracy.”

So far, Democrats in the House and Senate have filed about 45 bills and a half-dozen constitutional amendments to expand voting rights. They include:

  • HB 835, introduced by Del. Lamont Bagby of Henrico County. It would eliminate the requirement to state a reason in order to vote absentee in person. A registered voter still would have to provide a qualified excuse, such as illness or a long work schedule, to vote absentee by mail.
  • HB 1079, by Del. Delores McQuinn of Richmond. It would repeal the requirement that voters show a photo identification at the polls to get a ballot. Democrats say that requirement is an obstacle for low-income, elderly and minority voters.
  • HB 944, by Del. Alfonso Lopez of Arlington. It would let 16- and 17-year-olds pre-register to vote. “Helping young Virginians and Americans register to vote increases the odds that they will make a lifelong habit of electoral participation,” Lopez said.

House Joint Resolution 33, a constitutional amendment proposed by Del. Sam Rasoul of Roanoke. It would let 16- and 17-year-olds vote in local elections.

On some voting-related issues, Democrats and Republicans share common ground. Members of both parties, for example, want to make it easier for members of the U.S. military to vote.

Del. Steven Landes, a Republican from Augusta County, has introduced HB 1139, which would create a pilot program for military personnel who are registered to vote in Virginia and are deployed overseas to cast an electronic ballot.

Del. Kathy Tran, a Democrat from Fairfax, has a similar measure – HB 1058.

“This is a very valuable and worthwhile investment for the people on the frontlines defending our values and right to vote,” said Tran, whose brother, David, serves in the U.S. Marine Corps.

But generally, Republicans are more focused on ballot security and voting integrity. Many Republican lawmakers believe that voter fraud is a serious problem.

Sen. Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg is sponsoring Senate Bill 523, which would require the state to create electronic poll books with photos of registered voters. Poll workers would use those books to verify who can vote. The General Assembly passed such a bill last year, but then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed it.

Moreover, Sen. Ben Chafin of Russell County has filed SB 834, which would require the Virginia Department of Elections to identify people who are registered to vote not only in Virginia but also in another state.

Democrats may face an uphill battle advancing their agenda in the General Assembly, where Republicans hold a majority in both chambers.

On Tuesday, the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee killed several Democratic proposals.

On a party-line vote, the committee spiked SB 452, an attempt by Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, to rescind the requirement to show a photo ID at the polling place. All eight Republicans on the panel voted to shelve the bill; all six Democrats voted to keep it alive.

Also, the committee killed two proposed constitutional amendments to automatically restore the voting rights of nonviolent felons who have served their time. One of the amendments was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth; the other was by Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger of Augusta County.

After a Paws, Delegate Is Back With Pet Protection Bill

By Katrina Tilbury and DeForrest Ballou, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – As temperatures across Virginia plunged to the single digits, many pets no doubt have been left in the cold.

The frigid weather in recent weeks prompted Assistant Attorney General Michelle Welch to send a memo instructing animal control officers how to respond to calls regarding animals left outside. Pet owners have three options: They can bring the animal inside the house, surrender it to the animal control officer indefinitely or let the officer take temporary custody of the animal.

“They don’t get to let their dogs freeze to death,” Welch said in the memo.

Del. John Bell, D-Fairfax, has introduced a bill to clarify when pet owners could tie up an animal outside. His legislation would prohibit tethering pets outdoors when the temperature drops to 32 degrees or below or rises to 85 degrees or above. The restrictions would not apply to farm animals.

Bell, a dog owner whose wife, Margaret, is an avid animal rescuer, said he worked with more than 20 groups, including agricultural and farm bureaus, to find a solution that works for everyone, including farmers, who traditionally keep their working animals outside. The result was House Bill 646, which he filed on Jan. 9.

Last year, Bell introduced a similar bill that was shot down in the General Assembly for being too strict. Planning for this session’s bill began last April when animal advocate Gary Sweeney started a petition on Change.org to introduce a bill that would specify when the weather is considered too extreme for dogs to be left outside.

Sweeney launched the petition after he reported a short-haired dog left outside in Henrico County and was told by Henrico County Animal Control that the pet owner was not breaking the law.

“I went back and read the existing laws thoroughly; I realized that there was nothing in place in Virginia’s law that had anything to do with extreme weather,” Sweeney said. “It does have an adequate shelter provision – but it doesn’t specify by what type of (dog) house is adequate enough.”

The Humane Society of the United States caught wind of Sweeney’s petition after tens of thousands of supporters quickly signed it. The Humane Society worked with Sweeney and Bell to draft something similar to the delegate’s 2017 bill.

Robin Starr, CEO of the Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said this bill is a measured approach to a subject that has long troubled animal welfare advocates.

“It is, I think, impossible to disagree with the idea that people should not tether dogs outside in severe weather conditions,” she said.

Midlothian resident Jamie Ericksen’s neighbors know to call her when they encounter an animal in need. Recently, she reunited a family with their cat that had been missing for two years. Currently, she said she is trying to help a dog that is left outside at all hours in a small pen.

“I just hope that this bill gets passed because I know that the animals suffer,” Ericksen said. “It’s hard to understand how someone can leave their animal outside in extreme temperatures and think that they’re OK or they enjoy it.”

HB 646 has been assigned to a subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources – the same panel that killed Bell’s legislation last year. The committee is also considering HB 889, introduced by Del. Robert Orrock, R-Caroline. Instead of establishing a statewide law, Orrock’s bill would empower local governments to restrict tethering dogs outside.

The subcommittee is scheduled to meet Monday afternoon.

Virginia House End Secrecy in Committee Votes

By Adam Hamza, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Advocates for government transparency are applauding the Virginia House of Delegates for ending its practice of allowing committees and subcommittees to kill legislation on unrecorded voice votes.

In adopting rules for the legislative session that began Wednesday, the House voted unanimously to require panels to record who votes how.

“A recorded vote of members of a committee or subcommittee shall be taken and the name and number of those voting for, against, or abstaining shall be taken upon each measure,” according to the chamber’s new rules, introduced by Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah.

In addition to recorded votes, the new rules provide for more proportional representation on committees and require live-streaming and archiving of committee hearings.

In the past, many bills were approved or rejected at the committee and subcommittee level on voice votes alone. This made it was impossible to know which delegates voted against or for a particular bill.

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, and Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, who founded the Virginia Transparency Caucus, praised the rule change as a major step forward for Virginia.

“This is a victory for transparency and open government for the people of the commonwealth,” Chase said. Levine agreed.

“By having these votes recorded, members will now be responsible for all legislative actions they take. No more will bills be killed in secret without any accountability,” he said.

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, commended the move. After the change was announced, Rhyne wrote in an email: “Good work from the House leadership!”

Betsy Edwards, executive director of the Virginia Press Association, echoed that sentiment. “Everyone needs to know how decisions are made,” she said.

Democrats blamed Republicans for the past secrecy.

“For years, House Republicans have killed critical pieces of progressive legislation through unrecorded voice votes,” House Democratic Leader David Toscano of Charlottesville and Caucus Chair Charniele Herring of Alexandria said in a joint statement. “That era is over, and we welcome a new era of accountability and governance that is more reflective of last year’s election results.”

Democrats picked up 15 House seats in November. As a result, Republicans have only a 51-to-49 majority in that chamber.

Republican leaders acknowledged that the makeup of the House was a factor in changing the rules.

Gilbert said the new rules “reflect the new composition of the House chamber, as well as several new transparency initiatives we are proud to champion.”

Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge, said he is proud that the House changed the rules.

“The work we do as public servants should always be open and accessible to an informed citizenry,” he said. “I have always advocated for recorded votes.”

Last year, Cline sponsored a bill to require recorded votes in committees and subcommittees. It died in the House Rules Committee – on an unrecorded vote.

Bills Seek to Disrupt ‘School-to-Prison Pipeline’

By Kirby Farineau, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Ryan Turk was an eighth-grader in Prince William County when a misunderstanding with a school resource officer over a 65-cent carton of milk escalated to theft charges.

The incident happened in May 2016 when Turk said he forgot his carton of milk that came with his school-issued free lunch. The police said Turk tried to “conceal” the carton of milk. When Turk separated himself from the resource officer, the incident ended with a suspension from school and a summons to juvenile court.

A year ago, the charges against Turk were dropped, but he remains a prime example of what critics call the “school-to-prison pipeline” – a trend to charge students as criminals for what might once have been detention-worthy transgressions. According to a 2015 study by the Center for Public Integrity, Virginia charges students more often than any other state.

This trend has triggered a push in the General Assembly to reform criminal justice across the board. One of the latest and most vocal opponents of the pipeline is Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Woodbridge.

Carroll Foy, who won an open House seat in November, spoke about the problem at an NAACP reception in Richmond last week.

“We send more students from the classroom to the courtroom than any other state in the country,” Carroll Foy said. “Now we lock them up early, and we lock them up at large.”

Carroll Foy plans to sponsor more than 10 criminal justice reform bills this legislative session. They include House Bill113, which would increase the threshold for grand larceny in Virginia from $200 to $1,000.

Virginia’s threshold for that felony crime is one of the lowest in the country and hasn’t changed since 1980. As a result, someone accused of stealing a cellphone or bicycle can be charged with a felony.

Increasing the threshold might protect children who make bad decisions and prevent them from becoming convicted felons, Carroll Foy told the NAACP leadership.

“The punishment should fit the crime,” she said. “Felonies should be reserved for some of the most egregious crimes in the commonwealth of Virginia, and that’s not happening.”

Carroll Foy is carrying legislation that might address cases like that of Ryan Turk, who initially was charged with a misdemeanor after the altercation at Graham Park Middle School in the town of Triangle in Prince William County. Carroll Foy’s district includes parts of Prince William and Stafford counties.

She has introduced HB 445, which would eliminate the requirement for principals to report certain misdemeanor incidents to police. Carroll Foy is not the only one concerned about the “school-to-prison pipeline.” So is the advocacy group Voices for Virginia’s Children.

Allison Gilbreath, the organization’s policy analyst, said other bills before the General Assembly seek to disrupt the pipeline.

For example, HB 296, sponsored by Del. Dickie Bell, R-Staunton, and Senate Bill170, by Sen. William Stanley, R-Franklin, would prohibit suspending or expelling students in preschool through third grade except for drug offenses, firearm offenses or certain criminal acts.

“One in five kids who are suspended in our public schools are pre-K through fifth grade,” Gilbreath said. “We want to really focus on the underlying problems that they’re experiencing.”

Proposals Seek to End Gerrymandering in Virginia

By Zach Joachim, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – An assortment of bills designed to revise standards for drawing Virginia’s electoral districts could be the beginning of the end for gerrymandering in the commonwealth, according to redistricting reform proponents.

Gerrymandering, the practice of politicians redrawing electoral districts to gain an advantage, has drawn attention and disdain in recent years. North Carolina’s congressional map was declared unconstitutional last week by a panel of federal judges, who ruled legislators had drawn it with “invidious partisan intent.”

House Bill 276, proposed by Democratic Del. Sam Rasoul of Roanoke, would create a Virginia Redistricting Commission. The commission would determine the criteria for remedial redistricting plans if a court declares any congressional or legislative district unlawful. Under the current system, the legislators themselves determine the criteria for redrawing these lines.

District lines are redrawn every 10 years in accordance with the U.S. census, but a number of federal court cases have the potential to require immediate redistricting in certain Virginia localities.

“I think it favors both parties to be able to make sure that we have the body and the rules available by which we would be able to draw lines should a court case come down a certain way,” Rasoul said. “I look forward to being able to work with Republicans and Democrats to get this done.”

Rasoul said redistricting reform hinges upon a “fundamental question of fairness” that he believes the majority of Virginians agree upon, regardless of party affiliation.

So far this session, legislators – both Democrats and Republicans – have introduced about 20 bills that would affect how political districts are drawn. They include:

  • HB 205, which would establish criteria for remedial redistricting.
  • HB 158, which would authorize the General Assembly to make technical adjustments to existing redistricting standards.
  • Senate Bill 106, which would create a size limit for congressional and state legislative districts.

Additionally, lawmakers have proposed eight constitutional amendments. The amendments – which require approval from the General Assembly this year and next, then approval by voters – would fully prohibit gerrymandering.

But this session, legislators must craft the state budget for the next two years, and it’s not realistic for them to approve a constitutional amendment as well, according to advocates of redistricting reform such as Brian Cannon of OneVirginia2021.

However, Cannon is optimistic that measures such as Rasoul’s proposed commission can be steps toward ending gerrymandering. Cannon said support for the initiative is widespread, suggesting “70-some” percent of Virginians desire redistricting reform.

“This could be a dry run for setting up a commission, letting them do their work under good rules and a transparent process,” Cannon said. “By this time next year, if the process is good, we can adopt it; if it needs tweaks, we can do that, too.”

Cannon believes the election of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam and an influx of new Virginia legislators reflect a “good-government wave.” Cannon said the political climate is not conducive to incumbent protection schemes like gerrymandering.

“There’s definitely reason for optimism. This is not a nerdy little issue anymore. This is the ethical issue in politics,” Cannon said. “The overall goal here is a constitutional amendment for Virginia so that we can take it out of the hands of the politicians, have good clear rules about keeping communities together and have transparency in the process.”

Although advocates such as Cannon are enthusiastic about the prospects of redistricting reform in Virginia, political experts are more skeptical.

Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, noted that officials elected under the current redistricting system are not likely to support changes such as interim commissions, much less a constitutional amendment in 2019.

“Despite strong public opinion in favor of redistricting reform, the elected officials who benefited from the current system have so little enthusiasm to change it,” Rozell said.

“Further, not everyone is convinced that a reformed system will do any better than the one that we have now. Public opinion may be in favor (of redistricting reform), but this is not an issue that generates much citizen passion. With no strong public passion on the issue, there isn’t a lot of pressure on elected officials to push major reforms.”

Nevertheless, Rasoul believes there is bipartisan support for tackling gerrymandering in Virginia and establishing new ways to draw political districts.

“What we need is not Republicans or Democrats fighting as to who’s going to draw the unfair lines,” Rasoul said. “It’s once and for all creating rules and boundaries so that districts are drawn fairly given population, political boundaries, common communities of interest, the Voting Rights Act and a number of different criteria that need to be considered.”

Cannon is confident that the bills before the General Assembly can act as stepping stones toward the goal of eliminating gerrymandering in the commonwealth.

“We have a big opportunity this session to have this conversation in preparation for getting the final product ready to go this time next year,” Cannon said. “The reason they’ve been able to get away with this is it’s a dirty deed done once a decade that they think we all forget about. We’re not forgetting anymore.”

Senate Panel Rejects Bill Banning Utility Campaign Donations

By George Copeland, Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- A senator’s repeat attempt to prohibit campaign donations from Dominion Energy and other regulated monopolies was struck down by a Senate committee Tuesday.

Senate Bill 10 would have banned candidates from soliciting or accepting donations from any public service corporation, and any political action committees those corporations created and controlled.  The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee effectively killed the bill by Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, on a 12-2 vote.  Sens. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, and Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, opposed.

Petersen’s bill, co-patroned by Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, was nearly identical to legislation the Fairfax lawmaker filed last year.

 "Sen. Petersen will continue the fight to keep monopoly money out of Virginia politics," said Alex Parker, the senator’s political director.

In his statement to the committee, Petersen said he sought the ban because of the electricity-rate freeze approved by the General Assembly in 2015 that resulted in “transferring several hundred million dollars in wealth from rate-payers to the profits, the shareholders of these companies.” On Monday, Petersen's attempt to roll back the freeze, which applied to Dominion and Appalachian Power Co., also failed in committee -- though the issue could be pushed in legislation by other lawmakers this session.

 “I felt like one of the root causes why my legislation was not successful, why we passed these underlying bills, was money had corrupted the process,” Petersen said.

Petersen didn’t name any specific corporations during his statement, but the legislation’s largest impact would have been on the role of Dominion, the largest corporate donor to Republican and Democratic legislators, governors and other elected officials in Virginia.

Several committee members critiqued Petersen’s bill and its potential effects.  Petersen himself admitted the bill wasn’t perfect, and was resigned to its failure. But he also made clear that he believed the legislation had broad public support.  Recalling a 2017 town hall meeting where he discussed the bill, Petersen said, “It remains the only time that I’ve been in politics, 20 years, that I’ve gotten a standing ovation.”

He added, “Until you take the money from public service corporations out of this body, you will continue to get flawed legislation like the rate freeze.”

Senate Panel Votes to Ban Bump Stocks

By Aya Driouche, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A survivor of the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas helped persuade a Virginia Senate committee Monday to approve a bill outlawing bump stocks, a device that allows a rifle to mimic an automatic weapon.

After hearing from Henrico County resident Cortney Carroll, who was at the country music concert where 58 people were killed and 546 injured, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted 11-4 for SB 1. It would prohibit Virginians from making, selling or possessing “any device used to increase the rate of fire of any semi-automatic firearm beyond the capability of an unaided person to operate the trigger mechanism of that firearm.”

Carroll, 40, recalled being at the Route 91 Harvest music festival when Stephen Paddock opened fire on 22,000 concertgoers. “The only way I could describe it is, it sounded like a machine gun,” she said. That’s because Paddock, who later killed himself, had fitted his rifles with bump stocks to fire at a rate of nearly 10 rounds per second.

“When I found out that just a regular person had changed a semi-automatic rifle into essentially a machine gun, it really hit me hard,” Carroll, who lives in Short Pump, said in an interview. “I had no idea that those things (bump stocks) even existed. So that’s when I knew that I needed to take a stand. I believe that I was saved for a reason, and I need to make a difference.”

Carroll, a mother of two, comes from a family of Republicans who enjoy hunting and support Second Amendment rights.

“I grew up in a household with hunters. My boyfriend’s a hunter. I have no problem with guns. I’m a Republican; I support gun rights,” she said. “Prior to this, I didn’t really know anything about bump stocks.”

Carroll said she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety from the massacre. The first thing she does when she enters a room is to identify the exits – and ponder where she would hide if someone started shooting. Carroll said large crowds make her uncomfortable.

On the evening of Oct. 1, Carroll and her aunt were singing along to Jason Aldean when the first shots rang out. Everyone assured her they were fireworks. But seconds later, Carroll recalls hearing the rat-tat-tat sound of “machine gun fire you hear in movies.”

Carroll and her aunt crouched down and huddled closely, covered by other people who were attending the concert. Carroll recalls thinking, “This couldn’t happen to me – not now.”

After five rounds of shooting, as Paddock was reloading his weapons, Carroll said she and her aunt got up and ran. As they tried to find a path to safety, they hit a dead end. At that moment, Carroll’s aunt was grazed by a bullet above her eye. Seeing her aunt’s face dripping with blood is something that Carroll said still haunts her today.

Carroll’s boyfriend attended the Senate committee meeting to offer his support. Carroll had a small orange ribbon pinned to her shirt, symbolizing mass shooting awareness.

All six Democrats on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, along with five Republican members, voted for SB 1. Four Republican senators voted against the bill.

SB 1, which was introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, now goes to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee defeated:

  • SB 2, which would have made it illegal to carry a loaded firearm while under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs.
  • SB 5, which would have required a background check for any firearm transfer. Currently, no checks are necessary for sales at gun shows and between private individuals.
  • SB 112, which would have added disability, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation to the state’s definition of a hate crime. Now, only offenses “motivated by racial, religious, or ethnic animosity” are considered hate crimes.

All six of the Democrats on the committee voted in favor of those bills, and all nine Republican members voted against it.

Afterward, Democratic senators criticized the Republican committee members for voting against background checks.

“We know that if we enact universal background checks, fewer law enforcement officers will be shot and killed, fewer intimate partners will be shot and killed, and there will be fewer gun-related suicides,” said Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun. “Gun violence is an epidemic, and the time has come to act if we are going to keep our communities safe.”

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